Enter your search into one or more of the boxes below:
You can refine your search by selecting from any of the options below:
Your Shopping Basket
Signed Copies
Account Services
Student Discount
Gift Cards


Find Blog:

August 2020

Strange Harvests by Edward Posnett
8th August 2020


Read an extract from Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects

Harvest by Edward Posnett


Eiderdown, vicuña wool, sea silk, vegetable ivory, civet coffee, guano and edible birds’ nests. Seven natural wonders of the world, some you may have heard of, others more exotic. All come with a fascinating story as to how these rare products are gathered, which you can read in Strange Harvests, now published in paperback. A beguiling blend of interview, history and travel writing, Edward Posnett’s first book is a real joy, and here you can read an extract from the first chapter on the collection of eiderdown.


In myths, fables and hagiographies, one often reads of the ability of individuals to tame wild creatures, burnishing their reputation for virtue, sensitivity or holiness. It is said that Saint Cuthbert, the seventh- century missionary who settled on the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast, protected and tamed eiders. (Today in Northumberland the eider is sometimes called Saint Cuthbert’s or Cuddy duck.) Many of these stories were built upon embellishment or pure fantasy, but in Iceland, travellers’ accounts repeatedly confirmed the existence of this strange relationship between Icelanders and the ducks. Writing in 1875, the English explorer Richard Burton commented that the eider was a ‘barn door’ bird as ‘tame as horse- pond geese’. ‘No salute must be fired at Reykjavik,’ he wrote, ‘for fear of frightening “somateria mollissima.” ’


I began reading all I could about eiderdown, scouring books and articles, devouring obscure travellers’ accounts and biological papers, contacting eiderdown harvesters. I wanted to know how this relationship worked, how it was possible for a wild bird to behave as if it were domesticated. How did this strange tradition come about? How was it that the relationship had been preserved despite the arrival of the market? Could you simply transfer the Icelandic tradition to another coast? Could eiderdown harvesting teach us about our relationship with other species? If earlier writers had looked to Icelandic harvesting with a sense of sublime wonder, then I sought it with a frenzied gaze, looking for answers.


Back in Ísafjörður, the pastor told me about a Japanese film crew who had made a documentary about him. For several weeks they followed him around his farm, recording him collecting down with his children, while sidestepping nesting eiders. He appeared bemused by their attention, just as he was by mine. After all, he said, the down was only some brauð, a slice of his daily bread.


The pastor’s parish lay a short drive from Ísafjörður in another fjord, Önundarfjörður. It was once reached via a winding mountain road, but since 1996 the two fjords have been connected by a vast tunnel that bores directly through the hillside. One morning I emerged from its confines, blinded by the subarctic light, and headed to the pastor’s church to take a tour of his nesting area.


Like many Lutheran parishes, the pastor’s land is among the most prized in the Westfjords. In the shadow of a steep glacial wall, his family home and church overlook a floodplain that leads to the shoreline. After ten minutes in the tunnel’s darkness, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the colours in the fjord. In the subarctic light the tones seemed almost hyper-real, the blues of the sky and sea merging to form a single aquamarine. Against the white of the fjord’s beach, the pink of a buoy stood out, dabbed as if it were an afterthought.


It was hard to conceive of a more peaceful spot for a family, yet there was an air of abandonment to the pastor’s home. Children’s toys lay scattered around on the floor, a layer of dust covered the work surfaces, and his books on wartime heroes and mountaineers lay untouched on a shelf. The previous winter, he explained, the weather had got so bad that he and his family had to leave the parish and take an apartment in Ísafjörður. He now rarely spends any time in the house. ‘We were trapped here for thirty- six hours with no electricity, no phone,’ he said. ‘I can’t be responsible for that.’


As if to prove a point, he showed me the damage wreaked by the blizzards: a mangled fence, the scoured surface of a barn, and the bent cross on top of the church, more weather vane than symbol of devotion. In the distance I could make out Flateyri, the fishing town at the mouth of the fjord that was partly destroyed by the 1995 avalanche. Behind it loomed a vast avalanche barrier, a constant reminder of the perils of living in these remote fjords.


I was late for the eiderdown season, but the pastor offered to lead me around the land and re-enact his summer ritual as he had done for the Japanese film crew. Dressed in an old Polish military uniform, he headed off across the flat plain towards the beach, hunting for any nests that he had missed. It was a still day, the silence broken only by the call of an oystercatcher, alarmed by our presence.


Walking on this flat land, I felt as if I’d missed out on a great gathering. All around us were hundreds of small piles of crushed mussel shells, the remnants of the eiders’ feasting, ground up by their powerful gizzards. Quartz-like, these remains had an understated beauty, glinting in the light. ‘In the later part, everything is going crazy,’ the pastor said. ‘Birds and chicks running around. Arctic terns attacking all the time. It’s good to have a broomstick.’


Edward Posnett was born in London and studied at Cambridge and Oxford before working in the City in financial investigations. Shortly after leaving financial services, he learnt about the Icelandic tradition of eiderdown harvesting in which farmers offer protection to wild sea ducks in return for their valuable lightweight down. He lives in Philadelphia and is a keen linguist, swimmer and amateur potter. Strange Harvests is his first book.



