Posts in Writing Squad Reviews

Eloise Unerman reviews Dumplin' by Julie Murphy.

Posted Friday 30 August 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Dumplin book cover

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is a young adult book about Willowdean Dickson, a self-proclaimed fat girl from Clover City, Texas. She’s always been at home in her own skin and her idea of having the ultimate bikini body is just putting a bikini on your body.

When new love leaves her doubting herself, she enters her local beauty pageant in an effort to take it back. The world of Dumplin’ is very important to me – both it and its sequel Puddin’ are sat on my shelves right now. I was hesitant to start reading at first. I had this fragile idea of who this girl should be and I was afraid that turning the page would ruin her. But I didn’t need to be.

I felt all the highs of Willowdean’s love life and all the lows of her relationship with her mum. But what struck me the most was something incredibly personal. She wasn’t the first plus size character I’d ever seen in a book or even the first well written one. But Murphy had perfectly pinpointed all the thoughts about being fat that I’d never spoken of, never read. And I think that’s what made Willowdean feel all the more real to me. She came along at a time when I was trying my best to have the same attitude towards my body as she did to her own. And, in an odd way, I was more than a little bit proud of her for accomplishing that.

Although Dumplin’ is a book about a girl in high school, I don’t think you need to be that age to enjoy her journey. I’d recommend this captivating book to anyone but especially those who have, at some point, felt uncomfortable in their own skin or had the sudden desire to enter a beauty pageant.

Inspired by Eloise's review? You can reserve Dumplin' from your library online for free. Or download the ebook or audiobook from your library or have a good ole Dumplin' party and watch the new film on Netflix! 


This month's Writing Squad guest reviewer is Eloise Unerman. Eloise is based in South Yorkshire and writes poetry and short stories, plus she runs poetry workshops for adults and young people.

She was awarded the Cuckoo Young Writers Award 2017 in the Northern Writers Awards and was Young Poet in Residence at 2018’s Ledbury Poetry Festival.

She is currently Barnsley’s Poet Laureate. When not writing, you can find her learning ballet and modern dance, sketching or adding to her scarf collection.  You'll also find Eloise on Twitter @inkandamaranth

Discover The Writing Squad - creating the next generation of young writers in the north.

"It’s hard to describe the experience of reading The Devastation"

Posted Thursday 7 March 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Melissa Buzzeo – The Devastation (Nightboat, 2015)

In the latest in a series of books by members of the Writing Squad on what book most influenced them, Dominic Leonard writes about a book that does not end with the page...

Buzzeo DavastationIt’s hard to describe the experience of reading The Devastation. It is a long (nearly 200 page) prose poem in several sections, tracing the end of a relationship through its reflections, difficulties, freedoms and relations, using the ongoing metaphorical dynamic of a slow, out-of-time sea-wreck. Refuse builds on the ocean floor as the fragments of what was once intimate connection is thrown down there, left to float away. The poem seems to disregard itself in the act of writing; it is a book, like Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue, largely about the inability to write in the face of violence and pain.

I first read this book in the frantic weeks leading up to my undergraduate dissertation submission, and despite its intensity it became a remarkably calming presence in my life – I continued to read it through revision for my finals and into summer. Looking back through it now I can remember the experience of first falling into this book; it is difficult and disorienting, like being lost at sea. The lines often don’t line up in a way that makes immediate sense; M. NourbeSe Philip describes it as a ‘liquification of language that simultaneously drowns yet buoys us up.’ The accumulative effect is one of being utterly adrift from the moors of language:

‘Death to death water to chatter. The recovered chemicals the charter. / Catheter charter / Heart / Beat.’

The book gestures outwards, indicating that it does not begin nor end with the page. Buzzeo’s dynamic use of the line and of white space challenge the very parameters of a book, both literally and metaphorically. The second part of the poem, ‘An Object,’ is one page, on which the poet promises that if she could, she would break off a piece of The Devastation and give it to the reader: ‘Not like a text, like an object.’ I tore most of the page out, and keep it in the back of a notebook.

Dominic LeonardAbout Dominic Leonard

Dominic studied English in Oxford and is now studying for an MA in Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry London, Oxford Poetry, The Scores, amberflora, Zarf, and elsewhere. In 2018 he won the Eugene Lee Hamilton Sonnet Prize, was the runner-up for the Jane Martin Prize, and a finalist for the Hollingworth Prize.

Dominic’s pamphlet love, bring myself is published by Broken Sleep Books.

