Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Books through my lens #13

The lens, this time, isn't actually mine! This picture was taken by my friend Jeane one fine morning as she was enjoying S. G. Browne's Fated and a cup of tea in Stratford, London. The bright colours, all those straight lines and the book catching the viewer's eye made for a great composition that I just had to share with all of you!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Jane Urquhart on writing Sanctuary Line

One of the things that has always delighted me about writing novels is how astonished the author herself can sometimes be by the way a novel is conceived or by the way it ends. In an early novel, The Underpainter, for example, I was completely surprised and taken aback toward the conclusion of the first draft by what my male protagonist ultimately decided to do. And, yet, once I got over the shock, I realized that his act of unkindness was completely in character. It was about this time that I began to understand that I was writing about the world the way it is, not the way I want it to be, and that I would have to allow my characters to be themselves… not just an extensions of my own personality.

Once again in Sanctuary Line the end of the book was initially as much a surprise to me, the writer, as it has been for many readers. Writing is a very visual experience for me; I actually “see” what is going on while I am working. I knew that one more character would be entering the book in the final section , but the man I visualized stepping out of the car and walking down the lane was very different from the man my narrator had been building in her imagination, and different, therefore, from the man I had been expecting. This, of course, speaks to the unreliability of narrative, and especially the unrealistic and often negative fantasy dramas that we watch in our own inner theatres when we, like Liz my main character, are unhappy. Liz has just lost her beloved cousin Mandy in Afghanistan. Mandy was an officer and military strategist who was involved in a difficult love affair, and Liz, who has never met Mandy’s lover, begins to believe that he is the full personification of everything cruel, rigid, and brutal about military life. She quotes Sylvia Plath in her mind --- “the brute, brute, heart of a brute like you” --- and interprets his reported magnetism as the behaviour of a manipulator. In the end, she is surprised to discover that the actual man is utterly unlike her own demonized version.

Sometimes it seems that the whole world is devoted to the creation of one’s novel. I knew that one arm of Liz’s ancestral family, the Butlers, were going to be Irish lighthouse keepers. What I did not know was that in the midst of the first draft of the novel during a visit to Florida, I would come across Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, and how that lighthouse eventually would work its way into the book. It is a long way from Ireland to Florida and I had a fascinating time taking my characters there, and while I was taking them there, it seemed to me that the real reason I had come to Florida in the first place was to discover the lighthouse and create a story about it.

But the outside world had made contributions to Sanctuary Line from the beginning. I can recall with great clarity the day in late August when Sanctuary Line began to take shape. I was driving along the shore of Lake Ontario on a dusty rural road when I spotted a bright orange tree and pulled over the verge to examine it more carefully. What appeared to be a plethora of vibrantly coloured leaves was in fact a gathering of hundreds of thousands of monarch butterflies banding together in order to prepare for their annual migration to Mexico. During my childhood there had been a “butterfly tree” just like this on my family’s property, and each year we looked forward to the moment at the end of the summer when it was transformed by the monarchs. Both the tree and the butterflies had disappeared in recent years, so it was a great pleasure to know that elsewhere this miracle was still taking place.

I eventually pulled away from the tree and began to drive home. About two miles further down the road I noticed a field in which a number of seasonal migrant workers were harvesting strawberries. I realized that they too would be returning to Mexico in a week or so. By the time I got back to my office that afternoon, I knew a novel had been conceived. This was a surprise and a gift to me. I had not consciously been looking for a subject, but, once I started writing, it felt, somehow, as if the subject had been looking for me.

Jane Urquhart will be discussing her latest novel, Sanctuary Line, published by MacLehose Press, on Thursday 26th January from 10:30 – 12:00. For more details, please click here.

Book review: She’s Never Coming Back

By Hans Koppel
Translated by Kari Dickson
Published by Sphere

It is safe to say that my choice of reading material is not usually truculent. That’s why I surprised myself when I decided to read a novel whose front cover prominently displays a quote describing it as a ‘terrifying crime novel’.