Lowborn by Kerry Hudson
7th August 2020

Kerry Hudson on the legacy of growing up in poverty

Lowborn by Kerry Hudson

Now published in paperback, Lowborn is prize-winning novelist Kerry Hudson’s exploration of and reflection on her childhood. Despite being proudly working class, the reality of her early years are ones she often felt needed to be kept hidden. Through her journeys back to the places she grew up she now lays them bare, allowing herself to confront and reconcile the hardships she lived with and expose the all-encompassing nature and enduring legacy of poverty. Lowborn is a personal account that will resonate with many and deserves to be widely read.

Read an extract from the book, below.


Shall we start with a happy ending? I made it. I rose. I escaped poverty.


I escaped bad food because that’s all you can afford. I escaped threadbare clothes and too-tight shoes. I escaped drinking or drugging myself into oblivion because... because. I probably escaped the early mortality rates and preventable diseases – we’ll see. I escaped obesity. I escaped the higher rate of domestic abuse. I escaped sink estates, burnt-out houses and ice-cream vans selling drugs at the school gates. I escaped Jeremy Kyle in a shiny suit telling me my sort was scum. I escaped casual, grim violence fuelled by frustration and Special Brew. I escaped benefits queues and means assessments and shitty zero- hour contracts. I escaped hopelessness. I lived more of that life, my first twenty years, than I’ve lived of this infinitely cushier one since. And the names still ring in my head every day: chav, scav, lowlife, NED, underclass, lowborn. Yes, I might have been lowborn but, somehow, I ascended. I reached up high enough to write these words and believe someone might read them. Now I eat well and always have somewhere decent to stay. My clothes are cheap, but I can afford to replace them. I enjoy the luxury of exercise. I heat my flat in the winter. I have access to art, music, film, books and they don’t feel like a foolishness. When I’ve been unwell, in mind or body, I’ve sought help, it’s been given, and I’ve got better. I’ve travelled the world several times over and made a living doing what I love which also happens to be the preserve of People Not Like Me. But now let’s go back to the beginning:


1 single mother

2 stays in foster care

9 primary schools

1 sexual abuse child protection inquiry

5 high schools

2 sexual assaults

1 rape

2 abortions

My 18th birthday


The Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire asks ten questions to measure childhood trauma and each affirmative answer gives you a point. Research has shown that an individual with an ACE score of 4 or higher is ‘260% more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than someone with a score of 0, 240% more likely to contract hepatitis, 460% more likely to experience depression, and 1,220% more likely to attempt suicide’. I scored 8. It might be easier to believe that I was somehow unlucky. That I was a terrible exception. But the truth is the people I grew up with experienced much the same. A little less sometimes. Often a lot more. The difference for me? I saw something on the horizon and I ran. I ran, and I never looked over my shoulder. I am proudly working class and, in this socially mobile hinterland I currently occupy, I miss the sense of community and belonging which that tribe might provide me. But I was never proudly poor. True poverty is all-encompassing, grinding, brutal and often dehumanising. I think it goes without saying that the gnawing shame and fear of poverty is not something I have ever missed, particularly since I frequently still experience its aftershocks.


While my life is unrecognisable today, I find myself unable to reconcile my ‘now’ with my past. I can best describe this vertiginous feeling as belonging nowhere and to no one, neither ‘back there’ nor truly ‘here’. I have come to believe that being born poor is not simply a matter of economics or situation, it is a psychology and identity all its own that, in me, has endured well beyond my ‘escape’.


This book is the outcome of the questions that still disturb my peace. What happened to those towns I lived in? Surely things got better? There are other questions too, less easy to confront out loud, except perhaps when I wake up at night screaming obscenities at phantom shapes, inky terror running through me. What happened to me during those years? Have I really escaped? Has my fragmented memory been protecting me all these years or has it inflated, year by year, this terror? How much of my past is still part of who I am today?


Kerry Hudson

Kerry Hudson was born in Aberdeen. Her first novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, won the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust First Book Award and was shortlisted for an array of prizes including the Guardian First Book Award and the Sky Arts Awards. Thirst, her second novel, won the prestigious prix Femina etranger. Lowborn is her first work of non-fiction. 

Sara Pascoe - Sex Power Money
6th August 2020

Insightful, challenging and laugh-snort funny - read an exclusive chapter from Sex Power Money by Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe - Sex Power Money


Writer, comedian, actor; Sara Pascoe is a bona fide triple threat. Having won numerous comedy awards for her stand-up shows, she published her first, hugely popular book Animal in 2016, and recently announced a forthcoming sitcom coming to BBC2

With Sex Power Money, Sara turns her attention to the things that really matter to humans - sex, power and money. Drawing on research, interviews, and anecdotal experiences her fresh approach to this oldest discussion is penetrating, bold and incredibly funny.

Sara has personally chosen an exclusive full chapter for Foyles, taken from the third section of the book called Sex Power Money Money Money


Indecent Proposal

The strapline for Indecent Proposal was ‘What Would You Do for a Million Dollars?’ which is misleading. It should really be ‘Who Would You Do for a Million Dollars (and Is It Robert Redford)?’ ‘What Would You Do’ pretends the film is giving you options, but it isn’t. You can’t offer to wash his car for a year or name one of your children after him. This proposal is indecent. When the film came out there was a common joke. A woman in middle age would say, ‘A million quid to shag Robert Redford? I’d do it for free!’ Then everyone in the pub would laugh because the idea that a movie star would pay for sex with Audrey the pigeon-toed school teacher was absolute bants. This joke was responsible for 25 per cent of all humour in 1993. The other 75 per cent of jokes were provided by quoting Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Like if someone said, ‘Lend me your ears,’ you would pretend to throw your ears at them, and if you had a facial mole, you’d move it to a different place for every scene.

