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‘You get old, you get fat, it all turns to shit, you die’: Ageing in Anne Enright’s Short Story Collection Taking Pictures – Review by Elena Gelasi

Anne Enright’s universe is the private sphere of ordinary people, predominantly women. Her writing is not designed to promote women’s issues and it takes a while when reading Taking Picturesto realize that all-but-one of the narrators are female. Love and what happens to it within a marriage is a prevalent theme of the collection. The relationship between women -complicated, multi-layered and contradictory- is another thread worth following. Memory and dreams are studied throughout the stories. Death is present: Murder (successful or not), failed pregnancy, death from cancer, anorexia and car accident. People die in Enright’s stories and grief is divided between pain (‘even now, I find myself holding my breath in empty rooms’ ‘Little Sister’) and the urgency to reassert life (‘She was ashamed of what she had felt as she stepped away from her mother’s grave. That lightness-it was desire…It was like she could fuck anything.’ ‘Honey’ and ‘We went out for a while, as though we hoped something good would come of it all-a little love.’ ‘Little Sister’). When Kitty loses her baby at 13 weeks of pregnancy she can at least tell herself that ‘she had been visited’ (‘In the Bed Department’). Life had been there and this is Enright’s consolation. If there is any. Life is her topic (of course –because what else is there to write about?) but what exactly is life? In ‘Here’s to love’ the 39-year-old narrator’s friend says: ‘The thing I like about you…is you tell it like it is. “You get old, you get fat, it all turns to shit, you die.”’  This is what this collection is about and all the stages in between. What interests me the most though, is the ‘getting old’ part. Enright describes old age particularly well. Ageing, memory and time are hinted at throughout the collection but there are three stories that scrutinize old age in the most perceptive of ways. Indeed, one of the few men described in a positive light is a 63-year old.

‘The Cruise’ is the story of a 70-year-old couple that finally goes to a long-awaited cruise to the Caribbean. The story is told by their daughter, Kate, who has the first realization of her parents’ future death while watching them go through the departure gate: ‘they walked through the departure gates, and were gone’. The couple’s cruise, their return, the memory of it, her father’s illness and, finally, his death are all narrated through the daughter’s perspective but not in the first person. Ageing and new experiences during old age come to us mediated through the daughter’s expectations and interpretation and through the narrator’s voice. This couple, Enright tells us, is somebody’s parents. These two old people on the boat are being watched.

It is not the places they visited that amazed the couple. ‘The big excitement was the ship… was like being in a shopping centre’. There were Jacuzzis, shops and bars and the old couple spent a week in a four-storey boat that they described as a spaceship. ‘You forgot all about the sea,’ her mother said. The trip was on the one hand ‘a dream, endlessly retold’ and on the other hand, a ‘disappoint[ment] with the world, now that seeing it was so easy’. The cruise was not the beginning of seeing the world. It was a glimpse and it was enough. ‘They had had their adventure. They would never leave the country again’, says Kate. And yet. There is something that Kate did not expect and that she has awkwardly come to realize. What her parents found more appealing – or needed – was not the Caribbean but the people they met. Only once does the mother feel the urge to see the sea: she runs in the middle of the night to the top of the boat to admire the night sky. Τhey have been infatuated by the inside of the boat and by ‘the other couples they met over dinner’. The world might have been a disappointment but the people of this world have not been so. They may not have told a lot about the islands but they have plenty of stories to tell about ‘the Carters from Yorkshire’. There is nothing about the Carters that Kate doesn’t know, as she ironically comments.

Kate is both surprised and displeased when her mother writes to the Carters to inform them about her father’s illness. The reason of her discontentment is not clearly stated: ‘I wish you wouldn’t, Mummy’. Whether it is a child claiming the parent or the young assuming they are entitled to patronize the old, her frankness is answered equally enigmatically by the mother: ‘I am seventy-two years of age’ alluding to a rather vague right that age has earned for her and questioning the roles within the family: who, if anyone, has the right to judge the other?

It is in Mr Carter’s arms that Kate found her ‘collapsed and sobbing’ at the funeral. Kate ‘…finally heard the sound they had all been hoping for since…It was the sound of weeping’. It is also by Mrs Carter’s words that we learn the mother’s name: Marjorie. To the Carters she is Marjorie.

The story ends with the mother, Marjorie, singing with the Carters, her new friends, at her husband’s funeral. Hasn’t this woman made any closer friends in the course of her 72-year-old life? What is it that brought her and her husband so close to this couple they have just met on a cruise? And above all: why not all the above? Are the expectations people have of old age too concrete and restrictive?

