Hanging with Vampires

Insha Fitzpatrick, Lilla Bölecz. Quirk Books. (128p) ISBN 9781683693413

Hanging with Vampires

Hanging with Vampires

As part of my raid on anything spooky and creepy to read in September and October from NetGalley I was given this to read.

A non-fiction book exploring all aspects of the vampire, from its folklore history to its representation in modern media, and looking at different kinds of vampires from around the world.

A fun read written in an accessible and relaxed tone full of fangtastic illustrations from Lilla Bölecz to complement to words.

Aimed firmly at a younger audience, 9-12, this has great snippets about how to make garlic bread, a brilliant interview with Vlad the Impaler, and a really interesting look at how disease and death were thought of in the Middle Ages.

All without getting too gross or gory, but having just the right amount to keep a person interested, impaling heads, nice aside about vampire bats.

The section about vampires in modern media is also quite good and does look at diversity and representation and doesn’t hold back from criticising Twilight for its lack of either and problematic representation of Bella.

Overall a fun read and as the first in a new series of books called the Totally Factual Field Guide to the Supernatural it comes out running and sets a nice high bar for the rest of them.

Stu Hennigan – Author Q&A

Stu Hennigan

Stu Hennigan

Ghost Signs – Poverty and the pandemic – An eyewitness account of the impact of the early days of the pandemic on those living in poverty in Leeds, as Stu Hennigan delivered emergency food and medicine to communities that had already suffered 10 years of austerity. It is a blistering exposition of what happened to a community in one of the richest countries in the world.

Stu can be found at:
Twitter: @StuHennigan

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

A tricky one to answer. I was lucky with Ghost Signs because I was already in regular contact with Kevin Duffy at Bluemoose, and he was very keen on the idea of the book as soon as he heard I was writing it, so this wasn’t one of those where I was having to hawk it around agents/publishers in the usual way. I think one thing that helped was that I’d submitted a novel to Bluemoose about four years previously; Kev thought the writing was great but didn’t want the story, which was fine, but it meant that when he found out about the work I was doing on the book that would become Ghost Signs, he knew I’d be able to do a good job of writing it. Before that, though, I’d got so sick of rejection letters that I actually gave up writing when I was about 24 (in the mid-00s) and didn’t go back to it until about 2018, so it’s been a long journey.

How long did it take to write?

The whole process from beginning to publication took exactly two years, but not all that time was spent writing. Once Kev and I had started talking about the book as a serious thing, we needed a timescale for what period the book would cover, and we decided on around 8 or 9 weeks. During that time, I made a lot of notes when I was out delivering food parcels, as well as keeping a daily diary of personal events during that time, and also trying to record as much as I could about what was happening nationally with the pandemic. I wrote the first draft in 9 days, getting up at 4.30 every day, writing for three hours, spending a couple of hours with the kids, then doing a full day on the van and another three or four hours in the evening when the kids had gone to bed. Because Bluemoose are more or less a one-man operation, it would take Kev a while to send it back with comments and suggestions, then I’d do another couple of weeks of really intense work and send it straight back. There was a lot of research to be done during this stage too – reading IFS reports, collecting poverty stats, trawling through press releases/newspaper articles for quotes from politicians etc. In January 2021 it went to Annie Warren, my editor at Bluemoose, and we spent nine months working on it but it was a leisurely pace; because the pandemic was still ongoing and we weren’t even sure when the book was going to publish, we had a lot of time to play with, and submitted the final draft in the September, although it still didn’t come out for another 9 months after that, during which time there was proofing, final copy-editing etc.

How many publishers turned you down?

None for this one! After I graduated from uni in 2002 I wrote an incredibly bleak realist novel called A Night In the Cells and had at least 20 rejections for that, so many that as I said, I gave up writing for publication for about 15 years.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

Not these days. I like to write in absolute silence where possible, although with two primary age children it’s rare to get this, unless I work at night.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

The book seems to have been well-received so far. Pre-publication, ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger commissioned a piece about the book in Prospect magazine, including 3000 words of printed extracts, and that opened it up to a much wider audience. After that, there was a brilliant review of it in Tribune, and a great one in the Yorkshire Post too. The public response has been extremely flattering and pretty humbling too – it seems to have really struck a chord with a lot of people who are pissed off with the state of the country. It’s interesting to note that a lot of people have said they were surprised and shocked at the level of deprivation and extent of the poverty that the book depicts; one of the main aims of the book is to raise awareness of how severe the problem is, and also how widespread, so I suppose based on those kind of reactions it’s doing its job in that sense, although it’s sad that it had to be written.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

