book review, Books, Living Abroad

Review: The Book of Newcastle

Well we are living in strange times, aren’t we booklings? In the spirit of staying positive during this rather surreal period in our lives, I’ve been filling my time with the following:

  • Reading more (duh)
  • Writing
  • Working on career things
  • Yoga
  • Learning to make pasta
  • Planting herbs (a spectacular failure thus far)

As you’ve probably already guessed, the reading and writing portion of that little list has a lot to do with today’s post. A couple of months ago, the lovely people at Comma Press got in touch and asked if I’d review their latest collection of short stories: The Book of Newcastle. Naturally, I said yes, because I love the Toon for becoming my home and really respect the awesome work Comma does as a not-for-profit indie publisher. Onward to the review!

The Book of Newcastle, ed. by Angela Readman & Zoe Turner

Genre: Urban/Short story

Length: 121 pages

Publisher: Comma Press

Other bits: features short fiction by Jessica Andrews, Julia Darling, Crista Ermiya, Chrissie Glazebrook, J. A. Mensah, Sean O’Brien, Angela Readman, Glynis Reed, Degna Stone, Margaret Wilkinson.

Synopsis

The Book of Newcastle forms part of a wider series aptly named ‘Reading the City’, and offers readers a curated snapshot of the city through ten distinctive literary voices. Each story features characters looking to carve out a space for themselves; somewhere where they can get reacquainted with some part of themselves or their past, and in doing so find some sense of comfort or peace in the present.

My thoughts

This fine collection of stories doesn’t just handle tragic tales; they capture, in vivid snapshots, that great northern spirit of resilience. Every protagonist we meet, however briefly, in this collection seems to be going through something – coming to terms with something beyond their control. This leitmotif seems to reflect the way this industrial powerhouse of a city has faced challenge after challenge, transformation after transformation, always ultimately making it through to the other side often stronger than before.

Some stories will grip you more tightly than others – but this is, of course, down to your particular tastes as a reader. That’s part of what I like about short stories; reading collections like this is an opportunity to discover genres, styles, and authors you wouldn’t typically approach as full-on novels. If I had to choose three favourites from this collection, they’d be: Thunder Thursday on Pemberton Grove by J. A. Mensah, Duck Race by Crista Ermiya, and Ekow on Town Moor by Degna Stone.

First up is J. A. Mensah’s vivid narrative inspired by a two-hour storm on 28th June 2012 – but not just any storm. This one devastated to 23,000 homes across Newcastle and cost roughly Β£8 million in damage to residences, roads, and businesses all over the city.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about that day in June. It was another almost-summer’s day in Newcastle. Then it happened: rainwater fell and made rivers of the streets. Pulsing through the veins of the place, it entered drains and sewers. Flowing through pipes that led to toilet bowls and kitchen sinks, it revealed unseen connections as it entered people’s homes in a deluge of dirty water. The storm came, seemed like it might last forever and then vanished.

Thunder Thursday on Pemberton Grove, J. A. Mensah

The descriptions in this story are wonderfully vivid, and the author seems to use the narrative structure to mirror the physical structure of the Tyneside flats which actually emerge as protagonists in their own right as the narrative progresses. I love how the characters’ lives weave together, becoming one messy but wonderful tapestry by the end of it all.

Crista Ermiya’s piece, Duck Race, grabs us and puts us face to face with possibly one of the most awkward social situations you could think of: a weekend with your ex and his pregnant girlfriend. What?! Yes. Just imagine.

While they wait at the finishing line, Elle asks Chuck something that has been nagging at the back of her mind all weekend. She says, slowly, ‘Chuck, when you called to ask if you and Merel could stay this weekend, did you know then that Merel was pregnant?’

