Great opening paragraph…61

haruki murakami - dance dance dance 10-6-13“I often dream about the Dolphin Hotel.

In these dreams, I’m there, implicated in some kind of ongoing circumstance. All indications are that I belong to this dream continuity.

The Dolphin Hotel is distorted, much too narrow. It seems more like a long, covered bridge. A bridge stretching endlessly through time. And there I am, in the middle of it. Someone else is there too, crying.

The hotel envelops me. I can feel its pulse, its heat. In dreams, I am part of the hotel.”
‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami [translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum]

Book review: If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful…

If I Knew You Were Going to be this Beautiful by Judy Chicurel 21-10-14The early ‘70s, Comanche Beach, Long Island. An American rural seaside community where the teens hang about and young men return home from Vietnam. Jobs are scarce, the young are leaving for the city, and teenager Katie loves a veteran who seems disconnected from the world.

This novel has the longest title I’ve ever come across. The full title is If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go. I’m intrigued whether it was the author’s choice or the publisher’s. I can just hear the conversations about front cover design.

Katie has finished school and is hanging around town for the summer, drinking egg cream sodas at Eddy’s during the day, spending lazy nights at the lounge in The Starlight Hotel. As she and her friends worry about ‘doing it’ and hickeys and mascara, their love interest is split into boys and soldiers. The girls continue to have crushes on the best-looking guys with bleached hair and suntanned arms, but they struggle to connect with these flawed men [mentally and physically flawed] who have seen American and Vietnamese blood bloom in rivers so it looks like lilies. “I see this, like… this giant… blossom, the biggest blossom I’ve ever seen, right on the river, like this unbelievably beautiful flower just floating on the river, getting bigger and bigger, like it was taking over the river, right?” Like the river was a big, fucking, flowing flower!”

[photo: discoverlongisland.com]

[photo: discoverlongisland.com]

The narrative spine of the book is Katie’s longing for Luke, a crush on an older boy who goes away to fight and comes back a man, solitary, silent. As her friends get pregnant and marry, Katie continues to long for Luke to look at her, to speak to her. This is a tender picture of growing up, becoming an adult, slowly like Katie or suddenly like Luke. Cut into Katie’s narrative are the stories of the people around her, all come together to draw a picture of a decaying seaside community in 1972 at a time when America struggled to cope with returning veterans maimed in mind and limb. A well-written debut. I will watch out for the next novel by Judy Chicurel [below].

[photo: Marcia Klugman]

[photo: Marcia Klugman]

For more about Judy Chicurel, click here for her website.

‘If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel [UK: Tinder Press, published October 30, 2014]

How to get ahead: Nicky Kinnaird

[photo: fashion.telegraph.co.uk]

[photo: fashion.telegraph.co.uk]

“Passion and focus go a long way to making something happen. It’s astounding just how often something you wish for and work determinedly towards comes into fruition. The most important thing I’ve learned on my way up the ladder? No doesn’t necessarily mean no. Develop a compelling argument as to why someone should say yes.”
[quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010]

Kinnaird, founder of the Space NK chain of beauty shops, doesn’t mention determination here. Call it what you like: determination, stubbornness, focus… it involves hard work and persistence. Whether you are selling beauty products, or writing a novel.

Kinnaird, in keeping with her own advice, focused on what she wanted to do next. She left the company she founded in July 2014 to set up a new consultancy.

What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given?

For the Space NK website, click here.
To read a Daily Telegraph report about Kinnaird’s departure from Space NK, click here.
To follow what Nicky Kinnaird does next, follow her on Twitter here.

Book review: I Refuse

I Refuse by Per Petterson 19-10-14This is the story of the friendship and un-friendship of two Norwegian men, their boyhood and manhood, told retrospectively as they meet by chance in 2006 on a bridge in early morning after many years apart.

Jim and Tommy are school friends, living in a small town outside Oslo. Both have difficult home lives. Jim lives with his single mother, a staunch Christian. Tommy’s mother disappears one night into the snow and as the eldest he copes with a violent father and three younger siblings. The two boys unite, until at 18 they are friends no more…

At that moment on the bridge, when the two men recognize each other, I wondered what had happened to separate them for 35 years. We learn the stories of their childhood and the hours before that meeting on the bridge, through their own flashbacks plus the voices of Tommy’s sister Siri, their mother Tya and his guardian Jonsen. Small incidents, unintended actions, everyday words, throwaway insults – the stuff of everyday life – all combine to affect the two boys in ways that last with them through adulthood. Things are said and unsaid.

Petterson’s style is distinctive, a long sentence followed by a short sharp sentence of five or six words used for emphasis. Occasionally I re-read a sentence and got more from it, Petterson’s perception of life is multi-layered and this is a novel which will reward re-reading. He has a way of putting his finger straight on the core point. In 2006 Jim is thinking of his own death, though at this point in the story the reader doesn’t know if he is actually ill or just contemplating mortality. “He knew that one day soon she would get over it and to everyone’s surprise, would have put it behind her, forgotten it already, or hidden it inside herself, the size of a shirt button.” Just as we don’t know if Jim is dying, we also don’t know who the ‘she’ refers to. “He dragged himself along on his knees, the cross was heavy and sharp against his shoulder. I’m so thirsty, he thought and they give me only vinegar to drink.”

The title I Refuse refers to both boys who refuse to compromise, refuse to forgive, refuse to forget. When they are 18, Jim and Tommy talk about friendship, “… it will last if we want it to. It depends on us. We can be friends for as long as we want to.”

I have another new author to explore.

[photo: Finn Ståle Felberg]

[photo: Finn Ståle Felberg]

If, like me, you know nothing about Per Petterson [above], click here to read an interview with him by The Economist magazine.
Click here to read an article in The New Yorker about a man, obsessed by reading Per Petterson.

‘I Refuse’ by Per Petterson, translated by Don Bartlett [UK: Harvill Secker]

Devon and Kickstarter

American author Devon Trevarrow Flaherty [below] is not sitting around thinking about getting her next books into print. She’s doing something about it by running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish her next three books. Authors are increasingly using crowdfunding as a new route to a published book, so this is a new route to market being carefully watched by the publishing industry. Devon Trevarrow Flaherty 23-10-14The deadline to contribute to Devon’s Kickstarter campaign [below] is November 5. As well as knowing they are supporting an author, each supporter will receive a benefit depending on the amount pledged. For example, a pledge of $25 equals a free e-book. A pledge of $5,000 equals an air hug, plus a character named after you and the three e-books. The minimum pledge is $1. Owl and Zebra Press - the 3 books 23-10-14The Night of One Hundred Thieves, the first of the three books, is ready to print as soon as the target is hit. This slim novel is based on the Northwyth legends found in Benevolent, Flaherty’s first novel. How can 35 thieves all steal the same ring? And who will be the last thief standing? This is the provisional front cover design [below]. the night of the hundred thieves - cover 24-10-14The second title, The Journey of Clement Fancywater, is a fantasy novel, a down-the-hole magical journey full of strange creatures, stranger plants, and Subterreans that will haunt your dreams.

The third book is described by Flaherty as the most literary novel of the three. The Family Elephant’s Jewels was written over a number of years. Gemma, mother of seven, dies unexpectedly and each of her children discovers a different secret about her life. How could they not have known? Who was this woman?

To visit Flaherty’s Kickstarter page, click here.

To read more about Devon Trevarrow Flaherty, click here for her blog ‘The Starving Artist’.  Click the ‘Books’ tab to find a free read of the first chapter of Benevolent.