The ‘I’d do it for free’ sentiment is integral to Indecent Proposal remaining within the genre of ‘romantic comedy’. The film’s premise is a gushy ‘imagine if someone you were willing to have sex with made you a millionaire’, rather than ‘imagine a world where poor people are unable to refuse the whims of the rich’. Indecent Proposal could also be considered a dystopian horror: ‘imagine if billionaires could rape anyone they wanted as long as they paid husbands generous compensation’. So maybe that’s enough with the jokes, Audrey.

You really can take the fun out of everything.

Yep. Picture us in the cinema together. I’m yabbering on, telling you my theories and opinions, analysing subtexts, having memories, Googling facts I’ve forgotten – generally embarrassing you to the point of fury. But I bought the tickets, your Snickers ice cream and the popcorn – should you politely ignore my unreasonable and antisocial behaviour just because I paid? Can my money buy your compliance? What a great analogy: START THE FILM.

Indecent Proposal begins with a happy white couple called Diana and David Murphy. They have a cute back-and-forth catchphrase and got together at school. This detail is important – stressing that they’re long-term creates more tension when a strange man suggests he can buy the missus. If these guys had met three weeks ago on Plenty of Fish there would be far less at stake. ALSO, this plot point portrays the female character as sexually inexperienced. Her husband may be her only ever sexual partner. Her innocence and fidelity is crucial. If the couple were swingers or she was Samantha from Sex and the City the central dilemma would be far less important. Some billionaire offers a sweet mil for your wife and you’re like, ‘Sure, as soon as she’s finished banging the gardener.’

These two are sexy though. There’s an early scene where they argue about clothes. He’s messy and she’s picking up his shorts and being so furious that she throws a knife at him. In Hollywood, this kind of violent behaviour is a sign of passion. One minute you’re attempting to shank your lover, the next he’s bending you over the laundry basket. In real life (where we live), missiles, violence – these are signs of deep psychological instability and/or abusive relationships.

After the knife throwing, David and Diana bone on the floor. They are unrealistically attracted to each other for a long-term couple, they are too keen even for people hooking up on Grindr or having an affair. But I get it – this is fantasy. No one’s entertained by the grim reality of living with someone who leaves their dirty pants on the floor. You ignore them for a couple of days, thinking, ‘She’ll notice eventually,’ but she doesn’t. You concentrate on pretending you can’t see them, walking around them sighing at the exertion, until you’ve had enough – five days! You shouldn’t have to live like this, you’re a man, not a pig. ‘Why doesn’t she respect me?’ you think. ‘Why doesn’t she respect herself?’ you think even louder, seething with resentment, yet when she’s woken by the grinding of your teeth and asks what’s wrong you say, ‘I’m FINE,’ to clarify that you’re furious but will never speak of it to someone you cannot bear yet cannot leave because you share a mortgage.

David and Diana also have a mortgage and they cannot keep up the payments. David’s an architect, he’s built another house and doesn’t have money for that one either. The couple talk sadly about the economic downturn. This gives David a great opportunity to say something cool like ‘I can’t duck this recession like I did your knife’ but he doesn’t. We realise as an audience that the economy is the real enemy. Diana is scared: ‘What are we going to do?’ David reassures her that they will survive, he will drive a cab, wait tables. And this is exactly what he does not interesting enough as a plot. This is not a film about a couple who behave sensibly when confronted with financial issues, this is a film about twerps. David borrows 5K off his dad and takes Diana to Las Vegas, not to sensibly work as cab drivers but to gamble their money.

Here’s the thing: if you have a small amount of cash you can swap it for no cash via a roulette wheel or pack of cards. And this is David’s plan. David is an architect, yes, of his own demise.

At the casino it’s all going great to start with. Diana steals some chocolates and finds a dress she likes in a boutique. She holds it up to her body but gasps at the price. A creepy guy strolls over and offers to buy it for her: ‘I’ve enjoyed watching you, you’ve earned it.’ Diana doesn’t have a knife handy to throw so she whips out some sass instead: ‘The dress is for sale, I’m not.’ This is called ‘foreshadowing’. We know what the film is about, it’s only David and Diana who don’t. They start gambling with some dice and win some money, then even more money. The creepy guy creepily watches them winning and kissing each other. Then it’s bedtime. David and Diana have $25,000 in cash. They are really thrilled and go home to pay their mortgage have sex on the money.

In the morning David and Diana head back to the gambling games. They are trying to double their cash into $50,000 by winning but instead divide it down to $5000 by losing. Then they go to a sad cafe, which is my favourite scene. They are talking about how they promised they wouldn’t go below the five grand they arrived with. This would be a good time for David to say something cool like ‘This is my dad’s money, I should respect that and not chuck it down the toilet’ but he doesn’t. Instead they decide to risk everything, because what could be worse than only having $5000? Having no dollars. The waitress who is serving them coffee rolls her eyes like she’s seen it a million times. I’d like to see her backstory; when the recession hit she reassured her family, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes, I’ll wait tables or drive a cab.’ Then she actually did that. Her film is called Minimum Wage in Exchange for Labour Proposal and it ends with her driving the yellow taxi back to a house she still owns, then having sex with her husband on the few dollars she made in tips.

