The Manningtree Witches

Appetite Book Club in collaboration with the Essex Book Festival is very excited to have debut author A.K. Blakemore as our guest at March 2020 Bookclub, discussing The Manningtree Witches. In her debut, fear and destruction take root in the lives of the local women when the Witchfinder General comes to town in this dark and thrilling debut. A.K Blakemore gives a striking account of the everyday mechanics of misogyny, power and privilege—and a masterfully crafted, ferociously compelling story.

A.K. Blakemore to discuss the book further on 24th March, 8pm.

For more information about this event please email appetite.book.club@gmail.com

The Manningtree Witches

England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers rages.

Puritanical fervour has gripped the nation, and the hot terror of damnation burns black in every shadow. In Manningtree, depleted of men since the wars began, the women are left to their own devices. At the margins of this diminished community are those who are barely tolerated by the affluent villagers – the old, the poor, the unmarried, the sharp-tongued.

The Manningtree Witches plunges its readers into the fever and menace of the English witch trials, where suspicion, mistrust and betrayal ran amok as the power of men went unchecked and the integrity of women went undefended. It is a visceral, thrilling book that announces a bold new talent

About the author

A.K.Blakemore is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Humbert Summer (Eyewear, 2015) and Fondue (Offord Road Books, 2018), which was awarded the 2019 Ledbury Forte Prize for Best Second Collection. She has also translated the work of Sichuanese poet Yu Yoyo (My Tenantless Body, Poetry Translation Centre, 2019). Her poetry and prose writing has been widely published and anthologised, appearing in the London Review of Books, Poetry, Poetry Review and the White Review, among others.

Follow A.K. Blakemore on twitter: @akblakemore

TheManningtreeWitches

The Testaments

Last year we discussed THE HANDMAID’S TALE at book club.  Having been published over 30 years ago, this was a second or even third reading for some people. The sequel was highly anticipated.   In conjunction with the independent bookshop, Red Lion Books, we celebrated the release of THE TESTAMENTS with candlelight readings.  An actor read from both books as well as reading anonymous testaments submitted by customers.  The testaments were stories of prejudice or injustice.  This was an extremely powerful and ultimately uplifting event.  Words are so important and it was a privilege to hear shared stories.

 

Red Lion Books received a grant from Vintage Books / Index on Censorship.

Huge thanks to actor, Nicola Goodchild (her Instagram comments are below)

nicolagoodchild

Last night I had the privilege of being part of a very special evening.
Our local independent cherished book shop won a competition to host a launch event for the release of Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, Testaments. Margaret Atwood herself chose the 2 winning ideas from bookshops around the country.

Guests met at Red Lion Books and were presented with a sealed brown bag containing the new Attwood book Testaments. They were given a glass of wine and then a jam jar lantern with a string handle. Then in a procession of pairs, they walked to cool pub venue the Three Wise Monkeys to the top floor where the room was also candlelit and playing some of the ambient music from the Handmaid’s Tale tv series. After an introduction from Peter, the owner
I entered from the back through the audience in full Handmaid costume and took a book from my plain Handmaid bag. From that book, I read a piece from The Handmaid’s Tale then removed the bonnet and read the deeply personal anonymous ‘testaments’ from people who had sent them in. Some of the writers of testaments were in the room.

Thought-provoking, shocking, amusing, and a couple of tales of redemption after pain. Different voices, different accents, different characters throughout.

Finally, as another more ominous piece of music came in, I invited the guests to open their bags and take out their books, where they also found a hand made card with a fact or statistic about prejudice or injustice around the world. A few people stood and read theirs out. Then I put the bonnet back on and read the opening passages of Testaments. It was very special. Afterwards, a few of the writers came forward to thank me for reading their testament. That was very moving too.

Thanks to JO COLDWELL for inviting me to be the person to give voice to the testaments. It was a real privilege. xx

#Testaments
#underhiseye
#storytelling
#margaretattwood
#handmaidstale
#actresslife
#vintagepublishing
@redlionbooks
@therealmargaretattwood

Here is a lovely review found on social media

AN AMAZING REVIEW OF LAST NIGHT @vintagebooks
Thank you @2_lula_2
Posted @withrepost • @2_lula_2“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” (Don’t let the bastards grind you down.) —
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.
I consider myself so lucky to be able to have attended the event of a lifetime in Colchester tonight. Today was the publication date of ‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood, the sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and bookstore everywhere were doing events to celebrate, @redlionbooks in Colchester did a candlelight vigil where extracts of both books were read by an actress dressed as a Handmaid as well as the testaments of real people, women and men who had experienced prejudices against them for countless reasons, including gender, race and sexuality. It was a raw and emotional night and I am honoured to have been apart of it. The event was incredible! Indescribable in the best way possible! And I cannot tell you how blown away I am by everything that Red Lion Books planned. Thank you for an unforgettable experience! #feministandproud #feminist#feminism #margaretatwood#thetestaments #thehandmaidstale#colchester #redlionbooks#redlionbookscolchester #books#bookstagram #instabook

 

 

We are readers, not writers!

