The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
by Joanna Cannon
Just finished reading this little gem for this month’s book club, and it was such a pleasure. I had to do a bit of speed reading over the weekend to catch up with the rest of the club, but I’ve never found it so easy to gorge myself on 450 lovely pages of writing.
Goats and Sheep is set in a cosy little English avenue in the summer of 1976. Although I’m too young to remember this scorching summer, I’ve heard about it from my parents. Despite growing up in the ’90s, my nostalgia was seriously sparked by this novel, as I grew up in an avenue the shape of a keyhole, just like the one in this book. People lived in your pockets, curtains twitched, neighbours looked out for each other and children spent all of their time outdoors on the kerbside in summer. In Goats and Sheep, this environment is put to the test in a pressure cooker of heat, and when one of the residents goes missing, characters are examined through the eyes of 10 year old Grace, who narrates most of the novel with a wisdom beyond her years.
This book is British suburbia at its very worst and very best, with dark secrets and rumours uncovered and exposed, gossiped about and spread. Cannon herself is a psychiatrist, and this experience shines through each character’s personality as they are scrutinised by Grace and her quirky pal Tilly. As the pressure of the avenue builds with the heat of the summer, a dark climax arises with a literal clap of thunder. Full of little twists and mysteries, this book made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions, giving us plenty to discuss about how we perceive, and ultimately treat, our neighbours.
- Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction – closes 31.10.2017
Welcomes entities on the theme ‘Cafe Stories’. Free to enter. First prize £500, with 10 shortlisted stories to be published in the Dinesh Allirajah ebook. More details here.
- I Must Be Off Travel Writing Competition – closes 31.07.2017
Free to enter until 31st May, then €3. Prizes €200 and €50. More details here.
- Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2017 – closes 14.07.2017
Welcomes entries for fiction, poetry and life writing. Winner in each category will win £300, plus publication in Wasifiri Magazine. More details here.
- Reflex Fiction Prize – closes 31.05.2017
Flash Fiction from 180 – 360 words. Prizes £1000, £500 and £250. £7 to enter. More details here.
- Dragonfly Tea Short Story Competition – closes 31.07.2017
Any story on the theme of ‘Journey’. More details here.
- Henshaw Competition – closes 30.06.2017
Welcomes short stories on any subject up to 2000 words. Prizes £100, £50, £25 and publication online. £5 to enter. More details here.
- Wells Festival of Literature – closes 30.06.2017
Three prizes for poetry, short story and a book for children. £750, £300 and £200, plus a local writing prize of £100. More details here.
How to Connect with Nature
by Tristan Gooley
I’ve been picking my way through this book since I found it in Oxfam Books Knutsford after Christmas. It’s the perfect book to pick up and read a quick chapter, with some nice illustrations and easy to read excerpts. I’ve had a couple of books from the School of life series, which are all written by experts and philosophers in a really accessible way – with loads of different topics to choose from. As we were going camping this weekend, it was a no-brainer for me to take this book, and attempt to connect with nature on a more physical level. The good thing is, you don’t need to be a hardcore survivalist to enjoy this piece of work. It’s aimed at making nature more open and accessible to everyone, even city dwellers like myself. The book begins by highlighting how we have lost touch with nature, and rather than lamenting it and blaming those of us who have office jobs, offers gentle tips and advice on how we can reconnect.
There are little techniques and exercises to try along the way, such as switching on our senses and listening and smelling the world around us. Or to head out on a blindfolded walk to see how much more notice about our surroundings. Thanks to this book, I even know the direction of the prevailing wind! Still didn’t help me to pitch the tent in a non-windy spot, though…
I love how gently informative this book is. It’s not in your face philosophy that reprimands you for losing touch with nature. Rather it’s an ambling exercise in getting back in touch, encouraging us to do more, notice more and feel more. I’ll definitely be dipping in and out of this one for a while to come.
After weeks searching for the perfect birthday pressie for my partner, I decided to invest in a car boot full of camping equipment. The idea was to surprise him on his birthday, then get on the road for our trip back in March. My body had other plans, and I ended up in hospital for a few days with a nasty infection. Now fully recovered and back at work, we decided it was finally time to try out our brand new tent somewhere spectacular. I’ve always been a fan of the Llyn Peninsula, having spent countless childhood and teenage holidays at our family caravan in Llanbedrog. I remembered a beach where the sands were white and the waves high, and where the bustle and bustle of nearby Abersoch seemed to melt away. The beach I had in mind was Porth Ceiriad, close to the Cilan headland on the other side of Abersoch itself. Up on the cliffs above the beach is a campsite called Nant y Big, which offers panoramic views of the sea and Porth Ceiriad.
