Book Life: My Name is… at the Arcola

Last night I was at the Arcola theatre in East London watching the new play by Sudha Bhuchar, ‘My name is…‘.


The story is closely centred on the true-to-life happenings of a Glaswegian family and how the newspapers came to skew their lives for public consumption. A new play about love, family and ever-shifting identities, My Name is… tells the verbatim story behind a news-story that hit our headlines in 2006 but may reflect truths in the here and now- even eight years later.


When 12-year-old Gaby disappeared from her home in the north of Scotland, the media rushed to announce that her Scottish-Pakistani father, Farhan, had kidnapped her. The spiraling headlines were only momentarily silenced when it emerged that Gaby may have fled of her own accord, choosing to spend her life as a young Muslim in Pakistan. To her Scottish mother Suzy’s great distress, Gaby declared, “my name is Ghazala” turning her back on ‘Gaby’ and, seemingly, the West…

The set and theatre was minimal: a slightly raised area surrounded on three sides by bench seating made up of two rows. Bare brick walls all around competed with a cheap white leather sofa (Glasgow) with a slender wooden chair and tea pot. Some magazines and news cuttings strewn around the floor. My friend and I took photos but a stage-hand quickly materialised and insisted we delete them, lest the designer’s copyright (?) be challenged. As a result I had the disconcerting feeling throughout the play that something (anything) on stage was about to zoom out or bust into flames.

The play was minimalist, with just three people on stage: mother, father, daughter. Like the newspapers (or, more likely, because of them) the play only featured the one child, and as such was intense in moments. However, unlike the media, I found “Gabby”s story dull and her father’s take not notable. Like the papers but for different reasons, their mother’s monologue captivating. The actor playing her carried us through her conversion to Islam (in name only), her conversion to Muslim womanhood (in full eventually) and her gradual mental erosion to the point of breakdown. It became a story of two individuals, at least one of whom’s culture did not allow them to play out the narrative of married life that the other needed. Through its sparseness the play made a fool of a media eager to lay racist and nationalist agendas at the door of a family dispute.


The role of the Farhan, and his journey from an Asian-Glaswegian (with a perspective equally balanced between the West and East) to that of a devout Muslim and family man- was explained and done away with the sentence: “the community came to need more of me”. 9/11 is mentioned briefly as factoring in Farhan’s change. Despite the unfurling, modern love-story behind his marriage to Suzy, Farhan’s second marriage and all related preamble took up perhaps two lines.

I would have liked to know more.

“Gabby”, the modern Pakistani girl, painting her nails, wearing her niqab and loving chocolate was too lively, too shiny and did not charm me. Not to be cruel, but I thought her unnecessary- the other siblings, who remained unportrayed actors and lived only in brief mentions and in the empty spaces on the stage provided more melancholy and suggested far more personality than she did. Having said that, when I heard the true person behind the character speaking on Woman’s Hour about the performance, I was really moved: it turns out she had been there in that tiny theatre the same night as I was, and watching the play she had seen in the simulacrum of her parent’s marriage a glimpse of a happy family life she had not been old enough at the time to remember.

To sum up: the play had me talking all the way home, but the conversation could have gone further.

Women’s hour link here: Image

Book Life: World Book Night 2014

Forgive me, this post will just be about my World Book Night experience- a review of the book might follow after, but this was special.

photo (1)

When I found out that my application to be a World Book Night giver was approved I was happier than I’ve been in so long. I love everything that the project stands for- giving storytelling to people who need it at times when they are hard-pressed to find it. The generosity of the publishing houses and all the people involved has been so heartening to me for so long that I could hardly believe it when I got the email through telling me that a consignment of about 20 books would arrive at my local library for me to give out on the night of the 23rd of April.

