Very many congratulations to our WINNER of the 2015 Rubery Book Award
Don't Try This at Home
Don't Try This at Home
Angela Readman’s stories are quirky and original, sticking firmly in the mind long after you’ve finished reading them. She creates startling images, using magic realism and symbolism, all representing more than is immediately apparent. Her fictional world embraces characters you won’t have met before, but who are still somehow familiar. There’s a woman who keeps cutting her boyfriend in half in order to multiply his usefulness, only to find that each new creation reflects a different part of his personality. Another woman exhibits the sexual charisma of Elvis Presley – ‘hips a gogo, rocking onto the balls of her feet’ - whenever she’s allowed to embrace her true sexuality, and another encounters her future self in the form of a vagrant. Readman has a knack of making her characters, however unlikely, feel relevant to the human experience, and each is convincingly rendered in prose that sparkles with wit and significant detail. These stories mark Readman as an excitingly original writer who has managed to breathe new life into the short story form.
We are delighted to announce the 2015 Category Winners
Non Fiction Winner
A Brush with the Coast
Short Fiction Winner
Don't Try this at Home
The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store
The Green Sheep
Category Short Lists
Please note that the shortlists are made up of different numbers to represent the percentage of books received in each category.
Love Justice Bracha Nechama Bonze
These are poems from a vulnerable, Jewish lesbian with an attitude and a lot to say about it - poems almost like a story about her loves, her Jewish ancestors, about 9/11, her ‘unnatural’ birth, all portrayed with strong imagery. Some of it is almost-prose, but she manages to get away with it in a Whitmanesque way. The collection is unusual and brave and a very nicely produced hardback.
Bite Sized Fiona Hamilton
A mother’s journey alongside anorexia. Hauntingly written and with stark, black and white illustrations, it’s haunting in its totality. The poems are often very simple, laid out on one side of the page only, to stark effect. There are few words as might suit the subject and there’s a sense of the poet desperately grappling with the issue. Sometimes it’s unpoetic, almost direct reportage, but it’s always honest and the vulnerability and desperation is touching.
Occoquan Gary Worth Moody
Wonderfully powerful and vivid poems about slavery and female emancipation in US. Most of the poems are long and episodic. They have a strong feeling of authenticity.
Boxing without Gloves Barb Reynolds
There are some moving and powerful poems in this collection - about the loss of a lover, of a son, of visiting a father in prison. It’s not clear if all this happened to the poet, but they could possibly be autobiographical. The poet has something clear and significant to say, with great images and good endings.
In Lands Imagination Don Schofield
A beautiful collection from this well-published US poet; poems to do with myths and searching for words in the Greek language, including legitimate comparisons with the Greek poet, Cavafy. Many of the poems are perceptive, vivid and powerful. Conference (p56) is a wonderful poem, and there are others. There’s a great sense of mystery and of something important behind the poems. The poet is a knowledgeable and erudite guide.
Wanting It Diana Whitney
This is a surefooted and assured set of poems with a recognisable theme - growing up and sensuality. It’s consistently challenging and interesting. The Maine Dreams, for example, about a camping and fishing expedition and about growing up is impressionistic and sensual. The section called The Winter Room gives an almost palpable sense of being snowed in for the winter. These poems are mysterious and intriguing, but remain on the right side of comprehensible. A very assured first collection.
The Four Words Home Angie Chuang
This is a compelling, beautifully written book, written by a journalist with a Chinese background, principally about the lifestyle and politics of an American Afghanistan family in a post 9/11 world and the mental health issues affecting the author's own family. She travels as a trusted friend of the family when they return to Afghanistan and experiences their closeness as a family, the depth of their ties and obligations to each other. This leads her to an examination of her own family, divided and troubled. It’s a deeply-felt exploration of migration, family ties and the desire to hold on to history and tradition.
A Brush with the Coast Sasha Harding
A sumptuous book, crammed with delightful illustrations – sketches, painted landscapes, deceptively little drawings - in an attractive and simple style, depicting the journey of the author round the South-West Path, taking in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. It’s a book of great charm, to be read chronologically, or dipped into at random, always surprising, endlessly fascinating.
As I Walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee P D Murphy
An account of the author’s personal journey across Spain. He is retracing the footsteps of Laurie Lee, who travelled just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and wrote about his experiences in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. What could have been an exercise in imitation that couldn’t match the original turns out to be a poetic treatment of the author’s own journey. He explores his own troubled circumstances against the background of his knowledge and obsession with Lee, skilfully weaving their two experiences together in his own potent language.
Farewell, Aleppo Claudette E Sutton
This is a fascinating account of the author’s father, a Syrian Jew, and his large family who eventually ended up America. There are photographs, incredible details like their experiences in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, journeys across the world. The book offers a fascinating insight into the complexity of their culture and its ability to endure in twenty-first century America. The reader is left with a great sadness for the loss of place, the loss of tradition as it succumbs to the brutality of war.