Surprise surprise, David and Diana lose all the money. This is where the waitress would come in to gloat if she wasn’t a one-scene character. Now, despite having no cash left and no reason to be there, the couple continue to hang around the casino waiting for plot to happen. They don’t have to wait long. As they wander around the tables of gamblers they see Robert Redford. They’re told his name is John Gage and that he is a BILLIONAIRE. David and Diana don’t ever forget and call him Robert Redford and I think this is very professional of them. Robert Redford is playing with chips that are worth $10,000 each, and he is throwing them around the table like they’re just little coloured bits of plastic.

I still don’t understand why D&D haven’t gone home. Maybe they think this rich man will leave money lying around they can have sex on? Or do they want some of the free refreshments I’ve heard casinos offer? Either way, I’m annoyed. John Gage spots them and asks David, ‘Would you mind lending me your wife?’ Not for sex (yet) but for luck. The man asks the other man if he can ‘borrow’ a woman, as if she were ketchup or an iPhone charger. David rightly points out that his wife is not an object and should be asked herself. She says yes, I don’t know why. I DON’T KNOW. She can’t believe she IS lucky, she just lost twenty-five grand in an afternoon. What is she up to? 

Anyway, she kisses his dice. It’s all very charged and dramatic. The billionaire bets a million dollars and then wins another million dollars for free when the dice numbers roll correctly. Gage doesn’t punch the air or cry with joy, as he already has a thousand million, that’s what a billionaire is. This new million will simply join the others in an overcrowded bank account offshore somewhere.*

Gage must be happy, because he arranges a room for David and Diana and says to help themselves to whatever they want, all on his tab. Neither of them exclaims, ‘That’s a bit weird, we just met you,’ or ‘Must be off, we have to go get jobs as waiters.’ Perhaps they’re in shock, I’ll allow that. Being poor, but more especially battling with debt – it can lead to terrible decision making. It certainly did in my experience. After university I had two student overdrafts and two student credit cards that were charging me more in fines than my small income. I hated myself because it was my fault. Having bills, bank charges and loans hanging over you is a constant cloud; the worry shadows every thought. It felt like an unsolvable problem so I focused instead on forgetting, drinking or drugs or stupid men. I would go to sleep hoping I wouldn’t wake up. I became unable to make sensible choices because I thought I’d fucked things up so badly, that they were unfixable. So I’ll extend this out to David and Diana. Perhaps they are also experiencing that awful anxious madness.

David and Diana go to their new room and a box is delivered, it’s the dress that Diana was ogling in the foyer downstairs. David doesn’t freak out like I would if someone sent my boyfriend a dress. Cut to a party. David and Diana dance looking lovingly at one another. John Gage watches them, and we watch him, waiting to see how he’ll instigate the money-for-sex situation we’ve been promised. The men have a manly dad chat: ‘Where do you see yourself in ten years?’ David replies that he would like to be a billionaire one day. I laugh at him but he can’t hear me. Diana pointedly says that there are limits to what money can buy. I throw my shoes at the screen, yelling, ‘People who tell you money has no value are always the first to ask you for money!’ This is what my mum used to shout about my dad. ‘Money won’t make you happy,’ my dad said when my mum asked him to pay child maintenance as is the law. It was school dinners she was trying to buy, not happiness, but that was ages ago and now we’re all friends still related. 

‘Some things aren’t for sale,’ Diana explains in a dress that was. ‘You can’t buy people.’ I agree with her on this. The buying and selling of people used to be called slavery. Nowadays it’s referred to as trafficking and is illegal. It continues to happen, just like murder and other violent infringements of human rights. Restricting a person’s freedom, enforced labour or, in the case of sex trafficking, pimping someone to be raped for money are some of the worst crimes imaginable. Diana doesn’t mention this in her argument, probably because she doesn’t want to ruin the vibe of the party. Gage calls Diana’s response ‘naive’, a fun way of letting her know he doesn’t consider her an equal. Then he explains that the cliche ‘you can’t buy love’ is, in fact, a cliche.

‘It’s true,’ says Diana.

‘I agree,’ says David.

Now that everyone is likeminded that cliches are cliches but also true, it is time . . . the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the INDECENT PROPOSAL:


Let’s test the cliche. Suppose . . . I were to offer you a

million dollars . . . for one night with your wife?

As with the earlier ‘borrowing for luck’, Diana is not addressed. She is talked about, not to. Gage’s indecent proposal is to David, not Diana. Let’s imagine this was a direct exchange. Would the effect be different if the billionaire asked, ‘Diana, would you sleep with me if I pay you a million dollars?’

Diana would now be empowered to respond, positively or negatively, rather than having to prompt her husband to answer on her behalf. Simply by asking her the same question she would be gifted autonomy over herself. This is basic manners, isn’t it? If you want to pay someone for sex, please ensure you ask them personally. These ‘man-to-man’ conversations in the film subtly reinforce that men own female sexuality; it is the male to whom a man owes respect and from whom he requests permission. In real life we see this with the practice of asking a father’s permission to marry his daughter. I know everyone loves tradition – and I know that you hate me for even bringing this up – but it’s ridiculous. You going cap in hand to her daddy, ‘Can I have it?’ ‘Yes,’ says Daddy, ‘I’ll walk it down the aisle and drop it off for you.’

