BookSpace: We Were Always Here; The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt; The Year after You; February’s Son

Ben Wray

Chiara Bullen’s January edition of BookSpace reviews some of the latest Scottish literary productions

WITH the new year came a flurry of tidying, clear-outs and an evaluation of what sparks joy in our homes thanks to Marie Kondo’s ‘Tidying Up’. However, the book-world demonstrated a backlash against Kondo’s mere suggestion that one should only keep thirty books on the shelves to reduce clutter. Whether or not the books featured in this month’s column spark joy, they’ll definitely spark something upon reading that’s guaranteed to keep the January Blues at bay.

We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology, Edited by Ryan Vance and Michael Lee Richardson

Anthology|404Ink|£8.99|Buy here

We Were Always Here is a spectacular showcase of Scottish LGBTI+ writing talent. The foreword from Gary Mac positions the collection of poetry, short stories, scripts and essays powerfully, discussing LGBTI+ representation throughout history in the arts and beyond. A nice touch is the innovate way 404Ink present their content warnings for the book; a vast variety of topics covered in the collection means there’s potentially triggering material, but It’s easy to look up any subjects you wish to avoid. An eclectic collection of inspiring and poignant work, each title packs a punch, redefining the narrative of what it means to be queer in 2019. Highlights include the compelling short-story Sequins by Christina Neuwirth and heart-breaking poetry from Jo Clifford.


The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt, Sarah Armstrong

Fiction| Sandstone Press|£12.99|Buy here  

Escaping failure as an undergraduate and a daughter, not to mention bleak 1970s England, Martha marries Kit – who is gay. Having a wife could keep him safe in Moscow in his diplomatic post. As Martha tries to understand her new life and makes the wrong friends, she walks straight into an underground world of counter-espionage.

A thrilling and harrowing snapshot of 1970s Moscow, Armstrong masterfully presents a narrative bursting with tension and sublime characterisation. You’ll be gripped by the early chapters as Martha discovers the complexities of Russian life; cringing at her blunders and hoping desperately for her safety. Humour is delicately placed throughout thanks to immersive and charming character relationships — this offers refreshing relief but never detracts from the tension building through the novel. As haunting as it is humorous, if you’re looking for an exciting read to kick off 2019 then this is undoubtedly it.  


The Year After You, Nina de Pass

Young Adult| Ink Road| £7.99| Buy Here

New Years’ Eve, San Francisco. The most promising party of the year ends in a tragic accident. Cara survives. Her best friend, Georgina, doesn’t. Nine months later, Cara is struggling, consumed by guilt and grief. Her mum decides that packing her off to a Swiss boarding school will be the fresh start Cara needs. But Cara knows that swapping sunshine for snow won’t make a blind bit of difference. 

The Year After You is a complex exploration of childhood grief, trauma and mental health wrapped up in explosive high school drama. Entertaining and emotional, fans of Estelle Maskame’s DIMILY series will fall in love with the character dynamics of the main friendship group. The characters are beautifully written, full of depth and paint a relatable picture of lost teens trying to figure out their place in the world and how on earth they’ll get there. The extent of Cara’s grief and trauma is revealed gradually throughout the novel, and you’ll be thinking of her long after you’ve closed the book. Get tissues at the ready for this one.


February’s Son, Alan Parks

Crime Fiction| Canongate|£12.99| Buy Here 

Bodies are piling up with grisly messages carved into their chests. Rival gangs are competing for control of Glasgow’s underworld and it seems that Cooper, McCoy’s oldest gangster friend, is tangled up in it all. Detective Harry McCoy’s first day back at work couldn’t have gone worse. New drugs have arrived in Glasgow, and they’ve brought a different kind of violence to the broken city. The law of the street is changing and now demons from McCoy’s past are coming back to haunt him. But vengeance always carries a price, and it could cost McCoy more than he ever imagined.

Essential reading for any die-hard Scottish crime fiction fan. Set in 1973’s Glasgow, this gritty and grisly Tartan Noir is the second Harry McCoy thriller — and will leave readers teetering on the edge of their seat and desperate for more. Parks is an expert at painting a powerful Glasgow scene, one that reminds us of the hardships faced by residents in the past few decades. Parks’ debut novel Bloody January was a top crime novel last year and February’s Son, not to be outshone by its predecessor, takes the thrilling and dark narrative of Bloody January to whole new levels. With more works to come from Parks on the horizon, it’s an exciting time to be a Scottish crime fiction fan.

COMMONSPACE FORUM 31 January: 100 years on – Will the Clyde run Red again?