Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

Today’s first suggestion is from M.J Carter, author of The Stranger Vine and The Printer’s Coffin. Her latest novel, The Devil’s Feast, was published by Fig Tree on 27 October 2016 . Her suggestion is A Sultry Month by Alethea Hayter, published by Faber and Faber.

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June 1846 was a month of fierce heat and political crisis in London. This sultry month was also a time of personal crisis for Carlyle and his wife, for Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and notably for the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. A cross-section of the close-textured life of literary London in the 1840s is tellingly portrayed. Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, the Carlyles, Monckton Milnes, the actor Macready, Mary Russell Mitford, Wordsworth and Samuel Rogers frequently met during these sweltering weeks, particularly since many of them felt constrained to give parties for the best-selling German novelist, the preposterous, one-eyed Grafin Hahn-Hahn, and her travelling companion Oberst Baron Adolph von Bystram.

The secret crises and decisive actions of the members of this group affected them all, as did the weather and the political situation. The catastrophe which overcomes Haydon is, however, the central leitmotif. A fascinating and stimulating book based on contemporary letters, diaries, memoirs and newspapers, A Sultry Month pioneered a new form of group biography when it was first published in l965, which has since influenced many writers and scholars.

Here’s what she had to say:

“I’m a great fan of a book called A Sultry Month, by Alethea Hayter. It’s not a novel – but it reads like (a wonderful) one and is about a community of writers and artists. First published in 1965, and currently reissued by Faber Finds it’s an account of the swelteringly hot month of June 1846, told entirely using the letters and diaries of a series of great literary and artistic figures. It was the month Elizabeth Barrett ran away with the poet Robert Browning, the great historian Robert Carlyle and his wife Jane (who wrote the most brilliant letters) thought they might split up, and the famously appalling—and tragic-comic—history painter Benjamin Haydon decided he was a failure and tried to commit suicide. Dickens, Tennyson and others feature, and it’s all pulled together to tell a great: a perfect miniature masterpiece.”  

The next suggestion is by Kate Blackadder whose novel Stella’s Christmas Wish was published by Black and White Publishing on 3 November 2016. Her suggestion is The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger, published by Penguin.

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“Amina Mazid is twenty-four when she leaves Bangladesh for Rochester, New York, and for George Stillman, the husband who met and wooed her online. It’s a twenty-first-century romance that echoes ancient traditions – the arranged marriages of her home country. And though George falls for Amina because she doesn’t ‘play games’, they will both hide a secret, and vital, part of their lives from each other.

A brilliantly observed, wry and yet deeply moving novel about the exhilerations – and complications – of getting, and staying, wed, The Newlyweds is a tour de force – a novel as rich with misunderstandings as it is with unlikely connections.”
Read more on the Penguin website.

Here’s what she had to say:

“It’s about an American man and a Bangladeshi woman who meet online and get married. There’s a culture clash inevitably as well as the getting-to-know each other but it’s subtly done, sometimes heartbreaking, and often very funny.  The novel was inspired by a chance meeting Nell Freudenberger had on a plane with a Bangladeshi woman who’d just arrived in America to marry a man she’d met on the internet. NF subsequently visited Bangladesh with the woman – the last third of the book is set there.

Highly recommended.”

So there we have it, two books that had certainly passed me by but which require further investigation. Have you read either of these? Do let me know if you’ve discovered any quiet novels you want to shout about.

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Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham – review

Published by Virago

Publication date – 6 December 2016

Source – review copy

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“A funny, intimate memoir by Lauren Graham, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, which recounts her experiences on Gilmore Girls – the first and second time – and shares stories about life, love, and working in Hollywood.

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood-along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and-of course-talking as fast as you can.”

I rarely read autobiographies or biographies. I barely read magazines or newspapers in the effort of avoiding celebrity gossip. So I surprised myself by reading this new book by Lauren Graham, who, whilst having played a wide variety of roles, will be most well known as playing Lorelai Gilmore in The Gilmore Girls.

Very few people will be unaware that Netflix recently showed a reboot of the popular TV show. In four ‘mini movies’, the viewer revisits Stars Hollow and it’s wonderfully varied and often quirky characters. I was a fan of the original show, I enjoyed watching the stories of Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory, how they traversed life’s little obstacles on the road to Rory eventually leaving home. Whilst not a super fan, I can’t quote verbatim my favourite lines or scenes, I do remember the series with fondness. I remember how homely and appealing Stars Hollow seemed, the difficult yet often touching relationship Lorelai had with her parents, the will they, won’t they storyline between Lorelai and Luke and the rapid fire nature of the conversations between mother and daughter. Scenes that stayed with me would invariably include Friday night dinner, Sookie discussing the latest Sue Grafton book, Michel being wonderfully curmudgeonly and Lorelai regaling Rory of her long labour.

I was curious to see what would happen in the reboot, and not having a Netflix subscription I thought I’d do the next best thing; I’d let Lauren Graham tell me.