….that’s not true for individual members, but as a group we are readers and THAT is why this WordPress page is never up to date!  We are a vibrant book club meeting monthly. Due to numbers, we have had to spread across different nights and various venues covering daytime and evening.  We meet in a bookshop, hotel and a restaurant…all discussing the same book.  If you would like to know about our next meeting please email appetite.book.club@gmail.com

If you would like to know about the Teen Book Club please email Red Lion Books us@redlionbooks.co.uk

Yule book flood

Copy of ICELANDIC

I wanted to combine this beautiful, Icelandic tradition with a ‘secret Santa’ idea for book club members.  I had a sugar plum fairy vision of us all opening the same gift on the same day – Christmas Eve.  Through working at Red Lion Books I was spoilt for choice on which book to pick.   Initially, I thought I would choose a Christmas title but decided against this; finally settling on something which looked ‘just right’.  It was a neat looking, £10, hardback novella.  Recently published by an award winner novelist (and broadcaster), it is visually stunning.   The rules are:

  • It is a gift to you, from you
  • It cannot be opened before Christmas Eve
  • Its cover or book title can’t be posted on social media, because we won’t all open it at the same time.  I would love to see your comments and reactions – but no spoilers!
  • If you don’t like it and an unexpected guest turns up on Christmas Day,  you have a spare gift

I have tried to remember every person who bought a copy because they believed in the power of a good story and the magic of surprise. There is the huge, Welsh, magician who not only believes in magic but creates it. There is the grandmother who is flying to Australia on Christmas Eve – to meet her grandchildren for the first time.  There are several shift workers who look forward to opening it ‘after work’.  There is a family who lost a loved one this year and wants to, ‘make new traditions, starting with this idea’.   As well as Oz, other copies are going to Canada, France and the USA – that I know of.

Even if the book isn’t your usual thing, I hope you take pleasure from this idea of treating yourself to a book.  Happy reading and a happy 2019 🙂

Reading-go-lightly

It had been a while since we ‘dressed for the occasion’, but reading Capote bought out Holly Golightly, Rusty,  Cat, and of course a whole load of Audreys – all looking fabulous. My outfit was mostly met with bemused looks as the majority of bookies had only read the book and not seen the film.

(Note to film buffs: this is the scene where Holly wakes from a hangover to invite Paul into her home where she wanders around, eventually finding her slippers in the fridge.   I loved applying makeup which contoured and shortened my nose. Another member, Charlotte, had googled the shade of lipstick worn by Audrey Hepburn, REVLON ‘Pink In The Afternoon.’ Gotta love that attention to detail. What else would you expect from a book lover?)

As a group, we mostly loved BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S as well as three other short stories included in our edition and in particular DIAMOND GUITAR.

At Appetite Book Club, we sit in groups of 4, over supper.  At my table, I wanted to talk about a paragraph which struck me, so I took a photograph of it ready to discuss. I was taken aback when another member had referenced the same paragraph.  There were 58 people at book club, sitting in these smaller groups, so it was a huge coincidence for me to find myself sat next to that person.  Of all the people and of all the paragraphs.   Here is an excerpt from it,

Watching her, I remembered a girl I’d known in school, a grind, Mildred Grossman.  Mildred: with her moist hair and greasy spectacles, her stained fingers that dissected frogs and carried coffee to picket lines, her flat eyes that only turned towards the stars to estimate their chemical tonnage.  Earth and air could not be more oppoiste than Mildred and Holly.

Capote continues to talk about Holly and Mildred and, while opposite, he explains what they had in common,

….because they had been given their character too soon; which, like sudden riches, leads to a lack of proportion.

I thought this was an astute observation and something I have considered myself.  Often, during our school years, we are given a label: ‘you’re the funny one, the quiet one, the loud one, the bright one’, and if these labels are stuck down too firmly, too rigidly, we feel obliged to live up to them, and if like Holly and Mildred it grows out of proportion, too quickly, it clings and you are not allowed to experiment with different sides of your character.  Ultimately you can feel compromised.  I had an insightful conversation with my fellow diners about their own experiences of this.