I started to read expecting the worse and - it being impossible to put the book down - a few hours later I was trying to understand what had hit me.

Let’s be clear: I loved this book and I’m grateful to Sphere for publishing this Swedish novel by author Karl Petter Lidbeck who, being a children’s literature author, decided to have it published under the pen name of Hans Koppel. I can see why he doesn’t want to have the two genres mixing on the bookshelves!

The plot is simple enough: one day after work, Ylva does not return home. When she hasn’t returned 24 hours later, her husband Mike starts to worry and calls the police. Ylva seems to have disappeared without a trace and, month after month, Mike and his daughter Sanna try to move on. All this without knowing that Ylva is being held captive in a house across the street. Ylva can’t reach her family but she can see her husband and her daughter on a TV screen installed in the cellar where she’s kept. That’s what you’d describe as twisting the knife in the wound, I suppose.

The kidnapping happens right at the beginning of the book, while the rest of the novel explores themes of despair and resignation – both Ylva’s and her husband’s – as well as vengeance and abuse. I’ve read reviews of this book that mention the horrible scenes of sexual humiliation and violence and, to be honest, I was surprised as they didn’t particularly stand out for me.

What I found terrifying was not, as I anticipated, the brutality of the events. It was more subtle than that and had to do with my own feelings towards the victim and the perpetrators. See, the fact is that the plot is not as simple as I had you believe at first but I can’t reveal too much without spoiling the surprise. Let’s just say that the more I got to know about Ylva, the less sympathetic I felt towards her. And, given her situation, that felt wrong. Or scary, in fact.

I will definitely be waiting for Koppel’s next translated novel.

Monday, 23 January 2012

In conversation with... Laura Wilkinson

Hello Laura! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of BloodMining. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you. Primarily set in Wales in the not-too-distant future, it’s about a mother, Megan, whose son is diagnosed with a terminal, hereditary condition. A condition passed down the mother’s line. Buried family secrets are revealed during the search for a donor to save his life and Megan finds out the truth about her past, and its relationship with an appalling national tragedy.

This is your first published work of fiction. How did your book deal come about and how did you feel to finally see your first novel in print?

A: Unbelievable. It feels unbelievable, quite surreal. Even now, a year and a bit after receiving the call from Bridge House informing me that I’d won their debut novel competition and they’d like to publish the book. After a couple of other competition short listings and near misses with interested agents I’d consigned BloodMining to the ‘failed first novel’ drawer. So it’s amazing and, of course, utterly wonderful. Writing a novel involves dedication, commitment and a huge amount of hard work. After two years of writing and rewriting it’s also a relief to see it come to fruition – to know that the graft was not in vain. I feel so lucky and privileged that people will read my story.

The subject of motherhood is central to BloodMining. How much of what you wrote is autobiographical and how much is just the fruit of your imagination and research?

A: It is not autobiographical, I’m glad to say. I have two healthy boys and I hope never to confront anything as threatening to their well-being as my protagonist Megan does. Of course, I hope there is emotional truth in my character’s experiences and perhaps this would have been harder to achieve without the experience of motherhood myself, but perhaps not. The imagination is a powerful thing. Also, as I say in the extras bit at the back of the book, although BloodMining is in no way autobiographical it is fair to say that my life experience influenced the exploration of identity in the novel, and what it means to be a parent. Raised by a stepfather, I knew virtually nothing about my biological father until I was an adult. I could not have asked for a better father than the man who raised me, but had I had the opportunity of tracing my biological father, who knows what I would have done.

BloodMining is an intriguing title. Did the title come before or after the novel? Or perhaps it changed while the novel itself took form?

