Monday 2 July 2018


This is one of the last posts that you will read here.

The new blog is here:

Thursday 28 June 2018

Review: The Smell of Fresh Rain: The Unexpected Pleasures of our most Elusive Sense

The Smell of Fresh Rain: The Unexpected Pleasures of our most Elusive Sense The Smell of Fresh Rain: The Unexpected Pleasures of our most Elusive Sense by Barney Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Barney Shaw's autistic son asked him what 3 O'clock in the morning smells like, he genuinely didn't know how to answer him. His son is a musical genius who has synaesthesia, so he decided the best way to answer this was to get up at that time and head out on to the streets of London, visiting Billingsgate and New Covent Garden to discover from themselves what the scents and smells are around that time of the morning.

It got him thinking though, how do we smell? What do we smell and do we smell the same things as everyone else? To answer what seems to be a set of simple questions is going to take a lot of unravelling. It will take him to the coast and boatyards, into Harrods to smell the food and the most expensive perfume in the world. Down to Dorset to a charcoal burner, to try and get a grip of the complexity of the aroma of coffee and baffling the owners of a hardware shop as he asks to smell the products. Occasionally he ventures back into history to learn about the big stink and the time when parliament decided that they couldn't bear the smell from the Thames. All this makes him thirsty, so a trip to the pub is called for, to smell the beer and the crisps and run a little experiment with those in the bar.

Shaw's considered and curious prose makes this book, on what most would consider the weakest of our senses, endlessly fascinating. His journey around the more aromatic places searching for the scents that tell a story, or evoke memories from many years ago has ended up with him compiling a list of 200 or so different things along with different elements of that particular item described. It is not academically rigorous, but that shouldn't take anything away from this fine musing on scents and smells.

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Wednesday 27 June 2018

#BlogTour - The Bespokist Society Guide to... London

Welcome to my blog for today's stop on the blog tour for Jeremy Liebster's book, The Bespokist Society Guide to... London

The Blurb:

As the first travel book produced by the hugely influential Bespokist Society, this handy guide takes you to a London you’ve never seen: a London of challenging Etruscan restaurants, edgy branding parlours, emoji hotels and hidden Icelandic communities; a London where 8-ply toilet paper is a thing.

On the way, meet an eclectic band of inspiring Londoners - from scriveners to socialites via urban wordsmiths and coffee preachers - and see why London is now the global epicentre of Bespokist consciousness, community and culture.

My Review

London is one of the most famous cities in the world drawing visitors from all over the globe to see the sights; who take selfies in front of the sights and generally get in the way of people in London who are trying to get on with their own lives. You would have thought that there are enough guides for London, but here is a new guide for this dynamic city, one that will take you to places that you never knew existed, explore trends that you may not have come across and meet those that are at the sharpest edges of urban chic.

Feeling hungry? Then a visit to the V-Gastro will leave you amazed, but still hungry. Visit, See it, Say it, Sorted for the very best in the cultural response to the London Transport catchphrase. In need of a drink? Then a session at the Sweat Shop might be up your street; get to work an ancient Singer sewing machine and imbue the latest in graft gins. If you end up with a hangover to di for, then coffee is called for. For that, The Coffee Preachers are your people, taking the ristretto to the very pinnacle of coffee adoration. There are other gems; have a unique bespoke key made, go to the Launderette coffee shop to feel part of the community whilst still having superfast wifi and stand up desks, and experience the very latest in gyms by taking a trip to Gondoliers.

Hipsters try to set themselves apart from culture as a whole, while simultaneously remaining within the culture.

As you may have guessed by now, this book is a parody. It sets about totally ripping the piss out of the Hipster culture and their obsession with the tiniest detail, the most obscure origin for an ingredient, the perfect details in an experience and the way that they almost exclusively miss the big picture. It can kind of be summed up with this video:

That video still makes me chuckle every time I see it. If you have a hipster friend and want to understand what drives them, this is as good a place to starts as any. Expertly done, brilliantly crafted and highly amusing.

I am just one of a few on this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour. Please do take a few moments to have a look at the other blogs or search for the #IFoundMyTribe hash-tag on Twitter to read more about the book.