photoI would like to say that I thought long and hard about where to give books out, but actually the answer stared out at me from the calendar from the very beginning: you see, the 23rd is St. George’s day and my local hospital (where my boyfriend also works) is also named…St Georges.
St George’s is one of London’s oldest hospitals and is a source of pride and comfort to the local community. As well as offering over 1,000 beds and treating a great scope of afflictions, the hospital is at the centre of a campaign to offer greater support to those affected by female genital mutilation (FGM) and is renowned as a centre of understanding in the field of neuroscience. Beyond all this though, giving books on World Book Night to a hospital just made sense.
I envy the people whose job is the work of keeping people alive and healthy- but the arts can and do play their part in making our society a better, happier place. It is the night, in places which are unfamiliar, when you are worried or alone that storytelling can help you to travel beyond where you physically are, and to help you understand your own situation. To distract and bring you understanding. To comfort you and to take you far away.
I contacted the hospital and found a time that night when I wouldn’t be getting in anyone’s way and then turned up with my books. I handed them across to two lovely hospital workers who promised to hand them out to patients and families throughout the night. I also gave some of the books out in waiting rooms. It was simple and without fuss and I walked away happy.
 I gave out 20 copies of Nora Roberts’ Black Hills and next year I’ll do my best to give again.

Nora Roberts

The Sea by John Banville (and appearing on Radio 4)

The Sea

Often one of the most interesting bits about meeting an author is reconciling yourself to the fact that the worlds and minds you have come to know and imagine so closely, so intimately, started out in another person’s imagination. It was with this in mind that I took in John Banville- a small bespectacled Irish man in a bow tie and tweeds, somewhat fussily sipping at a glass of red wine.

I was at Broadcasting house, attending a recording of BBC radio 4s BookClub. The book (and aforementioned world) was winner of 2004’s ManBooker prize: The Sea.

The novel had bobbed up to the surface of media consciousness ten years after winning, buoyed no doubt by a press junket related to a new motion picture based on the novel which comes out this month.

Regardless of the film- I’m so glad this book floated my way, and that I was obliged to read it for the occasion because it is beautiful and quite intimidating. The text is continuous and lyrical taking you seamlessly from soft eddies of humour to the realities of grief and back.

The Sea deals with memory, childhood demons, and loss- which can drive people to escape from reality and into a world they create for themselves. Detailing the protagonist’s return to the site of childhood holidays after his wife’s death from cancer, this is a book about innocence, judgement and an exploration of the dreams which tow us into the treacherous waters of adulthood.

Well worth the read.

Born in Wexford in 1945, John Banville won The Man Booker Prize in 2005 with his novel The Sea and was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize in 2007. Published by Virago.

BBC link: 

oh hey there I am at 4.55. Image

Book Life: A new lending library at LSE!

Hello all

The mightiest of the very lovely perks of working in publishing is books! Free books! Cheap books! Books everywhere! Need books? Got books.

We get wonderful deals on books through work and any money we pay tends to head towards some pretty excellent charities. I mentioned this to a friend studying a Masters at LSE this year and he had a great idea: helping to set up a lending library at The London School of Economics for students. I feel pretty strongly about everyone’s right to good storytelling and I’m the first to vouch for the joys of both taking home a good book and passing on a tattered copy of something you know others will love.

So, a few weeks (and some pretty heavy book-lifting) later, we managed to set this thing up. I even got him to pen a few words for me about it:

This year the LSESU Literature Society has been able to set up its very first lending library in the new LSE student union. The library is just a number of bookcases from which students are free to borrow the book they wish for any duration, and are also encouraged to donate any books of their own. Further study is a greater financial sacrifice than ever before, but The Literature Society knows that reading widely should be a student’s right and not a privilege.

We would like to really thank Vicky as without her our bookcases would only be half-full! Our budget did not look like it would stretch as far as we hoped until she was able to source lots of well-chosen books at amazing prices through her work. We now have a large and varied collection of both fiction and non-fiction, hopefully catering for the eclectic tastes of our student body. Thanks again Vicky, keep fighting the good fight!

                                                            – Richard Kirsch (LSESU Literature Society)

It was fun, and really got me in the mood for World Book Night!

UPDATE April 2014:

…and here’s a photo of the LSESU Literature Society scooping up a Bronze Award at the SU & STARS Awards this year for entrepreneurialism!

LSESU Literature Society scooping up a Bronze Award at the SU & STARS Awards 2014

LSESU Literature Society scooping up a Bronze Award at the SU & STARS Awards 2014


On the drink of collapse… The story of Gin in England

Hello history pandas!

