Pantry Prose: The Young Man and the Sand (a contemporary homage to Ernest Hemingway) by Joseph S. Pete

Nick gnawed rubbery chicken and mushed soggy green beans in the chow hall in Iraq, a country that was hot in a way that could break the stoutest of men. The climate was unforgiving, and so was the chow. The food in the D-Fac was either leathery straps of meat or slop spatulated on his Styrofoam tray, a far cry from the succulent oysters bathed in briny cold liquid he once slurped out of rocky shells in Paris, or the warm, meaty pasties he wolfed down as a boy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Some food gave delight, while other meals were truly lost, just a way to shovel nutrition into the maw.

Nick gnashed the tough strands of chicken and deposited stripped bones back on the disposable tray, which he ultimately cast off as one would toss the rib cage of a deboned marlin. He nearly gagged on the sour broth of the day’s soup, wished he had a strong drink to wash down the tasteless mash of the watery green beans. But when the chow was gone, it was gone, like any other meal.

Dusty and sweaty after a long hike on patrol, Nick would enter the D-Fac after clearing his M-4 carbine in a burn barrel. He’d file into the long chow hall line, mechanically request the standard ration of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables, and make his way to an empty seat at an isolated table in the great circus tent where the soldiers congregated for chow.

Nick spent his days marching on patrol through the dust-swept streets of Iraq, past crowds of stern-faced men in sweat-stained dishdashas and steely-eyed women in gravely driveways. They strode past glowering young men camped out in Opels, trying to earn a living as taxi drivers with no fares in sight. No one seemed to want these American interlopers there. The unwelcome soldiers strode past all the scowling and resentment, hoping no one would start taking potshots from a distant rooftop.

Bedraggled under a scorching sun that left the land arid, the men just wanted to return to the relative safety of post, where they had gyms and shops and computer labs and all the approximate comforts of home. But the work there could be long and grueling too. Nick drove a flimsy e-tool into the earth to fill sandbags, cinched them and chucked them onto the pile until his back spasmed and his arms noodled. He sat in a guard tower through the wee hours of the night until his eyes weakened and eyelids sagged, dipping tobacco and instant coffee to try to keep them aloft. He worked midnight shifts guarding detainees, fighting off sleepiness, repeating mantras like ‘Stay alert, stay alive’.

Nada, nada, nada. All for nada.

The harder he fought, the less his efforts yielded.

The deployment was an unending blur. Nick was a man in a foreign country that did not want him, had no place for him. He pined for something as simple as casting a line into a clear pond, watching a sinewy boxer’s glove slap into an opponent’s jaw, or biting down into a freshly grilled burger.

The chow hall was a clean, well-lit place that evoked warm memories of home, or his occasional sojourns to Europe. It was a respite in a distant desert, at least until it wasn’t.

One day, a blast tore through the tent, submerging everything in thick black smoke that blotted everything out. Nick’s heart jackhammered, and he couldn’t breathe right. He could hear. That was it. That was all that was left of his senses. The screaming would haunt him. Nick heard pain and wailing as he flailed about.

The third-world nationals KBR shipped in to Iraq to spoon out overcooked food, they were the ones who bore the brunt of the explosion. It was quick and brutal and senseless.

Nick staggered through the smoke, plodding a step at a time, plowing into chairs and tables. Having cleared his weapon before entering the chow hall, a safe space where soldiers faced a greater risk from an accidental misfire than from the enemy, Nick fumbled around with a pouch on a flak vest and eventually extricated a magazine that he jammed into the rifle. He slid back the charging handle, chambering a round.

His heart palpitating, he held the carbine at the ready, as he had been trained by drill sergeants back in basic training on that red Georgia soil, and stepped forward into the blackness that enveloped everything. He trained the gun ahead of him and moved toward the screaming.

Nick slipped on blood underfoot, came crashing down on a fallen cafeteria worker. The man was pale and wheezing and bleeding profusely out of his thigh. The man needed help. He could die within minutes if his femoral artery bled out.

After wheeling around, scanning for threats, Nick thumbed the safety on his rifle and cast it down so it clattered on the concrete floor. He fiddled with the cargo pants, pulled out his gloves and pressed them into the gaping wound, applying as much pressure as he could muster to staunch the wound.