‘Della’, the last story of the collection begins with the dream of the elderly female narrator. It’s a familiar image, a vague recollection of naked boys playing in the banks of a river. Della starts with the observation that the elderly man next door is going blind and wonders whether she should point it out to him or call one of his fifty-year-old children (‘Imagine asking them to remember their own father – the shame of it’). By giving a brief account of all the reasons that led her to consider him ‘the world’s most irritating man’, Della also gives us an account of the ways their lives overlapped during the last fifty years of being neighbours and of the most significant events of their lives, like the birth of their children or the death of his ‘terrific’ wife. As she registers the noises he makes from the other side of the wall, she seems to be keeping track of her own life passing as well. (‘…she couldn’t remember what year it was, sometimes, if truth be told’. ‘What could he be up to in there? …16thApril –no noise’.) She takes notes ‘in case the man died’ since his children never visit but it is obvious from the start that she is not much visited herself. She describes how the awkwardness of their interactions drew them apart in the early years and how his wife was at the end left without friends: ‘…and that too may have been part of his plan’. Della decides to greet him once when they meet outside only to realize that he was unable to see her. Taps on the wall followed by taps in reply, leaving Della overwhelmed over an anticipated moment of communication add to the culmination of their despair. They are the only ones remaining in two neighboring houses that used to be filled with the noise of two families.

The story finishes with Della’s visit. She begins to clean the house pretending they had been close all along and she comes to the realization of the absurdity of the very few years that families live together ‘out of the eighty years that made up a life –eighty or more’. Nothing from the previous irritations and misunderstandings matters anymore. She is ‘a woman in his kitchen’ who is bound to ‘find him quite attractive, in the end’. The only thing that seems relevant to their present situation seems to be their persistent need for intimacy, communication and humanity.

‘Here’s to Love’ is a hymn to a kind of mature love that might not exactly bring happiness but ‘charges our lives with shape and light’. The 39-year-old narrator married to a 63-year-old Vietnamese man who has survived the invasion by the Japanese and the ‘Vietnam War’ speculates over the sadness of her male friends’ wives. ‘That feeling that you’re running out of road. It just gets women quicker’. Enright achieves a juxtaposition of love after marriage with kids and a love less ordinary. ‘My life took an unexpected turn’.  Most wives are unhappy because of the ‘destruction of all [their] dreams’. Shay, the narrator’s ex boyfriend with whom she is having a drink in this story, ‘loves a little gymnast and gets her to load the dishwasher for him, every night of the week’ whereas the narrator indulges in a love that is characterized by ‘distance and tenderness’. Her husband is a widower and a father of two sons, someone who has had another life in another country. He is someone who has loved another woman – someone he does not remember very well now and who could have also been ‘disappointed by her smallness of her life’. The narrator on the other hand is someone who never wanted to get married, something that her occasional boyfriends admired and appreciated. They are both past family expectations. They love each other for the sake of loving each other.

Enright illuminatesthe 63-year-old husband as a person who has experienced love, marriage, parenthood, disappointment, death – whatever comprises a life – and is now capable of offering love without projecting any expectations to his wife. In this story we have on the one hand the unhappy wives that blame their husbands for all the dreams they haven’t been able to pursue because they have had a family and on the other hand, Hoa, the elderly husband of this story who does not hold his wife responsible for anything.

The narrator, obviously, often feels accused of ‘making some deal with desire’, of compromising, because she has married someone so much older than her. She is apologetic over that, even lying to her friend for the reasons she married (‘We only did it for the visa. This is a terrible betrayal. It is not even true.’) . Because any lie sounds more believable than explaining away their unusual love or how Hoa’s ‘touch is always specific, and chosen, and light’.

When the narrator returns home feeling like she has avoided ‘a bullet in the back’ she has one image in mind: ‘His body in death; neat and beautiful on [their] marriage bed’: age and the prospect of death do not put limits or an expiration date to their love. On the contrary, the idea of the imminent end of life strips the characters from any other wish or desire and leaves them with a pure love for the other person.

Enright presents old age as the period when the need for communication is tenacious and urgent and when it is most probable to actually achieve higher levels of intimacy. Her younger characters seem to be failing to create honest relationships: marriages collapse, lies are being told, affairs happen: ‘Couples. I look at the rest of my life and despair’, says the narrator of ‘Taking Pictures’ who is about to get married. Enright’s older characters do not look upon their limited future. They even let go of the past. They seem to be her only characters taking hold of the present. And the only ones who dare to love.


Anne Enright, Taking Pictures, London: Jonathan Cape, 2008. 

Elena Gelasi is a PhD student at the University of Cyprus researching contemporary women’s short fiction. (MA in Studies in Fiction, University of East Anglia, BA in English, University of Athens, Greece)






Interview with Blythe Beresford

Interview with Blythe Beresford

One of our steering group members, Jade Hinchliffe, recently interviewed a friend and colleague Blythe Beresford to discuss all things literary! The steering group would like to thank Blythe for taking the time to answer our questions and give advice to budding creatives. We wish her the best of luck with her many exciting projects.

Blythe Beresford graduated from the University of Huddersfield in 2017 with her BA in English Literature with Creative Writing. Currently, she is studying towards her Masters by Research in Creative Writing, which will consist of a small collection of short stories examining human consciousness and alternative brains. Previously, she has finished a manuscript of her novel, Demeter Wept, and is currently on a fourth re-write of her first novel, Lines. It’ll get finished one day. When she’s not writing she enjoys rock climbing, cultivating exotic plants, and independent foreign cinema.

