If I Ruled the World by Elaine S Moxon

We asked local author Elaine Moxon to give us her version of the perfect world. We just didn't think that would involve taking us back a few thousand years!

This is tough to answer! Everyone has their own concept of Utopia and I would be the last person to insist that anyone lived the way I dictated. However, this is part of why I write historical fiction – to live in another time and experience a world I would like to live in. Dark Ages Britain is not an ideal world by any means: it is full of conflict, invasion, oppression, rivalry and a failing economy thanks to the departure of the Roman Empire. What draws me to this time is the simplicity of everyday life for the common people. Let me explain.

Pollution is minimal. Yes, everyone is burning wood, but there are no cars, aeroplanes, diesel locomotives or fuelled sea vessels. Travel is on foot, by horse or ox-drawn cart meaning distances take longer to cover. Life is therefore slower and without the technological interruptions we force upon ourselves today, such as social media, telephones and television. You don’t have to remember to log your every move on Facebook or keep up with episodes of your favourite television series. Instead, if you want to speak to someone you have to visit them to share news. Communal halls and temples are where large groups can exchange news and ideas for the community, sipping ale or mead and listening to someone sing songs of historic events.

Ever wanted to work from home instead of slogging through that daily commute? Live in the 5th Century AD and you can! You might have to rise a lot earlier than you do now (with the cockerel’s crow at the break of dawn, rather than an alarm clock tuned to your favourite radio station), but you’ll have fresh eggs from your own fowl and warm goats’ milk. Vegetables and herbs will be grown in a plot beside your home – enough to feed you and your family and perhaps some for barter at markets. Oh yes, and there is no coin – money no longer exists. Following Rome’s departure around 410AD coin held less and less value and bartering returned to Britain. You’ll need to fatten that pig so you can get a good price, or have plenty pork to salt and store through winter.

Do you spend half your wages on new clothes and beauty products? In Dark Ages Britain you’d be making both yourself. If you’re lucky enough to own goats or sheep you’ll have a supply of wool to spin and weave into patterned fabrics, having dyed it with vegetables and plants to your own choice of colours. There is no need to fret over that dress size you’re trying to get into – a peplos is ‘one size fits all’! Shoes (if you are wealthy enough to afford them) and belts are made of leather, possibly from another crafts person in your own village and you can knit your own stockings. If you are nobility you’ll be able to add some sumptuous brocade to the edges of your tunics, the fashion status symbol of the time. Beauty products can be made using milk and animal fats, scented with herbs or plant essences.

Many people today are becoming more and more interested in self-sufficiency and this is something I do like to see. We must remember after all, that we are an island. It makes sense to know you can grab some eggs from the bottom of your garden and pick a few spuds and cabbages if you need Sunday dinner accompaniments. Allotments are making a comeback and I often see people at garden centres investing in fruit trees.

Another trend is sustainable energy and the amount of homes with solar panels is growing week by week it seems. If there was one thing I would bring to this simpler Dark Ages life it would be advances in clean energy and medicine. There are already many who have built new homes with sustainable materials, living the eco-friendly life.

I myself have two apple trees and am making preparations to grow my own vegetables. I use flowers from my own garden as cut flowers to save on the cost of purchasing expensive bouquets and currently buy fruit and vegetables from a local supplier. Living close to the land and its changing seasons and making use of the immediate community harks back to these simpler, more ancient times I write about. Farmers’ markets and summer fêtes are lingering reminders of a close-knit ethos that once existed throughout Britain. Whether you live in a village or a bustling city, you can still become part of a community, buying locally and ethically; we can still grasp an essence of earlier times. Turn off your televisions and have a conversation, share wisdom and interests with those around you. The future is what we make it and perhaps we can learn a little from the past.


Elaine’s debut novel ‘WULFSUNA’ (Book 1 in the Wolf Spear Saga series) charts the journey of the Saxon tribe of the same name as they return to Britain. Their mission: to reunite with other ‘Wolf Sons’ they left behind who settled on the isle when the Roman Empire departed. Betrayal finds them and unbeknownst to their Lord’s son Wulfgar, an ancient legendary Saga is weaving his fate. When they discover a dishevelled young Seer on the roadside, destinies are altered for many and the lives of Morwyneth and the Wulfsuna are irrevocably entwined.

‘WULFSUNA’ has already garnered several 5-star reviews from readers and fellow historical fiction authors and was in the May issue of the ‘Historical Novel Society’ Indie Reviews. Elaine is currently writing Book 2 of the Wolf Spear Saga, due for release in 2016. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and runs a blog and website. She lives in Birmingham with her family and their crazy chocolate Labrador, and loves baking, language etymology and of course, history! She has recently begun making her own 5th Century Saxon costume to wear at events (or round the house).

‘WULFSUNA’ is available as a paperback and eBook and can be purchased from the following sites: SilverWood Books, Kobe, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com

Dear, Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is a beautiful building, nonetheless, I had my doubts that it was going to be functional from the start.