Talking As Fast As I Can is a short book at just over 200 pages but it is packed with information, anecdotes and reminisces that make it a pleasure to read. There are some moments when I genuinely laughed out loud. Obviously I have never met Ms Graham but I can only imagine that this book is how she is in ‘real life’. The book looks at Lauren Graham’s career, how she went from high school plays to the big screen. Quite open about the unstable nature of acting, she is down to earth when assessing her success. Also a breath of fresh air is the awareness of the body conscious aspect of Hollywood. Instead of touting this diet or that exercise plan she discusses that simply eating healthily and getting some exercise is the best way. I am also going to blatantly pilfer the Kitchen Timer technique her friend advised her on when writing her novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe.

I found myself speeding through this book. It is written in such a frenetic yet fun way that you feel as if you are having a conversation with Lauren Graham, albeit at the speed of an extremely caffeinated Lorelai Gilmore.

There are sections of the book that talk about the new Gilmore episodes. If you intended watch the program I would do so before you read the book. There are also some references to U.S. T.V. and personalities that are not really as well known over in the U.K. so some of the jokes and anecdotes passed me by.

Lauren Graham has written a warm, witty and entertaining book, perfect to curl up with for a few hours. Now I just need her to tell me those four last words…

About the author:

Lauren Graham is the actress best known for her roles on the critically-acclaimed series “Gilmore Girls” and “Parenthood.” She has performed on Broadway and appeared in such films as Bad Santa, Evan Almighty, and Because I Said So. She is also the author of the New York Times bestselling novel SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY, MAYBE, which Ballantine Books published in 2013. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Barnard College and an MFA in acting from Southern Methodist University.

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Heaven’s Rage, An Imaginary Autobiography by Leslie Tate – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Leslie Tate to the blog. Leslie is the author of Purple and Blue and his latest book, Heaven’s Rage was published on 1 December 2016.

Here Leslie talks about writing Heaven’s Rage.

HEAVEN’S RAGE, AN IMAGINARY AUTOBIOGRAPHY

If you’re like me, when you look back at childhood, the scenes in your mind are set aside, somehow, from the world they were in. There’s an abstraction about them, a kind of still life quality that gives them an unreal feel. So it seems that things back then might not have actually happened, and that what we call our past is fragmentary, as if each memory was a dream or a working hypothesis.

In my book, Heaven’s Rage, I attempted to describe those early experiences and other formative ‘hot spots’. So I started by piecing together a story from the pictures in my head, backed up by things I’d heard from my family. My ‘imaginary autobiography’ soon grew into a series of lyrical movements exploring my wider creative memories. I wanted to get close to how we really remember, which seems to me to be more in discrete cameos than connected narratives. And by using different styles – including novelistic writing, psychological theories, dialogues and poetry – I was able to visit and revisit the key moments in my past, including addiction, cross-dressing, childhood dreams and late-life illness. Switching between styles allowed me to sample my experience, focussing on states of being rather than actions, while approaching each incident from more than one angle. And the common thread that ran through all the scenes was the power of the imagination.

As I wrote Heaven’s Rage in parts, I had to go back afterwards and either substitute new material for scenes I’d already covered or offer a different viewpoint. As I did so I began to question myself. Was I simply making up a self-justifying version of events? Was I shaping what had happened too much? And was the language driving me to simplify my experiences into a linear narrative, rather than the truth? The answer to all three questions was both yes and no. Words impose order and priorities. Like fiction, they go their own way and won’t be fitted to pre-set formulas. Words can also, at times, can take you down a tunnel where there’s only one way of putting it – usually after repeated edits, and certainly not what you’d intended to write. So, although I was working from central incidents, a kind of retrospective elaboration crept into my story. And as my autobiography expanded, the themes took over from the personal anecdotes – not a bad thing, because it provided distance and a breathing space for the reflective reader. In the end it seemed that the act of writing a so-called factual autobiography had created my own independent, ‘fictionalised’ life.

But the experiences were authentic, and recognisably mine – imaginatively and emotionally, which is how memory works. What we believe happened maybe a construct, but it’s true for us, and shapes who we are. There’s a stageyness about life, as if we were engaged

in continuous attempts at personal reinvention. In Heaven’s Rage I set out to explore how these pre-conscious beliefs affect our behaviour, so the book examines what you might call the schemas of the heart.

To quote my own blurb: ‘Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage – William Blake.’

About the author:

Leslie is also a novelist, currently working on a trilogy exploring free love, traditional courtship, open marriage and late-life romance. The first two parts are already published.

* Book one, Purple, is a coming-of-age tale set in the 60s. To find out about Purple, go to http://leslietate.com/shop/purple/.

* Book two, Blue, is about open relationships in a 90s feminist collective. To read about Blue, go to  http://leslietate.com/shop/blue/.

* Book three, Violet, which brings the story up to date, will be published in 2017.  Leslie’s website is www.leslietate.com.