A: It came as the novel progressed through its many drafts. The working title during the early months of writing was Thicker than Water, but aware this was all wrong, it quickly morphed into Bloodlines. Sometime during draft three I did a search on Amazon which threw up numerous books called Bloodlines so I knew it had to change again. Also, Bloodlines felt too much like a crime novel. I wanted to keep ‘blood’ because it’s all about family, and identity, and ‘mining’ came after a long conversation with my sister (they call it brainstorming in business circles, don’t they?), principally because Megan has to dig deep to unearth the truth.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: Not at all. Novel #2 follows the relationship between a deformed boy and a beautiful, psychologically damaged woman, an artist. One is on a quest to look ‘normal’, the other is experimenting with cosmetic surgery as a means of artistic expression. It’s set in Manchester in the 1980s and London in the 90s. It’s pretty dark, though there’s humour in there too.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I’m a big fan of Twitter, as well as Facebook and other networking websites. As well as connecting with readers – and it’s fantastic to get reader feedback this way - I have made some really good writing buddies. But, you need to be disciplined. Social networks are beasts that need feeding. It’s all too easy to allow them to become very, very greedy and eat away your writing time. Especially if, like me, you have other jobs as well as writing.

On my writing days I am rigorous about the amount of time I spend on Twitter et al. When I am writing nothing gets in the way. I turn off Outlook, Tweetdeck and Explorer, and only put them back on once I have my target word count, or I’ve edited three chapters, or whatever goal I have set myself. On other days, when I tend to write in the evening once my kids are in bed, I dedicate an hour or so (sometimes more, sometimes less) after supper to networking while my boys are playing or just hanging out.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Read, read, read. Especially in your chosen genre.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A If you are a reader, please do seek out and support the independent presses. There’s some great work out there, but it’s hard to find because the small houses don’t have the marketing budgets that the big six do, who can get their books into the shop fronts, on the three-for-two tables and so on. Some smaller houses to look out for are: Myriad (Brighton-based), Tindall Street, Arcadia, Seren, Honno, Sandstone and Alma. There are many more, but it’ll take too long here.

If you’re an unpublished writer, keep at it. Practise your craft and keep submitting. And good luck!

You can follow Laura on Twitter and keep up-to-date with her latest news on her website.

And for a chance to win a copy of BloodMining, click
here and complete the form. The competition will close on the 6th February at 1pm.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Kimberly Menozzi: Cappuccino, Anytime

If I say to someone back home in the US that my day job is working as an English teacher, certain expectations might leap to mind. For instance, they might picture a room with neat and orderly rows of desks with young children or teenagers seated in them, either a chalkboard or whiteboard on the wall, perhaps even a bell which rings to denote the start and end of a lesson.

While this is not too far off the mark for some teachers, for me, it's almost completely wrong.

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) here in Italy – and most of my students haven't been teenagers, much less children, for a good long while. I don't have a classroom filled with desks, or a bell to tell me when to start and/or stop the lesson. The only times I get to use a whiteboard are when I'm teaching at the school itself – and sometimes not even then.

Instead, I get to travel (in my case, this means walk) around the city, visiting different offices for an array of businesses including banks and fashion houses. I teach groups and individuals alike, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to develop a real rapport with my students, which makes all the walking around – in rain, snow, wind, and sun – worth it.

One student in particular stands out in my memory for a number of reasons. His English was remarkably good, his vocabulary quite substantial. He worked for a bank where I had many other students, and we met twice a week for two hours per lesson. Since he was already well-versed in legal terms in English, we had little need for lessons on that subject. It wasn't long before our grammar lessons all but ceased and we began having conversations about his interests outside of work – many of which we had in common.

One afternoon I arrived and sat in the reception area, waiting for him to show me to whatever meeting room we would be occupying for the lesson. When he emerged from the stairwell, however, I was somewhat dismayed to see he already had his coat on.

Great, he's a no-show, then.

I stood to greet him as he approached, one hand extended to me. He smiled, his bald head gleaming in the last of the daylight filtering through the picture windows. "Hello, Kimberly," he said and I couldn't help smiling back at him, even though I was ruing the fact that I'd walked all the way across town only to have him cancel our lesson at the last minute. At least I'd still get paid.

"Hello," I said as his hand engulfed mine. "Do you have a meeting?"

"Oh, no. I thought we'd do something different," he said, already leading me toward the front doors and the city street beyond them.


"What's that, then?"

"I thought we could talk over coffee, today."

