A Graphic Novel Review: Marvel’s Civil War

With Captain America: Civil War scheduled for release in UK cinemas on Friday 29th April we revisit Marvel’s graphic novel Civil War (2006-2007).

civil war cover




“Whose side are you on?”

That is the tagline that precedes each of the seven issues that comprise the Civil War graphic novel. The story is not the traditional comic book story of superhero fighting against supervillain but rather of a superhuman community divided. This time its superperson against superperson. Heroes team up with villains, fight other heroes, and even the First Family of Marvel, the Fantastic Four, split up.


The story begins with a young team of superheroes (the New Warriors) conducting a raid. The young heroes take on a team of supervillains above their abilities in a desperate attempt to get higher ratings for their reality TV show. The fight takes place next to an Elementary school and the conclusion is disastrous. The subsequent explosion results in both superhuman and civilian deaths. The American people are outraged. Tony Stark is spat on at a memorial service. The Human Torch is the victim of a beat down outside of a night club in New York City. Feeling the tension in the American people the United States government pass the Superhero Registration Act. Superheroes living and operating in the U.S. must give up their secret identities and superpowers to the authorities and become federal agents of the American government. The official intention is to make sure that superheroes are appropriately trained and vetted.

The Superhero Registration Act carves the superhero community in two. Iron Man and Reed Richards, always portrayed as men of vision, see the Act for its potential. They create plans for an improved tomorrow, including plan 42, a highly advanced prison for supervillains and the superheroes who now oppose the American government.

The resistance are led by the former leader of The Avengers, Captain America. When asked to register he expresses concerns about the nationalisation of super powers, arguing that if superheroes sign up to the Act it will be the elected government who will start deciding who the supervillains are. He decides to oppose both his longtime friend Iron Man and the country he has always served.

The graphic novel is focused on exploring the issues presented by the Superhuman Registration Act. For every fight scene there’s a discussion about what the act means for individual superheroes and a philosophising about the rights of the individual against the many. The series also questions the importance of individual privacy against national security and the role of the superhero in the modern world. By splitting the heroes rather than focusing on hero against villain, the series attempts to avoid the reader simply siding with their favourite characters and instead contemplate the ethics and politics being discussed.

This approach leads to a reflection of wider social concerns. The opening issue takes us from the bright vibrant colours and friendly jibes of the New Warriors into a muted grey and brown world of urban destruction as the superheroes look for survivors of the Elementary school disaster. Panels depict the superheroes alongside firemen as they pick through the rubble, images deliberately designed to reflect on still recent real life atrocities. In a subsequent scene the superhero community gather together to discuss the future. Even the Watcher, an almost mythical character in the Marvel Universe who is present for all moments of significant change, watches on. Everyone of the characters knows that change is inevitable.

In many ways Civil War feels like a contemplation of American identity and principles. The Superhero Registration Act only affects those operating in the U.S.; characters operating outside of that jurisdiction, such as Namor (the ruler of an undersea kingdom) and Black Panther (a hero from the fictional isolationist nation of Wakanda) are not convinced of the principles of the argument.  Captain America, a patriotic supersoldier that dates back to comics first published in 1941, is frequently reminded that it is no longer the 1940s and that the American people no longer want old fashioned heroes who hide behind masks. The story picks up on that thread in a later issue when Captain America confronts the murderous vigilante Punisher. Both men are soldiers turned crime fighters, one a survivor of World War II and the other of the Vietnam War, but The Punisher serves as a reminder of a darker path that Captain America could go down if he places his own personal desires against the will of a larger society.

The story is not afraid to create long lasting ramifications for the wider Marvel Comic Universe. Characters are killed off, long guarded secret identities are revealed and new teams are formed. The characters are diverse but many of the larger names are absent. The Hulk is elsewhere, the only Thor present is a robot clone and the X-Men decide to stay neutral. Many of the characters present are niche and virtual unknowns. The sheer scale of the main series prevents them for having much characterisation. Many of the lesser known characters ultimately feel like bodies to verbalise key themes or get punched in fight scenes.

Civil War is a quick read and an interesting introduction to the Marvel comics event series. Newcomers might be overwhelmed by the amount of obscure characters but it is easy to see why the long lasting appeal of this series has led to a new movie of the same name. Marvel comics will also return to some of the core elements of the series with Civil War II in June 2016.

Marvel’s Civil War can be found in the Hillingdon Libraries catalogue along with a wide range of other Marvel, DC and independent titles. Please visit the Manga and Graphic Novel section in your local Hillingdon Library or ask one of our staff for more information.


By Mark – Uxbridge Library

Hillingdon talent celebrates Shakespeare at Uxbridge Library

Nathan from Uxbridge Library brings us the low-down on the Shakespeare Open-Mic night he hosted there last Saturday.

Uxbridge Library celebrated Shakespeare with music, poetry anathannd even a spot of cross dressing on April 23rd!

Our Shakespeare Open-Mic Night was a special edition of the open-mic events we run at the library throughout the year and came 400 years after the Bard passed away. I’d been excitedly compiling a list of performers in the weeks running-up to the night – and I’m pleased to report they all impressed with their talent and enthusiasm!

