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January 2017

Explore T S Eliot Prize-winner Jacob Polley's collection, Jackself
17th January 2017 - Jacob Polley

Read a poem and watch a video of Jacob Polley reading from his T S Eliot Prize-winning collection, Jackself


Jacob Polley was born in Carlisle, Cumbria. He is the author of four acclaimed books of poems, The Brink (2003), Little Gods (2006), The Havocs (2012) and Jackself (2016) all published by Picador, UK. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2002, and both The Brink and The Havocs were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2004, he was named one of the 'Next Generation' of the twenty best new poets in Britain. His first novel, Talk of the Town, a fiercely demotic and funny coming-of-age murder mystery, won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award. He teaches at the University of Newcastle where he lives.







His newest collection, Jackself, has just won the T S Eliot Prize 2016. It spins a kind of 'fictionalized autobiography' through nursery rhymes, riddles and cautionary tales, and through the many 'Jacks' of our folktale, legend, phrase and fable - everyman Jacks and no one Jacks, Jackdaw, Jack-O-Lantern, Jack Sprat, Cheapjack and Jack Frost. You can read a poem from the collection below and also watch a video of Polley reading 'Every Creeping Thing', plus, read 'An Age' here.











Radiohead, Tom Waits and Joy Division: Under The Influence with Joseph Knox
17th January 2017 - Joseph Knox



Radiohead, Tom Waits and Joy Division: Under The Influence with Joseph Knox




Joseph Knox was born and raised in and around Stoke and Manchester, where he worked in bars and bookshops before moving to London. He runs, writes and reads compulsively. Sirens is his first novel. Complex, urgent and genuinely gripping, it looks set to be one of the first breakout novels of 2017. The writing is crisp and precise; the characters dark, troubled and extremely well portrayed, and the tangled plot is perfectly managed to keep the reader puzzling and burning through the pages to the satisfying climax. Joseph Knox has made a very bold entrance in to the world of crime fiction. Below, exclusively for Foyles he talks about the music that influenced his debut.

Author photo © Jay Brooks





Sirens is my first novel and it took eight years to write.


In many ways, this made life difficult. I wrote around jobs in bars and bookshops, and it meant late nights, early starts, lost weekends, the lot. Friends and family ceased to believe in the existence of the book and, as I began missing birthdays, weddings and holidays, I think they ceased to believe in the existence of me too. After several years, I just started to vanish into it.


There were three benefits to this, though. First of all, as the years ticked by and any sense of even self-imposed deadlines evaporated, I could take the time to get it right. Secondly, I grew up and got older in the course of writing, adding some maturity to the work that it might otherwise have lacked. And thirdly, I absorbed a wider range of influences over this time than I could possibly have done over one or two years.


The books I ripped off have been mentioned in the reviews; Chandler, Hammett, Ellroy, Peace, Highsmith, Dorothy B Hughes, etc. But Sirens is a book coursing with influences, some acknowledged and some not…


The working title of the novel was: Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs. It came from a song, an 8 minute epic of loss by Mancunian postrock band Oceansize. It probably wasn’t the zinger a publisher goes looking for, though.


Sirens came some time later, from another song, 'There There' by Radiohead. Thom Yorke sings ‘There’s always a siren, singing you to shipwrecks.’ My ears perked up. I’d been grappling with how I could update the idea of noir, the idea of the femme fatale, and adding some mythic power seemed to make sense. The word also imbued my female characters with strength. A siren can lure in, entrap and destroy a man. Perfect for the events that the novel described. I liked it, and the crossover with police sirens just made things perfect.


Character names are also a fine balance. My protagonist, Aidan Waits, had several that never suited him until the right influences came along. His first name is taken from the song writer Aidan Moffatt. The master of the dirty, sad, sexy love ballad, there was something at once strong and sensitive in his name. Waits came from another songwriter, Tom Waits. He’d been a favourite lyricist for many years when I first consciously thought how perfect his name sounded. Waits implies patience, thoughtfulness, even romance. True love waits, after all. In a world of detectives called Hunter, Wolf, Fox, etc, I thought perhaps there was room for a Waits.


The influence that looms largest over Sirens is that of Joy Division. The novel opens with a line from their 1980 gothic post-punk masterpiece, 'Heart and Soul': ‘The Past is now part of my future, the present is well out of hand.’ I’ve seen it said that good noir should feel like beautiful doom, and that’s always how Joy Division have sounded to me. A perfect marriage of dark, brooding soundscapes with club-ready beats and existential lyrics. The songs come alive in the dark, when the action of Sirens really takes place, and their connection to Manchester – its night life, its club scene, its own beautiful doom – was irresistible. The six parts of the book are all named for Joy Division releases; Unknown Pleasures, Substance, Closer, Still, Control and Permanent. But their influence on me, the sounds in my head, can’t be exaggerated.