For the very latest in artisan places follow the Bespokeist Society here:


Twitter: @TheBespokist

Review: Three Sheets To The Wind

Three Sheets To The Wind Three Sheets To The Wind by Pete Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The British Pub has been a place of refuge from the outside world for centuries. Its long history reaches all the way back to the taverns of Roman Empire, then the alehouses of the Anglo-Saxons and before coming more like the pubs that we know today. Pete Brown loves pubs, so imagine his surprise when he hears that other countries around the world think that their drinking establishments are better, or have a parotitic duty to consume as much beer as possible. Others have the audacity to think that they produce better beer. The only way to verify that these were only rumours is to travel to the countries making those claims and verify the fact from the fiction and undertake the world's biggest pub crawl.

It is a tough call, but someone has to do it.

To ensure that the research was valid and rigorous he would visit three hundred bars, in 27 different towns across four continents to countries as far apart as Ireland and Australia, Japan and Belgium, he even headed over the pond to see if the American lagers were as bad in their native lands as there were here, but was fortunate to discover the craft beer scene. In Japan, he finds that the biggest brewer there has a headquarters that looks like a glass of its brew. In Australia just working how to order a beer in each of the places he went was a challenge, and heading to the largest beer drinking nation on earth, China, was an experience that he would never forget and not pub crawl would be complete without a trip to the Oktoberfest. His liver did not stand a chance.

This is not a normal hangover. This is something life threatening with a yellowy green tinge.

Drinking beer is supposed to be about having a laugh, and this is just what he does all the way through this book. He meets some great people, discovers some great beers and has some monumental hangovers. I really liked the chatty style of writing there are some hilarious parts, which means mostly laughing at his suffering and the odd scrape that he got into. But there was something else too, a touch of jealousy perhaps… All I know is that I want his job...

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Recent Acquisitions

Got these from Canongate and Tor UK:

And bought these three

Monday 25 June 2018

Blog Tour - I Found My Tribe - Ruth Fitzmaurice

Welcome to my blog for today's stop on the blog tour for Ruth Fitzmaurice's book, I Found My Tribe. 

The Blurb:

She has her husband Simon, a filmmaker with advanced Motor Neurone Disease who can only communicate with his eyes via a computer. Together they have five children under the age of 10, as well as Pappy, a cantankerous Basset Hound. They are kept afloat by relentless army of nurses and carers that flows through their house in Greystones, on the East Coast of Ireland.

And then there is Ruth’s other family - her Tribe of amazing women. Amidst the chaos and the pain that rules their lives, The Tragic Wives Swimming Club congregate together - in summer and winter, on golden afternoons and by the light of the moon - on the sea steps at Women’s Cove. Day after day, they throw themselves into the freezing Irish sea. In that moment, they are free. Later, they will share a thermos of tea, teeth chattering, hands shaking, ready to take on the world once more.

An invocation to all of us to love as hard as we can, and live even harder, I Found My Tribe is an urgent and uplifting letter to a husband, family, friends, the natural world and the brightness of life.

My Review:

Back in 2008, Ruth Fitzmaurice’s husband Simon was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. His career was just starting to lift and they had three small children so Ruth put her writing ambitions on the back burner to care for him and them. Events took a more dramatic turn when he was given four years to live and then they had had twins. Even though Simon can only communicate using his eyes and technology, he still managed to direct My Name is Emily. Ruth regularly heads to a cove in Greystones, Co. Wicklow with two close friends, Michelle and Aifric to swim in the cold seas. She calls this tribe ‘The Tragic Wives’ Swimming Club’; and gives her a necessary respite from her other tribe of children and carers for Simon.

Even in the most tragic of circumstances, she can see hope, even though she has periods of time where she feels raw and vulnerable. Ruth has a roller coaster of emotions living with Simon and his motor neurone disease. It is tough, but not as tough as the moments when she has to answer the children’s questions as what is happening with Dad, especially when she doesn’t have the answers. The sea swimming becomes those moments when she can be herself and relax with her friends. Her beautiful, sparse prose gets to the very essence of what is happening with the various tribes. It is a moving book too, with several poignant moments.