Which authors inspire you?

I’ve always loved Dianne Wynne Jones—I read quite a lot of her stuff when I was younger. It’s all very varied, some parts magic realism, other parts pure fantasy. The same goes for Chris Wooding and William Nicholson. I suppose these are the authors I most want to emulate and most inspire my actual work. I was fortunate enough when I was younger to have my mum working as a teaching assistant at my junior school, and part of her role there included sourcing books for our tiny school library. She’d always pick out the best stuff for me and “keep it to one side”. I suppose there wasn’t really any need because I was the most avid reader at the school at that time, but it’s the thought that counts.
Anyway, probably my favourite author of more recent years has to be Becky Chambers. Her characterisation is unlike anything I’ve ever read before relatable, realistic characters you could imagine being friends with. She’s not the first and certainly not the last, but it’s the style and subtle elegance of how she achieves this that I think I enjoy most. If you’re talking non-fiction, I enjoy Naomi Klein. She’s approaching non-fiction and harsh topics in an approachable way.

Are there any particular genres or styles of writing that interest you? I know you thoroughly enjoyed graphic novels, short stories and science fiction when we were undergraduates.

All of the above, and more! Throw some high fantasy and magic realism, new weird, all types of speculative fiction at me. Bring me your dystopias and your Young Adult fiction and your contemporary ought-to-be-classics. I do enjoy writing scripts for various mediums too, because it’s sort of freer than novels or short stories. You cut away all the extra and you focus in on the dialogue and that’s a really interesting way to write.

How would you describe your writing style?

Varied—mostly because I don’t like to stick to one type of style if I can help it, and like to push myself to try new viewpoints and styles and genres. I thought for a long time that I didn’t have a style, but I’ve had other writers describe my style as “economical”, which is something I definitely strive for. Don’t use ten words where one will do is some old adage by some famous writer, I’m sure (I’m terrible with names). Other ways my writing has been described is “visceral” and also that my way with words is like the way a painter uses paint sparingly to have the greatest effect.

What are you working on/up to at the moment?

I’ve got a lot of little irons in the fire—obviously for the past almost 18 months I’ve been trying to work solely on my short story collection, which is the portfolio portion of my Masters by Research. I’m not going to lie; I have both loved and hated working on this. But, overall, I think it’s taught me a lot of valuable lessons about myself as a writer and the process and loads of other things that I can take away from the experience. At the end of it I hope to have a pretty solid collection of work that I can use to get a foot in the door with an agent, with a view to getting the collection published somewhere.
Besides that I’ve got some ideas which have been brewing for follow-up issues to this comic script I wrote back in 2016/2017 for a science fiction comic called Greenhouse. I’ve also got a full overhaul of my second novel Demeter Wept to sort out, and then I’ve got this other project called Lines which is … probably one of my most loved and most hated things that I’ve been working on for about ten years and it’s evolved and evolved and it’s sort of getting somewhere and then I change my mind about it all over again. Anyway, I had some break-throughs with that in the last two years so that’s a good thing. And you know, this is very indicative of my process—it’ll brew and brew and brew for ages and ages and I’ll keep chipping away at it and then suddenly I’ll decide to sit down and hash it out and battle with it and then take a knife to it and hack away and paste bits on. It’s a very messy process and it’s different every time.

How did your degree/masters and the university environment help you to develop as a writer?

Oh, it helped immensely. I’ve sort of always had this romantic idea of myself as a “writer” but I think perhaps university sort of helped me to realise a lot of things about that. It’s not romantic and it’s a long, hard, lonely slog.
It’s also a very fun vocation and it was such a lovely surprise to be suddenly surrounded by all these people with all these amazing, creative ideas, and they all had such a different approach and you’re there under the tutelage of people who have actually been published, you get to meet people in the industry and you realise that … it IS work and it IS hard. But honestly, it cultivated a work ethic in me with regards to writing and helped me to share more and more and REALLY honed my constructive critic, my inner editor, showed me that I’m a lot better than I thought I was. I could write a lot about this but in essence it gave me a bit more of a guided path and drove home the fact that yes I can do this if I want to and I’m capable and you can’t be afraid to reach out for support because it’s there and other writers are a great, great resource.

Have you any plans for future projects that you can share with us?