In the end, of course, there are far more influences in Sirens than I could ever really acknowledge. Places, people, films, songs, books, failures, heartbreaks and elations all go into the blender of your head, get chopped up and pour out – hopefully – as something new. Over the course of eight years, I went out of my way to find as many as I could. To curate the blender of my brain and deliver something seamless, that still speaks to those influences.


Eight years was a long time, almost a third of my life. A lot of that went in there too.



#FoylesFave: Furiously Happy
16th January 2017 - Charlotte Pope

#FoylesFave: Furiously Happy


Charlotte, from our Bristol shop, tells us why she recommends Furiously Happy


Furiously HappyJenny Lawson has a long list of mental health issues. She became so fed up of the crushing misery and anxiety, she decided that when she wasn't plagued with debilitating symptoms, she would be as joyful and merry as she could possibly be to build wonderful memories to sustain her when the dark cloud came down again. Being furiously happy is not a cure for mental illness, it's a way of accepting it and still managing to live your life to the full; the concept is immortalised by Jenny's own stuffed raccoon (Rory) gracing the book's cover, frozen forever in an expression of wide-eyed manic glee.


Jenny has days when she is too terrified to leave the house. It is not unusual for her to hide in bathrooms or under tables when her anxiety takes over. She takes copious amounts of medication to treat her illness, and regularly sees a therapist. But for a book about mental health problems, this book is incredibly funny and contains a lot of wisdom and a lot of joy. From the perils of overly complicated Japanese toilets, to how telling people you're on anti-psychotics can really help get you to the front of the queue.


In her quest to be furiously happy, Jenny has visited tourist spots in Australia wearing a koala costume, frolicked barefoot in the snow in the early hours of the morning, and collected a bizarre array of ethically-sourced taxidermied animals (including the head of a grizzly bear and an almost purchase of one third of a giraffe). This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious and incredibly heartwarming. Furiously Happy has a lot to say for itself.



Katherine Webber on Why London is For Book Lovers
13th January 2017 - Katherine Webber


Why London is For Book Lovers



Katherine Webber was born in Southern California. She studied Chinese literature and language at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and comparative literature at the University of California, Davis. She has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Hawaii and Atlanta. She currently lives in London with her husband, where she works for the reading charity BookTrust. @kwebberwrites. Wing Jones, her first novel, is the story of a mixed-race family hit by tragedy in 90s Atlanta. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Katherine explains why London is for book lovers.









I’ve been in love with London for almost 20 years. I first came here to visit my grandparents, who had rented a flat for three months, when I was ten years old. It was the first time I’d ever been outside of the United States, the first time I’d ever flown across an ocean, the first time I’d ever had a glimpse of a world I wanted to live in. I remember going to the Tower of London, going to the theatre to see Phantom of the Opera, and I remember, even then, the bookshops. There were so many! I was an avid reader as a child, and was astounded that a city could have such an obvious love for books.


I came back to London, eight years after that, on a summer abroad programme to study Shakespeare. It was wonderful. One of the things I was most excited about upon arrival was the welcome discovery that I would have my own dorm room and not have to share with a roommate. I was very impressed with this. I was very impressed with a lot of things I’d missed as a child, for example I’d become a much more adventurous eater and was able to enjoy a wide array of London’s fantastic international food options. I made friends with a Frenchman who sold crepes from a stand, and became a regular at a curry house down the street from my dorm. To a Londoner, this will all sound quite ordinary, but to me it was magical.


The thing I was most impressed with on this trip though, even more than going to The Globe or Stratford-upon-Avon, was The British Library. The first time I went to The British Library, specifically into the Treasures of the Library room, I was so overwhelmed with awe, I cried.


And while I didn’t cry when I discovered the Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens and Paddington Bear at Paddington Station, I was filled with the same childlike joy as when I had first come to London. Tangible proof that this proper, grown-up city loved children’s books! And this was further proven when I saw that there was an actual Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. To me, living in London was the closest one could come to actually living in a book.


The only other city that I love as much as London is Hong Kong, where I spent a year studying and three years working. One of the things I found fascinating about Hong Kong was seeing how the influences of Colonial British rule had merged with the traditional Chinese customs and created something completely new - like Hong Kong-style milk tea. Hong Kong is a spectacular place, and I loved living there very much, but after three years of living there, I wanted to live somewhere that truly felt like the heart of the book world. Some would argue that is New York, and while I think New York is a fabulous city, to me, it just doesn’t compare to London.