A little departure from the norm, here. While I read a plethora of wonderful books in December, I also wrote a guest article in a web-magazine as a favour to a friend. The magazine is called “HUZZAR” and is a treasure-trove of literature, essays and art relating to British 18th century lifestyle. The editor also has the great honour of being Adam Ant’s costume designer.

But I digress.

It was fun to turn my hand to research again and while I don’t think I necessarily nailed the tone (still a little bit too serious, despite some hidden jokes- maybe too hidden) for a magazine article, I gave it a good shot and its had a decent reception!

I’ll post the link here




Happy Birthday Well Read Panda!

Happy Birthday to the blog (and to all pandas who also happen to have been born today!)

This time last year I sat down in a cafe in St. Ives and decided to make a blog- to make a space for myself to appreciate the things I read and the animals I love.

In the past year I’ve moved home a few times, finished my MA, had a few different jobs and met many new people (as well as continuing to be lucky enough to hold onto the ones I liked from before).

Thank you to everyone who helped me in the past year. As my work with Felicity Bryan draws to a close at the end of this month I’ll be looking to apply to new places for work and for work experience in the meantime. I’m serious about wanting a hand in the books that get published this year, and next year and the one after that!

Thank you to everyone who has read something on the blog in the past year, and to all that recommended me a book here or there.

And so to another year of reading and becoming a better-read panda!


read panda birthday!

Book Life: Happy World Book Day! But today, judge a book by its cover…

Happy World Book Day!


At work today I asked around and found out what everybody at the agency loved to read as a child. It’s curious- sometimes the choices named were works published a hundred years before the reader was born and some where a product of the same era as their readership. It seems that was the case with me: when the question of a favourite childhood book was turned back on me, I had no hesitation at all about my own answer…

I’m still waiting for that Hogwarts letter, after all…


For my post on World Book Day I have chosen to celebrate not just a book, but a cover worthy of being judged by: namely the art of Cliff Wright, who created the cover for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


With quick sketches and watercolours Wright captured the spirit of the book which I loved the read most, and I am so very, very grateful!

From Wright’s website  I have included a letter from Emma Matthewson, Rowling’s editor, (letter pictured below) who asked that the dog he had previously drawn be shaggy, scary, menacing. From this Wright created the very image of a Grim. When shown a reference to a classic depiction of the mythic creature, Wright created a Hippogriph that was all his own, and which in turn came to belong to all who read the book it was painted on.


While Wright also illustrated the cover for the Chamber of Secrets, it is Azkaban that stays in my mind.

Danger, colour, magic… with closed eyes I couldn’t tell you know where my imagination begins and where Wright’s illustration leaves off. There is fear and adventure, determination, myth and rebellion in this beautiful painting.

Because as the adage goes, it is wrong to judge any book by its cover, and there is no doubt in my mind that Rowling’s masterpiece series (and particularly this, her third book) would still be the most wonderful leap into imagination and storytelling if it had a nothing but a blank cover made of bin-liner wrapped around it.


Sometimes the synergy lent to writing by the perfect illustration takes it even higher and this is what happened here.

All images used are from Cliff Wright’s Website and belong to him (the red panda down there just wandered onto the picture)

Please apparate over there and have a look, it’s definitely worth your while.

hp rp

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas to all my lovely blog readers!

My only advice this Christmas day is to dust off your copy of “Mog’s Christmas” and to read it to someone young enough never to have heard it before!

For me, its not Christmas unless I’ve read about “trees that walk”, or have newly been reminded of how Mog is coaxed off the roof. This year is actually Mog’s 40th Birthday! Let’s celebrate in style.

Thank you again, Judith Kerr, for all the hungry tigers and forgetful cats that have caught my imagination and which undoubtedly set me en route to a career in publishing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve spotted my 6 year-old cousin and I think I know something he’ll enjoy…


Master’s degree completed! Sorry for the long paws between posts!

A month or so ago I finally finished the Master’s degree that I’ve been working on for so long. Unfortunately, the final stretch of the course involved the dissertation, which robbed me of the time I could have dedicated to the Well Read Panda.

