Wrapped Up in Books #8: Matt Wesolowski, Howl & The Hum chat, Zine library appeal and Book Fairies

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From brand new books to second hand zines, Getintothis’ Cath Holland explores January’s busy literary landscape.

This month’s Wrapped Up in Books is as packed as any so far,  the world of literature and reading doesn’t slow down just because it’s January. On the contrary.

The latest in Matt Wesolowski’s horror tinged Six Stories series is dissected and discussed and a thorough autopsy carried out. The findings are laid out for you to read.

If you happened to be around Liverpool’s Albert Dock earlier this month, you may have spied copies of the new novel by Will CarverGood Samaritans, left in the area, with notes and stickers attached inviting all to take one home to read and keep. The woman behind this mysterious book drop is Lauren, Liverpool’s very own Book Fairy.

I tracked Lauren down and asked her to explain herself.

North west DJ Charlotte Davies is starting Warrington’s first zine library, and reveals the reasons behind the initiative.

There’s news of a handy writing competitions website as well, launching soon.

And finally, upon hearing that The Howl and The Hum‘s songwriter Sam is an enthusiast of the short story, he was the natural choice to be 2019’s first Bookworm of the Month.

Matt Wesolowski

BOOK REVIEW: Changeling by Matt Wesolowski

Changeling centers around the case of Alfie Marsden, a seven year old who, like all good books in the mystery crime genre, vanishes without a trace. He disappears from a forest on the Welsh/English border on Christmas Eve in 1988, leaving grief and questions behind.

The notion of a missing child is unsettling; youngsters can’t look after themselves for long, dependent on adults to survive and thrive. If a child goes missing, the odds are someone else is to blame, and controlling something they have no right to. It’s a loss of order and the sense of what’s right, the story we’re told as children of the bogeyman coming to take you away if you’re naughty.

Mysteries over kids missing and never found, the ones taken up by the press, bloom and run out of control as years tumble into the next. As we’ve seen with the Madeline McCann story, speculation and armchair theories rumble on.  We’ve all got an opinion on her fate. Some have several.

And so, in Changeling Alfie’s story appeals from the get-go. A child ‘officially declared presumed dead’ sends chills.

Alfie has been missing for decades at the start of the novel, and with the passing of time the mystery to his fate has deepened. Memories blur, preconceptions and rumour become simultaneously romanticised folklore and cold, hard fact, knitted in with the sense of unease and not knowing.

Weslowski’s Six Stories format is a unique one. Each book – Changeling is the third in this series – unravels a fictional real crime story investigated by podcast presenter Scott King. The podcast includes King’s interviews with six witnesses including Alfie’s family, and the podcaster’s ongoing thoughts, written in novel form. Changeling picks up the Alfie’s story in contemporary times; with no leads since the day he vanished, this is a classic, vanished-into-empty-air cold case with still little indication of the boy’s true fate.

The author’s background lies in horror fiction, and he plays and teases with strands of the genre. A mysterious tapping sound in the forest is omnipresent during before and since the disappearance, disturbing both primary and incidental witnesses.

Indeed, the tapping creates the situation for Alfie’s disappearance to happen. A mysterious letter claiming of the forest ‘They say there’s a curse – that going in there does something to you’ in the opening chapter sets the scene.

This place is a hotspot for paranormal activity, we hear, and in its history there’s talk of witches, rumours that it held the cure to the plague and the discovery of a Bronze Age skeleton preserved in a macabre, undignified fashion.

The book solves the mystery of Alfie’s fate, the slightly bonkers twist hitting so cleverly and quickly.

Leaving the threads of horror and the actual crime aside, what jumps out in Changeling is the way it shows how easily people hide their real selves. As we read each podcast interview, the subject tries to show a side to themselves they want King and his listeners to believe.

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The boy’s father stands out here, when we see an underside to his character he keeps hidden.

There are feminist angles to reflect on in the novel. We see Alfie’s parents’ relationship, a peek behind firmly closed doors, making this piece of fiction starkly real.

And how Alfie’s mother and father are viewed by press and public after Alfie vanishes, is wearily familiar. What is the appropriate behavior for a woman who has a missing child, exactly? One suspects it is never quite appropriate enough, no matter what.

Changeling is published on 24 January by Orenda Books.

  • ZINE APPEAL AT VINTAGE VIOLA

Charlotte Davies from DJ and events collective Thirsty Girls Collective is appealing for donations of zines with the aim of creating Warrington’s first ever zine library.

