Wrapped Up in Books #9 Doug Johnstone book review, Fake Laugh interview, Barry Hines statue, poetry news and more


Wrapped up in Books #9

From psychological thrlllers to libraries helping the homeless, Getintothis’ Cath Holland finds the literary world this March far reaching.

In Wrapped Up in Books this month, Scottish author Doug Johnstone‘s new novel Breakers is reviewed. The book is a keeper, delving deep into issues around societal inequality and class structures.

We all read A Kestrel for a Knave in school, and saw the film version. Now, author Barry Hines has a permanent tribute to his work in his home town.

There’s lots of poetry goings on this March locally and of course World Poetry Day to look forward to, so we have details on both.

Libraries provide more services now than ever before, Birkenhead Central LIbrary has everything from live music to housing the homeless.

And finally, Kamran Khan from dreamy indie outfit Fake Laugh shares his reading highs… and lows.

  • Booker Prize gets new sponsor

Annual prestigious literary award The Booker Prize is to be funded for the next five years by charity Crankstart Foundation, which supports the forgotten, the dispossessed, the unfortunate, the oppressed, and those facing hurdles where some help makes all the difference.’

Crankstart is run by Cardiff-born now Silicon Valley based venture capitalist Sir Michael Moritz, and wife Harriet Heyman.

A new sponsor was sought after previous backer the Man Group ended its support.

The award, which carries £50,000 prize money, will be known as The Booker Prize after 18 years as the Man Booker Prize.

The 2018 prize was won by Belfast writer Anna Burns for her novel Milkman.

Crankstart will also support The International Booker Prize.


World Poetry Day

UNESCO‘s World Poetry Day takes place on 21 March. The annual celebration of the poetry is celebrated at events from libraries to online happenings.

The day encourages a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, promotes the teaching of poetry, restores a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting.

It also supports small publishers and boosts poetry’s profile and stress how much of a modern day form it actually is.

Read my interview with singer songwriter Tom Odell about World Poetry Day, his love of poetry and the written word here.

Kazimier launch Stockroom – Liverpool’s new gig and arts venue

Peggy Poole Award readings

The Poetry Society presents a special event on 13 March at the Bluecoat  in Liverpool featuring readings and Q & A from poet Yvonne Reddick, the winner of the inaugural Peggy Poole Award – a new talent development award recognising emerging writers in the North West of England – alongside the judge of this year’s competition, celebrated poet and critic Deryn Rees-Jones.

Wirral Poetry Festival
The first ever Wirral Poetry Festival takes place in May. Featuring Eleanor Rees – whose new collection The Well At Winter Solstice is published by Salt in June – Roger McGough, and a special event highlighting small independent publishers, and more.

The festival is hosted in a variety of venues – a pub, arts centre, town hall and even a Mersey Ferry, between 10 – 12 May. More info here.

Breakers  Doug Johnstone

Tyler is seventeen years old and on the threshold of manhood but already he carries far more responsibility than a man twice his age. He lives in a deprived part of Edinburgh with his small but dysfunctional family. Because of his circumstances – his mother has addiction problems, there’s no father in the picture plus he’s got Barry, his abusive older brother to appease – you’d expect him to be right a little shit and no mistake.

But instead he’s the man of the house, sees his mother right and cares for his younger sister, Bean, with a tenderness that plucks at the heartstrings. He’s not perfect – he burgles houses, although out of necessity over the thrill.

Tyler keeps his family together by using his wits, but when he and Barry break into a local gangster’s house and incur the man’s wrath, that fragile domestic stability is threatened.

In Breakers, we see very different types of masculinity laid out and interacting. Tyler has a strong moral compass, he protects the women and girls in his life – he cossets Bean, is firm but loving to his mother. The respect and protection he offers his romantic interest Flick is reciprocated in a healthy way; a new experience for him.

And when the wealthy Flick says she likes him because he’s nice, one can’t help but wonder what the men and boys in her life have been like.

Tyler’s got rather sophisticated music tastes for a skint seventeen year old in his surroundings – Johnstone has him, somewhat unexpectedly, enjoying the delights of Boards of Canada, Hannah Peel, and cherishing a fondness for vinyl.

