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’Moving, tender writing with a haunting evocation of place and time.’ – Hannah Lowe
'Bell pulls us deep into her memory, where depth charges lie planted which are then detonated to great effect. We are there, in her moment, and though her eye is unwavering and her wit biting, it is never at the cost of empathy... The claustrophobia is gothic and palpable, but never overplayed – testament to Julia Bell’s finesse as a writer, but also her frankly awesome powers of forgiveness.' – Mike Parker, Planet Magazine
'Hymnal is vivid, intense and freeing. There is so much to release; so much deep emotional confusion is explored. Her poems remind me of Sharon Olds’ The Father and Pascale Petit’s The Zoo Father, woven through with threads of trauma and self-discovery ... This work bursts forth in relentless, rich images. It’s a record of an exhausting, lonely coming of age, hard won. Its overriding power resides in the knowledge that one must understand one’s own needs, escape conformity, and find a way of living which liberates the true self.' – Maggie Mackay, The Friday Poem
‘These full-throated poems bring to resonant life the story of a daughter whose father’s calling “sits on all our shoulders like a fog”. Bewildered by severities at odds with her body, she wonders at Jonah breathing inside a whale while on land “I do not know which way is up ... The surface is so far down.” Yet the desires of the queer self unfolding in thrilling detail here refuse to be extinguished – the phrasing in Hymnal glistens with the rich clarity of stained glass.’ – John McCullough
'Autobiographical, alluring, with keen evocations of Welsh setting and clever reworkings of Christian images, Julia Bell’s Hymnal is a hymn to “the possibilities of … life unfolding”. Amen to that.' – Mab Jones, Buzz Magazine
'The work is nigh on perfect. As poetry, it is exquisite, just as you’d expect from a writer as accomplished as Bell. She produces verse that is somehow simultaneously dainty and meaty, and clearly adores words and what can be done with them... Her outsider-insider takes on Welshness are especially thrilling, but in truth, there is no duff topic here, no slight slip-up anywhere in this consistently brave and brilliant collection.' – Wales Arts Review
Late in the 1960s, before Bell was born, her father and mother visited Aberaeron, a small fishing town on the west coast of Wales. Here, her father heard a voice – which he knew to be God – directing him to minister to the Welsh. Six months after she was born in the early 1970s, they moved to Aberaeron where he took up his first curateship. Over the next eighteen years they would move to various parishes within a forty mile radius: first to Llangeler a predominantly Welsh-speaking parish in the Teifi valley, then back to Aberaeron where Bell’s father became vicar, and then to a larger and more Evangelical church in Aberystwyth.
This unique memoir in verse offers a series of snapshots about religion and sexuality. In verse because it’s how Bell remembers: snapshots in words strung along a line, which somehow constitute a life. Snapshots of another time from now, but from a time which tells us about how Bell got here. Not the whole story, but her story. Of an English family on a mission from God, of signs and wonders in the Welsh countryside, of difference, and of faith and its loss.
Julia Bell is a writer and academic, she is the author of four novels, the bestselling Creative Writing Coursebook (Macmillan) and the book-length essay Radical Attention (Peninsula Press). Her essays and short stories have been published nationally and internationally including in the TLS, the White Review and the Paris Review and broadcast on the BBC. Her poetry has been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition and the Bridport Prize. She is a Reader in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.