She is one tough lady. 

Since this book was originally written Simon Fitzmaurice sadly passed away in October 2017. He was a celebrated filmmaker who even after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease still continued to make films. My Name Is Emily was about a teenager who decides to free her father from a mental hospital and starred Evanna Lynch, Michael Smiley, and George Webster. He made a documentary about his life called It's Not Yet Dark and it tells us how he coped with everything and how he spoke to the outside world using eye-tracking software. 

R I P Simon.

I am just one of a few on this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour. Please do take a few moments to have a look at the other blogs or search for the  hash-tag on Twitter to read more about the book.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Publisher Profile - Parthian

For me, independent publishers are the people in the industry who are prepared to take risks on new authors and books where the larger players either don't wish to venture, or where they can't see there being a return on. Each month in 2018 I am aiming to highlight some of my favourite independent publishers, along with some of their books that I have loved and also to have someone from the publisher answer a few questions. This month is the turn of Parthian

I had first come across Parthian because of the author John Harrison. Confusingly, there are two travel writers of that name, but this John Harrison is particularly good. The first of his that I read just over five years ago was Cloud Road. This is about his travels through the Inca Heartland as he hikes along the Camino Real. This 500-year-old road visiting villages where life has not changed in centuries. Managed to get hold of a copy of Where the Earth Ends which is about his travels in the landscape of Patagonia where we learn about the history and the people that he meets. Forgotten Footprints is very different from his previous books as it is more about the history Antarctica and the individuals that have been drawn to this harsh part of the world.

I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy of 1519 by Parthian. This is about another trip out to South America and he deftly weaves history with travel writing, but there are personal elements to this as we learn about his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you do get a chance to read any of his books, they are well worth it, he is a writer of quality. 

On my radar are A Van of One’s (mentioned below) and Seven Days which I will get hold of at some point. I have just bought a copy (signed!!) of Insufficiently Welsh which I am looking forward to.  I haven't ventured into their fiction offering, but Burrard Inlet looks really good from my perusal through the catalogue.

Eddie at Parthian Book was kind enough to answer the questions below:

Can you tell me a little about the history of Parthian?

Parthian will have been publishing for twenty-five years in 2018 so we’re looking back and seeing if it’s all been worth it. It has been a time of many emotions. Publishing is about hope and communication. The idea to make public, ideas and stories. We’ve published books that stay with you, become part of a shared culture and some that are forgotten quickly as they fail to find a hold and are hidden as the fall of new words turns with every year.
Rhys Davies Trust has been a constant for us with other work and projects through the twenty-five years and is now supporting the Modern Wales series. The Prince’s Youth Business Trust was crucial in the initial development of the venture with training and finance. 
Major supporters, once we got going, were first the Arts Council of Wales and then the Welsh Books Council with their many services to develop publishing in Wales. And then with devolution and a Welsh Government the Library of Wales project, now reaching fifty titles, has been a ground-breaking series edited with talent and ambition by Dai Smith. 
This year at twenty-five, we’re having a quick look back, but publishing is always about the future and this catalogue brings another year of books published by Parthian. 

How do you go about choosing the titles to be included in your portfolio?

What we look for are voices that bring something distinct to the table. This can come from anywhere and take any form. We look for prose or poetry that feels like it comes from an authentic place, grounded in what the author is trying to communicate. These are the stories that stay with you. We will always be especially keen on Welsh stories and authors that bring a different perspective on Wales or identify an overlooked aspect of the country. When publishing works in translation or stories from outside of Wales, we look for a tactile sense of place, imagery that immerses the reader in that specific time and location.

