Friday 20 November 2020

Waiting for Bluebeard by Helen Ivory


'Waiting for Bluebeard' tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard's house. The story begins with a part-remembered, part-imagined childhood.

Goodreads description

I have been meaning to write this review of a wonderful collection by British poet Helen Ivory for months. But it is a daunting book to write about. It is psychologically complex and about topics that are difficult to address. Yes the descrption above is correct, but look closer. What or who is Bluebeard? 

Clarissa Pincola Estes in Women Who Run With The Wolves devotes many pages to looking at the Bluebeard archetype of the fairytale of that name. In that story Bluebeard is an abuser and serial murderer of women. His latest wife finds their remains in the cellar he has forbidden her to enter even though (or because) he gave her the key and told her not to enter. As an archytypal take on women and their abusive men the Bluebeard fairytale is full of lessons. 

Waiting for Bluebeard starts at a different point in the story. It starts with the birth and childhood of Bluebeard's future wife. The issue Helen Ivory is exploring is what happens in a woman's upbringing to make her susceptible to the Bluebeards of this world. There is a wonderful mixture of the fantasy and the real in the poems, not just because magic (as we know on this blog) can be used to highlight truths, but also because that is how children see the world. In the second part of the book we see the young woman enter Bluebeard's house and her disappearance. 

There are parallels between the woman's experiences as a child with her silent distant father 

My father was a shadow
who stood at the school gates...

... his face wore the aspect
of moonless dark.

and the silent brooding Bluebeard
When Bluebeard played the piano
moonlight leached through the curtains
and stained his hands 
with its haunted blood.

Those experiences have taught her how to deal with her husband, how to disappear.

There are other images from childhood that foreshadow the girl's life as Bluebeard's bride. There is for example the recurring theme of skins and hides, the stripping of hides and the putting on of skins:

The tariff  for crossing the threshold
was a single layer of skin. 

but it doesn't stop with a single layer. 

Of course I can only hint at the many of layers in this stunning book, you will have to read yourself to discover them all. Recommended. 

Monday 12 October 2020

Poetry Collection and Launch


My poetry collection Owl Unbound has just been published and will be launched online at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival on 23rd October. I will be reading from the book and will be joined by poet friends - Adam Horovitz, Fiona Sampson and Anna Saunders. Tickets to the event are free, but you do need to sign up to get the link at  


Owl Unbound examines nature and humanity in a wide range of settings: from a stag beetle on a suburban fence to fossils on a Somerset beach, from a Cotswold roofer tiptoeing the thin laths to a bag lady in Covent Garden dancing at the amplifier's right hand. Whilst there is tender joy and love in the collection, there is also anger and loss.

Robert Frost described poetry as ‘a way of taking life by the throat’, and the fearless, vivid and immensely lyrical poems in Owl Unbound do just that. A masterful collection of poems by an extraordinary poet. 
Anna Saunders
There are so many lines here that stick with me and continue to unfold. Language that is fresh and unexpected, that gives us that inner nod of recognition. 
Angela France

Not all the poems are magic realism, but some are. 


You can get a copy from me (signed if you want) by emailing or you can buy a copy from my publisher Indigo Dreams Publishing

Sunday 12 January 2020

The Seven Churches by Milos Urban

First published in 1999, translated into six languages and a runaway best-seller in Spain, Seven Churches is one of the most haunting and terrifying thrillers to come out of Europe in years - by 'the dark night of Czech literature', Milos Urban. Written in the spirit of the sensation story but with rich Gothic overtones, Seven Churches traces the steps of a killer through the cathedrals of modern day - while his victims seem to be mysterious ghosts from the city's medieval past.
Amazon description

The subtitle of this novel is A Gothic Novel of Prague. It certainly is a Gothic novel in all senses of the word. It is about the Gothic architecture of Prague, in particular the seven churches that are at the centre of the story. The central character and narrator feels more attracted to the middle ages than to the modern. The novel is in the Gothic tradition of literature, not the Southern Gothic of the US but the English Gothic literature of Horace Walpole and the Czech (Gustav Meyrink, whose short stories reviewed here). Urban even gives his narrator such a liking for Walpole and co. that he says after reading them he is "more in tune with myself".  

As well as being a Gothic novel, Seven Churches is a mystery thriller with its central character investigating a series of gruesome crimes. I say "investigating", but the character is actually weak and inept, a typical oddball and outsider, he finds it hard to read people, especially women. He does have one gift however the ability at times to see the past, but it does not contribute to the solving of the crime, although it is important to the storyline. This gift and a number of strange incidents have resulted in the novel being described as magic realism. 

I enjoyed reading the novel, which I did in the Czech Republic. I ripped through it which is a good sign, but then it appealed to a lot of what I enjoy - medieval history, Prague, the concept of history, crime stories and the magical in the real. But I am not sure it succeeds in delivering on all fronts, and that includes the magic realism.