The Art of Escapology Book Review (by Nicola Ashbrook)

The Art of Escapology Book Review Featured Image

Ever had that feeling of just wanting to run away? To disappear and start over, leaving your troubles behind like shed skin.

If so, The Art of Escapology should be one of the next books on your reading list.

From a receptionist fleeing the mundanity of day-to-day life, through to darker topics of domestic abuse, The Art of Escapology sweeps the reader through a series of compelling vignettes on the theme of escape.

Small but mighty, it’s an 88-page anthology of highly impactful writing.

Flash fiction is a remarkable medium of storytelling.

Humble, yet radical, it’s the panacea to a publishing landscape dominated by 800-page epics and a movie industry shackled by sequels and reboots. In as little as two paragraphs, a talented writer can impart a character’s entire life story and challenge a reader’s worldviews.

Nicola Ashbrook’s The Art of Escapology is no different. Punchy and perfectly paced, each story subverts the reader’s expectations (sometimes multiple times) and delivers some gut-wrenching twists. 

Personal highlights include Moving Homes, Giants of the Sea, Thor is to Bifrost as I am to The Mersey Gateway, The Sparkly Horse Story, Run Ratty, Run, Delphine’s Decision, and Praying for Dad.

Escape, or the need to escape, is a powerful emotion, and it’s partly because of this that these stories succeed – the other part being that Ashbrook is an excellent writer.


Occasionally witty, often thrilling, and always thoughtful, The Art of Escapology is an elegant collection of flash fiction that should be on every short story lover’s bookshelf.

There’s a brilliance to each narrative and it’s a genuine pleasure to read. Don’t sleep on this one.


Step Forward, Harry Salt by Ross Lowe Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt is a bit bonkers.

And by this, I mean that there’s a character called Royds Spittoon and a horse drop-kicks a car.

Following the equally bonkers Seven Nights at the Flamingo HotelBearded Badger Books’ second published novel – and author Ross Lowe’s debut – sees the titular Harry Salt drawn into a Hot Fuzz-esque conspiracy amongst the hills of Derbyshire.

It’s sinister at times, tremendously daft, and a lot of fun.

Step Forward, Harry Salt

‘The Change’ is coming.

Millions of people voted for it but nobody really knows why – or what The Change even is for that matter. But the will of the people is to be enacted, whatever that will might be.

Caught up in the middle of this moment of national celebration/crisis (delete as appropriate) is Harry Salt.

He’s a regular guy – pretty nondescript and bumbling through life – though far from dull. He’s your Martin Freeman-esque everyman and therefore the ideal protagonist for a novel like Step Forward, Harry Salt; a book packed with zany hijinks, set against the backdrop of Britain floating in a Brexity soup.

It’s a parody, though not a particularly subtle one. The novel re-treads familar arguments from the Brexit referendum and dials them up to eleven, pouring scorn and ridicule upon the pro-Brexit argument. 

Sometimes hilarious, other times a little on-the-nose, one thing is certain – Step Forward, Harry Salt is a brilliant novel, packed to the rafters with witty observations, brilliant characters, and a marvellous mystery.

Parental Poignancy & Parody

Step Forward Harry Salt uses a past/present twinned narrative, pinging the reader back and forth between Harry’s years as a child – his memories with his Father in particular – and the present day.

These memories feature some of the best writing in the novel. It’s often highly poignant, other times disarming – even troubling perhaps – but these passages feel reminiscent and personal; transposing Harry’s memories onto the reader in a nostalgic manner.

Meanwhile, in the modern day, the Ministry of People where Harry works, presents an almost Pratchett-like parody of Orwell’s ministries in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Whilst highly secretive, The Ministry of People is less overtly sinister than Orwell’s depictions of government – rather more bureaucratic and somewhat odd.

This ability to traipse the line between being disconcerting and humorous is disarming as a reader – it’s alienating, making for an interesting read.


Lowe has a lovely style of writing. It’s simple, cheerful, and witty – the sort of writing you really appreciate reading after a book like Dune Messiah; a novel with so much word salad, you could launch a vegan restaurant.

But truly, Step Forward, Harry Salt is a pleasure to read. It’s also fascinating insofar that it defies genre. 

There are Sci-Fi elements, political satire, fantasy, speculative fiction, and magic realism. It’s extraordinary, because the novel holds these elements together in a really authentic way, never feeling mismatched.

And because of this, the novel will appeal to a wide range of readers. 

It’s off-beat, but in the best kind of way. Great stuff.