As we stepped back out into the cold and strolled across the street to the nearest coffee bar, he explained that all the meeting rooms were occupied and he'd forgotten to reserve one after our previous lesson.

No harm done, then.

I stepped into the bar while he held the door for me. The interior was classic Italian: all terra-cotta flooring, red paint and dark wood trim, filled with employees from the local businesses and, of course, from the bank itself. Two patrons had even brought their dogs in out of the frosty December air, and the tiny terrier and shih-tzu were getting to know each other with amiable sniffs amidst the bustling crowd dressed in designer suits and elegant tailleur.

As usual, I felt completely out of place.

"So what would you like? A cappuccino, I bet. Women love cappuccino."

I had to laugh. "That would be fine. Thanks."

He looked around, spotted a table, and pointed it out to me. "Why not grab that one for us?"

I nodded and went to the table, where I watched him shove his way between a couple of men in expensive suits to place our order. I noted the cashier near the door, checked the price of the cappuccino on the board and felt in my pocket for the change I'd put there before leaving for work. Luckily I'd brought enough with me to pay for this unexpected treat.

A few minutes later he joined me, placing the cups on the chest-high table where I stood. "Do you want sugar?"

"I can get it," I said, already moving toward the counter.

He stopped me, shaking his head. "No, I'll do it. It's too crowded in here."

In spite of myself, I acquiesced and found I was quite pleased that he would do this for me. I was used to my husband doing these little tasks – ordering my drink or meal, retrieving a packet or two of sugar, whatever – but to have a student doing so felt especially nice. This simple display of chivalry made something of an impression on me.

He returned with several packets of both white and brown sugar and placed them next to my cup and saucer. As I tore open the brown sugar packets and poured them carefully into the center of the foam atop my drink, I watched him drink his espresso. He took a gulp which was probably half the contents of the cup. He hadn't added any sugar – the thought of the hot, bitter taste gave me a small shiver in spite of the close warmth of the café.

"Okay," I said, "I have to ask you something."

"All right, what is it?"

"It's about cappuccino. I've always heard one shouldn't order a cappuccino after eleven a.m., yet you suggested it to me right away. Why is that?"

He smiled at me while I took a sip of my drink. "There are some people who say that, it's true. I don't. Did you ever ask your husband about that 'rule'?"

"Yes, I did. He said it wasn't true, too. But I always hear it – from guidebooks and travel programs, mostly, but also from other expats who've lived here a long time."

"Do you like the cappuccino?" he asked.

"I do. I prefer it."

"Then drink the cappuccino." He bolted back the rest of his espresso so there was scarcely a trace of the crema left behind. "Maybe don't have it after dinner. It might affect your digestion."


We continued chatting for a few minutes while I finished my drink and then we made our way toward the cashier and the door. I dug my coin purse out of my pocket and he reached out one hand to stop me.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm paying for my order."

"No, you're not." He gestured at the woman behind the cassa and she nodded, making a note next to the register. "You're my guest. I invited you, so I pay."

"Fair enough, I guess. But I'll pay next time."

"No," he said, his breath turning to fog as we stepped out into a street brightened with festive holiday lights.

"Why not? We should take turns."

"No. You're a lady, and I'm a man. You're the teacher, and I'm the student. I will pay."

"So much for equality of the sexes," I said with a small laugh. "Even if it's hard for me to mind too much, in this case."

He laughed too and, since the front entrance of the bank was now closed for business, we strolled around to the back to go in and continue our lesson.

From that evening on, every lesson began with a coffee at one of the nearby cafés. We'd have a casual chat about anything but work and we'd have a hot drink before going back inside the centuries-old palazzo which housed the bank. He always paid. I always had a cappuccino.

I still do, too. Anytime I want one.


Kimberly Menozzi has her own website and can be contacted via Facebook and Twitter too. What more could you possibly want?

Friday, 20 January 2012

New Beginnings – Nicola May on self-publishing

This time last year, I wasn’t Nicola May, author of chick lit novels. I was just Nicola - friend, sister, aunt, and daughter. My friends and family of course knew I had written books, but the wider world had not even heard of me.