‘Medic!’ he called. ‘Medic!’

No medic emerged from the ashen haze.

He hunched down toward the man, keeping pressure on the shrapnel wound, whispering that he would be okay, everything would be okay, they were going to take care of him and make sure he would get home. He would be okay; he would make it.

‘Where do you come from?’

‘Myanmar,’ the man coughed. ‘Myanmar.’

Blood trickled from the man’s lips, streaked down his cheek. Colour drained from his ashen face as he shuddered. His clammy skin was all gooseflesh and flopsweat. Nick moved aside when the medic arrived so he could see and assess. He grabbed his rifle and swept around again.

‘What the hell happened?’

‘Suicide bomber, posing as an Iraq policeman. Damn, put pressure back on that wound.’

Nick grabbed his bloodied gloves, pressing them back into the oozing puncture. The medic readied a bandage, affixed it and started tying a tourniquet. He twisted the stick around to stop the hemorrhaging.

The air suddenly wafted with the pungent scent of manure. The dead man’s intestines emptied themselves as the last vestige of colouring blanched away from his waxen flesh. It was all for naught, all their hustle, all their effort. He was gone. He would never return to his wife’s embrace, to his children’s clingy hugs.

‘You can be destroyed,’ Nick said, genuflecting and saying a quiet prayer over the dead man, ‘but you cannot be defeated.’

Nick later realized the man was never defeated, but only in the sense that he had never been fighting for anything in the first place. As Nick rested in a plush library chair one brisk fall day, it occurred to him all that bluster and bravado led to young men, bystanders really, bleeding out in puddles where they had dished out mashed potatoes. There was nothing to romanticize. There was no nobility in scooping mashed potatoes for soldiers of another country, and there was certainly no nobility in such a senseless death.

He could hear his dying platoon sergeant later telling him only a fool would believe you couldn’t die if you didn’t give up, which was the best bulldung he could come up with while trying to comfort the bloodied, bullet-ridden man.

The epiphany that they all died for little purpose still hit Nick in the gut even though it occurred many years after he returned home, married in an old barn and sired children of his own, who grew up strong and sturdy like tree trunks, went on to study law and medicine. He made a career for himself, strolled the leafy streets of Oak Park, and dined on pan-seared trout at white-tablecloth restaurants that prided themselves on elegant continental cuisine.

He renovated his stately brick home several times, and one morning, while stepping out of the glass shower, collapsed onto the bed with a brain hemorrhage.

In his dying moments, he thought not of his wife, his daughters or his son, but of that dying man he failed to save in the chow hall. He wished he could have tried harder, got there faster, pressed harder, done something differently. He wished the medic had been more skilled or that the chow hall bomber struck at a different hour, when he was out on patrol. He wished he had never seen that man’s glassy eyes, which haunted him for years in the ash ends of late nights when he was dulled by drink. He wished it had been him instead of the thirteen who died that day, but then figured that in the end the relentless crush of time defeats every man. Whether you stalked through sandy streets with a belt-fed machine gun or helped your child build a rudimentary castle in a sandbox, time would destroy you just the same in the end.

Books From The Pantry: Park Symposium by Claire Bassi

Hunger

We played till daylight failed, left, hungry, wolf-eyed,
mince and mash on the breeze, street lamps coming on.
Shadows long and lawns damp, we wish for June,
the bread and honey months.

Zero-G

In my hands are chains, wearing hard
the skin of well-oiled palms.
I’m light, I’m plastic.
Pendulum timed in the beat of two,
soon to fall
out of sync. I’m pushed, I fall,
weightless in the wake of you.