To find him on Facebook go to Leslie Stuart Tate (personal) and Leslie Tate (author page).

His Twitter handle is @LSTateAuthor.

About the book:

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‘Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage – William Blake.’

http://www.lulu.com/shop/leslie-tate/heavens-rage/paperback/product-22943294.html or

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The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin – Review

Published by Simon and Schuster

Publication date 12 January 2017

Source – review copy

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“A story of intrigue and revenge, perfect for fans of Jane Eyre and Fingersmith, The Miniaturist and Burial Rites.
On top of the Yorkshire Moors, in an isolated spot carved out of the barren landscape, lies White Windows, a house of shadows and secrets. Here lives Marcus Twentyman, a hard-drinking but sensitive man, and his sister, the brisk widow, Hester.
When Annaleigh, a foundling who has fled her home in London, finds herself at the remote house, in service to the Twentymans, she discovers all is not as it seems behind closed doors.
Isolated and lonely, Annaleigh is increasingly drawn to her master. And as their relationship intensifies, she soon realises that her movements are being controlled and her life is no longer her own. Slowly she is drawn into a web of intrigue and darkness, and soon she must face her fears if she is to save herself.”

Annaleigh Calvert has to leave behind all she has ever known in London and travel to Yorkshire. There, at White Windows, nestled on the Moors, she is to be the housekeeper to the Twentymans, Marcus, the lonesome master and his widow sister Hester. But Annaleigh soon realises that the inhabitants of White Windows are not as they first seem and White Windows may not be her escape after all.

Sophia Tobin has created a wonderfully compelling story, one that wraps itself around you much like a moorland mist. All the characters are well drawn, each adding a layer to the story. Annaleigh is the focus, a mix of a woman willing to work hard, to be subservient but with a will that is at odds with her place in society, who’s anger and strength lies barely dormant just under the surface. She finds herself faced with challenges, conflicted between her opinions of the Twentymans. By failing to take heed of her misconceptions she changes the course of her life for ever. Marcus Twentyman is a contradictory figure. Often fleeting, his presence felt rather than seen, he is outwardly charming but has a malevolent air, one that runs throughout the novel. Then there is Thomas. He was a wonderful character, a seemingly a minor character but one who is pivotal to the story who perfectly juxtaposes Marcus.

As for the moors, they are as central to the story as any character. Sophia Tobin vividly portrays the landscape, so easy was it to imagine White Windows, the village of Becket Bridge and the surrounding wilds of the moorland, with it’s beauty and danger being the perfect metaphor for the story of Annaleigh.

Sometimes a book works it’s magic on you in the first few pages. It’s voice resonates and appeals to the reader in a way that the story envelopes you, pulling you along until the last page. This is one of those books. I often say that stories have atmospheres, a world that the reader in drawn into, that is unique to the author. The atmosphere of The Vanishing is encompassing and compelling, drawing you in and meaning the reader is soon invested in Annaleigh’s story.

The book is described as perfect for fans of Jane Eyre and The Miniaturist. However in The Vanishing there are no friendly staff to befriend the new servant and the madness is not contained in the attic but walks freely amongst the moors. If you aren’t a fan of either of the previously mentioned novels don’t let that put you off. The Vanishing is a highly original tale, one which takes a surprising and dark turn.

This is an engrossing and wonderfully gothic tale, that soon works its magic on the reader, transporting them to another time and to a gripping story. This is the first novel by Sophia Tobin I have read. I will have to read her other novels soon.

A tale of madness, love and revenge, this is a perfect book for a long winter evening.

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Kate Blackadder – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kate Blackadder to the blog. Kate’s debut novel Stella’s Christmas Wish was published by Black and White Publishing on 3 November 2016.

Kate answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Stella’s Christmas Wish. 

Stella works long hours in the City of London and tries to forget about Ross, the man she left behind fifteen months ago. Then, six days before Christmas, comes a phone call to say that Alice, the grandmother who brought her up, is unconscious after an accident. Stella’s younger sister Maddie can’t help – she has suddenly gone abroad. So Stella goes home to Scotland where there are secrets to be uncovered (not least her own), relationships to be rekindled – and a wish to make. 

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book? 

With a couple of writing friends I was brainstorming ideas for titles. One I came up with was Don’t Ask Alice. I subsequently found that title had been taken for a children’s book but it made me think – don’t ask Alice what? And why should she not be asked? Eventually Alice turned into Stella’s granny and as she’s unconscious after a fall she can’t tell Stella what she needs to know. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

A bit of both. When I write short stories I never plan them but when I got the chance to write my first serial for The People’s Friend I had to do a very detailed synopsis first. It was a steep learning curve but paid off; when I came to write it, it was (almost) like joining the dots. With Stella’s Christmas Wish I had a rough plan but I had to write my way in and get to know the characters better before I really knew how it would pan out. Then I stopped and did a timeline – as it’s set in the six days leading up to Christmas I had to keep a grip on what happened when, especially as it’s told from two different viewpoints. I typed each day in a different colour so it was easy to refer back.

4. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

The writing process for this, my first full-length novel, was like trying to do a jigsaw in the dark. It was a thrill when the pieces began to slot into place and I could start to see the whole picture.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?  

I work part-time, two days a week, for a museum publisher. I go to a writing class and Edinburgh Writers’ Club, meet writing friends for coffee or go to writing/book-related events. I read five or six books a month. … But when I can tear myself away from words I like to bake, listen to the radio, and go to the cinema. Oh, and I’m fascinated by China which I visited in 2011. I’ve done a Future Learn Course on the European Discovery of China and am a member of the Scotland-China Association.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?  

Not sure about the rest of my life … but Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym is a book I’ve reread numerous times and never tire of. The thing about frequent rereading is that you have the pleasure of anticipating your favourite passages.

7. What was it like writing a Christmas book, when it’s not Christmas in real life? How do you invoke the Christmas spirit and do you have any Christmas traditions?  

I did the most work on the book this spring so it was a little strange – but for various reasons Stella is not in the mood for any Christmas festivities until the Day is almost upon her so I didn’t have to get really into it until quite late on. I did play some Christmas carols in the background though!

I don’t like putting a Christmas tree up very early – around the 18th is fine. The smell of pine conjures up the season, as do cinnamon-scented candles. My family loves to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year, and go to our local church for the Watch Night Service.

Stella’s Christmas Wish, (link: myBook.to/Stella ) set in Edinburgh and the Borders, is published by Black and White Publishing at 99p.

About Kate Blackadder

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I’ve had around fifty short stories published and three magazine serials. Stella’s Christmas Wish, is my first full-length novel.

You can connect with me on:  http://katewritesandreads.blogspot.co.uk/ @k_blackadder https://www.facebook.com/KateBlackadderAuthor

About the book:

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One phone call can change everything…

Six days before Christmas, Stella could never have anticipated the impact on her life when the phone rings in her London office.

The phone call is from a friend of the family informing Stella that her grandmother has been hurt in a fall at her home in the Scottish borders and is in hospital. Torn between her responsibilities at work and the need to be with her grandmother she decides she must return to Scotland immediately.

However, on her return to where she grew up, it becomes apparent that her grandmother’s health is not her only concern. Relationships which have lain dormant for years are re-kindled and fresh opportunities present themselves – if she will only dare to take them…

 

 

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Susmita Bhattacharya – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Susmita Bhattacharya to the blog. Susmita is the author The Normal State of Mind which was published by Parthian Books on 1 March 2015.

Susmita kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Normal State of Mind.  

The Normal State of Mind is my first novel. It is set in India and follows the lives of two women, two friends. Dipali loses her husband in a bomb blast and is resigned to living her life as a widow, caring for her elderly mother. Moushumi is a lesbian, struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. The novel explores Indian society seen from the perspectives of these two young women, their journey in to finding themselves, finding strength to accept who they are and how they’d like to live their lives. The blurb tells it more eloquently than I do:

It’s the end of a millennium. India has made tremendous progress in science and technology, but in these times of economic boom can a friendship between two women give them the power to defy society, and law, to reach for their dreams?

Dipali, a young bride, is determined to make her marriage a success story. But her plans are cut short when her husband is killed by a bomb blast in Mumbai and she struggles to find her place in life. In Calcutta, as Moushumi’s parents discuss potential husbands, the school teacher prefers to escape to her high-flying lover. But how long can she keep her forbidden affair secret beyond the safe walls of glamorous art crowd parties? In the midst of communal riots, India too has to make her own decisions about which traditions she must keep, and which she ought to let go. At the end of it all, who can decide what is the normal state of mind?

2. What inspired the book?

This book started off as a dissertation for my Masters in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. I wanted to set the story in India, as I had recently moved to the UK and was not yet confident about setting stories in this place. I also wanted to set the story in the early 1990s, a turbulent time for India, with a lot of communal violence and terrorist attacks happening around then. I had experienced it first had, and wanted to use this experience in my book. But I also wanted to explore something I had not come across in India. Though I had gay friends, I had never come across a lesbian in Mumbai, my hometown. I was fascinated that this was in spite of spending 26 years of my life in Mumbai. Did they not exist? Or did they not live openly as some of their male counterparts did? I decided to research this aspect of the Indian society and write about it.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?   

I am not a plan, plan writer at all. I write and see where the words take me. But of course, with a novel, I did have to plan my plot, the journey my characters were to take through the course of the novel. But writing this novel was not a linear process. I have had several false starts with other novels before this one. They always started with Chapter One. That is scary to look at on a blank page: Chapter One. 