Duck Race, Crista Ermiya

But things are a hell of a lot more complicated than that. You really feel for these characters, starting from Elle, who has accidentally said ‘yes’ to hosting her ex and his girlfriend for the weekend, to the pregnant new girlfriend who likely feels that there’s an inside joke she’ll never get in on when it comes to the two lovers-turned-friends. You really feel for these characters. Elle and Chuck clearly still have residual feelings and perhaps hold on to hard conversations they never had, and as a reader you feel surprised that Elle isn’t angrier for what feels like Chuck’s lack of consideration for her feelings. ‘Hi, can my pregnant girlfriend and I come to stay for a weekend?’ Girl. No. Don’t do it. Why’d you do it? We want to reach into the story, hang out with Elle and drink gin with her until we talk her down from it all.

The last story in the collection was probably my favourite in terms of emotional intensity. Ekow on Town Moor focuses on three relationships – that between mother and son, man and self, man and world. For years, Ekow has used running as a way to centre himself and handle whatever life throws at him – but can he, should he, run away from the pain of losing a loved one?

The mist should have cleared by now but instead had turned into thick fog, and the city had almost disappeared from view. It was time to head home. He ran down the hill barely keeping his balance. He pushed harder until his heart started thumping against his ribs and it felt like it would burst. He wanted to keep running, didn’t want to return to his flat, didn’t want to go back to the hospice because he didn’t know what would face him when he did.

Ekow on Town Moor, Degna Stone

I enjoyed reading through such a diverse range of voices united in their passion for Newcastle, and would recommend this to anyone who’s lived here for any amount of time, be that a week, a month, or their whole lives. Getting to know the place you call home is essential, in my view, and reading about it is just one great part of that. The Book of Newcastle is in a word charming, and definitely worth your time.

-Kelly

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best cafes to work newcastle
lists, Writer's Life

The best cafes to work (or write) at in Newcastle

Ladies and gentlemen, bookworms, bibliophiles, casual readers, writers, and everyone in-between: hello and welcome to another blog post. Today, we’re talking about cafes, but not just any cafes – the best cafes in Newcastle to write or work at.

Why? Because I found myself Googling that exact phrase a few months ago and have since carried out the research and coffee-drinking necessary to write about it for you lovely people. Well, I assume you’re lovely. Hard to tell from here.

I’ve chosen these places based primarily on the quality of food/drinks, customer service, decor, and access to that all-important Wi-Fi and sockets for the writer, freelancer, or digital nomad on the go. Let’s get to it!

Flat Caps Coffee

Address: 9-11, Carliol Square

I adore the decor at Flat Caps Coffee. Warm, well-lit, and beautifully laid out with an industrial-style aesthetic, it’s a pleasure to sit here and work for hours on end in the company of fantastic coffee and the odd treat to keep your motivation levels up.

The food really stood out to me (please try the Turkish eggs), and the drinks on offer are spot on – even the filter coffee is yummy. Oh, and they’ve got really accommodating opening hours.

The Canny Goat

Address: 8, Monk Street

Nestled just seconds away from The Gate, The Canny Goat is home to perhaps the friendliest coffee-conscious folks in the city and has a really vibrant yet clean look to it.

The staff are knowledgeable about the coffees and teas on offer, and there’s a lovely personal touch to the service here – it feels like you’re being served by someone you know. Also: so many easy-to-reach sockets, and such great natural light streaming in on sunny days. Bless you.

Camber Coffee

Address: 33-35 Market Street

Camber Coffee Newcastle

You wouldn’t expect a cool cafe to be perched on top of an outdoor/fitness clothing shop, but I’m so grateful for the little surprise just a short walk away from the iconic Grey’s Monument.

Camber Coffee has an excellent coffee selection, and the staff certainly know their stuff when it comes to what they’re serving. For brain-fuel, you’ll find a great varied menu of snacks, sweet treats, and healthy plates to keep that productivity fire burning through the day.

Pink Lane Coffee

Address: 1, Pink Lane

Located just across the road from Central Station, Pink Lane Coffee is a sweet little cafe with a coffee selection to die for and baked goods that make the perfect treat after all your hard work.

Its proximity to the station makes this one ideal if you’re killing time before catching a train, and you’ll be pleased to know there are larger ‘desk-type’ tables towards the back of the shop where you can work in a group or write, type, sketch, and have stress-induced breakdowns with room to spare.