Get your copy of Park Symposium

Inky Interview Exclusive: Chinese Poet and Eremite: Hongri Yuan

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

I liked literature when I was a child, and dreamed of being a great writer in the future. When I was about eleven years old, I wrote my first poem. Although it was only a few short sentences, it was astonishing at that time, as books were barren. At the age of sixteen I started my job, and read world literature in my spare time. Then I decided to make literary creation my career, for all my life. Basically, my creation may be divided into two periods: the first period is before 1990, the second period is after 1990. In the first period, lyric was the main form of my poetry. Later, I found that lyric only expressed emotions, and they were incapable of changing the world. So I began to read Laozi’s Daodejing and explore the truth of the universe and life. After that I started to roam around. In the meantime, I saw some monks who practiced in temples, and the fairies who lived in seclusion in the mountains. They all gave instructions and enlightenments to me. These edifications taught me a new understanding from the universe and life, especially in understanding the two ancient philosophical thinkers, the men of the age, Laozi and Zhuangzi. At this time, I began to have a knowledge of prehistoric civilization and ancient civilization. From then on, there has been a qualitative change in my poetry, and I created successively some poems beyond time and space, especially when I meditated one day at noon in 1990. I saw an extraterrestrial city above space — Platinum City.

Thereupon, in 1998, it seemed to me that I was inspired by the Gods, and created a series of works such as Platinum City, The City of Gold, and Golden Giant, continuously.

You are interested in creation. What is your philosophy?

I had an insight into the knowledge of time and space, and I thought that time is namely space. Ancient civilization and prehistoric civilization did not disappear, but hid in another space.

What is it you love about poetry? Have you considered writing a novel or a play?

I like the poetry of the ancient Chinese poets, of British poetry I particularly like the works of William Blake, Keats, and Yeats. I had once written a short novel of magic realism. I will further explore and create novels in the future. I once wanted to create a new type of writing: integrate poetry, novels, and plays, but there is no clear distinction or limit.

What other themes do you write about?

The theme of my creation is prehistoric civilization and the future civilization of mankind, especially the exploration of future civilization. Platinum City, that I have seen, is exactly the future civilization of mankind. I believe that this is a revelation given to mankind by the Gods.

How do you think technology is affecting humans in today’s society?

Platinum City has answered this problem, the development of science and technology will not destroy mankind, on the contrary, with the development of science and technology, human civilization will change dramatically. Platinum City written in Golden Giant is exactly the future civilization of mankind.

Describe a typical day in your life.

I am an eremite and have lived in seclusion for the past 20 years. I copy China’s ancient codes and records, practice meditation and calligraphy, and also take a walk every day.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Help mankind to find their own soul, and mankind will find their sanctity and greatness.

Who inspires you and why?

Laozi and Zhuangzi, the philosophers of ancient China have deeply inspired me, especially Zhuangzi, because they made me aware of the insignificance of mankind.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Explore the human soul and create works beyond politics, time, and ethnicity.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been reading China’s ancient codes and records, which I do all the time.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

To explore further the secrets of the universe, and the future civilization of mankind, write poetry, or a new type of writing. Thousands of years ago, the tradition of monasticism from an ancient sage was not at all cut off, not only in the temples, but carried forward by the fairies who lived in seclusion in the mountains or countrysides. I hope one day I can write of their incredible wisdom.

Special thanks to Yuanbing for his assistance.

Inky Interview Exclusive: Poet Sanjeev Sethi

You have written three poetry collections. Can you tell us about them?

Suddenly For Someone was published in 1988. I was 26 years old. Nine Summers Later, the second one as the title suggests, was issued as many years later. That makes it 1997. This Summer and That Summer was released in 2015/16 and published by Bloomsbury, India.

I see poetry as an extension of myself. I seek it in most settings. Poems are my response to stimuli. They help me make sense of my situation. I wrestle for nuance by wrenching words and woes. Some poems dip into my emotional deposits, others document the demotic. The attempt is to arrest a moment of truth in a tasteful manner. In short, poetry is my engagement with existence.

Each of these books encapsulates my understanding of the world and my capability to express it. The basic premise hasn’t changed, just my skills as a craftsman, and perhaps I have a deeper understanding of what I write about.

Can you share a few of poems from your collection, This Summer and That Summer, and walk us through the idea behind them?

The opening poem is Pigeons. In suburban Mumbai where the average size of a flat is as large as your handkerchief, the poem is about the issues a harmless bird and her progenies create as intruders:

Pigeons

Pigeons have no tenancy laws.
She placed her squabs on my sill.
When I protested, she gazed at me
with looks which were a hybrid
of hesitancy and hostility.