Book review: The Surfacing

the surfacing by cormac james 9-10-14

This is a consuming book about life on the edge of life, life on the edge of death. When you stand at that edge, there is not much difference between the two.

In the 1850s, the Impetus sets out into the Arctic. It is part of a rescue party to find the missing Franklin expedition. Delays on shore, including parties and flirtation with the local girls on Greenland, mean the ship is late at the muster and is assigned the most difficult sector to search. Part way into their journey, they discover a stowaway. This woman changes the life of everyone on board, particularly second in charge Lieutenant Morgan. At first she is an intruder in their male world, then she is a nuisance, but finally they accept Miss Rink as one of them. And all the time, winter draws in and the ice clamps around their boat. And Miss Rink is pregnant.

They are caught in the ice for the winter. Ice is a character in the novel; it moves, it seems to breath, it thaws and re-freezes. Their lives depend on the ice. The options are endlessly reviewed, always tempered by the thought that they – the rescuers – are in need of rescuing themselves. And if they were, by some miracle this far north, to stumble on Franklin, would they be able to help the stranded crew?

I felt myself drawn into their daily lives, the need for routine and tasks in the long dark freezing cold days when there is nothing to do. The French cook made me smile, he promises them feasts at mealtimes and serves up mush. And all the time, the story is told by Morgan. His difficulties with Captain Myer, his friend Doctor DeHaven, and with Miss Rink.

Will they survive? Will they discover Franklin, or will they in turn be rescued? This is a wonderful novel, a very different read for me. The Arctic has such a presence, James describes the sea, the ice, the barren mountains and the extreme weather, with language at the same time poetic and powerful. Above all, it is a story of fatherhood as Morgan slowly accepts that Miss Rink’s child is his. In the midst of danger, trapped by the ice which pushes their boat so high above the ice’s surface that it must be supported by wooden posts, a new life is born.

For more on Cormac James’ inspiration for The Surfacing, read this interview with the Irish Times.
Click here for Cormac James’ blog.
The lost expedition of Arctic exploration, led by Captain Sir John Franklin, left England in 1845. The ships became ice bound and all on board were lost. A rescue mission was launched from England in 1848 and searches continued throughout much of the 19th century. To read more about Franklin’s expedition, click here.
‘The Surfacing’ by Cormac James [UK: Sandstone Press]

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Winter Song’

I came first to the war poets when I studied English Literature at university in London. We read them all: Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Brooke. I think it’s fair to say that in my early twenties I didn’t ‘get them’, not really. Wilfred Owen [below] composed his war poems between January 1917 when he was first sent to the Western Front, and November 1918 when he was killed. Only four of his poems were published during his lifetime. He is agreed to be the finest of the English poets writing about the First World War.

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

Instead of his most famous poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, I have chosen ‘Winter Song’. Written in October 1917, it immediately conjures up for me a Paul Nash painting [below] called ‘We are Making a New World’, painted in 1918 and on display in London at the Imperial War Museum. Paul Nash - We are Making a New World 19-6-14‘Winter Song’
The browns, the olives, and the yellows died,
And were swept up to heaven; where they glowed
Each dawn and set of sun till Christmastide,
And when the land lay pale for them, pale-snowed,
Fell back, and down the snow-drifts flamed and flowed.

From off your face, into the winds of winter,
The sun-brown and the summer-gold are blowing;
But they shall gleam again with spiritual glinter,
When paler beauty on your brows falls snowing,
And through those snows my looks shall be soft-going.

A quick search on Amazon revealed that a new copy of my edition of The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen would cost me £110, a used one £0.01.

For an interesting review by the BBC of the role poetry plays in our view of the First World War, click here.
To read The Poetry Foundation’s biography of Owen, click here.

the collected poems of wilfred owen 19-6-14a

 

‘The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen’ [Chatto & Windus]

Short story: ‘Whiteout’

It came without warning, the white, as quickly as a sigh. There was a moment of silence as he fell, of disbelief, a moment of loss when he thought, “Oh Jill” and reached for her hand which wasn’t there. Then all went black.

[photo: wallpaperscraft.com]

[photo: wallpaperscraft.com]

*

She was cold. A finger of ice wriggled along her spine, through the gap at her waistband where her thermal ski top had worked loose. She tried to straighten her clothes but the effort stole her breath so she rested for a moment, looking around, trying to assess where she’d fallen. She had never known quiet could be so dense.

“Bill?” She reassured herself. He wasn’t answering because he hadn’t fallen, was bringing help.

Not knowing which way was uphill or down, left or right, she cursed the loss of her spectacles. Above her was a structure, ghostly in the blankness which surrounded her like an unsatisfactory cheap duvet. Something dark loomed, it was the only thing she could see through the damp air which brushed her face like grubby cotton wool puffs smudged with mascara and eye shadow. It was tall enough to be the spire of a church; perhaps St Peter’s where they had married. Her dress like a froth of bubbly whipped egg whites, the unseen basic cotton knickers – the lucky bit of blue but her splash of rebellion too, with its circular yellow ABBA badge on the bum – the transparent diamond of her engagement ring like a chip of ice in her mother’s gin and tonic. And her mother’s advice about how to achieve a long-standing marriage – like hers with Dad – involving compromise, giving not taking, and the witchery of getting things done by helping her husband think her good idea was originally his so he would accept it without query.

As she lay in the cold cocoon where her body fell, Jill wondered why it had taken her 30 years to realise her mother had talked about having a long-standing marriage not a happy one. This realisation came to her in a sudden rush of senses and with it the acknowledgement of cold, bloody freezing in fact. Only minutes before she fell, she had searched through her bum bag for the tube of suntan cream and slicked a blob on her sore nose. She could make out the strap of the bag to her left, the black line of one ski. She felt strangely dulled and vividly alive all at the same time, like that Italian dessert which combined hot espresso with cold vanilla ice-cream. Except now the warmth was seeping from her like blood from a cut.

As an experiment she tried to move each of her limbs one at a time, ticking them off a checklist: left foot, right foot, left leg, right leg. Her right arm failed to respond. She could feel its presence as a lump beneath her torso, as if she were laying on top of a branch blown down in a storm. A sharp edge. Her arm itself felt of nothing, not even the dull deep ache of a broken bone. It was if the arm wasn’t there at all, a phantom limb.

She knew what a broken bone felt like, having broken her leg in a tricycle upset when she was six involving her, the gate post, and a downhill slope. A combination of thrilling speed inspired by the Famous Five, the breeze in her hair, and forgetting the brake pedal was on the handlebar.

Her arm now did not feel as her leg had then. She couldn’t see it but it must still be attached to her shoulder, mustn’t it. She remembered lying in bed with her broken leg, a hot water bottle, her head woozy. The whole world was in her bedroom, nothing else existed. If she couldn’t see something, it wasn’t there, which had been exciting and scary at the same time. Until she realised she couldn’t see Daddy who was at work and so must be dead, and that frightened her.

Jill didn’t want to think about death. She peered into the grey cotton wool puffs and shivered.

“Bill?”

*

When the moment of disbelief passed, he opened his eyes again. It was a dull February day, when winter seems everlasting and the promise of spring a malicious lie. A bus passed by in a rush of red and a splash of grubby London rainwater, and he took a hasty step back from the edge of the kerb. He rubbed his eyes like a tired toddler, hoping to prove what he had just seen had not been real.

Where had she gone? Jill. Jill kissing. Jill kissing a man, in the street, for everyone to see. It was definitely her, not some lookalike wearing her coat and carrying her blue cotton bag, the only bag big enough to carry War and Peace. It was such untypical Jill-like behaviour that he questioned his sleep-deprived brain. He had come out of the library after another all-nighter and was finding it more natural now to sleep at mid-day, the light filtering through the ill-fitting curtains of his bedsit. Only three weeks until the deadline for his dissertation, more all-nighters to come. The only thing he minded was not seeing Jill.