I’m a bit all over the place at the minute to be honest with you— this must be the same for other writers and creatives, but I find the more you write and the more you create the more the ideas bloom and it’s like they’re breeding inside you. So it’s been really hard to try not to talk with too many people about my projects and ideas because as much as I want to share things, it makes other things blossom and then I get carried away. I know about myself that I’m really bad for picking up projects for a little while and then getting distracted like a magpie by something else which takes my fancy for a while, and then coming back to the other project months later. So for now I’ve tried to get my head down and finish this postgrad degree, because after that I’ve got all the time to focus on other things.
With that said, though… I have picked up two clients that I’ve been working with on their manuscripts and guiding them through the creative process and helping them to edit. So I’ve sort of set myself up as a creative consultant and it’s working, it’s slow but its working and I really enjoy doing it.
I’m also possibly working with a group of local writers on getting a little zine together. I’ve had this long standing idea for about five years with intentions for the possibility of a small publication to promote new writing. I don’t know of anything else like this locally around Huddersfield, although perhaps that’s just because I haven’t done my research properly! If anyone wants to get in touch with me about this then feel free—my email address is or I can be reached on Facebook through my writer’s page.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be involved in writing and publishing?

Be patient and work hard at it. Anything worth doing isn’t easy. You are good and you probably are talented but talent is like 5% of most things.
For writers: share your work with everyone. Share it with your friends and your family and other writers. Don’t be afraid of other writers. We are too bothered about our own ideas to steal yours. Read a lot of stuff, and not just in genres you like. Read non-fiction. Watch films in different languages. Follow works from directors, read books that films are based off. Remember that inspiration comes from very unexpected places. Don’t wait for the mood to strike you. Any writing advice you see repeated over and over is probably solid advice (e.g. “write every day!”). If you don’t share your work you can’t know whether it’s good or not. It probably is good. And remember that a first draft is a first draft. Diamonds don’t come out of the rock looking like they’re ready to go straight into a jeweller’s shop window.
For publishing: try to network. I think that’s maybe the only way to get into this industry. It’s competitive. Find an alternative way in. Work in a book shop. Start a blog. Get a Youtube channel (I don’t know what the kids do these days). Start reviewing books and films and any kind of literature. Get a Twitter presence and follow a bunch of people. Above all perhaps just find something which works for you. Publishing is a really odd industry and it’s changing a lot all the time—and very quickly, too—and maybe just fire off a bunch of emails and tweets to relevant people in the industry. Sometimes it’s all about seeing what sticks when you throw stuff at the wall!

Do you have any dream jobs/companies that you would like to work with?

I used to—I used to dream about working with DC or Image comics or getting published by Orion books, but honestly at this point I’d take anyone and anything who might publish my work, as long as I can say “I did it!” just once in my life. Mostly my dream is to sign a book for someone and maybe have a book tour and some kind of book launch event, which would be sweet. I guess I got a bit disillusioned with the publishing industry a while ago, because you have no idea just how many people want to be writers and make it big until you start researching the industry and then it’s just this massive, massive thing. It really put me off for a few years until I realised that the traditional route and the big five houses weren’t the be all and end all of publishing and there were way, way more avenues I hadn’t even thought about, let alone imagined. So, life uh, finds a way?
My dream job isn’t really a job. I don’t know whether I’d want to be an author or a novelist as a job. Neil Gaiman is just a writer. He writes stuff. I guess I’d be happy with the same! I’d also love to edit other people’s work, but I think I prefer the small-scale things, you know? I’m never going to be in it for the money.

Is there anything else you want to discuss or ask that I haven’t already mentioned?

I don’t think so! Thanks for taking the time to interview me— if anyone wants to get in touch my website and email are both in here and you can also find me on Facebook (sometimes) and Twitter (rarely). I went through a period of time of putting myself out there and getting a large social media presence but honestly real life took over and I prefer to spend my time actually thinking up new ideas and getting some words down on the page now. Adios for now amigos, I have to go away and submit something to a competition…

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to learn more about Blythe’s creative projects and her other delights then head over to her author website: and you can also find her on twitter @fr00tsalad

2019 Welcome Post

2019: New Year, New Start

Dear All,

Recently, things have been a little quiet on here because we have been busy handing over roles to the new members, however we are currently in the process of planning some exciting events for the coming year! Firstly, we would like to say a big thank you to Emma Parker and Fiona Martinez-Mancz who have done a wonderful job with the pgcwwn and we wish them every success in their future! Secondly, we have two new members Jade and Olivia who have joined the pgcwwn alongside Isabelle and you can learn more about the group on the Steering Group page. We are currently in the process of planning the 2019 biennial conference and more information will be posted about this in the next few months so keep your eyes peeled! All information will be posted on our website, Facebook and twitter pages however we would also encourage you to sign up to our newsletter by emailing us at

The Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network is also looking for short articles, reviews and interviews to feature on its website, which celebrates and promotes the study of modern female writers. We warmly invite postgraduate students, at all levels, to approach us with ideas for short pieces, of roughly 600-1500 words, on any aspect of contemporary women’s literature, both in the UK and abroad.

We are open to suggestions but authors for consideration might include Jackie Kay, Rupi Kaur, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hilary Mantel, Andrea Levy, Toni Morrison, Ursula K Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Maya Angelou, Jhumpa Lahiri, Barbara Kingsolver and Elena Ferrante.

If you have a idea for piece, a first draft, or are just curious to find out more, please contact Isabelle at

We look forward to hearing from you and are excited to meet some of you at our future event!

