Monthly Archives June 2014

Book review: The Art of Baking Blind

If you like making cakes, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s full of recipes, ingredients, mixing, kneading, weighing and baking. The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan is a two tier story. In the 1960s, Kathleen Eaden’s husband owns a supermarket and she becomes an overnight marketing sensation. Now, a baking competition is announced in Eaden’s Monthly, the supermarket’s own magazine. Four women and one man reach the final. The book reminded me of the Julia Child film, Julie & Julia, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. In an attempt to emulate Julia Child, played by Streep, Adams cooks her way through Child’s cookbook. In a similar way, this story is told with Kathleen Eaden as its spine. Her diary entries and excerpts from her books feature heavily. Baking is at the centre of the story. It is a lightweight, enjoyable, holiday read. Two confessions from me. One, I kept getting the women muddled – the only one I was clear about was Jenny. Two, I was slightly niggled that we didn’t get the point of view of the male competitor, Mike, until quite a way in. I missed his voice. Disappointingly, Mike remains a mystery, lightly-drawn, unsatisfying. Sarah Vaughan
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Categories: Book Love.

Not such a bleak ending, says Kevin Brooks

Author Kevin Brooks, winner of the 2014 Carnegie Award for Children’s Fiction, appealed for publishers not to put too much emphasis on happy endings and in doing so stirred up huge controversy. According to The Times newspaper, Brooks said in his acceptance speech: “This school of thought – that no matter how dark or difficult a novel is, it should contain at least an element of hope – is still fairly widespread and ingrained in the world of ‘young adult’ books… I just don’t agree with it.” Teenagers, he added, “understand things” and should not be “cosseted with artificial hope”. Brooks, whose winning book The Bunker Diary is published by Puffin [part of Penguin] is said by The Times to have had countless discussions with his editor at Puffin as he fought to retain his dark ending. To me there are a number of issues. One is about modern society being over-protective of young adults. Second, it is about publishers not trusting authors. I haven’t read the book. Perhaps part of the issue is that the Carnegie Prize for Fiction is for children’s books and YA fiction is just that, for young adults. Perhaps YA is too grown-up for the
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

New books coming soon

Mark Blacklock A debut novel by London writer Mark Blacklock [below], based on the story of John Humble, author of the Yorkshire Ripper hoax letters, is to be published by Granta. Described as a puzzle and a hoax, I’m Jack will be published in 2015. Follow Mark Blacklock on Twitter @DrBlacklock To visit Mark Blacklock’s blog, click here. Terry Stiastny Acts of Omission, the debut novel from former BBC News journalist Terry Stiastny [below] will be published by John Murray on July 17, 2014 as part of a two-book deal. The book is set in 1998 in Britain and Germany, ten years after the Berlin Wall came down. The Germans want a disk containing the names of British informants to the Stasi, which has been lost by Alex, a young man working for the SIS. When the disk is delivered to the newspaper where Alex’s ex-girlfriend Anna Travers works, the mystery starts to unravel. Stiastny said of Acts of Omission [above]: “It’s a story of political intrigue inspired by the time I spent working as a journalist in Westminster and in Berlin, about what happens when state secrets become public, and the human cost of those secrets.” Ollie Quain Former journalist
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Summer House with Swimming Pool

In Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, Dr Marc Schlosser is popular with his patients because he doesn’t tell them they smoke too much or drink too much, he doesn’t tell them to lose weight, he doesn’t lecture them. So he becomes a popular general practitioner amongst the arty set. They invite him to their premieres, he doesn’t want to go. Basically, he takes the easy way out; if a patient presents with a symptom he doesn’t recognise or is disgusting, he refers the patient to a specialist. Except Ralph Meier, the famous actor. Although Marc doesn’t like Ralph, he is sucked into the actor’s entourage. This is the story of one summer when Marc’s family stays at the summer villa rented by Ralph. Throw their wives into the mix, two teenage Meier sons and two teenage Schlosser daughters, plus a film director and his decorative girlfriend, summer heat, a swimming pool and a beach, and you can see trouble looming. It’s how Marc reacts to that trouble that makes the story. I found myself thinking ‘he’s not really going to do that is he? Oh, he has.’ Marc is a very unreliable narrator, skilfully handled by Koch
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Freya North

Freya North “If you are frightened of it [social media], it will swallow you up and hold you back… I love Facebook and Twitter – it’s a great way to connect with readers.” [In an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine] Freya North’s top five books have sold as follows:- Secrets 220,655 Love Rules 197,575 Home Truths 168,577 Chloe 135,282 Pillow Talk 135,042 [figures from The Bookseller magazine April 25, 2014] Those astounding sales figures make me a) green with envy, and b) think she must be doing something right. She seems to be a thoroughly modern author, published traditionally by HarperCollins – The Way Back Home is her 13th novel – but she interacts with her readers directly using social media. She does not expect her publisher to do all the promotion. I agree. I wish I wrote in the days when the author’s sole job was to write the book. I wish I could stay in my study, concentrate on writing: what luxury. But I want people to read my book. So it’s time for a reality check: the world of publishing does not work like that any more. It is not just self-published authors who need to publicise
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Categories: Book Love and Book publicity.