He hadn’t seen since last week. She was an under-grad, hardly ever in college. He swore she’d take a book to bed if he didn’t complain. She would read anywhere, while eating, in the bath, any spare minute and her nose was in a book. And she often talked about the characters in her book-of-the-moment as if they were real. Gabriel Oak did this, and Ursula said this but Gudrun thought that. Bill didn’t know who she was talking about but he liked the light in her eyes. He remembered one poem she quoted because it was rather filthy; something about a debt to pleasure. She had blushed and argued it was poetry, not filth. He could still feel the warmth in her cheeks.

Then he remembered he’d just witnessed Jill kissing a stranger and felt cold from the tips of his toes to the lobes of his rather fleshy ears. Earlobes which Jill had professed to like nibbling. Bill wasn’t sure whether to believe her, or whether she was just saying that because she thought it was what he wanted to hear. He’d rather she said she enjoyed nibbling his cock, perhaps more nuzzling than nibbling. He imagined kissing Jill, every kiss starting with the fence of tightly-closed lips which he recognised as modesty and which turned him on more than if her mouth had instantly been open and warm. He liked the winning-over of Jill, each time a small victory: his room or hers (his; because he lived alone while she shared with a fat girl from Hull who ate only saver-size packets of cheese and onion crisps and whose farts smelt of cheese and onion too), curry or Chinese (always curry; beansprouts ugh), missionary or doggy (obvious).

Who was this man in the dark suit, with a briefcase. The latter worried him; a man with the money to take her out, who would pay for a taxi home in the snow and not suggest they walk home to keep warm as they had on New Year’s Eve because Bill’s student grant had run out. His fears suffocated him, as if a cool hand was placed over his mouth and nose, as if his dreams of graduating, of qualifying as an architect, of building a house for Jill, had been buried by his inability to understand the mysteries of women. Of one woman. He thought of the small ring with its delicate diamond which lay hidden in its red box beneath his pillow. He didn’t want to wait until he had a salary, didn’t think Jill would mind a ring with a small diamond, more like a chip off an ice cube than a real gem, didn’t think she would want to wait for the architect’s salary.

He felt like an ice cube now, shivering, as a blanket of fog fell over London and draped his world in grey.

*

She studied the spire, trying to remember what Bill had told her about church architecture. He’d written a paper about it once, long ago. He’d been so enthralled by it that she’d tried hard to be enthralled too. Norman churches had rounded arches, she remembered, the pointy ones were gothic but most churches were added to and repaired over the centuries so they were all mongrels.

She remembered a weekend in Kent. They’d taken the train to Tunbridge Wells and trundled between villages on old buses, church to church. She read the verses on moss-covered tombstones, still remembered one: “My dearest Agnes, from the first day to our last together, every day I loved you more.” In 30 years time, she thought, that could be us. She watched Bill sketching architectural details, following the line of his pencil as he described each feature. His words wouldn’t stay in her brain, her head was full of 1805, St Petersburg and fear of war with Napoleon.

The finger of ice touched her neck. Ignoring it, she focussed on the ghostly spire; it was straight, the top flat. Didn’t all church spires point upwards to God, to heaven? The gargoyles hung downwards like stalactites, or stalagmites. These gargoyles looked more like swords or spears than animals, growling, scowling animals. Something was roaring though, a hungry lion. The only lion she’d seen was a sad one at Chessington when it was still a zoo and not a place for frightening rides.

After the kiss she had waited all that night with the door of the flat wedged open so she could hear the telephone downstairs ring. She’d hated herself for being weak, wished she’d gone to the pub with Ann. She wanted Bill to shout. She hated shouting but needed to know he cared. That’s why she’d done it. The kiss. She needed to know it was more than sex.

Ann said she was a romantic, that real men didn’t buy roses. The phone had not rung and Ann had come home drunk at 11.30 smelling of beer and crisps. The next day, unable to listen to the silence of the phone, unable to concentrate on nineteenth-century Russia, Jill ran away from the silence and Ann’s knowing eyes to Chessington. The sad lion was on its own in a bare concrete pit, pacing along the fence, its eyes dull, its throat roar-less.

This must be a different lion, roaring and whistling, the sound high in the air was ghostly now. Whoo…rrrr. Coming to get her. Cradled by cold, Jill’s thoughts came less frequently now, interspersed with emptiness like the pause in Morse code.

Dot dot dot. Dash dash dash. Dot dot dot.

The pauses grew longer… until the last dash,

… then the last dot.

*

Bill heard the wind rise and knew it meant the sky would clear and the temperature plummet. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand the icy biting and stabbing in his leg but knew he must get to Jill. Jill, who came skiing with him because she knew he loved it. Jill, whose lovely athletic bottom was slightly squishier these days but all the more cuddlable in its softness. Jill, who loved him despite all his idiocies, who gave him every drop of her love, who had waited months for him to call her after that daft stunt with the kiss. Stubborn, he thought, that’s what I was. Months I wasted sulking, months I could have spent with Jill.

And he remembered the words of his father, the night before the wedding. They’d strolled to the village pub, opposite the lovely Romanesque church with its particularly nice South Door. “Three things will keep you married, lad. Listening to her, accepting what she says and expecting nothing back.” Bill had tried to live up to his father’s words which had, after all, kept his parents’ marriage alive for almost 50 years.

“And it worked, we’re happy” Bill said aloud, except his throat was as dry as if he’d swallowed a piece schoolmaster’s chalk. He lay back against the pillow of snow and made an effort to see into the white. He’d never appreciated before just how many shades of white there were, many more than a paint chart. Above, reaching up to the sky was a pylon, grey metal furred with frost and hung with icicles, like the decorative lights their neighbour hung from his roof every December.

Bill lay in the snow, feeling the burning in his limbs fade to be replaced by numbness. He longed for one last look at Jill’s left ankle where a freckle emerged whenever she was suntanned, just beneath the knob of the bone, in the exact shape of Greenland. She insisted it was the shape of Sweden, but that was just her ABBA thing.

Accepting he would never see in colour again, Bill relaxed as it started to snow.
© Sandra Danby

New books coming soon

Jax Miller 
Debut author Jax Miller has signed a two-book deal with HarperFiction. The first, Freedom’s Child, will be published in summer 2015. It tells the story of Freedom, a woman who has spent 18 years living under the Witness Protection programme after murdering her husband. When the daughter she gave birth to in prison, and gave up for adoption, goes missing, Freedom is determined to find her child. The deal also includes a second un-named title.

[photo: writersservices.com]

[photo: writersservices.com]

Miller was born and grew up in New York but now lives in Ireland. Under her real name, Aine O’ Domhnaill, she was shortlisted for the CWA debut dagger for unpublished writers in 2013.
Follow Jax Miller on Twitter at @JaxMillerAuthor

Kirsty Logan 
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan will be published by Harvill Secker in Spring 2015. Described as a combination of Angela Carter and Michael Faber, Logan writes in the magical realism tradition. In The Gracekeepers, North and her bear live on a circus boat, floating between the scattered archipelagoes that are all that remains of the land. To survive, the circus must perform for the few fortunate islanders in return for food and supplies. Meanwhile, in the middle of the ocean, Callanish tends the watery graves along the equator, as penance for a long-ago mistake.