Stumbling in Flats Barbara A Stensland
Barbara Stensland started a blog in 2012 when she was first diagnosed with MS and this book is a record of her experiences. It’s chatty, funny, sad and practical. She is openly honest about the difficulties she encounters, but remains refreshingly cheerful. It’s a book that you can dip into, read something fascinating, and gain fresh insight on an aspect of life that may or may not be connected with MS.
A Soldier's Best Friend Stephen Paul Stewart
This is a book about dogs, the dogs that are trained and do active service with the British Army in Afghanistan, sniffing out drugs and IEDs. The book is packed with real stories with the dogs at the centre of the action, going back again and again, saving lives and proving that they really are best friends to their handlers. There are pictures, successes and tragedies here, astonishing and moving. A very well researched book, well edited and compelling.
Einstein's Beach House Jacob M Appel
Einstein’s Beach House is a brilliant collection of stories offering incisive portraits of American life, with an unapologetic emphasis on its eccentrics. The stories are sharply observed, teeming with wholly original creations, often hilariously funny, and each is more than the sum of its parts. Appel uses comedy to comment on the world in subtle ways, never losing sight of his characters’ humanity, even as he reveals their often tragic frailties. Like the best humourists he is aware of the inextricable relationship between the former and the latter.
Acquainted with Squalor Nath Jones
Nath Jones offers vivid glimpses of American life that engage intelligently with that country’s myths and nightmares. Ostensibly they are domestic tales of ordinary people living unremarkable lives, but these commonplace scenarios are always loaded with significance because Jones has the knack of finding meaning in the mundane. They are moving and compassionate, steering clear of sentimentality. The writer’s empathy and compassion shine through.
Burrard Inlet Tyler Keevil
Tyler Keevil’s style is deceptively simple, masculine and raw, but deeply authentic. The stories are set in Vancouver and the characters are ordinary people, carrying out their lives on or by the water, against a background of snow-topped mountains. These are people whose work is often hard and grinding, inevitably at the mercy of the elements. There is great beauty here, with the brutal energy of landscape and emotion, all steeped in cold and sea and weather.
Don't Try this at Home Angela Readman
Angela Readman’s stories are quirky and original, sticking firmly in the mind long after you’ve finished reading them. She writes with short sentences and creates startling images, magic realism and symbolism which are all saying more than is immediately apparent. Her fictional world embraces characters you won’t have met before, but who are still somehow familiar. She has a knack of making such quirky creations feel relevant to the human experience, and each is convincingly rendered in prose that sparkles with wit and significant detail.
The Silver Gaucho Jackie Ballantyne
Travelling across the world, this is the story of Lockie, a journalist from New Zealand, who is persuaded – against her better judgement - to investigate the disappearance of a young man from a powerful Argentinean family. His brother is The Silver Gaucho, a legendary television hero watched and admired all over the world. It’s a novel about family and failing relationships, exploring Lockie’s own failure to manage her life. There's a lot to admire here. It's entertaining and full of quirky interesting characters, with moments of powerful and poetic descriptions. The writing is lively and colourful and the Argentinian setting is interesting and well drawn.
Invisible Threads Lucy Beresford
This sure-footed and well-researched novel creates a compelling story about a psychiatrist whose desire to discover the truth about her dead husband takes her from her home in England to modern Delhi. There she becomes embroiled in India’s horrific sex industry, and a riveting mystery that the author unpacks with patience and dexterity. Particularly impressive is the unflinching, often harrowing examination of India’s sex trade, and the country’s attitude to women in general. Beneath the exotic beauty of India there is a darkness that Beresford takes laudable pains to expose, and which she portrays with convincing depth and arresting clarity.
Still the Cicadas Sing Gregory Gregoriadis
A moving coming of age novel set in Greece, spanning from the 1930s to the present day. With lyrical prose and powerful story-telling, Gregoriadis takes us through the traumatic events and politics in the lead-up to the Second World War, the German occupation and the aftermath of the war. We see the workings of a small established community in a suburb of Athens through the clear-eyed observations of Alkinoos, a young boy at the outbreak of war. In the face of brutality and starvation, obsessed by a local German girl, he is forced to confront his conflicting loyalties and make complex moral decisions. It’s only as an old man that he can finally unravel some of the events of the past and come to an understanding of what happened.
The Scrapbook Carly Holmes
This is a vivid novel by a clearly talented writer about three generations of a dysfunctional family, and their history of making bad decisions about men. Fern, the youngest, returns to the family home to look after her ailing mother Iris, and begins to research the whereabouts of Lawrence, Fern’s absent father to whose memory Iris has devoted her life. The toxic relationship between Fern and Iris is particularly well-rendered, and the latter’s fixation on her lost lover is a touching portrayal of self-destructive obsession. A well-structured, fluent novel with strong characterisation.