Having coped without a weekly visit to the old library for nine months, like many, I counted down the weeks to having access to a local library again. The excitement remains even while in the queue to squeeze into Birmingham’s shiniest gem. And during the time it took to get to each of the nine scintillating floors. There are escalators which then turn into a travelator and then lifts or stairs–your choice. I spend the whole day in there trying to see it all; now that I’m back in, you just try to get me out! 

During this day, I notice there were only three lifts for a building that fits 3000. We didn’t have 3000 people waiting to get in though so why the delay – too few doors?

Similarly, 3000 people trying to get to the bathroom is tricky. On the map, it’s delightful that there are facilities placed everywhere – I mean every corner you look. Except most of these are single occupancy lavatories so there’s either a wait or ‘cleaning’ sign to greet you. (If you’re in a hurry, by the way, the best ones to use are on the ground floor in the Rep. Plentiful and functional)

Some solutions

With the opening hours reduced this Spring, we’ll cast aside the reported £1 million wasted on an average website and the number of empty meeting rooms spotted.

In its first year, Birmingham’s newest tourist attraction is said to have received three million visitors, more than twice the previous library.

Surely, the idea is to get as many people in as possible to spend money and make this a sustainable public building it can so simply become, but what to spend cash on? There is only one coffee shop.

The days of libraries earning revenue from unpaid fines are gone – we can now renew books online or pop them into the external book deposit. There are plenty of other ways for the library to earn it’s living in order to retain its status as the must-see community building for all to access seven days a week.


Three million people deserve more than one coffee shop by the entrance. How about a fine dining restaurant, preferably with a view or a decent cafeteria with something for all at an everyday price? (see Amsterdam PL (Cost €80m). Another coffee shop/bar on one of the floors will bring in people to watch the sunset with a glass of something. Well they will when the library extends the hours to 10pm, like many cities around the world.

Have coffee served by people who love customers, promote the loyalty card (did you know they have one?) and install coffee machines that are not designed for self-service. They  do work in the ICC, which by the way is the same company, operating a cafeteria and their staff provide fantastic service.

Room Hire

With the view and the state of the art facilities, the library shapes up to be an impressive place to hold events. I was one of those sucked in by the glamour and then regretted it when it took me two months to book rooms. I saw empty rooms everywhere but I was told they were booked up.

The event service needs to be on a par with the hundreds of fantastic venues across this city. They need to match up to the friendliness of quirky Studio Venues, the food offerings of Etc. and the professionalism of ICC.

Eventually the library staff are responsive and I book rooms for several events. On more than one occasion I find I’m unable to have the air conditioning in this green library turned off without calling maintenance and waiting ‘up to four hours’! The staff bend over backwards to help you but just seem to be poorly trained and this  just capped a catalogue of errors over the course of several months.

I’ve organised events for years and worked with some fantastic venue people. We just need to get a few of those in and make the events department a winner here.

Be welcoming

Refrain from using hesitant council language (these chairs are for the use of library café customers only) to welcoming, customer friendly speak (you are welcome to come and purchase drinks and snacks from the café and enjoy them sitting here).

Call me old-fashioned, but a sign that says ‘lending library this way’ would be helpful in a library, right?

Business Centre

This can be the go to place for business starts ups – drop in, have your questions answered or be sign posted to someone that can help.

I understand we're in a community building and knowledge should be free. Nevertheless, how about charging a nominal fee for those who can afford it? Would you pay £10 for a drink and some mingling with lovely views? Or £15 for a workshop to learn some skills while admiring the busiest public library in Europe?

And the study rooms – can we just pay to book some of them for meetings?


For those of us (me) that adore libraries and reading, volunteering here is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want a few hours of their month spent here? Only, at the time of writing, the library is not offering any opportunities.

Any cost factors to train volunteers are surely offset by the better service to customers = more customers = more revenue = more opening hours.

I say bring in an army of enthusiastic volunteers to over shadow some of the (understandable) gloom. 


Sadly, the last couple of times I’ve made it to the top, I’ve noted the Shakespeare room no longer has a person sitting at the desk watching over this key piece of wondrous heritage. It’s lovely to have someone there to answer questions or just have banter with. A perfect role for a volunteer. Frankly, I’m happy to move into that room!

Any more suggestions? Please, let’s hear them.

By Rickie J,  library geek, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@RickieWrites @BrumFaves


Book: Park Life by Katharine D’Souza

I’ve been meaning to read this book by the Birmingham author for some time so it thanks to bumping into another writer, AA Abbott, who lent me a copy!

I wanted to take a light, quick read with me while spending a few days of reading/writing/coffeeing in France and this is perfect. 

Even after reading it, I’m unsure of the title as there are only a few scenes based in parks but it is a great title! The story works around two main characters who find themselves living in the same building somewhere around Kings Heath/Moseley. Craig is a 20 something corporate who is on the first rung of the housing ladder and trying to advance his career. Susan has just left the only man she has ever been with after becoming stifled in a 20 year, domineering relationship.