Tell me about your process after selecting a book for publication

Once a book is chosen by our commissioning editor, we send a contract to the author’s agent (or to the author directly in some cases). Once the contract is signed, we move on to the editing phase. This pairs an editor with the author to collaborate on putting together the best iteration possible of that story. This means that the first read through by the editor includes some large-scale suggestions (if warranted) which she or he discusses with the author. Then the editor reads through again, making more granular notes (extending a scene here, deleting a line there) which will strengthen the structure, tone, or themes of the story. Once the editor and author are done with the manuscript, it’s sent to a proofreader who goes through it with a fine-toothed comb and catches typos. Then, it is sent to the typesetter, and once it is type-set, the editor and/or proofreader will review the copy to ensure it is devoid of errors. Then, it is sent to the printer for its initial print run. Sometimes, proof copies are ordered and sent to reviewers after the type-set version is approved and before the final print copies are received.

What is the company philosophy when it comes to selecting for your catalogue?

When selecting books for our catalogue, we ask whether it aligns with our mission. Does it excite us? Does it tell a story we haven’t heard before? Does it reveal something new about Wales? Europe? Abroad? Is there a strong voice at its centre? These questions are our guiding criteria that we investigate the story with. We are confident that if a story is well-told and comes from a distinct voice, it will find its audience. We do not try to reverse engineer a hit based on our readership. We read something that strikes us and we commission accordingly.
What book do you wish you had published?

My pick is George Saunders’ debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo which won the Man Booker Prize. Saunders is arguably the greatest living short story writer, so having his first novel would’ve been having a piece of history. Would also have loved to get tips on beard-growing from the man.

Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Quartet. Or Marlon James’s forthcoming Dark Star trilogy, I think it will be a landmark in new, diverse fantasy fiction. 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. 
It's down to all of the involvement I've had in translated literature recently which has made me think a lot about translations I've enjoyed. I think this one was one of the first I read as a teenager and, like many others, I read at the time (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Camus etc) I didn't consider it as translated, probably because it was so brilliantly and seamlessly done - the mark of a great translation. (Also, I just love the whole concept of the book, each character and its perfect ending).

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kaye and Aaron's Rod by D.H. Lawrence.

What would you say were the undiscovered gems in your catalogue?

Our undiscovered gem is debut author Lloyd Markham’s Bad Ideas\Chemicals. This novel is one part social satire and one part fantasy adventure with a would-be planet hopper, an open mic player, and a prototypical lad banding together for a ‘bad’ night out. Despite a recent nomination for the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Award, it’s still largely undiscovered, with only 200 copies sold. We anticipate that’ll grow once the word spreads. 

How is the company organised today and how many people work for you?

The company is primarily based in Swansea and Cardiff, but has staff across south Wales. The publisher, Richard Lewis Davies, and editor, Susie Wild, work in Cardiff and frequently correspond with the main office in Swansea that is managed by Maria Zygogianni. Maria manages a team of interns that primarily come through Swansea University where the office is housed. The financial wing of the company is managed by Financial Director Gill Griffiths out of Cardigan, where other freelancers are based. 

How much effort goes into the design of the book, for example the cover design, font selection and so on?

Each cover is designed from scratch, with the content of the book and the demographics of the audience taken into consideration. Cover design is entrusted to expert freelancers who have collaborated with Parthian for several years. If a book is part of a series, such as the Library of Wales, there are common banners, logos, and fonts used with which the designer matches with an evocative image that coalesces with the placement of text. Books that are not part of a series have a greater range of parameters, yet a common aesthetic can be seen throughout our titles – one that makes books stand out on a shelf but are not screaming at the reader. 

Are there any up and coming books that you are publishing soon that we need to look out for?

A novel recently released is The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond. This literary thriller is set in Cyprus and written with a grounded sense of place and history. The author channelled his literary influence of Graham Greene to deliver a compelling, thoughtful meditation on identity and obsession.  

I, Eric Ngalle is a new memoir by author Eric Ngalle, a Cameroonian former refugee currently based in Cardiff. Eric’s new book tells of his journey from Cameroon to Wales. Written in his distinct voice, one with equal parts suffering and hope, Eric describes the years he was detained in Russia, not knowing if he’d ever get out. His story sheds light on contemporary Wales, and the piece of himself he left behind.

A work in translation from the Basque Country out this year is Her Mother’s Hands. This novel by Karmele Jaio is an examination of the deepest human bonds and a beautiful and moving tribute to life. The precarious balance in the life of Nerea, a thirty-something journalist, breaks down when her mother, Luisa, is hospitalised with total amnesia. Luisa is haunted by memories of a romance from her youth and soon Nerea begins to discover that the two women share much more than they believe.

