“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” Christopher Hopkins (Clare Songbirds Publishing) – poetry review

The Shape of a Tulip Bird Christopher Hopkins book cover“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” is a poetry collection that explores bereavement stemming from a miscarriage which led to a relationship breaking down and how grief gets carried with us. However, it’s not a gloomy, self-pitying collection. From the opening poem, “There’s a Fist Where the Heart Should be”

“The grain in the shape of a bay
I remember.
Searching for a flicker
in the static flesh.”

This is suggestive of an image on an ultrasound and the poem ends,

“I have an ocean of love for you
but there is no shelter on the ocean,

there’ll be no shelter from this.
You’ll say,
your body haunts you.
It haunts us both.
The tiniest muscle gave out
and broke us.”

Few relationships survive the loss of a child. The clarity and frankness of the last two lines is indicative of news that hasn’t yet sunk in or been processed. The emotional impact is a wave in the far reaches of the bay on its way to the shore. Ending the poem at that point gives space for a reader to imagine the coming devastation.

The collection’s title is an odd one: there is no tulip bird, but there are varieties of tulips named after birds which are generally lack the neat, elegant pleats of petals and have ruffled edges like the ragged mess of a wind-ruffled wing, making the flower look like a failed nest. In the title poem,

“I tasted that happy madness of love,
the flame-fretted ache,
that gentle perfection of worry
a mother can make.
I felt the electric join
of womb to soul,
head to heal.”

This nest too failed, but the baby was much-desired. The bounce in the rhythm of the opening two quoted lines, achieved through double consonants, gives way to the slower rhythm of the longer vowels after the pivotal “only”. This reflects the mood change from the initial joy of pregnancy to worries and what ifs. The loss is further described in “My Heart is a Failed City”, “This den of heaven’s gravity/ is a physical hole of absence.” In seeking solace from the baby’s potential grandmother, in “Inside the Tear”, a mother’s “wing was too stretched and hollow/ and the light passed right through it” when she offers one of those stock phrases suggesting an early loss is better than a later one. The mood moves to acceptance in “My Language Has Run Out of Broken Bones”, “I have asked myself if I gave love too easy,/ then pinched myself heard. To think how much/ I love this speck, this wonderful nothing.”

A note of hope surfaces in “Love / West / Atlantic”,

“The sun break is still faint.
A star un-effecting.
No rays of worth
have yet reached out
to rub a little heat
into the lavender rocks,
stir the flower heads awake,
less the light of cornsilk,
which carries these
delicate birds.”

It’s still cold, but the narrator is beginning to see beauty and birds take flight. The image of the speck from “My Language Has Run Out of Broken Bones,” is picked up again in the last poem “White Feather” “and each star speck/ is a father’s peck/ on a daughter’s head.”

“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” is a gentle, textured exploration of bereavement. It leaves self-pity out as the poems move from acceptance through heartbreak and emerge on notes of hope. Christopher Hopkins uses pared down language that gives readers chance to absorb and engage with the poems. The bird motif suggests the journey is ongoing and, although loss maybe the flipside to love, it is possible to let the buoyancy of the thermals direct the bereft back to life.

“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” is available from Clare Songbirds.



“Upturned Earth” Karen Jennings (Holland Park Press) – book review

Karen Jennings Upturned Earth book cover“Upturned Earth” is set in South Africa’s Namaqualand in the winter of 1886. A young man, William Hull, travels from Cape Town to Springbokfontein to take up his position of magistrate. It’s not just his seasickness that colours his view of the town, mostly black with slag, and slums where the miners sleep. Most miners are on their own, some with families elsewhere, but some have wives and children who also work at the Okiep mine owned by the Cape Copper Mining Company (CCMC). Townsend, the mine’s superintendent, tells Hull he will do as he’s told. Over a dinner, rich with imported food, Hull meets Townsend’s two daughters. One well-mannered who values appearances and manages to put fashion ahead of function at a funeral where she fails to notice how inappropriate her costume is. Her sister, the other daughter, is a young widow with a son who chooses to dress in mourning even though her elderly husband’s death was not unexpected and it was not a marriage based on love.