Still, he’s a hero, a very modern one. Tyler doesn’t opt for grand gestures or high drama, but plays a supportive role especially, interestingly, around the female characters. There’s a sadness here; instead of exhausting himself keeping social workers at arm’s length he should be the one being taking care of. In an ideal scenario he’d be hanging out with Flick and taking her on dates, getting to know her properly, not talking her down from a coke-fuelled afternoon at the hands of Barry.

Breakers explores issues around class in a non sentimental way, although Barry is a comic book baddie at times. Tyler’s up against it, poverty and lack of opportunity, those burdens of responsibility dragging him down. He’s clever and sharp and loved, but by the book’s end we’re not sure if that’s going to be enough.

A truer to life scenario than many care to admit.

Breakers is published by Orenda via ebook on 16 March, followed by paperback on 16 May.


A statue in honour of A Kestrel For A Knave author Barry Hines is on display in his home town of Barnsley, South Yorkshire following a successful campaign to raise funds.

A committee of Hines enthusiasts, including bestselling author Milly Johnson, raised money for the tribute.

The statue is exhibited in the Experience Barnsley museum then will be moved to a more permanent home later this year.

Dai Bradley, who played Billy Casper in Kes, the film version of the book, attended the press launch earlier this week.

Hines, much admired for his skills in reflecting the working class experience, co-wrote the script for Kes. He also penned the script of the notorious Threads, plus for television, radio and the stage.

Sculptor Graham Ibbeson is also responsible for the famous Eric Morecambe tribute in Morecambe and Cary Grant in Bristol.

  • Library services

The services our local libraries provide are ever expanding.

Birkenhead Central Library has taken to putting on live music over the past months – BODEGA and Pip Blom so far, with a show by Our Girl scheduled for June.

On top of that, the building now opens as a temporary housing shelter over the winter months, to help tackle the crisis of rough sleepers in the town.

Library staff have worked on the project with charity Wirral Ark, and other community and church groups including the Wirral Deen Centre, who feed the guests an evening meal and breakfast in the mosque yards away.

Arklight provides spaces for 12 people at a time.

Wirral Deen Centre will also shortly to provide practical help and advice at the library for those applying for the controversial Universal Credit.

Additionally, it’s estimated that 40% of girls the the area and those like it, can’t afford sanitary products and are forced to use toilet paper instead. The Pink Box Campaign aims to end period poverty in Birkenhead by giving every school, youth club and community house a Pink Box full of sanitary products. There is a donation point in the library reception where people can drop off any donations they have.

  • World Book Day

In the UK and Ireland World Book Day is on Thursday 7 March.

It’s the day when schools encourage pupils to dress up as characters in books in an effort to promote reading. Whether this aspect is effective or not is very much open for debate.

Fake Laugh

  • BOOKWORM OF THE MONTH: Kamran Khan, musician

When Berlin-born and London-based Kamran Khan isn’t touring the world playing bass for The Japanese House, he concentrates on solo project Fake Laugh.

Fake Laugh are unashamedly dreamy, sunshine pop but with a wry humoured underbelly Kamran flashes as takes his fancy.

The eponymously titled debut album was released in 2017, the single Better For Me racking up an impressive four and a half million plays on YouTube.

As I Get To Know You Better hit 1 million streams on Spotify in January.

The album crisis: Queen Zee, Ian McNabb, Recordiau Côsh Records on surviving streaming

Starting Fake Laugh as a fun project on the side while he was in his former band, Kam began ‘building up more songs with Fake Laugh then I realized it was something I wanted to make my primary focus.’

Fake Laugh have shared of Honesty, one side of a new double A-side single due out next month, featuring harmonies from Girl Ray‘s Poppy Hankin.

The video stars Girl Ray body popping and enjoying wine, and a full on and quite fabulous fantasy sequence sequence with glittery sequins. It’s like a little short story, a tale of a down on his luck dreamer with his head in the stars.

‘It’s meant to have that feeling. Certain bits were hard to convey the narrative…it’s quite hard to get it into three and a half minutes. I’m really happy with the way it turned out,’ Kam says.

‘I’m glad you interpreted it as a dream sequence because we showed the first edit to a couple of people and we realized we REALLY needed make sure people knew it was a dream….’

There’s a charming little twist at the end. 