What debut authors are you publishing this year?

Ironopolisis the debut novel from a talented young writer called Glen James Brown. This book is set in North East England and weaves together six stories from working class characters experiencing the collapse of their council estate. It explores collective memory, masculinity, the housing crisis, and cultural heritage through lived-in characters.

A talented young poet called Mari Ellis Dunning is releasing her debut collection titled Salacia. This accomplished collection is a contemporary reflection on mental health, mythology, love and loss. Salacia offers a stark and honest exploration of human nature and our fallibility, where the dark and sombre moments in life are as precious as the uplifting ones.

How did you come across them?

We come across debut authors in a range of ways. In the case of Ironopolis, we had the good fortune of receiving a query from the author’s literary agent, then read the full manuscript and signed on. Other authors we discover through submissions sent in hard copy to our Swansea office and read by our team. Still others we’ve made personal contact with, then discovered they had a book project that was in alignment with Parthian’s aesthetic. 

What title of yours has been an unexpected success?

We were confident that Biddy Wells’ A Van of One’s Own was a quality book, and we were delighted to find just how much it resonated with readers. It tells the story of how, propelled by a thirst for peace and quiet, for a modest adventure and, perhaps, for freedom, Biddy left for Portugal on her own, with only her old campervan, Myfanwy, and her GPS, Tanya, for company. 

A Van of One’s Own is a journey through the breath-taking scenery of France, Spain, and finally Portugal, populated by colourful characters and the roar of the ocean, the taste of fresh fish and the grind of the asphalt; but more importantly, it is a journey through past memories and present conflicts to inner peace.
How do you use social media for promoting books and authors?

Our social media presence on Facebook and Twitter is driven by the mission to situate Parthian within a collaborative community of readers, writers, editors, and administrators. We find ways to connect our authors with current events being covered in other media, such as how we’ve coupled promotion of Ironopolis, a working class novel, with The Guardian’s stories about working class and the arts. Another example is linking our new biography of Welsh suffragettes, Rocking the Boat, with the Processions 2018 public artwork that commemorates the women’s suffrage centenary. Through this collaborative approach, we increase the scope of our media reach and widen the context. We supplement this strategy with posts about individual author’s readings as well as book reviews and blogposts, in addition to posting live-feeds from events and recaps thereafter.

Is working with book bloggers becoming a larger part of that process now?

Book bloggers are an important part of getting early reviews for new releases. We’ve incorporated several book bloggers into our reviewer list and they’ve provided quality, timely reviews that have aided in promotion of the book. We anticipate growing this network even more, because of the expanding influence of bloggers with their audience and the importance of word-of-mouth support which is essential to the success of books published from independent presses.

What does the future hold for Parthian?

The future for Parthian includes further situating Wales within a global context. One way we do this is through our Carnival of Voices in translation from a wider Europe including recent work from the Basque Country, and the Baltic countries. These works help introduce Welsh and UK audiences to authors from regions of the world they’d not otherwise read, places like Greece, Malta, and Slovakia. It also builds partnerships with the home countries literary organisations and readerships, as in the case of Latvia, through which we published three volumes of poetry in 2018. 

We will also continue to give new authors their first publishing opportunity. This has proven core to our identity as an independent publisher and has led to several successes such as Alys Conran and her Wales Book of the Year-winning Pigeon. We will continue to find diverse, vibrant perspectives that bring a distinctly Welsh perspective to the world or bring a distinctly global perspective to Wales. Sometimes both. The Carnival of Voices will evolve to include all voices that have been marginalised because of mental illness, race, sexual orientation, and displacement. Publishing stories from these margins is how we will continue to push literature in Wales forward. 

A big thank you to Maria at Parthian for making time at fairly short notice to answer those questions for me. I really appreciate it. If you do want their books, get them direct from the website or I would urge you to buy them from an independent bookshop as you can as this supports them, the publisher and of course the author with one purchase. 

Previous Publisher Profiles: