Monthly Archives: February 2016

Before the Blog Review – Not Another Happy Ending by David Solomons

I thought it would be a good idea to put all of my reviews in one place. I’ve therefore created a Before the Blog review page where all of these reviews can be found. I will hopefully be able to say where it was first posted and when I read it.

Title – Not Another Happy Ending

Publisher – Mira

Originally posted – Goodreads and Amazon

Read – 10-11 Oct 2013

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I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

I have to admit that before I received this book I was not aware of the film on which it is based so came to read it without any preconceptions.

Jane is a struggling writer, receiving rejection letter after rejection letter in response to her first manuscript entitled ‘The Endless Anguish of My Father’. Tom is the publisher who is looking for the book that will establish his company amongst the big publishing greats. Initially rejecting Jane’s novel he agrees to publish it, so long as she agrees to extensive re-writes. Working together on the re-writes brings the two closer together until Tom changes the title of novel and the two no longer speak.

The book is launched and becomes a best seller, throwing Jane into the limelight, and leaving her with the pressure of writing an equally amazing second novel. However the angst and sadness that drive Jane to write her first novel have apparently disappeared, she has a new boyfriend, Willie, who is adapting her first novel as a screen play and has reconciled with her father who had walked out on her in her 7th birthday. With the new found contentment in her life she suddenly finds she has writer’s block and is unable to finish the second novel.

Meanwhile Tom needs Jane’s next book. His company Tristesse is nearly broke and he’ll have to sell if the book isn’t finished and released soon. He finds out Jane is blocked and realises that the only way to get her writing again is to make her miserable. So he starts out on his quest to restore writing order with his flatmate Roddy in a madcap plan that includes kidnapping her umbrella plant and starting a fight on a bus.

I have to say I really enjoyed this book. There were places where I laughed out loud, Roddy in particular had some of the funniest lines and he and Tom made a good comedy duo.

There were some parts where I could guess what was going to happen but this didn’t detract from the book, in fact I think I would have been disappointed if my surmises had been wrong!

This book was adapted from the screenplay of the same name. Whilst I can imagine this book as a film it wasn’t at the forefront of mind whilst I read it. Having read books that weren’t based on screenplays but obviously written in the hope that they would be one day and been distracted by it. Thankfully that wasn’t the case here.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable, light-hearted, romantic and funny read.

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Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman – Review

Published by Headline

Publication date – 2 February 2016

Source – review copy

isbn9781472206459-detail

Psychologist sleuth Alex Delaware has experienced more than enough of L.A.’s dark side to recognise the scent of evil…

Criminal psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware is pushed to his limit like never before in Breakdown by New York Times No.1 bestseller Jonathan Kellerman. Fans of Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben will love this sabre-sharp storytelling from the master of psychological suspense.

Dr. Alex Delaware first meets beautiful and emotionally fragile actress Zelda Chase when called upon to evaluate her five-year-old son. Years later, Alex is unexpectedly reunited with Zelda when she is involuntarily committed after a bizarre psychotic episode. But tragedy strikes and shortly after her release, Zelda is discovered dead in the grounds of a palatial L.A. estate. Having experienced more than enough of the city’s dark side to recognise the scent of evil, Alex turns to his friend, LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis, for help in finding the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, Alex is caught up in another quest: the search for Zelda’s missing son. And when other victims vanish from the same upscale neighborhood, worry turns to terror.

As Alex struggles to piece together the brief rise and steep fall of a gorgeous, talented actress, he and Milo unveil shattered dreams, the corruption of a family, and a grotesque betrayal of innocence. With each devastating revelation and damning clue, Alex’s brilliant mind is challenged as never before – and his determination grows to see a killer caged and the truth set free.”

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Bookbridgr and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Alex Delaware first met actress Zelda Chase 5 years ago when he was asked to evaluate her son, after she suffered what was believed to have been a psychotic episode. Years later he meets her again after she suffers another episode. This time Ovid, her son, isn’t with and Zelda is in no shape to tell Alex where he might be. Caught up in trying to help her and locate Ovid things take a dramatic turn for the worse when Zelda is discovered dead. Alex and his best friend, Lieutenant Milo Sturgis investigate the circumstances surrounding Zelda’s death and are soon drawn into a world glamour and money hide a seamier side and where long kept secrets are emerging with devastating results.

I am a huge fan of Jonathan Kellerman and having read the previous 30 novels featuring Alex Delaware I was eager to read number 31. I wasn’t disappointed. It was like meeting old friends after some time apart. I loved getting caught up in the world of Alex, Milo and Robin. I raced through the book, all the while not wanting to read it too quickly knowing I would have at least another year to wait for the next one.

As can be expected with every long standing series, there have been ups and downs in the history of Alex Delaware tales, with some outings stronger than others. I think that with the most recent the dip has turned into a peak. I personally feel that Breakdown is one of the stronger books that Jonathan Kellerman has written in recent years. It was paced just right. There aren’t many mad dashes around LA, with Alex getting himself into unnecessary danger. There is more thought that goes into his investigation, underlined all the time by his compulsion to do the right thing, this time the drive being a missing child and his poor tormented mother.

As for the mystery, I obviously don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of spoiling it. There are tragic circumstances that lead to Zelda’s death, ones that have far-reaching repercussions. There are no great reveals or Perry Mason moments. The information is laid out and the reader investigates as Alex and Milo do and the story is as much about proving the case against the murderer than it is determining who the perpetrator is.

I’ve commented in the past about the unique style of narration Jonathan Kellerman seems to have honed for Alex Delaware, making him seemingly think and speak in clipped tones, eliminating unnecessary words from his sentences. I doubt that Mr Kellerman will have read my previous reviews and altered his narrative accordingly but that style seemed less obvious in this book. Alex himself seemed more contained, more thoughtful and perhaps a little more reserved than usual. That said it did not make a jot of difference as to my enjoyment, I think it may have added to it, seeing the Alex of old.

If you haven’t read this series I would recommend it to you wholeheartedly. I am also slightly jealous that you have them all to read. I can’t wait for Alex Delaware number 32…

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Toppling the TBR Pile – Headline 2016

So the TBR pile has remained solidly where it is for a while so I thought it high time to risk a cascade of novels by looking at more new titles heading our way this year. This time it’s the turn of Headline to tempt us to spend our pocket money in the local bookshop in the first half of the year.

January saw the release of the latest novel to feature Inspector Ikmen, On the Bone by Barbara Nadel. A man dies in the street in Istanbul. The autopsy reveals human flesh in his stomach. Ikmen must trace the man’s steps and find the victim. (Headline)

Also published this month was the warm, romantic You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell. On Lily’s 25th birthday it is time to open the final letter from her mother, who died when she was eight. In it she finds out more about her mother’s one true love and is determined to track him down. On the same day she meets Eddie Tessler, a celebrity in hiding. Lily is flattered by Eddie’s attentions but her best friend Dan isn’t so keen. You can read my review of this lovely novel here and read a Q&A with Jill Mansell here. (Headline Review)

January also saw the publication of In the Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie. China, 1941. Henrietta Robertson is at a boarding school high in the mountains. Her parents are missionaries and Etta is soon discovered by her school friends to have a divine calling of her own and so the Prophetess Club is born. As rumours of war become more insistent, the club’s quest becomes more urgent and in the mystical landscape reality, make believe, good and bad becomes blurred. And Etta’s pilgrimage begins. (Tinder Press)

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman was published in paperback this month. Marvellous Ways is 89 years old and lives alone in a remote Cornish Creek. She has taken to siting by the river with a telescope. She is waiting, though she don’t know what she’s waiting for. Drake is a soldier home from the second World War. Fulfilling a promise to a dying man he arrives at the Creek and Marvellous comes to his aid. (Tinder Press)

The Last Kiss Goodbye by Tasmina Perry was also published in paperback in January. Everyone remembers their first kiss, but what about their last? 1961 and Rosamund meets Dominic. Just as their future appears certain, happiness is snatched from them. 2014 and Abby Gordon finds a picture of a man saying goodbye to the woman he loves. Obsessed with the photo she looks into the story more, and is about to discover a secret even more extraordinary. (Headline Review)

January also saw the release of Invader by Simon Scarrow and T.J. Andrews, (Headline), The Miner’s Daughter by Jennie Felton, (Headline), The Blood of Kings: Tintagel Book I by M.K. Hume (Headline Review), The Fall by John Lescroart, (Headline), The Protector by S.J. Deas, (Headline) and Nymphs by Sari Luhtanen and Kiikko Oikkonen. (Headline)

February sees the publication of Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman. Actress Zelda Chase suffers a bizarre psychotic episode and is shortly after found dead. Years earlier Alex Delaware had treated her son Ovid, who is now missing. Alex and his friend, Detective Milo Sturgis are investigating the case.  And when more victims vanish from the same neighbourhood, the pressure mounts and Alex and Milo are in a race against time to find the killer. (Headline) I love the Alex Delaware series and am currently reading Breakdown so keep a look out for my review.

Also available this month is The Perfect Gift by Emma Hannigan. Every year Roisin has received a birthday card from her birth mother. Then on her 30th birthday she receives a letter, one which shakes her world and reminds her adoptive mother, Keeley, of her guilty secret she has been hiding all of Roisin’s life. Then there is Nell, keeping watch in a lighthouse, hiding from her past. Until a runaway turns up and offer them all hope. (Headline Review)

Look at Me by Sarah Dugid is out in February too. Lizzy lives with her father and brother in North London. Two years ago her mother died. One day she finds a letter to her father and discovers he has a secret daughter. In defiance she invited her to stay. And then realises her mistake. Look At Me explores grief, the balance between moving forward and not leaving the past behind and the effect of family upheaval. (Tinder Press)

The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements is out in paperback this month. It is 1648 and Katherine Ferrrers privileged life is about to crumble. An orphaned heiress, she is forced to marry but that marriage turns out to be a prison and her fortune is seized by her husband. Katherine becomes desperate and then she meets a man who can offer her a dangerous way out. Based on the true story of Katherine Ferrers, Highwaywoman, this is a story of love, betrayal and survival. (Headline).

Also out this month is Find Her by Lisa Gardner, (Headline), Dominion by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, (Headline), The Silver Tide by Jen Williams, (Headline), Cake: The Short & Surprising History of our Favourite Bakes by Alysa Levene (Headline) (not fiction I know but its about cakes so needs no explanation), Alone in the Dark by Karen Rose, (Headline), Tin Men by Christopher Golden, (Headline Review), My Mother’s Secret by Sheila O’Flanagan, (Headline Review), The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer, (Headline), The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw, (Tinder Press) and Last Resort by Quintin Jardine. (Headline)

On to March and the fourth Paula Maguire book by Claire McGowan is released. In A Savage Hunter, the disappearance of 22 year old Alice Morgan raises questions for Paula Maguire. Alice is the daughter of a life peer in the Home Office and has disappeared with a holy relic, the only thing left behind are bloodstains on an altar. (Headline)

Also out is Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. Jane Steele has suffered at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster, like her heroine Jane Eyre. They call her wicked, as Jane Eyre was called, but this Jane feels it may be true. She flees, leaving behind the bodies of her tormentors. Then she meets and falls in love with Charles Thornfield and worries that he will discover her murderous past. (Headline Review)

Out in paperback is The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger. A young man hits a young woman with his car when she suddenly appears on the road in front of him. He decides not to stop and drives away, changing more than one life in the process. Tom Berry is a hunter who has raised his two children, Curtis and Erin, singlehandedly. When the police contact him to say that Curtis is missing, Tom knows that he is the only one to find his son and must face past hurts in the process. (Tinder Press)

Also out this month is Heart and Home by Lyn Andrews, (Headline), Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovitch and Phoef Suttton, (Headline Review), The Prisoner’s Gold (The Hunters 3) by Chris Kuzneski, (Headline) (you can read a guest post from Chris here), The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan, (Headline Review), Career Game by Louise Mensch, (Headline Review), The Second Death by Peter Tremayne, (Headline)

Next comes April and plenty of books to enjoy along with the showers. The One In A Million Boy by Monica Wood is out this month. This is the story of an unlikely friendship between a woman of 104 and a world record obsessed 11 year old boy who does odd jobs at her home. And his father who is determined to finish what his son has started. But its also about more than that. Its about grief, the invisiblity of old age, about discovering there is always more life to be lived. (Headline Review)

A book that I am eagerly awaiting is out this month. Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary is the third book in the Marnie Rome series. A young girl causes a fatal car crash and disappears. A young runaway wants to go home. To the one man who she trusts. To the man who gives shelter to other lost girls. To Harm. When Marnie Rome begins to investigate the young girl’s disappearance she’s not prepared for what she is about to meet. For when Harm’s family is threatened, everything tastes like fear…(Headline) You can read my reviews of Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness, the first two in the series by clicking on the links.

Tenacity by J.S. Law is out in paperback this month.  A sailor has hanged himself aboard a submarine. Lieutenant Danielle Lewis knows that the sailor’s wife was murdered only days before. Now Dan must enter the submarine to investigate. Facing hostility and with a possible killer on board Dan realises she may have to choose between her life and the truth. (Headline)

Also out this month is The Second Love of My Life by Victoria Walters, (Headline Review), Eden Gardens by Louise Brown, (Headline Review), Revenge in a Cold River by Anne Perry (Headline), The Leopards of Normandy: Duke by David Churchill, (Headline), Javelin Rain by Myke Cole, (Headline), Britannia (Eagles of the Empire 14) by Simon Scarrow, (Headline), After Alice by Gregory Maguire, (Headline), Last Ragged Breath (Bell Elkins 4) by Julia Keller, (Headline), Treachery at Lancaster Gate by Anne Perry, (Headline) and Hello, Goodbye, And Everything In Between by Jennifer E. Smith. (Headline)

On to May and the sixth DI Damen Brook novel, Death Do Us Part by Stephen Dunne is out. DI Brook is having some leave, trying to reconnect with his daughter but her drinking is making that difficult. Called to a crime scene he finds an elderly couple have been shot, echoing the killing of a gay couple the previous month. Forced by his superiors to take the case Brook believes he can catch the killer. But distracted by the issues with his daughter will he make a mistake and bring the killer to him? (Headline)

Already causing a social media storm is This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell. Daniel Sullivan and his family are traveling in the car when he hears a voice on the radio, one he has not heard for decades. He learns that the sad, talented woman it belongs to died shortly after he left her. Daniel attempts to discover the truth behind his decision to leave his first love, with disastoruous consequences. The story is not just his, it also involves his three estranged children from a previous marriage, his reclusive wife and the family they have raised. (Tinder Press)

Also out this month is The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans. Keepsake is a forgotten house down by a hidden creek. For Nina Parr it holds the truth about her family and the chance to put right the wrongs of the past. (Headline Review)

Also out this month is Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir, (Headline Review), Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, (Headline), Private Investigations by Quintin Jardine, (Headline), Let the Good Times Roll by Lynda Page, (Headline), Death by Water by Torkil Damhaug, (Headline), Get Even by Martina Cole, (Headline) and The Scam by Janet Evanovitch and Lee Goldberg. (Headline Review)

Finally we come to June and there’s a new novel from Adele Parks. I can’t tell you anything about it as its as yet untitled and there’s no blurb to read but there is a book coming so Adele Parks fans make a note! (Headline Review)

Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch is out this month. Louisa Williams lost her husband Sam and children in a car crash. Sam had always said they wouldn’t get away from him and that he would hound Louisa until she died if she tried to leave, but she can’t believe he would harm their children. Then there is Sophie, the woman he betrayed her with. And Sophie wants to destroy Louisa and take what she thinks she is owed: the life she would have had, had Sam lived. (Headline)

June also brings with it have paperback edition of The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman. Psychologist Grace Blades helps troubled souls but has had her own share of heartache. She witnessed her parents deaths in a murder-suicide when she was only 5 years old and has a dark secret side to her. Her two lives come together when she recognises one of her clients from  a recent encounter. Andrew Toner is desperate for Grace’s help so is willing to ignore their connection. Grace refuses. This is a decision she comes to regret when a homicide detective visits her. Grace fears that a police investigation will expose her double life so she sets out on her own investigation. Once which leads her back to the life she had left behind. (Headline)

Finally the paperback edition of The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is out this month. 1963 and Charlotte is struggling to regain her identity as a painter. Her husband, Henry can’t face the thought of another winter in England. When a brochure for Australia arrives she is too tired to resist and finds herself in Perth. But Charlotte and Henry soon realise that the new life in Australia isn’t the answer they were looking for and Charlotte wonders where in fact she does belong. (Tinder Press)

Also out this month is The Missing Wife by Sheila O’Flanagan, (Headline Review), The Dead Woman of Deptford by Ann Granger, (Headline), the paperback edition of On the Bone by Barbara Nadal, (Headline), the paperback edition of You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell, (Headline Review), The Poisoned Throne: Tintagel Book II by M.K.Hume, (Headline Review), Liverpool Gems by Anne Baker, (Headline), Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt, (Headline) and Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow. (Headline)

So there we have it, a bounty of books to tempt even the most reluctant of bookworms. I know what I’ve got on my wishlist. What about you?

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Sweet Home by Carys Bray – Review

Published by Windmill

Publication date 25 February 2016

Source – review copy

9780099510628

“They say there’s no place like home. It’s where the heart is…

Meet the little boy who believes in miracles.

Meet the mother who loves to bring babies home from the newborn aisle of her supermarket.

Meet the husband who carves a longed-for baby out of ice as a gift for his wife.

Meet the widow who is reminded of romance whilst standing at the kitchen sink.

In this prize-winning short story collection, Carys Bray weaves together moments of joy, heartache, sadness and unwavering love as told through seventeen very different notions of home.”

I received a copy of this book from the author and this is my honest review.

This is a collection of seventeen short stories, linked by the theme of parenting and the idea of home. There are stories of trying to parent according to self help books, a twist on the tale of Hansel and Gretel and tales of the disappointment of parents when they realise that they have done the things they promised themselves they would not do ‘when they had kids’.

There are examples of writing that are raw, full of sadness and desperate times. Others perfectly capture the fears of parenting, the feeling that whatever you do isn’t enough,  the fear that you’ll fail at being a parent before you have even started. These are tales showing that parenting can’t be learnt from a guidebook, that there is no such thing as a perfect parent and that home has a different meaning for us all. Some like, The Ice Baby where a husband carves a baby from ice for his wife read like fairy tales, others, such as Wooden Mum show the struggles of a mother having to help the rest of the world deal with her autistic son. Each one is a moving story that made me reflect and gave me pause for thought.

On reading Sweet Home I am again struck by the level of skill needed to write good short stories. Luckily Carys Bray has that in spades. She manages to convey so much in a few pages, so much so that you are completely wrapped up in each story. There is a wonderful flow to the collection and despite the connecting theme, each story is different, each shows a different facet of family life, often times showing the sides that are usually hidden.

My favourite stories were Love: Terms and Conditions, where the unnamed mother is being tickled into declaring who of her children is her favourite and we see her telling herself who her favourite actually is, and On the Way Home, where we see a number of strangers come into contact on the same street. I also particularly liked Under Covers which shows that real romance can appear in the most unusual of guises when a widow recalls moments of tenderness with her husband.

A beautifully written collection of short stories, that can be dipped into or read in one sitting. It is one that I will return to in the future.

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Fright Club by Ethan Long – Review

Published by Bloomsbury Children

Publication date 8 October 2015

Source – own copy

9781408867549

“Only the SCARIEST monsters are allowed in Fright Club (members include Fran K. Stein and Sandy Witch). So when a cute little bunny announces he wants to join everybody laughs at him. Poor old bunny. If only they knew you don’t have to be a monster to be scary. Perhaps he should show them …A brilliantly funny read-aloud text with delightfully spooky illustrations perfect for Halloween. This book will have young readers laughing and begging to be the newest members of Fright Club. – See more on the Bloomsbury Children’s website. “

Bunny wants to join Fright Club but Vladimir won’t let her. Will she manage to change his mind?

This is a tale of a bunny who wants to join fright club in time for Halloween. It has become a favourite with my children and so means multiple readings for me, though thankfully I don’t mind.

The illustrations are very detailed and fit the story perfectly. They are dark in places, with lots of grey and black used. Luckily they don’t scare the children, even when Mumford the mummy does his scary party trick with his eyes (once you’ve read the book you’ll see what I mean!).

There are some references that are geared more towards the adult reading the book, for example there is a line about how the monsters moves were scary, but not in the way Vladimir had hoped, and the were-wolf is called Virginia. I would expect some of the content to go over children’s heads, though my children love the story and have no issue with me reading it repeatedly.

My children love this book, shouting out at certain parts, joining in with scary noises and frightening faces. In amongst the scary moves, and ghostly goings-on there is a lovely moral to the story – that no matter what you look like, or appear to be, you can be anything when you set your mind to it. And that you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.

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The Ballroom by Anna Hope – Review

Published by Doubleday

Publication date 11 February 2016

Source – review copy

The%20Ballroom

“By the acclaimed author of WAKE:

Where love is your only escape ….