Some religions include gradients of belief that take patriarchal ownership literally. If you would like some chat to ruin any party’s vibe, research dowry deaths and bride burning. Thousands of women are murdered every year because the father who ‘owns’ them does not pay enough to their new keeper. Then there are irreligious heathens who simply enjoy doing ‘what is done’ and see no harm in it. But even while we’re playing, even when ‘permission’ is not given and taken in a real way, the game is still that a woman’s decisions are not her own, that they can be halted by a male relative if he desires. When freedoms for (some) women have been so hard won, why are we still performing and ENJOYING the role-play of subjugation?

I started this chapter describing a man who approached me for transactional sex. What’s different about his request and this one? Is it just the amount? In both instances a woman who has never had sex for money was asked if she would have sex for money please (to be fair to the murderer, at least he asked me directly). Gage doesn’t know the couple, he has made guests of them in order to manipulate this situation. Yet audiences have not interpreted his behaviour as predatory or even recognised his ‘indecent proposal’ as sex work. Perhaps it’s the size of the sum that creates a nonseedy atmosphere. Is it true that while I am insulted by an offer of £30 or £40 for intercourse, no one would be insulted when offered a million?

A billionaire makes this story otherworldly, a fairy tale. A million dollars makes this conversation surreal. I’d compare it to a tourist experience in Morocco or Tunisia, a family holiday interrupted by a local man, dusty and smiling, offering camels for a female relative. I don’t know if these guys are real or if they’re actors paid by Lonely Planet, but they are a vital part of the atmosphere. My mum had such a story, we all laughed about it. ‘I was tempted!’ her boyfriend said. ‘Five camels!’ But if camel is your currency it’s the same thing. We wouldn’t laugh if men offered money. It’s the ridiculousness of the mammal that makes that proposalsilly rather than indecent.

Huge discrepancy in wealth creates as much of a cultural divide as, well, culture. If Gage had offered a more usual $300 for the night we’d judge his character far more harshly, we’d be able to see his intentions unobscured by the hyperbolic figure. The million also means that Gage is not taken seriously at first.


I’d assume you’re kidding.


Let’s pretend I’m not. What would you say then?


He’d tell you to go to hell.

David is embarrassingly slow here, letting his wife answer for him when it was supposed to be the other way around.

Later, in bed, the couple can’t sleep. Diana worries that David wants her to accept Gage’s offer. She suggests that she would do it . . . for him. Love this technique, we’ve all been there. Getting your own way by pretending to believe it’s your partner’s most secret desire. ‘I thought you wanted me to leave the bins rotting in the kitchen,’ we say innocently, and the age-old ‘I got sacked from work for you.’ If Diana were self-interested, if she exclaimed, ‘I need the money, mate, so I’m gonna do it,’ audiences would not like her, they would judge her on her willingness to have sex for money. Even worse if she admitted sexual motivation, told her husband, ‘I fancy him, he looks like Robert Redford!’

Instead Diana considers the proposal (outwardly at least) as wifely duty. For Diana to be likeable yet sympathetic, she must balance between not actively wanting to shag the man and not being completely coerced against her will. This is the sweet spot: she isn’t keen, but neither is she traumatised. Diana is under financial pressure but not starving, this isn’t Les Misérables. This middle-class couple are in difficulty but have options like driving a cab, waiting tables or going back in time and putting that cash in the bank rather than underneath their rutting bodies. If this film began a year later in Diana and David’s narrative, when they’re homeless beggars; if John Gage stopped his car to offer a visibly destitute woman money for sex, would Audrey still quip, ‘I’d do him for free?’

So how desperate does a person have to be for sex work to become survival sex?


* The film doesn’t make it explicit that John Gage is taking advantage of tax loopholes, but I can tell he banks offshore from his haircut. I can always tell.


Sara Pascoe

 Sara Pascoe is a highly acclaimed comedian, writer and actor. Her extensive TV credits include the BBC solo stand-up special LadsLadsLads; BBC2's Frankie Boyle's New World Order, on which she is a weekly guest contributor; and Comedians Giving Lectures on Dave, which she hosts. She wrote and performed the BBC Radio 4 series Modern Monkey and the BBC2 short Sara Pascoe vs Monogamy, which was inspired by her first book Animal



Why Visit America by Matthew Baker
5th August 2020

Inventive, complex and humane -
Why Visit America by Matthew Baker


Why Visit America by Matthew Baker

A nation isn't land. A nation is people. Equal parts speculative and satirical, the stories in Why Visit America by Matthew Baker portray a world within touching distance of our own. This is an America riven by dilemmas confronting so many of us, turned on its head by one of the most innovative voices of the moment. These parallel-universe stories create a composite portrait of our true nature and a dark reflection of the world we live in. 

