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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Anna Whitwham and Colin Barrett

Festival Blogger Benjamin Judge enjoys a lunchtime event with debut authors Anna Whitwham and Colin Barrett…

Central Library is looking good after its facelift. The room we are in is spacious and light, we can see the city through the windows, there is a metal door in one of the walls that looks like something Doctor Who might have to investigate if he were to pop by, our seats are the same pleasing dark grey of my wife’s new cardigan, but less bobbly, because I haven’t accidentally put the chairs in a 40° wash…

We are here to see Anna Whitwham and Colin Barrett (above) read from their debut books and discuss their work. We are here to buy books (though I am trying not to buy books at the moment, because I have more than I can cope with, so they will have to be very good, these readings, these writers, if I am to reach for my wallet).

Colin Barrett reads from his short story collection, Young Skins. He reads from the middle of a story (not telling us the end, eh? Creating suspense, eh? So I’ll buy the book, eh? Think you can break me, eh?) about Glanbeigh, a fictional small town in rural Ireland, a haircut, a meeting in a pub, a landscape filled with the young people left when the universities have just taken away the ‘brainboxes’. The prose is beautiful, lyrical, true (but I will stay strong. Don’t think you can break me with brilliance, Barrett. Think on).

Anna Whitham reads the second chapter of Boxer Handsome, her novel about boxing and fighting in contemporary London. With short sentences, little jabs of prose, she builds an emotional attack (look, I can’t buy both books. Will someone stop being good please?) of literature. Bobby wakes with a hangover and the bruises of a fight that wasn’t contained within a ring. There is a girl involved. There is jealousy and intrigue (again with the making the reader want more. You too, eh? I’m watching you Whitwham).

The discussion after the readings, chaired expertly by Kate Feld, is interesting and illuminating. Anna Whitham and Colin Barrett discuss their different prose styles and the place and use of violence in their work. Both writers come across as knowledgeable and passionate about literature and are generous when explaining their own work.

Reader, I bought both books. There is nothing as much fun as finding a new writer to get excited about. Finding two in an afternoon is a little bit special.



Benjamin Judge writes words, sometimes, when he’s allowed, mostly short and very short stories. He also does stay-at-home-dadding and sending postcards to the prime minister. He’s on Twitter: @benjaminjudge