[photo: Colin Templeton]

[photo: Colin Templeton]

The Gracekeepers is Logan’s debut novel. Her short story collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is published by Salt.
the rental heart and other fairytales by kirsty logan 7-8-14For Kirsty Logan’s website, click here.
To read an interview with Logan in Herald Scotland, click here.

Jenny Blackhurst
How I Lost You is the story of Susan Webster, released from Oakdale Psychiatric Unit where she was put after being convicted of killing her son. She sets up house alone, under an alias, but soon receives a photo which suggests her son is still alive. So, she searches for the truth. Who was betraying who? This is Jenny Blackhurst’s debut thriller, to be published by Headline as an e-book at the end of 2014 and paperback in spring 2015. how i lost you by jenny blackhurst 7-8-14Follow Jenny Blackhurst on Twitter at @JennyBlackhurst

AD Miller
The Faithful Couple is the new novel by AD Miller, author of the 2011 Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Snowdrops. It will be published by Little, Brown as hardback in the spring of 2015, and Abacus paperback in 2016. snowdrops by AD Miller -cover 7-8-14In The Faithful Couple, two young British men Neil Collins and Adam Tayler meet at a hostel in San Diego. It is the Nineties. On a camping trip to Yosemite National Park, they behave in ways that, years later, they regret.

Click here to read The Guardian’s review of Moscow-set thriller, Snowdrops.
Like AD Miller’s Facebook page, here.

Lori Lansens
Lori Lansens’ next two novels will be published by Simon & Schuster. A Mountain Story, to be published in 2015, is narrated by Wolf Truly who got lost on his 18th birthday with three women for five days in the mountain wilderness just outside Palm Springs. Now an adult, Wolf writes an account of what happened for his son Danny because he owes him the truth.

[photo: lorilansens.com]

[photo: lorilansens.com]

Lansens’ previous titles Rush Home RoadThe Girls, and The Wife’s Tale were published by Virago. The second title was selected by the Richard Judy Book Club, the third is currently in film development.

For Lori Lansens’ website, click here.

Eve Chase
Michael Joseph is to publish two books by Eve Chase. The first, published next year, is Black Rabbit Hall, so called because of the house at the centre of the novel, Black Rabbit Hall. “When the sun sets over its vast green lawn the rabbits are silhouetted on the horizon”. The Alton family joke is that a Black Rabbit hour lasts twice as long as a London one, but you don’t get a quarter of the things done. And then one day, something happens and life is never the same again.

Book review: The Goldfinch

the goldfinch by donna tartt 7-8-14I knew it from the first page, this was the rare sort of book that you want to go on forever and when you finish it you want to start reading all over again for the first time. My only problem? It’s size: difficult balancing the hardback on my chest as I tried to read in bed while gently falling asleep. This is a book I will keep and re-read and re-read. Buy the book, not the e-book.

Three main reasons why I loved it. I liked Theo, it is his story and Tartt lets him tell it all the way through. No other viewpoint. It is about art and antiques, or specifically one painting and the effect it has on Theo’s life. The possession of it, the responsibility, the guilt, the value. The meaning of the painting itself, the tiny bird shackled by a chain at its ankle. And the painter, Carel Fabritius, student of Rembrandt, died too young in the Delft gunpowder explosion of 1654 when he was 32. And lastly, it’s one of those wide-ranging American novels – New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam – that the Americans seem to do so well and the English are rubbish at [if you can think of a modern English novel that does do it, please let me know because I’d love to read it]. the goldfinch by Carel Fabritius 7-8-14Tartt says she carries a notebook everywhere and is always jotting down ideas and facts. It shows. Each page is crammed with information. I have to admit early on I was wondering if 13-year old Theo would really remember details of a painter called Egbert van de Poel, but it is the adult Theo telling the child’s story so I cut her some slack.

It is about art, fate, the things life throws at us, love and friendship. It takes in alcoholism, drug addiction, art fraud, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, unrequited love. At the heart of it is a mystery. As Theo’s feckless father, who gambles according to astrology, says: “sometimes you have to lose to win”. And it is chock full with popular references, from Boris referring to reading the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ books to Pippa’s Hunter wellies.

Of the peripheral characters, I loved Hobie, loved Boris. Pippa remains enigmatic to the end. Tartt’s characters are alive, her places are real. She makes you smell the dust. I’ve been to Las Vegas and have ventured beyond the Strip, but not to the outer edges where the desert reclaims the streets and where the teenage Theo and Boris meet. And I’ve been to New York, walked the streets Theo walks, been to the Met [thank goodness, un-bombed], and been to Amsterdam too with its circular canals. And that brings me to the first chapter, and the ending. I was so intrigued by that first chapter, why is Theo in the hotel room, anxiously scanning the Dutch television news. What has he done? What I imagined it to be… I was wrong, but I had to read almost to the end before I realised I was wrong. That’s really good going for a book that is 771 pages long. There is anticipation, numerous twists in the tale, and there is a little over-intellectualising [often the over-serious way of ‘the big American novel’] but nothing that stopped me reading on. For me, the book went on slightly too long, past its natural finishing point. I would have stopped at the end of the chapter where Theo and Hobie meet post-Christmas, post-Amsterdam.

It is a literary success, and a page-turner. A deserved winner of the Pulitzer, for me.

[photo: Beowulf Sheehan-Corbis]

[photo: Beowulf Sheehan-Corbis]

But not everyone thinks The Goldfinch is a classic, according to this article from Vanity Fair magazine.
Click here to read a review in The Guardian which examines Tartt, the enigma.
Kirsty Wark interviews Donna Tartt about The Goldfinch on BBC’s Newsnight, click here to watch on You Tube. On writing, and working in New York’s Public Library, watching people walk by and inventing characters.
If you are in Den Haag, the Netherlands, be sure to see ‘The Goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius at the Maritshuis. Click here for details.

Other books about paintings? The obvious one is Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s painting of the same name. My mind goes blank after that – do you know any others?

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt [Little, Brown]

I agree with… Lizzie Enfield

[photo: lizzieenfield.com]

[photo: lizzieenfield.com]

“Just in case I was sounding a bit too sanctimonious and forgiving, I had to include Fay Weldon’s gloriously imagined tale of revenge and retribution, ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’. Not least as it indulges just about every fantasy every wronged, put upon or simply a bit fed up woman has ever had; from forcing your husband to look after the children 24-7 to using someone who used you in a spectacularly inventive way.”
Lizzie Enfield, in an interview with ‘We Love This Book’ about revenge novels

Oh this took me back years, to first reading this book and how daring it was. And secondly remembering the TV series [below] which followed in 1986. the life and loves of a she-devil - tv series 27-6-14Lizzie Enfield says it all, if you haven’t read the book go and order/buy it now!

To read the full article at We Love This Book about Lizzie’s top 5 revenge novels, click here.
To visit Lizzie Enfield’s website, click here.
Click here to watch on You Tube an excerpt from Episode 1 of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. Other excerpts are also available.

living with it by lizzie enfield 27-6-14 (2)

 

‘Living with It’ by Lizzie Enfield [Myriad Editions]

Book review: Stolen Child

stolen child by laura elliot 22-9-14This book wasn’t as I expected it to be. Given the title, I expected a detective hunt for a missing child, kidnap and perhaps murder. Instead it is a character study of two women encompassing grief, guilt, blame, anger, loss and redemption. Susanna loses her own baby before term and steals one to replace it. Carla, a model who lives her life on the fashion pages, gives birth but days later her baby disappears from the hospital without trace. This is a page-turner but is so much more than that. It is a character study of two women at the extreme of horror and grief, not just in the immediate aftermath of the theft, but years later. Both experience loss, grief, guilt and dashed hopes.

