T.J. Masters
Passionately Writing Passion

#Patrick Gale

Well Read Wednesday The Lockdown Reader 5 The Featured Author List: Patrick Gale

Now we come to a very particular pile of books which I read during 2020. Yes, I’ve already covered the novels I’ve read in a previous post but I also devoured no less than twelve titles by the same author namely Patrick Gale. For those who may not know Patrick, lets take a look at the man himself first. Born on the Isle of Wight in 1962 Patrick spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, where his father was governor. Most of Patrick’s youth was spent living in Winchester, but he graduated in English from New College, Oxford in 1983. Patrick now lives on a farm near Land’s End, Cornwall with his partner, sculptor Aiden Hicks.  As a passionate gardener, cook, and cellist Patrick also makes time to chair the North Cornwall Book Festival each October. I first encountered Patrick as the author of the Emmy Award winning TV mini-series Man in an Orange Shirt which was first broadcast in the summer of 2017. I resolved to read some of his work but life interfered for a couple of years and the t0-be-read pile just kept growing until I saw the author in conversation with my good friend Mary Beard. Her Front Row Late, TV series had morphed into Lockdown Culture and we saw Mary in remote conversation with several cultural icons of which Patrick Gale was one. I already had one of his books in that afore mentioned pile and so I started to read A Place Called Winter.

Over subsequent months I read many of Patrick’s works and have yet to read one that I have not loved from beginning to end. It would be crazy to think that I could write a dozen or so full book reviews in one blog post so I will openly cheat by giving you book blurbs for some, with short comments for all of them from me.

1) I think that the reason I began with A Place Called Winter is that it had been shortlisted for the Costa prize soon after publication in 2015. This book sang to me. Everything that I look for in a novel was there and as such it has set a benchmark for my own writing aspirations. This is a great love story inhabited by wonderful characters who develop real relationships in gloriously detailed settings. I was also pleased to see that just like other gay writers whom I truly admire, this author had written strong female characters into the tale. I am so pleased that as I read Patrick’s other works I found that this was a positive thread through all of them.

A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence – until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything.

Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.

In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.

2) My next foray into Patrick’s work was his most recent book, the 2018 Take Nothing With You which became his fourth Sunday Times Best Seller. This book resonated with so much from my own past with a previous long term partner who had been an organ scholar at Bristol’s Clifton College. Music plays a really important part in the author’s life and so it is a recurring theme in many of his books.

Take Nothing With You is a sad-funny comedy of resilience and survival. Fifty-something Eustace, a gay Londoner of leisure, realises in the same week that he has fallen hopelessly in love with a man he has yet to meet in the flesh, and that he has cancer of the thyroid. While being given radioactive iodine therapy, which involves spending a little over 24 hours in a lead-lined hospital suite wearing only disposable clothes and with no possessions he doesn’t mind leaving behind, he listens to hour on hour of cello music recorded for him by his best mate, Naomi. This sets his memories circling back to the 1970s and his eccentric boyhood and adolescence in his parents’ old people’s home in Weston-Super-Mare, and how his life was transfigured and his family’s stability shattered, by the decision to attend a recital by the glamorous cellist, Carla Gold.

3) Notes from an Exhibition (2007) was my next read and I have already posted a review about this novel in July 2019. I loved the way each chapter was indeed curated like the pictures in an art exhibition, with different character points of view in many of them. A huge attraction for me was the beautiful Cornish setting for much of the story.

When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies raving in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind her paintings of genius – but she leaves also a legacy of secrets and emotional damage it will take months to unravel.

Patrick Gale’s novel is the story of a woman he has called “my most frightening mother to date”. She’s a genius, a loving wife and parent, a faithful friend but she’s also tormented by bi-polar disorder and driven by an artistic compulsion – often barely distinguishable from her mental illness – to damage all who try to love and protect her.

Notes from an Exhibition takes its title from the information cards displayed beside works of art in a gallery or museum. Each chapter in the novel begins with a different example, all of them referring Kelly’s art or possessions. We never see examples of her work but it is described in detail and a cumulative effect of the novel is the reader’s sense that they are walking around a retrospective of her art.

