Review: The Universe vs Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence

Gavin Extence

Gavin Extence

Meet Alex Woods, a not-so-ordinary 17-year-old boy with an extraordinary story. A story of meteors and tarot readings, life, death, science and the Universe. A story that is actually so farfetched, I’m not sure you’d believe it if it wasn’t relayed to you by one of the most engaging voices one could hope to encounter.

Our opening scene sees Alex hurled in front of the police at Dover Customs, the glove compartment of his (borrowed) car bursting with home-grown marijuana and the remains of his neighbour on the passenger seat. In terms of first impressions, Alex generally doesn’t do so well. But no sooner than a chapter in, I found myself siding with the good-intentioned, hilarious and completely socially inept Alex Woods.

Extence creates a world not far from our own in a sleepy Somerset town neighbouring Glastonbury. In Lower Godley coming of age is a tricky business, especially for the not-so-ordinary. Alex suffers the same fate as many fantastically original beings – he doesn’t quite fit in. This isn’t helped by his overbearing, spiritualist mother, or his tendency to say the wrong thing, or the fact that he targeted by a flying meteorite at the age of 10, making him the talk of the town for years to come.

Much of the first half of the novel sees Alex at odds with the universe, neither luck nor the local bullies on his side. To the delight of the reader, our protagonist cannot, and will not, stay out of trouble.

Alex’s social immaturity lands him in all manners of scrapes, but it is his relationship with local widower and war veteran Mr Peterson that thrusts him into a moral dilemma even the bravest of characters might shy away from. In Alex and Isaac Peterson’s journey, Extence addresses one of the most important issues of our time.

By the time Alex has relayed his series of unfortunate events and arrives back at Dover, you’ve already fallen so head over heels in love that you’d dive into the pages yourself just to defend him. Extence presented me with a character that I rooted for in a way that I’ve not done since Christopher in Mark Haddon’s brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time.

Mostly, I was impressed with the way that Extence striped away the usual makeup for a hero, presenting us with bravery so fierce, it cannot fail to move. Heart-breaking, of course, but ultimately an inspiring and uplifting tale that champions the socially awkward and celebrates finding courage in the most unlikely places.

This is the kind of novel that will take you by surprise and, if you’re not careful, leaves you bawling on a sun lounger, fellow holidaymakers probably fearing for your mental health.

In other words, an unforgettable read.


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I was a 4 1/2 stone anorexic… now I’m a baker and food blogger

Yesterday a story I worked on was published in The Sun – I was a 4 1/2 stone anorexic… now I’m a baker and food blogger:


I worked with Nicky over a couple of weeks, interviewing her about her incredible story. I just wanted to say how brave I think it is for a young girl to allow the media to focus its spotlight on her in order to raise awareness of her issue.

Nicky shared her story because she wanted to show other girls how a toxic relationship with food can become a wonderful one, and that if you can find some strength in a new interest, you can take the steps to change the way you think, even in the darkest stages of such a gripping illness.

Nicky’s fear of food reduced her to a 4 1/2 stone skeleton of herself, but now it is her passion.

It’s important not to suggest that anything can be a quick fix for an eating disorder – people do not recover overnight and each case is extremely different. For Nicky it was a long and rocky journey, but an inspiring one too.

I’d encourage you all to visit Nicky’s blog – and look at her amazing recipes.


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Celgenics: Skin for the future

Celgenics products photo 1 copy

The answer to perfect skin is a widely debated one. Some believe it lies in a laboratory achieved through applying a combination of chemicals backed up by extensive scientific research.

Others think all you need for great skin can be found in the fridge as a balanced diet makes all the difference.

Then there’s a holistic approach – the notion that our skin is affected by our mind, spirit and other parts of the body.

New skincare range Celgenics combines scientific research with a holistic approach to skincare. The crèmes and lotions are comprised of homeopathic remedies, carefully crafted by the creator of the range Marian Bourne.

Marian believes that our emotions can have a big effect on our skin, her products energising skin cells with an understanding of how skin relates to the rest of the body and mind.