The publications will be on display at the Vintage Viola charity shop, community space, library and music room founded by The River Reeves Foundation. The space provides opportunities for young people and disadvantaged members of the local community. The Foundation was set up after the deaths of local up and coming indie band Viola Beach and manager Craig Tarry in February 2016.

‘Zines are a really important way of delivering information and opinions in an accessible, DIY way and they’re also just a way to let people get creative. I’m hoping that the zine library will give people an extra reason to visit Vintage Viola and to support The River Reeves Foundation – the charity that the shop raises money for’ says Charlotte.

 ‘All money raised at the shop will not only continue to fund scholarships for underprivileged kids who want to study creative subjects at college and university, but will also fund the creation of a mental health bus that will visit schools in the Warrington area and provide mental health support.’

Zines can be new or old, and on any subject or theme, and all will be gratefully received.

To arrange any donations please contact Charlotte via email:thirstygirlscollective@gmail.com

  • NEW WRITING COMPETITIONS WEBSITE

Writer, editor and publisher Rupert Dastur is set to launch a new site listing writing competitions of all kinds, from novels to short stories, flash fiction, poetry, film, theatre, creative-non fiction, non-fiction.

The aptly named Writing Competitions goes live on 15 Feb, but you can subscribe now here.

For anyone hitting publishers and editors hard with work for the New Year and are frustrated at the gap between submissions and an acceptance or rejection then take heart from Blake Kimzey here, who waited for rather longer than average for a reply from one unnamed publication…

THE BOOK FAIRIES

Free copies of books are distributed around the world by The Book Fairies organisation. In Liverpool, the city’s very own Fairy, Lauren, has actively shared literary treats for the past year.

‘The Book Fairies is a worldwide organisation set to spread the joy of reading around the world as well as connect people from all over with the simple passion for literature, Lauren says.

‘For me – the official book fairy for Liverpool –  there are others for other towns/cities/counties and countries – personally, it’s a random act of kindness that everyone can get involved in. Sometimes we do promotional work with some authors too as they give us books to leave for people in our areas to enjoy.’

The initiative is worldwide and two years old – on International Women’s Day 2017,  actor Emma Watson helped launch things by helping to distribute 100 copies of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood around Paris.

‘It’s also easy to become a book fairy and we have no age limit so anyone can “gain their wings” as we say,’ adds Lauren, who has also shared novels by James Frey, children’s author Nick Butterworth, and others.

More info here.

The Howl & The Hum (photo credit: Lucy McLachlan)

  • Bookworm of the Month: Sam Griffiths, musician.

York band The Howl & The Hum have carved a noticeable niche for themselves over the last year or two, releasing singles and EPs, playing Neighbourhood Festival, Latitude, The Great Escape, Live at Leeds, BBC Biggest Weekend and more.

Impressing with visual, colourful songs with passionate, up front vocals and big, anthemic choruses, ‘we try and make them as soundtrack-ish as possible,’ says vocalist and songwriter Sam Griffiths.

The band recorded a new single earlier this month.

‘We’re working on two songs concurrently it’s a race between the two of them,’ he jokes.

The lads boxed off 2018 by supporting Welsh Music Prize winner Boy Azooga, and this week greet the new year with gusto, kicking off their second UK headline tour.

In May, SXSW beckons, the group’s first ever shows in the US.

‘It’s small… its strength is that everyone knows each other…; says Sam of York, which is situated away from the relative glamour of Leeds or Sheffield. ‘You’ve got punk bands playing gigs with folk musicians. Everyone’s collaborating with each other.

It’s like a big village, surrounded by the walls, it’s quite enclosed,’ he adds. Originally from Essex, he moved to York for university, the band met at open mics and folk nights in the city.

Getintothis: It was at these open mics where you cut your teeth songwriting? 

Sam: ‘I wasn’t a particularly strong songwriter when I got to York but I started to ignore my (English) degree when I realised that I enjoyed writing songs more. I did my dissertation on Blood on the Tracks, the idea of an author within a work. I angled it round to contain music and my degree…

There’s the argument that it’s autobiographical, [Bob Dylan is] insistent that it’s not..I’ve always loved him saying, these aren’t protest songs, these aren’t autobiographical, these are based on Chekhov’s short stories. I’ve always loved that separation but when you listen to the songs it’s just so…him. You can’t imagine anyone else coming up them if you hadn’t experienced these emotions. He’s conjouring up these strange stories, narrative arcs going all over the place, they’re like weird expressionist paintings, the way the tangents go in the songs, the way he changes the narrative voice.

