Book Review – no bias intended

A rose-tinted view of the new abode

I thought y’all deserved a break from me banging on about moving house – at least for a week. So, instead….

You know those reviews you read. ‘The author is an acquaintance of mine, who I’ve met twice at dinner parties since we live close by in Islington…’ or whatever. Well, the three women writers’ books I’m about to review are all great. Let me say that right off the bat. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be reviewing them, let me tell you.

So, with full disclosure of why I might be biased (but I’m not, obviously…) here goes:

I actually only really know the first of the writers, Rebecca Allan, through her Dad, Mark, aka Isaac Brutal, who has kindly found a place for me in his band as third guitarist/one-handed keyboardist/assistant songwriter: kind of a care in the community thing, really.

However, the fact that I really enjoyed Becca’s novel, when it was clearly not aimed at my demographic, counts for a lot I reckon. A Young Adult novel, Transference tells the story of Violet who, with her brother Hugo, was brought up in some sort of institution. Their special powers – they’re both telepaths, but Hugo also has foresight – are in some way connected to why they were brought up the way they were. A tragic accident has left Hugo bed-bound and Violet riven with guilt.

Gradually, events begin to take a sinister turn and the secrets and lies that underpin their destinies so far begin to surface. But in a game of cat and mouse with the authorities, who are they to trust – handsome young cop Blake, or mysterious, sarky stranger Hunter?

Hardly needs saying it’s a long time since I was a teenager but the mix of emotions, and the way Violet doesn’t always make the right choices or say the right things, makes her a believable heroine you’re willing to succeed. A pacy read.

Jane McKie, on the other hand, is an old friend. In fact, she’s such a good friend she even helped edit my stumbling attempts at poetry, back when I was still regularly hacking away at that particular coalface. However, her own poetry is several levels up: and that’s not just me talking. An earlier collection, Morocco Rococo won the Sundial/Scottish Arts Council award for best first book of 2007. In 2011, she won the Edwin Morgan poetry prize, and in the same year Garden of Bedsteads (Mariscat Press) was a Poetry Book Society Choice.

Her latest book, Quiet Woman, Stay is another elegantly crafted group of tightly-wound poems, Perhaps because I’m a simple Fifer, my favourites are the descriptions of nature, like in ‘Spindle’:

a dragonfly

hangs above the pond

an apricot/damson/spirit.

Glitter-shifts in a skittish            dart.

Hangs again.

Or ‘Nevada Sundown’:

Transverse light: a highway

drawing the eye to emptiness,

a richer darkness

where toothed rocks

are temples from a distance,

with silhouetted Joshuas –

arms raised – their priests.

Jane’s poetry deserves to be far better known.

Finally, another pal whom I may have mentioned in these pages before, as a fellow sufferer of those permanent under-achievers, Hibernian Football Club. She is also, like Jane, a fellow alumnus (if that’s the right word) of Edinburgh spoken word performance group Writers’ Bloc, where we could never quite convince her the nerves she suffered before shows were worth the brilliant performance she used to deliver with her cracking material.

But despite her abilities for turning a truly memorable, indeed unique world view into a killer short story (see below for an excellent example) Kirsti’s heart belongs to the novel form. Her latest, the Knitting Station, is a work of a peculiarly Scottish genius, which I described at the launch as ‘John Buchan on mushrooms,’ a shorthand she seemed to like.

In the novel, former Bletchley Park code-breaker Hannah has fallen on hard times since the close of the Second World War. It’s the early Sixties, a new threat has appeared in the form of the Soviets, but Hannah is a patient in an Edinburgh sanatorium, still seeing codes to be broken where none exist any more. When the visionary head of the sanatorium decides to take her and some of her fellow patients to a remote Scottish island famed for its textile design, it seems like a good idea. Until, that is, Hannah starts seeing patterns in the knitting that could unlock a reds-under-the-bed conspiracy…

What can I say? Remote rugged landscapes, semi-sentient sheep, and yes, your actual magic mushrooms, are served up in rich broth of sharp observation and dark comedy that keeps you in the dark till the final chapter. Just because you’re mad doesn’t mean you’re not saner than your surroundings.

Please read this book. Oh, and watch the video below. You’ll love it.





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