Each chapter reflects in some way the object or art work that the curatorial voice describes at its outset, sometimes directly, sometimes in some enigmatic way. There’s a sense that the curator’s notes give us the official version, the art gives us another and the piece of narrative that follows yet another. The messy, human truth lies somewhere in between all three.

Roughly half of the chapters are told from Rachel’s viewpoint and these form the novel’s backbone, portraying key episodes in her life that take us to Penzance , to New York and to Toronto , from an idyllic afternoon on a Cornish beach to a nightmarish spell on a psychiatric ward. Interleaved with her story, however, are the stories of her sister, her husband and her four children, each of them giving a different perspective on this extraordinary woman, each of them seen both in youth and in adulthood.

What emerges is the intensely dramatic and complex history of one woman and her almost inhuman dedication to art but also a moving portrait of her marriage to a longsuffering Quaker English teacher and a study of the way her ambiguous gifts wreck emotional havoc within her family even after her death.

Drawing on the West Cornish settings Patrick Gale knows so well, it will please fans of his earlier Cornish novel, Rough Music, not merely in its depiction of a troubled family but in the exciting way it leads its reader to play detective with the assortment of narrative evidence laid before them.

4) The quality of that novel and the mention of it following in the wake of an earlier Cornish tale then led me to read Rough Music (2000). Again the trope about growing up gay in a very straight world resonated deeply for me, as did the wonderful Cornish setting since this had also formed the backdrop of what I think of as my own “coming out years”.

For his fortieth birthday, a gay bookseller is given a holiday in a seaside cottage in North Cornwall. He takes his parents, who need the break because the mother has early onset Alzheimers, his nephews and his married lover, who just happens to be his brother-in-law.

Meanwhile, back in 1968, the forty-something governor of Wandsworth Prison also takes his wife and small boy on holiday to Cornwall full of good intentions about the quality time he intends to enjoy with them.

But then his charismatic American brother-in-law shows up with his bolshie tomboy daughter and there’s a break-out at the prison and everything goes horribly awry. As the two holidays fall apart in a welter of truth telling and bad behaviour, the stories unfold around one another, the novel builds to a double climax and we come to understand that we are seeing the same family at two different points in its history.

But what terrible thing happened back in the sixties to make them the way they are in the present? Deeply personal, Patrick’s most overtly autobiographical novel to date, Rough Music’s unsparing portrayal of the painful realities of being a gay child (at whatever age), of unrequited married love, of losing one’s mind, made this the novel with which he has found thousands of new readers.

After having devoured these four wonderful novels I then decided to do something I’d not done for many years. I definitely wanted more of this author’s work, but I also wanted to track his journey as a writer and so I started to read all of his published books in chronological order of publication. Not wanting to add several thousand more words to this blog post I am going to simply list the next eight works that I read, with a very brief word on each of them apart from the last one which has left me reeling and full of emotion about a period from my own past.

5) The Aerodynamics of Pork (1985) was Patrick’s first novel and was written as a way of subverting the recently launched Betty Trask prize, which was then solely for romantic fiction. The blurb on The author’s own website describes the book as:

Confident and energetic as novels can only be when the writer has no sense of a public, The Aerodynamics of Pork is now often dismissed by its author as seeming overwritten and under-edited but it remains a cult favourite with his following. 

I loved it but as someone who views his own first novel in exactly the same way, I wonder if he cringes about it as much as I do when I read mine?

6) Ease (1985) was the second novel but published in the same year. I have to say that we are dragged through the narrative at a rate of knots but as a collection of varied character studies this book is a great read.

7) Kansas in August (1987) The title is not the setting for this story but is of course a musical reference which if you are a gay man of a certain age, you will already be hearing inside your head! This was the last of Patrick’s so called Bayswater novels and revolves around the musical-obsessed Hilary Metcalfe who is abandoned by his lover Rufus on his birthday. Hilary gets drunk and on the way home he discovers a baby which he brings back to his flat above a corner shop – as you do! I found the whole thing very poignant and very funny.

8) Facing the Tank (1988) I am a great fan of stories set in chintzy Middle England and this one is a hilarious nod to those. I suspect the fictional cathedral city of Barrowcester is a reflection of Patrick’s formative years in Winchester and it is all the richer for that.

9) Little Bits of Baby (1989) This is an unashamedly romantic novel but at the same time full of the wit and dark humour that I am coming to like so much in Patrick’s writing. As for the central character Robin, I just wanted to give him a huge hug!