One of the best advices I got on my MA course, was that one does not have to start from Chapter One. I suddenly had the permission, the possibility to dive straight into the climax of the story and start from there. It was more of writing in bits and pieces, and then fitting them in like a jigsaw puzzle. The interesting thing is, that climax scene that I started writing with, did not make it to the final book. But it was a great way to begin!

The entire process took me about 10 years. From writing the dissertation (and I was pregnant at the time) to having two children, several house moves, job changes, moving cities, sending the manuscript to agents, and then more agents, being rejected, being diagnosed with cancer and then the treatment (phew!) I finally got there! In March 2015, Parthian published The Normal State of Mind.

4. As well as writing a full length novel you also write short stories. What is it about short stories that appeals to you? How does your writing differ when writing a full length novel?

I love the short story form. They are short, so I don’t have to spend much time reading them. But even then, they are powerful to linger with me, making me think about them. There are so many ways to write short stories, I love being experimental, and reading short stories that are diverse and out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I can sit down and read a full-length science fiction book, or fantasy. But I will definitely read one in the short story form. 

When writing short stories, I first have a germ of an idea. I play with this in my head, and work it out, usually doing mundane household chores helps me with this, and only then sit down and write it. Sometimes, the end comes to me first. Then I work backwards to find a suitable way to begin the story. I listen to the radio a lot, and Radio 4 programmes like The Listening Project, From Our Own Correspondent, Saturday Live’s Thank You are all great for story prompts and ideas. Since my cancer diagnosis in 2014, I’ve found it difficult to write short stories. For a while there was a blank wall where there was once creative thinking. I have a story, that I worked out to completion in my head during chemotherapy, but I still haven’t finished writing it on paper. I have made a start, two years on, and hopefully I will finish writing it because I love that story. I have written other stories recently, but I find the process has changed. It takes much longer to write stories physically, and I find writing non-fiction has become a recent trend in my writing process.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?  

I have two young girls, aged 10 and 5, so am busy with them. When not rushing about doing school runs and trying to bring them up as feminist girls who don’t do pink (not sure if I am succeeding there), I also lecture at Winchester University. I don’t have much time to relax, but when I do, I sneak in time for myself. I am actually better at doing that now, since recovering; I am kinder to myself and value the ‘me time’ without any guilt.

I listen to the radio a lot and love the Desert Island Disc podcasts. I love to watch a good Hindi or Bengali film, I love to cook dishes I love (not every day task of cooking that none of my kids will like!). I read. I love to spend time in bookshops. I love my trips back to India, visiting my old haunts in Mumbai is truly relaxing. Sometimes, a nap in the afternoon no longer feels guilty, but really restful. But this is a luxury I don’t have very often.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

Oh, that’s a hard question. There are so many to choose from, but if I have to, I would choose Good Wives, sequel to Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott. It was one of the first books I’d read in my teens that had a great impact on me, and I’ve re-read it several times and have never tired of it. Am I allowed to read all 4 books as a set? You know, box sets are the trend now!

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?  

I’ve never been asked the story of my life through songs (by now you must have guessed I really, really love Desert Island Discs!) And the answer … well, one day if you have the time, I will tell it to you, complete with the songs I embarrass my girls by singing to them!

About the book:

9781909844629_web_large

It’s the end of a millennium. India has made tremendous progress in science and technology, but in these times of economic boom can a friendship between two women give them the power to defy society, and law, to reach for their dreams?

Dipali, a young bride, is determined to make her marriage a success story. But her plans are cut short when her husband is killed by a bomb blast in Mumbai and she struggles to find her place in life. In Calcutta, as Moushumi’s parents discuss potential husbands, the school teacher prefers to escape to her high-flying lover. But how long can she keep her forbidden affair secret beyond the safe walls of glamorous art crowd parties? In the midst of communal riots, India too has to make her own decisions about which traditions she must keep, and which she ought to let go. At the end of it all, who can decide what is the normal state of mind?

 

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Christmas in July and Summer in February by Phillipa Ashley – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Phillipa Ashley to the blog. Phillipa is the author of Decent Exposure, Wish You Were Here, Just Say Yes, It Should Have Been Me, Fever Cure, Miranda’s Mount, It Happened One Night, The First Time We Met (as Pippa Croft), The Second Time I Saw You (as Pippa Croft), Third Time Lucky (as Pippa Croft) and Summer at the Cornish Café and her latest novel, Christmas at the Cornish Café was published by Avon on 13 October 2016.

Today Phillipa talks about Christmas in July.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY, SUMMER IN FEBRUARY

It’s pushing 300 C, I’m sitting at my patio table in the shade, a chilled drink to hand. The bees are buzzing round the flower tubs and I’m writing about – Christmas lights, sleet and turkey!

It seems we all love seasonal books at the moment, whether they’re escapist beach reads, cosy Christmas novels or spring romances. These warm, feel good books are a lot of fun to write, especially with a continuing series like the Cornish Café trilogy.

However, the tricky part is getting into the festive – or the holiday spirit – because you’re almost always writing in the ‘wrong’ season.