There was a true sense of theatre in the room as visitors took-on speeches Shakespeare’s plays, including The Merchant of Venice, Measure For Measure and Macbeth. Each speaker brought their character to life, in a real tribute to Hillingdon’s tradition of strong local drama.ethan

Special mention must go to teenage open-mic regular Ethan Beer, whose witty Shakespeare-themed song featured many quotations from the Bard.

Ethan later modestly told me he’d included the famous lines as a way of speeding-up his lyric writing process, but the result was one of the best modern pop songs about Shakespeare I’ve ever heard (and there are more songs in that category than you’d imagine!).


In what must be a first for Uxbridge Library, one performer even tipped his hat to Shakespeare’s famous cross-dressing characters with a spirited drag performance.



No doubt some of our open-mic stars rushed home after the event to watch Shakespeare Live! From The RSC on the telly. We might not have had anyone quite as well-known as David Tennant or Prince Charles at our little Shakespeare anniversary evening, but we certainly had more than our fair share of inspiring local talent!



The library service’s regular open-mic events happen every other month, with the next date set for June 3rd.

Meanwhile, there are exciting Shakespeare talks coming up on both April 29th and May 6th here at Uxbridge Library – check out our events page for all the details. With a fascinating art exhibition about the playwright gracing our atrium space too, it’s set to be Shakespeare-central here on the High Street for some time to come!

Find out more about our regular open mic nights here

The Shakespeare Question: An Interview with Professor William Leahy Part 2

This is the second part of Mark Ulrich’s interview with Professor William Leahy of Brunel University. The first can be seen at https://hillingdonlibraries.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/the-shakespeare-questionan-interview-with-william-leahy-part-1/


Professor William Leahy will be delivering his talk on the Shakespeare Authorship Question at Uxbridge Library on Friday 6th May from 7.30 – 9.30pm. To book your place please contact your local Hillingdon library or e-mail culturebite@hillingdon.gov.uk

For more information visit: http://www.hillingdon.gov.uk/article/30871/Shakespeare-and-Professor-Bill-Leahy


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the London Borough of Hillingdon.



A special copy of the first folio held at Brunel University’s Special Collection Library.


Can you explain the writing/publishing/commissioning process at the time the plays attributed to William Shakespeare would have been written?

In this time period a playwright would be asked to write a play, they would write it and then sell it to the theatre, for example The Rose or The Globe. They would get £6 for the play, and at that moment it became the property of the theatre. They would deliver it loose leaf, so that it could be distributed to the actors and the various parties, and then they would have no more involvement.


What seemed to happen was that, say there was a fight scene in a play and the actors and theatre didn’t feel it quite worked, they would then give it to a playwright who was known for fight scenes (for example Anthony Mundy) and they would improve it. None of that process is recorded. However, what we’re seeing with plays such as the first Henry VI, is that it seems like quite a lot of it was written by Thomas Kidd, some by Shakespeare and some by somebody else, we’re not quite sure who. So we’re assuming that’s the sort of thing that happened, rather than all three sitting in a room writing the play like in a modern form of collaboration.


It’s very possible that the actors would have had input. And even the theatre proprietor might have changed bits and pieces. Shakespeare was a theatre broker, he bought and sold plays, so he may well have had a go at various plays. The whole commissioning and writing processes were very different. Authors were much less important than they are now. This was before copyright laws so ownership was a much more opaque process.


I want people to understand that the whole thing is very messy. I think saying Shakespeare or any one person wrote the all plays is too neat. It was very messy, and we just have to accept that and live with it. I want to embrace the complexity. I think there’s a drive towards simplicity, I don’t mean to insult people, but we’re very fixated on the idea of the individual author. There aren’t that many very famous, highly regarded works by anonymous. We like an author and we really like Shakespeare to be the author. We really like the idea of a single individual genius working away, like in Shakespeare in Love, inspired by his muse. We love that romantic idea. Most writers would tell you that it doesn’t work that way. It’s hard grind.


Do you believe the phrase ‘Shakespeare’ works as a category to help us understand a great body of work?

I think that’s how it works. Shakespeare is essentially a category. When you’re faced with so many plays and the the complexity of his works,  you sometimes have to bend over backwards to make that category work. There’s 36 plays in the first folio. There are some really great ones in those 36, such as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but there’s also some that are not great, and even in the great plays there are bits that are not very good.


I can remember reading an article in The Guardian by Professor John Sutherland, maybe about 10 years ago, and he posed this question to himself: How do we explain that Shakespeare is so brilliant and yet there are bad bits?


His theory was that Shakespeare lived in London and he had a heavy social life, and so the bad bits were written when he had a hangover. Sutherland is imposing certain constraints on himself, instead of saying that there are some bad bits in the 36 plays so maybe there are some other authors involved. Given that there were so many authors collaborating at the time that seems like a much more logical explanation. If you just put these constraints on yourself then you are just stuck in there trying to explain all sorts of things. For example, how did he know so much about the law? How did he know so much about the court? How did he know so much about hunting? How did he know five different languages? I think if you just take away those constraints and say other people were involved, well, there’s your answer. It answers why these works are almost unbelievably complex.


