Category Archives: book cover

The Unsung Letter No. 59

This week’s Unsung Letter comes with a delay due to technical troubles with my laptop in Brazil, but here it is at last, from Emilie Kirstensen-McLachlan:


The novel is a striking example of how literature can open your eyes to other people’s lives, surroundings, and understandings of the world. Janie Ryan grows up in an environment full of people often demonized by large parts of the population as being lazy and worthless. This stereotype of the “lazy poor” is as common in Denmark as it is in the UK. Kerry Hudson’s on-point, heart-breaking writing reveals the inner-lives of characters about whom the close-knit circles of power and the media so often speculate.


Read the full thing here, and as ever, sign up for The Unsung Letter here to receive a weekly missive on an underhyped book by a living author.




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No Longer Naked

The covers for Mayhem & Death and On the Edges of Vision are here!


md-final-cover   oteov-cover


I think they’re stunning & perfectly eerie.


Mayhem & Death is a brand-new story collection which also includes Powdered Milk, a novella, along with woodcut illustrations to go with each story. You can pre-order it from 404 Ink here.


On the Edges of Vision was first published in 2015 and won the Saltire First Book of the Year. This reissue brings it back into print for the first time since then, and I’m so delighted 404 Ink have chosen to do so. You can pre-order it here.


Or – if you’re a little canny and want to have both, you can buy the bundle, and save a little in the process here.



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Filed under 404 Ink, art, book cover, experimental fiction, Helen McClory, Illustration, Mayhem & Death, On The Edges of Vision, reading, Uncategorized

Endless Reads Review: A Winter Book by Tove Jansson

a winter book


The cover is grainy in the dim light of my living room. I long for the light of longer days. But this will do, for a book on winter –


I started this story collection on the 30th of December, so it’s a cross-over from last year’s Endless Reads to this, and so occupies disputed territory. Liminal. The book in question is not at all an uncertain book in its prose, in Finnish writer Tove Jansson’s matter-of-fact sentences, her wry peering at the foibles of human nature, but in its form – the way it is frustratingly not enough of one thing or another. And where I would accept this in other, more experimental authors, I felt let down by Jansson who is otherwise so steady.


It is composed of stories taken from Jansson’s childhood experiences, and then with a sudden lurch, those of her late adult life. There are also fragments of fan letters and personal correspondences which Jansson has tinkered with to make the speaker seem more or less needy. This was my least favourite section. It does lead into the letters from a Japanese fan, but that part was so sad, lacking the paired responses from Jansson herself. Later, there is even a purely fictional story about a young man on a ferry to England, forced into a painful, burdensome empathy with every one he meets – people are always showing him photographs of their relatives – I can’t help reading this and feeling a little like it is the literature of an exhausted, famous writer.


However, I’m neglecting to mention the earlier tales of childhood, which are full of wonder. ‘The Iceberg’ is a beautiful story of a night-time encounter with the ice. As Frank Cottrell Boyce says in the afterword, it lingers, is touching, precisely because of its smallness, because ‘She does not go out and conquer the wilderness. She does not return home with trophies of antlers or wild flowers. She gives away something of herself and somehow gains.’


Another favourite was ‘The Dark’ in which the young Tove delights in tormenting her friend Poyu over the darkness that encroaches on a public outdoor skating rink. They play with the snakes in the carpet, the dark lines of the fabric which cannot be stepped on for fear of a writhing mass attacking them. It’s also an insight into Tove’s artist father, who would take her out to see housefires and reveled in their chaos, the chaos of storms. And Tove’s mother, who would paint images of Moses in the reed basket, and with her ‘gentle and grave’ profile, tells Tove stories that charm back the dark. The whole piece illustrates the ferocity with which children see and fight back and latch on to places and people of safety, against the vastness of the world.


In the end, I much prefer Jansson’s The Summer Book, which I read last year. It has more continuity, more stability – something which suits the inherently calm, definitive blocks of her writing. A Winter Book is a companion piece that doesn’t quite match the predecessor. It is not a white crust of it, deep enough to come over the top of your boots and crumble wetly into your socks – its is only a light smattering of flakes, nothing that will lie too long, but lovely nonetheless.


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Endless reads review: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus


Suitably grainy I hope, for this book – the story of end-of-the-19th-century aerialiste Sophie Fevvers, the ‘Cockney Venus’ and a woman apparently endowed with six-foot wings. A freak or a con artist – Jack Walser, all-American reporter, is out to uncover the sordid truth. Call it ‘Interview with the Valkyrie’. Nights at the Circus was recently named best ever winner of the James Tait Award – the oldest literary prize in the UK. The book came out in 1984, making it slightly younger than me, but the prose has an exuberant, antique style that will be familiar to you if you’ve ever read The Bloody Chamber (my review on Goodreads here).