Hull settles into the magistrate’s residence where the jailer inserts himself as a valet, butler and cook to Hull. The jailer takes Hull on a tour of the jail cells. Hull suspects he’s not been shown everything, but youth and naivety prevent him from insisting on seeing all. The cases before Hull are mainly concerned with drunken brawls and petty theft. Hull also meets the local Dr Fox who is paid by the Cape Copper Mining Company to attend injured miners as well as inspect the prisoners. Dr Fox’s reports on the prisoners’ well-being lead Hull to think he was being over-suspicious on the tour of the jail cells. In his spare time, Hull starts cataloguing and collecting specimens of local plants, insects and small animals such as frogs. His position separates him from the local mining community who view him as being in the pocket of the CCMC.

In parallel to Hull’s journey, Molefi Noki, travels back to Okiep from his village in the Idutywa Reserve, leaving behind his heavily pregnant wife. He joins the other miners, a mix of nationalities: white men, who have emigrated, the original black population and the Baster, descendants of children of Dutch men and native women, led by a preacher, Adam Waterboer. Noki searches for his brother, Anele, who he discovers has been jailed after a drunken brawl by Hull’s predecessor. Noki, not trusting a magistrate in CCMC’s pay, tries to bribe another prisoner for news of Anele, but the jailer is alerted to the disturbance and Noki has to leave.

When there’s a partial collapse in one of the mining tunnels, Noki is part of a group instructed to dig the collapsed shaft out. When the miners point out that the collapse happened because of insufficient supports, they are instructed to continue anyway. The supports have been further weakened by days of non-stop rain which has left some of the tunnels water-logged. The miners’ discontent and weakened shaft supports set in motion an avalanche of events that bring the miners into conflict with the CCMC with devastating, tragic consequences.

In the confusion of the conflict, Hull finally inspects the whole jail and discovers that while white prisoners have been treated reasonably, black prisoners have been maltreated. He arranges for the maltreated prisoners to be taken to the hospital, a dilapidated building run by a matron who pulls in miners’ wives to assist when needed, under guard and sacks the jailer. For once, Hull doesn’t back down in the face of vicious protest. In interviewing the maltreated prisoners, Hull discovers what happened to Noki’s brother Anele and that the jailer had been working in collusion with Townsend. Hull rages against his naivety and leaves the magistrate’s residence, but not the post. He faces a choice, does he stay and take on the might of the CCMC or does he run away?

Karen Jennings has extensively researched the historical details and successfully brings to life the contrasts between the poverty of the miners and wealth of mine owners, the uneasy atmosphere in the mining town of shacks where men group in tribes and there’s little to do but work and drink. Most of the men are separated from family support networks and came to mine either because they needed to support distant families or because no other work was available. The CCMC did exist, some of the characters in “Upturned Earth” are based on historical records and accounts but the events are fictional.

The characters are credible. Noki is driven to support his family, which limits his ability to knock back against the conditions he works under. His fellow miners are trapped in similar circumstances. Townsend, cuts costs and safety to maximise profits for his luxury lifestyle, using his wealth to control and exploit others. His younger daughter doesn’t question her luxuries and believes herself to be acting with charity when she donates food parcels to miners who only have one set of ragged clothes and have to cook on damp firewood. The widowed daughter knows her father’s working practices are unsafe, which led her to escape into marriage but her husband’s death has forced her back into a family she regards as a trap. Hull’s naivety initially feels like a plot device: his illness and malnutrition from violent seasickness would have been enough for him not to ask too many questions or make a full inspection of the jail on his arrival. However, his awakening and rage at the situation he blindly allowed himself to be caught in, are both credible and create a moral struggle, which brings about a complete change in attitude.

“Upturned Earth” brings to life the history of a miners’ conflict in 1886, filling in the characters and details from historical documents and creating credible fictional characters to produce a satisfying story. Karen Jennings shows characters struggling to overcome their circumstances. Although “Upturned Earth” is a historical novel, its concerns and themes of struggles against poverty and the widening gap between the wealthy and poor, have contemporary relevance.

“Upturned Earth” is available from Holland Park Press.


“To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]” Kate Garrett (Animal Heart Press) – poetry review

Kate Garrett To Feed My Woodland Bones cover imageA changeling is a substituted baby who replaces a wanted child. The substitute often considered to be ugly or of ugly temperament and, in more ignorant times, the swap was blamed on fairy folk. It was a family’s way of explaining a rebellious child, often the scapegoat, to deflect attention from inadequate parenting skills. Kate Garrett’s poem “Changeling” starts,

“My mother sings, mucking out the barn.
The melody reaches me, but
she can’t see her daughter.”