The most pleasing response, I think, has been from other people who have done similar work, or have worked with similar communities. I’ve had a lot of people say that the book captures the communities and people really well, so that’s always good to hear. It’s kinda difficult to celebrate in a sense though, given the content. It’s also difficult to know what to say to readers when they say they’ve bought it – I can’t say I hope they “like” it, or “enjoy” it, because that would be crazy. On a slightly lighter note, I had a message from one person that signed off with “You are a gem in fucking great boots.” I treated myself to a pair of nice boots for doing literary events and they’ve become a sort of running joke on Twitter, so that really made me smile.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I’m currently well into the second draft of a novel with the working title of False Friend. I don’t want to go into too many details but it’s about relationships and how they can fall apart, addiction, loss, death, family secrets/lies, trauma, and how lives can be shaped by events that are almost completely beyond our control. Definitely not a feelgood read, but it’s taking shape quite nicely at the moment and I’m very, very excited about it.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Not really. I try to reply to everyone who’s kind enough to share their thoughts on the book via Twitter and obviously I really appreciate them all, but I hate A*azon with a passion so never go on there, and I’ve never really been on the GoodReads website either. As a general point, if you look at reviews for anything online you always get complete extremes, so even a book that’s had rave reviews across the board will still get slated by some people, and a book that gets panned will still have readers who think it’s the greatest thing ever. Once you’ve finished creating something, whether it’s art, music, literature, whatever, once it’s in the public domain it’s out of your hands and you can’t control the response, so there’s no point losing any sleep over it.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Ghost Signs

Ghost Signs

I’m constantly inspired by other writers. I read an article a couple of years back that compared a writer to a sampler, and I really like that analogy. You’re always looking at other people’s work to see what works, what doesn’t, how you can apply their techniques to your own writing. Ben Myers is a writer who I think a lot of people can learn from – no one ever talks about this, possibly because his stories are so well-told that they don’t notice, but he creates a completely different narrative voice for every book, and you need real chops to do that. He’s definitely someone I look at as an example of a complete writer – he’s technically brilliant, and that feeds into everything else, so his dialogue is great, as is his characterisation, plotting, pacing and everything else. Heidi James is another writer from the current crop who I take a great deal of inspiration from as her work is all about the same themes that pre-occupy much of my fiction/poetry – time and memory, the distortive symbiosis between the two, the mutability of personality, humans as method-actors, the masks we wear. She’s so precise, doesn’t waste a single word and her work is deceptively complex when you start digging. I love the way she weaves ideas from different thinkers into her work but buries them so you’ve got to get right down into it to find them. The great Denis Johnson is someone else I’ve always had a lot of admiration for, and in the last couple of years I’ve been introduced to Percival Everett by the lads at Influx and he’s blown me away completely. Need to get hold of everything he’s ever written, sharpish. The Trees is the best novel I’ve read this year so far by a country mile.

What is your biggest motivator?

Now, my biggest motivator is lost time. I wasted 15 years when I more or less completely stopped writing and I’m determined to make up for it now. There’s a lot of anger in my work too, and that’s another motivating factor, especially with the current shitshow of a government and the untold damage they’ve done to this country. It’s going to take decades for the mess started by that pair of cunts Cameron and Osborne to be cleared up, and by then it’ll probably be way too late. People can’t be allowed to forget that, as odious as Boris Johnson is, those two were the diabolic progenitors of the current clusterfuck and they shouldn’t be allowed to escape responsibility.

What will always distract you?

I have ADHD so am very easily distracted, especially if I forget to take my medication!

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I had much more input into the book cover/design than I was expecting, although I have Fiachra McCarthy to thank for bringing it all to life. If you’d asked me at the beginning, before the book was even finished, how I’d like it to look, it would have been pretty much what you see in the bookshops now. Fiachra was brilliant to work with and it was a surprisingly easy process – I gave him the gist of what I thought would work, he sent some samples and we went from there. Didn’t take long, and I think it nails the vibe perfectly.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes – voracious doesn’t even cover it. I taught myself to read before I started school and was never without a book from then on.

What were your favourite childhood books?