They befriend each other as both have a distinct lack of friends, Craig after his best friend stole his girlfriend and Susan because she never had a life outside her husband and now, grown up son.

An easy read, I found it difficult to learn about so many, what I would call, weak characters in one book. Susan’s ex is a bully and Craig’s is manipulating. The only strong people are the two new café owners who offer Susan her first job since she left school.

So, I love that Susan does leave her husband but find it difficult to always route for her.

Joyfully, there are plenty of characters in the book, café customers, Craig’s colleagues and Susan’s non-friends from her suburban life and there is the old trick of using excerpts of a childhood diary to explain an adult character’s flaw.

Park Life makes you turn the pages to find characters steadily changing and that’s what makes it a good read.

By avid reader & Brum Faves founder, Rickie J @RickieWrites


Book: Pigeon Wings by Heidi Goody & Iain Grant

pigeonwings cover 2The follow up to Clovenhoof, one of the funniest books I read last year. That one had Satan being sent to live on Earth and covered all the trials and tribulations of the Prince of Darkness living in the West Midlands. This included working out what money is, what parts of the body do and what items are generally found in most homes across the civilised world. This time, after a – em, mix up – Arch Angel Michael is banished from heaven and is now the neighbour of his adversary. The other neighbours in the Sutton Coldfield building, Ben the book shop owner and Nerys the singleton who works in recruitment are still around.

Michael finds it easier to settle than Jeremy Clovenhoof did but the laugh-out-loud moments are still around him finding out what his man parts are used for.

Because he has been all about looking after mankind as his (former) boss wanted, he blends into human society so much better and is seen as a model citizen. Of course, he finds modern society with its lacksadaisy attitude towards church and god challenging. He even finds a way of earning a very good living by designing app for himself, which he is then encouraged to sell instead of giving way free. Who says being good doesn’t conquer all?

It took a little while longer to get into this one, what with monks on an island off Wales making magic jams, social climbing mothers and gay gym bunnies to contend with, but once past 100 pages, it’s a super-funny page turner.

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites @RickieWrites



Festive Book Giveaway: After the Interview by A A Abbott

51KDy+IvdUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A free book?

Autographed by the author?

Yes please, we hear you cry!

AA Abbot writes office thrillers and this is your opportunity to win her latest, After The Interview.

"I find offices fascinating, with their secret projects, pecking order and water cooler gossip. That’s why I write about office life – with added thrills.”

To be in with a chance of winning the book, turn to Twitter and simply retweet the give away tweets until midnight 15th December. Then follow @BrumFaves in case you win.

Every retweet (up to one retweet a day) will be put in a draw and the winner announced on 16th December.


Bimingham Gift Guide: Books

[gallery type="slideshow" ids="3419,3969,2850,3357,3950,2853,3274,3693"]

Here's Brum Faves selection of books about Birmingham or written by local authors - or both!

  • 27 by Ryan Davis - Rock 'n' roll novel based in Birmingham in 1999.

  • Father of Locks by Andy Killeen - Unveils the historical truth behind the Arabian Nights tales

  • No Mean Affair by Robert Ronsson - Glasgow housewife’s journey from the poverty of the tenements to the centre of British political power in Westminster

  • Clovenhoof by Heide Goody & Iain Grant - Satan is fired from his job as Prince of Hell and exiled to that most terrible of places: English suburbia.

  • After the Interview by A A Abbott - We’ve all made mistakes at job interviews, but what happens when the tables are turned?

  • Spilt Milk Black Coffee by Helen Cross - Handsome Amir, somewhere in his twenties, somewhere in a Yorkshire town, is torn between duty and lust.

  • Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns

  • Million Dollar Dress by Heide Goody - Modern-day Cinderella story

  • In Other Hands by Iain Grant - People on the margins of society and the ties that bind us all together.

  • Beatrice by Fiona Joseph - The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune

Any more to add to the list? Let's have your recommendations in the comments or please tweet @BrumFaves

Book: Beatrice by Fiona Joseph

Coffee was considered a little too stimulating for female workers!

I’ve always had interest in the Cadbury family’s business methods anyway so was delighted to find out that local author Fiona Joseph was writing a book about them. More specifically, Beatrice Boeke, nee Cadbury, daughter of Richard was born in 1884.

On the strength of this book, I went to hear the author do a talk. I planned to buy a signed copy to read and hearing Fiona talk with so much love and admiration for Beatrice, I ‘fell a little bit in love’ too.

The story starts as Beatrice is born into what is already a wealthy family. Her father’s first wife died after giving birth to their fourth child and Beatrice is a result of his second marriage to his treasured Emma. They go onto have a long and happy marriage but are long gone before Beatrice rebels and this is when the story takes off.

We are introduced to Beatrice’s future husband, a trained architect, when she is already doing missionary work and she is on a panel interviewing him for a role in Syria. By the time he starts the role, they are already about to embark on a marriage.

