DIRECTIONS TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN
Welly Artcore (Earth Island)
If you put this book’s title into Google, it takes the request literally – “No results for that place. Try entering it below to get suggestions” – which is amusing, and also underlines one of its running themes. Directions To The Outskirts Of Town is a set of two diaries, from 1994 and ‘98 respectively, recounting the highs, lows and mundanities of punishingly long, pre-smartphone tours across North America with British punk bands. In the first instance, Welly Artcore (a name referencing his punk zine, Artcore, where these writeups first appeared) accompanies ribald Bristolians Chaos U.K. as T-shirt salesman, returning four years later with his own group, Cardiff’s Four Letter Word.
Both stints add up to about 70 gigs and nearly three months spent in a van or sleeping on people’s floors. Aided with his telling, in his telling, by being slightly less of a stumbling pisshead than most of his companions, Welly writes about, essentially, everything. It documents a purple period where relatively little-known bands, without industry dark money, could schlep across a continent for weeks on end – tours like these are basically impossible for foreign DIY punk combos now – and, in the case of the FLW tour especially, sounds mentally and physically draining after a few weeks.
This is partly down to Welly’s descriptive unambiguity, making it plain when people are being weird or annoying (quite often), although his postscript confesses of his nostalgia for those days. All things considered, the days of travelling with only “the name of a club on a piece of paper” to guide you date this book in a highly readable way.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
Andrew Ewart (Orion)
In this, his second novel, Andrew Ewart asks about what lengths we might go to in order to be happy. Mya wakes in a hospital after another of her episodes, but she seems to be the only one around – and the screen in her room keeps showing her visions of her boyfriend and someone who looks a lot like her.
The story tears along at a pace from the off, and every time one of the reader’s questions are answered another pops up to take its place, the multiple narratives fitting together like a clever puzzle. Although the prose sometimes drags (the author seems to be of the ‘show and tell’ school of writing) the quick chronological shifts and scene changes ward off boredom. The occasional gaps in the plotting are compensated for by the reader’s desire to find out exactly what is going on inside the White Prison, and how it all relates to Mya’s well-meaning, academic father.
Philosophical speculative fiction that reads like an extended episode of Black Mirror, with nods to A Clockwork Orange, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, and the reality-questioning fiction of Philip K Dick.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words DAVID GRIFFITHS
Sarfraz Manzoor (Wildfire)
This book is for anyone who is interested in knowing why we became so divided, and how we might find a way to align, become something greater than the sum of our parts, and somehow become more united. Sarfraz Manzoor tackles uncomfortable truths, but talks about the pejorative and the positive alike. He grew up in a working-class Pakistani Muslim family in Luton where, he writes, he was raised to believe that they were different. This sense of Otherness was often highlighted by the way the white community around the family, hearing them speak Urdu, retreated away from their ‘alien culture’, never quite accepting them.
In today’s deeply divided Britain, meanwhile, we are often told ‘they’ are different; ‘they’ have a different culture and values, and ‘they’ will never be accepted in this country. This time, they are Muslims. Whatever it may mean to ‘be British’ is underpinned by an often-silent segregation whose media presentation is portrayed as sane and analytical.
Through personal accounts, and with sensitivity and empathy, Manzoor raises various topics liable to misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims. This reader, for one, has been introduced by They to much I didn’t know, or realise was happening, in a clear and eye-opening manner.
Price: £20. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKELOUS
Chris Steele-Perkins (Bluecoat)
In 1978, photographer Chris Steele-Perkins travelled to Northern Ireland as part of a team researching poverty in UK inner cities. “I was interested in how life was lived in its various facets,” he writes in the introduction to this new photobook, “not just the rioting and the military occupation, but also the leisure, the entertainment, the homes, the fun, the funerals and the community.”
Consequently, The Troubles is partly pictorial reportage from the front line of a civil war, depicting British troops on the streets of Belfast, youths lobbing rocks, burning barricades and – in a sequence of colour photos taken a decade later – the bloody aftermath of the Milltown Cemetery attack, during which a Loyalist sympathiser opened fire on mourners at the funeral of a former IRA activist. But the book also dwells on domestic scenes, on leisure activities, on nights down the pub. The cover image is especially apt: a pensioner going about her daily business, despite the gunman pointing his rifle across the road in the foreground and the cloud of black smoke billowing up behind.
Steele-Perkins’ lens focuses particularly on children, for whom rubble-strewn streets and derelict buildings were an adventure playground. In one picture, five kids perch happily atop a high wall, watching something off-camera – and yet the young were not innocents detached or insulated from the realities of the conflict. The book concludes with a series of 2008 interviews with some of Steele-Perkins’ former child subjects: one, Christine Malone, admits “We tore up rags for the fellas to make petrol bombs.” But as another, Francis Graham, insists, “They were good times. No use telling lies; we enjoyed life.”
Price: £28. Info: here
words BEN WOOLHEAD
WHAT HAPPENS AT NIGHT
Peter Cameron (Europa)
The premise of Peter Cameron’s What Happens At Night indicates an interesting, even exciting read. A married couple with a troubled relationship travels to a dark, cold Nordic country to adopt a child, encountering a vast array of unusual characters and uncanny situations in the creepy old hotel where they are staying. Then it goes downhill.
What Happens At Night’s stylistic choices are obtuse. There’s an absence of quotation marks throughout, which makes reading almost impossible. The two main characters are referred to solely as “the man” and “the woman”, which does little for their likeability and makes them difficult to connect with, despite references to their poor health and marital struggles. Yet the language is beautifully descriptive and atmospheric, and an abundance of tension – the feeling something terrible is going to happen – which, for better or worse, is never paid off. What happens at night, indeed?
Maybe it’s worth giving this book another chance during winter in front of a fire, to truly fit with its atmosphere. Here and now, What Happens At Night just didn’t grip me, and the story itself was not strange or eerie enough to make up for the continual tension.
Price: £12.99/£9.99 eBook. Info: here
words SARAH BOWDIDGE