If the daughter is close enough to hear her mother’s singing, she is close enough to be seen. The mother is too self-involved in her chores to check on her daughter. A nine-year-old doesn’t need close supervision but still needs a mother’s reassurance. The mother doesn’t seek to involve the daughter in the chore, doesn’t teach through sharing how to look after the stabled animals. A mare nudges her foal,

“My mother stops to gaze at them.
I stand alone, absently plaiting grass with hay.

‘I love you, but I do not like you.’
I turn away in the space between
and laugh at the empty pasture.”

The mother does not take the hint. The human daughter is left alone to turn away. Her laugh has no audience. Whilst woodland folk tales are alluded to, there is nothing twee or sentimental in these poems. Sadly the daughter doesn’t just suffer emotional, nurturing neglect, in “An elf turns inside out for the dragon”

“my disordered eating is put on backwards
.          [she makes it known
.          I am not allowed to be hungry, so
.          I learned to make a bag of pretzels last three days
.          I shapeshift, deerlike in so many ways —
.          licking salt to feed my woodland bones]

my disordered eating is an unpopular opinion
.          [she keeps charts of her losses
.          too busy cave-painting to put dinner
.          down for me / pets and babies / we are
.          the same / her slender knick-knacks
.          embryonic castaways / servants on display]

and one day, far from our cave, in the year-bend future
I am comfortable, with five thriving children

yet my own hunger squeaks unheard
because there is always a more pressing thing to be than fed”

The daughter who learns not to be hungry becomes the mother who neglects to feed herself to ensure her own children never go hungry, over-compensating for the neglect she suffered. Ironically it’s a sign of hope. It takes strength to break the cycle of abuse and determination not to fall into learnt patterns of being. The earlier, changeling-based poems do not mention a father. The self-focused, ignoring mother may have proved too self-absorbed. The changeling/elf, however, is not alone. Celebrating a relationship in “Pixie-led”,

“in the bottom of the glass this encounter is something he saw in a dream // in the bottom of the glass the sediment forms a crescent moon and he says he sees it clearly too // there is no mist over the moon and he hands me a ring, silver knotted around a sliver of aurora // a sliver of aurora like me, a being gemstone in the ring I can’t see the future // there is no mist over the aurora but we’re too far south // in the bottom of the glass I see my love in the rising mist around a crescent moon and I tell him yes.”

So fitting that the last word of the last poem is “yes”, the book ends on a triumphant note. The first phrase was “breaking hexes”. The changeling/elf has broken her mother’s enchantment and built a successful family of her own.

Each poem is capable of standing on its own. Grouped together, they create a cumulative narrative of a child made to believe she was a changeling, weaving fairy tales for comfort and then the struggle to overcome lessons learnt as a child to become the mother she’d wanted, finding home with someone willing to understand her misfit ways. The poems avoid self-pity and woe. In “To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]” Kate Garrett has fused woodland myth with reality into a narrative plait of trauma overcome, ending on a positive note.

“To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]” by Kate Garrett” is available from Animal Heart Press.

“Haunted by Cycles of Return” edited by Elsa Hammond (SciPo)

Haunted by Cycles of Return poems about climate change book coverThe 2018 SciPo Poetry Competition focused on climate change and this pamphlet of 18 poems, includes the winning and commended poems along with poems from guest poets Carrie Etter and Philip Gross. The competition has two categories: adult and under 18s, both judged by Jayne Draycott.

France-Anne King’s “Home Thoughts from the Red Planet”, which gives the pamphlet its title, starts “It was considered weakness to look back” and continues,

“A man described a wheat fields ripening under sun,
the weight and sea-sway of wind-pulled crops.
A woman, haunted by cycles of return, explained
the pattern play of swallows in an autumn sky;
how they forage on the wing, the skim and swoop
of cobalt feathers across the surface of a lake.”

Most compelling are memories of the various shades of blue. The poet doesn’t spell out why and this isn’t a blue pill/red pill set up. Mars, the red planet, has no water. The displaced people remember the various shades of blue because water means survival. “Home Thoughts from the Red Planet” is a subtle poem that makes it point through presenting what readers take for granted as memory, asking them to think about the effects of climate change if wheat fields (food) and swallows (barometers of climate as they migrate from Africa to cooler weather) become nostalgia. It was first prize-winner in the adult competition. Lesley Saunders took second prize, Sue Wood and Chris Pools were joint third.