Prayer of the Crow Christopher Holt
This is the enthralling story of Lucas Harrogate and his journey into the uncharted regions of war-torn Mozambique. Presented in the form of a journal found years after his death, the tale hovers cleverly between reality and hallucination, offering dispatches from the Heart of Darkness as harrowing as Conrad’s. The book is engaging throughout, offering not just evocative images of Africa, but subtle allusions to its colonial past, and the compulsions that have lured westerners to this region with calamitous consequences. Haunting, gripping, and often unsettling.
Living Treasures Yang Huang
This is a compelling novel exploring 1990’s China against the long shadow of the recent past through the eyes of Gu Bao, a female student. We see her as a child with her grandparents in a small village, where she witnesses a starving panda desperate to feed her cub, and later in the aftermath of the terrible events in Tiananmen Square. At its heart is the injustice of the one-child rule and the brutal corruption of officials in their determination to enforce the law. Yang Huang writes with fresh, clear simplicity, and the voice of her narrator is strong, clear and moving.
Rats Joe Klingler
This is a good, well written page-turner, written with staccato prose and sharp scene-setting. A techno-thriller that begins in Alaska with an assault on a pipeline using exploding devices called Rats. It develops into an international hunt for the perpetrator, featuring a General from the US Army, and his lover, Claire Ferreti, an army sniper. The plot is complex and well controlled.
The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store Jo Riccioni
A wholly absorbing novel which shifts deftly between Second World War Italy and the small English town of Leyton in the nineteen fifties. The experience of the Italian brothers, whose village life is disrupted by world events, is juxtaposed with an account of their new beginning in England, and their relationship with Connie, a young woman whose own life is stifled by the conservatism and prejudice of her fellow townsfolk. The interplay between these two worlds is presented with immaculate timing, delivering an utterly persuasive tale that is rich in both emotional substance and period detail.
Glassmusic Rebecca Snow
Glassmusic achieves a lot in a short space, successfully evoking the world of early twentieth century rural Norway and creating a rite of passage novel for Ingrid, the main character, and her blind father, who creates music from filled glasses of water. It explores in a thought-provoking way how religion can uplift or distort into disturbing behaviour. The writing is deceptively spare, creating its own beauty, which complements the simplicity of the farming setting.
A Storm in Summer Rosemary Sturge
This is a historical crime novel, set in the English Civil War and told, refreshingly, from the point of view of the Roundheads rather than the more usual romanticised view of the Royalists. There is a good sense of suspense as one mystery leads to another and historical details are accurate and convincing. An enjoyable, satisfying read.
Where the Poppies Grow Hilary Robinson
A picture book about the First World War for young children. Using rhymes and delicate pictures that hint at the reality without being brutal, it tells the story of Ray and Ben as they progress from children playing in a poppy field to soldiers in the trenches. It treads a subtle line between gentle story telling and harsh reality - a pleasing book with a moving message.
The Green Sheep Diana Kimpton
This is a fast moving and riotously funny story about an alien who visits earth in the form of a green sheep that replicates itself every time it falls asleep. The child hero, Paul Dane, wants to protect the alien(s) from an interfering and potentially hostile adult world and finds himself in a increasingly bizarre and uncontrollable world. Fast-moving and compelling.
The Awakening Tim McGovan
A ghost story about a haunted schoolhouse that has been converted into a family home. It connects a teenage girl, whose father has recently died, with a terrible tragedy that took place in Victorian times. It’s dramatic and exciting and the use of shapeshifters keeps the reader uncertain. Ellie-Mae is a strong heroine that young teens can identify with.
The Time Smugglers Rosie Morgan
This is the second in a series of books set in Cornwall. The four protagonists, based on Arthur and his knights, are drawn into a secret parallel world where nothing is as it seems, and where the Crow Man and his colleagues are plotting vengeance and destruction. It’s a world where apparently ordinary people possess secret knowledge, and help comes from unexpected sources. Fast moving, dramatic and exciting, with pleasing pencil drawings placed throughout, and with a promise of further adventures to come.
Trouble in Teutonia S P Moss
An adventure story, a sequel to an earlier novel, about Billy’s ability to travel back in time and encounter his grandfather in earlier periods of his life, long before Billy was born. Here Billy is transported to his grandfather’s RAF base somewhere in Germany in the Fifties. It’s the beginning of the Cold War. There are mysterious goings-on, spies, a prototype jet fighter and the grandfather of a present day bully, who turns out not to be as his grandson portrays him in the twenty-first century. Exciting, dramatic, page-turning.
St Cuthbert's Wild School for Boys Ingrid Skeels
A well-told story about a school for children who don’t like school and the their fight to save it from closure. The lessons are not what you’d expect in this school. Science might involve building models out of Lego models, while English lessons mean listening to a story out of doors while cooking on a campfire. This is a book which will appeal to all children who would rather be out doing things rather than sitting in a classroom being forced to learn – in other words, most children.