My favourite book blogs

For me, reading a book blog is like having a conversation with a friend about a book I’ve just read. “You simply have to read this book.” “What’s it about?” “Well, there’s this earthquake and…” “Why’s it so good?” “Because…” Etcetera etcetera. I started thinking about the type of book blogs I prefer, and which I re-visit, because Yvo at It’s All About Books nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. Thanks Yvo! So this is what makes the perfect book blog for me [and this is my list, so yours may be different]. Things I like:- I want to hear the book reviewer’s voice, make it personal. A ‘feel’ for the book, the main character, the setting. A taster of the style of writing, one quote is enough. A short bio of the author with links so I can find out more if I want. If the reviewer has mixed feelings about the book, give examples of why. An explanation of the book’s genre and how it fits in with other books of its kind, or not as the case may be. Things I don’t like:- SPOILERS. Never, ever. By the skin of my teeth I just missed
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Categories: Book Love.

Researching the graveyard scene

There is a scene in Ignoring Gravity that I kept putting off writing: the one where Rose searches a graveyard for her birth parents. I simply didn’t know where to start. Rose doesn’t know what she’s looking for, perhaps that was why I struggled with how to write it. So I did what I always do when I’m at a loss, I go researching.One grey day in March I went to a local church and wandered around with my camera, soaking up the atmosphere. It was a quiet, still day and I was totally alone. These are the photographs I took. In the end they helped me with the mood of the piece, rather than giving me concrete descriptions. But the visit served as the trigger which helped me write the scene. It taught me that when I’m intimidated by a particular scene, it helps to find a location and soak up the atmosphere. Please use these photographs to inspire your own writing, they worked for me. If you are searching for relatives, read these articles about searching the Deceased Online database, and identifying headstones. Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity and watch the book trailer.   ‘Ignoring
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

The early days… and dodgy hair

Leaving university in 1982 and hunting for a job as a journalist was difficult: training schemes were being closed; this was long before the invention of the Media Studies course. I was resigned to doing another year as a postgraduate student and then a letter arrived from a publishing company called Benn Publications. Against the grain, it was starting a Graduate Trainee Journalist Programme. After two interviews I got the job. But it wasn’t in Fleet Street, at that time still the centre of London’s newspaper business, long before Eddie Shah’s all-colour newspaper Today and the transferral of printing presses to Docklands. The job was in Tonbridge, Kent. But I had a job, many of my contemporaries didn’t, so I stifled my disappointment and packed my bags. I found a house-share in a pretty Kent village and learned the hands-on way to be a journalist. Bottom up. What can I say about my hair… it was the Eighties. It was my one and only perm. This [below] is a cutting from UK Press Gazette, the weekly magazine for journalists. Where are they all now? From left to right: Val Williams [training editor], Debbie Tripley, Jim Muttram, Trevor Goodman, Bill Cullum,
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Categories: On Writing.

Long Lost Family: Helen’s story

The agony of birth parents and children, separated for decades, is explored by the UK television programme Long Lost Family which aims to reunite adult adopted children with their birth families. Anchored by popular presenter Davina McCall and journalist Nicky Campbell [below], it is particularly poignant for Campbell who was himself adopted as a young child. The series is incredibly popular in the UK, concentrating on the emotional stories of children and parents, rather than the nuts and bolts of the search. Some of the interviews are heart-rending. Now in its third series, the programme is sensitive to the emotional difficulties on all sides of the adoption triangle, no judgements are made about the past, the emphasis is on reunion where possible and emotional healing. To give you a taster, here is the story of one birth mother seeking her son. Helen Harrison tried to find her child for years. In 1977, at the age of 16, she fell pregnant. She hid the condition for five months. When her father found out, he turned her out of the house. “I can remember him just looking at me and saying, ‘Just get out, just get out…’ He didn’t want anything more to
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Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

My top 5… literary adoptees

Since I started writing about adoption, my brain seems to be hard-wired to literary tales of adoption. So here are my top 5 literary adoptees …I am still reading, so the list may change. ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens: After the death of his parents, Pip is brought up by his sister and her husband. “My sister, Mrs Joe Gargery, was more than twenty years older than I, and had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbours because she had brought me up ‘by hand’. Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand.” ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by JK Rowling: Harry, and his cupboard under the stairs, is probably the most famous literary orphan of modern times. “We swore when we took him in we’d put a stop to that rubbish,” said Uncle Vernon, “swore we’d stamp it out of him! Wizard, indeed!” ‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie: Peter, the
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Categories: Book Love, My Top 5... and On Writing.

