As the autumn leaves continue to layer the streets and nature trails and with the classic Cumbrian weather rolling in, I’m talking to five Cumbrian writers on what books they are reading right now that you can indulge in this autumn.
Variations by Juliet Jacques
Arran Wylde-Eccles, a 24-year-old Playwright of Kendal, based in Manchester recommends this short story collection because it’s nothing like anything he’s ever read before.
Featuring screenplays, short stories, and newspaper clippings, Jacques uses fiction inspired by real material and real-life events to explore the history of transgender Britain.
Between each short, Arran felt himself being flung to a different location and a different time, yet: “The bold and cutting voice stood untouched throughout.” in the narrative. His personal favourite was “The Twist” a short screenplay that explores transgender portrayal in ‘cult classic’ films, such as the damaging representation featured in Psycho and The Crying Game.
This short was the most impressive and visual connecting story for Arran: “It touches upon issues such as CIS actors playing transgender people in films and that despite how sensitive (or for the most part, insensitive) the writing process and the end result may be, CIS people have no business writing complex, transgender narratives.”
The playwright remarks the collection is a blessing and although one might think this book was written for transgender people it would benefit the CIS readers: “It’s entertaining, educational and will help those who wish to become a better ally or hope to understand more how pop culture from the last one-hundred years has directly led to modern-day issues the trans community faces i.e. the toilet debate."
If you like the sound of Variations, you may want to check out Arran’s work The Play: Transcendent which explores the three worst stereotypes that Hollywood has created for real-life trans people.
If you liked Netflix’s blockbuster Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen which won, the GLADD Awards outstanding documentary you’ll be sure to enjoy his play.
Skint Estate by Cash Carraway
Indy Taylor, a 25-year-old Copywriter of Kendal, based in Salford recommends this non-fiction autobiographical account of the author’s struggles with poverty in Britain, through periods of homelessness, domestic abuse and living in a women’s shelter, to constantly moving home and being rejected by landlords for not having a stable job.
She discovered the non-fiction account through watching Kathy Burke’s Money Talks a C4 series that delves through the class divide in Britain. For Indy, the non-fiction tale is an eye-opening story for those who perhaps don’t realise the extent of the poverty problem in Britain: “Those who are ‘better off’, can’t even imagine life like that”.
Though a challenging read with brutally honest and graphic descriptions that make you want to put the book down it highlights important social crises closer to home for the copywriter: “There is a huge housing issue in Cumbria, where those with nowhere to go stay on homelessness lists for years (almost a decade in our case).
There is a huge demand for homes in the area, and many of this may be down to the ‘second home’ issue and the tourism.” The main thing Indy relates to within Skint Estate is the housing issue and her own personal experience of emergency housing and violent landlords: “The constant fear of being evicted with little notice and the lack of being able to root myself down in a stable ‘home’.
Since being 12, I have never stayed in one home for longer than 2 years as my mum was a single mum - somehow this tends to send people into the exhausting spiral of dealing with council housing, poverty, and all the stress that comes with it. It’s draining and confusing. It has an impact on my identity, as I have struggled to grow those roots or even feel comfortable in a house.”
Despite the colloquial brash nature of Carraways writing Indy acknowledges how it doesn’t diminish from the importance of the story she’s telling: “Things need to change to support struggling women that are just left aside to fend for themselves, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone who doesn’t understand the issues. The issue here is to convince them to read it in the first place.”. Indy has a digital marketing and SEO brand called Ohseio that does creative branding, illustration, and design. You check out her brands' work on the Insta handle: @ohseio
English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks
Matt Sowerby, a 20-year-old Poet of Kirkby Lonsdale recommends this part autobiography and part environmental polemic by Lake District farmer Rebanks which gives a first-hand account of how farming has changed over his lifetime, with serious consequences for both farmers and for the environment.
The work offered Matt reflection on his lived experience of the industry, with his family having farmed in Cumbria for generations: “I knew very little about the industry before I read this book. Our farm, like so many others in the area, closed before I was born. English Pastoral allowed me to understand more about my own heritage and how my role as a climate activist and storyteller fits within it.”
The poet feels there’s an increasing cultural divide between farmers and environmentalists and that Rebank’s book brings these two sides into a constructive dialogue once more. Matt recommends this book to anyone who is interested in the environment and farming debate as it offers perspectives and visions of what farming might look like in the future so that it remains sustainable.
Matt has recently written a monologue for Paines Plough’s Come to Where I Am project which addresses similar themes to Rebank’s book which you can watch here and you can check out Matt’s other work here.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.
Daneka Etchells, a 27-year-old Actor, and Writer of Carlisle is currently reading this novel about an unlikely three-way partnership considering raising a child; A trans-woman named Reese, her detransitioned ex Ames (formally Amy), and Ames’ boss Katrina whom Ames’ has gotten pregnant.
They describe Peters's story as: “funny, wild, comically and poignantly political, flitting between present and past, offering a beautifully, respectful relationship between Katrina and Reese and broaching an almost taboo subject of detransitioning, and what it means.”.
The comedic literature of Peters’ real, fresh, modern voice offers reflection and self-reckoning for the reader, in Daneka’s words: “In this climate, we are living, there is so much hostility against trans-women that’s demonising and unnecessary. And this book really closes the gap on this ‘fear of the unknown’ our society has, and shows, plainly and compassionately that trans-women have the same wants, desires, emotions, and feelings as cis-women.”
All this coupled together makes for an easy to chew up novel from one of the most successful fiction books by a trans author.
If you loved the sound of the book Daneka is reading right now then you’ll be sure to love their one-person show Sappho which they are touring next spring; A modern day retelling of the Greek poet Sappho’s life set in Barrow in Furness, exploring bisexuality, rurality, class and being other in a place that doesn’t understand you.
They are also currently writing Rogue Comet(s) a neurodivergent, non-binary love story set in Space for Box of Tricks. If you want to keep up with Daneka’s writing escapades you can find them at @danekaetchells on Twitter.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Em Humble, is a 23-year-old Comedy Writer, Performer, and Poet of Kendal, based in Leeds. Em had the book recommended to her by several friends who identified with the romantic journeys Dolly, reminisces on throughout her autobiographical novel.
Initially, Em found it hard to relate to Alderton’s boarding school setting in the novel, having gone to a local comprehensive in Cumbria but as the memoir continued, she found herself identify more with Alderton’s experience as a woman growing up and navigating modern relationships.
Alderton writing in Em’s view: “describes the people she meets and her various encounters with humour and accuracy, which, despite our different backgrounds, feel all too familiar.”
If you want to see what Em’s gets up to as a Comedy Writer, you can check out her work here.