Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Christmas book review

I do love small presses. They take risks. They bring things out that aren't just tired re-workings of an old 'success'. And one of my favourites at the moment is the excellent Valley Press. Based in Scarborough, Valley has brought out a wonderfully diverse range of poetry and prose over the past year, including this fabulously funny poetry collection - Lucky Dip by Catherine Boddy. If your copy of Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes is looking tired and if the kids can recite A.A.Milne's 'Now We Are Six' from memory, get them this as a stocking-filler.

I've been teaching Classics this term, as in epic poems from the classical era. I've been teaching myself first, then the class. And it's worked largely because I've found two wonderfully fresh and vivid translations of first the Iliad, then the Aeneid, both by the late Robert Fagles. They're not the 'set texts' as prescribed by the exam board. So (obviously) we've been studying the 'boring' books in class. But these first-rate versions are what you need to bring the ancient texts to life, and they come complete with fabulous introductions making it crystal clear what's happening. You can even buy a collection that includes the Odyssey, too. They don't write 'em like this anymore!

Tales out of School by Jeannette Ellwood is a wonderfully heart-warming collection of stories based on the author's own experience of teaching in a small village school in the Chilterns. As anyone who's ever worked in education knows, the classroom and its cast of characters - teachers, pupils, parents - is an abundant source of humour. But creating a well-turned tale from such day-to-day anecdotes is an art and Jeannette Ellwood has it in spades. Think Gervaise Phinn or James Herriot but in Hertfordshire.

And finally... my latest book might not be out yet (it's currently being crowdfunded by Unbound) but you can still buy a gift pledge if you want to. That way you get Christmas presents sorted both for this year AND the next (when the book will - mirabile dictu - be in their hands).

Oh, and I'll send them the certificate, too. After all, you've got enough to do at this time of year. Haven't you?

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