Posts in Writing Squad Reviews

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

James Giddings on "Ordinary Beast" by Nicole Sealey

Posted Tuesday 16 January 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

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

"Every Christmas I make a list of books for people to buy me because I am one of those tragic straight-shooting human annoyances who when asked ‘what do you want for Christmas’, says, ‘Nothing’ and means it. This book list is my little concession towards being helpful to those who might actually like me enough to buy me a present.

Ordinary BeastThis year I put Nicole Sealey’s book, Ordinary Beast, on the list. Now, if I’m honest, I put the book on the list because of its extortionate price. There was no way I was going to buy it, so if some sucka was silly enough to buy it for me, then I’ve played the present-buying system like a card-counting professional. My girlfriend was the person silly enough to buy this book for me. True love has no regard for its bank account.

Ordinary Beast had much for me relate to. In her poem ‘happy birthday to me’ she closes with the line ‘Had you asked, I could’ve told you I’m not doing especially well at being alive.’ Having just had my 27th birthday and teetering on the edge of an early mid-life crisis, it’s important to know that everyone is as broken as you are.

There was a lot in this book though I could never relate to. Being a black woman for example, going to the gym and waiting for ‘a white woman/in this overpriced Equinox/to mistake me for someone other/than a paying member.’ As a white man who has never considered himself to have an identity, Ordinary Beast made me rethink this.

At Christmas you surround yourself with loved ones, and sometimes other people’s loved ones, who you yourself, might not love. They might say something stupid, something dangerous and make you realise there are beasts everywhere. It made me question myself, my identity, whether I am someone who speaks up when there is injustice. If you’re not already, this book will make you speak up."

James GiddingsJames is a poet, editor, coach, workshop leader and curator of this biography. He won a Northern Writers Award in 2015 and his book Everything is Scripted was published by Templar Poetry in 2016. 

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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.

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