Here you can read an extract taken from the beginning of the title story Why Visit America

Why Visit America


There wasn’t anything special about us. We were just an average town. Porch swings, wading pools, split-rail fences, pumpjacks bobbing for oil on the horizon. Meetings at town hall were well attended, sure, but we weren’t some hotbed of insurgents. We didn’t subscribe to any one brand of politics. We couldn’t even be plotted onto your basic left-right binary. Our town had everything: pro-lifers who supported gay marriage, pro-choicers who opposed gay marriage, climate-change deniers who owned solar panels, universal-healthcare campaigners who preferred private insurance, creationists with degrees in biology and geology, internet pirates whose views were unique to say the least, loyal conservatives, staunch liberals, moderates, radicals, and ornery retirees whose only real issue was guns. And yet that winter we found ourselves united by a common sentiment.We were fed up with our country.The executives were busy making donations that funded the campaigns of the politicians, the politicians were busy passing laws that protected the interests of the executives, and pretty much nothing else seemed to be getting done. We were anti-government, we were anti-corporate, but mostly we were normal people who couldn’t afford to buy an election and had come to understand that our votes didn’t mean shit. Hell, the executives were stepping down to take government appointments and the politicians were stepping down to take corporate positions so fast that we couldn’t even keep track of who was which anymore, if there was any difference. There were libertarians among us who had been pushing for our town to secede for years now, but not until that winter, watching legal forms of graft being flaunted across the country like never before, did our town seriously begin to consider the proposition. The matter soon came to dominate our meetings. We knew that from a certain perspective seceding could be viewed as an act of treason, might mean arrest, might mean imprisonment, might even mean execution. And the debate at that final town hall meeting was appropriately heated. Most of us wavered back and forth, unsure which way we would vote until the very second that those slips of paper got passed around. Several of us were so nervous that we felt faint. Ultimately, however, the decision was unanimous. We would rather face handcuffs, jail, even a hanging, than spend another goddamned second living in that broke-down country. We’d voted to secede.


And so, on that day of January Thirteenth in the year of mmxviiI, we did. After the vote had been tallied, we sent notice of our secession to both local and global media outlets, along with the sheriff of Real County, the governor of Texas, and the president of the United States. As dusk fell across our streets, we filed out of the town hall, gathered around the poles in our yards, and took down Old Glory. We tucked the flags into our garbage cans, and then we sat in our houses, radios off, televisions off, computers off, sobered by what we had done. The initial thrill had faded. Now, exhausted, we felt only fear. Holding hands with our spouses and our children and our parents and our neighbors, we waited for the repercussions, for the arrival of the humvees and the helicopters and the tanks and the bombers, for our rebellion to be crushed by a show of force. But nothing happened. Nobody came. Nobody cared. At dawn, those of us who hadn’t been able to sleep looked around and realized that our community was still standing. We were free.


Our town had been called Plainfield. Although we had liked the name well enough for a town, we were concerned the name wouldn’t seem stately enough for a nation. And while we didn’t regret seceding, we weren’t ashamed of our origins either. In fact, we felt a great deal of nostalgia for our homeland. So, in memory of our former country, that was what we decided to name our new nation: America.



Though the vote to secede was unanimous, there had in fact been three abstentions: Alex Cruz, Tony Osin, and Sam Holliday, who had all been absent from that final town hall meeting. A group of us drove around that next morning to deliver the news about the secession. Alex, who lives in a motor home with flat tires behind the house where his grandparents raised him, is apolitical, an unemployed millennial, and absorbed the news with an expression of utter indifference before returning to a social media app. Tony, who works as a potter in the woodshed behind the house that his children bought for him, is apolitical, a proud alcoholic, and greeted the news with disinterest after being assured that the price of vodka wouldn’t be affected. We knew better than to expect such a composed reaction from Sam Holliday, which was why we put off visiting him until last. A Viet- nam vet who had dragged his wounded sergeant to safety through a muddy rainforest infested with vipers and cobras after being shot in his shoulder, who in his youth had attained the distinguished rank of Eagle Scout by constructing trail markers for canyons in a state park, and who later had worked for the federal government for decades as a bespectacled physician at Veterans Affairs, Sam loved the United States dearly, and had made clear at various town hall meetings in the past that he considered the proposal to secede a foolish enterprise. As we pulled into his driveway, he stepped out onto the porch in a denim shirt and a bolo tie with a shotgun in hand, a grizzled old widower with such rugged good looks that admittedly most of us were infatuated with him. The weather that morning was cool, only thirteen degrees centigrade, and some of us shivered, wishing we had brought jackets, but he looked perfectly comfortable with the temperature, standing strong and proud on the porch. Sam was a local hero, the most admired figure in our community, and we’d always imagined that if we ever actually seceded he’d be the one to lead the new nation, yet the more convinced we’d become that seceding was necessary, the more adamantly opposed he’d been to the very notion. A United States flag was waving on the pole in his yard.


Those of us there were led by Belle Clanton, a fiery libertarian who’d spearheaded the campaign to secede, whose voice that morning held a tremor of insecurity.
[Exchange as recorded in the journal of Ward Hernandez, barkeeper]
Sam spat in the dirt and then said, “What brings y’all out here?” “Just wanted to let you know that we seceded,” Belle said.
Sam gave us a squint.
“You can’t,” Sam said.
“We did,” Belle said.
The tension in the air was remarkable.
“We notified the county, the state, and the federal government.
Nobody made any attempt to stop us from seceding. Nobody even tried telling us that seceding isn’t allowed,” Belle said.
Sam sneered and said, “Because nobody is taking you seriously. You can’t just secede by saying you’ve seceded. This land is still under the jurisdiction of the United States. You’re still going to have to obey the traffic laws. You’re still going to have to follow the health code. You’re still going to have to pay taxes.”
“I didn’t even pay taxes to that country when we were citizens of it,” Belle said.
“Ditto,”Trent said.
“Same,” Clint said.
“We’re going to need you to take down that flag,” Belle said. Sam stared at us as if trying to gauge how many of us he could
shoot before we would shoot him.
“Ward’s had a Mexican flag flying at his place for years, and ain’t
nobody ever bothered him about it,” Sam said.