Book review: In Ark

It is 2044 and New Yorkers are living through The Change. This is the world of In Ark, by Lisa Devaney. The food they eat is mostly artificial or fresh and prohibitively expensive, a cab costs $600 and they cannot go outside in summer without protective clothing. This is the life Mya Brand leads, until she is abducted and taken to The Ark, an eco-survivalist commune. Once there, she must face the demons of her past life and make a difficult decision about her future. Should she stay and be safe, but not see her family and friends ever again? Or should she walk away from the commune and risk a difficult life and an early death as the climate worsens? In Ark is part of a newish genre called cli-fi, or climate fiction, featuring titles such as Solar by Ian McEwan and State of Fear by Michael Crichton. This is the first of three cli-fi novels about The Ark planned by new American indie author Lisa Devaney [right]. The context is fascinating and I can see it working well as a movie. Devaney writes with precision about climate change and the effect this has on day-to-day life, as well
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Mary Costello Academy Street, the debut novel of Irish writer Mary Costello [below] will be published in a three book UK deal with Canongate. Also part of the deal is a second novel and her debut short story collection, The China Factory. The latter was originally published by Stinging Fly Press and was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, and shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. Academy Street, the story of one woman’s life set in the context of American history over 40 years, will be published in hardback in November 2014. Francis Bickmore, Publishing Director at Canongate, said: “Costello’s writing cuts straight to the heart. I challenge anyone to read Academy Street without shedding a tear. People will love Mary’s voice but also the novel’s sweep. This is a story of one woman’s search for belonging played out against a backdrop of twentieth century events. Academy Street marks the arrival of a major league writer.” Ella Harper Two novels by Sasha Wagstaff, writing as Ella Harper, are to be published by Avon. The first, Pieces of You, examines the nature of perfection in the context of relationships and will be published in September 2014. Click here to visit her website. Abbie
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Lost Acres’

I often read poetry, often in the bath, so this is the first of an occasional series sharing with you my discoveries. I often read them aloud, which for some reason seems to aid my understanding and stress the rhythm of the language. My first poem is by Robert Graves [1895-1985] a writer known in the UK for his First World War poems and his war memoir Goodbye to All That. His novel I, Claudius won literary prizes and has been turned into numerous television series and films. Graves [below] was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1961-1966. My favourite is ‘Lost Acres’. 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. ‘Lost Acres’ These acres, always again lost By every new ordnance-survey And searched for at exhausting cost Of time and thought, are still away. This makes me think of rural Yorkshire where I grew up in The Sixties, roaming the fields free to explore, never thinking about lines on a map or county boundaries. For more about this collection of Graves’ poems, click here. ‘Selected Poems’ by Robert Graves [UK: Faber]  Read
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: The Silent and the Damned

Second in the Javier Falcón series by Robert Wilson, set in Seville. Santa Clara is a wealthy neighbourhood where people stay inside their elegant air-conditioned homes and don’t mix much with their neighbours. Very un-Spanish. And then people start dying. First, a husband and wife. Was it one murder and a suicide, or a double-murder? Falcón investigates only to find, living opposite the murdered couple, the wife of his last murder victim [in The Blind Man of Seville]. And this is how Robert Wilson neatly intertwines the back story from the first novel, bringing forward the things a new reader needs to know. Falcón has moved on since then, gone are the formal suits, now he wears a shirt and chinos and seems more relaxed, more at peace with himself. But this is a detective novel, and detectives are traditionally troubled souls so it is not long before the cracks appear. The deaths keeping coming in the 40° heat, Falcón must deal with the impending marriage of his ex-wife plus the growing suspicion that all is not well at police headquarters. There are links to characters in the first book, dodgy characters, further crimes are hinted at. Will he be allowed to
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 1 Anonymous People #writingprompt #amwriting

As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series, here is a writing prompt to kick start a flash fiction story. You can simply use the photo to energise your writing, or use some of the following phrases:- Anonymous Faceless Reichstag Berlin Grey Sunlight Attention © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cranes on the skyline Hotel corridor Cable What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to use, and flexible. Designed for writers of fiction, any genre, novels, short stories, flash fiction, they are suitable for all genre of fiction precisely because each exercise is based on a subject unrelated to whatever you are struggling with. I am not looking over your shoulder. Ebooks coming in 2019 at Amazon… Writers’ BLOCKbusters: #500 FirstParas Writers’ BLOCKbusters: #500 FlashPics Writers’ BLOCKbusters: #500 WordStorms Can’t wait? Feeling
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

I agree with… Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran “…what judging a literary prize did was remind me of what I knew when I was 11, and was wiser, and forgot as I got older and stupider: that reading is not a passive act. That it’s amusing that ‘bookworms’ are thought of as weak, bespectacled and pale – withdrawn from the world, easy to beat in a fight. “For a reader is not a simple consumer – as you are listening to a record or watching a movie. A reader is something far more noble, dangerous and exhilarating – a co-artist. “Your mind is the projection screen every writer steals; it is the firing of your neurones that makes every book come alive. You are the electricity that turns it on. A book cannot live until the touch of your hand on the first page brings it alive. A writer is essentially typing blank pages – shouting out spells in the dark – until the words are read by you, and the magic explodes into your head, and no-one else’s.” Journalist, and judge of the Baileys Prize 2014, Caitlin Moran [‘The Times Magazine’, June 14, 2014] Uh, yes. The reader is an active participant, not a sofa
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Categories: Book Love.