Even before this, I enjoy every bit of the story and the book gives me a greater understanding on the Quaker beliefs held by the Cadburys. They are already known for ‘their mix of thrift and generosity’ and I love that sentiment. The most interesting aspect is that the simple life led by Quakers is at odds with the wealth the family accumulate. But, the wealth is very much redistributed in that they open their home to those less fortunate, offer them the opportunity to wash and have fresh clothes and most famously, they treat their employees with the utmost respect and care.

Bournville in Birmingham is still a dry village and no alcohol can be sold and there are other quirks in this little suburb of the city that totally adhere to the original Cadbury ethos. It’s a beautiful, well-kept place as I learn from my first visit their last year for a much-needed view of a Christmas lights switch on that was actually in December and not several weeks previous!

Back to Beatrice, most of the book now centre’s on how the conflict within her heart grows and what leads her wanting to give up her shares and inheritance. It is odd that she did not feel the same way as her father in that their wealth could be put to good use help others. I’m left wondering what they could have done with all that disposable income rather than giving it back to the factory workers, something her brothers, now the Cadbury directors, urged her against.

Beatrice’s and her husband’s legacy centre’s on what they did for education in Holland, where they both lived after Kees was deported. Both in England and Holland, they were routinely arrested for publicly speaking their minds about being anti-war primarily, something that is against Quaker beliefs anyway. But their belief in letting children learn through play, at their own pace rather forcing tests and learning (they called this sociocracy) is fascinating and something I have had a long-term interest in. We are guided through the time when Kees started home schooling their younger children (they had 7 in all), mainly as they could not afford the school fees. The popularity grew and eventually they set up a proper school, with some funds from the Cadbury Trust that Beatrice started with her dividends.

The couple lived through two world wars, struggling and at one point living in tents. I’m at odds at this when there brothers and sisters were living in luxury but still doing managing to do good for others. Either you work and earn a living and pay taxes – something they were against as they didn’t want their money paying for the wars – or you do good with the money.

But the family Boeke stood their ground and eventually, later in life managed to earn their keep through educating others.

This is a fascinating read.

By Rickie J, Founder and editor of Birmingham Favourites. @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

Festive Book Giveaway: Spilt Milk Black Coffee by Helen Cross

A free book?


By a local Birmingham author?

Yes please, we hear you cry!

Moseley based, Helen Cross, an entertaining guest at one of our Meet the Author events this year, is currently working on a film adaptation of her latest novel ‘Spilt Milk Black Coffee’, a copy of which she has signed for the lucky winner.

Helen's  first novel ‘My Summer of Love’ won a Betty Trask Award and became a BAFTA award winning feature film, starring Emily Blunt and Natalie Press.

To be in with a chance of winning the book, turn to Twitter and simply retweet the giveaway tweets and follow @BrumFaves in case you win.

Every retweet (up to one retweet a day) will be put in a draw and the winner announced on 9th December.


Birmingham Books: Must Haves

Looking for ideas on original book presents? Here are some Birmingham infused book recommendations put together by city tour guide, Ian Braisby in 2013. Birmingham Books and Writers

Mainly regarded as a city of commerce and industry rather than culture, there is actually a very good reason why Birmingham’s coat of arms offsets the man with hammer, anvil and crucible with a lady carrying a pallet and a book.  Over the years, it has been the birthplace, home and inspiration to many well-known and hugely successful poets, playwrights and novelists.

Festive Book Giveaway: 27 by Ryan Davis

A free book?

By a local Birmingham author?

A novel based in Birmingham?

Yes please, we hear you cry!

Ryan Davis, a wonderful guest at one of our Meet the Author events this year, has kindly given us a signed copy of his book 27.

[box type="note"] It's 1999, the end of the millennium and Jim Vale, aka Jimmy Tyrant, singer of one hit wonders The Tyrants has lost everything he once loved. Like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and many rockers before him, Jim tries to end it all by committing suicide at the age of twenty seven.

Trouble is, he survives. [/box]

To be in with a chance of winning the book, turn to Twitter and simply retreat the giveaway tweets and follow @BrumFaves.

Every retweet (up to one retweet a day) will be put in a draw and the winner announced on 2nd December.

See our review of 27 here.

Book: The Father of Locks by Andrew Killeen

I do have a love of historical novels that make me pay attention to history as an adult like I never did at school. This however, from Birmingham based author Andrew Killeen, is a whole other level of history.

We are following the adventures of Ismail, a young thief and (aspiring) poet who is desperate to get to Baghdad and be part of the world’s capital city’s vibrant culture.

As we read of his adventures, we learn of his history and how he came to be so young and travelling to the biggest of city alone. He soon falls into the hands of the most famous poet, womanising bi-sexual Abu Nuwas. ‘The Father of Locks’ takes him under his wing although this doesn’t stop either of them cheating death many times as they weave in an out of Baghdad’s back alleys and uncover ancient cults, multiple religions and beautiful people of both sexes.