Imogen Phillips’ “The Hunted” imagines mass extinction already underway,

“Now the antelope’s bones lie
Buried in long forgotten dust.
The water’s edge, just drops of my imagination,
Listing the missing treasures of my world.”

The long vowel sounds of the first two lines slow the rhythm, echoing the sense of regret: the antelope isn’t just dead, but forgotten. The second two lines build cumulative “s” sounds, creating a soft susurrus adding to the sense of shame and loss. The poem ends, “I lie down// One day closer to extinction…” The ellipsis could be ambiguous, either the sense of resignation towards the inevitable or a hint there’s time to stop this. It was first-prize winner in the under 18s category. Daisy Stillborn and Abigail Hawkesworth took second and third prizes respectively.

The theme of blue is picked up in Carrie Etter’s “Karner Blue”, a butterfly,

“Because Nabokov named it.
Because its collection is criminal.
Because it lives in black oak savannahs and pine barrens.
Because it once produced landlocked seas.
Because it has declined ninety per cent in fifteen years.
Because it is.”

Butterflies are short-lived and fragile but also, like most insects, a vital part of the ecosystem. Despite its decline, it clings on. The poem also hints at how human action in avoiding unnecessary killing and not destroying habits can arrest the devastating effects of deforestation and potentially restore populations.

Philip Gross’ “Goners” explores a young child uncertain of language saying, “I’m goning”,

“The water in the wave
goes nowhere, after all.

Like the mob-handed willow
and ash in the garden, plotting spring’s
sweet insurrections, while they can

:goners, all. Listen: the old
song, love song, hissing in the cracked
and wonky record’s grain

Play it. Play it again.”

Although the tone is mournful, it’s final line suggests a note hope if humans can learn to listen again and fall back in love with nature and its cycle of seasons.

Sadly the topics explored in “Haunted by Cycles of Return” are even more relevant than they were last year. Many poems about the climate crisis are good at describing what will be lost and expressions of regret but do little more than elegant hand-wringing and the addition of one more voice to an echo chamber of hopelessness. To their credit, the poems in “Haunted by Cycles of Return” do sound a note of hope and a sense that extinction is not inevitable, alternative paths can still be found, but humans must change their habits.

“Haunted by Cycles of Return” is available from SciPo, St Hilda’s College Oxford.


“Transeuropa” Jules Deelder (Holland Park Press) – poetry review

transeuropa Jules DeelderJules Deelder is a bestselling Dutch poet, also known as the Night Mayor of Rotterdam, whose recurring themes are peppered with black humour. The poems in “Transeuropa” are translated from Dutch into English by Scott Emblen-Jarrett, a freelance translator and it is the translations that feature in this collection without the Dutch originals. When subject matter includes jokes about Göring’s liking of rings, Roman’s feeding Christians to lions for sport or the tensions between neighbours in the Balkans, the translator is faced with three challenges. Firstly translating Dutch into English. Secondly translating the jokes when humour doesn’t always translate. Thirdly translating poetry presents an extra challenge of recreating rhyme or rhythmic structures used in the original.

“Devilish” is a good example of the humour. It starts, “Hitler farted all the time” and later asks,

“Herr Hitler can be blamed
For many things but not
For showing his true
Colours without consequence
For doesn’t History tell us
That sulphurous smells always
Betray the presence of devils?”

The long sentences and use of enjambment feature strongly throughout the collection. The reader or listener is forced to keep paying attention to wait for the punchline. It looks like a breathless, urgent outpouring on the page, but uses natural breath caesuras so the poem isn’t tricky to read aloud. The poem isn’t tricky to understand either: it puts together two simple ideas, that Hitler was evil and devils announce themselves with sulphur, and asks a bigger question about why Hitler’s intentions weren’t recognised sooner? It’s not Jules Deelder’s purpose to provide answers, but to provoke thought.

“Oracle” uses satire and starts

“Sometimes after inhaling the
Smoke of medicinal herbs
Through hollow pipes under
Favourable star-signs we
Are given a glimpse of a
World that is parallel to our
Own through the heavily
Misted window of the spirit”

The tone is sarcastic. There is no suggestion the speaker believes someone taking drugs, even ‘natural’ ones, to lead to an altered mind state can be telling the truth or forecasting the future. This is underlined by the colloquial “star-signs” in a place of astrology. The actions of the oracle are dubious and even the oracle cannot see clearly through “the heavily misted window”.

