Book review – Howl by Miles Salter

Howl by Miles SalterHow’s this for a list of ingredients for a very special recipe?

Two mates, one batty old lady, a grumpy cat, a vicar, two absent parents, a mysterious jewel, and a teacher liable to bare his teeth at the rise of the full moon.

These are the things that set Miles Salter‘s Howl alight.

No, this is not the Allen Ginsberg poem, but thankfully rather lighter but equally vivid fare. Set around the town of Rigor Mourtice and its primary school, Howl focuses on James Small and his mate Neville Heavy.

A new teacher, Mr Grindell, has joined the school, and seems determined to make their lives a misery.

Then James’ parents have to go away, and (I wasn’t quite sure how believable this was – but it works for the plot, so never mind), he’s sent to spend two weeks living with a childminder he’s never met before. But Mrs Winters isn’t just a stranger; she’s truly bonkers. She’s also concerned with Mr Grindell’s peculiar behaviour, especially where it regards the local church and a long lost treasure.

The tale crackles with energy, helped along by the two boys and their mischief, courage and determination. The two friends are brilliantly matched, and their characters utterly believable.

Mrs Winter’s eccentricity is a joy, while Mr Grindell is wonderfully sinister even when he isn’t doling out peculiar punishments such as making the lads stand in the school’s ankle-deep and icy cold pond. All other adults are incidental, as seems only right in a book aimed at 7 to 10 year olds.

I enjoyed the filmic quality of Salter’s writing, with his descriptions providing a vivid backdrop to the action as the story speeds towards its crescendo.

Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure by Miles Salter is published by Caboodle Books Ltd and available to buy from Amazon.

I’m always happy to find out what you’re reading. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)

Why writing success takes more than just talent

Judy abseiling cr James HainsworthWriter, storyteller, musician and musician Miles Salter examines the importance of tenacity in a writer’s career.

Writing, like life, is hard. People may perceive it as glamorous, but the truth is a little different. In her novel One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson describes the life of a writer as: “Sitting alone in a room for days on end, trying not to go mad.”

This is more akin to the life of most writers than the glamorous image associated with awards ceremonies and lunches with agents. If you REALLY want to be a writer you are going to need a work ethic. You need discipline. And – most important when you’re trying to get somewhere – you need to keep going. Continue reading

Poetry review – Animals by Miles Salter

ANIMALS coverA fluttering mix of religion, politics and the plethora of scandals large and small that fall between, Animals is a collection designed to nudge you into wakefulness, like a cat early on a Sunday morning.

In his second collection, Miles Salter takes you by the scruff of the neck and shoves you into a world of smells and sounds – always on the brink of chaos.

From the pandemonium of ‘Two By Two’ where “Ants queued up at the flattened hamster”, to an uneasy peek into Jimmy Savile’s caravan, there’s plenty to catch you with your guard down and slap you sideways.

There’s beauty amid the sorrier tales too, where ageing dogs have eyes that are “milky with lack of sight” and in ‘Apology’ a slap to a child’s backside transforms bath water into “a trickle, a stream, a river/that carried you away from me.” Continue reading

Become a poet

Gyllenvase footprints cr Judy DarleyMiles Salter shares his experiences of becoming a poet, from inspiration to tinkering. His second poetry collection, Animals, was published this autumn.

I’ve been writing since childhood. I had a great English teacher, Chris Copeman, in the 1980s and I wrote what I thought was ‘poetry’, although it was probably more like prose. I read a bit of poetry at University and went on a creative writing module. Much later, I read Philip Larkin when I lived in Hull.

Then, around 2003, I went to some gigs that Antony Dunn put on in York called ‘Poetry Doubles’ – he had some brilliant people like Andrew Motion, Colette Bryce, Wendy Cope and Douglas Dunn. They were great gigs – intimate and very inspiring. All of life was contained in those evenings: humour, grief, hope, sadness. Poetry is very life affirming.

Developing as a poet

It wasn’t until 2007 that I realised I needed to be more disciplined in my approach, so I started to read more widely. It took a while, but I started to improve and develop my own voice. I entered a lot of competitions and my writing improved gradually. I usually read at least ten collections each year, and try to write with a critical eye. You become very self-critical of what you’ve written. Continue reading