Susanne steals baby Isobel and calls her Joy. Devastated mum Carla is dealing with an avid media which cannot believe its luck at the juicy headlines. Both women struggle to live day-to-day. Relationships crack, friendships shake. Susanne is over-protective of Joy. Carla refuses to let go, even after her husband leaves the country to ‘move on’. She changes her name, cuts her hair short and dyes it black. The years pass. But rural Ireland is a small place. The network of who-knows-who overlaps the lives of both women, now and in the past. Why did Susanne choose Carla’s baby to steal? Part of my motivation to turn the page was the curiosity about who would spot the strong physical likeness between Joy and Carla.  As Joy/Isobel grows, her voice joins the story too: teenage angst, boyfriend trouble, rebellion and confusion.

Susanne and Carla are connected by an umbilical cord. I waited for the moment that the cord would be yanked, and the two pulled together. This book is an examination of what makes a family: blood, proximity, do they have to start with a birth or are they more loosely assembled?

[photo: lauraelliotauthor.com]

[photo: lauraelliotauthor.com]

For details about Laura Elliot’s other novels, click here for her website.
To read an excerpt of Stolen Child, click here.
‘Stolen Child’ by Laura Elliot [UK: Avon]

Book review: A Sudden Light

a sudden light by garth stein 22-9-14How to define this story? It’s a coming of age tale, a ghost story, it’s about forests and trees and about man’s responsibility to nature. I loved it, one of the best books I‘ve read this year and quite different from everything else.

Garth Stein [below] is a new author for me. I was attracted to this book by three features: the ethereal cover, the setting in the Pacific North-Western corner of the US, and the family/saga ghost story combination.

Trevor’s parents are separated. His mother has flown home to England for the summer while Trevor visits for the first time his ancestral home on the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle. Trevor’s objective is to repair his parents’ marriage, he is not sure how. But from the first day he and his father, Jones, arrive at Riddell House on The North Estate, everything seems strange. The house is enormous, built by Trevor’s great-great-grandfather Elijah Riddell a century earlier, testament to Elijah’s riches earned from his logging business. It is a mansion, built from timber, set amongst trees, isolated and rotting. The house is at the centre of this story; its physicality, its history, what it meant to Elijah and his son Ben, and what the sale of it could mean to the current Riddell generation: much needed cash. Trevor meets his aunt Serena [she asks him to call her Simply Serena] and his Grandfather Samuel, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The mysteries start from day one. garth stein - photo garthstein.com 22-9-14Is the ghost of Jones and Serena’s mother dancing upstairs? What exactly is Serena’s agenda, is she trying to seduce 14-year old Trevor? Is Grandfather Samuel speaking rubbish, or not? And what secret is Jones hiding? Money is at the centre of this tale, a family who earned fortunes as the 19th century turned into the 20th by forging timber links with the railroads. That same family now has a mansion which is falling into ruin, while Jones is newly bankrupt after the failure of his boatbuilding business.

Everyone has an agenda at Riddell House that summer, including Trevor.

To watch the book trailer for A Sudden Light, click here.
To visit Garth Stein’s website, click here.
Click here to explore the North Estate, the enigmatic setting for A Sudden Light.
‘A Sudden Light’ by Garth Stein [UK: Simon & Schuster]

Book review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

the love song of miss queenie hennessy by rachel joyce 17-9-14I was blown away by this book and read it in two sittings. First, you do not need to have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry before you read this. I don’t really think it matters which of the two you read first, they are companion books rather than prequel and sequel. Second, this is the most accurate portrayal of people living in a hospice that I have read, and it is not something often written about.

Rachel Joyce confronts head-on the fact of Queenie’s terminal illness, and that of her fellow residents at St Bernadine’s Hospice. But she doesn’t concentrate on their illnesses, she concentrates on their characters and in this way they form a colourful backdrop to Queenie’s story. They are not defined by their illnesses, and neither is Queenie. This is the story of her life, a story we learn because she is writing a long letter to Harold Fry.

Queenie is in the North-East of England, Harold is in Devon. They worked together many years ago. Queenie writes to Harold to tell him he is dying. He writes a reply, but instead of posting the letter he decides to deliver it himself and starts walking. That was the plot of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book about Harold coming to terms with his own life.

This book is about Queenie’s life. Afraid he will not arrive before she dies, Queenie starts to write the story of her life – with the help of nun Sister Mary Inconnue who re-types Queenie’s handwritten notes. It is Queenie’s explanation of and apology for a wrong she did to Harold while they both worked at a brewery in Kingsbridge, Devon. As she nears her end, Queenie struggles to write, but Sister Mary quietly encourages her, lifts her when she is faltering, puts the notebook in her lap and tells her she has to finish her story.

It is so moving, and it is very funny. St Bernadine’s Hospice is a real place populated by real people and they are the fabric of Queenie’s life now. This is a book about death, and about life. It is about love, grief, difficult choices, and finally it is about making peace with yourself before the end.

Just read it!

Watch this exclusive Richard and Judy Book Club interview with Rachel Joyce.
Click here for Rachel Joyce’s website.
For my review of Rachel Joyce’s second novel, Perfect, click here.
‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’ by Rachel Joyce [UK: Black Swan]

Great opening paragraph…60

Lord Jim - OP
“He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull. His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it. It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at anybody else. He was spotlessly neat, apparelled in immaculate white from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports where he got his living as ship-chandler’s water-clerk he was very popular.”
‘Lord Jim’ by Joseph Conrad

Book review: Nora Webster

nora webster by colm toibin 11-9-14This novel is such a slow burn. I came to it after reading a thriller, so perhaps that’s why the pace seemed so slow. And then I took a deep breathe and let myself sink into the deep pool of the story. Reading this book was a little like listening to my mother tell the story of her life, tiny baby steps. The everyday voice of Nora, a kind of everywoman, is so clear. An ordinary woman, she is grieving for her husband Maurice and living in a world of echoes. This is a novel about grief, living with grief, and the slow re-awakening of life. Tiny baby steps.

Nora cannot indulge her grief. For one thing, money is short and her two young sons must be cared for. Her two daughters too, though older, need their mother although they don’t think they do. Nora struggles to get through her own day in which every minute is shadowed by her loss, but life gets in the way, decisions must be made. Day to day she does the best she can, trying to get the everyday detail right but not seeing how her sons’ grief is manifesting itself. Instead she worries about paying the bills and avoiding people in the street who want to pay their respects. Colm Tóibín [below] has created a timeless rural Ireland where everyone knows everyone else from childhood, where the etiquette of grief is followed, where it is difficult to have secrets.

[photo: theguardian.com]

[photo: theguardian.com]

As readers we experience all of this in Nora’s own mind, we are inside her head: this is Tóibín’s real skill. It would be easy to say this is a book about the grief of an Irish woman, and not much else. And to be fair, there is not a lot of action in the first half of the book. Then, unable to say ‘no’ to an invitation as it would be impolite, Nora starts to sing. And that is the first baby step of her re-awakening.

At the beginning, I wondered if I would finish it. When I finished it, I wanted to start reading it again.

For Colm Tóibín’s website, click here.
Why does Colm Tóibín love listening to the radio? Click here to read an interview with The Telegraph.
‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín [UK: Viking]

Book review: A Death in Valencia

a death in valencia by jason webster 16-7-14This is a book about more than a singular death, it is an exploration of the nature of death and what constitutes murder. Max Cámara, the Valencia detective introduced in Or the Bull Kills You, cannot sleep: his street is being dug up as the new Metro line is being built, the summer heat pulsates, and Valencia is crazy as it prepares for the arrival of the Pope.