10) The Cat Sanctuary (1990) after facing some criticism over the predominance of gay male characters in previous novels, in this tale Patrick deftly transports us back to Cornwall and drops us into a strongly matriarchal community. This patchwork quilt of characters and their relationships is at least as well written as any previous ones and I for one found the story telling both moving and beautiful.

If the next story is anything to go by then Patrick is a consummate writer of the short story form and I really wish it were a form both encouraged and supported by more publishers.

11) Caesar’s Wife (1991) At first this story confused me because it was published under the title Secret Lives along with novels by two friends of his. It has however been reissued in 2018 in the volume Three Decades of Stories along with many other short works of his that I am now impatient to read. Caesar’s Wife is a well structured tapestry of rich characters who prove to us that the course of true love never does run easily.

Okay we have come to the last novel of Patrick’s which I read last year. if there is a novel which marks the authors coming of age in writing then this is the one for me. I found everything before this to be superbly well crafted, but this is the one which on a personal level spoke to me most loudly and clearly.

12) The Facts of Life (1995) was an astonishingly moving tale especially in the latter part where it is set so deeply in the AIDS crisis of the 80’s. As someone who lived through that wholly unforgettable time and watched friends and lovers dying around me – even in my arms, it resonated deeply. I found myself at various points either unable to stop reading, or at other times having to stop and close the book because it had moved me so much. I recognised in the story telling, the same sense of survivors guilt that I have lived with for all these years. For me the pain was eased with the onset of treatments which now mean that so many people can live long and healthy lives with the virus. I am sure that I am not the only gay man in the current crisis who has wondered why, if we can develop so many Covid vaccines in less than a year, why are we still waiting after 40 years for an effective HIV vaccine? I will leave that question out there and return to this wonderful book.

Edward Pepper is an exile, saved from Nazi Germany in the Kindertransport as a child, ostracised in England as a German Jew, then cut off still further by developing TB. He is saved, in every sense, by Sally, the doctor who becomes his wife.

Thanks to their unmarried benefactors, they set up home in The Roundel, an octagonal house always inherited by women, where she supports him as he struggles to make a living as a composer. But Sally’s strength of character cannot protect him from his past or from the predatory interest of Myra Toye, an actress he encounters while working at a film studio.

Years later Edward’s grandson and granddaughter work out a drama of their own when he falls in love and develops AIDS in one fell swoop and she feels compelled to rebuild her life around the precious years that remain of his. Patterns repeat themselves with subtle alterations and once again Edward must face the pain of a survivor’s guilt.

Legendary Chatto and Windus editor, Carmen Callil had suggested Patrick could at once stretch his technique with a longer literary form and indulge his fascination with intimate relationships by turning his hand to a family saga. This was the result: three generations of a family working out their loves and recriminations in a strange country house in the Cambridgeshire fens. Continuing to inhabit the dark areas that seemed to erupt into Gale’s work with The Cat Sanctuary, The Facts of Life is not without humour, but it’s a humour deeply rooted in and enriched by a knowledge of human pain. The Roundel is closely modelled on A La Ronde, an extraordinary house near Exmouth now opened to the public by the National Trust but which Patrick had the good fortune to be shown around when it was still owned by the last of the many female generations to had exclusive use of it.

Until I read The Facts of Life, my hero of the gay literary genre was most definitely Armistead Maupin. Now I have to put Patrick Gale right up there beside him and I am impatient to read the rest of the back catalogue. Of course I hope that there will be more new novels and if Man in an Orange Shirt is anything to go by lets have more TV scripts too! For full details of all of Patrick Gale’s books go to his website at https://galewarning.org/

I hope that these last five blog posts have not just shown you my personal reading habits but have introduced you to some new titles or new authors that you might take a closer look at. Lockdown is still very much with us and my  current ‘to-be-read’ pile seems bigger than ever. I will be back with more recommendations but do stay safe and keep reading!

Well Read Wednesday The Lockdown Reader 4 The Reference Books.

