Painting Snails by Stephen John Hartley

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Painting Snails by Stephen John Hartley

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Stories from the life who has managed to fail his A levels, do an engineering apprenticeship, make a lving from busking, get into medical school and now works part-time as a consultant in a Major Trauma Centre. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: April 2018
Publisher: Eli Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1999811433

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It's very difficult to classify Painting Snails: originally I thought that as it's loosely based around a year on an allotment it would be a lifestyle book, but you're not going to get advice on what to plant when and where for the best results. The answer would be something along the lines of 'try it and see'. Then I considered popular science as Stephen Hartley failed his A levels, did an engineering apprenticeship, became a busker, finally got into medical school and is now an A&E consultant (part time). I found out that there's an awful lot more to what goes on in a Major Trauma Centre than you'll ever glean from Casualty, but that isn't really what the book's about. There's a lot about rock & roll, which seems to be the real passion of Hartley's life, but it didn't actually fit into the entertainment genre either. Did we have a category for 'doing the impossible the hard way'? Yep - that's the one. It's autobiography.

I really wanted to read this book. I grow food on a very minor scale compared to Hartley who has a field, a muck midden and so many unfinished sheds that they're named and numbered. I sensed that the 'ranch', as he calls the field, is more of an escape than a source of food. It's where he goes to write (he's now working on his first novel and blogs regularly at but although the food is the produce from the ranch, what he really enjoys is the building work he does. It's his escape from the pressures of his other life. His engineering apprenticeship has stood him in good stead - he can turn his hand to making and mending anything and some of his pictures of the structures in the book are excellent. But what are really stunning are the woodcuts: there's one of Jet, his dog and it's a thing of beauty. When Hartley sent the book for review there was a note enclosed and on the back are a couple of copies of this print: I have it pinned above my desk.

One of my reviewers says that the test of a good book is the number of pieces of paper you've put in to flag up points for later consideration or quotation. I've got a veritable forest, but I'm not going to quote anything: I really think you'd be best reading the book yourself. That way you'll get the flavour of the man. He's irreverent and lives life to the full and he's funny, although I won't readily forgive him for the footnote about the overpaid footballers which left me snivelling with laughter in the doctor's waiting room just as my name was called. I would like to thank him for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag though: it's been a real treat.

One of Hartley's heroes was the late, great John Peel: we have our own tribute to him.

You can read more about Stephen John Hartley here. Do read it - it tells more of Hartley's story than I've been able to include in the review.

Booklists.jpg Painting Snails by Stephen John Hartley is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2019.
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