Then there is the mystery of the missing children which unlocks more questions than answers.

I found it a tough to keep up with the colourful cast as we’ve weaved back and forward in history buy enjoyable nonetheless. If this era appeals to you, you will love it.

By Rickie J. Reader of books & founder of Brum Faves.

Contact @RickieWrites or @BrumFaves


Book: After the Interview by AA Abbott

The book is based in our two major cities, Birmingham and London and is full of thoroughly familiar landmarks in both. I now can’t walk past St Pancras without looking around for the flat featured!

As the author commented at the recent Meet the Author event, in this book, all the bad things tend to happen in London and the good in Birmingham. The main characters run companies. One started his and the other is an employee that’s risen up the ranks.

Whereas AA Abbott is fascinated by offices and what goes on in them, the book just served to re-remind me why I don’t like working in them. Even non-corporate ones. Every office that looks like, well, looks like an office!

The book title is only explained a little later on as we hear about all the characters eventually bumping into one another or indeed, we discover where they have met before. That must be the most fun part of writing fiction – creating the characters and seeing how they are going to collide.

Despite disliking all of the characters, even those that came good in the end had some major character flaws, it’s an enjoyable, quick read.

By Rickie, reader and founder of Birmingham Favourites

Contact @RickieWrites or @BrumFaves or directly @AAAbbottStories

Book: Clovenhoof by Heide Goody & Iain Grant


After 27, I've gone and read another book based in Birmingham, or more specifically Sutton Coldfield. As the title suggests, demons of an entirely different kind feature in this book .

Satan has been ousted from the role that he has had almost his entire life – the job he was born to do. Hell has been running too slowly and the lines to get in are simply too long so something has to change. Having been made redundant, he has been transported to earth – to suburban Sutton Coldfield – with the Archangel Michael making sure he doesn’t return to his evil ways but blends in with local society.

But of course he doesn’t!

Former #MeetTheAuthor guests, Heidi Goody and Iain Grant jointly tell us all the ways he just doesn’t settle on Earth without bringing his bad ways with him.

Now named Jeremy Clovenhoof, we learn about Satan forming a heavy metal band – not realising you are meant to sell tickets – not buy them all yourself and give them away free.

We witness Clovenhoof realising money doesn’t grow on trees when his generous allowance runs out after putting on a ’sold out’ gig at Birmingham Symphony Hall (see above).

We then find out all the ways in which he obtains money – rather than having to work for it.

‘He had decided that if he ever returned to his old  job he would create a special level of hell…and then Nerys had taken him to IKEA and Clovenhoof realised that humans had once gain beaten him to it’.

And we hear how he makes friends/enemies/friends again with the other flat dwellers in his building.

There is a fantastic cast including dead vicars, Joan of Arc and when the angel Michael says he has friends in high places, we know what he means.

The story travels from what’s going on in hell, heaven (they have a monorail that takes you 500 miles in 30 minutes) and Birmingham and the latter is definitely the most interesting. I’m making the most of my time while I’m here on earth!

A highly recommended read and now that I have caught up with this 2012 release, I’m moving onto others written by these amusing local writers.


Smile factor 9½/10

Find out about MeetTheAuthor events here.

Book: No Mean Affair by Robert Ronsson

No_Mean_Affair_Cover_low-198x300Having just read a book based in my one of my favourite cities, Birmingham, move on to this, based in another, Glasgow. This one however, is delightfully, a history lesson too, of the best kind. It opens in Glasgow in 1912 in a tenement – that is – a one room dwelling. The poverty of Glasgow has been well-documented and when I visit now and look at the gorgeous architecture in the West End, it’s astonishing to think those lovely buildings once held multiple families. Large families too and the one featured in No Mean Affair is that of Mary Ireland, the grandmother of the author.

Her husband didn’t think much of it, but Mary had bigger plans than to raise their three bairns in one room in a smoky, smelly Glasgow. Mary didn’t think it was right that women couldn’t vote either, but her main concern was the living conditions of the poor. They moved to Glasgow to live in the same building as his brother who gave him a job as a milkman – a job she took on when he went to war.

It was while standing up for the rights of the poor that Mary came across John Wheatley, a prominent, wealthy businessman who had raised himself up from his boot straps.  A miner’s son, Wheatley built his business interests through suspect methods, including using thugs to chase money, which is how he came across Danny, the third main character.

He hired Danny, as his right hand man who lived in the big house along with his wife and family and then progressed to do more for the poor in the city. During a #MeetTheAuthor event, Robert Ronsson tells us there is a biography of JW (as Danny, who holds more than a torch to Mary, refers to him) which helped with the research.

Being a key player in the new Independent Labour Party, JW moves to improve conditions including reducing the working week down from 54 hours and letting women join political parties. I learn at this stage they can’t vote and even later in the 1930s can only vote if they are a home owner. How many women owned homes then?! This only really started happening to a greater degree in the 1980s.