All best wishes,

Isabelle, Jade and Olivia.
-Steering Committee, The Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

Review by Sarah Clouston 

Jackie Kay’s novel Trumpet (1998) takes place in the aftermath of jazz musician Joss Moody’s death.[1] Set in both London in 1997 and Glasgow’s music scene in the 1960s, it moves between the narrative of Joss’ life, and the events following his death. In a eulogistic style Kay’s narrative provides responses from several characters who knew Joss, with each providing different perspectives on his demise once his biological gender is revealed to be female. This revelation causes a media frenzy, and so Trumpet begins with his wife Millie, hiding from the paparazzi. The novel recognizes and explores the separation between a person’s biological gender and their identity. Joss’ adopted son Colman struggles to understand the news that his father was born biologically female and subsequently releases details about his father’s life to an unfeeling, self-serving journalist, Sophie Stones, who is ruthlessly seeking material for her forthcoming book. Meanwhile Joss’ wife, Millie, exhausted from the constant media attention, escapes to their Scottish seaside home to work through her grief alone. Colman ultimately decides to cancel the exposé on his father and finds some peace in accepting his father’s identity.

Jackie Kay Trumpet

Kay has stated that the novel is loosely based on the life of jazz musician Billy Tipton, who like the character of Joss, lived the majority of his adult life as male, yet was biologically born female. Individual cultural identity or heritage is a notable interest throughout Jackie Kay’s work and Trumpet articulates many of the themes prominent in her writing: identity, adoption, displacement, beginnings, and gender. Sex and gender are positioned through the private and public spheres in which the novel takes place. Different accounts of Joss are given from his wife, his son, a journalist, a fellow musician, a doctor, a registrar and an undertaker. These multiple perspectives allow Kay to present opinions from a varied number of narrators, including those who did not know Joss well, in order to consider the reception of transgender persons in British society. Eventually, most of Kay’s characters consider Joss’ sexuality to be separate from his gender and identity.

Joss poses challenges to normative conceptions of gender when a doctor and funeral director both struggle to categorize him on his death certificate. Kay suggests a need to expound the myth that gender and sexuality are co-dependent, using a distinctive jazz aesthetic throughout the novel as a platform to explore the fluidity of gender, suggesting that the creation of identity can be continuously remade and performed. During a solo Joss becomes ‘a girl. A man. Everything, nothing. He is sickness, health. The sun. The moon. Black, white. Nothing weighs him down. Not the past or the future. He hangs on to the high C and then he lets go’ (136).

Questions and concerns surrounding race are also central to Trumpet. Born to a black father and white mother, Joss is disapproved of by Millie’s mother. Joss’ song, ‘Fantasy Africa’ invokes the African diaspora and experiences of displacement. Joss claims, ‘Every black person has a fantasy Africa’, but believes that to visit ‘the real Africa’ would have a significant  ‘affect’ on his music (Trumpet, 34). Kay subsequently situates her readers within Black diasporic communities in twentieth-century Britain but, by connecting Joss’ heritage with jazz music, she suggests an improvisational approach towards identity. She reminds readers of Joss’ Scottishness in an attempt to recalibrate what it means to be Scottish, English, or Black British. Kay focuses not only on the issue of transphobia surrounding these characters, but also the impact of colonial histories within modern Britain.

Kay also explores the effects of adoption on the self, as Colman, struggling with his identity, feels that he doesn’t belong to either Joss, Millie, his birthparents, Scotland or England. Colman subsequently seeks company in the tabloid journalist Sophie Stones, who can only offer insult to both Colman and his father. Meanwhile, his struggles with identity are compounded by similar attempts to understand his own masculinity. Irene Rose identifies Trumpet as a ‘resolutely post-patriarchal display of multiplicity of masculinities’.[2] Joss’ anatomy complicates Colman’s understanding of what masculinity should look like, but in his final acceptance of reading his father’s letter we are presented with how alternative masculinities may be expressed. Importantly, the letter between father and son is the first time Joss is afforded a narrative voice in Trumpet. Kay’s novel ends with a positive, openminded vision for countering social injustice as Joss tells Colman, ‘You will be my father telling my story’ (Trumpet, 277).  Kay suggests the potential and productivity that can arise from both tolerance and creative writing if Colman challenges his energies into generative forms of storytelling, rather than fuelling a tell-all exposé.

 Interestingly, each chapter of Trumpet is labelled after sections in a magazine or newspaper: ‘House and Home’, ‘People’, ‘Interview Exclusive’ etc. Here Kay crosses the boundaries between public and private lives and reflects upon a sensationalised tabloid press culture withinBritain. Constant references to the exposé nature of the novel which Stones intends to write about Joss reminds us of the media’s ability to present fiction as news. Learning about Joss’ life and choices through other characters’ narrative voices offers us, as readers, the opportunity to gain a more nuanced view of Joss’ personality. Kay’s choice of form further inscribes the separation between gender and sexuality as Joss’ sexuality is not connected to his gender until the newspapers tie them together after his death.

