Barney Norris founded the touring theatre company Up in Arms with the director Alice Hamilton. The company makes plays around the UK about people and the places they’re from. Barney’s plays for the company include Visitors, winner of the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, Eventide and While We’re Here. For his theatre work, he has been named as one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential Londoners. He has written two novels, Turning for Home and Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize).
The Collected Poems of Charlotte Mew and The Collected Poems of Ian Hamilton
Charlotte Mew/ Ian Hamilton
I wanted to recommend two pairs of books, rather than four books on their own, because I think it can be so rewarding to discuss books alongside each other, where they speak to each other. So, to begin with, here are two plangent ‘elegists’ (not quite in the formal sense, but you’ll see what I mean) that everyone should know. Hamilton was Mew’s great champion, and I think it’s richly rewarding to read these writers together. What they can share with us about grief, sorrow, illness is moving and tender and profound. Hamilton’s collection THE VISIT and Mew’s THE FARMER’S BRIDE, in particular, see right to the heart of mental illness, and I think we’re very fortunate, in an age which is ever more seriously beset by psychiatric damage, to have had two such loving artists tread the path before us. Books to make you feel less alone.
The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and On Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop/Colm Toibin
Elizabeth Bishop is one of those writers who lends grace to the dailyness of our lives, and those people are so important, I think that’s the most important thing writing can do in the age of the spectacle, when everything around us is calculated to make us feel inadequate. Toibin’s book is a joy - perhaps the best book about the way a writer can enter and shape a reader’s life, the way kindred spirits find each other through books, the way reticence can be the very highest calling. A lovely book to talk about with other readers, therefore!
This is a wonderful novel by an author whose books explore the presence of the mythic in our history and our lives. A multi-layered, emotional tragedy, BROKEN APRIL is a great introduction to a novelist everyone should know.