But it’s finished, and it went really well, so I’ll be back here and posting more regularly than ever before on what’s good to read!

In the meantime, enjoy this little guy.

This is how surprised I felt when I realised I finally had time to blog again (and how I look everytime I realise I get to read books without taking notes! 🙂 )



A chick among the chickens

My boyfriend’s family are poultry farmers in North Yorkshire, and last year he took me in to see the little yellow chicks as soon as they had arrived.

I was struck by how many there were, and how similar and distinct they were to one another. So many birds passing nameless through that shed. How small a mark each little chicken’s life makes on the world around it. I picked one up and held it for a little while, the moment staying with me.

I wrote this poem earlier in the year and edited it with the kind help of the poet, Alyson Hallett.  

Roll back the sun
turn off the lights,
let even the dogs go quiet
for just a moment.

Hold your hands as if in prayer
as you grip the small one-
a small thing
the colour of June
and hear her heart
against your thumb.

No mother hen to look for you,
you won’t be missed.

But I’ll remember as I hold you,
and after too.

Lolly Willowes or the very Deadly Dissertation… in a lather over Sylvia Townsend Warner

My MA dissertation will be all about the very glorious Sylvia Townsend Warner and animals, or the way in which her lyrical, beautiful writing manipulates our idea of the inhuman in order to  throw back at us a very accurate rendition of humanity.

Or something.

Sylvia Nora Townsend Warner was born in 1893 to a house-master at Harrow School for boys.  As a kid, Sylvia enjoyed a very classic childhood split between the education and refinements of London and the wild South West of England. An only child, Townsend Warner was close to her father and subsequently devastated by his early death as she entered adulthood.

Although Townsend Warner grew to be  known for her work with Tudor Church music at the close of the century’s first decade, and was involved with in a passionate relationship with the (married) music teacher at her father’s school,  at the outbreak of the first World War she moved to London and took up a post at a munitions factory. Although Townsend Warner would later associate with some of the literati of her day, she kept to herself and subsequently her first novel was an electric success suspected by no one…

Townsend Warner wrote constantly until her death in ’78, and is perhaps best remembered as a regular, witty contributor to the New Yorker, for whom she published over TWO HUNDRED STORIES throughout her lifetime. She wrote about turtles and convents. Historical and Romance novels. She wrote guidebooks and adventure books. She adopted tens of cats and dogs (and one goat). She lived an openly committed lesbian life with her lover, Valentine Ackland. She was a talented diarist.

She is unlimited by genre.

Her beautiful poems, her haunting, funny books and her history of service in the Spanish Civil War remain largely unremembered.

until now!

Though this incredible woman deserves more than merely an obsequious blog post and a surely over-reaching MA dissertation, this post will not attempt at her biography.

Instead, this post, however, will be a review of a very unique little critter, even amid the clamouringly odd-and-varied Townsend Warner ouevre: her very first novel, ‘Lolly Willows or The Loving Huntsman’ (published in 1926).

Lolly Willowes, in brief, follows the life of a spinster. With incisive humour, Townsend Warner cuts into the notion of the spinster as the superfluous and dependant freak.

The eponymous heroine, Lolly, begins her life as the doted-upon daughter of a landed gentleman with two other sons also. A the traumatic death of her father (sound familiar?) the family begins, over many years to rearrange itself, with Lolly finding herself pushed and stifled to the outside. Lolly enters for many years a dreamy state of indifference and resignation to her role, until, at the close of WWI, she awakes as if from a coma and leaves her family behind. Lolly Willowes tears away to the wild countryside and finds within herself a devilry which shocks, amuses and unhinges her readers.

I won’t give any more away.

I’m sure there will be more posts of the lovely and indisputably underappreciated Townsend Warner in the coming months. I’m begining to feel as though I know her, in part because I’m spending so much time buried in her diaries and her unpublished letters. The Dorset County Library has been so generous and let me ransack the archive for material.

It’s so comforting to know that you are appreciating the work of an author with whom you feel as though you would really ‘get on’. I suspect that Virginia Woolf wouldn’t think much of me, or that Hemmingway wouldn’t consider me at all for example.