The city buzzes with pro- and anti-Catholic emotions, with pro-life and pro-choice campaigners lining up their arguments for the Pope. Meanwhile the police force prepares security for the visit, as a developer is ripping up the old fisherman’s quarter El Cabanyal [below] to build new apartment blocks. On the first page, a dead body is washed up on the shore. A well-known paella chef.

[photo: masialavanda.com]

[photo: masialavanda.com]

Max has eaten the chef’s paella but is taken off the case to help hunt for a kidnapped woman, a gynaecologist who performs abortions. The eve of the Pope’s visit is the worst possible time for this to happen. As always seems to happen in crime novels, two seemingly separate incidents are linked. The link, in this case, is carefully plotted so I didn’t spot it until the end. For me, this is a deeper more intelligent novel than the first in the Max Cámara series [there are now four], perhaps because the author is settling into the genre and the character.

I must add that Valencia simply rocks in this book, it comes alive off the page, the heat, the tension, the grief. I can smell the summer dust.

To read my review of Or the Bull Kills You, Jason Webster’s first book about Max Cámara, click here.

[photo: dailymail.co.uk]

[photo: dailymail.co.uk]

To watch a video where Jason Webster [above] explains how he wrote A Death in Valencia and how real life influenced the plot, click here.
To watch a film about El Cabanyal, and the threat it still faces from developers, click here. The film is directed by Tristan Martin and narrated by Nigel Planer.
Click here for Jason Webster’s website for more about Max Cámara, Webster’s travel writing about Spain and a new history book, The Spy with 29 Names.

‘A Death in Valencia’ by Jason Webster [Vintage]

Famous people, reading: Gregory Peck

[photo: awesomepeoplereading.tumblr.com]

[photo: awesomepeoplereading.tumblr.com]

“Inside of all the makeup and the character and the makeup, it’s you, and I think that’s what the audience is really interested in… you, how you’re going to cope with the situation, the obstacles, the troubles that the writer puts in front of you.”
Actor Gregory Peck [above]

Is he reading To Kill a Mockingbird do you think? I’m not sure about the pipe, but Atticus Finch regularly appears in those ‘Most Popular Father’ lists which appear around Father’s Day.

Peck seems to have been a thoughtful man, here’s another quote: “I’ve had my ups and downs. There have been times when I wanted to quit. Times when I hit the bottle. Girls. Marital problems. I’ve touched most of the bases.”

Seems to make him well-qualified to be an actor, or a writer.

Gregory Peck by Gary Fishgall 18-6-14

 

‘Gregory Peck’ by Gary Fishgall [pub’d by Scribner]

Writer, dearest

I love blog awards, everyone likes to be appreciated and blog awards are a nice way of spreading love around amongst bloggers and readers. The Liebster, for me, means love. Not sure why, perhaps because it sounds like ‘liebe’ which takes me back to my German classes at school: ‘Ich liebe dich’. So I’ve always assumed the ‘Liebster Award’ meant roughly the ‘We Love You Award’. Wrong… a quick check with Google Translate tells me that Liebster means ‘Dearest’. liebster award logo 22-9-14So, thanks to April at April4June6, for nominating me for the Dearest Award! April has asked me 11 questions:-
Do you think we should adapt our demands to our means, or the other way around?
If we don’t adapt our demands to our means, the planet will be bankrupt.
What does writing mean to you?
Everything. It is who I am, I cannot imagine ever not writing.
What are you doing on a sunny day?
Ideally, sitting in the sun, reading. Really, sitting inside, writing.

[photo: tripadvisor.co.uk]

[photo: tripadvisor.co.uk]

What future memory would you like to create?
Looking back to the day my first novel, Ignoring Gravity, was published. The first of a successful eries.
Would you date yourself were you a person of the opposite sex?
Probably not.
What is success to you?
Being satisfied with what I’ve achieved in life, working hard to meet my goals.
What does this award mean to you?
It made me smile, and feel proud of my little blog. Thanks, April!

[photo: biggs.telegraph.co.uk]

[photo: biggs.telegraph.co.uk]

Make a wish
I wish Andy Murray [above, winning Wimbledon 2013] would win the Grand Slam in 2015.
Fulfil someone’s wish
Not sure how to do this… it could get into quite dangerous territory.
What is your favourite place?
Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, England. Below is a view of Filey Brigg, from Bempton Cliffs. Bempton - view of Brigg1 29-10-13The award rules are:
– Thank your nominator and post a link to his/her blog.
– Display the award on your blog.
– Answer the 11 questions provided by the nominator.
– Nominate 5-11 blogs which have less than 1000 followers, and let them know they’ve been nominated.
– Make up and post 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
– Post these rules on your blog.

My nominations, all writers, are:-
Garrulous Gwendoline
Cindy Bruchman For my review of Cindy’s novel, The Knife with the Ivory Handle, click here.
Andrea Stephenson
Bryan Hemming
Jacke Wilson

My 11 questions to my five nominees all require quickfire, short answers:-
Which book do you love the most?
Who is the fictional character you most resemble – be honest!
Which book would you love to have written?
What are you reading now?
And what’s next on your To-Read pile?
Paperback/hardback, or e-book? Why?
Where is your favourite place to read?
Best film from the book?
What are you writing today?
Do you plan your story, or let it flow?
Who is your key character, and what makes him/her tick?

Book review: The Soul of Discretion

the soul of discretion by susan hill 10-9-14Lafferton, England. A naked child wanders down a street. A woman is raped at a black tie Freemansons’ Dinner. Detective Simon Serrailler is coming to terms with his girlfriend moving into his flat which now seems very small and confined, no longer his own private space. His widowed sister is struggling for money and must decide what to do about it. His stepmother is struggling to deal with the detective’s increasingly irritable and irascible father. Serrailler’s girlfriend feels like the lodger in her boyfriend’s flat. And then Serrailler is posted undercover.

This is the eighth novel about detective Simon Serrailler and as far as I’m concerned, Susan Hill can continue writing them until kingdom comes. I have read them all over the years, but this is the first I have reviewed [something I will remedy over the coming year]. Serrailler is a thoughtful, solitary-minded detective, surrounded by a family which, in The Soul of Discretion, has its own crises. But the central thread of the book, which kept me reading late into the night, was Serrailler going undercover. In this book, you wonder if he will live or die. I read this book in 24 hours, including a night’s sleep. The subject matter is difficult, the nastiest child abuse, and to go undercover Serrailler must know his subject, be able to act the part of a ‘nonce’, he must look as if he likes the nasty stuff.

[photo: susanhill.org.uk]

[photo: susanhill.org.uk]

Susan Hill [above] doesn’t show us the unpleasantness, she lets us imagine it by showing us Serrailler’s reaction. He becomes Johnno Miles and we take every step with him as he goes to prison, the aim to get close to a prisoner who it is hoped holds the key to unlocking a prolific child abuse ring. With him is a James Bond-style watch with coded buttons to send messages to HQ, except it is a cheap black plastic watch, not a Rolex. There are a lot of heart-in-mouth passages, Hill’s writing makes you turn page after page. And just when you get to a key bit, the chapter ends and the attention switches – to Cat who is trying to decide whether to work for a hospice or a GP practice, or his stepmother Judith on holiday in France with his father, or Serrailler’s girlfriend Rachel who is opening a bookshop – and you get an emotional breather from the tension. But all the stories are linked, in the end.