The third pile of books may be the smallest of the four but it is one of the most important. For a searcher of knowledge, or for an author, there must always be the reference books which you will never read from cover to cover but you will pick up when you need to check something, or you may treat them as some sort of box of delights that you dip into when the brain needs a little recreation. I have not included the obvious everyday reference books I use like dictionaries, thesaurus or books of quotations. I have also chosen not to include the many gardening books that I refer to from time to time. So, what are we left with?

First of all is one of those brain fodder choices and it is the biggest volume with the longest title. The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials by Laurie Frost. This remarkable book contains in-depth, chapter-referenced sections on characters, places, creatures, sciences, languages, and so much more. It is recognised as the official, and definitive, reference guide to Pullman’s original trilogy: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Even the great man himself says “I know I’ve returned to it frequently. And I know I’ll continue to do so.” What better affirmation is there? Every time I dive into it I experience a lightbulb moment or two. If you liked Pullmans books you will love this.

I am a big fan of the ‘…….For Dummies’ series especially when using a new item of intricate software. Two of these have featured highly this last year. First is Scrivener For Dummies by Gwen Hernandez. Now Scrivener itself is an awesome piece of software for authors. Whether you’re a meticulous planner, a seat-of-the-pants writer, or something in between, this software package provides a range of tools for every stage of the writing process. The term ‘essential’ is often over used in regards to software but this time it really does apply. The book shows you from how to customize project templates to compiling your project for print and e-book formats. To aid workflow it shows you how to set up project and document targets and minimize distractions to keep you on track and on deadline. It explains how to storyboard with the corkboard, how to create collections such as research materials, character profiles etc, and even how to use automated backups to protect your hard work along the way.

The second of these was Instagram For Dummies by Jennifer Herman. Now I am not aiming for glory as an Instagram influencer but I do want to use it in a structured way. This book gives you tips for creating great Instagram images, personalizing your posts, building and connecting with the Instagram community, and working with Stories and IGTV. This book could be the difference between you being a slave to Social Media or getting it to work for you.

The next book is one that I happened across in my much loved coffee shop. Sawday’s The Extra Mile: Delicious Alternatives to Motorway Services by Laura Collacott and Alastair Sawday This book does exactly what it says on the cover and is packed full of alternatives to the bland and pricey motorway services. Whether its a village pub, coffee shop or garden centre teashop I for one can’t wait to start travelling again so that I can try out more of the gems hidden in this guide.

My most outlandish reference book of 2020 was undoubtedly The Encyclopedia Of Unusual Sex Practices  by Brenda Love Packed with more astonishing facts than one might ever have imagined, or, maybe one might!  This is a unique and very comprehensive guide to human sexual expression, from the mildly kinky to the truly bizarre is presented in standard alphabetical order we explore everything from Acrophilia (being sexually aroused by heights) to Zelophilia (being aroused by jealousy) via a veritable litany of arcane pursuits which can sometimes be repellent, sometimes stimulating – but always absolutely fascinating.

Finally, a book which I now buy every year. It is The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2020 by Lia Leendertz Here I shall turn to the book’s own blurb to try and summarize it’s usefulness. The Almanac reinvents the tradition of the rural almanac for a new audience. It gives you the tools and inspiration you need to celebrate, mark and appreciate each month of the year in your own particular way. Divided into the 12 months, a set of tables each month gives it the feel and weight of a traditional almanac, providing practical information that gives access to the outdoors and the seasons, perfect for expeditions, meteor-spotting nights and beach holidays. There are also features on each month’s unique nature, such as the meteor shower of the month, beehive behaviour, folklore and stories, seasonal recipes and charts tracking moon phases and tides.

Many of you will know my habit of referring on social media etc. to seasonal events and to help this I refer to the almanac all year long, revisiting it again and again, and have already started following the 2021 edition.

That’s it for now but coming up next is the pile of novels by Patrick Gale which have given me the most reading joy during the lockdown.

Well Read Wednesday The Lockdown Reader 3 The General Fiction List

Today’s adventure into the pile of books I’ve read this year looks at the novels, but as mentioned in Part 1, my fiction reading is divided into two lists. Today I will take you through the stand alone novels which have kept me entertained. The second list which will follow in part 5, covers the many novels written by the same author Patrick Gale.