One of the arguments sometimes used against Shakespeare as an author is that he might not have been able to amass all his knowledge at the Stratford Grammar School. Others have argued that he would have been. Can you explain your stance on that?

We don’t know that he went to the Stratford Grammar School. The records for the years that he would have been there have disappeared. They don’t exist. We know that he would have been eligible to go. If he did go it’s likely that he went for between four and six years. I don’t think it possible that he would have learnt five languages or all of this stuff about the law. Maybe it would have been possible.


What seems strange, however, is that for somebody, who we know didn’t go to university (because we have the records for Oxbridge and Cambridge) and had his background (which was relatively humble, although I wouldn’t say it would have been impossible for such a person to gain that knowledge), is that there is no paper trail. No record exists to show that that is what happened. People often say that Ben Johnson’s father was a bricklayer, and that Christopher Marlowe was from a humble background, and that’s true and they were great writers, but we can trace what happened to them. We know that Johnson got a scholarship. We know their trajectory. We hardly know anything about Marlowe, but we know that he went to university. For Shakespeare there’s nothing. That’s really the issue. It’s not whether somebody from his background could have achieved this, but that there’s no record that he did achieve this.


A genius would be very good at learning five languages but they are not born with the knowledge of five languages. They have to learn it. That’s the question really. Where is the evidence? There is no evidence.


A beautiful copy of an illustrated Shakespeare collection.

What would you ask people to keep in mind when reading Shakespeare?

They don’t need me to tell them how brilliant the plays are. Some plays are just fantastic. But if you take something like Macbeth, it’s fairly standard now to accept that Thomas Middleton had an input in that play. It’s fairly standard to accept that any number of authors had an input into some of the plays. And what I would say about plays like Hamlet is that there are records that go back to 1589 of Hamlet in performance, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet was published in 1603. What does that mean? There was a first edition and then a second edition. We’re familiar with the second quarto. The first was much shorter and not nearly as good. How did the second one grow out of the first one? I’d like people to think about those things.


What can we find with more evidence? Where would it take us? Come up with a number of ideas rather than focus on finding a way to prove that he wrote it. Part of the job description of a scholar is that we must be sceptical and posit a thesis and try to either prove it or disprove it. That seems to hold true for everything except Shakespeare.


It amazes me how scholars will accept as fact things that we know are not fact. For example, the idea that the Earl of Southampton was his patron. We’ve got no evidence of that. The notion that the Earl of Southampton gave him a thousand pound, there’s no evidence of that. There’s no evidence that they even knew or spoke to each other, but you’ll see that again and again in biographies by scholars. They do this rather than what scholars usually do which is ask where the truth is. Without wishing to sound patronising or pompous I would want people to let go, release.


What will the talk be like?

I’ll be exploring some of those issues. I haven’t got an alternative author, I’ve got a kind of semi-thesis about what may have happened, but it changes. Sometimes it changes depending on what I read, and what I’ve been reading recently is having an impact on what I think. But it is a bit like a mystery. And that’s great. There’s so many things about Shakespeare that people don’t know. And there’s so much that they do know that isn’t true. And like the website says, bring an open mind because I’m pretty open minded about it.


Uxbridge Library will also be hosting a special Shakespeare themed edition of the Open Mic Night on Saturday 23rd April at 6.30pm and a talk on Shakespeare and The Countess with Dr. Chris Laoutaris on Friday 29th April. Please visit https://www.hillingdon.gov.uk/libraryevents to keep up to date with all our Hillingdon Library events. 

Judging Books by Their Covers

This weeks cover of the week goes to Robert Rankin’s ‘The Educated Ape and other Wonders of the Worlds’. The cover illustration is also by Rankin.

the educated apeIt was the humour of this image that caught my eye. The smiling ape appears oblivious to the tumultuous surrounding of peculiar characters and objects. These include a screaming queen, a space ship and a wonder woman type character in a gas mask. The book strikes me as a humours science fiction fantasy in the same boat as Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series.

On further research I discovered that Rankin (who describes his work as Far Fetched Fiction) originally studied art in Ealing with the aim to becoming an illustrator. His style is synonymous  with graphic novels, delicately inked black and white and split into circular panels. The font (not designed by Rankin) also adds to the graphic novel feel of the cover.

I love the titles of Rankin’s novels such as ‘I Robert’ and ‘The Sprouts of Wrath’ play so well on popular fiction and science fiction. It was the title of this book that made me hold on to it and want to know more. I rarely choose humorous books but I think I shall be giving this one a go!

Read more about Robert Rankin and his books on Goodreads here: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/27944.Robert_Rankin

The Shakespeare Question:An interview with William Leahy Part 1

This is the first part of Mark Ulrich’s interview with Professor William Leahy of Brunel University.

