The Loney: Andrew Michael Hurley


andrew-michael-hurleyAward-winning author, Andrew Michael Hurley, spoke with Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, at the Gothic Manchester Festival 2016: The Gothic North, in the marvellously appropriate Historic Reading Room at The John Rylands Library to a full house yesterday evening.

This engaging conversation covered the landscape and writers that inspired Hurley when writing The Loney, Hurley’s approach to writing and some of the key themes that run through his novel. For those not lucky enough to attend, following are my notes on their conversation.

the-loneyIs there such a thing as ‘northern Gothic’ in literature? Well, if there is, The Loney is it.The Gothic enables a writer to approach the large existential questions such as faith and identity, in an interesting and different way and Hurley does this in The Loney. He explores the difficulties of those experiencing a crisis of faith, using a group of parishioners on their annual Easter pilgrimage to a lonely stretch of the northwest coast. Eerie, strange and haunting, the landscape is as much a character as the parishioners and their priest.  A deeply unsettling, haunting novel, The Loney has at its heart a tension, that between reason and unreason. There is an honesty in Gothic writing, specifically the honesty of arrogant narrators in Gothic; the narrators use their knowledge to combat the horror they are witnessing but there always comes a point when reason cannot comprehend what is happening, or explain it away, and they are overcome by the horror.

Hurley visited the Morecombe Bay area many times as a child, through all its seasons, and the loneliness of this area was one of his inspirations for The Loney. The northern landscape and the weather lends itself to the Gothic; its gloomy, glowering skies are quintessentially Gothic.

Hurley was brought up in the Catholic faith (although lost his faith some time ago); as a child he learnt from his religion that there is another world peopled with spirits, devils and angels. He found many of the tenets of his faith gory, such as transubstantiation, and consequently his novel is soaked in this religious imagery and fervour.

Writers that have inspired Hurley include Charles Maturin and Shirley Jackson. Hurley talked admiringly about the ‘elasticity’ in the worlds in Jackson’s novels; her realities are recognisable but she stretches that reality to something off kilter, not quite right, that acts to unsettle the reader.Some direct literary influences on The Loney include M R James’ Whistle and I’ll come to you, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (some of the novel is set in Whitby, another northern coastal area) and Daphne DuMaurier (Don’t Look Now, The Birds).

It’s very difficult to say any more about The Loney without spoiling it so all i will say is that you should read it! And good news, there is another novel on the way also set in rural Lancashire,in the Bowland Fells, focusing on a small farming community and its local folklore.





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What’s in a name? The Shakespeare Authorship Conference, Manchester 2016

title_page_william_shakespeares_first_folio_1623Every now and then I like to indulge my inner nerd and go to some sort of literary panel discussion or conference. So at the weekend I went to the Shakespeare Authorship Conference, held at the Manchester Central Library.

I should say upfront that I don’t really believe that there is some dark conspiracy to cover up the identity of ‘the real Shakespeare’; in fact, quite frankly I don’t care that much. What draws me time and time again are the plays themselves. Their language. Their wordplay. Their characters. That said, I do like a robust discussion about books and/or authors.

By virtue of it being a ‘Shakespeare Authorship Conference’, there was of course the upfront agreement that there IS a question about whether or not ‘William Shakspeare of Avon’ wrote the plays (obviously some in the academic world deny this question’s very existence).So the orthodox view wasn’t represented. But there were more than enough other theories expounded to keep the conversation flowing all day.

What I found most fascinating is the apparent lack of documentary evidence proving beyond doubt the authorship of the plays. I can see why so many alternative author and conspiracy theories abound; considering the author of the plays was a person of considerable literary ability, there are very few contemporaneous documentary references to Shakspeare. No letters survive, no diary entries, no annotated manuscripts (well not ones where the hand can be confidently attributed). Even his will does not mention his library (that you would assume he would own) or the manuscripts of his plays.

At the end of the conference I left knowing a lot more about the proposed alternative authorship contenders than I did before; I vaguely knew that some believe that the Earl of Oxford was the real author, or Christopher Marlowe, but I didn’t know about all the others. There really are a lot?! For those who are interested in learning more about the candidates,I suggest you check out the Shakespeare Authorship Trust site.

And I now know that I am not an ‘Oxfordian’ or someone who believes in a co-authorship or group theory. I think I may be a ‘sceptical Stratfordian’. But really, does it really matter? After all, what’s in a name?…

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Looking for a new job? Don’t forget to put your best foot forward online too!

social-media-300x292In this brave new world of constant online activity, it’s not enough to have a strong CV and a good interview technique; you need to have a professional online presence too.

There is absolutely no point submitting a brilliant covering letter and CV if, when the HR Manager googles you (as part of their shortlisting process) they find your twitter rants, Facebook boozy photos and no LinkedIn profile (or even worse, an out of date LinkedIn profile).

I’m not saying you need to change your lifestyle, or that you should be misleading in your online presence, but you should be very aware of how your online presence could come across to others. Google your name right now. Done it? What shows up?

I am (un)lucky enough to have a relatively unusual name so all search results tend to be about me! So I need to be very careful about what I share online, therefore I tend to  have different privacy settings for different social media channels depending on how I use them/their purpose.

Here are my recommendations to make sure you are putting your best foot forward online.

This is a no-brainer. You MUST have a LinkedIn profile. With a professional photo. And up-to-date accurate information. It’s also a good idea to regularly share articles and/or post info to your LinkedIn profile as this activity ensures that your profile will show near the top of a search result of your name.

My personal preference is to keep Facebook purely as a personal channel. I tend not to ‘friend’ a lot of work colleagues  (unless they are friends as well as work colleagues of course) and treat it as a private channel to keep in touch with friends. So, to this end, I always set the privacy setting to ensure that search engines do not find my Facebook profile and therefore return it in search results linked to my name (see my previous article on Facebook privacy settings).

My twitter account is linked to my LinkedIn account and I am happy for anyone to read it. I tend to tweet about books, cats, food & drink and events (in that order!) and am not ‘political’ or controversial (so quite dull!). I am not saying that you shouldn’t be controversial on Twitter if you want to get a job, but you should be aware of how you might be perceived as a result of your tweets.

Email address
One last thing. Most people nowadays have several email accounts. Gmail is the preferred email of choice but there is still Hotmail (so old school I hear you cry!) and Yahoo, etc. It shouldn’t need saying but do please use your name rather than an ‘amusing’ moniker for your professional email address. I did a stint in recruitment and some of the email addresses that were provided to me on CVs were genuinely mind-boggling (I’m talking to you ‘’ and ‘’.

In other words, use your common sense and don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t be prepared to share with your work colleagues/prospective boss in real life.

Happy job hunting!

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Sharing – what’s your line in the sand? Managing your Facebook privacy settings


Image courtesy of Royalty-free cartoons

Facebook is a wonderful thing, but understanding, and keeping up with privacy setting changes, can be hard. A friend of mine recently complained about her Facebook newsfeed and how it is filled with a someone-who-shall-remain-nameless’ constant brag posts; she didn’t want to unfriend this person but was thinking of coming off Facebook as she had several friends like that and just didn’t want to see it all any more. I asked her why she didn’t just unfollow these people– my friend had no idea what I was talking about. So then I asked her what Facebook privacy settings she had – she didn’t know.

So for my friend, and for others out there who aren’t sure about how best to manage who sees what on their Facebook Profile, here is my take on the basics.

First a quick rundown on the different types of ‘audience’ as, in order to manage your privacy, you need to understand the differences between each audience’s ‘rights’ regarding what they can see of your Facebook Profile:

  • Public/Everyone (can see all your stuff)
  • Friends of Friends (as well as Friends, people who are Friends with your Friends can see your stuff)
  • Friends (only your friends can see your stuff)*
  • Only me (only you can see this stuff!)

*Friends can also be sub-divided into Friend Lists (Close Friends and Acquaintances) which means you can enable some Friends to see more/less of your Facebook Profile and posts than others. Go to your Friends page to find out more about this.

Most of the privacy and timeline settings will ask you to select an ‘audience’ for that setting, giving you the ability to control how much of your Facebook life you share, how discoverable it is, and how much others can comment on it. And if you don’t select anything, Facebook will usually default to Public or (if you are lucky) Friends, so it is important to make your own decisions for this.

You might be fine with Public seeing your posts, but only Friends being able to contact you via Facebook. Your privacy settings should be influenced by your line in the sand. How much do you want to share? Following are some scenarios to help you decide on the settings that are right for you.

Scenario 1 – Too much information!
You have a Friend who is posting content you don’t agree with/makes you uncomfortable/annoys you. But you don’t want to ‘Unfriend ‘ them. How can you stop seeing their posts?
Recommended settings
Next time this Friend posts something that shows up on your Newsfeed, click on the small grey arrow to the right of their post. This will open up a dropdown menu containing several options. Select ‘Unfollow [name of Friend]’. This means that you will stop seeing their posts but stay Friends.

Scenario 2 – I don’t want to know!
A Friend is constantly sharing posts from a news source/website/company that you have an issue with. You don’t want to Unfriend them and you like seeing posts about what they have been up to but you really don’t want to hear any more about Company X.
Recommended settings
Next time this Friend posts something from Company X that shows up on your Newsfeed, click on the small grey arrow to the right of their post. This will open up a dropdown menu containing several options. Select ‘Hide Post’. This means that you will stop seeing posts from Company X if your Friend shares them, but you will still see their other posts.

Scenario 3 – There is no such thing as too much sharing!
You are new to Facebook, and want people to be able to ‘find’ you easily. You don’t mind who posts on your timeline, and you are happy to be tagged in any photo, checked in, by friends.
Recommended privacy settings for you:
Who can see my stuff? Public
Who can contact me? Everyone
Who can look me up? Everyone
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? Yes
Recommended timeline and tagging settings
Who can post on your timeline? Friends
Review posts that friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline? Off
Who can see what others post on your timeline? Friends of friends
Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? Off

Scenario 4 – I can’t refuse their Friend request but don’t want them seeing my stuff!
A work colleague/partner of a friend/someone you don’t want to offend has sent you a Friend Request . You really can’t refuse them but you don’t want them to see your posts, etc.
Recommended settings
Accept their request but then go to ‘Manage blocking’ and add them to your ‘Restricted List’. This means that they won’t see posts on Facebook (this only works if you have the privacy setting ‘Friends’ for ‘who can see my stuff?’). They will not be notified that they have been added to this list.

Scenario 5 – I don’t want prospective employer to know how much I party!
You are going for a job interview soon and you don’t want prospective employers looking in-depth at your Facebook profile, as you like to keep your work and social lives separate.
Recommended settings
Firstly, if you haven’t already, you should definitely make sure that you have ‘No’ selected in ‘Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile?’. This means that if a prospective employer googles your name, your Facebook Profile will not be listed in the search results.

Secondly, you should check what your ‘Public Profile’ looks like currently as this will give you a guide as to whether you need to turn on some extra privacy settings.

To do this, go to ‘Timeline and tagging settings’, ‘Who can see things on my timeline?’ and then within ‘Review what other people see on your timeline’, then click on ‘View As’. This will open up the view of your Profile that ‘Everyone’ can see, in other words what is on public view.  If you think there is too much info there, you have probably left too many of your privacy settings as ‘Everyone’ and/or ‘Public’. Go back through them and check your settings (use the settings suggested for the scenarios above to help you), and then use the ‘View As’ tool again to check your Public Profile.

Scenario 6 – I am only on Facebook to keep in touch with a few people
You are on Facebook purely to be keep in touch with a select number of friends .You aren’t that interested in posting much but you like to keep up with what’s going on. You don’t want to build up your friends list that much, essentially you want to replicate your pretty tight existing social network, online.
Recommended privacy settings for you:
Who can see my stuff? Friends
Who can contact me? Friends of friends
Who can look me up? Friends
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? No
Recommended timeline and tagging settings
Who can post on your timeline? Friends
Review posts that friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline? On
Who can see what others post on your timeline? Friends
Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? On

I hope this article has helped you work out what your line in the sand is. If you want to know more, Facebook provides a lot of help pages about privacy settings here.

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Book review: Sophie and the Sybil

sophie and the sibylA wonderfully engaging, erudite and quite frankly, fun, novel about George Eliot. Written in the style of a Victorian romance, this is a literary romp through the later years of George Eliot’s career and her relationship with her German publishers, the Duncker brothers, It skillfully blends fact and fiction to create a meditation on creativity, intellectualism and love.

The chapter headings are marvellous, for example ‘Chapter Seven: spins the Wheel of Fortune in unexpected ways. The Reader is invited to place her Bets’ or ‘Chapter Three: steps out for a stroll in the autumn sunshine. Sophie von Hahn bewitches the Assembled Company.’

I should say that I do love Victorian novels, and any novel based during the Victorian period, written in the Victorian style, so I may be a little biased in this review. So all I will say is that if you like Victorian novels then you will enjoy this!

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Book review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

wake elizabeth knoxAnd swiftly on the back of reading Wake by Anna Hope, I decided to confuse the issue by reading another book called Wake, this time by Elizabeth Knox.

I read Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck years ago and loved it so was pretty confident going in to Wake. However, now I have finished it that confidence has been shaken. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it but rather it wrong footed me. The opening chapter is horrifically graphic, and it really unsettled me to the extent that I don’t think I really relaxed for the rest of the novel in case another violent episode was described.

The plot is part closed-room mystery, part dystopia (but set in modern day New Zealand), and has a whiff of Lord of the Flies. A community suddenly goes mad and starts killing each other and themselves. A handful of survivors gather together, trying to understand what has happened and why it didn’t affect them but are unable to contact the outside world to find out how far the madness has spread. The survivors are (mainly) appealing and well-drawn, not cookie cutters, their dilemmas well expressed and prompted me to think about how I would react to such a situation. The only jarring element was the Samantha/Samara sub plot which felt unnecessarily complicated.

In summary, I appreciated the cleverness of the this novel but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

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Book review: Wake by Anna Hope

Wake Anna HopeSet in post-WWI England, many people want to forget what has gone before and yet, for many, this is not possible. Parents have lost their sons, wives their husbands, siblings their brothers. For those who have come back, even if they are lucky enough to be ‘whole’ physically, mentally they are suffering; survivors’ guilt, nervous shock from the horrors they have seen, nightmares, the list is endless.

However, Wake doesn’t focus on these lost or broken men but rather on their women – a sister, a mother and a lover. Each of them are struggling to adjust to the loss they have suffered, and the change in their circumstances that the end of war has brought, such as a loss of freedom, a change in job, a change in social status. Their three stories represent the three definitions of the word ‘wake’: 1) emerge or cause to emerge form sleep; 2) ritual for the dead; 3) consequence or aftermath. As the novel progresses their stories skirt each other, then intertwine as each of the women search for answers. While describing the women’s lives over five days in November 1920, Hope movingly describes the country’s preparations for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which underpins this story. Day five is the day the soldier is interred in his final resting place and the day all three women find an answer to the questions that have been haunting them.

This is probably one of the most accomplished debut novels I have ever read and I can’t wait to read The Ballroom.



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