We booked a night at Nant y Big for just £18, and headed off straight after work on a Friday, packing up some bacon, beans, eggs and halloumi (for veggie me!). The guys at Nant y Big couldn’t have broken us in more gently. Our camping field was huge, a big hump of cliff that looked like the world just dropped off into the sea, and we only had two neighbours. There were great facilities, showers, toilets and washing up sinks, as well as other fields away from the cliffs for those without a head for heights! We pitched up in a cosy corner and got to frying up some halloumi cheese, enjoying a good old mug of pasta, proper camping style. We took a duvet with us for sleeping on, putting our sleeping bags on top with a couple of pillows, and it couldn’t have been cosier. The wind picked up a little in the night, which led to some broken sleep (just a little!), but it was all worth it to wake up and unzip the tent to a jaw dropping view of Cardigan Bay. After a mug of Yorkshire Tea we nipped down to the sea using the Wales Coastal Path, where I took a couple of early morning photographs with my Hasselblad. We discovered some absolutely amazing cliffs, and some spooky hidden caves. Then we climbed back up the hill and cooked up a delicious breakfast and sat drinking coffee, watching the waves. We headed home via Beddgelert, one of my favourite spots in Snowdonia, and after a pot of tea and some Bara Brith hit the road home and enjoyed a deliciously hot bath when we got home.
A couple of weeks ago we were whisked away to the Eternal City for a weekend. This was a trip what was a long time coming for us – having bought the travel guide back in 2014 with the best intentions of booking some flights. Alas, it was well worth the wait.
Upon arrival, we soon discovered our hotel was in the perfect location. Nestled away on Via Flavia close to the Roma Termini Station, the Royal Marcella Hotel was quiet enough to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but central enough to be able to walk right into the heart of Rome. Even better, the hotel had a stunning little roof terrace serving up coffee and pizzas, with absolutely breath-taking panoramic views of the city, including the iconic dome of St Peter’s Basilica over at the Vatican.
First things first, we grabbed a pizza to go from Pinsere, a cute little pizza deli on the corner opposite our hotel. The option ‘to stay’ meant to stand at the bar and eat with friends, but eager to see the city we got our spinach, cheese and raisin pizza packed up to eat on the road. Soon, we’d stumbled across the Spanish Steps and then the Trevi Fountain, before heading back to a local restaurant close to our hotel where we enjoyed fresh risotto and tomato and mozzarella Caprese.
The next morning only one thing was on our minds – the Coliseum. We thought it best to start at the very beginning of Roman history, and this magnificent building did not disappoint. We got there super early to avoid the queues and were lucky enough to be able to walk straight in. After taking in the structure, we headed over the road and spent a few hours wandering around the Forum, where the amount of history was dizzying. Thoroughly sore-footed, we headed back to the hotel roof terrace for an afternoon of sun catching before heading to Rome’s Hard Rock Café for an Italian burger.
Another day and moving onto another era of history, we pounded the pavements down to the Vatican City. Spotting the queue to enter St Paul’s, we joined onto the end and waited
just over an hour to get in – apparently a drop in the ocean compared to normal waiting times! We bravely bought some tickets to head straight up to the Dome itself, taking the lift for the first leg of the climb, then wobbling our way through some very tight staircases to the top. The views were just unbelievable, and we even enjoyed a spot of espresso on the roof terrace. After heading back down and exploring the actual Basilica, we went to find the entrance to the Vatican before realising we’d make a terrible mistake! We didn’t know that once in St Peter’s, you can’t enter the Vatican. So we headed around the corner and joined the back of ANOTHER queue, this one taking us two hours to get through. Again, seeing the Sistine Chapel was worth it, but it was so insanely busy in there – we couldn’t quite believe that so many tourists were allowed in at the same time!
After heading back to the same restaurant we visited on the first night (I wanted to try the homemade ravioli – it didn’t let me down!), we enjoyed some drinks back on the roof terrace as the sun was setting over the city. To top off a stunning trip, our taxi driver the next morning took us right through the heart of the Coliseum on the way to the airport. Saying goodbye to Rome on a quiet, sunny Sunday morning is something we’ll never forget.