So why No Mean Affair? The story is centred on the 20 year deep-rooted affair that eventually developed between Mary and JW. Despite the generation gap between them, they had the same believes and sacrificed much to develop housing reform in the 1920s. While JW rose to be an MP, Mary was still in the one room with her husband and now four children. Neither will get a divorce in Catholic Glasgow and Mr Ireland turned a blind-eye to the affair to a point, as it kept him in money to stay drunk. Mrs Wheatley was less patient but the managed to stay married while the affair evolved to a solid working relationship as well as a deep affection.

Of course this book is fiction based on historical events and real people and that’s the best way I know to learn about history.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning how JW seemed to have his heart in the right place while political ambition roared inside him and we learn exactly why a poor women from Glasgow left three of her children behind to come and live in London.

Take me back to 1930, I need to know more!


Smile factor 9/10

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites. Contact via twitter on @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

Book: 27 by Ryan Davis

“One of the greatest rock and roll novels ever written, an exciting new voice!" – Ian Marchant. Oh my.

I've read a few stories about Birmingham but this is the first based in the modern era. The story of Jim Vale, AKA Jimmy of the Tyrants is told at the turn of this century. As it twists from gangland drugs to murders to stereotypical dodgy band managers and millennium parties, I find myself looking out of my Jewellery Quarter window to confirm to myself it’s not real.

27 being the infamous age when so many promising rocksters commit suicide, we wonder if this will happen to Jimmy, after the runaway success of one of their singles. He doesn’t like the way the band are going and his so called best friend/bassist seems desperate to take his frontman/singer slot.

He wants out.

But he doesn’t succeed.

So it is then decided by the Tyrants manager that he should lay low, pretend he really has shuffled this mortal coil and let the band re-invent themselves without him, milking the story for every £ they can so he can repay his debts.

He has nowhere to turn, firstly because he is meant to be dead but also because his mother is currently minus all her marbles, his former girlfriend wants nothing to do with him and he has no money to make music.

Instead he turns to an old friend whose ambition is to be the biggest drug dealer in the city. To earn himself the money he desperately needs to make his own album, he becomes his friend’s runner and finds himself embroiled in deeper trouble caught up between the city’s gangs.

Read the book to discover if and how Jim/Jimmy makes it through. But if you live in Birmingham, the city will look a lot different afterwards as you spot the various landmarks heavily featured from 1999.

 Ryan will be talking about this book and his writing at the Birmingham Favourites #MeetTheAuthor event on August 11th2014. Click here for details & to book your free seat.

Find Ryan Davis on Twitter @RoyMonde or take a look at his website.

By Rickie J, editor & founder.

Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns

I’m sure most readers are familiar with the great Led Zeppelin, although you may not be aware that both the vocal and percussive powerhouses of the band (Robert Plant and John Bonham) were West Midlands boys, and cut their teeth on the vibrant music scene of the region in the 1960s.  Barney Hoskyns’ new oral history of the biggest band of the seventies provides us with a fascinating insight into those days, where bands would traipse from venue to venue performing multiple gigs a night.  The region is more than just a jumping off point for Plant and Bonham, with the industrial heritage of the area being cited (not for the first time) as a driving force behind the “heaviness” of the music, competing to be heard with the roar of the factories.  Lest we forget, it is perhaps no coincidence that Birmingham and the West Midlands are widely regarded as the birthplace of heavy metal, with Led Zeppelin (arguably) the first metal band.

Barney Hoskyns’ book is based on exhaustive interviews with a wide range of people who “were there” as Zeppelin conquered the world. As well as the band there is testimony from roadies, friends, musicians, management, and many others.  The result is a book that leads the reader into feeling like an insider, from the first gigs as the band rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds, through to the death of John Bonham, the end of the band and their endeavours since.

Zeppelin were renowned for their excess (as the title suggests), and this is presented unflinchingly, painting a rather tragic image of how this side of success ate away at the band.  However, there is also plenty of time devoted to how powerful the band could be (especially live) and how much joy they gave in their huge performances.

The book is divided into four sections which broadly cover the origins, formation and rise of the band, then covering their demise and the subsequent work of the surviving members. Each section is prefaced with a short description of the bare bones of what happened in the period but most of the text is made up of word of mouth descriptions of the action, which leads to a patchwork view of the events in question and a real sense of immediacy.

At 552 pages, the book is heavy in more than once sense, but well worth the effort of picking up.

Blake can be contacted on Twitter  @brum_enthusiast or take a look at his blog.

Book: Tourmaline by James Brogden

Tourmaline is the second novel by author James Brogden. Brogden faces quite a challenge due to the success of his debut novel, The Narrows. He set the bar so high with his first publication and must now follow his own critically-acclaimed, accomplished piece of writing. As with any second novel, fans want to see everything they loved about The Narrows but they also demand something new and improved. As such, Tourmaline was set to be Brogden's difficult second album.

Suffice it to say, Brogden has made this second album look easy. Tourmaline is every bit as masterful as The Narrows. It is grounded, gripping fantasy, with strong elements of horror, plenty of dark humour and a cast of beautifully-realised characters.