In Tangled Up In Blue he keeps changing the ‘I’ to ‘he’ and ‘they’ and ‘she’..that killed me the first time I listened to it. And then the atmosphere of the lyrics, we don’t really know where it’s set, could be in the Twenties, in the future, if you wanted to interpret it that way. It’s got a broad, still Americana feeling but it’s… universal.’

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Getintothis: You yourself have moved away from writing autobiographically.

Sam: ‘At moment I’d say I’m mid-way between the two. I was listening to a band called The Mountain Goats, they released two albums that are autobiographical, the rest go off in strange tangents and stories he’s created, and emotions he’d experienced…the stories are so wild.  Me first learning that he hadn’t lived those songs but had come up with those characters, it blew a hole in my mind when I was a bit younger that he could place himself into another body, but still feel the human connection…it’s something I aspire to, writing-wise.’

Getintothis: To write from personal experience in any genre, whether it be prose, lyrics or poetry. takes a lot of confidence, but making shit up requires pretty much the same.

Sam: ‘To remove yourself entirely…the reason I’m  doing the halfway thing at the moment… if things didn’t necessarily happen  I can insert…things that happened to a friend in the song the narrator will say it happened to them…it’s the tangent running through it that’s important. It’s always interesting, where you’re picking influences from.’

Getintothis: You’ve got such an unique songwriting process, your songs coming out of short stories you’ve written. I’m intrigued how one genre bIrths another.

Sam: I don’t think I’d ever show anyone the short stories…essentially they map out what’s going to happen in the song. I’ve always found writing lyrics to be like reducing a narrative so I come up with this relatively broad story, put in all the details, start, beginning, end, write it as a thematic narrative piece and reduce it almost as you would in cooking, to a really fine paste. You’re using the utmost sincere parts of the song that are necessary to demonstrate the narrative…I’ve reduced everything to a short story, them I reduce that further.    

Getintothis: Why are you keeping these stories from us, Sam? 

Sam: I think I prefer the reduction. I really like that microfiction element to it..if anyone was to read the rest of it I’d feel disappointed. The expansion is the song with all the fat and the trimmings…I want to slice it off…and have this little version I’m proud of.

Getintothis: The Howl and The Hum are named after the epic Allen Ginsberg poem Howl.

Sam It is. Howl was a massive inspiration…the expression and freedom overarching yell, and the we tried to come up with a name…we wanted it to be interesting, we wanted it to be literate and we wanted it to describe the band’s sound. If my voice is doing the howling, then the rest of the band are humming along behind it, almost like an atmosphere.’

Getintothis: What’s your favourite book ever? 

Sam: ‘Really love the New York Triology by Paul Auster…is my go to answer. Or it could be… How to be Both by Ali Smith… it turned my world upside down…I recently finished it three days ago and in the process of re-reading. It’s s beautiful. That really hit home. But I might be saying that because it’s so recent. And Lincoln in the Bardo from last year by George Saunders. Really wonderful.’

Getintothis: And the first book you remember enjoying? 

Sam: ‘There’s obviously the kid’s fiction..I can’t really say Hungry Caterpillar…’

Getintothis: Yes you can. 

Sam: I wouldn’t say the enjoyment was total there….my actual love for fiction began when I was 11 or 12 and I read Hi Fidelity by Nick Hornby…it was so conversational, and funny, it was when I was trying to get into young adult fiction as opposed to kids fiction. It was a changing point, it’s hilarious and it’s about a record shop and it’s quite moving.’                    

The Howl & The Hum UK tour dates

18 Jan The Tunnels, Aberdeen
19 Jan the tooth and claw, Inverness
30 Jan The Sound Archive, Kirkwall
22 Jan Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh
23 Jan Stereo, Glasgow
24 Jan The Cluny, Newcastle
26 Jan Soup Kitchen, Manchester
27 Jan The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
29 Jan EBGBS, Liverpool
30 Jan The Leadmill, Sheffield
31 Jan The Bodega – downstairs, Nottingham

1 Feb The Louisiana, Bristol
3 Feb Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham
4 Feb Prince Albert, Brighton
5 Feb Omeara, London


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