Category Archives: Books/Novels/Authors

Hungry the Stars and Everything: Emma Jane Unsworth

Emma Jane Unsworth studied English Literature at Liverpool university and is an accomplished writer of short fiction and a locally acclaimed journalist from Manchester. Her debut novel Hungry the Stars and Everything seamlessly interweaves tales of greed, addiction and love with a little touch of magic realism.

The tale follows Helen Burns, a 29 year old food critic who is assigned to review a mysterious new restaurant called ‘Bethel’ which has been tipped to receive a Michelin star. With each course that is brought out by the maitre de, Helen recalls memories that link together to form the novel’s plot.

The novel delves into teenage fantasies and sexual awakening, as Unsworth explores how the decisions made during adolescence can deeply affect those made later in life. Zipping back and forth in time, the story begins on Christmas Eve 1991 when Helen is on the cusp of puberty and totally fed up of being a good little girl. After sneaking downstairs to eat one of her father’s Christmas presents, the birthmark on her palm begins to burn red hot and it’s at this moment that she sees the devil for the first time.

Unsworth’s writing style blends warm Mancunian humour with a journalist’s eye for detail, and although the novel is at heart a romance, it has a dark pulse beating away. At times it feels as though Unsworth has enjoyed playing with her heroine, as Helen lurches between moments of personal epiphany and the next is plunged into self-annihilation. You never know quite what to expect next in Hungry the Stars and Everything, and it is precisely this kind of plate-spinning of themes and plots which makes Unsworth such a promising new writer.

You really should get down to Waterstone’s on Deansgate and buy a copy.


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Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

So hell, what’s it really like? And what’s it like to be dead?

Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel Damned is an updated vision of hell where you can bribe demons with candy bars and take a career in telemarketing or internet porn.  You can also get eaten by demons from every culture that has ever existed on earth, apart from Scientology.

Madison Spencer is a slightly overweight thirteen-year-old girl who finds herself consigned to hell after smoking too much pot. The daughter of a film star and a billionaire, Madison is the reader’s insightful companion on a journey through the underworld, and it’s advisable to take note of everything she says because Madison is one smart kid.

Brought up alongside adopted orphans from the third world and educated at the best Swiss boarding school, Madison epitomises the ‘kidult ‘ – the child who is perceived by some to have grown up too fast. Damned has references throughout to child stars and ‘kidults’ such as Lolita, Pollyanna, Shirley Temple and JonBenet Ramsey. But despite being the construct of insane celebrity status and insane amounts of money, Madison loves her parents dearly and she’s always worrying that she’s let them down because she’s a little bit fat. Continue reading

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MLF 2011…

13 days +68 events  = the Manchester Literature Festival 2011:

1 lit quiz x 1 literary pub walk = a celebration of the best writing talents

4 competitions + 3 awards   = acclaimed in the city, the UK and beyond

The new Manchester Literature Festival brochure has been unveiled and The Poplar Tree is getting a bit hot under its leaves in anticipation…

The festival is now in its 6th year and continues to blend home-grown talent with acclaimed authors, poets and journalists from across the world. The MLF’s ability to cross cultures, genres and social groups is what makes the festival so unique, and with 22 locations, Manchester becomes both muse and stage for poetry, novels, competitions, awards, tours and theatre.

The MLF began 18 years ago as a small poetry festival organised by Cathy Bolton (Festival Director) and Jon Atkin (Festival Coordinator), who both manage the city-wide event, and the festival is quickly gaining a national reputation for its quality and originality with its eclectic nature separating itself from other literary festivals such as the Bath or Hay.

Every year the MLF is undoubtedly different, but the one question that remains pursed on The Poplar Tree’s lips is; how can it top last year’s Seamus Heaney recital at the Whitworth Hall? Well, where to start… a third of the events showcase international talent so maybe Europe is a good place to start with Nordic crime writers K O Dahl, Thomas Enger and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, or you could be transported across the Atlantic with Cuba’s leading contemporary writer Victor Rodriguez Nunez or Daniel Mordzinski with ‘A Look into the Soul of Spanish American Literature’. You could then take a flight in the imagination with Canada’s award-winning writer Allan Stratton, or if you fancy warmer climes there’s the celebrated South-Asian writers Tahmima Anam and Dipika Rai. Continue reading

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The Immortalization Commission – Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death – a review

Last month, Matt Damon starred in Hereafter, a film about a psychic who could see into the afterlife. The film was about as thrilling as a long drawn out sigh and revealed that the hereafter is a blurry black and white ‘place’ inhabited by ghostly figures.

In the Immortalization Commission John Gray, a leading political author and philosopher tries to answer whether there really is life after death and comes up with some thought-provoking arguments, which are more believable than Damon’s Hereafter. The book takes its title from a project dreamt up by Bolshevik intelligentsia during the Communist era who believed they could preserve Lenin’s remains after his death, and it’s the reason why his cadaver remains on display in Moscow’s Red Square.