Tyneside Bar and Cafe

Address: 10, Pilgrim Street

My favourite place to sit at Tyneside Bar and Cafe – open every day until late – has to be at the window, where I can people-watch between paragraphs.

They’ve got a varied menu full of tasty options, ranging from light snacks to full-on meals and sweet treats, so there’s no risk of going hungry there. The odd glass of red wine won’t go amiss either.

The Teahouse (formally known as Quilliams Brothers)

Address: Claremont Buildings, 1 Eldon Place

The Teahouse is located in a beautiful, Grade II listed building close to Newcastle University, and is front of the pack in the ‘cosy’ category for me. There are three main seating options available (if you can get a space during busier hours!):

  • perched at the window, watching the world go by
  • sitting at one of the tables like you normally would
  • venturing downstairs to cosy central (i.e. where the sofas are)

No matter which option you choose, you’ll always get great customer service and find yourself working very comfortably with expertly-brewed teas and coffees for any taste, task, or mood. After you’re done taking care of business, you might even be able to stay on for one of The Teahouse’s much-loved movie nights! Treat yourself.

Laneway & Co.

Address: 17-19, High Bridge Street

If I could describe this sweet cafe in one word, it’d be ‘minimalist’. If you love a clean, modern look, freshly baked croissants, and top-notch coffee, this is a great shout.

It’s a friendly corner of peace and quiet in an otherwise busy city centre, so be sure to pop this one on your ‘to visit’ list. My only note is that the Wi-Fi can be a tad spotty, but hey – shit happens. And everything else more than makes up for the odd faux pas.


We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to cute cafes in Newcastle, so I’ll be sure to keep this list updated as I explore new venues all over the toon. If you’ve got any recommendations for me to try out, pop those bad boys in a comment and you’ll have my eternal gratitude!

-Kelly

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the acid house irvine welsh book
Books, Haul, Personal Style

Books and a spot of vintage shopping

Welcome to the first post of 2018, ladies and gents! We’re a little too late in the month to talk about such things as New Year’s Resolutions (I’d probably say something generic like ‘eat more fruit’ and ‘spend more time switching off from the online world’, you get the gist of things), so I thought we could dive right in with a few bits and pieces I’ve acquired over the festive season and first bit of January. Onward!

Books

Okay, you might remember that when I finally made the big move to Newcastle, I was only able to bring about ten books with me. I own around 370+ books in total. It was difficult. Painful. My shelves were a little too empty for my liking, and the bookshops here are too tempting for my own good, so I have actually acquired a few new tomes (and brought a few back with me when I visited Malta last year).

Let’s start with a bit of a Bukowski haul…

The three at the top (Post Office, Factotum, Women) were Christmas gifts from my baby brother, and Love is a Dog from Hell was something I picked up with a Waterstones gift voucher. Bukowski is one of my favourite poets of all time, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never owned any of his books at all! I also picked up a copy of Stephen Fry’s Mythos with another gift voucher. Lucky me!

Next up, the books I bought when I went to Barter Books in Alnwick (again). I might have mentioned this before, but Barter Books is a gorgeous little second-hand bookshop just an hour and twenty minutes away from Newcastle city centre by bus. It used to be a train station, and today looks like something out of Hogsmeade:

And here’s a look at what I picked up from Barter:

book haul

the acid house irvine welsh book

Vintage Bits

A while ago, I spent some time looking into the thrift/vintage shopping scene here in Newcastle. I love dipping into charity shops and hitting vintage shops to find unique bits and pieces to make my outfits stand out. Sort of. Anyway, I picked up this pendant from The Yesterday Society in Grainger Market:

And these awesome pieces from FLIP American Vintage:

vintage shopping

Snuggly-as-hell 1980s jumper

vintage ralph lauren

Green striped Ralph Lauren shirt

 

 If you’ve got any books (or vintage shops!) to recommend, hit me up in the comments! 

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