Phil Vasili’s ‘Felt and Batten’: Review

Felt and Batten Cover Image

‘Felt and Batten’ is the first published fiction novel from writer Phil Vasili. Raw Press has published as an E-book firstly. They also published Vasili’s acclaimed biography of Walter Tull, one of England’s first prominent black footballers.

‘Felt and Batten’ starts with a gripping description of Dani Nkpagayee, an Ogoni activist, looking over his ransacked and burning village before being captured by the Dictator responsible. We then move over to Cambridge and join Billy French, our working class hero, an idealistic and self-destructive roofer verging on bankruptcy. Billy’s saviour appears to be the lucrative college roofing contract that he’s bidding for, but ghosts from his past start to interfere.

Vasili tells me that the events and characters in the book are based on real events from his life, including the death of a school friend. This accounts for the poignancy of the storylines and the strength and depth of the characters. Billy and Dani are equally flawed in very different ways and Vasili places you in the characters footsteps as they face impossible situations. The piece gathers real momentum and a sense of foreboding as the characters lives spiral out of control. The two lead protagonists are endearing and admirable, but I quickly felt that things would not end well for either of them. The sense that both characters are within touching distance of goals they may not achieve is gripping and heartbreaking.

Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting commented ‘The characters are beautifully and empathetically drawn, and the plotlines were brilliant – the storytelling very well developed. It was very funny and written with real love. I really like Billy and Franka as a couple and the stuff with Dani and the goat is hilarious and tragic.’

The goat was the only thing unharmed by the ransacking of Dani’s village. He rescued this after escaping his torturers and brought it to England on the ship he stowed away on. Whilst a gritty and dark novel, there is notable humour from Billy’s down at heel friends and also from Dani’s relationship with the goat. Dani has turfed his third floor flat and turned it into a microcosm of plantations and vegetables.

Vasili also wrote and directed feature film ‘The Crack’, which includes some of the characters in Felt and Batten several years later. This screened at several festivals including the International Labour Film Festival.

The theme of injustice seems to be close to Vasili’s heart and is consistent through his works of fiction and non-fiction. His biography of Walter Tull details how the talented Tottenham and Northampton footballer volunteered for the army and was posted to France. His bravery led to him being given an Officer position, although regulations at the time prevented “men of colour” from becoming Officers. There is an online campaign for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross, which his commanding officer recommended him for. Rob Bagchi of The Observer wrote: ‘Vasili tells this poignant story well and the account of Tull’s death at Arras in 1918 is particularly heart-rending.’

Vasili has a feature film about Tull in development. His play, also about Tull, directed by David Thacker, had a successful run at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre this year. Carol Major of the Financial Times wrote: ‘Phil Vasili’s play deftly dramatises the extraordinary life of Britain’s first black army officer … The issues raised in Tull – racism, capitalism’s role in conflict, the inattention sometimes paid to the emotional lives of children in care, among others – strike a chord amid the present global and domestic sense of unease’.

Felt and Batten is available for Kindle at

Vasili’s other works can be purchased here:

The publishers Raw Press site is:

Below is a link to Vasili reading the opening pages:

‘Vasili’s feature film The Crack will soon be available to download on film for mobile website

The front covers art work was by Elaine Taylor.

Written by Martin Stocks
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