While scientific purists might be dubious as to whether love, peace and healing is really the answer to skin problems, it’s difficult to argue that our state of mind doesn’t have an affect on our skin.

“The skin on the face is connected to the gut, and these are two areas that suffer when we are under stress,” explained Marian. “How other parts of our body are working affects our skin, which is why when the body is detoxified our skin benefits so much.”

Celgenics harnesses the power of plant and floral extracts, including Crab Apple, Star Tulip, Holly, Pine, Sagebrush, Star of Bethlehem, Clematis, Rock Rose and Arnica to create a soothing energy.

The range, which is also formulated from research of Collagen, Elastin and Hyaluronic acid, marries scientific and holistic principles to create a unique approach to skincare.

Beauty Bible award logo    photo on website

Whatever the answer is to clear skin, it would be wrong to underestimate its power.

“I’ve worked as a therapist for over 20 years and I feel the work I’m doing here is just as important,” Marian said. “People underestimate the importance of feeling confident in your skin – it can make such a difference.”

“Even just taking the time out to relax and be treated is something that helps both our mind and body,” Marian explained. “In London especially, we tend to be so busy. Rushing round, drinking coffee, just trying to get from one day to the next.

“This can all contribute towards our skin being clogged and tired.”

As you would expect from such a carefully thought-out skincare range, Celgenics has plenty of extra benefits for users, including herbal essences to aid sleep in its night crème (£39.99) and energised Swedish spring water in its lotions, toners and crèmes (from £28.50).

The range has just launched a new Celgenics Couture Facial, combining all the principles of the range in a one hour personalised facial. I paid Marian a visit to experience the effects for myself.

Celgenics Couture Facial

While I’d consider myself to generally keep on top of my five a day, I’ll admit my weekly diet is severely let down by a cocktail of rum, red wine and strong coffee. This and a habit of working late and drinking later means my skin is often fatigued and lacks a healthy glow.

I explained all this to Marian, who assured me that my facial would be tailored with specific herbal and floral essences to address my concerns.

The benefit of a facial that incorporates homeopathic remedies is that it gives the therapists the freedom to make each treatment totally unique and therefore more effective for the client.

While the beginning of the facial was similar to those I had experienced before (cleanse, cleanse again, tone) after the initial stages Marian began applying infrared light, which is said to aid the healing of skin. She then combated my dull complexion with a cold lazer to balance my energy levels and ‘put light back into my skin’.

While this may sound like an abstract notion, Marian completed the procedure on one side of my face first to demonstrate the difference.

My skin now boasted a healthy glow, while the facial massage techniques she had used before applying the light had improved the appearance of my features – my right eyebrow even looked slightly higher.

The facial massage works on acupuncture points, cleansing not only the skin but also internal organs. My lymphatic system was worked on initially, promoting detoxification that would in turn help clear my skin. As well as having all these rejuvenating and purifying qualities, another benefit of the massage is it feels brilliant.

Smiling, frowning, talking, laughing – we use our facial muscles constantly. Therefore a facial that spends a long time giving them such much-needed TLC is instantly going to make skin feel revived.

Whatever your view on holistic therapies, there’s no doubting that the Celgenics’ products are extremely powerful. Four days after the facial my skin feels clearer, smoother and noticeably brighter.

And who doesn’t want a bit of love, peace and healing in their life now and again?

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Shark: An interview with Leeds novelist Wes Brown


Conjured out of images of the back-end boozers and the murky pool halls of Leeds, Shark is a tale about your less-than-average Joe. Or, in this case, John. John Usher is many things – a Yorkshire man, a post-war veteran and certainly a drinker, but what he also embodies is the kind of deeply flawed protagonist we can’t help but be drawn to.