‘Even the night took sides.’- Review of Kingdom of Gravity by Nick Makoha

Posted Friday 1 February 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Kingdom of Gravity"In early November Jay rang me up for our semi regularly scheduled poetry recommendation calls. ‘You have to read Kingdom of Gravity!’ he urged me, ‘Let me just read you a few lines and you can make the call then.’ So, he flicked to a random poem and read the following lines,

‘When the hills were on fire,

There were no angels to guide us.

Only the equator was able to divide

The land equally. Even the night took sides.’

Even the night took sides?! EVEN THE NIGHT TOOK SIDES! That line convinced me to buy Nick Makoha’s debut poetry collection, which I have not been able to put down for three months. Kingdom of Gravity does more than make music from the ruins of Ugandan politics and history but speaks to a peoples unbound by simple borders. Makoha somehow becomes a mouthpiece for the dead, the forgotten, the survivors and those who find themselves in ‘a country where they do not know your name.’

It is almost cinematic in the way it manages to weave together narratives from such diverse perspectives evoking a world somewhere between nightmare and reality. Bordering lyric, prose and in some ways oral history, Makoha somehow creates a collection that could easily sit in an archive somewhere the way it deals with topics of authoritarianism, humanity and mortality in Ugandan politics. These are the testimonies of soldiers, priests, politicians, children and in some ways the very earth itself.

"These are the testimonies of soldiers, priests, politicians, children and in some ways the very earth itself"

As a product of the Ethiopian diaspora, Kingdom of Gravity send me crashing back down to the soil I was uprooted from with the force of its vivid imagery and emotive language. But it’s not even its technicality that is so impressive but its ability to capture those tense moments that can rarely be described in words. Kingdom of Gravity is the silence of memory, the one hushed by a generation of AK47s, those lost moments when languages fly around the room just out of reach. It’s that feeling I get when the wheels hit the tarmac at Bole airport. It’s the place we never got to call home.

"Kingdom of Gravity is the silence of memory, the one hushed by a generation of AK47s"


Fahad Al-AmoudiFahad al-Ahmoudi is a Spoken Word Poet studying History at Durham University. He has performed at venues across the UK and Ethiopia and is currently the captain of the Durham University Slam Team. He is also the lead writer and vocalist for a spoken word band called The Poetry Experiment.

@freeformfahad and @thepoetryexperiment

It Takes Guts: A Story Of Love, Hope And A Missing Bowel By Evelyne Brink

Posted Monday 14 January 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

It takes guts: a story of love, hope and a missing bowel by Evelyne Brink"I have a condition that would be best characterised as intestinal failure. Leaving hospital, after six months as an inpatient and no longer able to eat or drink, I was desperate to find someone whom I could relate to regarding my condition. That is when I stumbled upon this book.

The author’s child, Tuffel, was born without a small bowel – meaning that he has to be fed into his veins through a picc line (which is like a long term cannula like you would get in hospital to have a drip through).

Having never met him or his mother, I gained a strong affinity with his story and trials, a connection so strong I couldn’t quite believe I only knew this family through these pages.

Hannah HodgsonEvelyne reminds me of my own mum, who amidst the chaos going on in our lives had the same strength and positivity shining through as had been described in the chapters of this book.

I come from a very traditional and stoical background, and so at first it was difficult for me to write about my experiences – but this book was my first step towards granting myself the permission to write about this subject and allowed me to recognise that you can write about the good as well as the bad.

This mother and baby helped to make me feel comfortable in my newly diagnosed skin.

I come back to It Takes Guts often, reminding me that love and humour are still important, even in the darkest of situations."

About Hannah

Dear Body Hannah HodgsonHannah Hodgson’s poetry pamphlet, ‘Dear Body’ is published by Wayleave Press at the beginning of 2018. and has been described as “a moving and salutary poetry collection, the poems precise and controlled, expressive without excess or sentimentality.” and “written with an expressive cathartic tone, a unique and wit-ridden perspective and a resilient refusal to be overcome.”

Hannah has also been published by Acumen, Poetry Salzburg, Under the Radar magazine and has won many young poets network competitions, with a range of my poems available on The Poetry Society website.

As well as visiting school to talk about alternative life routes to university, especially for those experiencing health issues, Hannah has run poetry workshops for The Reading Agency and has been blogger in residence for he Kendal Poetry Festival and The Words by the Water.

Through her YouTube blog she acts as a patient advocate, hoping to give a window in to what life is like as a young woman whose life has been drastically changed, but not defined, by disability and Illness.

Link to YouTube blog:

Link to site:

North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

Keep up to date

Follow Us

  • flickr
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • twitter

We use cookies to help us provide you with a better service, but do not track anything that can be used to personally identify you.

If you prefer us not to set these cookies, please visit our Cookie Settings page or continue browsing our site to accept them.