The poem ends,

“You’re thinking ‘what
Does this all mean?’
Then so sounds the
Answer: How the fuck
Should I know? Being an
Oracle is already hard
Enough as it is and the
Meaning is lost if I
Have to explain the
Damn thing all over again.”

So often fortune-tellers and those claiming to be clairvoyant rely on saying they’ve seen something vague in the hope that their audience fills in the gaps and translates the vague vision into something meaningful. Then they have the cheek to ask that the messenger not be shot or blamed if something doesn’t make sense: the lack is in the audience, not the clairvoyant.

The title poem is a lengthy discourse sending up film buffs and those who visit Romania to go to the places mentioned in the Dracula stories, who are indirectly accused of mixing myth and reality, character with actor(s), with signature references to the Second World War, and ends

“Take a piece of heartfelt advice:
Never go hiking in the less touristy
Parts of Transylvania or the Carpathians
Or the High Tatras but just go
By Transeuropa as the
Chances are high that you’ll get
Lost there and nothing of
You will ever be found again.”

It’s a light-hearted poem with satirical intent with a bouncy, energetic rhythm.

For some poems, key names or references are explained in footnotes, so readers aren’t reaching for search engines to understand. The original Dutch poems aren’t included and I’m not familiar with the original poems so can’t comment on the translation into English in “Transeuropa”. Having looked at some of Jules Deelder’s poems online, it seems the translator is faithful to the rhythms in the originals. Jules Deelder often uses a refrain or repeating motif in longer poems so the relevance of an apparent digressive idea is make clear or a meander on a side track is brought back to the main line. Scott Emblen-Jarrett’s English translations create the sense of poems that are often satirical, explore political issues without censorship or being didactic and were designed to work as performance pieces as well as being read from the page.

“Transeuropa” is available from Holland Park Press


“Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe” Beth Gordon (Animal Heart Press) – poetry review

Beth Gordon Morning Walk book coverThe possum is roadkill, the poem’s narrator arrived too late to save it. The discursive, stream-of-consciousness style poems concern themselves with what is and what might be. Their starting point is often a news item. “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” starts with the news of the drowning of a toddler while her parents were distracted, believing that if their daughter fell into a pool, she’d shout out and thrash but instead she sunk. The poem then widens its scope and ends,

“That children born on the shredded edges of this planet will find within
their necessary lives the whispered footsteps
of dragonflies in half-morning rooms, the underbellies of rocks, an unearthly
blue, thick with consecrated salt, the chime
of pebbles in water that carries them into the afterlife or submersion:
arrhythmic, dripping, newly divine and silent.”

It considers human interaction with nature, the small details that can shift perspective, the sense that our lives on this planet in the grip of climate change might be borrowed time and our children will adapt or drown.

A sequence, “While You Are In Iceland”, sees a temporary separation for a couple when one travels while the other stays home, dealing with the shifts in being alone while on “Day 2: The News”,

“The television says that more students are dead in Texas, gunned down while mixing paint and imagining their summer vacations, of stripping to near naked for sun, for water, for love. You send me photos of ice sculpted by the old Gods that they will never see or maybe have already seen in the instant of their slaughter. Outside my window honeysuckle is dying on the vine, sweetness turned to rot, the rain continues, I envy your escape”

The sender of images from Iceland doesn’t yet know the news. The narrator considers the loss of students, not just of their lives but also their potential. It affects the way she sees the landscape. The wet weather suggests sorrow. The honeysuckle, something nurtured, is rotting. The narrator does not suggest it could be rescued with appropriate treatment; she has absorbed the news of children’s deaths and despairs over taking action or fixing it. The sequence ends with “Day 10: Homecoming” where the narrator begs her partner not to return,

“Do not exchange magical incantations for sirens, for shrieking and gnashing of teeth, for countless bloody corpses. I will miss every moment of you: our morning eggs, the way we trade words like lemon drops on the tongue”

But’s not just in America where deaths occur. “Day 9: Seal Pup” sees the partner tell the narrator about an incident where a man ignorantly smeared a seal pup with human scent, setting of a fatal chain of events where the mother will reject it. However, the narrator only seems to be concerned with student deaths and the resulting anguish of being unable to prevent them.