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,
where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
and dance.
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.”
Read more here.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Ella Fay finds herself in Sharston Asylum, locked away for a minor incident. Her first instinct is to flee, then to fight. She quickly realises that biding her time may be the best way of surviving. In time she is allowed to go to the ballroom, where a weekly dance for the inmates takes place. There she meet John. When John meets Ella she awakens something in him he thought was long since lost. It is between the austere walls of the asylum that Ella and John can heal each other.

There is no doubt that this is a beautifully written novel. There is a fluidity to the language that is almost poetic. Anna Hope eloquently evokes images of the asylum and its inhabitants, both those forcibly kept there and those that are present through choice. The beauty of the surroundings juxtaposes against the fetid dormitories and treatments rooms, designed almost to cruely mock the inmates, the views of open spaces and nature that are fleetingly grabbed through barred windows a reminder of what they are missing.

The story focusses on four main characters, John, Ella and Clem are all inmates, Charles the doctor who attends them. Chapters are alternated between John, Ella and Charles with Clem remaining a presence that brings the story of the others together.  Then there is the character of Dan Riley who gives hope to John and Ella, making them realise that life can be different, if they just see themselves differently. These characters draw you into the story, are so real you can imagine them in front of you.

The novel is well researched and it shows in the writing. The treatment of those with mental illness in the early 20th Century was shockingly barbaric, as was the loose definition of mental illness. You could be interred simply for being poor and the shocking ideas behind Eugenics is also well discussed in the book.

There is melancholy and hopelessness weaved throughout the passages of this book. But there is also hope. John and Ella both find freedom from themselves when they find each other. Love awakens possibilities in them both, that they can be people they never were before, better for their time in the institution, no matter how horrendous the time spent there was. It takes a place that strips them of their dignity and rights, that made them feel worthless to realise just how much they do mean, to themselves and others.

I struggled with the first third of the book. The bleakness of the setting, the desperation and sadness of the inmates made it almost impossible to read. There were days that passed before I picked it up again. Then when I did, the pages would turn with ease and more of the story of John and Ella would be revealed.

This is not a light love story. It is heart-wrenching, anger-inducing, moving prose that is made all the more touching for the fact that it is inspired by Anna Hope’s great Grandfather. This is a beautifully written tale of love, hopelessness and how peace of mind can appear in the strangest of places.

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Rebecca Mascull’s editing process

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Rebecca Mascull to the blog. Rebecca is the author of The Visitors and her latest novel, Song of the Sea Maid was published by Hodder and Stoughton on 11 February 2016. Rebecca has written fabulous guest post about her editing process.

So, this is the process I go through when editing a novel, such as Song of the Sea Maid:

1. When I’ve finished writing the first draft, I would ideally like to shove it in a cupboard for six months and forget all about it. Then, take it out of the cupboard and read the whole thing through without a break, to see what it’s really made of. However, this is largely impossible because I have pesky things like deadlines to meet and bills to pay. Therefore, I get to leave it for a day or two, after which I read the whole thing through with plenty of breaks for irrelevant matters such as the school run or talking to loved ones. Or eating.

2. After I’ve had a first read through, I then start attacking it with a red pen. There will be hundreds of typos – largely because I rarely read through chapters as I go along – and there will also be great gaping plot holes that I didn’t notice when I was in the thick of the woods. I see a first draft as a lump of stone and I’m whacking away at it with a mallet, having lots of dusty fun wondering what the heck it’s going to look like when I’ve finished.

3. Then begins the horror that is the second draft. This has none of the fun, mystery and excitement of the first draft, a miraculous journey into the unknown. Don’t get me wrong: the first draft is hard work and exhausting, because it’s all thought and creative energy and pushing through the doubt in a kind of marathon. It is wonderful to finish the first draft, that brings with it an enormous sense of relief and accomplishment. But it’s also a joyful thing for me (though I know many authors who would soundly disagree). The second draft is all work, work, work. Dump this, reintroduce that; shift this, totally rewrite that. This is the chiselling bit – still hard work but more finely structural. This is also the stage where I get some experts in my period and themes and also trusted friends to read the first draft. For example, in Song of the Sea Maid, after a reading from an C18th expert, I discovered that a character was supposed to have married someone that in all likelihood he would never have considered marrying in C18th society, so I had to change his profession and thus all further references to that profession and insert scenes that reflected his new profession, all the while ensuring that these sweeping changes didn’t disturb the equilibrium of the rest of the narrative. It’s a scarily precarious house of cards, I tell you!

4. Then comes another read through after which it will be the finesse work: honing the poetry and perfecting such things as dialogue and first or last lines of chapters. This stage also includes putting words I overuse into Find and Replace to escape ridiculous levels of repetition. I’m particularly guilty of this with favourite words ‘pale’ and ‘cool’. I love these words so much I use them about hundred times each in my first drafts and then I have to go back and slice them all out. There will be a prize awarded (probably a box of Mini Smarties) to anyone who can find the words pale or cool used more than twice each in my first two novels…

5. By this point, I have either reached the state of perfection that is the world’s best novel ever written OR, more likely, I am so sick of finessing that I throw the damn thing down and in a huff email it to my agent. Now the fun really begins…