At night, the pigeons cooed.
Throughout the day,
the exhalation of their excreta
wafted across the apartment.
During feed-time, their twitter
was louder than church bells
annunciating crisis. But I was helpless…


Soon I decided — to be kind to myself,
I had to be cruel.
I opted to evict them.
But there are no courts for this.
No legal machinery.
Only feelings.


Feelings have always failed me.

(Soul Scan is a meditation on the travails of being a poet):

Soul Scan

(1)

Shells of silence underneath my skin
burst in a rash of run-ons.
Clear as mud, carp the critics.
But I soldier on like an infantryman
bulwarking his nation’s border,
hoping to be helpful
in an era of nuclear warfare
or bombardments from the Net.

(2)

In my growing years I wished to be famous.
Parents gave value to visibility.
It was reassuring for them
to have others accept their issue.
When their pressure ended
I realized,
I am best in my booth.

(3)

Without strain of the perfect gargle
or granules of pitch
I sing sweetest for myself.
Skills of a soloist
I have not gathered.
I thrive when my skin trills for itself.

(Have a look at):

Realization

Fraught with fissures, I can see
my life wriggling like some children
waggle out of their parents’ care.

In my case there is no one
to chide. I’m ward
and the warden.

Survival anthems urge
you to be accountable.
Here I’m,
mindful of my mistakes.
Now what?

(Ruse is a love poem):

Ruse

Bathed in bounties of the elements
vacillating fronds blushed. On the corniche
your palm in mine, we were at a fork
parrying tines of the past. You & I
told our truth, as we wished it
not how it had panned out. Like maquillage
or habiliments, we tried removing
the restrictions but doing away with untruths
did not blend with our biotope.
Our chansonette ran on another tune.

(I will end this with Friendship):

Friendship

Whenever I call her, she is on the cusp
of an interlude. When we are together
honesty is her other name.

The world riddled with rift must reign
in the sequences of her smile.
Grief is her gatekeeper.

When the phone rings, her callers
have promises to proffer.
Full of fire, she is destiny’s flaw.

Some symphonies will never be hers.
Still my friend’s lilt has the potential
to light the lame. Often she disowns this gift.

Her universe seems untidy,
but it is unsoiled. Her haphazardness
is on display while mine is disguised.

It is things that we disagree upon
are the things that draw me to her.
Fortitude is this friend’s flag.

You live in Mumbai, India. Describe a typical day in your life.

About five years ago I began an intense creative phase which continues unabated. In this phase I have no life outside of writing. All of me is engaged in writing and its auxiliary activity. I’m at my desk for almost 15 hours.

If this seems drudge-like, it is not. I am in it out of choice. I luxuriate in it.

Who inspires you and why?

Life and its layers.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To not be as tense as I have been. There is no big battle to win. The journey is about small everyday victories and loss. To try to have as clean and meaningful existence as is possible. To be of value to others, and if that isn’t possible, at least try not hurt others.

Tell us a story in five words.

You are your best story.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?

Almost every time I am on my desk. For me inditing is a meditative stance, so when I go within and create a meaningful poem, it is a literary pilgrimage. There are days when I end up at the picnic level, the results reach my dustbin. But that is another story.

Why do you think poetry is important?

Because it reminds us of our humaneness, it keeps us in touch with our truths. And perhaps makes us better individuals.

What are you reading at the moment?

In this phase of extensive writing I am not a serious reader. The internet has opened possibilities, on an average day my inbox receives fifty to hundred poems from various sources. As the mood and mind decides, I peruse some of them. But no serious reading.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

To keep writing and publishing as long as I rejoice in it. I’m published in this or that place somewhere in the world, almost every other day. To continue with vigor.