It can be a little irritating at first to slip on Carter’s cloak of furs and whalebone – all those adverbs, and exclamation marks, and the word ‘surmise’ every few pages or so. She breaks about every writing rule on any of the fine puritan lists there are out there. She throws big words at you like confetti, allusions to philosophy and politics and feminism and theories of language bubble up through the velvet soup.


So too, do the biases of empire (this is very much a book of old empire, of the magic of acquisition, manor-houses, the dreamy, rotten, lost glamour of pre-revolutionary St Petersburg, the Shamanic Siberian wastes of a richly English imagination. Native Americans are alluded to as scalp-stealing barbarians. People of Mongolian heritage and Chinese-made automata alike are ‘inscrutable’. The Kentucky Colonel ringmaster is straight out a child’s colouring book of stereotypes.


But for all these faults, this is one of those books that attempts to both tell a story and truly bewitch you. Invites you in and will, if you let it, sweep you into a magical world that might just be frayed tapestry and candlelight and incense – but with the curtains shut tight, and your eyes locked in to the rhythm, it seems churlish to reject it altogether. Nights at the Circus is, in this way, a perfect book for Winter, for reading over hot chocolate, as the wind howls or the snow falls, and midnight strikes three times in one night, just for you.



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Filed under book cover, book review, Endless Reads 2012

Book Christmas



I received all these books today (after a few days of missed connections) – all three volumes of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead, Restoration by Rose Tremain, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright and The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell.  And a little slip that reads ‘Vintage Books – with compliments’. Spectacular. Thanks so much to the lovely people @vintagebooks (who tweet delightfully). Endless Reads 2012 continues finely apace.



Filed under book cover, consolations of reading, Endless Reads 2012

Autumn Endless Reads


I look outside and cannot understand why the leaves have not already turned.  I’ve set my mind on Autumn and now I’m impatient for the season to make a clear announcement of its arrival. It’s already cold and damp now, the hours are drawing in (sunset before 9pm, now, a sure sign of the year heading towards late middle age), the festival is winding down, and Winter coats are coming out. Come on, decay, we’re ready for you.


In the mood for this chill turn, I begin planning autumnal reads. Not that I stopped reading over the Summer, but I think it’s good every season to pause for a moment to see what’s on the cards. Up for September:




NW, of course. Maidenhead I received today from Canadian publisher Coach House. Lots of people on twitter recommended this book to me after I decried my embarrassing lack of Can Lit reading. Coach House very generously sent it my way. The package brought with it an interview with the author, Tamara Faith Berger, and an insight into the themes of the novel – sexual and political awakening, feminism, slavery, art and pornography. That’s a promotional condom that was included with the book. I’ve just finished The Listeners by Leni Zumas which was, while well written, full of imagery of injury and blood (of which I am very phobic) so Maidenhead, while likely to be graphic and very challenging, is less likely to make me nearly faint every few pages.


The other book is one I’ve had for a while and have yet to get to – Now Trends, a collection of stories by Karl Taro Greenfield. The cover design and portability is meant to imitate a travel guide, and the stories themselves range across the world. Armchair travel for a dreichit time of the year.


I hope to review the latter three books on PANK in due course, and NW some time later here.


What do you have lined up to see you through the warm weather’s disappearance? That’s if it’s ever Autumnal in your part of the world.


Filed under 2012, art, book cover, book review, consolations of reading, Edinburgh

Endless Reads Review at PANK: Zazen by Vanessa Veselka + Another Book Spine Poem

Here’s my latest review over at PANK! As ever, let me know what you think of it (and if you like the sound of Zazen, which I hope you do after this) down in the comments, if you’d like.

Further, Paul Lamb of Lucky Rabbit’s Foot has sent in a lovely Book Spine Poem, one that I think fits the tone of the wonderful Zazen quite well:

Waiting for Aphrodite
Far from any coast
A great current running
the message to the planet
Hard Scrabble
Passage of Darkness
I’ll be away from Friday, up in the North West Highlands, staying in a luxury bothy (an old stone cottage for walkers), and spending time with D and my friend A, stomping around in the bogland and on mountainside, hopefully snapping away pictures of it all. Look out for a probably picture-swamped post later in the week.


Filed under 2012, book cover, book review, Scotland