I was at home recovering from major surgery and in the midst of a split from my long term partner when I decided to go through the pile of rejection letters I had built up from agents and publishers over the years. Yes, I know how to make myself feel better!

Coming across my ‘favourite’ rejection letter from a large publisher, saying they hoped it wasn’t a big mistake turning Working it Out down I thought sod it. I have nothing to lose by publishing myself. And there, my own story began!

I researched how to go about publishing your own novel and then that was it - I was on a mission to get my writing out to the masses. My friend Steve offered to design the cover and my website for free and another friend recommended a printing company where I could get just a few copies printed initially to test the water.

Without a budget for advertising, selling my work was up to me. I got in touch with the local papers and local radio station and arranged a live interview. I also organised an official launch in a local bar and used social media sites to create a fan base. I had such a positive response that I soon sold out of my first 100 copies and have since gone on to sell 1400 more.

I would love a major publisher to recognise my talent this year. Self-publishing is hard work, promotion takes up a lot of time and I would rather put all my energies in to the writing itself.
However, I do not regret for one minute setting out on this path and I am enjoying every minute of it.

Nicola May, author of Working it Out, Star Fish (out in print on Feb 1st) and Better Together.

To win one of three copies of Working it Out, please join my reading challenge 2012 and submit a book review by the end of February. For more details, please click here.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Green Books - a new monthly feature

Reading and the environment are two of my greatest interests, so I was delighted when Silvia invited me to write a series of monthly blog-posts here on green issues and reading.

Even in these days of the internet, books are often the best way to learn about nature and environmental issues, so I'll share some of my favourite books on these topics.

Many a nature-lover must mourn the number of trees cut down to make books so I'll write about ways in which the publishing industry is trying to become greener. I'll also compare books and electronic reading devices to investigate their relative carbon footprints.

And what happens when books become literally unreadable? I'll look at some examples of book art, including the mysterious book sculptures that have been delighting literary Edinburgh for the past year or so.

I'll also share some ideas for how to find inspiration if you want to write about nature and environmental issues.

So, here's looking forward to the next six months of green reading!

Crafty Green Poet

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Books through my lens #12

After a long walk in the countryside, from and to Steyning via Chanctonbury, The Steyning Bookshop (106 High Street, Steyning, West Sussex, BN44 3RD; 01903 812062) was like a mirage. I could already feel the warmth of books spreading through my cold limbs. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and the bookshop was closed. As well as the beauty of the West Sussex landscape, a quick peek through the windows convinced me that I will have to go back!

Event review: Sir Frederick Ashton's Romeo and Juliet

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the two star-crossed lovers, is world renowned and holds a special place in my heart as it was the first Shakespeare play that I ever read. I must have been about 15 when, after a couple of years of learning English, I decided that it was time to put all abridged versions for teenagers aside and get on with the real thing.

I will always be grateful to the Mondadori bilingual edition for allowing me to navigate the language of the Bard with the help of Alfredo Orbetello’s translation. There must have been more recent translations but this first copy of Romeo and Juliet is the one I keep going back when I need to restore my faith in romantic love. I mean, I dare anyone to read it and not feel something shift deep inside!

It might be the understatement of the year, but Romeo and Juliet would not be the success it is without Shakespeare’s genius as a wordsmith. That’s why my curiosity was instantly awakened when I heard that the Peter Schaufuss Ballet would come to Brighton in December to perform Sir Frederick Ashton’s production of Romeo and Juliet.

How was the Danish choreographer going to express the passion that drives all of the Shakespearian characters - from the two lovers to Mercutio and Tybalt - without words?

That was the answer! The simplicity - sparseness, even - of the stage made you focus all your attention on the dancers, whose movements - essential and, if you allow me, almost minimalist - powerfully conveyed emotions in their rawest form, underlined by the music written by Sergei Prokofiev and played live by the orchestra, masterfully directed by Igor Shavruk.