We had to admit he had a point there. He watched spitefully as we drove back toward the road. The United States flag was still waving on the pole. Even after everything that’s transpired in our nation since, visitors can still see that same flag flying in the yard when touring the home of Sam Holliday 



Matthew Barker

Matthew Baker is the author of the story collection Hybrid Creatures. His stories have appeared in the Paris Review, American Short Fiction, New England Review, One Story, Electric Literature and Conjunctions, and in anthologies including Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions. A recipient of grants and fellowships from the Fulbright Commission and the MacDowell Colony, among many others, he has an MFA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the founding editor of Nashville Review. Born in Michigan, he currently lives in New York City.


The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
4th August 2020

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom -
a memoir of family, love, and survival


The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House tells the story of a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home, in a neglected area of one of America's most mythologized cities, New Orleans. Recently named the winner of the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in the US, this is a brilliant and timely memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. Here you can read an exclusive extract. 



          I am five.

          This small bathroom where my father sat on the toilet after work and died and where, before then, Mom took baths with green rubbing alcohol and Epsom salts to eat the weariness, is for me a playroom full of things no adult ever touches. The sheetrock leaning against the wall, smelling of mold, is my chalkboard, and the neon-green lizards crawling in and out through holes in the screen are my students. Standing on two bricks lifts me high enough to see out onto the alleyway running behind our house and over the fence that separates where I live from where my friend Kendra lives in the trailer park next door. Careful when coming down that my lavender jelly-sandaled foot does not step into the medium- size hole in the floorboard that will eventually become a large hole letting in more sound and outside creatures.

          After this was the room where Daddy went quiet, it was a room with a washboard in the tub and then an actual washing machine, but Mom says the plumbing was never right.

          Those plastic white tubes, contorted limbs twisting through exposed walls, are still here for me to look at, but the machines are not. The tub is gone, too.

          There is still a heavy door that closes, with a hole for a knob where I have stuffed tissue paper for privacy. I like best to hear the voices in the house calling for me and not being able to find me where I am, here, where I can wait anything out until the night.

          The other bathroom is in the second half of the house, in the add- on that Daddy started but never finished, next to the den with the wood- framed TV of my height, where the Flintstones and Jetsons live. Everyone uses this new bathroom just beyond the girls’ room that is pink and mine since I am a girl, too. This bathroom is the only room in the house with a lock. I take full advantage of this, especially when I want to get away from my big brother Troy whose nerves are always bad. His right ear points and I fixate on it. The more his leg shakes when he sits watching football, the madder I can make him. I’ll get up close to his arrow-shaped ear and yell, “Ear, ear, ear!” to rile him upand sure enough he (a seventeen- year-old boy) will chase me through the house from front to back—from the living room through Mom’s room, through the kitchen and the girls’ room where I sleep and into the second bathroom.

          “That’s why you Ear,” I’ll yell from behind its locked door. And since Troy will wait a long time outside it saying, “Wait till you come out lil gawl, you gon see, you gon see,” I memorize the room’s insides, learning right then and there the geography of hiding.

          The second bathroom is also where I take my baths. The whole time I am in the tub, Mom is asking me whether anyone ever touched me down there, in my privates. I don’t care who it is, it could be your brother, your sister, your uncle, your cousin, your daddy, whoever, if anyone ever touches you down there you make sure to let me know right away. That is your and only your privates, that belongs to you, that is off-limits. I don’t care who it is. The preacher or the teacher. You hear me. No one is ever to touch you in your privates. She tells me this nearly every time my body touches the water. When my big sister Lynette is sharing bathwater with me, she hears it, too.

          Mom’s voice, when she is worried, has the same girlish sound as it does when she’s entertained by whatever small thing I am finding hilarious.

          Your daddy, whoever.

          But I don’t have a daddy, I think but never say.

          It takes a long time for me to know why I don’t have a daddy, but I am the babiest, I am told, last and smallest. Babies don’t need to understand.


Sarah M Broom credit Adam Shemper

Sarah M. Broom is a writer whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the Oxford American, and O, The Oprah Magazine among others. A native New Orleanian, she received her Masters in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. She was awarded a Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant in 2016 and was a finalist for the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction in 2011. She has also been awarded fellowships at Djerassi Resident Artists Program and The MacDowell Colony. She lives in New York state.


Supporting Cast by Kit de Waal
3rd August 2020

Full of heart and humanity - 
Supporting Cast by Kit de Waal


Supporting Cast by Kit de Waal

Supporting Cast is the new short story collection from Kit de Waal, author of My Name is Leon and The Trick to Time. Across these 22 stories you'll meet some the supporting cast of life, those sometimes on the fringes, not receiving the attention or consideration they deserve, as they handle their own small dramas.

Intimate, perceptive, with not a word wasted, these stories are equally uplifting and heartbreaking. Each is named for its lead character, and here you can read an extract taken from Byron Francis.



