Posts in Writing Squad Reviews

"The sun may well be shouting": Sexing the Cherry reviewed

Posted Tuesday 17 April 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Sexing the CherrySexing the Cherry is one of the most extraordinary books I know. In revisiting it, I was struck by how much of it was still lodged beneath my skin. Ideas about life, language, time and gender that I thought were my own all lie here. Barely a page goes by without some revelation or immediately recognisable truth that has both never crossed your mind before, and yet somehow you have always known.

The plot (of which there isn’t much) follows a giantess and her adopted son, whose adventures begin in 17th Century London and stretch to the farthest flung corners of the imagination. To describe it as Magical Realism feels both accurate and somehow lacking. This is a magic book, and Winterson conjures through language. Words are slippery; what seemingly begins as metaphor can talk itself into actuality. Take a line like:

“We saw the sun rising over the water, and the light got louder and louder until we were shouting to make ourselves heard.”

"In another’s hand this is just poetry, but in this world the sun may well be shouting."

In another’s hand this is just poetry, but in this world the sun may well be shouting. Over the page words even take physical form:

“Words, rising up, form a thick cloud over the city, which every so often must be thoroughly cleansed of too much language. Men and women in balloons fly up from the main square and, armed with mops and scrubbing brushes, do battle with the canopy of words trapped under the sun.”

Winterson has also thoroughly cleansed her book of too much language: my paperback runs to a scant 144 pages, she writes with the punch and economy of a fairytale. Closer in some ways to poetry than prose, these are plain words well chosen, and it’s this matter-of-fact approach to the fantastical that makes it so extraordinary.

"she writes with the punch and economy of a fairytale"

Sexing the Cherry is not entirely flawless; there are a few sections in the latter half where story surrenders entirely to philosophy, and though Winterson’s tender portrayal of lesbian relationships is second to none, some of her righteous (and arguably vital) misandry has the unfortunate effect of presenting male homosexuality as shorthand for stupidity or corruption. That said, I can think of no other book so stuffed with magic, beauty and original thought. Disappear into it, and emerge ready for fresh adventures.


Chris BushChris is a Sheffield-born playwright, lyricist and theatre-maker. She has been a resident artist for Sheffield Theatres, the Oxford Playhouse and the National Theatre Studio, and a member of the Orange Tree Theatre’s Writers’ Collective.

Past work includes A Declaration from the People (National Theatre), What We  Wished For, A Dream, The Sheffield Mysteries (Sheffield Theatres), Larksong (New Vic Theatre), Cards on the Table (Royal Exchange, Manchester), ODD(Royal & Derngate: concert performance), Sleight & Hand(Summerhall/BBC Arts), TONY! The Blair Musical (York Theatre Royal/Tour), Poking the Bear (Theatre503), The Bureau of Lost Things (Theatre503/Rose Bruford) and Wolf(National Theatre Studio: reading). She specializes in musicals, large-scale community work and political theatre that isn’t rubbish.

Chris has won the National Young Playwrights’ Festival, a Brit Writers’ Award, the Perfect Pitch Award, two Spotlight Emerging Artists’ Awards and a Kevin Spacey Foundation Artist of Choice Award. She also teaches playwriting for the National Theatre, and is a visiting practitioner at the University of York.

Chris’ new musical The Assassination of Katie Hopkins opens at Theatr Clwyd on 20th April

Songlines: making you question your travel and your home

Posted Tuesday 27 February 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Continuing our occasional series of book reviews by members of the Writing Squad, Charlotte Wetton talks about a travel book which made a big impact, and may do so on you as well.

If you like plots more than ideas, this might not be the Songlinesbook for you. The Songlines describes the author’s time in central Australia and his efforts to understand the Aborigines ‘songlines’ across their land, but it broadens into a hunt for a more universal truth about our species. Chatwin’s friend Salmon Rushdie described The Songlines as ‘an obsession too great for him’. Chatwin had previously written, but failed to publish, an academic book on nomads; and this book does read as one with a vast reservoir of thinking behind it.

But The Songlines is no dry opinion-piece. Its pacey prose and dialogue are enjoyably clear. The novelistic drive comes partly from the wonderful characters who appear from the first pages - the priests and policemen and activists who populate Alice, many connected to the Aboriginal land-rights movement. Scenes such as the kangaroo hunt – the traditional spear replaced by the front of a truck – are vividly memorable.

"Chatwin builds his case that nomads are ‘the crank-handle of history’ and that to be stationary is the cause of all melancholia"

Having lured you into this hot, dusty, peopled world, the book changes in the middle and there is a long section of extracts from Chatwin’s travel notebooks. Here are chance encounters on the road, potted life histories, quotations from philosophy, mythology, archaeology and ethnography. Through these snippets, Chatwin builds his case that nomads are ‘the crank-handle of history’ and that to be stationary is the cause of all melancholia. The narrative resumes, the notebooks inter-spaced with his time in Australia. He expands his quest for understanding to the human psyche, pondering the existence of ‘Dinofelis’ -  a big-cat preying on early humans, who could be responsible for the formation of our psyche around the terror of being hunted.