Ultimately, jazz culture binds this novel together. Jazz enables Joss to ‘lose his sex, his race, his memory’ (Trumpet, 131). Despite the unforgiving responses to Joss’ sexuality, his musical talent cannot be denied, and remains untouched by the media. The swinging London music scene of the 1960s provide a crucial setting for the liberation of the self, where identities can be remade and renegotiated. Kay brings jazz and identity most poignantly together when the registrar hands the pen to Millie to complete the ‘gender’ section of Joss’ death certificate: ‘It was as if the pen was asking her to dance’ (Trumpet, 81).

This novel is seminal to transgender thinking. Published just before the turn of the new century, Kay offers us, her readers, new non-binary modes of thinking about identity, sex and gender. Just as her chapters mirror the compositional technique of call and response, Trumpet calls its reader to action their understandings of non-heteronormative sexualities, racial differences and gender constructions. Kay denies any silencing of non-normative identities and in doing so has created a striking, thought-provoking novel.


1 Jackie Kay, Trumpet (London: Picador, 1998).

2 Irene Rose, ‘Heralding New Possibilities: Female Masculinity in Jackie Kay’s Trumpet’, in Posting the Male: Masculinities in Post-War and Contemporary British Literature, ed. by Daniel Lea and Berthold Schoene (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003), pp. 144-6.

Sarah Clouston is a full-time postgraduate student at the University of Leeds reading an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature. Her dissertation researches the phenomena of Modernist magazine culture: ‘little magazines’, and the poetry of Mina Loy. Her other research interests include postcolonial Britain, indigenous literature and Modernist poetry. She holds a BA in English Literature from the University of Leeds.

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

Review by Jahnavi Misra

Rush Oh by Shirley BarrettShirley Barrett is a screenwriter and film director, and Rush Oh! is her first novel. It depicts a small Australian whaling community from the early nineteen hundreds, in the disingenuous and unembellished narrative voice of the protagonist – Mary Davidson. The thrill and the tragedy inherent in traditional, small-scale hunting of a creature as majestic as a whale is vividly brought out through an unobtrusive recounting of whaling incidents. These whaling sequences are accompanied by tiny illustrations that bring the experience to life.

The story is told from the perspective of Mary, who is the daughter of a celebrated whaler, George Davidson. The book is a record of a year of her life as a young girl, growing up in the company of raucous whalers in Eden, New South Wales. While the first part of the book is about her as a young girl, the later chapters reveal to the reader that Mary is now a middle-aged woman, writing this story to better acquaint her nephew with his whaling ancestry. The digressions into Mary’s personal stories through the first half of the narrative – her need for romantic love, her affection and resentment towards her sister, her eulogy for her brothers – have greater emotional impact in the fade-out of the later chapters, when the reader is told that she had simply wanted to write a straightforward record of the whaling culture. It is almost as if the other, more personal parts of the story had furtively found their way into the narrative of their own accord. The reader, thus, not only gets a glimpse of a unique and declining whaling lifestyle, but also becomes privy to Mary’s personal joys and frustrations, especially in relation to her short-lived romance with John Beck – the part of the narrative that she hopes to remove before showing it to her nephew.

The novel portrays a time of transition – whaling is dying out, race relations between the aborigines and settlers is changing, and World War I is breaking out; all of which effects the Davidson family quite directly. These transitions mean that almost no relationship survives without considerable scars – one such relationship that stands out in the novel is between Mary and her sister, Louisa. The pretty and hard headed Louisa is lost to her family and the reader when she elopes with an aborigine whaler, Darcy. She, like John Beck, never returns to Mary, and the reader is left with a tragic portrait of a woman who has constantly been thwarted in her affections, but has never let cynicism get the better of her. Mary, although much older, is still alive and kicking, having thrown herself headlong into church activities, and awaiting the arrival of an exciting new Reverend, to replace the old, boring one.

Rush Oh! is a novel that is full of heart, effortlessly transporting its audience to the small town of Eden, as it was in the year 1908. Mary is a robust and elevating narrator who does not linger on her heart-breaking experiences for so long as to make them seem maudlin, or so fleetingly as to make them seem superficial. Mary strikes a note so exact that the reader comes to trust her implicitly, never questioning her perspective of all the beauty and tragedy that surrounds her.

The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah

Review by Eve Ryan

the_narrow_bed_jacket__portrait.jpgThe Narrow Bed is the 10th novel in Sophie Hannah’s Culver Valley series, following detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer through plots of suspense and murder. Known for her masterful dealing of the plot twist, Hannah has taken the risky road of implausibility in this latest psychological thriller. The clunky “Billy Dead Mates”, mocked by characters and readers alike, and the eye-rolling appearances of the little white book eventually leads to a neat and technically original conclusion, yet falls far short of inspired.