Professor William Leahy will be delivering his talk on the Shakespeare Authorship Question on Friday 6th May from 7.30 – 9.30pm. To book your place please contact your local Hillingdon library or e-mail culturebite@hillingdon.gov.uk For more information visit our website

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the London Borough of Hillingdon.


The front page of the first folio. Some have speculated about the appearance of William Shakespeare in this portrait. These speculations have included the odd angle of the arm on the right, the lack of features to identify Shakespeare’s status as a writer and various features of the head.


What are your research interests?

My particular area of research would be broadly described as the Shakespeare Authorship Question. This is a very controversial subject area and many people, including academics, do not not regard it as a genuine area of research. It is somehow perceived as a marginal or crazy idea.

What interests me is not whether somebody else wrote the plays, but rather the Shakespeare Authorship Question as a cultural phenomenon. I’m interested in why it exists and why many academics and people are so resistant to it and find it to be some kind of conspiracy theory. I’m interested in the motivation of people, both those who believe and those who disbelieve.

Has the Shakespeare Authorship Question become more widely accepted?

I became involved in the Shakespeare Authorship Question in 2005. Once I understood it, and what it is as a cultural phenomenon, my end game was to get it recognised as a legitimate subject for study. I think there has been movement there.

I think there are still many people who don’t believe the question. I can’t see, personally, a very strong case for any alternative author. What I can see, which I think is being recognised now in academia, is that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Shakespeare did not write all the plays and poems attributed to him, and there were lots of collaborators writing with him. Certainly a lot of computer analysis now shows that other writers were involved in the works of Shakespeare. That being the case, I would say that I achieved my aim.

Is the reluctance to accept the question because of the money invested into what we might term the ‘Shakespeare Industry’?

I think that’s a very small part of it, and I think that’s very much linked with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. They own five houses that are now museums, all of which are visited by millions of people every year and make a lot of money. So that’s one part of it.

I think a much bigger part of our reluctance is to do with a couple of things. Particularly in this country it’s to do with our national and cultural identity, which is linked to the notion that Shakespeare is the greatest genius ever. Deep down there is a feeling that that makes English culture somehow superior. English identity is interwoven with Shakespeare.

But a greater reason for the reluctance is that we adhere so much to the individual romanticised author; an individual genius working away producing brilliant work. Shakespeare in Love is a brilliant example of that. He has writer’s block, he falls in love and then he writes Romeo and Juliet. Not only that but he’s really good looking.

It’s a really powerful idea that has come from the Romantic poets like Keats, Coleridge and Wordsworth. They looked at Shakespeare and what they found in Shakespeare they found in themselves. They found this highly romanticised individual who valued the imagination. That idea is really powerful. We are stuck with the idea of the romanticised author. We want to believe in heroes. We even want to believe in superheroes. So when I say that it was messy and that there was more than one author, it complicates that. Do you know he was a tax evader? Do you know he was fined for hoarding grain during a famine? People don’t like to hear that. In some way it takes away some of the heroic value that we associate with him and have invested in him.

What will change people’s perspectives on the Shakespeare Authorship Question?

A lot of scholarly work on Shakespeare is poor quality. It’s just reiterating the old realities. What I quite like about the question and reading about the other candidates is that while I usually reject the conclusion, a lot of the research is really interesting and useful. We know a lot more about Early Modern England through Authorship studies. Research is more than its conclusion, it’s the journey. I don’t know if that will have an impact. I think if the quality of the research is good enough, academia is opening up a bit to say “join us.”

What is the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt and what was your involvement with it?

I was involved in putting the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt together. I’m not linked to the The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, but they drew up the declaration in 2007 and asked me to take a look at it. I made it less extreme in its views, and more open-ended and open-minded. My input was to not suggest an alternative candidate, but rather to say that there is enough evidence for there to be reasonable doubt that Shakespeare wrote all the plays attributed to him. The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition believe that there is enough reasonable doubt to suggest that he didn’t write any of them. I have a slightly different view, but I was happy to sign the declaration because, for me, it was broad enough. The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt can be viewed online at: https://doubtaboutwill.org/declaration

There are only two physical copies of the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt.This one was presented to Professor Leahy in 2007.


The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt has been signed by various people. See William Leahy’s signature on the right hand side.


Our thanks to the Brunel University Library Special Collection Service for their help with this article. For more information on the special collection service visit their website

Shtum : Interview with Jem Lester

shtum (1)One of our Library Assistants, Mark Ulrich, sat down with Jem Lester to discuss his debut novel Shtum.

How would you describe your debut novel Shtum?

It’s a novel fundamentally about communication. It centres around a 10 year old non-verbal autistic boy called Jonah and explores life with him, such as his parents trying to get him the appropriate education. It also tells the story of three generations of men, Jonah, his Father Ben and his Grandfather Georg. While Ben and Georg do have language they can’t communicate at all. So there’s a thread that runs through the novel about autism, the struggle to get appropriate education and the tension it puts on the marriage, but there’s also these three generations of men all coming together.

What were the reasons behind the title ‘Shtum?’