I loved the meeting this month…. the writing of Truman Capote, the images from the film and the soundtrack on loop.  And of course, each and every bookie.

The land of make believe

I have organised Appetite Book Club for 10 years.  We meet monthly – apart from December and August –  and have always read and discussed fiction.   As the group has grown, and diversified, we have split into two monthly meetings – one evening and one daytime.

This year, the daytime group will have a ‘summer holiday’ meet up and in the spirit of a good summer holiday, where rules can be broken, we have opted for a non-fiction choice.  I’m looking forward to the change and find myself increasingly intrigued by this option. As much as I love ‘the land of make believe’ I am excited to hear facts and curious about the tone of a nonfiction book.   As well as facts, I am also craving some hard hitting advice  – at a time when the world feels politically and financially unsettled.   Life’s big mysteries can be always be found lurking in the pages of an imaginative and imaginary text but my brain is currently requiring something more direct and concrete.
The book we have chosen is Grayson Perry’s THE DESCENT OF MAN and it wasn’t a difficult choice.   This year, each of our books has provoked a discussion around gender and quite often we have asked, ‘what it is to be a man’ – we invariably spoke about this book title as well as the television series he made on the subject.  It, therefore, seems like the obvious option and I hope we can link them back to our 2017 reads to date:

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The  Crime Writer by Jill Dawson

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker

 

Two of these books involve female characters set in a male dominated era of history; one features queer characters living in a middle eastern country (where their sexuality is compromised);  another is a father struggling to rise to the challenges of being a male role model; February’s book features a male protagonist (a soldier) who loses his physical strength in an all male situation and finally ‘End of the World Running Club’ – which the majority of people didn’t really like because it felt chauvinistic!

We are yet to read and discuss THE DESCENT OF MAN but reviews are encouraging. Penguin’s own website says the following:

Grayson Perry has been thinking about masculinity – what it is, how it operates, why little boys are thought to be made of slugs and snails – since he was a boy. Now, in this funny and necessary book, he turns round to look at men with a clear eye and ask, what sort of men would make the world a better place, for everyone?

What would happen if we rethought the old, macho, outdated version of manhood, and embraced a different idea of what makes a man? Apart from giving up the coronary-inducing stress of always being ‘right’ and the vast new wardrobe options, the real benefit might be that a newly fitted masculinity will allow men to have better relationships – and that’s happiness, right?

Grayson Perry admits he’s not immune from the stereotypes himself – as the psychoanalysts say, ‘if you spot it, you’ve got it’ – and his thoughts on everything from power to physical appearance, from emotions to a brand new Manifesto for Men, are shot through with honesty, tenderness and the belief that, for everyone to benefit, upgrading masculinity has to be something men decide to do themselves. They have nothing to lose but their hang-ups.

While I look forward to reading his thoughts I’m also pretty sure it will send me back to the Land of Make Believe fairly quickly!

Who doesn’t love a bookmark

We recently commemorated our 10-year milestone with a paper bookmark.   I thought long and hard about which literary quote to include on this destructible slip of cardboard which represents 10 years, 100 books, over 500 members (coming and going), many authors and lots of friendships.  If we make it to 2027, I have promised a leather bookmark. 😉

100 books over the ten years are because we don’t meet in August or December.   We have chosen books that have gone on to win notable prizes and been made into films, allowing us a little smugness…. “Well, of course, the book was better”.  An exception to this was REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates, where a group outing to the cinema visually portrayed the withering looks and pained faces of a marriage breaking down, as described in the book.    During 10 years there have also been moments where we have consciously (and sometimes subconsciously matched our outfits to the book.  This is in no way obligatory but has been fun for the more flamboyant members and mildly amusing for others. We wore yellow for Laline Paull’s THE BEES, and saris for Q&A by Vikas Swarup.   When we discussed Ian McKwan’s The Children Act somebody bought a barrister’s wig…

 

We meet in a restaurant and discuss books over supper and a glass of wine.  Early on, we used to meet at the now closed, Appetite Cafe.  The summer it closed was a sunny one so we met in my garden until we found a new ‘home’.   We have had a few other exceptions to our three main venues including a power cut which meant  we had to abandon our pre-ordered menu and head to a pizzeria instead.  Once, Channel 4 wanted to film a book club, at short notice.  We returned to my house, asking local baker Good Souls Bakery to supply last minute soup, bread and cake.  We rearranged the furniture, borrowed garden chairs and used my daughter to serve us.  You may have spotted us on LOOSE WOMEN, discussing ELIZABETH WENT MISSING by Emma Healey but it is unlikely, as our moment of fame was miscredited as “….a book club from Yorkshire.”.  Although I’m pretty sure our dulcet Essex accents gave us away!  Another time a small group of us piled into  a camper van, with blankets and nibbles, and headed to a member’s beach hut in Walton-On-Sea where we sat under the hugest moon discussing our favourite books.

