Asteronymes – Claire Trévien


Asteronyme is the word for a sequence of asterisks used to hide a name or password. I wonder what this book of poetry is hiding.

Poetry is a like a window into a person’s soul, but not all windows are clear. Words can paint the desires and emotions often left hidden in the depths of the unconscious mind but it is not always apparent what emotions the words are hiding, just as you can never been sure of the meaning behind the asterisk in any given password.

In some ways I find that poetry is the most personal form of literary expression. There is always passion in writing – even the most terrible novel, or simplest anecdote can tell you something about a person – but delve into the world of the poetical and you have something more. Sometimes the simplest method of expression is in poetical thought, but to express doesn’t mean to be understood.

The poems nestled within this obscure blue cover relay extremely personal experiences, and linguistic experimentation. Trévien takes the reader with her on a journey through the Scottish Island of Arran, a remote place wrought with contradiction, where ancient rocks and history meet the cruel harsh reality of digital life.

Alongside caves adorned with the mythical carvings of old, where snow-peaked mountains meet coastal palm trees and the post-industrial rush of life, past, present and prelife experiences come together to explore the remote Scottish countryside. Trévien’s voice emerges in an explosion of lyrical, poetic exploration which speaks of the destruction of timeless places by the passing of time itself.

Ruin, neglect and progression come together in an expression that is all at once playful, creative, and explorative, and challenges the boundaries of traditional poetical construction. Trévien’s words are at times humorous and crass, and other mournful and waning, serving as an elegy to destruction and neglect throughout time.

I don’t often take the time to read modern poetry, preferring instead to stay loyal to my grandfather’s dusty edition of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, and a crumbling copy of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, but I’m very pleased I decided to pick up this humble little collection up. It really is a breath of fresh air, and I found myself wanting to experiment with some of the new techniques and styles uncovered within the text. To be sure my attempts are nowhere near as eloquent as Trévien’s, but it was lovely to have the desire reawakened within me.

If you are looking for a new collection to revive your senses and inspire your creative spirit you really need look no further than Asteronymes. Trévien is definitely a very exciting new voice to the world of poetry.

The Hard Word Box – Sarah Hesketh

“She almost thought she’d said the words aloud, but she hadn’t. They remained trapped in her head, but not because they were barricaded by plaques and tangles. She just couldn’t say them aloud” ― Lisa Genova

The Hard Word Box – Sarah Hesketh

thwb_smI found this book on the Penned in the Margins Facebook page and was automatically drawn to it. A poetry book based on someone’s experience of time spent in a dementia care home is something I have not come across before, and I felt as though the book had the potential to be something truly amazing.

I realised that what was most important, was not that Maureen used to like jazz, or that Bill had once been a butcher, but that Jack tells great jokes, Phyllis likes helping others to the table – that’s who these people are now. They are still living their live, and these lives are what need to be represented.

‘What would happen if you placed contemporary artists in dementia care settings and asked them to create responses?’ – this is exactly what Sarah Hesketh strove to find out, and The Hard Word Box is the result.

The individual pieces within The Hard Word Box are a combination of poems, interviews, short stories and anecdotes. The poems are made up of words and phrases included on care plans and posters, as well as those words spoken to Hesketh by the residents of the care home. One particular piece contains every word a certain resident said to Hesketh during her time in the home. The piece, ‘Elizabeth’, is incredibly poignant, spanning several pages, with the words few and far between, casual phrases in a sea of silence.

Of the three interviews Hesketh published, it is the one with Marlene, the sister of a dementia sufferer, which I found to be the most moving. She speaks at length about the stigma of dementia – which is of course, something that those with developed dementia cannot do themselves – as well as the seven years she spent caring for her brother as his mental state declined. Marlene spoke of how isolated she became once her friends began to draw away because they could not cope with her brother, and this, she says, is something she will never learn to forget. People fear dementia, and they are embarrassed by it, but this only makes it worse for those for whom dementia is a reality. Getting old is terrifying, not just for those who grow old, but also for the people left behind.

Reading The Hard Word Box was an incredibly emotional journey for me. I was reminded of the time my own grandmother spent in a dementia home, before she eventualllost her battle with old age. She was once the most motherly of creatures, always there to make a cup of tea and offer a warm blanket on a cold day. Once in the care home she was a very different lady, she no longer spoke much, and liked to fuss around in the sitting area, rearranging magazines, dusting shelves and continually wiping the care assistants’ names off the white board.

I could draw so many parallels to the stories and poems, not just from my grandmothers own situation, but those of the people I grew to know in Nanna’s care home. Elizabeth, who didn’t like cats, and just wanted Blanchy (her daughter, who never visited) to put that ‘thing’ outside; Grace, who, at 103 years old had spent her entire life in care; and a group of ladies whose names escape me, who, every afternoon, could be found sat in the television room, happily singing along to the radio. I could see so much of these times in Hesketh’s work, the high-backed chairs, sterile bathrooms and regimental bedrooms somehow at odds to the colourful array of personalities nestled within the care home.

