We asked the co-editors of  our forthcoming erotic poetry anthology, Under Your Pillow, to tell us about the books which have shaped their lives.


The first book I remember reading
I loved the Sue Barton Nurse series by Helen Dore Boylston. I can remember the huge excitement of getting to the library and finding the next one in the series. I still get the same thrill in the library when the book you really want to read is there in front of you.

The books which shaped my childhood
American writers have really shaped my reading. I grew up reading Paul Zindel and Paula Danziger and imagined I was living in Manhattan instead of just outside Liverpool. I wanted to read the funnies, go to a diner and sit in the bleachers.

The books I read as a teenager
Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? All of the Judy Blume books.

The first book which made me want to be a writer
I have never actively thought I want to be a writer but I’ve always wanted to work and live in a beautiful space that I pictured a writer would be in – a loft with spider plants, wearing thick tights and polo necks. I think my love of American writers created an image of me living in Brooklyn, velvet sofas and vases of yellow flowers.

The book which changed my view of the world
This book didn’t change my view of the world, but it created an excitement about creating a world through poetry and prose. Thank you, Mary Jean Chan, for introducing me to Who is Mary Sue? by Sophie Collins. I read this book over and over. This book changed my view of poetry, and in turn poetry has become my world.

The book which will always have a place on my shelves
The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George. I can’t describe this book. It is so weird and brilliant.

The book I tell everyone else to read
The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George.

The books I didn’t finish
There have been many. I can’t read a book I don’t like.

The book I am reading right now
My friend Laura bought me The Vegetarian by Han Kang. When people recommend or buy me a book I love the wonder of “Why didn’t I read this before?!”

The book I turn to for comfort
I don’t generally read a book more than once. I like to remember the huge love I felt for it the first time. I read my Barbara Hepworth catalogues repeatedly, and I carry the 1968 catalogue from the Tate with me all the time. The catalogues remind me of the comfort we find in picture books as children. The pictures of the sculptures and the lists and the dates make me feel calm.


Wendy Allen’s first pamphlet, Plastic Tubed Little Bird, was published in May 2023 by Broken Sleep. Her work has appeared in Poetry Wales, The London Magazine, Ambit, The Moth, Poetry Ireland Review and Banshee. She starts her PhD at Manchester Met in October.


The books which shaped my childhood
The books that shaped my childhood are also the first books that I can even remember reading, and that’s the Nancy Drew works. I have such fond memories of my mum introducing me to them when I was edging into my teenage years, and I think that really seeded a love of crime fiction that I’ve carried into adulthood. Though of course, poetry managed to work its way in somewhere along the line . . .

The books I read as a teenager
I fell head over heels for Stella Duffy’s writing when I was a teenager. Calendar Girl has stayed with me for so many reasons, not least the way Duffy handled sexual intimacy between queer characters in the book, which was something I hadn’t seen anywhere before that. In contrast to that, though, I spent a lot of my teenage years working through the classics. I thought the world of Charlotte Bronte, Robert Louis Stevenson, H G Wells. I was really engrossed with these stories that always felt to me very ahead of their time, and I loved that about them.

The first book which made me want to be a writer
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. That book changed everything for me. I was totally in love with the characters, the plot, the language. It’s one of the few books in the world that I’ve read repeatedly, coupled with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace, which remains one of the best short fiction collections I think I’ve ever read. Both of these books, in very distinct and different ways, really showed me the versatility that exists in written craft, and I needed to at least try to be a part of that in my own writing.

The book writer who changed my view of the world
Luke Kennard – which feels like a big and embarrassing thing to admit, potentially. Luke taught me on my Creative Writing MA, though, and at that point in my writing life – well, it’s generous to even call it a writing life, as it was then – at that point in my writing journey, I was looking to flex creative muscles and see what, if anything, I had in me. Throughout that course Luke repeatedly encouraged me and pushed me, and that carried on all the way through to my Doctoral work as well. He taught me so much during those years – including not to chase a coffee high by drinking even more coffee, which made for a particularly memorable seminar one afternoon . . .

The book which will always have a place on my shelves
Oh, I need a couple of choices here! I treasure anything and everything by Andrea Gibson, whose work both comforts and discomforts me, depending on their tone and topic. Of course, Gatsby will also have his shelf space, as will Cover Her Face by P D James, which was the first detective novel I ever read that showed me women could be something other than a victim.

The books I tell everyone else to read
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s been years since I first read that book but I still look at it longingly whenever I see it in a shop and sigh at the beauty of what was, for me, such an unexpected turn in the story. And I’ll say no more, lest I ruin it… Alongside that, Stephen King’s On Writing is always a book I tell people – readers and writers alike – to go and read, and the further I get into my teaching career the more frequently I find myself throwing that book title around. Literally anything by Françoise Sagan, who I’ve very recently discovered and I am now, naturally, working my way through her entire back catalogue as I find it. Finally, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, which remains one of the best written and best researched books I think I’ve ever read.

The book I didn’t finish
Ahem – to my shame – Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I had such good intentions but it’s so long and I sometimes really do have the attention span of an untrained puppy, so we were never going to be a perfect match. In truth, though, I do try desperately hard not to abandon books – though of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

The book I am reading right now
Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule – for research – and Truth & Dare by So Mayer, which is just a superb short story collection.

The book I turn to for comfort
Now, here’s a real curve-ball to end the interview with. Love Poems by Carol Ann Duffy, which I realise is an older work of hers, and she’s published stunning things since. But this book was introduced to me by an A-level tutor some years ago, and I immediately felt it was this hot ball of queerness, deep feeling, desire, confusion – and so many other things that make it brilliant and beautiful. To this day, it still warms me.


Charley Barnes is an author and academic from the West Midlands. In Charley’s research she specialises in crime fiction and true crime. She is currently working on the proposal for her second academic monograph. Alongside her academic endeavours, Charley is a poet and novelist, with her most recent pamphlet, Unfaithful, having been published by Salo Press in May 2023, and her most recent novella, Your Body is a House Stripped, having been published by Broken Sleep Books in May 2023.



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