There is a second sequence interspersed with the other poems, a series of cropped sonnet crowns where each in the series features three linked sonnets (the final line in the first sonnet, becomes the first line in the second; the final line in the second becomes the first line in the third and the final line of the third is also the first line of the first sonnet). This framework gives a structure to what sees to be a loose, woolly gathering of thoughts and musings over different ways of making martinis, French toast, rehab and mortality. The juxtapositions between the trivial and serious take skill to achieve and Beth Gordon succeeds. Gathering of thoughts and the opportunities for misunderstandings feature in the final poem, “Dancing Barefoot in Mississippi”,

“.. as I dance to Led Zeppelin and you turn your attention back to Ireland with thick mutton gravy and potato-infused pies, this is what I will eat for my next meal, this is the brogue of my first husband, the way I followed his whiskey-ed voice into motherhood and tried for years to understand the mysteries of marriage, this is the sound of rain, of arctic circle, the sound of sobbing trains, and you tell me that I tell you that I love every song, this is the sound of my wandering feet, like ghosts of mice, the sound of floors, of days, this is what I’ve been singing all along.”

It takes a great deal of skill to make phrases look as if they’ve just been thrown on a page when they’ve actually been carefully selected to fit a casual speech pattern and still retain an internal logic, the next association following from the previous. The repetition of “sound” is a reminder that the narrator is listening and her thoughts flow from the song she is listening to, the memories associated with it and where she is in the present.

“Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe” examines the shifts between the present and the possible, the what ifs? What if the narrator had arrived in time to avert the possum from the road? What if the narrator’s partner had taken his walk two hours earlier and warned the man not to touch the seal pup? The poems explore the decisions we make, the paths taken to arrive at our present. The long lines and prose allow for expansion as one thought is pushed to see how far it will go. The casualness of language chosen by Beth Gordon belies the careful choices and construction underneath the poems.

“Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe” is available via Animal Heart Press


“True Freedom” Michael Dean (Holland Park Press) – book review

True Freedom Michael Dean book cover“True Freedom” is ambitious in scope, looking at the sixteen years leading up to the Bostonian Uprising in the eighteenth century, which was the beginning of America’s war of independence from Britain. It’s a fictional account following key characters, mainly politicians, on both sides of the Atlantic.These characters include Thomas Hutchinson, a wealthy Bostonian whose hands are tied by an ineffectual governor and lack of support from Parliament in London. Samuel Adams and Thomas Young, who try to unify and inspire the Sons of Liberty and Mohucks, rebels seeking to feed their families and angry at paying taxes to a British government they see as distant and irrelevant. The brothers, John and Thomas Pownall, on opposite sides of the Bostonian/British divide and their attempts to influence key figures in the British Parliament to their side.

At its heart is a power vacuum. King George III only appears briefly to snub Thomas Hutchinson; a useful illustration of his failure to see how British policy towards its American colony – the drive to raise taxes to fund foreign campaigns in Europe – would inflame sparks of rebellion. That vacuum allows British politicians to manoeuvre their own agendas to suit, to the horror of Bostonian experts, who know the rebels are unifying, gaining traction and building towards a launch for independence.

A novelist, telling a story where the ending is known, has set themselves a big challenge to keep readers hooked. Michael Dean tackles this by using meticulous attention to detail, recreating the atmosphere of the British Houses of Parliament, the tiny offices of civil servants work in, the contrasts between the opulent houses of wealthy Bostonian merchants and the ragged clothing of rebels meeting in a room above an inn. The machinations of power-plays, the point scoring and struggles of the characters draw focus to the micro-dramas, fears and motivations of the characters.

On the odd occasion the focus on details feels misplaced. The description of Thomas Hutchinson’s primary residence detracts from the impending visit of the governor. This detail would have been better saved for the incident where rebels break into the residence; they would have been seeing it with fresh eyes and the details relevant to a group deciding what to vandalise, what to leave and what to take, throwing the contrast between poverty and wealth into sharp relief.

“True Freedom” is not for those seeking fast-paced action and military drama. It is for those who love to linger over period detail and gain a thorough understanding of the political situation and how it led to the revolt. It is meticulously researched and some minor artistic licence has been taken with facts whilst remaining true to the events described. Its focus on interpersonal relationships of the key characters offer insight and readers see familiar events with a new understanding, enhanced by its tone of quiet commentary, which allows the drama to speak for itself.

“True Freedom” is available from Holland Park Press.