So I moved to London with one goal: to fully immerse myself in the book world and culture here. I went to every bookish event I could, and I was spoilt for choice. Between seeing legendary authors like Philip Pullman and Diana Gabaldon at the Oxford Literary Festival to seeing some of my all time favorites like Ken Follett and Rainbow Rowell to attending the inaugural YA Book Prize Award Ceremony at Foyles Charing Cross (see picture left, with Katherine Woodfine, author of The Clockwork Sparrow). I went to book events at the Southbank Centre and to poetry readings in pubs and in one memorable occasion, a celebration of Canadian children’s authors at the Canadian Consulate. The best thing was, the more events I went to, the more people I met and the bigger and more welcoming the book world became. Imagine my joy when I was asked to start chairing events at bookshops and festivals! I was becoming part of the world I loved so much.


And the book launches! Is there anything more special than a book launch? To me, a book launch is a birthday party for a book and a celebration of all the work that the author and the publisher have put in to make someone’s dream into a reality.


When I wasn’t at a book event, I was browsing bookshops or writing in their cafes. I love the JK Rowling quote that Foyles Charing Cross Road has on a blackboard near their entrance: 'And the idea of just wandering off to a cafe with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for a while is just bliss.'  I’ve written in the Foyles Cafe, Waterstones Piccadilly 5th Floor Cafe, and of course, the British Library. One of the very first things I did when I moved to London was get a British Library Reading Room Card. I still get chills every time I go past the Treasures Room.


The best thing is I know that I’m not the only one who feels like this. At any given time all across London, I know I can find people reading. The bookshops are always full and bustling, the libraries are crowded, there are people reading on the Tube and in the parks.


London truly is for book lovers. I feel so lucky that I get to live in this amazing city— and even luckier that I now get to see my own book on the shelves of the wonderful bookshops that make London a book lover’s dream.



Samantha Ellis on Rediscovering Anne Bronte
12th January 2017 - Samantha Ellis

Rediscovering Anne Brontë


Everyone knows Charlotte and Emily Bronte – their books are studied in schools, have been adapted time and time again and even inspired pop songs. But not many people can name the third Brontë sister, and fewer still her novels, even though one of them was a bestseller upon publication and sold out within two weeks. At one time Anne enjoyed more fame than either of her sisters. So why has she since faded from view? In her book, Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life, playwright and journalist Samantha Ellis examines the complex and competitive relationships between the three sisters, and decimates the belief that Anne was the less-talented sister. Instead, Samantha reveals a brave, underrated feminist writer who was years ahead of her time, and far more radical than either Charlotte or Emily.




When Anne Brontë died of TB at just 29 in 1849, her bold second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was already a bestseller. The first edition had sold out in six weeks. Her debut, Agnes Grey, wasn’t doing too shabbily either, and her poems were being published in literary magazines. So why did she fall into obscurity? How did she become 'the other Brontë'? Why have neither of her novels hit the big screen, let alone inspired a hit song by Kate Bush? Why does she have a reputation for being the dull, less talented Brontë? Why does hardly anyone read her?


When I started writing my book, Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life, I had a hunch that maybe it was because Anne was just too radical. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’s heroine Helen starts out like all the Brontë heroines, falling for a sexy, dangerous cad. But he turns out to be an abusive alcoholic, and she leaves him. In 1848, this wasn’t just unusual; it was illegal. Helen spends most of the book as a fugitive, on the edge of society, casting a merciless eye on men.

This would have been shocking from a male writer, but from a woman it was unforgiveable. Although Anne and her sisters had published under androgynous pseudonyms — Anne’s was Acton Bell — the critics suspected that they were women. They found Jane Eyre revolutionary (and not in a good way), Wuthering Heights coarse, and  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall simply 'unwomanly'. One publication even warned its readers 'especially our lady-readers' to avoid the book altogether. But that didn’t stop it selling. And it might have gone on selling, if it weren’t for the fact that Anne’s older sister Charlotte didn’t like it either.


Charlotte had always seen Anne as the baby of the family, and after she thought she saw an angel at Anne’s cradle, she also decided her sister was 'preparing for an early death'. So she didn’t like it when Anne started asserting herself. The first break came when Anne and Emily rejected the shared imaginary world they had mapped out and written stories about for years with their siblings, to create their own world. Charlotte vengefully wrote a story calling Anne 'nothing, absolutely nothing', practically 'an idiot'. And then Anne went to school  —  and Charlotte was one of the teachers. School could have been a chance for them to make friends. Instead, Charlotte virtually ignored Anne, Anne withdrew into her shell, and when Anne got seriously ill, Charlotte panicked. It set up a pattern of resentment, guilt and rivalry that would continue into Anne’s afterlife.


When the sisters started trying to sell their work, Anne and Emily found a publisher but no one wanted Charlotte’s debut. So she sat down to write something new. Jane Eyre borrowed much from Agnes Grey. Charlotte’s heroine was also a governess, also plain, but while Anne’s novel was an unswerving exposé of what it was like to be a governess, Charlotte’s was a Gothic romance. Unfortunately, Jane Eyre came out first, so Anne looked like the imitator, when in fact she had been the pioneer.