The first series I remember reading that really blew me away was The Worst Witch books, which I read when I was about 7. I’ve read them as an adult with my children, and last week we were listening to the audiobooks in the car when we were on holiday. They still stand up – a masterclass in storytelling and characterisation without any gimmicks, frills or fancy stuff. Miss Hardbroom is one of the best antagonists is children’s literature for me, and Jill Murphy achieves it pretty much singly through the way she speaks to the girls, especially Mildred. Great, great writing, and the illustrations are wonderful too. Children of Winter by Berlie Doherty was another one I loved when it was read to me when I was about eight. Read that with my eldest last year and that was still brilliant too.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

If so, which? The Old Pier Bookshop in Morecambe is a treasure trove if you like digging for hours through crates of second-hand stuff. I’ve literally spent whole days in there.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

No. Just shut the study door, fire up the Mac and crack the fuck on!

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

About 15 at the moment. I’ve never understood when people say they have hundreds of unread books and still keep buying more – it seems pointless to me. I’ve always been a very quick reader and have generally been able to keep on top of mine, but it’s so hard to find time to read these days. I work full-time, have two kids, I’ve a novel to write, plus a lot of other shorter pieces, not to mention events and all the promo/publicity stuff for Ghost Signs. Before I had kids I used to get through about five books a week; after kids it went down a bit, but these days I’m lucky if I can read one, and that’s a source of real chagrin. It’s rare for me to have 15 unread books, and it’s stressing me out tbh, especially as ARCs keep landing on the doormat, plus books from the indies that I subscribe to…….

What is your current or latest read?

I took four books on holiday but I couldn’t get into any of them, and ended up buying a copy of A Brief History of Seven Killings from a charity shop for a couple of quid. Read it before, but loved it all over again. Marlon James is a genius writer, and this book is every bit the same big, bad, beautiful motherfucker it was when it first came out. Essential reading, kinda like a Don Winslow pulp thriller but written like a Faulkner/Tarantino mash-up, in Jamaican patois. Next up is one by Dennis Cooper, a writer who’s been on The List for years but I’ve never had time to check out.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I’m going to be super-annoying and say that there are lots of things afoot, but I’m not allowed to talk about any of them. I’ve a couple of short pieces (mixture of fiction and non-fiction) coming out before the end of the year, all being well, and you may get a sneak preview of some of False Friend in the autumn, but that’s all you’re getting!

Any events in the near future?

Loads. Won’t list them all here, but anyone in London who’s interested in hearing me speak about the book can see me on Friday 16th September at 6 p.m. at The Social, in conversation with the great Heidi James. It’s going to be a brilliant night, and it’s FREE, so come along and join us if you can.


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Four Thousand Weeks

Oliver Burkeman. Vintage. (288p) ISBN 9781784704001

Four Thousand Weeks

Four Thousand Weeks

Not really the kind of book I normally read, not into self-help or time management books but I’d heard that this book was different from the run of the mill books in those genres.

Right from the start Oliver sets out his stall that this isn’t a time management book in the conventional sense of the theme, but goes on to state that we have to approach time with the view that it is finite, as we are finite and we are time.

In his progress through the book to his conclusion he throws out many of the old time management and self help theories about making your life better through better approaches to productivity and those ‘do this one thing before breakfast and your life will be much easier’ mantras, and focuses on us realising our finite time on this earth as a way of realising what is important to us.

This was refreshing and was confirming a lot of things I was thinking about the way I approach my own projects.

Though the book talks a lot about our finality and how we only have four thousand weeks to live (on average) it is a very positive and life affirming approach to living, it is actually about living not being productive and how to approach this on your own terms.

Lots to digest and the ten tips at the end are excellent, really enjoyed this read and will think about it when being me.


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Timothy Baker – Q&A

Timothy Baker

Timothy Baker

Timothy C. Baker was born in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in southern Vermont. He studied at Vassar College and the University of Edinburgh, and now lives in northeast Scotland, where he teaches Scottish and contemporary literature at the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of four books of literary criticism, including Writing Animals and New Forms of Environmental Writing.

Timothy can be found at:
Twitter: @timothycbaker
Instagram: @tcharlesbaker

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) memoir?

I’ve wanted to write about my mother for years; she died quite young, and had in some ways a difficult life, and I really wanted to tell her story. When I was a teenager I even tried to write a novel about her life, which was, frankly, terrible. I hatched the basic plan for Reading My Mother Back maybe a decade ago, once I’d written some more academic work and knew what was involved in writing a full-length book, but I needed to sit on it for a while, really just to get enough distance to speak really honestly.

How long did it take to write?

