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Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Bookchat: Be fearless – write your truth (and events Aug 13 onwards)

We have an almost overwhelming urge to make things better. To chop out ragged edges so that clear shapes emerge. To provide explanations and make things fit. The most powerful urge is to send a moral message but all these instincts are the enemies of our truths. Angela J. Phillip looks for inspiration from the writers of five incredible books who showed and shared their characters’ experience, but left the readers to interpret.

‘Beloved’ (1987) by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison has recently died. I would like to echo the tributes that are appearing worldwide to one of our greatest writers  and to speak my own thank you.  If I had to choose one book that echoes in my mind with such power and pain that I hardly dare to reread it (but I will), it would have to be Beloved. It is a story about slavery and how a mother killed her child rather than let the infant be taken back to life as a slave. Based on a true story about a woman called Margaret Garner, who drowned her children rather than let them be taken as slaves, the story switches between the past when the child was killed to the present where the murdered infant reappears as a ghost. Of course, one of Morrison’s primary aims was to expose the injustice of racism but she didn’t talk about it. Neither did she smooth the edges of her descriptions of what happened or the terrible, messy, far-reaching consequences. She presented infanticide as not only forgivable, but in the circumstances in which it occurred, desirable.  And as the reader, you accept it, too. You experience with Sethe, the mother, the almost unbearable pain of remembering what happened. Morrison presents the brutal acts that are perpetrated on slaves as facts that you live with – and feel – while reading the story.

‘Giovanni’s Room’ (1956) by James Baldwin
Grasping the nettle of homosexual love – an almost impossible task in 1956 and even harder for a black writer despite the fact that both his protagonists were white, which probably rendered (renders?) the story more powerful. This is a love story between David, the American narrator and Giovanni, an Italian barman at a time when homosexuality was not acceptable. It is a story about the shame David feels and his struggle to accept his emotions and make sense of them.  It is powerful. A classic of gay literature and yet so easy to forget that it must have taken an immense amount of courage to write. To write so honestly with no self-pity or sentimentality must be like sloughing off every shell of self-protection. The making of one’s self totally vulnerable.

One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn

‘One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ (1962) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
This is a book born of political courage (as were all Solzhenitsyn’s books). It is the story of Ivan Denisovich, an ordinary man, who is a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp. Ivan D. has been falsely accused of being a spy and the story shows just one day of his life in the camp. Most people in the Soviet Union, just like people in the West, were not aware of what was happening in the camps until this novel was published. It is based on personal experience. Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned for many years for writing – in private letters – critical comments about Stalin. After he was released in 1957, he started to write One Day and eventually received permission (from Kruschev) for it to be published. After Kruschev’s time, the Soviet regime reverted once more to heavy repression of writers, but Solzehnitsyn did not stop writing. He wrote without faith or hope that his writing would ever be published and in the full knowledge of the danger he was in for doing it. Eventually, as you know, Solzhenitsyn survived and much of his work was published, but it is difficult to imagine what it takes to continue to write under such circumstances.

The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin
The reality of being a woman who is more than a wife and mother and who has sexual desires that cry out to be satisfied (just as it was/is accepted that the desires of men need to be) is the subject of the story. It caused outrage when it was published and perhaps you will smile and say that everything is alright now. But is it? There are still very few women (unlike men) in top jobs. Society still frowns on women (but not men) who prefer a career to minding their child. Men’s writing is far more frequently classified as ‘literature’ while women’s writing is filed under ‘women’s lit’, a section where most men rarely go. I could go on and, of course, my words would have no effect at all, but stories like The Awakening do. Married at 20, Kate Chopin had six children in nine years and died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 54 but somehow she found the time to reach out and to write.

Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley
This was first published anonymously. ‘Only God can create life so this is blasphemous’ was the accusation hurled against this novel. There have been many books that have upset religious sensibilities. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses come to mind for which he received death threats – a fact which is quickly spoken but the implications of which are hard to imagine or fully appreciate. Mary Shelley was another courageous writer, a pioneer whose sweeps of imagination created one of the first books about AI (artificial intelligence). Hundreds of sci fi writers have trodden in her wake because her story about a creator and the monster he creates hits a chord that we can’t quite explain. The story questions what it means to be human and seeks to explore the complicated relationship between the creator and the monster that is created. Perhaps it touches on the fear we have of what might lurk hidden within our own minds. Shelley’s courage in writing and ultimately publishing the story is an inspiration to us that we should never shackle our imaginations – however frightening or ‘unacceptable’ the places might be to which they lead.

recommended bookshops – all independents including:
The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards (Best Bookshops feature)
Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings (Best Bookshops feature)
Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG (feature coming soon)

Soul Food

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

Extract from Act 3 in The Tempest by William Shakespeare

You can buy The Tempest by William Shakespeare from your local bookshops or online from Amazon.

New books

Amos, Steve and Bronwen Griffiths
Silverhill Press are delighted to announce the publication of two new works of prose, Bronwen Griffiths‘s Listen With Mother, and Steve Amos‘s Two Sides of an Indie Dad. More information and ordering on our website.
You can also buy these from The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards

Booth, Francis
Code 17
  (March 2019) – a thriller, published by Amazon
Code 17.2  (July 2019) – a thriller, published by Amazon

Donohue, Pete
Poetry is Feathers (July, 2019)a collection of poetryorder locally or from

Robinson, John D.
Singing Arias (July 2019) – a collection of poetry, order locally or from Analog Press.


Hastings Literary Festival 30 August – 1 September 2019

Lucy Cooke

Lucy Cooke

Sun 1 September 10.00 am St Mary in the Castle The Unexpected Truth about Animals a talk given by tv presenter and zoologist, Lucy Cooke. The talk, based on Lucy’s book of the same name, will be lifting the lid on some familiar animals which – it turns out – we don’t really know at all. The show is suitable for children aged 12 and above.

Tickets for The Unexpected Truth About Animals are available through Hastings LitFest website or from St Mary in the Castle.

Sarfraz Manzoor

Sarfraz Manzoor

Sat 31 August 19.00 – 22.00 at Kino Teatr, St Leonards Blinded by the Light a film about a teenager of Pakistani descent growing up in the 80s and finding comfort in Springsteen’s music. It is based on the autobiographical book by Sarfraz Manzoor who will be there to talk about it.

Tickets for Blinded by the Light with Sarfraz Manzoor are available from Kino Teatr or by clicking the link on the Hastings LitFest site.

See the recent Guardian article Bruce Springsteen changed my life and so did my best friend Amolak

For the full programme for the Hastings Literary Festival, please see: Hastings Litfest Programme

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Thurs 15 August 6 – 9 pm £2 entry Sheer Poetry – an open mic poetry night

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Mon 19 August 6 pm Planning meet for ‘Spirit of Tressell’ fest.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
from Carol Dennard – ‘….we sneaked a peek at some of the work that is going on in the ExploretheArch House of Marcelle and,with those pictures in mind, we are thrilled once again to be selling tickets for the performances taking place from the 29th July to the 17th August.

The Literary Shed Writing Circle run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Thurs 15 Aug, 10–12 am (£6) at The Blue Bee, corner of Courthouse St, Hastings Old Town
On the second Thursday of each month, there is a writing critique group in which members share work.
For further information, please email:, subject: WRITE-INS.

Writing Courses from CWP with New Writing South
2 year Creative Writing Course
Advanced Writing Course
Autobiography and Life Writing Course
for details on all courses, please see  Creative Writing Programme in collaboration with New Writing South

See review Word of Mouth – marvellous creative writing courses from CWP and New Writing South

Taster Sessions on Sat 7 September at Sussex Coast College (next to the station)
Autobiography and Life Writing Programme (2-year) 10.30 am – 12.45 £10
Creative Writing Course (2-year taught in Hastings in 2019) and The Advanced Writing Workshops 1.30 pm – 3.45 £10
For further information on the two-year programmes and courses go to

Well, folks, that’s it for this week. For an update on my writing, please see Title Nights

Thanks for reading.

Angela J. Phillip

Book covers taken from
Images of Lucy Cooke and Sarfraz Manzoor supplied by Hastings Litfest


Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Aug 13, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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