Click here for Susan Hill’s website and more information about her books.
‘The Soul of Discretion’ by Susan Hill [UK: Chatto & Windus, published October 2, 2014]

New books coming soon

Sarah Hall
The Wolf Border, the latest novel from Sarah Hall, one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013, will be published by Faber in April 2015 and by Harper Press in the US.

Set against a background of political tumult – Scottish independence, land reform, and power struggles – The Wolf Border investigates the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, both animal and human. It explores our concepts of ecology and evolution, re-wilding projects and the challenges faced by modern rural landscapes.

[sarah hall - photo faber.co.uk]

[sarah hall - photo faber.co.uk]

Faber Social’s creative director, Lee Brackstone, said: “Sarah Hall [above] is rightly thought to be one of the most original literary talents of her generation and each new book confirms and builds on the promise of her great early novels. The Wolf Border is a novel with enormous narrative and contemporary urgency. In some ways it marks a return to the world of her first novel, Haweswater, but here is a writer in full maturity, at the top of her game.”

For Sarah Hall’s website, click here.

Renee Knight
Disclaimer, the debut psychological thriller by Faber Academy alumnus Knight, is to be published by Transworld in Spring 2015 as hardback and paperback a year later.

[photo: curtisbrown.co.uk]

[photo: curtisbrown.co.uk]

How would it feel if you came across yourself in a novel? It is unmistakably you. Worse, it is about something you have never told anyone – anyone living that is. Transworld describes the novel by film writer and TV producer Renee Knight [above] as a ‘one-sit read’.

Matthew Funk 
The City of NO is a crime novel set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina by Matthew Funk, to be published in the UK by Exhibit A. Released in March 2015, the story follows detective Jari Jurgis as she tries to save women from human traffickers in the aftermath of the hurricane.

For Matthew Funk’s website, click here.

Rebecca Chance 
Chasing Midnight is the first of three novels new books from Rebecca Chance to be published by Macmillan. Chance, the pseudonym of Lauren Henderson, is a prolific author of detective novels, YA, and non-fiction. Previous novels by Chance include glamour thrillers  Divas, Bad Girls and Killer Heels, all published by Simon & Schuster. divas by rebecca chance 5-8-14For Rebecca Chance’s website, click here.

Tom Callaghan 
Two thrillers set in Kyrgyzstan by debut novelist Tom Callaghan are to be published by Quercus. The first, A Killing Winter, follows detective Akyl Borubaev of Bishkek Murder Squad as he investigates the brutal murders of several women. Callaghan currently divides his time between London, Prague, Dubai and Bishkek. A Killing Winter will be publish in early 2015, no release date yet for its sequel A Spring Betrayal.

Judy Chicurel
If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go, the debut novel by Judy Chicurel [below] is to be published in the UK by Tinder Press in October 2014 and in the US by Amy Einhorn. This is a two-book deal for Chicurel, whose short stories have been published in Granta.

[photo: Amyrah Arroyo ]

[photo: Amyrah Arroyo ]

The setting is Long Island, summer of 1972, where the young men face life after the horrors of the Vietnam War and the story of the young women is told by narrator Katie.

For Judy Chicurel’s website, click here.

Book review: The Sunrise

the sunrise by victoria hislop 21-8-14I’m a big fan of Victoria Hislop’s previous three novels, The Thread, The Return, and The Island so was expecting a lot from the new one, The Sunrise. I was a little disappointed and it’s difficult to pin down why. The Cyprus setting is great, the historical setting is stirring, the characters… I didn’t connect as well with them as I did with Alexis and Eleni in The Island. Finally, I decided that the difference between The Sunrise and the Hislop’s earlier books is that it wears its history a little too heavily. That said, it is a fascinating period and one I knew little about, except a memory of a distant cousin who lived near Kyrenia at the time. He and his family were forced to flee their house, empty-handed, running across open countryside towards a cave, dodging bullets being fired from an airplane

The Sunrise tells the story of three families in Famagusta from the sunny days of 1972 when tourism brings riches to Cyprus, to 1974 when a Greek coup forces the island into chaos. Greek Cypriots flee in one direction, Turkish Cypriots flee in the other, and the Turkish army invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. The city of Famagusta empties as people run for their lives. Today, 40 years later, the city is still empty. This is the setting for Hislop’s novel.

Two of the families in The Sunrise – the Georgious and the Ozkans – remain behind in Famagusta, hiding, scavenging for food, keeping silent to avoid capture. One is Greek Cypriot, the other Turkish Cypriot. Initially suspicious of everyone, the families are brought together by the two mothers and encouraged to support each other. This is a story of survival on the edge of war, of starvation, ingenuity, bravery and fear. Sons disappear, the city is bombed, soldiers patrol the streets, and a baby is born. The third family – the Papacostas, owners of the sparkling new hotel The Sunrise – flee to their apartment in Nicosia, locking up their stronghold hotel and leaving valuables in its safe, but taking the danger and emotional attachments with them.

Though the book at times drifts towards impersonal reportage and can feel a little like reading a history book or newspaper report, the accuracy of the complicated political and social situation is clearly explained. The island is heft in two and its population uprooted with possessions, without warning. They are attacked, raped, killed, simply for being ‘the other kind’. Finally they settle into North and South, either side of the east-west dividing line.

[photo: Angus Muir]

[photo: Angus Muir]

Victoria Hislop [above] always writes about places she knows well and that knowledge shines off the page in every sound, smell and touch she conjures up. She was not able to go to Famagusta, the city is still closed off, and had to be content with looking through the wire fence. In The Sunrise she has tackled a hugely complex political and emotional subject. For me, the story took off in 1974 once the Georgious and Ozkans were trapped in the city and fighting to survive. I found Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta less sympathetic, I’m afraid, perhaps because the story starts in 1972 when they develop their luxury hotel, two years before the Cypriot coup takes place. Perhaps that’s just me, impatient for the action to start.

For Victoria Hislop’s website, click here.
Watch this TED talk on You Tube in which Victoria Hislop talks about how courage inspires her writing. The Sunrise is set in Famagusta during the Cypriot coup.
Victoria Hislop re-visits Famagusta, in this article for the Daily Telegraph.
‘The Sunrise’ by Victoria Hislop [UK: Headline Review, from September 25, 2014]

My favourite paperweights

Like most writers I know, my desk is covered in piles of paper. I have seven paperweights on my desk; all in use, all hold some particular memory for me.

Newest is the SFMOMA ball-storm [below]: a rubber balled filled with liquid and coloured bits of plastic which swirl like a snowstorm when shaken. SFMOMA 16-6-14Bought at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art two years ago, it reminds me of a wonderful museum in a wonderful city. Click here for the SFMOMA website.

I love stones and two large ones sit on my desk as constant reminders of my second novel, Connectedness. grey stone 16-6-14white stone 16-6-14Both stones [above] were selected off the beach at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire, a few miles from where I grew up, on a beach where I imagine my protagonist Justine Tree walking. For artist Justine, who as a child lived in an isolated house on top of these cliffs, the sea and the wildness of the Yorkshire coast are a constant presence in her art.

Minty is an old name from the UK furniture trade and this wooden foot [below] was given to me many years ago by the company as a gift when I was editor of the UK’s furniture business magazine Cabinet Maker. It has a substantial presence on my desk and is immensely useful at the height of summer when my attic study is like a sauna and the large floor fan blows the warm air, and all my papers, around. wooden foot 16-6-14The beautiful cream glass paperweight [below] is by Isle of Wight Glass and was given to me by the company when I visited as a journalist in The Eighties. Isle of Wight glass 16-6-14It is a beautiful creation of clear glass marbled with white and flecks of gold.