Maybe that’s why Anne framed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall partly as a critique of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; Anne was arguing that women should steer clear of tortured, self-destructive men like Rochester and Heathcliff. She knew all about these men because she was watching her brother Branwell drink himself to death.


Three months after the novel was published, Branwell was dead. Over the next eight months, Emily died, then Anne. Charlotte was suddenly alone. She was also under massive pressure. She had shed her pseudonym and felt horribly exposed. So she threw up another mask, pretending to be a good girl whose writing had been misunderstood. To distance herself from any accusation of unwomanliness, she refused to allow The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be reprinted. She called the novel 'an entire mistake', and presented Anne as pure, innocent, gloomy and not hugely talented. As a result, Anne’s best novel was nearly impossible to get hold of for many years, and anyone who wondered why could read Charlotte’s harsh verdict. For over a century and a half, it has stuck. It is hard not to feel upset about all this. It’s devastating to think that in trying to escape the critics’ misogyny, Charlotte ended up colluding with it. But maybe things are changing. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall feels both urgent and necessary. Maybe now Anne’s time has come.





#FoylesFive: Translated Fiction
11th January 2017 - Jay Moran

#FoylesFive: Translated Fiction 

If translated fiction is your thing, Jay from our Birmingham branch has a few titles to feed your reading habit.


At the beginning of 2017 we're forming ideas of what our resolutions for New Year will be. If you are a bookish person, your goals will perhaps orientate around all things book related. How many you're going to read, what classics you're going to get round to, or a series you're going to try. One of my own personal goals is to read more translated fiction. Over the last year, I have become somewhat obsessed with hunting down interesting books from around the world that I had never heard of before, and every one that I've read has become a firm favourite. There are so many fascinating stories from around the world that I have yet to discover. So in this list I will name five translated books that I would either personally recommend or books that I myself am looking forward to reading. 


Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist 

Harbour is an eerie book set in a supposedly cursed island in Stockholm, where the population is small and a strange fog always hangs low. Anders, his wife and their young daughter Maja go for a walk one winter day to see the lighthouse, but Maja does not return with them. Anders becomes obsessed in his search for her but something sinister is pursuing him and it may just be Maja. Lindqvist is a genius at creating unsettling atmospheres and crafting abnormal circumstances in such a way that they seem almost plausible. You will find the pages running through your fingers as you race through to the end.


The Family Moskat by Isaac Bashevis Singer 

This impressive novel follows a Jewish family in living in Warsaw with the threat of World War Two brewing over their heads. This is one of those books that is overflowing with characters, embedding you firmly into the lives of this one family throughout the generations. We witness their weddings, births, multiple trials, their heartache, their hope. You genuinely immerse yourself into this time and place, and it's very difficult to part with this book upon completion. Also if you enjoy this, I encourage you to pick up Shosha by Singer which also follows similar themes.


Human Acts by Han Kang 

I think that practically everyone owns a copy of The Vegetarian by now. The harrowing story of a woman who expels all meat, eggs, and dairy produces from her diet, to the utter bewilderment and horror of her family. The Vegetarian is fantastic, but I personally prefer this one and urge you to pick it up, regardless of whether or not you've read her other books. Based on the 1980 Gwangju uprising in South Korea, we follow a student caught up in a storm of extreme violence and chaos, searching for the body of his friend. It's truly haunting at points and Kang's writing is, as per usual, superb and completely engaging.


They Were Counted by Miklos Banffy 

This is the first part of a stunning trilogy set in Hungary prior to the First World War and it follows two Transylvanian cousins, Count Balint Abády and Count László Gyeroffy. We witness their ludicrous wealth and luxury, contrasting with the hardships of the Romanian mountain peasants, and how one of the cousins attempts to help only to be shunned by his family and disdained by the lower classes.


For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian

Translated into English for the first time this year by Phillip O Ceallaigh, For Two Thousand Years depicts the struggles of a young Jewish student as he attempts to make sense of an anti-Semitic world. This is predominantly a coming of age story, set against a backdrop of seething tensions and complete tragedies. It is truly heart wrenching at times yet it also contains a lot of hope, humour and love.




Latest Blog
Explore T S Eliot Prize-winner Jacob Polley's collection, Jackself

Watch a video and read a poem from Jacob Polley's T S Eliot Prize-winning collection, Jackself.

Radiohead, Tom Waits and Joy Division: Under The Influence with Joseph Knox

Exclusively for Foyles Joseph Knox talks about the music that influenced his debut, Sirens.

#FoylesFave: Furiously Happy

Charlotte, from our Bristol shop, tells us why she recommends Furiously Happy!

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