‘Was it a dream?! Was it?’

Speaking of narratives, what was the last book you read? 

‘Everyone has reading habits but in terms of reading literature, I’m really bad at it. I’ve had quite a pattern of picking up books, reading between fifty and a hundred pages then not continuing with them.’

A lot of people do that.

‘It’s not very satisfying though. I suppose it’s proof I’m not enjoying it to a certain extent, but all of those books I haven’t finished I really was enjoying, it’s more a question of me personally being able to have not willpower…but the commitment to (finish it) .

There  is a certain extent to which you have to force yourself to be, “ok I’m going to read this today, instead of pootling around on the internet or playing guitar” but I’ve had a bit of a  dry spell… I’m keen to get it going again. I might maybe try and get into some short stories or poetry to get me going.

 I very recently bought a poetry book for my girlfriend for Christmas, a Leonard Cohen one, which I had a bit of a flick through and enjoyed that.’  

What was the first book you enjoyed? 

‘The first book that I read which I must have enjoyed because I finished it, was The Barking Ghost (a Ghostbumps book by RL Stine). I remember walking around Wilko, reading it…’

I was so young that I was drawn in by the scary cover, the neon background, the big scary illustrations. At that time I was in the ‘I like scary vampires’ stage…it was a spooky which I enjoyed at the time.

In terms of a proper novel, it’s the most cliched one you can ever pick. I read Catcher In The Rye when I was 14 but I have quite fond memories of that because it was the same time I was getting into Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. It’s probably if not in the top three, my favourite album ever.

I remember reading that in bed and listening to that album, a really good combo.’

What is it about the book and album that lends themselves to each other? 

‘The young teenage protagonist in New York..the vibe of Pet Sounds even lyrically..I think the second or third track has lyrics about packing up and the city…kind of existential themes throughout that album and as far as I can remember, through the book. As far as I can remember, it’s quite a dreamy combo.‘

I read something you wrote about the band Broadcast. How listening to them gave you permission to make interesting music that doesn’t necessarily have to be too out there.

‘I got into them at the time I started Fake Laugh…and got really obsessed by them since then. They’ve been one of my main go to bands, and when people ask what I’ve been listening to, I usually mention them.

They are really melodic and accessible and in a way, poppy…it’s very unique and has a wonky edge to it…I cover their songs sometimes but they are definitely a lot more leftfield than what I’m doing.’

Thinking about your songwriting, there’s been Beatles comparisons made but lyrically I can’t help but notice some subtle Paul McCartneyisms. He has the reputation for cheesiness but he chucks in very odd words or phrases in there, which people don’t always notice. Your lyrics have that bent, all nice and sweet then go unexpectedly turn weird.

‘I was one of those people until recently as well…It’s funny you should say that because before you phoned I was just listening to (McCartney‘s 1971 album) Ram, walking around the park. I’ve always been a massive Beatles fan. I only recently turned to the McCartney stuff actually.’ 

Nine things we’d like to see in Peter Jackson’s new Beatles film

Me and my brother got my mum tickets to see him a couple of years ago and I went into it…looking forward to it in an ironic way because he was always the cheesy one. I had a real light bulb moment during that gig where I felt like an idiot..he’s kind of the best one (Beatle). I mean, there doesn’t have to be a best one but he is ridiculously amazing.

In terms of my lyric writing…I guess a lot of the people I listened to growing up have that combination of melancholy and a bit of a sense of humour.  I try and not overtly try to shoehorn it in but it hopefully happens fairly organically.

I write those kinds of lyrics because I think that’s what life is like. It’s sad sometimes, quite hilarious a lot of the time, I hope that comes through a bit.’      

Honesty, a 7″AA-single b/w Surrounded is released on 15 March on Headcount Records

Fake Laugh tour dates

Supporting The Japanese House;
11 March – Brighton – Concorde 2
12 March – Oxford – O2 Academy 2
14 March – Leicester – Dryden Street Social
15 March- Sheffield – The Plug 2
16 March – Manchester – Academy 2
18 March – Edinburgh – The Caves
19 March – London – Electric Ballroom

Solo headline;
3 April The Victoria, London
9 April The Latest Music Bar, Brighton
10 April The Old England, Bristol





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