They are a Jewish family and ‘shtum’ in its Yiddish translation means ‘voiceless,’ and I thought that it encapsulated every kind of lack of communication. It represents the complete problems with communication that all of the characters have. Ben can’t communicate with his wife or his father, the Grandfather can’t communicate with Ben, but he can communicate with his grandson who has no language so the whole idea of being voiceless or silent is intrinsic to the novel.  

To what extent is the novel autobiographical?

I went through the whole tribunal process with my own son, who is also non verbal and profoundly autistic, so that part of the novel is based on fact but everything else is a fictionalised account.

Is there an advantage to writing a novel as opposed to a memoir?

I did a Creative Writing MA at City University so I’ve always been a writer of fiction. I’ve also never really felt that my life was that interesting. If I just focused on one thing, such as the whole tribunal experience, I think it would have been more of a handbook. Fictionalising it gave me the opportunity to expand it and to talk about communication rather than just specifically autism.

How important was winning the PFD Award to your career?

That was massively important for me. One of the prizes of that was to get possible representation at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop which subsequently happened. It’s very difficult to get an agent so they’ve been instrumental in helping me all the way through. It was also a massive confidence booster.

The novel features three different generations of men. In what ways do the men’s approaches to communication differ?

The Father and the Grandfather have never been able to communicate. The Grandfather has a very interesting backstory, which we begin to hear about further into the book, regarding his childhood in Budapest towards the end of the Second World War. So there’s interesting things in his background which have led him to being quite closed. He and his son have a difficult relationship. They’ve never really been able to communicate, certainly not on an emotional level. Ben’s problem is that he really wants to be the kind of father that he feels that he never had. There’s this real frustration that he is never going to be able to be the kind of father that he’d like to be because of Jonah’s condition. The irony is that Jonah is able to communicate, without language, his needs and wants far better than the other two. So really the novel encompasses all manner of difficulties with communication and suggests that you don’t really need verbal communication to be able to communicate how you feel.

Does the way that masculinity is constructed in our society make it more difficult for men to communicate?

I think there’s this stereotype of the male that he is unable to communicate his feelings, and the book is an illustration of that. I wasn’t really thinking about the gender issue when writing the novel. The fact that it is written from the father’s point of view, rather than the mother’s, has hit a nerve with those who have read it. I do think there is something about the nature of men’s communication which is generally more reserved than women’s.

Why did you choose to write the novel from the Father’s point of view?

I did think about writing the novel from Jonah’s point of view but felt that writing such a long novel from the perspective of a boy who couldn’t speak would have it’s own set of challenges, and that I could present his perspective through the way that the adults react to him. I also didn’t want to turn Shtum into magical realism. I wanted it to be very realistic.

Was there a reason you wanted to keep the novel very realistic?

I wanted to write about what it was like to live with a child with that level of autism. There isn’t any other book, TV programme or film which deals with that end of the spectrum. Everything else I’ve come across seems to deal with people who have language or a special talent. When you consider that 25-30% of autistic children have no language, there’s a massive proportion of people that need to be represented. I thought it was important to represent the nonverbal side of autism in a way that people would get some value out of.

What is your writing process?

Maddeningly, for those around me waiting for it, I seem to spend an awful lot of time thinking. It normally starts off with dialogue. Once I’ve got the voice of the character I feel like I can continue. I’m not the most organised person in wider life but when it comes to plotting a book I’m very organised. I like to know how it finishes. It might alter slightly, but if I know how it’s going to finish I can plot my way through the book. I do chapter and relationship plans. I feel very insecure if I don’t know what’s going to happen.

What do you hope people will take away from the book?

I hope people will gain a better understanding of children with this kind of autism. The ones who can’t talk are the most vulnerable.  But I also want people to realise that there is a real beauty and joy to these kids because they have absolutely no guile, jealousy or resentment. They’re very difficult but absolutely lovely.

Shtum was published on 7th April, 2016 and will be available in some Hillingdon Libraries soon.

Jem Lester c. Catherine Ercilla


Jem Lester was a journalist for nine years and saw the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 – and though there, he denies personal responsibility. He was also the last journalist to interview the legendary Fred Zinnemann, before the director died. He denies responsibility for that too. He taught English and Media studies at secondary schools for nine years. Jem has two children, one of whom is profoundly autistic, and for them he accepts total responsibility. He lives in London with his partner and her two children.

Jem’s first novel, SHTUM, won the 2013 PFD/City University Prize for Fiction.

Follow Jem on Twitter @JemLester

Young Carers Step into New Worlds Through Sculpture

IMG_343815 March 2016From 5-7 April, awardwinning creative arts charity Create will take three full days of sculpture workshops to young carers attending Hillingdon Carers, Uxbridge, as part of its inspired:arts programme. The group, aged 13-18 will collaborate to produce original sculptural works with Create’s professional sculptor Sheridan Quigley. Many young carers take on a level of responsibility well beyond their years as they look after disabled or unwell family members. Create’s inspired:arts programme looks to provide a space in which young carers can take respite from these caring roles, offering an opportunity to immerse themselves within a creative environment.