6. Thereafter, it goes through at least four more edits involving a minimum of four separate editors. [1] My agent [2] my line editor (and possibly an assistant editor) [3] my copy editor [4] the proof-reader. Each stage brings with it what at first feels like a million tiny cuts into that beautiful vision you had for your novel but you soon realise that in most cases these changes are very sensible and work brilliantly. In fact, what I realised very quickly during my first experience of being edited by the publisher was that, more than anything, I was so happy and honoured that anyone – let alone an illustrious publisher – would be interested enough in my work to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and to care enough to make it the best book it can be. Editors can save you from intense embarrassment too, such as my marvellous copy editor for Song of the Sea Maid who spotted that one character had had six sons who I’d completely forgotten about. I know what you’re thinking, that it must be quite difficult to mislay six sons  – SIX! – And they were tall, strapping fisherman the lot of them, even more difficult to ignore. But we novelists have a lot on our minds and often mislay our own children, let alone fictional ones… Furthermore, where you disagree with your editors, this forces you to defend your vision for the novel and so disagreements can be as fulfilling as agreements. For example, this can be as large as a complete plot shift to as small an item as – in Song of the Sea Maid – whether or not broccoli was available to eat in England in the 1740s. (And it was.) All in all, you end up with a few compromises, a few grudges (usually small ones) and much joy at having polished your novel in a marvellous joint enterprise.

7. Then, it goes out into the world, people read it and pull it to pieces – either with delight or derision – and there’s not a thing I can do about it. My book has to fend for itself now. And I’ve got to get on with the next one…

 

About the book

isbn9781473604377-detail

“‘Rich, evocative second novel from the author of THE VISITORS: ‘Beautifully written… wonderful stuff.’ – Sarah Broadhurst, The Bookseller.

In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.

Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries – not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.”

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Jill Mansell – Q&A

Today I am very pleased to welcome best selling author Jill Mansell to the blog. Jill is author of 27 novels, including The Unpredictable Consequences of Love, Three Amazing Things About You and Fast Friends and her latest, You and Me, Always was published by Headline on 28 January 2016. You can read my review of this wonderful, warm and funny read here.

 

1. Tell us a little about You and Me, Always.

Well it’s my usual mix of drama, romance and comedy, set in a gorgeous village in the Cotswolds, and it features Lily, whose mother died when she was eight. On the morning of Lily’s 25th birthday, she opens the last letter written to her by her beloved mother. And from that day, everything changes, both for Lily and her family and friends.

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

I can’t actually remember, but I know I’ve read in the past about letters written to their loved ones by people who know they are dying, and I’ve always found it a very moving idea. 

3. You are famous for writing the first draft of all of your novels long-hand. How long does it take for that first draft to be written and how many notebooks do you work your way through? Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

It takes me a year to write to each book. I couldn’t write straight onto a computer, because I never learned to type and now it just feels all wrong to try and do it that way. I much prefer pen and ink. I normally get through five or six A4 Pukka Pads during the course of each book, because quite a few pages get crumpled up and thrown across the room if the writing all goes horribly wrong!

4. You and Me, Always is your 27th book and you have achieved the best seller list many times. Is there anything that still surprises you about the creative process of writing a novel and publishing it? 

The thing that never fails to amaze me is how I manage to write something that other people like to read! When I’m working on each book, I’m always convinced it’s completely boring and unpublishable. It isn’t until it has been published and read by other people who say that they do like it, that I can believe they might be right and I’m wrong. (And I’m not alone in this – most of my writer friends feel the same about their books. Weird, isn’t it!)

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

I’m very keen on housework. No, of course that’s not true. I like TV and books and the Internet and holidays and painting and eating in lovely restaurants with friends.

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

None! I used to love re-reading books when I was young, but now I can’t bear to do it at all. So the answer to this question is, since I couldn’t bear to only have one book to occupy me for the rest of my life, I guess I’d have to give up reading instead. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. You must have answered a lot of Q&A/interview questions before. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

No one has ever asked me before if I would like to marry George Clooney. The answer to this question is yes please.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

About the book:

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“It’s Lily’s twenty-fifth birthday. And she’s about to open the very last letter written to her by the beloved mother she loved so much… A warm, poignant and unputdownable novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU, THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT and THE UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE

From the bestselling author of THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU and THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT comes a deliciously romantic and poignant read about love, loss and how nothing can stay hidden for ever… If you love the novels of Cathy Kelly and Sophie Kinsella, you won’t want to miss Jill Mansell.

On the morning of Lily’s twenty-fifth birthday, it’s time to open the very last letter written to her by her beloved mother, who died when she was eight.

Learning more about the first and only real love of her mum’s life is a revelation. On the same day, Lily also meets Eddie Tessler, a man fleeing fame who just might have the ability to change her world in unimaginable ways. But her childhood friend Dan has his own reasons for not wanting Lily to get too carried away by Eddie’s attentions.

Before long, secrets begin to emerge and Lily’s friends and family become involved. In the beautiful Cotswold village of Stanton Langley, nothing will ever be the same again…”

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Benjamin Myers – Q&A

Today I am very pleased to welcome Benjamin Myers to the blog. Benjamin’s most recent novel, Beastings, published by Bluemoose Books, won the Portico Prize 2015, won the 2013 Northern Writers’ Award and was also longlisted for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Award 2o15. His previous novel, Pig Iron, also published by Bluemoose won the inaugral Gordon Burn Prize in 2013 and was a runner up in the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. His best selling novel Richard, a fictionalised account of the disappearance of Manic Street Preachers member Richey Edwards was published by Picador and was chosen as a Sunday Times book of the year. His short story ‘The Folk Song Collector’ won the Tom-Gallon Prize in 2014 by the Society of Authors. With such impressive credentials I was excited to hear what Benjamin had to say and he kindly answered a few of my questions.