If The Narrows was Brogden's Reservoir Dogs, then Tourmaline is his Pulp Fiction. Or, to use a literary reference, if The Narrows was Carrie, then Tourmaline is Salem's Lot: bigger, bolder and more ambitious.

The Stephen King reference is apt because Brogden shares the prolific storyteller's talent for inserting humour into the darkest of moments. There are many laughs to be had from the hradix, for example, which is essentially a reptilian monster stuck in the body of a child, who the heroes adopt as a pet halfway through the novel. Brogden also has King's flair for depicting scenes of utter horror. A scene where a swarm of floating bones and tendons attacks the heroes like ravenous wasps instantly springs to mind. And the monstrous araka is a fearsome creation, perfectly introduced in the opening prologue.

However, King-sceptics needs not fear. Brogden bypasses King's penchant for over-writing and Tourmaline is therefore a lean, mean, fast-paced and well-edited read. Equally, those not keen on fantasy should not be put off. Tourmaline is not high fantasy. There are no dragons and wizards. The story is grounded in reality, with recognisable characters, much like George R R Martin's first entry in A Song of Fire and Ice.

Indeed, half of the action is set in our everyday world. Brodgen takes the ingenious decision to adopt a dual narrative structure in the early chapters to ease newcomers into the idea of another world. We glimpse this new world a piece at a time: at first, it contains only one man lost at sea. Then, gradually, other characters are introduced in the form of a small crew on a scrap-ship. This softly-softly approach makes the reader comfortable in another universe so they won't even blink when Part Two arrives, set almost entirely in the other world.

Ironically, it is the action in the real world which is one of Tourmaline's greatest USPs and an author trademark that Brogden established in The Narrows. Specifically, the story takes place in Birmingham (UK), second largest city in England, jewel of the Midlands, home of the balti curry and a place with more canals than Venice and more parks than Paris. It is the perfect place to set a fantasy novel: large, diverse, cultural, modern but traditional and rough around the edges.

Locals to Birmingham can enjoy references to the Sea Life Centre, Hagley Road and the infamous Spaghetti Junction. Meanwhile, University of Birmingham students and alumni will be excited by the opening which is set in the campus-based Barber Institute of Fine Art. Even better, a University of Birmingham security guard saves the world. Now that's something to put in the 2015 prospectus.

The vast ensemble is brilliantly put together. Brogden skilfully captures the voices and personalities of dozens of characters, making us feel sympathetic to all of them, hero or villain. It is testament to the characterisation that the inhabitants in the fantasy world are just as relatable and recognisable as those in the real world. Brogden switches between their perspectives with admirable dexterity. Brogden's talent for language is worth a special mention. With so much story, action and snappy dialogue, a lesser writer may have skimped on the poetry but this is not a luxury that fantasy writers can afford. After all, they have to build a new world in our mind's eye. Brogden accepts this mantle with relish. A ship encounters "a maze of beautiful but navigationally perilous coral reefs which rose into thousands of shimmering pillars, as if the microscopic creatures which built the coral had one day decided to build up towards heaven." The Birmingham locations get their own share of Brogden's poetic pen. Describing the Sea-Life Centre as echoing with the "shrieking of children, tinny ocean-themed muzak and the pervasive thunder of water" is one of many observations that will have local readers nodding.

Tourmaline is one of the finest books published this year: addictive, thrilling, fantastic, saturated with imagination and brimming with story. It deserves a long print-run, critical acknowledgement and commercial success, as does the talented James Brogden.

So tell your friends, tell your family, tell yourself: go read Tourmaline.

Tourmaline is published by Snow Books and available as a paperback from Amazon, currently priced at £7.16.

By Simon Fairbanks who can be contacted via @simonfairbanks

Book: Million Dollar Dress by Heide Goody

Book review by Simon Fairbanks Million Dollar Dress is chick lit packed with quick wit by local author Heide Goody.

It tells the story of Justine, who obtains a high-tech dress which can change the body shape of the wearer. Once Justine masters the technology, she can alter her slightly plump body image to match that of a Hollywood supermodel. Meanwhile, a host of interest parties are looking to take the dress for themselves.

The synopsis may suggest this is targeted at a female audience and it would certainly please this market. However, Million Dollar Dress offers a rich plateau for readers of any demographic and genre: the plot moves with the pace of a thriller, the dress itself is pure science-fiction and its comedy is universal.

It is this comedy element that propels Million Dollar Dress above the rest of its canon. Heide Goody has a particular knack for delivering an ensemble of sharply-observed characters and executing comedy set pieces with the chaos and energy of a Carry On film. Anagram fans will note that Million Dollar Dress contains two LOLs and you will certainly be laughing out loud as the story escalates.

The titular dress is a clever concept. As with all best science-fiction, it introduces a futuristic notion that addresses everyday concerns, specifically those relating to the body image culture which keeps certain magazines and reality shows in business.