I greatly enjoyed Johan Christensen and his feisty rendition of Tybalt but - whenever they were on stage - I couldn’t take my eyes off Stefan Wise and Megumi Oki in the role of Romeo and Juliet. Naïve, determinate, passionate, desperate… the vibes coming from the stage were so intense and emotional that the final scene in the crypt left me in tears.

Another success for Peter Schaufuss, who also made a cameo appearance as Friar Laurence.

To learn more about the Peter Schaufuss Ballet, please click here, while to read online or download a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, visit the Project Gutenberg website via this link.

Friday, 13 January 2012


Fans of Canadian writer, Jane Urquhart, are invited to hear her discuss her latest novel, Sanctuary Line (published by MacLehose Press/ Jan ’12/ £16.99 hardback), on Thursday 26th January from 10:30 – 12:00.

You will have the opportunity to talk with her after the event whilst refreshments are served.

This event will be hosted by the Canadian High Commission, who, for security reasons, ask that you make sure to RSVP to the address featured on the invitation: academic.london@international.gc.ca.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The people behind the books - Q&A

Welcome to a new monthly feature that will see me interviewing all those people who work in close contact with authors to make their books known and successful.

First up is Emily Burns, who you can also follow on Twitter.

Q: Hello Emily! First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to answer my questions! You look after Constable and Robinson’s fiction imprint, Corsair, whose first titles – if I’m not mistaken - were published in 2010. Were you there to see the first steps in the life of the imprint or did you join the team at a later time?

A: Hello and thank you for asking me! That’s right; I look after the fiction list Corsair at Constable and Robinson, which launched in April 2010 with just four titles. I joined Constable and Robinson in August 2010, so was introduced to the list through books such as The Privileges by Jonathan Dee and The Seas by Samantha Hunt. It was such a new imprint that it was thrilling to help it to grow.

After the success of the literary fiction imprint, Corsair, we have recently announced the launch of our commercial fiction imprint, Canvas in December 2011. I have been involved with Canvas since the very beginning, in everything from logo design to new acquisitions.

Q: I read a short outline of what your job entails and was massively impressed. You must be a good multi-tasker! Would you mind describing to our readers what you do on a typical day? Is there a particular activity that you especially look forward to?

A: You have to be a great multi-tasker to do this job! Day to day, my role is heavily focused on author management, media relations and devising, implementing and managing traditional, digital and e-PR campaigns. I also generate and foster review and feature coverage, plan publicity tours and launches, negotiate serial rights and manage embargoes as well as developing the reputation and visibility of the Corsair and Canvas imprints.

Other day to day responsibilities include writing press material, maintaining databases, overseeing events and helping to develop junior members of the publicity team.

Q: What kind of journey led you to being a fiction publicist? As a book-lover, your job sounds absolutely perfect. What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same career?

A: I didn’t always work in publishing. When I started out in public relations it was in the world of consumer PR; I worked with fashion and lifestyle brands - everything from Levi’s to Nike. I did however do a lot of unpaid work experience during all university holidays and would certainly recommend getting as much experience as you can at a publishing house. Try to attend as many book launches/literary events and festivals as you can, most local libraries have author talks and signings!

It seems obvious, but a love of reading is essential, you have no idea how much you will read. Consume as many books, magazines and newspapers as you can! If you’re thinking about working in publishing you will need to be extremely organized, have good copy writing and team interaction skills as well as the ability to work independently. You’ll need to be able to multitask, work to tight deadlines and remain calm under pressure - publishing is a very competitive industry so a thick skin and determination helps. And most importantly, don’t give up!

Q: Going to festivals and literary events around the country sounds more like a treat than a work demand… lucky you! What is your favourite festival and why?

A: It is a treat and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to attend so many festivals already, I haven’t been to all of the literary festivals so I couldn’t name my favourite (yet!) but so far Edinburgh Festival has an incredibly exciting line up and is always such fun. I also really love the alternative literary events like the Shoreditch House Literary Salon and 5x15- they’re a really great night out!