(Charles Bukowski, the subject of my BA dissertation may try to get on with me, but that might not be such a good thing. I digress.)

Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman is a magnificent story: a subtle yarn which weaves together spinsters, modernism, upper-class apathy, pacts with the Devil, witchcraft, countryside and kittens.

The more people that read this magical book, the better.

Pinterest mood board for Lolly Willowes can be seen here:

Otter Nonsense

A little poem I’ve been working on with the aid of the wonderful and accomplished poet Alyson Hallett. Having her read over and comment on my work is amazing. Aren’t I lucky.

Otter Nonsense


Otter Nonsense

my writing on a yellow page

(this silly sheet)

swims and dips

akin a fettered, old

and tattered otter-

nonsense words

in this

my stained and pointless

yellowed blotter.

Poor old and tatty,

written otter-

hemmed between

the reed-like lines

of this dank and dirty,

stagnant, earthy,



paper river-bed.

Trigger Happy

Running ever such a little bit behind on my MA work, but wanted to give my first post for April! So I’m reposting a poem which was published online last year!

I was directed to the site, ‘weirdyear’ by a professor from Pittsburgh. I was told that it was a good platform to get published on, as they are just that little bit pickier than your average web publisher and they have a simply huge readership.

I was surprised they liked ‘Trigger’ best of everything I sent them, as it is one of my first pieces, but there you are.

When I got the email telling me I would be artist of the week starting 5/8/11 I excitedly put the 5th of August down in my diary, not bearing in mind that the website was American. Therefore, the 8th of May and my first online publication came and went with very little pomp. Probably for the best.

Trigger Happy


Two bullets from one aimless pistol.

Shot through a back door,

Cigarette smoke drifting by the hinges.

Hurled into a night that smells like sweat and smoke and him

And makes my heart jerk.

Makes my hands shake.

Two shots into one night

Leap the fence

Hands to the floor

Shake shake

He draws me up and

We ricochet down one dark street

Firing shouts as we go

We’re young and we do what we want.  

The link to the website below:

Ash Lea. A poem

Whenever I can, I visit the lake district with friends. There is a house there where someone dear to me would always go with their family.

It is small and built of slate. It has no heating, no phones, no cd player and definitely no internet. The house has a rich library of four records: ‘The Best of Boney M’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and ‘The best of Simon and Garfunkel’. The house sits beneath massive ridges and green, green fields and hosts a consortium of sheep in its garden. The front door is red.

Like this poem, the house is called Ash Lea.

Ash Lea



Plummy, thickset heather

growing close by Slater’s bridge,

dipping perse

and easy into water

where you would swim

when you were growing too.



Smells of history

round a swampy mere

where purple plants torn up by children’s

chubby fingers

were carried back

like precious treasures

to Ash Lea.



Mauvish heads

jammed with clumsy concentration

in to dusty jars

like scented English feathers

to sit, lake-ish offerings

on your family’s kitchen table.




to be jealous of a flower.



A new place…

St. Ives

“As I was going to St Ives

I met a man with seven wives

Said he, ‘I think it’s much more fun

Than getting stuck with only one”

– Roald Dahl

My boyfriend has recently returned from New Zealand (Rugby World Cup), India (for Christmas), upped camp from (first) Yorkshire then my place in Exeter and finally settled (for a while) in the beautiful Cornish St. Ives.

While nobody but the two of us seemed to find it as serendipitous and fun that the move happened on St. Pirans day, the fact remained that this past week has marked his initiation into Cornish life, and my own luck at having a base camp in such a cool town. There are older photos of it already on my blog. Psychic.

St. Ives has to be the art capital of the South West, with its own TATE, Barbara Hepworth’s gallery, hundreds of little galleries, venues and a smart music scene.

The lady whose café I’m in just told me that it’s also won ‘Britain in Bloom’. Just think.

So for the next few months I’ll be checking out music, food and painting in this seaside town. It’ll be fun to kit out the new home and get to know a new town. I’ll throw in some reviews, writing, photos and maybe if I improve even a tiny bit, some sketches too. I’ll make scones! Mmm…

Bloomin’ wonderful.