Escaping the February Blues

by Shona Jackson

February is a liminal month, caught somewhere in the limbo between winter and spring, biting cold winds and occasional bouts of sunshine. If the temperamental weather is leaving you distinctly blue, the North West Literary Salon is the perfect antidote. Join us on Friday 5th February at Waterstones, King Street, for an evening of escapism with our esteemed writers.

1461-DennisonSmith2014-083Dennison Smith, a novelist, poet and award-winning playwright, lives between a small island in Canada and London. Her first novel, Scavenger, adapted for the stage as Desert Story, is a cross-cultural work caught between the artifice of the American suburbs and the earthy spiritualism of a Navajo reservation. Lyrical and potent, Smith refers to it as her ‘most autobiographical novel’. Eye of the Day, her latest book, tracks the journey of two protagonists, divided by class, across 1930’s America during World War Two. Dennison Smith handles the historical novel delicately, carving new narrative terrain from the familiar pages of history.

SarahDobbsSarah Dobbs is a writer and lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sunderland. Her first novel, Killing Daniel, is a cross-cultural thriller, charting the parallel stories of Fleur in Manchester, and Chinatsu in Japan, and their possibility of reconnection. It’s a novel of tightly held secrets, cutting betrayals and bold, engaging characters. Dobbs is also the author and co-editor of English Language, Literature and Creative Writing: A practical guide for students. She is currently launching the University of Sunderland’s inaugural short story award, and working on her second novel, Death Day.

On the 5th February, come in from the cold and warm yourself with live music, refreshments and engaging conversation. Order your free tickets here. Escape the bitter northern wind and drift across decades and continents with tales of warmer climates from our accomplished writers.


Throwing out the Rulebook

By Shona Jackson

On the 8th January the Literary Salon is a chattering lull of scarves and overcoats. While layers are unpeeled, local musician Noni opens the evening with acoustic songs – original laments of love and haunting covers of contemporary lyrics.

PhillipC2Young Adult fiction writer Phillip Caveney shares a chapter from his novel The Piper. He paints an enigmatic scene- ghostly music drifting through a darkened house, frozen-faced china dolls, whispered voices. Beyond a window spectral girls dance, beckoning to the novel’s unwitting protagonist. The landscape is darkly gothic and brooding, with the drama oscillating between eerie and grotesque. Phillip is a master of tension. His voice rises and falls in crescendos as he reads, frantic, emphatic, then fading to a lull, drawing out each syllable, relishing the audience hunched in anticipation.

Caveney is a man of many faces. ‘The Piper’, labelled by his publisher as too dark, too sinister for his already established young fan-base, was published under the pseudonym Danny Weston, giving him the freedom to write for older readers. The two readily engage in Facebook feuds he jokes later in the Q & A. More scandalously, we’re teased with the suggestion of a series of teen romance novels he’s written too, under a female pseudonym. He’s tight-lipped about specifics. It’s a lingering reminder however that a writer needn’t feel confined to a single genre or audience, that creativity, by its very definition, disregards boundaries.

Rachel2Poet and climate scientist Rachel McCarthy reads from her debut collection Element. Her poetry is vivid, poignant, anchored in landscapes and histories. She has a scrupulous scientific gaze that seems to tease the poetic and the profound out of the everyday. The collection is shaped around the transition metals, with each poem attributed to one in particular. Osmium, an element used as a catalyst for detonations, inspired ‘The Second Before Disaster’. The poem’s stanzas are suspended in the moment before action, aware of a loss, anticipating an absence.

Rachel’s poetry seems to close the all too present void between the arts and science. She recalls the periodic table on a classroom wall, how the symbols in square boxes were named after lovers, wars and gods, that they hide their own poetic stories. Later, in the Q & A, she berates the loss of the Renaissance man or woman, who valued the arts and science in equal measure- an individual capable both of making scientific discoveries and then writing a sonnet about it. McCarthy’s work is an exercise in breaking down binaries, revealing two carefully delineated areas as one in the same.

What better way to begin the New Year than with writers who defy boundaries and nonchalantly disregard the norm. The next time you pick up your pen, consider the many literary faces of Phillip Caveney, and the interdisciplinary poetics of Rachel McCarthy. Rules can always be rewritten.