Believe it or not, even though I celebrated my 10th publishing ‘anniversary’ in October, Christmas at the Cornish Café is my first Christmas novel. Ironically, my debut–Decent Exposure – was actually turned into a US TV movie called 12 Men of Christmas but it was never written as a Christmas book. (You can see it on the Christmas 24 channel at the moment by the way.)

When I started Christmas at the Cornish Café, I decided cast aside the weirdness of writing a festive book in the summer and just throw myself full on into the seasonal spirit. The book starts in October and follows a couple, Demi and Cal, as they prepare their new café and holiday resort for a Cornish Christmas. They’ve both had a tough time and they’re finally getting their business – and their relationship – off the ground.

Even though there’s snow on the cover of the book, there’s no white stuff inside, because you rarely see any in coastal west Cornwall. What you do get are storms, gales and giant seas – all perfect for the dramatic events of the story.

To get into the Cornish Christmas spirit, I did a lot of research into seasonal traditions and food. My favourite scene revolves around a lively Harbour Lights festival where secrets are revealed for all the characters. While I was writing it, I visited cookery sites and really tried to conjure up the aromas and tastes of autumn and Christmas from fresh holly to mulled wine. In September, I even managed to lay my hands on a box of mince pies, strictly for research purposes, of course.

When I’m writing out of season, I visit nature websites to find out which flowers and plants will be in bloom. I also use a site called Time and Date to check when the sun rises and sets – because on a sizzling July day, it’s hard to imagine that in the winter, darkness falls at four o’clock.

I’m now finishing the final book in the series, Confetti at the Cornish Café.  Here in my writing room, the curtains have been drawn since five pm and snow is forecast later. In my fictional world, though, it’s spring, with long light evenings, Easter eggs and the bluebells nodding their heads in the copse. And I must admit that while Christmas is a magical time, on a dark cold night like this, I’m more than happy to pretend it’s spring…

About the book:

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“A delicious festive treat with as many twists and turns as a Cornish country lane’ Jules Wake

The festive, feel-good follow-up to Summer at the Cornish Cafe.

Christmas will be slightly less turbulent than summer, won’t it? Demi certainly hopes so.

She and Cal are keeping their fledgling relationship under wraps for now. But then Kit Bannen, a hunky, blond and somewhat mysterious writer arrives at Kilhallon Resort, and not everyone is charmed. Cal is sure that Kit is hiding something. But is he the only one guarding a secret?

Demi is busy baking festive treats for the newly opened Demelza’s cafe, but when Cal’s ex Isla arrives to shoot scenes for her new drama, Demi can’t help but worry that things aren’t quite over between them. Kit flirts with both women, fuelling Cal’s suspicions that Kit has hidden motives for staying on at Kilhallon. Then Cal has to go to London, leaving Demi and Kit to decorate the cafe for Christmas . . . all by themselves.

A storm is brewing in more ways than one. As surprises unfold and truths are uncovered, can Demi and Cal finally open up to each other about their feelings?

This second novel in the bestselling Cornish Cafe series is the perfect book to curl up with this Christmas.”

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Endings by Kristen Bailey – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kristen Bailey to the blog. Kristen is the author of Souper Mum and her latest novel was published by Accent Press on 17 November 2016.

Here Kristen talks about endings.

Second Helpings is the sequel to Souper Mum and will be released in November.  It picks up the action exactly eighteen months after Jools Campbell squared up to a pompous TV chef and found herself flung into the world of the minor celebrity.  In Second Helpings, we find her back in the fame game as she becomes a judge on a family cooking show.  But how will she cope being back in the limelight, juggling being a working mum?  What happens when she finds out her old nemesis, Tommy McCoy is her fellow judge?  It is the sequel and final book in the adventures of Jools Campbell.

It really has been quite difficult to find a fitting ending to Jools’ adventures.  So much so that after I gave my final draft of Second Helpings to my wonderful editor, Alex, I got her feedback and the one thing she told me she didn’t like was the ending (the proofer said the same thing!).  She was right.  I had left my readers hanging a little (don’t worry, I didn’t leave her stuck in a burning car in some awful cliffhanger) but as this book was to conclude Jools’ story, there needed to be a fitting ending, a line drawn in the sand to mark that this part of her adventure was done.

The ending.  I’ll admit there’s a great sense of satisfaction one can get from reading a novel or watching a film with a great ending, a feeling of hope that all is good and sorted.  I can’t stand a film that doesn’t have an ending, that just stops suddenly and leaves you wondering what happened. This happens a lot in French cinema: a character is left crying in the middle of a field and the camera starts panning out.  Credits roll.  Nooooo!  We don’t know what happened!  Did she get her revenge?  I’ll usually scream in despair at endings like that, throwing things at the television.  You can’t leave it like that!  I’ll sometimes wait for a few sentences to come up on the screen to save me.  ‘Marie did avenge her murdered sister.   She then lived out her days on a boat in Sicily.’  But nothing.  Damn you!  Yes, the film was an allegory for something bigger but I invested time and emotion in those characters, I need to make sure they’re OK.  My husband will laugh at me at that point.  ‘You do realise Marie isn’t real, right?’