Get your copy of This Summer and That Summer

Poetry Drawer: Occupied by Shannon Donaghy

My mind has been circling an idea
For a few hours now
Like a bird gliding above roadkill
I have it pinned down, located
Claimed as my own
But I have yet to touch down
To sink my beak into the gore of it
It is merely baking on the pavement
In the hot fruit fly summer sun
Glistening and raw with blood
My mind has been too occupied
To do what my circling implies
Circle, screech, die, repeat

Poetry Drawer: Prisoner of Infinity: To Felino A. Soriano by Rus Khomutoff

Oh Prisoner of infinity
countercurrent between transgression and transaction
insinuation of eternity’s unrepeatable coalescence
poise deposited in an effervescent aye
on this iron chain of birth and annihilation
you espouse your catastrophe of charm
surefire voices that furnish the kiss of death
an unwearying impulse
to decrypt and decipher longing
like an idea infested with platitudes
realm navigator on the edge of consciousness

Inky Interview Special: Italian Poet Gabriella Garofalo

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

It is a journey born under the powerful signs of loss and sorrow. I, a child who had to face the death of her brother, and who grasped for the only help she felt was being close to her, grasped for words and poetry, because words can heal and hide, and poetry is a meaningful hiding place. Decades elapsed. Yesterday’s child still here, still busy with sails and rigging, her mind rife with images from all the harbours she’s docked at, the only change being the language, after writing in Italian for many years she switched to English.

What is it you love about poetry? Have you considered writing a novel or a play?

The endless, boundless freedom poetry allows me whenever I write. I’ve never considered writing a novel, funnily enough, though, every now and then I wonder what it’s like to write a play.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

What themes? Loss, I think, pain, the sorrow my soul is plagued by whenever facing the relentless, intractable inconsistency of life. To be more specific, I might argue that my poetry is a cartography of my soul.

How do you think technology is affecting humans in today’s society?

I’m so glad we have technology, it’s made our lives better, and I mean it; just think of our health: nowadays so many diseases that killed so many people until a few decades ago are treatable; besides, we can communicate much better and much faster, communication being, I believe, an important thread in that tapestry we call life.

Describe a typical day in your life.

Nothing to write home about, I’m afraid. After handling my daily errands and my daily chores, I sit at the PC, read, write, words and books being the main staple of my diet, of every day in my life.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Only one? 🙂 If I could, I’d eradicate the tree of selfishness, the root of so many evils.

Who inspires you and why?

Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. They were so powerful when handling those high-charged wires that are words, and when shaping for the readers those unforgettable scenarios that have both haunted my mind ever since I read their words, and fed my phantoms, my obsessions.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Yes, well, what advice, with the proviso, of course, she takes careful note: Never stop believing in words: they do deserve your trust.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?

I have indeed, and twice! I’ve been to Amherst and to Chawton.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Never stop befriending words, never stop trusting them, never stop loving them.

What are you reading at the moment?

Karl Barth’s The Humanity of God and Matsuo Basho’s poems.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I’d like to keep on writing, reading, living the way I’ve always done- what else?

Inky Interview Special: Poet Ken Pobo From Pennsylvania

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

I didn’t start out thinking I would be a poet. I was a wannabe pop singer. My first poems were peace and love imitations, my own Crystal Blue Persuasion and San Francisco (Wear Flowers in Your Hair). I got bored with faux song lyrics—but not with writing. I was 15 then. I’m 63 now.

What is it you love about poetry?

Poetry is perhaps the place where I feel most free. A blank page never judges you, never says you’re doing it wrong. It just says fill me. Make a mess. Have fun. Cry.

Tell us about your book Loplop In A Red City, which was published by Circling Rivers.

Loplop is a book of ekphrastic poems. For years I’ve written poems connected with art, particularly paintings, and I began putting them together and seeing what would happen. I owe Art Historian Dr. Ilene D. Lieberman a great thanks because she introduced me to work by many surrealist and women artists. My life grew richer from this, and I think the poems did too.

What themes have you written about in your book of prose poems, The Antlantis Hit Parade, forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing House?

Many writers debate the difference between flash fiction and prose poetry. These are shorter than many flashes, but I’m not sure that length is the deciding factor. The prose poems are often surreal in their imagery. Some of them take on topics of identity, particularly LGBTQ+ issues. I hope that humour appears throughout the collection. I didn’t have a special theme for the work. Voice and image, I hope, weave it together.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

LGBTQ+ rights. The environment (in praise of Nature, but also mourning for what we are doing to our poor, wounded planet). Flannery O’Connor says that a writer will have material for the rest of his/her life by getting to be 18 years old. I still investigate my childhood, the places and people who formed me. I’m never too far away from the planets. I see them as characters. I write often in character poems: Trina, Steve, Wandawoowoo, Dindi, Aaron, many others. Sometimes I prefer to think about their lives more than my own, though everything connects.