Byron Francis wears his own clothes again but after thirty-two months his shirt is too tight. He has muscles now, and the shoulders of a boxer. His jeans, too loose. He holds them up with one hand while his possessions are fed to him across the metal table. A watch. A plastic car. Four pounds seventy-two pence. He puts everything in a brown bag and rolls the top over.

He signs two pieces of paper and nods to the guard, who wishes him good luck. He stands at the gate with another man who whistles and sways from left to right, tapping an identical bag against his leg. Byron makes no noise because, since he’s been in Lincoln Prison, he doesn’t open his mouth if he doesn’t have to. The air in prison is not the same as the air outside. It is tainted, like the food and drinking water, like the soap in the showers, and the rain that falls in the exercise yard. Byron Francis will never come back.

He knows, as a final flex of their muscles, the guards like to make prisoners wait on their last day, so he keeps still and looks straight ahead. Byron Francis can tread time like some men tread water. Most people don’t know how to wait fifteen minutes, or seven hours, or thirty-two months. They don’t know what the clock can do to a man. They don’t know that there are cupboards and rooms, houses and gardens inside a man’s head, if he knows the paths to take.

So, Byron waits and looks at the wooden gate, thicker than the mattress on his bunk, higher than a bus and set deep into an arch of yellow stone. It reminds him of the church he went to with his mother and, as Byron waits, he treads time backwards to the feel of rice paper in his Bible and the sound of ‘Jesus Our Saviour’ and the swell of his chest and the unkept promises to be good. He thinks of the back doors of shops, of broken windows and the shelves he stole from, liquor, cigarettes, stupid things, drunken things.

The whistling man behind Byron kicks a stone that ricochets off the high, curving wall of Lincoln Prison. Byron turns and looks at him. The whistling man falls silent, lights a cigarette. Byron knows that the man worries, that he wants the guards to hurry up, that calendar mistakes are often made, that hope is cruel. But he has no comfort to offer so turns back to the gate and the curving wall, to the towers and turrets, the diamond patterns in the red-brick castle.

As he waits for the key to turn, he treads time, backwards again to the feel of his new baby and the lightness of the soft brown skull no bigger than the palm of his hand and the swell of his chest and the silent plans he made. It begins to drizzle. Byron Francis has no coat. It was summer when they put him away. He was lying on the sofa in his auntie’s house when the front door flattened in the hallway and they swarmed in like black beetles, some with guns. His aunt crouched down like a beggar and pleaded. Byron Francis was not a dangerous man then.

Suddenly the gate is open and Byron is out. He is free. His trousers catch on the muddying gravel in the street outside and he hikes them high. He sees Trooper leaning on a car bonnet with a newspaper, sees he has grown fatter still, scruffier still. Trooper has the paper up close and mouths the words he reads. Byron opens the passenger door and Trooper looks up and smiles.

The car smells of cigarettes and Trooper’s breath. Byron doesn’t want to be reminded of his cell, so he winds the window down and taps the side panel of the car with the flat of his hand. The rain is cold on his skin. Trooper passes him a sandwich.

‘Nice,’ Byron says and settles the food on his lap. Trooper reaches to the back seat and snags three cans of lager by a plastic ring. He holds them up like a lantern.

‘Yeah?’ he asks.

‘Nah,’ says Byron. ‘No more. I’m done with that.’

‘Right,’ says Trooper and starts the car.

It’s twenty minutes to the motorway, then Trooper will drive fast. Three hours and forty-five minutes to Roman Road. There are girls and women everywhere, in blouses that pull across their breasts, and jeans that strain against their hips, squeeze between their legs.

A pregnant girl crosses the road in front of Trooper’s car; Byron closes his eyes until he is sure she is gone. He won’t think about seeing Carol or what she’ll say and what words might come out of his mouth. He won’t think of Leon. He won’t think of the other child she has, the one that must be walking by now. Trooper is quiet, so Byron treads time.

The city thins out. Slack wires droop between grey pylons in fresh green fields. Here and there, patches of luminous yellow sing against the white-blue sky and, almost out of sight, he sees a far-off tractor in a far-off field. Byron Francis has never ploughed or even walked a country road, but he knows the smell of wet grass and turned earth, so he treads time across the acres and becomes a farmer. At the end of the day, he climbs down from the tractor cab and walks across a swept yard, opens the door and calls. He sits at the scrubbed table and eats the dinner she puts before him, while his boy plays with the toys they made together, a train, a truck, a pull-along dog. His woman chides him for his dirty hands and wet boots on her clean floor, and he smells her perfume over the smell of his food, and wants her, like she wants him, then Trooper speaks.

‘Listen, Byron, your auntie says to bring you straight home.’

‘Stop at the shop. I want to get something for Leon.’

‘She made me swear, Byron.’


Kit de Waal credit Sarah Lee

Kit de Waal, born to an Irish mother and Caribbean father, was brought up among the Irish community of Birmingham in the 60's and 70's. Her debut novel My Name Is Leon was an international bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. Her second novel, The Trick to Time, was longlisted for the Women's Prize and her young adult novel Becoming Dinah is shortlisted for the Carnegie CLIP Award 2020. She also crowdfunded and edited an anthology of working class memoir, Common People, which was published in 2018. Kit was named the FutureBook Person of the Year in 2019.



© W&G Foyle Ltd
Foyles uses cookies to help ensure your experience on our site is the best possible. Click here if you’d like to find out more about the types of cookies we use.
Accept and Close