1.  Tell us a little about Beastings.

Beastings is a novel about a young woman who has grown up in a workhouse run by nuns. Upon leaving at the age of sixteen she is employed as a nanny but abducts a baby who has been placed in her care. She is pursued through the mountains of a Cumbria of the past by a priest who has his own motives for bringing her to justice, and a poacher who is acting as a guide through the mountains. Broadly-speaking it is a novel about morality, corruption, motherhood, landscape, industry, the beastial behaviour of men, nature, rural communities, surrogacy, religious dogma, female strength, abuse of power, atheism, the human body, the elements, mountains, survival and northern England.

2. What inspired the book? 

Around about Christmas 2010 I read a very small cutting in a local history book about old crimes in the north-east of England about a mute girl who went on the run with a baby, only to reappear three months later in a different town. It was  a story that was full holes; it raised more questions than answers. So that was the starting point – the idea of a journey of survival, and the bonds that might develop between a woman and a child that is not hers. I took this basic premise and moved it to a different place and era. In fact, the era is non-specific and the unforgiving location hopefully broad enough to suggest that this story could just as easily have occurred in Australia or Alaska, the Amazon or the Arctic. 

3. You recently won the Portico Prize for Beastings, which also won the Northern Writers award in 2013. What does this prize entail and what did it mean to you to win?

The Portico Prize is a biennial prizes for books written in – or set in – in Northern England. It has been dubbed the Northern Booker Prize. The prize itself was for £10,000. Though reviewers and readers seem to like it, people in publishing seemed baffled by the book or just couldn’t relate to something set in the past in a corner of England that they had little awareness of – the Cumbria you don’t see on Countryfile. I don’t know. Only Bluemoose understood it, so the win was a nice thing for all of us involved. It was a especially a pleasant surprise as I was up against many significant writers, not just on the shortlist but in the hundreds of books that were entered in the first place. Competitions are of course entirely arbitrary, so I don’t for a minute think my novel was ‘better’ than anyone else’s. It just reached the right people at the right time. Writers need a little luck now and again. Something like this prize win provides fuel for a full year’s writing – not just in financial terms, but via a boost in confidence and energy.

4. Both Beastings and Pig Iron are set in the North of England and future novels will also feature a different Northern county in each of them. How important is the geographical location to you. What makes the North so inspiring?

Location is usually the starting point for everything I write. I find landscape endlessly inspiring, especially man’s position in it or on it – or moving through it. I like to try and explore the impact we have on our surroundings and vice-versa; how we in turn are shaped by terrain, elements, geography. I don’t just mean over the course of our lives, but over thousands of years. Every obscure path tells its own story – every worn Yorkshire flagstone or Cumbrian mountain pass has been carved by the footfall of people in transit and I am attempting to tell some of those stories, whether they are set in the past or the present day. 

The North of England isn’t necessarily any more inspiring than anywhere else really, I just happen to live here, though I do think Yorkshire in particular has a greatly varied terrain in a relatively small space. I’m also interested in changing regional dialects too, and vocabulary seems particularly rich or obscure round certain areas of the north.

One thing I’ve noticed is, the older I get and the more I write, the greater my awareness of man’s impermanence. I’m beginning to feel like we’re just passing through and actually we don’t control nature at all. Or maybe I always suspected that. Successive government act like it have everything under control – and perhaps we as a 21st century society do too – but even just the recent floods in Calderdale, in which I saw hundreds of home and businesses wrecked within the space of an hour, and ended up chest-deep in icy river water, trying to save people and their possessions, reminded me that nature is a mighty force and we are but mere specks of dust in comparison. It’s arrogant and presumptuous to think otherwise. Nature is awesome, beautiful, spectacular, and it is stronger than all of us. It continually teaches us lessons, from which we rarely seem to glean much in the way of progressive insight. So, yes, landscape and nature, are at the centre of everything. We must pay attention to it. Hopefully stories are a good way of making people consider their surroundings at a deeper level, and, of course, how we interact with one another too.

5. 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?

It usually begins with a kernel. A nugget. A tiny idea. One scene perhaps, or a story that is one sentence long, for example: “Mute girl abducts child and flees through a visceral Cumbria, era unknown.” That was Beastings. 

Often I’ll write one key scene and then that scene ends up being somewhere in the middle of the book, and I then construct the plot and characters around it. The landscape is there too. Or I might make a soundtrack of songs and music that reflect the mood or tone of a book I intend to write. But you can’t plan too much because I think a narrative should be liquid or at the very least snake-like. It shifts and shimmers and goes off in unexpected directions. It is difficult to contain. Keeping it in line is tricky. You can’t entirely tame or train a snake.

Time-wise, it varies but a first draft might take about nine months – the same time of a baby’s gestation. But then I do several re-writes and edits. Sometimes six or seven. These might take two or three months each. It depends how broke I am, and how much other work I have to do. My next novel Turning Blue has taken over four years to write, but the book I hope to have out after that, has only taken a year or so. It took a lot more planning than usual though. I thoroughly researched it, in fact, so read a lot of material and made many, many notes before I started writing it. I even knew how it was going to end, which is a first for me, as I like to be surprised too. 

Actually, the ending of Beastings was changed only a couple of days before the book went to print, not because the previous version wasn’t good enough, I just thought it could be better, harder, more of a jolt. I think it worked.