Q: I still remember my first embarrassing encounter with my favourite author. And I still can’t quite believe that writers, who in my world are almost god-like figures, would accept to be interviewed or reviewed by me… So, I wonder: do you ever get star-struck? Is there any author that you’d love to work with?

A: I got a little bit star struck when I met Howard Jacobson; I had just started working in publishing and had admired his work from afar so I was a bit bashful when he turned up at my launch!

There are too many authors to name but a few that I would love to work with include Karen Russell (author of Swamplandia), Andrea Levy, Joanne Harris (Five Quarters of the Orange is one of my favourite books!), Khaled Hosseini, Ian McEwan and Louis de Bernières.

Q: What is the fondest memory of your career in publishing so far?

A: I think my fondest memory so far is of the office toasting Jennifer Egan when she won the Pulitzer Prize and again when she was chosen for the Channel 4 TV Book Club! It’s wonderful to see a book that the entire office is behind thrive and become a phenomenal success.

Q: And lastly, what should the great reading public be getting excited about in 2012?

A: There are so many great books being published in 2012, for me, the two I’m most excited about working on having recently read them are Galore by Michael Crummey and Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz. They are both incredibly beautiful and entirely different from one another and anything else I’ve read in a long time. With all things Dickens looking set to reign in 2012, I am also excited about Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd, it’s an incredible reimagining of the Dickens classic Bleak House...but better!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Book review: Seven Days One Summer

By Kate Morris
Published by Short Books

As the gorgeous cover suggests, Seven Days One Summer is one of those novels that are best enjoyed on holiday, possibly while lounging around the swimming pool. Because I’m a rebel, I decided to read it in winter!

The pro was that I could close my eyes and almost picture myself walking under the Italian summer sun, exploring little village markets, savouring quality food and relaxing with a book at the pool side. The con was that only the fictional characters were actually doing that.

Kate Morris’s talent, however, is not only to be found in the description of places and meals. While developing her novel, she had the ability to identify the people who would normally be less likely to get along and she put them in the same villa for a week.

The events are narrated by Jen, who was invited to spend a week at the villa by Sam, an old friend who also happens to be the man she was in love with for a very long time. Has he ever loved her? Does he love her now? Despite being accompanied by her long-term partner and their son and wanting this holiday to be a fresh start for their strained relationship, these questions seem to be extremely important for her.

For this reason, as well as for other contradictory traits of her personality, I found it impossible to warm to the narrator and I wonder whether I might have preferred a less partial recounting of the events.

The other guests included a newly-married couple, a soon-to-be-married couple and a divorced, ego-centric actor with his two small children. Eight adults, three children, a peculiar housekeeper and a lot of unresolved issues concerning motherhood, marriage, friendship and loyalty. Spats, reconciliations, near-death experiences… a week can be very long!

I felt more like one of the characters trapped in a villa with people they don’t like than a mere spectator and this is, I believe, why the book works.

Kate Morris has recently agreed to answer a few of my questions, click here to read our exchange.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In conversation with... Emlyn Rees

Hello Emlyn! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your latest novel, Hunted. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Hunted tells the story of Danny Shanklin, a hostage negotiator, who finds himself the subject of the biggest televised manhunt in history. After going to a business meeting in the Ritz hotel in London, he blacks out and wakes to find himself dressed in a balaclava, a red-and-white striped tracksuit and a brand new pair of Nikes, with a high-powered rifle in his hands.
Looking outside, he sees a burning diplomatic limousine and dead civilians all over the street. With the police closing in, and only his best friend and tech guy, the Kid, for backup, Danny has to find out who’s set him up and why - but with 500,000 CCTV cameras, 33,000 cops, 9 intelligence agencies, and dozens of TV news channels all hot on his tail, just how long will this one innocent man be able to survive?

How did the idea for this novel develop?