With all of this in mind, I sat down after my editorial meeting and wrote an epilogue for Second Helpings.  To give Jools an ending that was somewhere between French cinema and happily ever after.  Because at the same time, even though Jools is fictional, I’ve always made her story as true to life as possible, and in real life, everything isn’t always neatly tied up in a bow.  After boy meets girl, he dips her and goes in for the kiss.  They may then have their fairytale wedding and we believe their lives are filled with skipping, interminable bouts of joy and true love. The credits roll. But is this really what happens in the aftermath?  Usually said couple have to pay off a mortgage, they have kids, sleepless nights, the boiler breaks, she finds a new job, they get a cat…and so it goes on, each segment of time a new adventure, a new chapter. Not always happy, not always sad but these are the stories that I write: they’re based on the everyday; there are no glass slippers, there are no sunsets.

I will leave my readers to decide if I gave Jools a fitting end to her adventures.  Perhaps the ending will infuriate, perhaps you’ll still have questions but as I bid adieu to her in print, it’s nice to know that in some alternate universe, she’s still there – still burning cupcakes and swearing her way through parenting and real life.  I like to think her story doesn’t and never will end with me.

About the author:

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Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook.  Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire in a house overrun by Lego and odd socks.  Her debut novel, Souper Mum was released by Accent Press in June and its sequel, Second Helpings is released on 17th November.

She writes a blog about being a modern mother.  That and more can be found at: www.kristenbaileywrites.com

You can also find her on Twitter/Instagram: @baileyforce6

and Facebook: www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites

 

About the books:

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Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show.  Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.

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Exactly eighteen months after squaring up to a pompous TV chef, Jools Campbell finds herself back in the fame game as she becomes a judge on a family cooking show.  How will she cope being back in the limelight, juggling being a working mum?  What happens when she finds out her old nemesis, Tommy McCoy is her fellow judge?  The knives are sure to fly as ‘Souper Mum’ makes her triumphant return.

Buy Links –

Souper Mum

Second Helpings

 

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Runemarks by Joanne Harris – Extract

Today I’m pleased to share with you an extract from Runemarks, the latest novel by bestselling author Joanne Harris.

You can read yesterday’s extract on bookslifeandeverything.blogspot.co.uk.

 

That spark. That was the only true magic involved. Anyone

familiar with the runes – which were only letters, after all, taken

from an ancient language – could learn to write them. The trick,

Maddy knew, was to set them to work.

It had been difficult at first. Now, working the runes was easy

as striking a match. She spoke a little cantrip – Cuth on fyre . . .

The letters flared for a few seconds, and then dwindled to

a warning gleam. The goblins could see them – and so could

Maddy – but to Mrs Scattergood, who despised reading (because

she could not do it) and who thought magic was the

devil’s work, the runes would only ever look like scratches in

the dirt, and they could all continue to pretend that the goblins

were only rats.

Suddenly there came a scrabbling sound from the far, dark

corner of the cellar. Maddy turned and saw a movement in the

shadows and a shape, rather larger than a common rat, bob

away between two of the barrels.

 

Quickly she stood up, lifting her candle so that its fl ame lit

up the whitewashed wall. No sound could be heard; nothing

moved but the shadows that jerked and juddered.

Maddy stepped forward and shone the candle right into the

corner. Still nothing moved. But every creature leaves a trail

that only a few know how to see. There was something there;

Maddy could feel it. She could even smell it now: a sour-sweet,

wintry scent like roots and spices kept long underground.

A drunken party, she thought again. So drunken, perhaps, that

one of the revellers, stupefied beyond all thought of caution

by Mrs Scattergood’s excellent ale, had curled up in some dark

corner to sleep off the after-effects of a bellyful. And now it was

trapped, whatever it was. Trapped behind a drift of stacked ale

kegs, its burrow sealed, the cellar shut.

Maddy’s heart began to beat a little faster. In all these years

she had never had such a chance: to see one of the Faërie at

close quarters; to speak to it, and have it answer.

She tried to recall what little she knew of the Good Folk from

under Red Horse Hill. They were curious creatures, more playful

than bad; fond of strong drink and well-dressed meats. And

wasn’t there something else as well, something that lingered

tantalizingly on the edges of memory? A tale of One-Eye’s, perhaps?

Or maybe some more practical trick, some cantrip to help

her deal with the thing?

She left the candle on top of a barrel and came to peer into

the corner. ‘I know you’re there,’ she whispered softly.

The goblin – if it was a goblin and not just a rat – said

nothing.

‘Come out,’ said Maddy. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

Nothing moved; just layers of shadow disturbed by the

candle-flame. She gave a sigh, as if of disappointment, and

turned to face the other way.