Despite an encouraging start, the novel loses momentum in the ‘omniscient detective’ chapters and suffers from the (slightly tedious) short story interruptions. Yet what The Narrow Bed lacks in grit and consistency it compensates for with black humour. By far the strongest element of the novel is not the murder revelation, as is typical of Hannah’s writing, but the comic, warm portrayal of protagonist Kim Tribbeck. Through honesty and wit, Kim’s refreshing characterisation displays great literary skill as Hannah convincingly pulls off the comedy memoir genre. A comparison with Sue Perkin’s recently published memoir, Spectacles, is strikingly appropriate; Hannah gets the tone and content of a great female stand-up spot on. Kim betrays frequent comic confessions, such as: “I’d like to die of Too Much Fun, if only to spite Drew. I don’t want to give the bastard any chance to feel sorry for me.” (p. 53) This complex and convincing character makes the alternate chapters that pose as extracts from Kim’s memoir Origami the most engaging, personal and page-turning segments of the novel.

Hannah’s weakness for controversial journalist characters, as in her previous novel The Telling Error, re-emerges through a debate on feminism in The Narrow Bed, as radical feminist Sondra Holliday is fiercely demonised. Easily more unlikeable than the actual murderer, Holliday’s articles on ‘Lifeworld Online’ are predictably excessive and theatrical. Hannah holds this ‘brand’ of militant man-hating feminism up to ridicule yet shies away from presenting a moderate, reasoned engagement with gendered concerns. Instead, we have Simon Waterhouse determined to find a female murderer to blast Holliday out of the water, Colin Sellers joining Weight Watchers for the cleavage and Charlie Zailer neglecting the real case due to her own obsessive domestic drama. Is this a post-gendered world? I think not.

Hannah is therefore an anomaly within contemporary female detective writers. As The Narrow Bed deconstructs the binary of male murderer and female victim she advocates moderate humanist thinking, gesturing towards gendered debates only to dismiss them as superfluous to her portrayal of crime and storytelling. Yet Gavin argues that feminist crime fiction deals predominantly with violence against women through a “gendered protest” in which “Women are victims: captured, raped, murdered, butchered and in the hands of forensic detectives dissected into evidence” (p. 268). Hannah strongly asserts this is not her literary realm or ambition, yet she does raise one flag for feminism: women are funny.

Engaging though it was for the most part, this does not appear to be Sophie Hannah’s finest work. Luckily The Narrow Bed’s disappointing and unsatisfying conclusion will not dwell long in the mind, unlike my desire to meet Kim Tribbeck.


Gavin, Adrienne E. “Feminist Crime Fiction and Female Sleuths”. A Companion to Crime Fiction. Ed. Charles J. Rzepka and Lee Horsley. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 258-269. Print.

Perkins, Sue. Spectacles: A Memoir. London: Michael Joseph/Penguin Books, 2015. Print.

Review of Room (2015): Page vs. Screen

Review by Beth Kelly

In 2010, Emma Donoghue’s novel Room set the literary world ablaze. Quickly shortlisted onto several awards lists – including the Man Booker Prize – it was also included as one of the New York Times’ top six fiction books for the year.

Partially inspired by the kidnapping case of Elisabeth Fritzl and the circumstances surrounding her escape, Room captivated millions of readers with its courageous message of resilience and hope. Now in the news for a second time, the story has made the successful leap from the page to the screen.

Charged with the task of tailoring the screenplay herself, Donoghue worked closely with director Lenny Abrahamson to maintain the emotional tenor of novel. The film, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, has already received critical praise from festival critics – as well as purported Oscar buzz.

Some aspects of the novel were, by necessity, lost in translation. Ma is now two years younger, making her seventeen instead of nineteen years old when she was kidnapped and placed in captivity, allowing us to see her as a slightly more vulnerable figure. Room the book relies on the narration of five-year-old Jack, played by Tremblay, as the reader’s entrance to their world. Through his eyes, an outsider is slowly introduced to the eleven-square-foot world of “Room.” Room the movie relies on camera angles and set design to present the cramped compartment that holds Jack’s universe, revealing to viewers in a twist the profundity of their situation.

Much is asked of Tremblay, as his character’s perspective is still the driving force of the film. We see through his eyes, with sparse narration in key scenes, how it feels to have your world crack open at the seams. Larsen’s Ma also captures the reality of their captivity with remarkable depth, and the chemistry between her and Tremblay is truly striking. While lacking some of the nuance of the book – the absence of breastfeeding between Ma and Jack as a physical bond, for example – the strength of the actors’ performances enables the story to be successfully condensed.

There are several key alterations that stand out: in addition to the aforementioned choice to remove breastfeeding scenes, Ma is now an only child, and the adventure that Jack has with his uncle Paul and Paul’s family is now gone. While done in the name of cleaner storytelling and run time, this does remove an important aspect of comparison: how a child brought up with Jack’s unique experiences compares to a more “normal” family unit and a child of similar age. But this streamlining does focus more on Jack and Ma’s experiences, and Larson’s range as an actress is allowed to shine through.