 

Which brings me back to the quote I eventually settled on.  An Oscar Wilde one, “With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?”.  

 

At a push, I could live without the flowers but the rest are essential!   

 

Who doesn’t love a bookmark after 10 years!?

We recently commemorated  10 years of Appetite Book Club with a paper bookmark.   I thought long and hard about which literary quote to include on this destructible slip of cardboard which represents 10 years, 100 books, over 500 members (coming and going), many authors and lots of friendships.  If we make it to 2027, I have promised a leather bookmark. 😉

100 books over the 10 years are because we don’t meet in August or December.   We have chosen books that have gone on to win notable prizes and been made into films, allowing us a little smugness…. “Well, of course, the book was better”.  An exception to this was REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates, where a group outing to the cinema visually portrayed the withering looks and pained faces of a marriage breaking down, as described in the book.    During 10 years there have also been moments where we have consciously (and sometimes sub consciously) matched our outfits to the book.  This is in no way obligatory but has been fun for the more flamboyant members and mildly amusing for others. We wore yellow for Laline Paull’s THE BEES, and saris for Q&A by Vikas Swarup.   When we discussed Ian McKwan’s The Children Act somebody bought a barrister’s wig…

children act

We meet in a restaurant and discuss books over supper and a glass of wine.  Early on, we used to meet at the now closed, Appetite Cafe.  The summer it closed was a sunny one so we met in my garden until we found a new ‘home’.   We have had a few other exceptions to our three main venues including a power cut which meant we had to abandon our pre-ordered menu and head to a pizzeria instead.  Once, Channel 4 wanted to film a book club, at short notice.  We returned to my house, asking local baker Good Souls Bakery to supply last minute soup, bread and cake.  We rearranged the furniture, borrowed garden chairs and used my daughter to serve us.  You may have spotted us on LOOSE WOMEN, discussing ELIZABETH WENT MISSING by Emma Healey but it is unlikely, as our moment of fame was miscredited as “….a book club from Yorkshire.”.  Although I’m pretty sure our dulcet Essex accents gave us away!  Another time a small group of us piled into a camper van, with blankets and nibbles, and headed to a member’s beach hut in Walton-On-Sea where we sat under the hugest moon discussing our favourite books.

Which brings me back to the quote I eventually settled on.  An Oscar Wilde one,

“With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?”.  

At a push, I could live without the flowers but the rest are essential!   

 

What to read at bookie

Appetite Book Club which is a group of people (between 40 and 70 in number) meeting monthly, over supper, to discuss a book title.

This is the easy part, although I understand it can be daunting the first time you come along.  Walking into a large group is an intimidating thought until you realise you will be seated on tables of only 4 and it is here that you discuss the book – a far more intimate proposition than getting your opinion across to 70 other bookies.   So yes, this is the easy part and if you are a book lover it is also easy to read the book beforehand.

The difficult task can be selecting which book we discuss.   Throughout the year we will be swayed by the MAN BOOKER shortlist –  we recently read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and previously, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.  We may let book reviews and author articles sway us, for instance there was a wave of convincing writing about My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  Then there are whispers from the general public  – “Have you read Ian McEwan’s latest novel?” and the repeated and insistent demands of “WHEN are we reading Sarah Perry’s, The Essex Serpent?”.

I believe reviews, suggestions, articles and awards are usually enough to confirm the book choice but I wonder if the book  should be read in full before it is suggested and then chosen?  I work at Red Lion Bookshop and meet people from other book clubs and it is a subject for some debate.   One customer is currently on her fifth book, still unsure which title to suggest to her own group.

I had no prior knowledge of the most recent Appetite book choice but a few other people had heard good things, and without reading it themselves, they felt the recommendations were enough to suggest it.   A vote was cast and a majority outcome was enough to convince me to pick our first read of 2017.  I’ve yet to finish it but my early opinion is that it isn’t a book I would have chosen.   I couldn’t care less for it!   Subsequent chapters, or the opinion of other bookies, may change my mind but in this instance I do wish I had read it before it was chosen.  Although ultimately I prefer to enter the book club ‘deal’ with the same innocence as everybody else – i.e not having read the book, not knowing if it will be liked but signing up and facing that outcome regardless.

Roll on next month.
Appetite Book Club currently meet on the last Wednesday of each month but will soon be launching twice a month.  For more information please email appetite.book.club@gmail.com