Reading My Mother Back

Reading My Mother Back

The planning took years, although certainly not of continuous work! I spent a lot of time figuring out the structure of the book. The book is about my mother’s life, but I didn’t do research into it, or talk to her family; instead, I tell her story through a series of children’s animal books that I read with her in childhood. I had a long list of possible books that I thought about including, and spent a while both reading through those books, figuring out which would work and which wouldn’t, and reading a lot of other books of this sort – memoirs about grief, and about parent-child relations, and about reading – to see what I liked and didn’t like in each of those. But once I’d done that work, the first draft of the book went incredibly quickly – I had something I could work with in about six months.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I mainly write while listening to the radio, specifically BBC 6 Music, at a very low volume. If I’m choosing the music I’m more likely to listen closely and get distracted, but having the radio on in the background will often give me a surprise inspiration, or just change the pace and focus of my thinking.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

One of the first things I did when I finished a draft was give it to a bunch of friends with very different backgrounds – different ages and nationalities and so on. I think one of the things that I’ve really been pleased about is that different readers find very different things – so some people really focus on the stories about grief or illness, and some people much prefer the discussions of reading. I think what makes me happiest is when someone identifies with a specific element that I might not have considered important, but for them becomes what the book’s really about.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

I gave the book to a friend of mine who is a mother, who said ‘what I’ve mainly learned from this is “don’t die”’, and I thought that was a pretty good lesson!

What can you tell us about your next book?

I have a lot of different ideas right now, and I’m partly waiting to see how people respond to this one, but I’d like to write about my father more, and specifically about the city of Baltimore, where I lived as a young child but where he spent more of his life.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Of course. I really admire people who say they can ignore them, but I am, unfortunately, one of those people who will smile or moan for days based on one review.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Very much so. There are a few ideas for novels that I’ve had for years, and not been able to make work; I’d love to write for children some day.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

My day job is as an English lecturer at a university, which means I basically am talking and writing about books all day anyway; before that, I worked in various bookstores for about fifteen years. To me they’re very close occupations – what I like doing is talking to people about books, whether that’s in an academic context or a retail context or something much more personal.

Which author(s) inspire you?

For this project in particular I enjoyed reading a lot of more experimental memoirs, mostly by authors around my own age. Jenn Ashworth and Emilie Pine were very big specific inspirations, but I learned a lot from writers like Daisy Hildyard, Annie Ernaux, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Annie Dillard, and Alison Bechdel, all of whom I really love.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Everything, pretty much! I mostly read literary fiction, but I’m open to anything. One of the fun things about teaching contemporary literature is that I’m always looking for something that might surprise me, or does something I wasn’t expecting.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I’ve been incredibly lucky; I absolutely love the cover the publishers came up with, and was able to talk very frankly with them not just about the cover design but the book’s physical dimensions and layout.

Were you a big reader as a child?

In a lot of ways, Reading My Mother Back is really about that. I read constantly as a child, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. I remember going off to school and always taking three books: the one I was currently reading, and two back-ups, so that if I finished that one I’d have a choice for what to start next. Most of my childhood memories are, honestly, of reading.

What were your favourite childhood books?

Part of the initial inspiration for this book was that I always wanted to explain how big a role Watership Down has played in my life. I read and loved a lot of the more canonical authors – I talk here about C.S. Lewis and Frances Hodgson Burnett, but I was also a big fan of A Wrinkle in Time and The Hobbit, as well as some books that haven’t stood the test of time as well.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I feel I should name one of the bookshops I’ve worked in over the years, but sadly most of them have closed or been bought out. I really do like the LRB bookshop in London, though.

What books can you not resist buying?

At the moment I’ll buy anything that says it’s a new type of nature writing, whatever it is!

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

A scandalously high number, honestly; I still take comfort in having a lot of choices, and while this means that I sometimes do buy books that I never read, just as often I’ll come back to something years later, and be glad I did. But my floor is a safety concern.

What is your current or latest read?

I’ve just read Sara Baume’s Seven Steeples, which is a wonder of a book.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I really love Fitzcarraldo Editions, and am excited about the new work they’re publishing by Esther Kinsky and Thea Lenarduzzi in particular.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I think there are a lot dangers in writing memoir – you worry that you might be taking yourself too seriously, or that the story you have to tell might not be that interesting to other people. But when I read memoirs, sometimes there’s that moment of complete connection between author and reader – a moment where, as a reader, you say ‘I didn’t know other people felt this way, and now that I’ve seen it, I understand myself better’. It’s something I really love as a reader, and if I can give a few people that moment of recognition, I’ll be happy!


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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