Describe a typical day in your life.

I’m a professor of English and Creative Writing. My day in the work week is classes, meetings, and grading. Exciting? At home, my husband and I are big gardeners. It’s May now, my favourite month, but an exhausting one. No matter what the day, music is a part of it.

You collect vinyl. Have you a favourite?

My favourite song of all time is from August 1967 (I was 12 when it came out): Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon) by the Mamas and the Papas. My favourite band is Tommy James and the Shondells.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Hate. I want it to stop. It won’t but I want it to.

Who inspires you and why?

Poets of all kinds inspire me. Bette Davis films. Ingmar Bergman films. Anyone who works even in small ways to make us more kind and less selfish.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t be so scared. Make mistakes.

Tell us a story in five words.

Naked, he answered the door.

Have you been on a literary pilgrimage?

Not in a formal sense but I’ve been writing since 1970 and it still feels like a great journey, full of surprises, a few hairpin turns. Unlike some car trips when I say ‘Are we there yet?’ I know there is no ‘there’ (apologies to Gertrude Stein). There’s another poem ahead.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Make time for your writing—which, I know, is easier said than done. Get off phones and Facebook long enough to have time to dream and meditate, and ‘bad’ poems can be our best help.

What are you reading at the moment?

Julia Baird’s biography of Queen Victoria. My favourite novelist is Thomas Hardy, and I want to know more about Britain in that time period. Recently I was rediscovering Gwendolyn Brooks. That was/is a pleasure.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

The plans I have now in terms of writing are not much different than at 15. Keep writing. Do what helps the creative fires to keep burning.

Ken on Twitter

Poetry Drawer: And Again by Kenneth Pobo

When I came out, well,
I came out and out and out
and out. It’s everyday
like breathing or taking a shower.

So many ways to do it.
Sex is only one. Sometimes
I’m asked what music I love. If I say
sixties bubblegum, oopsy daisy,
I get the are-you-crazy-but-
I’m-too-polite-to-say-it stare.

Or even books. How to admit
among English majors
I haven’t read Moby Dick.
Or Ulysses. Or Light in August.
Out comes that
you’re-a-fraud smirk.
I come out anyway. Closets—
claustrophobia lessons.
Many prefer my door locked,
I can’t breathe!
They turn up the TV,
do a Sudoku, clomp to
the fridge for a Coke. I’m out.

Again. And again. Just like
I’ll be tomorrow.

Books From The Pantry: Hope by Rhian Ivory: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

Plan B’s are for people who fail.

I just never, not once, not even for a tiny moment, thought that I would ever need one.

As a gentleman who relishes being honest and true to his word, it’s fair to say that the arrival through my letterbox of Rhian Ivory’s new novel, Hope announced a personal sense of mixed emotions.

On the uppity side, I’ve read Rhian’s writing before with her splendid 2015 novel, The Boy Who Drew The Future. I also met Rhian last year at Cheltenham’s Wychwood Festival and heard her speaking in gloriously enthusiastic tones about Hope, which was ‘mostly finished’ at that time.

Surely, both excellent signs that Rhian’s new novel would also set my creative senses alight, as her earlier novel had done so? Well…my initial response was more cautious and it’s also fair to say that my good lady wife almost took over the review, before I’d read a single page.

My solitary concern? The genre.

As a gentleman, my preferred genre(s) within literature fall pretty much within the same borders as my television and cinematic tastes. I’m not adverse to a well-written rom-com here and there (‘Love Actually’ and ‘About Time’, take a bow). I’ll even admit to sofa-dancing and singing off-key to a few, melodic musicals over the years, but it’s also fair to say that I do tend to fall back on my preset, safer preferences – usually involving fast action, invigorating car chases, starships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate….that sort of thing. It’s also fair to say that I’ve never really tackled (or felt the desire to tackle) a young adult novel with a female protagonist, focusing on things that a young, female protagonist might be concerned about or engaged in. Might there be a car chase? Fisticuffs or football? Both?