Through The Hard Word Box, Hesketh has given a voice to some of the most outspoken members of society. The individual stories and poems are so sad to read, but it is beautiful to see the words as these people have said them. For me, Hesketh’s work is ground-breaking not in what it says, but in how it says it.

I’ve never read a book before which touched me in the quite the same way as The Hard Word Box did. Elizabeth is Missing, with its presentation of dementia, came close, but I felt safe in the knowledge that the book was fiction – written to make you think, but ultimately, to entertain. The reality of The Hard Word Box is something which really struck a chord with me – these people and their stories, lives and words are real. Hesketh made me feel a terrifying array of emotions: I felt cold, lonely, frightened and – ultimately – ashamed. Dementia is such a difficult subject, one that a lot of people simply do not know how to deal with. I will be the first to admit that I find it difficult, but I am learning. The words need saying, but they are, indeed, hard words to say.

The Lost Art of Sinking by Naomi Booth – Book review and giveaway!

“The floor scooped me up where I stood, and I blinked as it hit me― M. Beth Bloom


Have you ever played the Fainting Game?

The girls of class 2B have a new obsession – perhaps you know it as the Dying Game, or maybe Indian Headrush? The rules are all the same.

We had all agreed. We would secretly play the Fainting Game every day in assembly the following week. The winner would be the girl who passed out the most times. Or, in the case of a tie, whoever passed out in the most dramatic way. If anyone died, they scored an automatic win. If more than one person died, the winner was the girl who died in the coolest way.

When the decision-makers of class 2B decided it was time to play the Fainting Game, it was nothing more than that – a game. It was just silly ritual among adolescent girls, to annoy their teachers and try and get a bit of a buzz, something to quickly go through and leave behind.

They all grew out of it… or rather… they almost all grew out of it.

In her debut novel Naomi Booth explores the art of losing yourself, and the effects of taking obsession a little too far. The Lost Art of Sinking is a beautiful, yet unusual novella, as artfully striking as it is subtly unsettling. Prepare to be blown away, swept into the depths of obsession and addiction, a journey which begins, and ends in a mysterious room.

Esther cannot stop thinking about the game, a self-proclaimed ‘non-swooner’ she has never managed to successfully lose consciousness. She obsesses over what it would be like, the experience, to find out what she was missing. She wants to see the visions the girls in her class have boasted about. To see the strange and beautiful shapes, like ghosts, familiar, yet alien, which will your body to let go.

I thought it sounded like the most wonderful thing and I hoarded that possibility inside myself.

While all her friends move on, passing likes ghosts from her peripheral vision, Esther continues to experiment with different ways to pass out.

Her fascination is rooted in the memory of her late mother the beautiful retired dancer, who lived her final years locked away in her studio, like a butterfly with a broken wing. In her despair, Esther’s mother never stopped attempting the perfect swoon – curving, trembling, sinking and rising.

Utterly resolved to her fate Esther holds her breath, wills herself to fall and when that fails she snorts cleaning products. Later, unable to rid herself of her obsession she loses herself in the sights and sounds of London. Through the endless streets and houses she can feel her mother calling to her, saturating her body and mind, tilting her head, arching her back, begging her to let go.

Esther’s fascination with falling is so all encompassing that she neglects all other aspects of her life. She has no plan, drifting from one place to another, seeing where the wind takes her, always searching.  Her obsession blinds her, so much so that she misses a glaring secret hidden in her past – one which, if left untold, could be her undoing.

In Esther, Booth has created a strange and wonderful character. Her persona is mystifying yet utterly two-dimensional – defined only by her actions and her obsession. As a reader you are given access to her inner thoughts, but these centre only on her desire to sink away, to become one with her mother. Her relationships feel hollow; her fleeting encounters with men no more than another attempt to reach her goal. Each time she is with someone they are with her body only, her mind is somewhere else entirely.

While Esther herself is a bit of a mystery, those around her are artfully sketched. She outlines all those she encounters, pouring their descriptions onto the page, from an unpleasant-smelling gentleman on the tube, whose odour emanates from his body in ‘mustardy waves’ to the odd young man that is her father.

Through Esther’s obsession, Booth takes the reader on a beautiful and haunting journey – which is all at once unsettling, dark and strangely hilarious. The Lost Art of Sinking is exquisitely written, evoking, sensual and all encompassing – once I started to read I didn’t stop. I was blown away by the writing, absorbed by the ride and fascinated by Esther’s mind. This is definitely one for those of you looking for something fresh and new – Naomi Booth is not to be overlooked.

The Lost Art of Sinking will be released 1st June 2015 by Penned in the Margins.

I was given a free review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.


I have been given a copy of The Lost Art of Sinking by the publisher to give away to one lucky reader.

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is comment on this post. Be sure to enter your correct email address when posting so I can get in touch if you win. The giveaway will run until Friday 12th June – giving you plenty of time to enter.

Good luck!