Without the direct text of the novel to say what Jack is thinking, the audience can project their own thoughts onto Tremblay and Larson’s own expressive faces. In some ways, this enables the audience to form an even deeper bond with the characters. Tremblay’s wide-eyed fascination in response to the outside world in particular is both heart breaking and a joy to behold.

Produced by A24 Films and DirecTV, Room the film reveals much more than the horrors of kidnapping at abuse. Never saccharine or overwrought in its approach, it makes a concerted effort to show viewers that the limits of the physical realm are inconsequential when our imaginations are allowed to soar.

EVENT: Feminist writer Erica Jong talks sex, ageing and her new novel – Fear of Dying

Erica Jong – Fear of Dying

Erica Jong

With readings by Sandi Toksvig, Meera Syal and Gemma Cairney; chaired by Southbank Centre’s Jude Kelly.

1 November, 7.30pm, Royal Festival Hall.

Hear readings by Sandi Toksvig, Meera Syal and Gemma Cairney as Erica Jong introduces her new novel, Fear of Dying.

Erica Jong changed the way we look at love, marriage, and especially sex.

Her revolutionary 1973 best-seller Fear of Flying celebrated consequence-free, casual sex at a time when women weren’t supposed to have it, and the book quickly became the ultimate symbol for female sexual liberation.

Now, over 40 years later, Jong returns with Fear of Dying – the story of an older woman who never wants to give in to fear – including that of sex, as her mortality becomes a reality.

These two novels, separated by four decades, show a generation of women as they age in real time. But how much has really changed for them, and the women around them?

The evening begins with Sandi Toksvig, Meera Syal and Gemma Cairney reading from both Fear of Flying and Fear of Dying.

The event concludes with Erica Jong exploring our enduring fascination with ageing, sex and death in conversation with Jude Kelly, Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director and founder of the WOW – Women of the World festival.

For more information and to book tickets see:

CFA: ‘Werewolves: Studies in Transformations’

 (abstracts: 30th November 2015, full submissions: 31st March 2016)


Dr Janine Hatter and Kaja Franck, ‘Revenant: Critical and Creative Studies of the Supernatural’
contact email: /

‘Revenant: Critical and Creative Studies of the Supernatural’ is a peer-reviewed, online journal looking at the supernatural, the uncanny and the weird. Revenant is now accepting articles, creative writing pieces and book, film, game, event or art reviews for a themed issue on werewolves (due Autumn 2016), guest edited by Dr Janine Hatter and Kaja Franck.

Werewolves have been a consistent, if side-lined, aspect of supernatural studies. From medieval and Early Modern poetry, through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ fascination with the occult and the exotic, to contemporary depictions of werewolves in new media, these adaptable, mutable and ever resilient creatures have continuously transformed body and meaning to reflect social, cultural and scientific anxieties of their period. This special issue of Revenant seeks to examine werewolves from an all-inclusive interdisciplinary angle to allow for the fullest extent of these creatures’ impact on our cultural consciousness to be examined. Articles, creative pieces and reviews may examine any aspect of the representation of werewolves within the context of worldwide literature, drama, fan cultures, film, television, animation, games and role playing, art, music or material culture from any time period. We welcome any approach, but request that authors minimize jargon associated with any single-discipline studies.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

technological metamorphoses, folklore & mythology, allegory, symbolism, aggression, humanity & bestiality, romance, monstrosity, hybridity, lycanthropy, transformation, nature versus nurture, the environment, natural/supernatural, the abject, hunger & desire, teeth & biting, infection & transmission, possession and/or mind control, split personality, disability, power, death & killing, burial rites, occult, religion, superstition, culture, philosophy, psychology, politics, gender, queer readings, sexuality, race and class.

For articles and creative pieces (such as poetry, short stories, flash fiction, videos, artwork and music): please send a 300-500 word abstract and a short biography by 30th November 2015. If your abstract is accepted, the full article (maximum 7000 words, including Harvard referencing) and the full creative piece (maximum 5000 words) will be due 31st March 2016.

Additionally, we are seeking reviews of books, films, games, events and art that engage with werewolves (800-1,000 words in length). Please send a short biography and full details of the book you would like to review as soon as possible.

Further information, including Submission Guidelines, is available at the journal site:

Please e-mail submissions to and If emailing the journal directly at please quote ‘werewolf issue’ in the subject box.

Thank You & Goodbye

The PG CWWN are saddened to be bidding farewell to two of our steering group members. Our longest serving member Laura-Jane Devanny is stepping down in order to focus on the final stages of her PhD. Since joining the network at the end of 2013, Laura-Jane has been a hard-working and enthusiastic member of the team, and her contribution to all areas of the network will be greatly missed. We are also saying goodbye to Joanne Ella Parsons, who since joining in February 2014 has been key in providing an online presence for the network across a variety of platforms, including social media. On behalf of our members, we would like to wish both Laura-Jane and Jo best of luck for the completion of their research, and every success for the future.