The hardest aspect of writing a novel is knowing when to stop. When to just get up and walk away. Because really a novel never feels like it is finished. In my mind, there is always much more is still going on beyond the final page. 

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

I like films and food. I don’t mind washing up too. Swimming is nice. And music – always music. But my favourite thing is dragging logs out of the forest, then splitting, sawing and stacking them. I like the mindless repetition and the smell of sap. The curls of silver birch bark in your hands. The insects in your hair. Birds watching on.

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

I think The Norton Anthology of Poetry would be a book that you could keep experiencing anew. I was also going to suggest À la Recherche du temps Perdu by Proust, but I’ve not yet got past the fourth page of Volume 1. He’s still in bed, staring at the curtains. Only 4211 pages to go.

8. 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?

The question I have always wanted to be asked, is actually the one you have just posed, which is: ‘What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?’

And the answer would, as demonstrated here, be:  ‘What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?”

We would then be locked in an downward, tail-chasing cyclical spiral in which one question and its subsequent answer then re-asks the original question, which itself requires an answer. And on and on it goes until, soon enough, the universe collapses in on itself. Have a great day.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

It’s a massive pleasure. Thank you.

 

About the book

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“A girl and a baby. A priest and a poacher. A savage pursuit through the landscape of a changing rural England. When a teenage girl leaves the workhouse and abducts a child placed in her care, the local priest is called upon to retrieve them. Chased through the Cumbrian mountains of a distant past, the girl fights starvation and the elements, encountering the hermits, farmers and hunters who occupy the remote hillside communities. Like an American Southern Gothic tale set against the violent beauty of Northern England, Beastings is a sparse and poetic novel about morality, motherhood, and corruption.”

You can find out more about Benjamin’s books and Bluemoose Books on their website.

You can find out more about Benjamin here.

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Huddersfield Literature Festival – How to write a novel with Tara Guha

On Tuesday evening I undertook the arduous five minute journey to my local library to see Tara Guha, West Yorkshire based author of Untouchable Things. She was visiting the library as part of the National Library Day celebrations in conjunction with Huddersfield Literature Festival. Tara’s talk was on the theme of How to write a novel and I was looking forward to hearing how she had approached creating her debut novel.

There were around 25 of us gathered in the small cosy library and it was lovely to see such a turnout for a cold, sleety night. Tara started by turning the tables on us and passed around a short quiz. The answers to these allowed to gauge what sort of writer we would be: organised and with plenty of pre-writing planning, slightly organised with some pre-ordained ideas of where the story would go or someone who would just wing and go with the flow, a seat of the pants writer if you will!

Tara explained how she had started to write her novel whilst on maternity leave with her first child. She thought she would have time on her hands and luckily she could write whilst the baby slept. She started out only with a theme for the novel and let her imagination run riot. It took about 9 months to write the first draft but then the process stalled and it sat for a few years.

Tara explained how she found the process of turning the first draft into a novel quite difficult and that she realised she had a lot to learn. Having read an article in the Guardian entitled How to write a novel in 30 days she used this as a guide to help structure her first draft. Things fundamentally changed in the story, use of different narratives were introduced for example and one character was totally removed from the novel.

Once the novel was at a stage she was happy with, Tara sent the manuscript to agents. As is often the case she received rejections, from the standard ‘no thanks’ letters to one agent saying she was sure she would regret it but she was having to say no. Just as she was about to put it back in the drawer Tara came across an advertisement for the Luke Bitmead Bursery, an award for debut authors, the prize being publication. Tara entered the competition then promptly forgot about it as real life took over. Then she heard that she had been short-listed which in itself was a wonderful surprise. Tara attended the awards ceremony with no thought of winning in her mind and was so unprepared to hear her name called as the winner that she didn’t have a speech prepared.

Things moved quickly from there as that evening she met with her publishers, Legend Press, and she mentioned she wasn’t sure about the original title. They agreed but then Tara had only 4 days to decide on a new title as Legend Press were keen to include the book in their upcoming catalogue. That also meant that quick decisions regarding the cover had to be made. Luckily they all agreed on the new title Untouchable Things.

Tara then went on to read an extract from her novel, which really brought the story to life. Not having yet read it, it certainly left me looking forward to reading it myself.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Tara talk about her writing process and journey to publication, and it was lovely to spend a miserable, cold, winter evening discussing books. She was engaging and friendly and the rest of the audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, asking plenty of questions and telling Tara what it was they had loved about Untouchable Things.

I had a lovely quick chat with Tara after the event and managed to buy a copy of her book which she was kind enough to sign.

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You can find out more about Huddersfield Literature Festival here.

Tara’s novel, Untouchable Things was published by Legend Press on 1 September 2015.

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For the third time this week he is watching her scream. Watching, not listening.

Rebecca Laurence is centre stage and shining in her role as Ophelia. She pivots, rotating like a ballerina impaled in a musical box, red hair cascading down her back. Amidst the thundering applause, one man is watching.

Rebecca meets the charismatic Seth Gardner, and as attraction grows between them, he invites her to join his Friday Folly, a group of artistic friends. But as Rebecca is drawn into the web of tangled relationships all is not as it appears. The scene is set for the night that will rip the group apart.

Consumed by loss and surrounded by secrets, Rebecca must escape the grip of the Folly to have any chance of saving herself. Meanwhile, one man continues to watch.”

You can find out more about Tara and her novel on the Legend Press website.

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