‘Do you want me to do it?’ asked my wife helpfully, as she watched me pore over the back cover of Hope. It was a serious question, and, admittedly for a good three minutes I hovered between two answers.

Thankfully, by minute four, I’d remembered how good a writer Rhian is and decided to go all in, battle helmet on and wielding my finest impartial reviewer’s battle-cry.

How utterly glad I am now that I did so. But, let’s look at the premise of Hope and what it entails.

Hope Baldi is a young lady, whose ambitious dreams to become a student of acting/singing have been cruelly smashed on rocks of despair due to rejection letters from drama schools. As the book opens, she is on a boat, perched by a rail and staring into the sea. It’s not clear whether her intention is to jump, but nonetheless she is interrupted by the calming Irish voice of a young knight, Riley, who clearly recognises a damsel in distress when he spots one. Riley’s gentle humour, although thoroughly unappreciated by a dejected Hope, is enough to guide her away from the rail and thus, a fascinating friendship is formed.

The reasons for Hope’s despair soon become apparent. Her mother – a soul who doesn’t fully appreciate the depths to which Hope’s drama dreams reach – has given an ultimatum; her daughter can apply to five drama schools, in search of her odd thespian goals, but if nothing has opened up then Hope is to seek out a ‘normal’ life, away from acting. Hope has just received her fifth rejection letter and currently a deep, dark cloud of normality has fallen upon her; all ambitions broken and laying in tatters.

To make it worse, it also appears as if every single one of her drama friends are knee-deep in acceptance letters from various drama schools & academies and naturally engaged in lengthy celebration rituals and mutual, celebratory slaps on the back. Hope is fighting to keep herself afloat, while her world crumbles all around her.

To deepen the blow, Hope’s best friend, Callie (a strong and feisty character) cannot seem to grasp why Hope is so low, as she herself ponders over which drama school to attend. Also, as if this wasn’t enough, Hope has realised that medically she has ‘issues’; primarily associated with irrational anger.

Rhian’s novel becomes a journey of discovery for Hope, as she battles against depression, despair and illness. To accompany her, she has a rich, varied set of characters from the fields of family and friends; a key aspect of why this novel works so well. Career, illness, depression, love, friendship, family, dreams…all are covered in depth within the pages of Hope.

As previously stated, Rhian Ivory is a great writer. In Hope she brings out a full spectrum of colours for each character portrayed; each shining brightly at times with glittery hues, or displaying deeper layers of a muddier, unclear colour. The truth is that, as in life, each character possess their own flaws and weaknesses and Rhian is never backward in showing these levels to the reader. We get to see everyone for good, or bad and this totally assists us in being able to relate to them, as well as enhancing the main story of Hope Baldi.

The writing is…to put it simply; flawless. The plain beauty of Hope lies in the utter believability of everything; from the locations mentioned, such as the children’s ward of the hospital where Hope is destined to work, alongside her mother, to the realism of the many characters we encounter along the journey. It is also clear that Rhian has engaged in a great deal of personal research to bring everything together into one believable, honest package.

The plot-line is intriguing and never strays into the realms of dull, or mundane. This is also greatly aided by Rhian’s decision to keep the chapters short, so the pages soon begin to fly by and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get to the end of one chapter and have to make that decision to put the book down to get on with daily life, or perhaps…yes…yes…I’ll just do ONE more chapter…or maybe two.

For me, the best sign of whether a book works is whether it engages with my brain. I found this almost impossible to put down and, trust me (I’m an honest man, see paragraph 1, sentence 1) I don’t say that very often. In fact, it’s a genuinely rare occurrence for me, but Rhian has managed it with ease.

A beautifully, brilliantly-thought out and thoroughly well-planned novel by a very talented and caring writer. Finally, a personal lesson. Perhaps, this is a genre of book that I would never have considered, had I glanced at it on a shop bookshelf. As previously stated, I am so very glad that I did, for verily I have been converted by the writing skills of Rhian Ivory. Amen and several hallelujahs!

More please.

Get your copy of Hope