IMG_3368Create’s professional artist Sheridan Quigley will be planting the thematic seeds from which the young people’s creative ideas will bloom. The group will be exploring escapist motifs of fantasy worlds and cityscapes to produce their sculptures. With Sheridan describing herself as “an explorer of the matter of the universe, from the microscopic to the intergalactic, the workshops are set to produce some truly outofthisworld sculptures.

According to research undertaken by The Carers Trust, eight in ten young carers report that caring has had a negative impact on their health, with 50% feeling unsupported. Isolation is a frequent risk faced by these young people because the demands of caring can leave them feeling overworked, minimising opportunities to socialise with their peers.

IMG_3380Inspired:arts provides young carers with a chance to meet others from similar backgrounds, to share experiences and to express themselves through the creative arts. It also offers a chance to take an essential break from their caring duties. Through stimulating both imagination and social interaction, engaging in Create’s sessions is a cathartic process for participants.

Create’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Nicky Goulder, commented, Thanks to funding from The Queen’s Trust, Create is able to work with Hillingdon Carers to ensure that young carers are able to access high-quality creative arts workshops that enhance their well-being. The sculpture workshops will provide an opportunity for these young people to make new friends, develop supportive relationships and express themselves. We want these young carers to know that they’re not alone. I hope there are not only sculptures made at inspired:arts but friendships too.

Funder: The Queen’s Trust

About Create

Founded in 2003, Create (http://www.createarts.org.uk) has run 6,113 creative arts workshops that have helped transform the lives of 30,703 disadvantaged and vulnerable participants, mainly as part of sustained, life-changing programmes. Aimed at those who are excluded through disability, disadvantage, ill-health, imprisonment, poverty or social isolation, participants are given access to high-quality creative arts experiences that help them develop confidence, trusting relationships, strong social skills and self-esteem. Every project helps to create a society that is fairer, more caring and more inclusive.

Follow Create on Twitter: @createcharity

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/create.transforming.lives

Judging Books by Their Covers

This weeks cover of the week is ‘Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space’ by Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman (illustrator). This book is a firm favourite with staff at Oak Farm Library and was suggested as cover of the week by them.

Astro CatI love this book. The info-graphic content makes learning about space feel the same as exploring an intricate drawing. I love this book so much that last year I based a workshop around space just so that we could get children excited about this book and ‘How to be a Space Explorer’ by Mark Brake (another book full of colourful info-graphics). Info-graphics are a brilliant fun way to display information, I find that adults are just as intrigued by these books as children are.

Professor Astro Cat now has a series of books dedicated to his adventures and knowledge of space. The character, created by Ben Newman, creates an accessible method for children to interact with learning the facts. One of the things that makes this book so appealing is it’s colour scheme and paper quality. The cover is fabric bound and the pages are thick and soft, making it a book that you want to handle and look through. The colour scheme of muted blues, oranges and yellows looks back to the time of the space race and transforms Astro Cat into a stereotypical slightly musty university professor (though he is far more exciting than this stereotype suggests.)astro cat back

Ben Newman’s illustrations are beautiful. His website is full of amazing characters cleverly crafted from simple simple shapes and bold colour schemes. The drawings somehow manage to be both simple and detailed at the same time, creating depth of character & story in his drawings. I urge everyone to check out his website http://www.bennewman.co.uk/ !

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space is available from most Hillingdon Libraries.


Literary Challenge #3 LGBT Books

Hillingdon Libraries staff third literary challenge of 2016 was to read a book that had an LGBT theme.

As Hillingdon have been discussing a new LGBT stock collection to launch in the latter part of this year we thought it the right time to explore some LGBT fiction and non-fiction. One particular member of staff, while trying to put a collection together for a display, was surprised by how much we had. Hopefully we can continue to add to it.

We have 8 reviews from a very eclectic group of library staff  – remember all books reviewed on this blog are available to borrow from Hillingdon Libraries. Check them out below and see if we can tempt you.

LGBT11. The Oldest Gay in the Village by George Montague

gay in villageI am interested in LGBT history, have read a lot of books both fiction and non-fiction about the subject and expected to enjoy this. And whilst I appreciate the author’s candour, there was something lacking in this book. It promised a lot – the memoir of a man who was born in 1923, witnessed the clampdown on homosexuality, the legalisation and the freedoms subsequently won. He married and had a family but couldn’t deny his true self. A devoted Scout leader, he was forced to resign due to the appalling prejudice that equated homosexuality with paedophilia. It’s hard not to sympathise with him (or his wife), or to feel pleased that he found happiness later in life. But George Montague isn’t a born writer and he can’t make the more mundane anecdotes interesting, which someone with more skill can do. But the thing that left a really sour taste was the way he dealt with the biggest health crisis to affect gay men in modern times. The book is written chronologically, and I was struck by how absent any mention of AIDS/HIV was in his recollection of the 1980s. I found this is inexcusable. He finally mentions the subject when, in the 1990s, he contracts HIV himself. I found this a hubristic way of dealing with a momentous subject. I also didn’t appreciate George’s attempts to turn some of his anecdotes into universal life lessons, which verged on the hypocritical. Not everyone can be Peter Wildeblood and Quentin Crisp, standing up to be counted. But they also wrote wonderful books, had an ear for good storytelling, and I suspect they could have held a reader’s attention with lives half so eventful. George has the right and the experience to document his life, and I’m glad he’s done so. His book is part of a growing canon of LGBT voices, putting gay people into a national history they’ve long been censored from. Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, this is a worthy footnote rather than a cornerstone.