Step Forward, Harry Salt can be purchased directly from Bearded Badger Publishing.

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel Book Review

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel Review
Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel Review

Leave any assumptions about Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel firmly in the foyer.

No, really.

Bearded Badger Publishing’s debut publication is hilarious, tragic, and downright bizarre – all at the same time.

And for the most part, it works. I can’t remember the last time I laughed, cocked an eyebrow, and experienced such solemnity within a single page or two.

Author Drew Gummerson has created a truly unique piece of literature, though not without its issues.

What is Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel all about?

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel places you (yes, you! More on that later) as a dish scrubber at the titular Flamingo Hotel.

It’s a novel written almost exclusively through a stream of consciousness, which makes for a manic and scatty narrative. This isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s what makes Seven Nights such an interesting piece of literature.

Bitter and disappointed at not making more of your life, you take a job at the Flamingo Hotel, living out numerous fictional versions of your own life alongside a host of quirky guests and colleagues.

Think Alan Partridge meets Dostoevsky’s Letters from Underground. Strange mix, I know!

Over the course of your weekly stay, you’ll get to know more about the denizens of this bizarre hotel, whilst exploring your own troubled past and uncertain future. The reality of the present is constantly undermined by the main character’s reimagining of the past and fantasising of the future. It’s a heady cocktail of sex, drugs, shame, and regret.

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel Alan Partridge

In one scene, a seemingly outgoing, ‘good looking’ gentleman enters the lobby.

Loathing yourself, ‘you’ construct a fictional identity around this guest and, borne of jealousy, plan to spite them for this imagined slight. It turns out that the guest is nothing like this caricature. Plus, he’s actually considering suicide following a series of personal misfortunes.

This of course, is only realised after our main character has broken into the gentleman’s room with the sole intention of shitting in his bed as ‘revenge’.

There are also loads of weird fantasies… and for some reason, our main character is obsessed with ‘bums’ and ‘willies’.

Did I mention that Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel is a strange novel? It’s all a bit odd.

The crudeness is used for comic effect and, for the most part, it does work. Seven Nights got some serious laughs out of me on numerous occasions. It has that strange offbeat humour that a niche sitcom such as The Mighty Boosh has. Weird, but oddly compelling.

Other times, it is a bit much. If you’re squeamish or prefer to not read this sort of content, I’d probably steer clear.

The Genius of 2nd Person Narrative

Unlike most novels, which are typically written in 1st or 3rd person, Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel makes YOU the subject. This is one of the more fascinating aspects of the novel.

Not many authors opt for 2nd person; it’s notoriously tricky to pull off without grating or coming across as gimmicky. But when done effectively (See Camus’s The Fall), 2nd person narratives are an intoxicating, heady trip unlike anything else in literature.

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel is far more compelling because of this choice of form.
Did you know? Bearded Badger Publishing is launching its very own indie book shop!

Constantly being addressed by the narrative, the reader is drenched in the main character’s depraved existence over and over again. There’s something deliciously alienating about 2nd person – your own control as a reader is wrested away and placed in the hand of the author.

It’s great fun and I was impressed by how Drew Gummerson implemented this framework in the novel.


One issue Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel struggles with is repetition. In most fiction, the writer is able to obscure the narrative scaffolding from the reader. Less so here.

In the case of Seven Nights, a chapter will usually take one the following forms:

Main character (MC) confronts a new situation > MC does something positive/succeeds > MC is actually fantasising and none of this actually happened.


MC confronts a new situation > MC fails/embarrasses himself > MC slips into a stream of consciousness fantasy, reimagining a future where they’re popular/sexually desirable/king of the world/etc.

Over time, this structure becomes nakedly apparent to the reader, breaking the immersion. It all becomes a little one-note. If this was a metafictional novel, with the 4th wall under repeated siege, this would make sense. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

It’s not a huge issue, and the the anecdotes and comedy moments remain fun to read. The formula just gets a bit repetitive over the course of the novel.

Final Verdict

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel is a solid read and if it’s a sign of things to come from Bearded Badger Publishing, they’re certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Would I recommend it? Yes, but with caveats.

Seven Nights is a unique piece of fiction, delightfully strange and quite amusing, but very crude. The squeamish need not apply.

On the other hand, it’s a decent book from a talented writer and an exciting new indie publisher. If you’re looking for a quirky, off-beat, psychedelic trip of a novel, then definitely check in to Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel.

If you enjoyed this review, do let me know in the comments below!

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