Lets get started with two novels which I’ve already reviewed in earlier blog posts and so will only mention briefly here. First there was the hilarious High Fire by Eóin ColferI have been a big fan of his internationally bestselling Artemis Fowl series so this, the author’s first adult fantasy novel was long awaited. Colfer did not disappoint and the book is a is a hilarious but unlikely, high-octane adventure about a vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon who’s been hiding away from the world – and any potential pitch-fork and torch-carrying mobs – in a Louisiana bayou.

The second of these previously reviewed books is the novel Normal People by Sally Rooney. This was a Number One Sunday Times Bestseller, the winner of the Costa Novel Award 2018 and also spawned one of the best television series of this year. Two young teens from the west of Ireland meet at school, but then they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin. The connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years. This is an exquisite love story about how one person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. You have to avoid the feeling that they both need their heads banged together, or at least for someone to sit them down and tell them that they are profoundly in love, but maybe it works all the better for that.

Next came Tin Man which had sat in my to-be-read pile for way too long. Sarah Winman crafted a wonderful story but to describe it as a love story would not do it justice. In essence this is the tale of two boys, Ellis and Michael who are inseparable. The boys become men and then Annie walks into their lives and changes both nothing and everything. If that has you intrigued then good. Go and read it because you will not regret it and you will understand why this book was Shortlisted for the 2017 Costa Novel Award. Lets stick with women writers for the moment since this gives me a chance to mention in passing, how modern women authors are toppling the classic white male authors from their literary perches! My next choice therefore is the remarkable Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward. This novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020, but it came to my attention when it featured on BBC Two’s Between the Covers. I shall steal in part from the book blurb to describe the story in which lovers Rachel and Eliza are planning their future together. One night in bed Rachel wakes up terrified and tells Eliza that an ant has crawled into her eye and is stuck there. Rachel is certain; Eliza, a scientist, is sceptical. Suddenly their entire relationship is called into question. What follows is a uniquely imaginative sequence of interlinked stories ranging across time, place and perspective to form a sparkling philosophical tale of love, lost and found across the universe. For those who like their storytelling peppered with a good dose of philosophy ( I do ever since Sophies World) then I really do recommend this highly imaginative novel. Of course among women writers, few can match the success of Margaret Attwood who this year brought everything that the fans of The Handmaids Tale had waited so long for. The sequel appeared in the form of The Testaments and was not only an instant best seller but won the Booker Prize. The scarily familiar Republic of Gilead is now starting to rot from within. At this crucial moment, two girls with radically different experiences of the regime come face to face with the legendary, ruthless Aunt Lydia. But how far will each go for what she believes? The story draws us uncomfortably in but I warn you it may leave you in tears by the end.

My next book is a slight cheat in this list. It’s not a novel but a biographical essay, I have snuck it in here because it is written by one of my favourite novelists, Irishman Colm Tóibin and it’s subject is a woman who was one of the architects of the great Irish Literary Revival, Lady Augusta Gregory. Called Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush, this essay gives us a beautiful insight into the life of the outspoken Irishwoman. In his inimitable and sensitive way Tóibin delivers to us, this remarkable figure in Celtic history, she was married to an MP and land-owner, yet retained an unprecedented independence of both thought and deed, actively championing causes close to her heart. At once conservative and radical in her beliefs, she saw no conflict in idealizing and mythologizing the Irish peasantry, for example, while her landlord husband introduced legislation that would, in part, lead to the widespread misery, poverty and starvation of the Great Famine. Nevertheless, as founder of Dublin’s famous  Abbey Theatre, an outspoken opponent of censorship, and mentor, muse, and mother-figure to W. B. Yeats, Augusta Gregory played a pivotal role in shaping Irish literary and dramatic history. Perhaps the surprise nugget in this tale is that, despite her parents’ early predictions of spinsterhood, she was no matronly figure, engaging in a passionate affair while newly-wedded and, as she approached sixty, falling for a man almost twenty years her junior.

Next comes a tale of Deep England. In Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers, we find ourselves in Edmundsbury, a small town in the east of England where fear and loathing are on the rise. Brexit has happened and the ramifications are real. This is a not so unfamiliar England where a grass-roots, right-wing political party ‘England Always’ is fomenting hatred. The residents of a failing housing estate are being cleared from their homes. A multinational tech company is making inroads into the infrastructure. The real fun starts with a controversial tweet; a series of ill-judged think pieces and a riot of opinions – suddenly Edmundsbury is no longer the peaceful town it had always imagined itself to be. We are face to face with new technologies and the realisation that the interests they serve are maybe not so new. This is clever satire, rich with irony which manages to be both very funny and very profound.