2 out of 5 stars

Darren – Uxbridge Library


2. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

well of lonelinessThis book has been referred to as “The Lesbian Bible” but I don’t know if that’s because there had been nothing written before, sympathising with a lesbian protagonist’s point of view or just because it was the first mainstream lesbian novel. I definitely do not think this should be an instruction manual for how to accept yourself as a lesbian or for people who are curious about how it feels. The word “lesbian” is actually never mentioned in the book, as “Stephen” the main character, identifies herself as an “invert” – thereby a heterosexual man trapped in a woman’s body – so in modern day terms she would be a transexual.

But pedantic bits aside, I was really moved by the fact that you can see the struggle as Stephen tries to come to terms with herself and her feelings, which are portrayed as intense romantic feelings that the most hardened of hearts could relate to, and her passions are described beautifully. While the writing is moving and the words poetic, I don’t feel that this book adds anything to LGBT society or confidence to people who are dealing with issues therein, but as a fictional novel it’s heart-breaking and beautiful.

3 out of 5 stars

Lara – Harefield Library


3. The Man Who Knew Too Much by David Leavitt

too muchMy interest in Alan Turing increased, after I watched the 2014 blockbuster . I normally don’t enjoy reading non fiction books, but “The Man Who Knew Too Much’ had me hooked, because it portrays Alan Turing with such humanity and covers all aspects of his introvert personality. It is well written and takes the the reader back in time, when Alan Turing solved one of the great mathematical problems and proposed an imaginary computer. The book shows how he helped win WW2, but at the same explores how his career was cut short, because he was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England.

Definitely worth reading.


3 out of 5 stars

Franka – Hayes End Library


4. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

owlsDavid Sedaris writes personal stories, funny tales about his life growing up in a Greek family outside of Raleigh, NC and about living abroad with his longtime partner, Hugh. All of which are expanded from his diary he’s been keeping since 1977. Books rarely make me laugh out loud, but this one did! David Sedaris’ self depreciating prose is sharp and scathing at times, especially musings on his ‘family life’. There seem to be some underlying biographical edge to most stories but some are just ‘out there’. The short essays are a delight for me as I keep reading ‘just one more’ before lights out. I particularly enjoyed his writings about being an American in England and attempting the life in the UK test (did you know you can’t sell milk if you’re under 16 years old?) It’s definitely opened up a new author for me, I’ve been catching snippets of his stories read aloud too! This is a hoot!

4 out of 5 stars

Marie-Louise – Hayes End Library


5.  Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

FingersmithcoverI read this book maybe ten years ago, and perhaps in the wake of the TV serialisation, as it was chosen by a small, library reading group to which I then belonged. My interest in 19th Century Fiction – Dickens and all the rest – was the prime mover for my looking at it at all, as I wish to establish whether pastiche / parody / homage etc, was going on via the use of the historical novel genre / convention. But, Waters seems to efface these elements? In terms of narrative Julie Myerson says in the back cover blurb inter alia “…an unforgettable experience”. This for me highlights the subjectivity and partiality of any reading experience, as I have very largely forgotten all the twists and turns, sexual incidents and denouement! But, I do have a generalised feeling of admiration for Waters, who is obviously well-at-home with the Victorian panorama of low life, deceit, crime, familial dysfunction and individual strivings. On the other hand, I had been hoping for some sort of textual equivalent of a PreRaphaelite painting; which did not really ever emerge from the writing, and left me somewhat denied by my deluded expectations! Having not seen the TV version, I cannot comment on how the book might thus translate. I have not read any other of the author’s stuff, but may give The Paying Guests (2014) a go; and this is described genre-wise, in a Guardian review, as a pastiche of the domestic novel, set in London in the 1920s. Interesting?

3 out of 5 stars

Len – Harefield Library


6.  Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

orangesUntil these mini-challenges I knew nothing of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit except the lesbian theme. I was surprised to find that it is concerned at least as much with religion as with sexuality. The young heroine’s lesbian awakening takes place against a backdrop of evangelism in which she herself plays a key role as a lay preacher, and there are are obvious parallels between her realisation that there are other sexualities and that there are different takes on religion (not to mention other fruit). The novel is semi-autobiographical and Winterson is very funny, though forgiving, about the absurdities of a devout religious community dealing with the ungodly world. Highly recommended.