In the shadows, something lurked; she could see it from the

corner of her eye.

She did not move, but stood, apparently lost in thought. In

the shadows, something began to crawl, very quietly, between

the barrels.

Still Maddy did not stir. Only her left hand moved, fingers

curling into the familiar shape that was Bjarkán, the rune of

revelation.

If it was a rat, Bjarkán would show it.

It was not a rat. A wisp – just a wisp – of Faërie gold gleamed

in the circle of her finger and thumb.

Maddy pounced. Her strike was well timed. At once the creature

began to struggle, and although Maddy couldn’t see it, she

could certainly feel it between her hands, kicking and twisting

and trying to bite her. Then, as she continued to hold it fast, the

creature finally went limp; the shadow dropped away from it,

and she saw it clearly.

 

Visit aliterarypotion.wordpress.com tomorrow for another extract from Runemarks.

About the author:

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Joanne Harris is the author of the Whitbread-shortlisted CHOCOLAT (made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp) and many other bestselling novels. Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as ‘mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion’. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, is currently studying Old Norse, and lives with her husband and daughter in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from the place she was born.

Find out more at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @Joannechocolat

About the book:

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“A gripping tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology from the SUNDAY TIMES bestselling author of CHOCOLAT and THE GOSPEL OF LOKI.

It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

From the bestselling author of CHOCOLAT and THE GOSPEL OF LOKI comes a fantastical tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology.”

RUNEMARKS by Joanne M Harris is being re-issued in hardback by Gollancz on 24th November (Amazon bit.ly/RunemarksJoanneMHarris

 

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Renita D’Silva – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Renita D’Silva to the blog. Renita is the author of Monsoon Memories, A Sister’s Promise, The Stolen Girl and The Forgotten Daughter and her latest novel, A Mother’s Secret was published by Bookouture on 5 April 2016

Renita kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about A Mother’s Secret.

What if you discovered that everything you knew about yourself was a lie? When pregnant Jaya loses her mother, then her baby son Arun in a tragic cot death, her world crashes down. Overcome by grief and guilt, she begins to search for answers – to the enigma of her lonely, distant mother, and her mysterious past in India.  Looking through her mother’s belongings, she finds two diaries and old photographs, carrying the smoky aroma of fire. A young boy smiles out at Jaya from every photograph – and in one, a family stand proudly in front of a sprawling mansion. Who is this child? And why did her mother treasure this memento of a regal family lost to the past?  As Jaya starts to read the diaries, their secrets lead her back to India, to the ruin of a once grand house on a hill. There, Kali, a mad old lady, will unlock the story of a devastating lie and a fire that tore a family apart.  Nothing though will prepare Jaya for the house’s final revelation, which will change everything Jaya knew about herself. 

2. What inspired the book?  

The idea for A Mother’s Secret came in the form of a mad old lady living in a dilapidated house, set isolated and forbidding atop a hill and carrying traces of past grandeur. Why was the woman there? What had happened to her and the house to make them that way, both ravaged and decrepit? Then I pictured a young woman thousands of miles away, who, while dealing with grief and personal loss finds her mother’s diaries and in doing so, is led to this madwoman haunting a tumbledown house in a country her mother shunned. It intrigued me – I wanted to work out the connection. And thus, A Mother’s Secret was born.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

With ‘Monsoon Memories’, my debut, I didn’t plan. It started off as a story about two sisters and then Reena, an inquisitive eleven year old, clamoured for attention and space to tell her story and it just sort of went on from there. 

I have written all my other books to deadline, so there is a certain amount of planning involved, although I don’t plan in too much detail and I don’t structure the novel until the end when I have a clear idea of where it is going. 

4. What have you discovered about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

The best thing about writing a novel is when the characters take over about half way through the book. Sounds mad, I know, but it is magical and true – the characters develop minds of their own and very strong opinions as to what should happen and what shouldn’t. I love it when the characters dictate where the book is going. This is also why I don’t plan in too much detail🙂

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I read, cook, spend time with family. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

About the Book:

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“When pregnant Jaya loses her mother, then her baby son Arun in a tragic cot death, her world crashes down. Overcome by grief and guilt, she begins to look for answers – to the enigma of her lonely, distant mother, and her mysterious past in India.

Looking through her mother’s belongings, she finds two diaries and old photographs, carrying the smoky aroma of fire. A young boy smiles out at Jaya from every photograph – and in one, a family stand proudly in front of a sprawling mansion. Who is this child? And why did her mother treasure this memento of a regal family lost to the past?

As Jaya starts to read the diaries, their secrets lead her back to India, to the ruin of a once grand house on a hill. There, Kali, a mad old lady, will unlock the story of a devastating lie and a fire that tore a family apart.

Nothing though will prepare Jaya for the house’s final revelation, which will change everything Jaya knew about herself.”

(image and synopsis from Amazon)

 

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