From contemporary Britain we now travel back in time to Ancient Greece and the second of Stephen Fry‘s books on the Greek Myths. Heroes: The myths of the Ancient Greek heroes retoldWhether you are familiar with these age old tales or not, few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes both good and bad.

Next we turn from myth to magic with The Ocean at the End of the Lane by the Master storyteller Neil Gaiman. I found this book to be a wonderful fantasy but at the same time a dissection of childhood memories and how they can and do effect our adult lives. I was doubly pleased that my edition is beautifully illustrated throughout by the very talented Elise Hurst.

Now any book which mentions a library in the title usually grabs my attention. In the case of Matt Haig‘s The Midnight Library there was so much hype around it’s publication that I was wary. Then the Sunday Times Bestseller List was topped, as was The New York Times list. Once again it was a pick on BBC Two’s Between The Covers book club which grabbed my attention so I ordered it. I loved it. The premise of the story is brilliantly simple. Apparently between life and death there is a library. When suicidal Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change. The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect ‘if only’ life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be,. Of course that perfect life is not always so perfect and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger. Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live? For me some of the outcomes were predictable but what I loved most of all was the notion that books have the power to change lives and that second chances are always there for the taking.

With so many great new finds this year there has been little time to reread any old favourites. Two notable exceptions were the books in Anne Rice‘s Wolf Gift Chronicles The Wolf Gift and The Wolves of Midwinter. In these books Rice has delivered her slant on the werewolf myth in just the same way that she built a new architecture for the vampire legend. In the first book we meet journalist Reuben Golding visiting the extraordinary, grand mansion of Nideck Point to write an article about it. He is shown around by it’s current utterly captivating occupant. Following a brutal attack the owner is murdered and Reuben finds himself changing. His hair is longer, his skin is more sensitive and he can hear things he never could before. Now in a choice between man or monster, he must confront the beast within him or lose himself completely. The book is full of the kind of rich detail in setting, characterisation and world building which makes Anne Rice one of my most favourite authors.

The Wolf Gift however is only a grand preface to the glorious second novel, The Wolves of Midwinter. Here again I shall turn to the book blurb to summarise this tale:

“It is the beginning of December and it is cold and grey outside. In the stately flickering hearths of Nideck Point, oak fires are burning. The Morphenkinder are busy getting ready for the ancient pagan feast of midwinter. Everyone is invited, including some of their own who do not wish them well. Reuben, the newest of the Morphenkinder, is struggling with his new existence as a Man Wolf, struggling to learn to control his desires and bloodthirsty urges. His pure, luminous girlfriend Laura seems all set to join him in this new way of life, but Reuben is not at all certain he will love her if she becomes as he is. Beyond the mansion, the forest echoes with howling winds, which carry with them tales of a strange nether world, and of spirits centuries old who possess their own fantastical ancient histories and taunt with their dark, magical powers. As preparations for the feast gather pace, destiny continues to hound Reuben, not least in the form of a strange, tormented ghost who appears at the window, unable to speak. But he is not alone: before the festivities are over, choices must be made choices which will decide the fate of the Morphenkinder for ever.”  If you loved The Vampire Chronicles you will love these books too.

I will end this list with a book that stands out as one of the most extraordinary that I’ve read this year

I have long admired the now world famous Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis who in Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present delivers science fiction, Utopian vision, socialism and green politics. This is no naïve Utopian tale but one set in an alternative near future  where we are asked to think what might have happened if Occupy and Extinction Rebellion had actually won. There are no banks. No stock market. No tech giants. No billionaires. Capitalism has gone as we know it. The author is to my mind a modern day reincarnation of a classical Greek Hero. His description of the other world is utterly compelling and believable but of course having wooed us with it’s appeal, he also leads us to the point where we start to ask if this is what we really want. Here I remind you of my musings on The Midnight Library and its second chances. The grass may often look greener on the other side of the fence but isn’t it really only greener on whichever side of the fence that you mow it?


Coming soon The Lockdown Reader 4 The Reference books.