5 out of 5 stars

Mike – Eastcote Library


7. Spectacles by Sue Perkins

spectaclesThe autobiography of the wonderful Sue Perkins. I have long been a fan of Sue (and Mel), both intelligent and funny women. This autobiography was not as hilarious as I may have hoped but was an enjoyable read and very amusing in places. Sue actually covers some heavy topics, her Dads suffering with cancer, her illness and the death of her beloved dog. I actually felt quite emotional reading parts of this book, which I had not anticipated. The order the book runs in is a bit erratic, jumping from different stages in her life, back and forth. Sue talks a bit about her relationships and her current girlfriend, and about her mum’s reaction to her being gay. After reading this autobiography I like Sue even more as she seems to be a very warm and loving person. The love she feels for her family, girlfriend and best friend Mel really shines through.

4 out of 5 stars

Siobhan – Uxbridge Library



8. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Leaves of GrassWas Walt Whitman actually homosexual? Several people have debated this without ever coming up with a definitive answer. He has been described as being drawn emotionally to men rather than women, even omnisexual – certainly complex. He had a number of recorded close male friendships, and his own notebooks list men he met while walking out, and whom he ‘slept with’. But Whitman was always wary of the 19th century American press, and was deliberately guarded about that aspect of his private life. My feeling is that Walt may well have been gay, in that he was physically attracted to other men. Whether he slept with any of them is beside the point. This attraction can be felt throughout his most famous poem, ‘Leaves of Grass’. The poem is a vast, sprawling examination of the America of his time, and of his own ‘soul’. To read it is to embark on Whitman’s own out of body experience as he travels his homeland, pausing at times to examine its inhabitants more closely. The men he describes in ‘Leaves of Grass’ are part human, part god – they are sweaty, grimy archetypes. Some he views from a distance – ‘The young mechanic is closest to me, he knows me well…the farm-boy ploughing in the field feels good at the sound of my voice’. Some he tastes close up – ‘The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, It ran from their long hair, little streams pass’d all over their bodies’. One man’s ‘glance is calm and commanding’. These men then are more like photographs in a gay magazine – motionless, out of reach, just so much eye candy. It is quite possible that this is how Whitman viewed men in general. His possible homosexuality is not the real reason you should read this poem though. ‘Leaves of Grass’ is a brilliant, breathtaking work of language and imagination. Walt saw himself as a prophet declaring the bond between body and soul, the tangible and intangible, even past, present and future. The poem is a 60 page wonder-filled meditation on the unity of all things – partly on the bond Whitman feels with other men, whether physical attraction or just companionship – partly on his connection as a poet with all things – his innate love for the American landscape and people. During the poem, he pauses in his description of his country to ask just what grass is. He goes on to describe it as ‘the handkerchief of the Lord’, ‘the beautiful uncut hair of graves’, that it transpires ‘from the breasts of young men’. In short, he sees ultimately that life, death, youth and old age are all one – everything, including sexuality, is part of the big experience of life. A leaf of grass, in short, ‘is no less than the journey-work of the stars’. And that, whatever Whitman’s sexual preference, is quite a thing to come out with. (‘Leaves of Grass’ is part of Walt Whitman’s ‘Collected Poems’).

5 out of 5 stars

Paul – Uxbridge Library


Why don’t you read an LGBT book this month and let us know what you think?

Thanks for reading!




Judging Books by Their Covers

This weeks cover of the week was chosen by Shriya, volunteer at Oak Farm Library. The chosen cover is Orchardist by Amanda Coplin; cover design by Sinem Erkas. 

Orchadist threeShriya chose this cover as the simple design of the bold apples on the tree stood out to her. It suggest the themes of the story and she loved the intricate pattern. I agree the tree on this cover has a beautiful pattern that manages to suggest a multitude of trees in an image of just one. Erka’s other design work is bold and playful, I recommend visiting her website here. Erka has created a vast range of familiar book covers, each has a unique feel but all are linked by Erka’s use of simple shapes and bold colours.

When looking for an image of The Orchadist to use for this blog I came across a number of alternate cover designs. Each design is very different and suggests a different story within the book. Unfortunately I have been unable to discover the designers of the second and third covers (this is often a problem I encounter when I do not have access to the physical copy of the book. I am an avid supporter of Sarah McIntyre’s ‘Pictures mean business’ campaign in which she supports illustrators and designers as ultimately it their work that catches a buyers eye.)

The first of these alternate covers gives the book a very different feel. To me the dark leafless trees suggest a spooky, possibly supernatural tone to the story. The second cover is a stark contras to the first two, which are very illustrative and make use of painting and print techniques. The photograph on this image suggests isolation but also makes a point of a beautiful and dramatic landscape. All three images create a different picture of the content of the book. The first suggests the fruit of the tree is an important aspect, the second hints at a darker side to the tale and last image depicts a rural setting in stunning countryside. Personally it is the first two images that would make me pick up the book. I enjoy a dark story and really love the style of these covers. The third image suggests too much of a romanticised setting to appeal to me as I am rarely a fan of romantic fiction.

Check out reviews of the book on goodreads here. This book is available to borrow from Hillingdon Libraries.