Shark is the debut novel from Leeds writer Wes Brown. As well as depicting the trials and tribulations of John’s post-war world, Brown also runs E-publishing company Dead Ink. In a time when the face of the written novel is continually changing, it is commendable that Brown has managed to find success for his story in both printed and digital form

For Brown, there is one man who was a clear inspiration for both tone and narrative technique. “James Joyce saw the epic in the every day, the circularities of history, the mythic prestige of our subconscious behind the simmering banalities,” said Brown. “He took the novel to a new plane of intimacy – sexually, artistically, and personally. He articulated the most private spheres of life and in doing so, added to our humanity. He’s a great starting point for a modern novelist.”

And so, taking inspiration from Joyce, Brown embarked on the story of John Usher – a disgraced soldier and violent deadbeat, attempting to reclaim himself from service in Iraq in an England that feels increasingly hostile. Usher attempts to fill the vacancies left by the trauma of war with a host of vices – mainly drunken jaunts and seedy sex. “Rather than see himself as a ’survivor,’ he tries his best to overcome his spiritual circumstances,” said Brown. “He imagines himself in heroic, action hero terms and finds his best consolation hustling people in his local pool hall.”

Brown has spoken before about his commitment to “writing completely uncensored,” which is certainly the case in Shark. Like Joyce’s preoccupation with masturbation and crude descriptions of the female anatomy, Brown doesn’t shy away from the explicit – looking the darker recesses of human nature right in the eye.

While there are some clear themes in the novel, Shark is not restricted by one defining message. “Shark is about class, masculinity and multiculturalism. Sort of,” said Brown, indicating that his work can not be packed neatly into boxes. Instead, Brown concentrates on the plight of his protagonist, with his thoughts and actions depicted in real time.

Choosing his own town as the setting for Shark, Brown paints a gloomy picture of Leeds. As a former resident of Burley myself, I’m as intrigued by the text as I’m sure Dubliners are by Leopold Bloom’s drunken romps through their city’s streets. Like Joyce, Brown’s novel is defined by its sense of place as well as its characters. “There is an element of ‘Leedsness’ in the novel – which is more of an attitude than a setting,” said Brown. “We’re defiant, proud, insecure and underachieving. We simultaneously think we’re the best and the worst. We revel in Dirty Leeds, in being shit, in being disliked.”

Yet, in spite of setting emerging as a prominent feature in the novel, Brown suggests that this wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. “All the material will subconsciously be arrived at from my knowledge of Leeds, but there wasn’t a conscious effort to write about Leeds, as write about what I could see,” said Brown. “The novel came from a recurring image of a man in a pool hall. I couldn’t see his face. He was wearing dark clothes and he was wounded, psychologically. I started trying to match the image with words, and a character began to appear, in a setting, with distinct characteristics.”

An embodiment of our disaffected society? Or perhaps a critique of the modern man? However you chose to interpret John Usher, as Brown’s parting remark of “he spends most of the novel trying not to be a dickhead” suggests, he is, perhaps, someone that we can relate to.

The E-book for Shark is available from Amazon at £1.99.

Follow Wes @wesbrownwriter

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Urban Coco’s Seven Deadly Sins International Launch

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On Thursday I attended the launch of fashion mag Urban Coco’s first ever international edition – Seven Deadly Sins. Hosted by the magazine’s fabulous editor Laura Bartlett at the Hippodrome Casino, the evening was a glamorous affair with guests sipping on cocktails while they flicked through the glossy pages, the soulful sounds of singer Shea’s providing the backing track.

The magazine itself is a feast for the eyes, packed with seven distinctive shoots and some of the best emerging fashion talent. The shoots were staged in seven different countries and each boast their own unique character, from bright and energetic to dark and haunting. My personal favourite is Lust, showcasing Samantha Paez for Parasol Vintage, with photography by Claudia McDade.

I first met Laura last year in Leeds, just as she was about to launch her first printed edition of Urban Coco. In 12 short months she has managed to create a globally-recognised brand for supporting emerging fashion talent, with the Seven Deadly Sins issue available in over 20 countries around the world.

To anyone that says the print industry is a dying one with no scope for new titles, Laura’s success gives them the finger.

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