Aside from embalming, science has been used to ‘cheat’ death in many ways before, from cryogenics to space travel, séances to automatic writing, artificial intelligence to virtual evolution – death has been a subject which has always fascinated humankind. Gray examines how scientists, politicians, world leaders, poets and writers have obsessed over death and tried to find reason amid the chaos of the universe. Continue reading

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The Children’s Book by AS Byatt – Review

AS Byatt has been writing critically acclaimed fiction for over forty years, and in 1990 she was awarded the Booker prize for her novel, Possession. Her latest novel, The Children’s Book demonstrates what a formidable figure in English Literature Byatt has become, as she seamlessly entwines her lifelong passions for folklore and fairytale with a narrative of social realist fiction.

The novel is a fin de siècle tale of family relationships set in the years 1895-1919. Centred upon the Wellwood family, whose matriarch Olive is a famous and celebrated children’s author, the central action takes place at Todefright, an old Kentish manor house with extensive grounds that prove fertile ground for Olive’s overactive imagination.

Decadence and philanthropy abound amidst the fading years of the Victorian era, with Oscar Wilde and Rodin making brief cameos in the novel; and Olive Wellwood, despite her dalliances with fame and fairytale, proves to be a far from perfect role model for her numerous children. Continue reading

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The Closing Lines at the End of The Road

As the year 2010 is drawing to a close, The Poplar Tree has decided to file one last post on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

At the very end of The Road the novel closes on an image of brook trout: “They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their back were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.”

In his closing prophetic lines, McCarthy is reminding us about the fragility of life and the brook trout image represents man’s knowledge of the world; everything we know about time and evolution can be held in the palm of our hand, and is symbolised by the patterns on a trout’s back. Humans unlike any other living being can trace its history and creation back to the earliest details, from the evolution of apes to bits of flint left for millennia under layers of earth in a cave.  It’s astounding to sit and think for a moment about how much history is bound to a little piece of flint or arrowhead – we can glean such a lot from such little things. At the end of The Road, the image of the brook trout is like the piece of flint on a cave floor because it too represents evolution, and more importantly, predates humanity itself. Continue reading


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Seamus Heaney: Journey of The Soul: Manchester Lit Fest 2010

Whitworth Hall, Manchester 25th October 2010 6.30pm (for a full list of his poems recited at this event please see a couple of posts below this one)

For over forty years Seamus Heaney has dug deep with his pen into the psyche of Ulster, exploring cultural identities and Ireland’s troubled past. He has been awarded numerous accolades over the years and added another to his collection earlier this month when his twelfth volume of poetry, Human Chain, was awarded the Forward Prize for best collection. The prestige surrounding a poet of Heaney’s stature was echoed by that of Whitworth Hall itself, and with its neo-Gothic architecture, swooping chandeliers and wood panelling, it’s difficult to think of a venue in Manchester more befitting a former Nobel Laureate.

As he stood at his lectern wearing a sombre charcoal suit, Heaney’s white hair contrasted sharply against an imposing backdrop of grey organ pipes. A lone spotlight shone directly onto his books and it looked almost as though what he was reading from had turned into gold. In his own words, Heaney was about to take his audience on a ‘journey of the soul’ which would recount old and new poems along the way, with his father emerging as a central figure on that journey. Continue reading

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Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club

Queen of Hearts, Fallowfield, Greater Manchester: 21st October 2010

Ever read a book and thought it was terrible? Well maybe you should send a copy to Robin Ince, the stand-up comedian who has created a unique comedy show centred upon bad books.

At the Queen of Hearts in the bustling student suburb of Fallowfield, Robin Ince staged his hilarious one-man comedy show, The Bad Book Club to a sold out audience. As a sports bar, the Queen of Hearts may seem an incongruous place to stage a night of alternative comedy, however with the flat-screen TVs turned off and the interior lighting set to dim, the old church was magically transformed from a sports bar into a comedy club style venue.

Bounding on stage with his arms gesticulating wildly and speaking what seemed like 600 words per minute, Ince hastily explained the premise of his Bad Book Club which goes something a little like this; Ince scours second-hand bookshops across the country searching for any inadvertently awful books he can find, which he then buys, reads and goes onto discuss with his audience. Continue reading

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Seamus Heaney – Manchester Literature Festival 2010 – The Poems

The following is a list of the 20 poems recited by Seamus Heaney on 25th October 2010 at Whitworth Hall, Manchester. The list is in order of recitation and The Poplar Tree will be posting a review of the performance at some point tomorrow. Another Poplar Tree review will also be appearing on the Manchester Literature Festival’s blog sometime soon. In the meantime, you can also read The Poplar Tree’s review of his latest collection, Human Chain by scrolling down the blog a bit to the post after Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club.

  1. ‘Had I not been awake’
  2. Personal Helicon
  3. Mossbawn: Sunlight
  4. A Sofa in the Forties
  5. A Constable Calls Continue reading

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Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club: Manchester Reading List

The Poplar Tree attended Robin Ince’s latest comedy show at the Queen of Hearts in Fallowfield, Greater Manchester yesterday and has reviewed the evening for the official Manchester Literature Festival blog. Once it goes ‘live’ on their site it’ll be posted up on here. In the meantime, click below on ‘keep reading’ to view some hilarious quotes from the night and the near-complete reading list of the crazy titles which Robin referred to, and quoted from throughout his show: Continue reading

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