Ever since I moved to Newcastle nearly 3 years ago, I have completely and utterly fallen in love with the city and its people. There is no other place quite like it, and I struggle to summon words to describe it. Having almost completed my three years as a student, my time in Newcastle is tragically almost over. When I saw that Comma Press were releasing The Book of Newcastle on the 16th January, I immediately had to have it. The idea that there was a collection of stories that could capture the place that I loved so much was the best parting gift I could ever think of. I luckily stumbled across Comma’s lovely publicist, Zoe Turner, on Twitter, who kindly sent me some of their recent and upcoming books in return for an honest review (how exciting is that?! Thank you, Zoe!). As soon as the books hit my inbox, I dove straight into The Book of Newcastle, my fingers positively itching for the words to load onto my (much too slow) laptop.
The Book of Newcastle, like the other anthologies in Comma's 'Reading the City' Series, is a collection of short stories set in the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne, written by some of the North East’s amazing literary talent. Looking through the list of authors, I was surprised to see so many who work, or have worked, at my university, such as Sean O’Brien. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for him in the department and begging for some writing tips! The collection was edited by Comma’s Zoe Turner and writer Angela Readman, whose short story ‘Magpies’ features in the collection. The stories span a diverse range of material: lost friendships and newfound ones, children growing up and the parents left behind, clinging onto the past and looking into the future. The diverse voices, characters, and subject matter in the collection strive to prove our interconnected nature. The collection also demonstrates the need for a larger spotlight on the amazing literary work being done in the North – both in terms of indie publishers, like Comma Press, and their talented authors, whose voices are needed in the industry.
My favourite aspect of the book, which is very much a personal one, was the ability to have "I know that place!" moments. Every mention of metro stops, specific places, and cafes made my heart skip. I was fully immersed in picturing every aspect of these stories - they ignited Newcastle for me. Not only do these stories speak for my experience of the city, but they also illuminate other perspectives, allowing anyone to be able to enjoy this collection. These perspectives highlight the changing nature of the city and its people over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the stories, but a few in particular stood out to me. J.A. Mensah's ‘Thunder Thursday on Pemberton Grove’ utilises the flash floods of 2012 to illuminate the interconnected lives of those living in Tyneside flats. The story intertwines its residents, from a range of different backgrounds and circumstances, promoting community and understanding between different people. Jessica Andrews’ ‘Blood Brothers’ made me cry in less than ten pages. This follows the story of two girls, best friends, growing up in Newcastle and growing apart. It simultaneously lights up what Newcastle means to me, the brutality of moving away for university, and the importance of a best friend. It is completely phenomenal. The beautiful Ouseburn, an artsy area of the city which has seen great renovation, is utilised in Crista Ermiya’s story ‘Duck Race’. It was so wonderful to be able to picture these places, blending the fictional and the real. Also, the student area in which I live in, Jesmond, had a mention, which was exciting! The collection closes with Degna Stone’s ‘Ekow on Town Moor’, which encapsulates both the previous stories and the narrative of Newcastle as a whole – standing on top of the moor, both the protagonist and the reader can gain a clear view of our time in Newcastle, what we have learned through these stories, and keep them with us forever.
I urge everyone to buy this book, whether familiar with Newcastle or not – explore the city’s past, its future, and its people, whether a trip of nostalgia, or an introduction to the North East. You will not be disappointed. The book is out on the 16th January (aka tomorrow for those reading this the day this is live), and Comma Press are hosting a free book launch on the 6th February at Newcastle City Library, which I can’t wait to attend!