Click here for Isle of Wight Glass’s website.

The oldest paperweight on my desk is, without doubt, the 1985 metal medal [below] presented to journalists attending the Salon du Meuble [The Furniture Show] in Paris. Paris medal 16-6-14I visited every year for more than 20 years, but it was the only time the ‘official memento’ given to journalists [what can I say? It was The Eighties, PR budgets were big] which set off the alarms at Charles du Gaulle airport as hundreds of journalists had to unpack their suitcases to extract the offending souvenir medal. The exhibition still exists, now called Meuble Paris. If you’ve ever wondered what a furniture exhibition is all about, you can read more at the website here.

The last paperweight is a very English joke, from a very English television comedy show called The League of Gentlemen. A Precious Thing 16-6-14Looking back, the humour is adult, peculiar and very dark, but it was a huge hit at its time spawning lots of odd catchlines such as “You’re my wife now”, “Justin, my Justin” and “This is a local shop, for local people”. The four cast members went onto greater individual things but the team did tour the UK with a stage show, which is where I bought this snowstorm: A Precious Thing. It’s an in-joke: the local shop for local people sells ‘precious things’. Confused? Want to know more? Watch episode 1/series 1 on You Tube here.

What do you use as a paperweight? Anything that hold memories for you, or has an interesting prior usage?

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Not Waving but Drowning’

I remember the title of today’s poem from my schooldays but have no strong memory of reading the poem until many years later. But it always made me smile, then feel guilty for smiling.

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Not Waving but Drowning’
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith [1902-1971] was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, and knowing that made a big impression on me: born in East Yorkshire, 1960. The fact that her family moved to London when she was three didn’t stop me seeing her as a Yorkshire role model. Her poetry never seemed to fit a label and she seems to have been rather overlooked. I love her rather dry wit. My copy of Selected Poems was bought in October 1981, I know this as I have written my name and the date on the inside front cover. The green cover design [below] is still a favourite of mine. Selected poems by stevie smith 19-6-14aTo watch a 1950s seaside film as Stevie Smith recites ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, click here.
To read Stevie Smith’s biography at The Poetry Foundation, click here.
Selected poems by stevie smith - new cover 19-6-14

 

‘Selected Poems’ by Stevie Smith [Penguin Classics]

Book review: One Step Too Far

one step too far by tina seskis 6-8-14I became aware of this book by word of mouth, often the best kind of recommendation. Google the title and you will find literally hundreds of blog reviews. It is certainly a page turner. I sat down to read it one hot sunny day and raced through it.

The theme is running away. What place a woman has to be in to leave everything behind, the desperation, the guilt, the expectations for a new life, the logistics of running. Emily runs, and runs one step too far. The reason for her running is dangled in front of the reader like a carrot, hints, deceptions, and this is why you keep reading. Is it something she did, or something done to her? Is it criminal or emotional? The story of Emily’s escape, and the story of the reason for her escape, are told in parallel. I had my suspicions about her reason, and I was almost right. Almost, but not quite.

One of the intriguing things in the narrative mix is that Emily is a twin, and the two twin sisters do not get on. This added welcome spice to the tale of Emily’s childhood in Manchester, and her reinvention in London. The twin thing enables some convenient misunderstandings, doppel-gangers and threat of discovery. It turns out that Emily Catherine, and her twin Caroline Rebecca, are more alike than they realize.

A great holiday read.

[photo: tinaseskis.com]

[photo: tinaseskis.com]

Another Tina Seskis novel, A Serpentine Affair, will be published by Penguin on Kindle in the UK on February 12, 2015.

To watch the book trailer for One Step Too Far, click here.
For Tina Seskis’ website, click here.
‘One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis [Penguin]

Great opening paragraph… 59

the unlikely pilgrimage of harold fry - GOP 5-6-13
“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelt of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with  slice of toast that he wasn’t eating. He gazed beyond the kitchen window at the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureen’s telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the neighbours’ closeboard fencing.”
‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

I agree with… Sarah Waters

[photo: www.aestheticamagazine.com]

[photo: www.aestheticamagazine.com]

“I tend to write about houses quite a lot… I’m very interested in the dynamics of relationships [that occur] within houses and it seemed like a bit of a pressure cooker – bringing these two households together with their very different agendas in life and the class tensions between them, and adding this element of desire between the two women and seeing what happened.”
Sarah Waters, interviewed by ‘The Bookseller’ magazine [June 13, 2014]

Waters is talking here about plotting her new book, The Paying Guests. It is set in London in 1922 and the house she refers to above is the villa in Champion Hill, Camberwell. Spinster Frances and her widowed mother Mrs Wray take in lodgers in order to make ends meet. From this, Waters spins her magic: a tale of class and sex.

The quote reminded me immediately of a new creative writing book by my former creative writing tutor, Shelley Weiner. In Writing Your First Novel: A 60-Minute Masterclass, Shelley describes the ‘desert island’ plot used by writers such as Thomas Mann [The Magic Mountain], Agatha Christie in numerous whodunits, William Golding [Lord of the Flies] and Daniel Defoe [Robinson Crusoe]. According to Shelley, Ann Patchett, author of Orange Prize winner Bel Canto, admits she has used the ‘desert island’ plot in just about everything she’s written.

The set-up seems straightforward. Simply mix together the following:-
A group of strangers;
A common predicament;
A confined location;
Individual desires and motivations.

The mix in The Paying Guests also includes class and sex. A potent mixture for a master storyteller such as Waters to explore.

To read more about Sarah Waters’ other novels, click here for her website.
To read more about Shelley Weiner’s thoughts on plotting and writing, click here.
To order Writing Your First Novel: A 60-Minute Masterclass by Shelley Weiner [Guardian Books] on Kindle, click here for Amazon.
The Paying Guests by sarah waters 23-6-14

 

‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters [published in the UK on August 28 2014 by Virago]

Book review: Found

FOUND BY HARLAN COBEN 12-8-14September. A sunny day in Paris and I needed a book to read on the Eurostar train home. I needed a page turner. I searched my Kindle. What was required was Harlan Coben.

I started to read Found, Coben’s latest UK release, which I thought was the new Myron Bolitar story. Except, it isn’t. It is the third in the Mickey Bolitar YA [young adult] series. I didn’t know this series existed. Mickey Bolitar is Myron’s nephew. I guess the two M’s got me confused… oh well.

Found may be a YA novel but that doesn’t stop the story from being gripping, in true Coben fashion this really rattled along. Ideal for a train journey. Mickey is Myron Bolitar’s nephew who, surprise surprise, is a basketball player and amateur detective. This is story three in the series, and I did need to know the back story. But Mr Coben [below] is very efficient at filling that in without stopping the story moving forward.

Two storylines are woven together. On Mickey’s basketball team, one player moves away suddenly, another is dropped from the team for taking steroids. Mickey investigates. Meanwhile, continued from book two in the series, one of Mickey’s friends is in hospital after an adventure when the four friends – Mickey, Spoon, Ema and Rachel – solve a mystery. It appears now though that this mystery is not completely solved.

[photo: Claudio Marinesco]

[photo: Claudio Marinesco]

The quartet combines to track down a missing teen and discover the truth of what happened to Mickey’s father. In true thriller fashion, it starts out with the two stories being completely separate but in the end they overlap. I knew the overlap was coming, but couldn’t see where.

To read my review of Coben’s One False Move, part of the Myron Bolitar series, click here.
For Harlan Coben’s website and details of all his books, click here.
Follow Harlan Coben on Twitter here.
‘Found’ by Harlan Coben [UK: Orion]