"this book expanded my mind. It made me question my own experience of travel and home"

I don’t know how much of this research may have been debunked in the thirty years since publication, but this book expanded my mind. It made me question my own experience of travel and home – what parts of mythology and anthropology spoke to my experience of the world? This is an intellectual read but it’s an enjoyable and fleshy one; people and places brought to life with Chatwin’s sparse style - such as the explosive haggle between an Aborigine artist and a white art-dealer. This is research through a life lived, a book that studies humans but that is ultimately concerned with humanity and human encounters.

Charlotte WettonCharlotte is a poet based in West Yorkshire. Her first pamphlet, I Refuse to Turn into a Hat-Stand won the Michael Marks Awards 2017, following a spoken word album, Body Politic. She has published in Poetry Wales, Staple, Stand etc.  She regularly performs across the North and will run workshops if the opportunity sounds fun. She is on Twitter as @CharPoetry

Neuromancer: messing with our brains since 1984

Posted Tuesday 13 February 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Continuing our occasional series of book reviews by members of the Writing Squad, Jack Mann writes about a book which defined part of the modern world and has, in some ways, messed with all our brains...

"William Gibson’s Neuromancer is an ambitious tech-noir thriller that explores through the lens of Henry Case, a fallen-from-grace computer hacker, the consequences of assimilating binaries – namely flesh/synthetic, feeling/thinking, suicidal tendencies/the need to get paid. Neuromancer is William Gibson’s first full novel, first published in 1984 as the first of The Sprawl Trilogy set in the not-too-distant future.

NeuromancerI enjoy Neuromancer’s prescience. Gibson coined the term ‘cyberspace’ in this novel and even with the manifestation of the internet as we now know it in the line: ‘a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation’, he doesn’t see himself as a science fiction writer. Gibson is also an inadvertent literary sartorialist, where his depiction of The Sprawl’s technologically augmented Molly Millions single-handedly sparked the ‘cyberpunk’ fashion sub-culture – including The Ghost in the Shell manga and The Matrix films’ character outfits.

‘He saw that her hands were sticky with blood. Back in the shadows, someone made wet sounds and died.’

I delight in Neuromancer’s B-movie pulp. The sex and the violence are graphic, the dialogue is often overly hep and how the story plays out improbable. Further, Gibson’s prose can become so frantic, so simultaneously nebulous and anachronistic, that it can be near impossible to decipher some scenes. And yet, at its best, Neuromancer is equally inspired, incisive and idiosyncratic.

“I know how you’re wired.”

Ultimately, this novel is about (faulty) connections. Whether that’s Case and Molly’s relationship, or Case ‘jacked in’ to cyberspace, Gibson prefers to learn and assimilate with the other than be ignorant, intolerant, or, indeed, subjugated by it. Through the tempered glass, Neuromancer is as much an open-minded reflection on its present as it is a dystopic vision of a possible future that increases in salience the more I work with both people and computers."

Block Jack MannJack MannJack Mann writes for his voice and speaks both pre-written and also improvised pieces, often with musicians he’s just met.  His poem Block explores 11 one on one reactions with urban environments and the people within them.

Jenny Danes on "Kitchen" by Banana Yoshimoto

Posted Monday 29 January 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

This post is the second in a series by members of the Writing Squad, which provides support to writers in the North aged 16 to 21

Kitchen"Even before you’ve opened it, Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is surely one of the most satisfying books to hold. Assuming you read the 2001 Faber edition, it’s small and very bright, and makes you want to carry it around with you. There’s a lovely preface by the author where she talks about having ‘something I wanted to say in a novel, and I wanted, no matter what it took, to continue writing until I got the saying of it out of my system’. And that’s what it feels like. It does somehow seem like the book has come from quite a meaningful and considered place.

Kitchen is comprised of two novellas. The second and shorter of the two, Moonlight Shadow, I’ve never quite got on with as much. But the first, just called Kitchen, is incredibly special.

Kitchen is about loss and healing. Its protagonist, Mikage, loses the last member of her family when her grandmother dies, and finds herself adrift and grieving. She is taken in by sunny Yuichi and his transgender mother Eriko, and together they try and make their way through life in modern Tokyo.

Kitchen is also a bit of a hymn to the joy of small things. There are many passages with beautiful appreciation for good food, plants, comfortable sofas, and, of course, kitchens. Yoshimoto has a strangely charming writing style which you encounter right from the opening page:

‘The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!). I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction – vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom.’

My English teacher lent Kitchen to me when I was an unhappy seventeen-year-old, and I still love it now. If you or anyone you know is going through a rough patch, this book is my go-to remedy."


Jenny DanesJenny started writing poetry at sixth form college and was highly commended in the Bridport Prize in 2013 and again in 2016. In 2016 she won the inaugural New Poets Prize, and went on to publish her debut pamphlet ‘Gaps’ with smith|doorstop in July 2017.

Image courtesy of Laura Beresford Photography

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