Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here: A Story of Reclamation

Our NRTH LASS book column was designed to spotlight northern women writers making remarkable moves in the world of publishing and April’s pick embodies that notion entirely. This month marks the release of Anita Sethi’s long-awaited I Belong Here, a memoir that documents a journey of reclaiming belonging and finding peace in natural landscapes.

In 2019, Anita Sethi was travelling through the North of England on a Transpennine train when she was the victim of a racially-motivated hate crime. Verbally attacked and threatened with racist remarks, the writer was made to feel unsafe in a space that she once felt like she could call her own. Despite growing up in Manchester, her right to exist in the UK came under fire from a stranger, an occurrence which happens all too often for people of colour in our country.

I Belong Here is an act of defiance against that attack. As well as bravely accounting the event, Sethi weaponises her voice by putting pen to paper and embarking on a journey through the natural landscapes of the North, reasserting her right to exist and her right to belong. Exploring nature writing through such a political and powerful lens is groundbreaking to say the least and it was truly a joy to read, even if the content was emotionally challenging at times.

Written in incredible prose, the book also explores the ways in which our natural spaces have historically been controlled, cordoned off for only a small, wealthy percentage to enjoy. Throughout the book, Sethi wrestles with notions of belonging, ownership and systemic exclusion, recalling moments throughout history when explorers have used walking as a form of protest. Spaces have been reclaimed through the simple act of exploration; Sethi’s journey to reclaim her own sense of identity and inner peace strongly mirrors this resistance.

One particular extract which stood out was the author’s investigation into the idea of trauma and healing, as well as the issues moments like the one she experienced expose. Always creating parallels between human nature and nature itself, she compares trauma to the ‘faults’ within limestone, cracks that widen and deepen over time.

Through stark and powerful words that read like a manifesto for change, she writes:

“What is often not considered and acknowledged as even existing is the wider landscape, it’s fault-lines and their effects. What happened to me on the train exposed fault-lines in our society, a mixture of racism and misogyny.”

Looking at social, political and economic equalities is a strong point of the book, all viewed through a nature-orientated and hopeful lens. Every word felt like a call to arms, a voice encouraging us to see nature as healing and to assert our right to exist in spaces that might try to exclude us.

Sethi is a powerhouse writer and her work deserves a place on every bookshelf, particularly this bold and important memoir. We can’t wait to see what she creates next.

I Belong Here was will be released on 29 April and you can purchase it here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

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This New North: A Celebration of Diversity, Short Fiction and Northern Writing Talent

Early March marked the exciting release of a new anthology, packed to the brim with writing from an exceptional lineup of new northern voices. The collection is edited by S.J Bradley, author of Brick Mother and Guest, both published by Dead Ink, and Anna Chilvers, author of East Coast Road, Tainted Love and Falling Through Clouds, novels published by Bluemoose Books

Featuring 15 stories in total, the anthology celebrates work from 12 new Northern voices who have graduated from the Northern Short Story Festival Academy programme. It also includes 3 exclusive stories from editor Anna Chilvers, Litro Fiction editor Barney Walsh and Richard Smyth, author and literary critic. 

Initiatives such as this one are so important to increasing regional diversity in publishing, shining a spotlight on new potential for the industry. We’re seeing more and more of a focus on Northern writing and regional voices breaking through the London-centric noise, particularly with incredibly insightful work from women. 

In her foreword to the anthology, Chilvers reflects on the programme: 

‘The discussions revolved around how far the form could be bent, stretched and subverted. The writing was exciting and brave… There was an atmosphere of playfulness, a freedom to try out new and innovative ideas.’ 

These traits can be read as distinctly northern; the seeking of innovation and subversion of the ways we see and write about the world are strongly present throughout the series of stories in the anthology. 

In Haleemah Alaydi’s A Very Private Confession, she intelligently explores human desire and intimacy, both up close and at a distance. Alaydi’s narrator is obsessed with the couple next door and becomes entangled in their lives from the other side of the wall. She finds comfort in their intimate moments but the more she has to hide it, the more her own relationship with her partner Gabriel begins to suffer. This story was excellently written, structured with intention and features a twist to rival any bestselling crime novel. 