The dress also acts as the MacGuffin and provides the perfect excuse to bring together an unlikely ensemble, ranging from fashion designers to military operatives. Particularly memorable characters include Blake Charwood (Sutton Coldfield's answer to Justin Beiber) and Justine's interfering mother figures, Pat and Irma. Their recreation of a scene from Alien to scare off an interested party is hilarious.

And best of all, the novel is set in Birmingham so there are plenty of regional references (the Bullring, the Jewelry Quarter) which act as an extra reward for local readers.

You can download Goody's novel for Kindle for a reasonable £2.05. And Million Dollar Dress is worth every penny.

By Simon Fairbanks who can be contacted via @simonfairbanks

Contact Heide Goody via @HeideGoody

Stuart Maconie: The People's Songs

By Blake Stuart Maconie, for those not familiar with his work on radio and print, is warm, witty and erudite, and an unapologetic champion of pop music.  Through his radio 2 series “The People’s Songs” (and accompanying book) he has explored the role of music in shaping and reflecting the realities of modern Britain.

Birmingham Town Hall is an iconic venue marking the edge of Victoria square, and will be familiar to many Brummies.  The hall opened in 1834, with one of the architects being Joseph Hansom, later the inventor of the Hansom cab.   The Town Hall project actually bankrupted Hansom, the experience of which may have led to him later becoming a radical socialist.

I mention this as the Town Hall is therefore an appropriate venue for Maconie’s discussion of music, politics and everything in between, with particular focus on ‘ordinary’ people, as the building has served in the past as a forum for political debate and a meeting place for local government.  During his talk, Maconie drily noted he felt the pressure, knowing that Charles Dickens gave readings at the Hall (apparently, the first public reading of a Christmas Carol).  The venue symbolises the grandeur and optimism of the city in the 19th century, and we should remain proud of it today.

Maconie is an engaging speaker, and his talk this evening is fairly fluid, structured loosely around some of the themes from The People’s Songs radio programme, a good format for a raconteur used to performing on live radio. As well as The People’s Songs, the talk includes excerpts from Maconie’s amusing and insightful books on music, food and The North, all of which he links well to his personal stories – his tale of being taken to see The Beatles as a small child is particularly hilarious.  In the hands of a less likable host, some of the tales could have descended into grating “here’s a story about my famous mates” anecdotes, but Maconie is unpretentious and grounded and these instead become fascinating insights.

The only downside of the evening, ironically, is the venue itself.  Despite being a spectacular building, both outside and in, the Town Hall is too large and “showy” for Maconie’s warm and inclusive manner.  The hall was less than full and this did give rise to a slight sense of being present at a sparsely-attended political gathering.  Overall, this reviewer felt that the event would have felt better in a more intimate setting.

This is, however, not a criticism of either the Town Hall, or of Maconie himself – both are things to be treasured.

During the evening, Maconie noted with glee that The People’s Songs programmes are on the iplayer for 800 years (I’ve checked, and it seems he was getting ahead of himself – the latest episode is due to expire in 2099…).  Let’s hope that the heirs to this warm chronicler of the modern world are appearing at the Town Hall then.

Were you at this event? We would love to know your thoughts so please do add your comments below.

Blake can be contacted on Twitter  @brum_enthusiast or take a look at his blog 

Photos by Blake & Brum Faves.

Storytelling at Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath

Tucked away on York Road in Kings Heath behind Fletchers Bar and Eatery is the delightful Kitchen Garden Cafe, a wonderful and cosy venue offering excellent food, a range of fine ales, delicious soft drinks, great coffee, amazing cakes and a wide variety of entertainment.

In October, I headed along there for the Storytelling Cafe, a wonderful event that takes place on the third Wednesday of each month.  It's been running for a number of years now, and was recently taken over by some lovely lady storytellers, a few of whom were performing on Wednesday night.

Adult storytelling is something that I was first introduced to in 2012, and I was immediately smitten. We are all used to stories being gifted to us as novels, television shows and movies.  However, there is something unique and almost magical about sitting in an audience of eager listeners, as a storyteller continues with a tradition as old as time, weaving their tales around you like soft, silken threads of words.  I really do highly recommend giving it a go!

As for Kitchen Garden Cafe, well, they offer a special menu for Storytelling Cafe, and food is available from 6:30pm for approximately 45 minutes.  As well as storytelling, they also host live music nights, comedy and cabaret, details of which can be found via their website.

On my most recent visit, I didn't eat (well, okay, I had coffee cheesecake, and it was divine, but I was too eager to taste it and forgot to take a picture!).  When I visited in the summer, I enjoyed this delicious mezza platter, which as well as being a carnival for the taste buds, was also very reasonably priced!

Needless to say, I shall be returning again and again, and ensuring that I arrive in enough time to enjoy a meal when I do!

To find out about Kitchen Garden Cafe, visit their website.

Written by Debra Jane who can be contacted via @Notaskinnymini or her blog