The potential for honesty and vulnerability to be explored through short fiction is certainly a defining feature of the stories in This New North. Another piece that stands out is Jennifer Isherwood’s Artefacts. Capturing the intense feelings we experience in the most mundane of moments, Isherwood crafts a story that is both tender and thought-provoking. 

Brian is faced with a letter that brings his security into question — his house has been built on a mineshaft and could collapse at any moment. Through this hook, the reader is encouraged to

think about home and heritage; at one point the author invokes historical locations on the northern landscape that cleverly connect the protagonist with his past. Through outstanding writing and sharp reflections, Isherwood’s story is certainly a memorable one. 

Having explored the whole collection, it can be concluded that This New North is an impressive anthology of stories which carefully curates a wide selection of themes and experiences. It’s fresh, artistic and brilliantly captures the diversity of stories and talent in the North. Looking ahead, it will be exciting to see how these voices progress and how projects such as this one will inspire even more northern writers to emerge into the world. This New North is published by Valley Press, based in Yorkshire. You can purchase a copy here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

Landscapes, Identity and Belonging: Castles from Cobwebs by J. A. Mensah

February marks the arrival of Castles from Cobwebs, the highly anticipated debut from J. A. Mensah, inaugural winner of New Writing North’s NorthBound Book Award. Much like her recent story in The Book of Newcastle, published by Comma Press, it’s as powerful as it is unique.

This magical realist novel comes alive through a weaving narrative, told from the perspective of Imani, rescued and raised by a convent on a remote Northumbrian island. Much like a cobweb in structure, Mensah spins a story out of fragments, mirroring Imani’s displacement and confusion surrounding her identity. This element was particularly poignant from a reader’s perspective, acting as a continuous reminder that her childlike curiosity at the beginning of the book is rooted in something bigger.

‘I’d always known that I was Brown. Black was different though; it came announced. Black came with expectations, of rhythm and other things that might trip me up.’

Divided into three sections, Mensah explores Imani’s conflicting identities through sharply contrasting landscapes. First, Northumbria. While the water that separates Holymead Island the mainland draws attention to her isolation, the protagonist feels a connection with the nature that surrounds her. Here, it is her Blackness that defines her and is the thing that truly makes her feel separate. Then, she is called to Ghana following the death of her biological mother. A chaotic landscape in comparison, full of sound and rhythm and intrigue for her cultural heritage. Belonging becomes difficult again when she realises there is more to her identity than the colour of her skin.

In an interview with New Writing North, Mensah mentioned that the novel is in part influenced by her own experience, working in Northumberland and her father’s roots in Ghana. She explains: “I haven’t lived in either location, but both places are sites that are ‘almost home’ to me. And in both I don’t completely belong.”

Similarly, Imani’s identities continuously conflict and intersect, an idea the author successfully explores and seeks to reconcile throughout the novel. In the process, Mensah brings a brilliant lyricism to the way she constructs the story — poetic, sharp and consciously moving.

‘Tin. / I replay the things Aunt Esi has said. / Tin, tap. / Lay them beside what Aunt Grace toldme. / Tin, tin. / Moving the pieces around, I try to fit them together, to make sense of it all. /’

One aspect of the book that stood out as incredibly interesting were the themes of faith and belief, particularly the distinction between her English and African cultures. The author implements one key symbol which unites the two: Imani’s spirit companion (or imaginary friend), Amarie. The themes of belief, faith and reality are beautifully combined in this character who transcends religious identity, a really intriguing aspect to dwell on as a reader.

This striking debut is a memorable read that shines a light on important social issues whilst telling a beautiful story of hope, friendship and self-discovery.

J. A Mensah is a writer based in the North East of England. You can buy her novel now, available here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

Strength in Numbers

Written by Gilly Piece

Someone once told me that the physical shape of a theatre building reflects the work that happens in it and the people who engage with it.

Continue reading “Strength in Numbers”