A: Back, back, back in the mists of time, before I started writing rom coms with Josie Lloyd (which I did for ten years), I wrote thrillers. Jo and I only ever planned to write one book together and I was then going to go back to writing action and suspense. When I ended up writing comedies full time, I kept on writing suspense and action short stories in my own time, and Danny Shanklin started recurring as a hero in them. I finally came up with a storyline for him - the one that appears in Hunted - which I knew was big enough, and exciting enough, to be a novel. That’s when I sat down and started writing it. It was a pretty hands on and intense experience after that.

Hunted is the first instalment in a new thriller series starring Danny Shanklin. When will we be able to read more of his adventures?

A: While I wanted to give Hunted a satisfying ending for any reader, I also wanted it to finish with something of a cliffhanger too, so that hopefully it would leave people wanting to read more, and that equally a sequel would be something I’d be itching to write. I’m working on that sequel, Wanted, now and am hoping to have it finished just after Christmas. Meaning it’ll be out in hardback in the UK in September next year.

What kind of research goes into your novels? Do you complete all of your research in advance so that you can then dive into the writing process undisturbed or is it more a research-as-you-go sort of process?

A: I’ve always read a lot of thrillers and I’m a complete news junkie, so a lot of what I end up writing is already in my head anyway. Like most writers I know, I’ve also cultivated a few ‘expert’ friends over the years. There’s a lot of cutting edge military and surveillance technology in Hunted. That’s largely down to a couple of friends who I acknowledge in the book for their help. It was very much a case me saying to them, ‘I really want to use something like this - but does it, or could it exist?’ It was really important for me that whatever I was writing was plausible. I didn’t want to write a movie-style James Bond. I wanted to write an explosive story that actually could happen in the real world. I think that always makes for a much more engaging read. And I hope - thanks to my mates - I’ve pulled that off as best as I can.

Hunted would translate incredibly well into film. Have there been any talks about a possible adaptation for the small or big screen?

A: Yes (he said excitedly!), we are in talks with a feature film company now. That said, I did once have a film made of a comedy I wrote with Josie Lloyd and so know that these things can take a heck of a long time (and not even be very pleasing when they actually happen), so I’m trying to keep a tight lid on my expectations at the moment. That said, I would love to see Hunted on the big screen. And not just for the popcorn. I very much ‘saw’ it as a moving action piece while I was writing it, so it would be a lot of fun getting to see how it might actually look as a real film, not just one in my head.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I love getting feedback. Good and bad. No book is perfect and writing is a continual learning process. Hearing what people liked and what they don’t is a great help if you’re trying to make each book better than the last.
What I love most about modern social media is that the feedback you get can be a proper real time dialogue. You can learn an awful lot about what you’re doing right and wrong fast. Plus, I think readers are a lot more honest than your family and friends when it comes to feedback. They’re much more likely to tell you the truth.
As far as disruption goes, the internet can certainly eat into your writing time if you let it. What I find works is to set aside a part of your writing time for researching online or talking to other writers and readers etc, but for your actual writing time you’re better off making sure your access to the net is cut off. You’ll get a lot more actual writing done that way, I think.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

A: I wouldn’t really advise anyone to follow in another writer’s footsteps. Instead the one bit of writing advice I’d give anyone is to do your own thing. Write the kind of book you want to read, the kind that meshes with your interests, the kind that’ll fit your writing style, and most of all the kind you’re going to feel passionate about. Writing a novel is a pretty intense thing to do. It can be as knackering as it is fulfilling. And so you’ve got to have that passion and drive right there at the start in bucket loads to carry you through.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: My tip for making a perfect chilli. Always marinade the meat in lager for two to three hours before you cook it. Works every time. And here’s a photo of me coming a (valiant!) fourth in this years Brighton Fiery Food Chilli Eating Festival just to prove I do know what I’m talking about. (I’m the bald one on the left.)

You can follow Emlyn Rees on Twitter and learn more about Hunted here.

And for a chance to win one of two copies of Hunted, click here and complete the form. The competition will close on the 23rd January at 1pm.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

LGBT challenge - December winner

December is over and so is the LGBT reading challenge 2011... thank you ever so much for participating! I hope you have enjoyed reading, reviewing and sharing your thoughts!

So, for one last time, please follow this link and catch up with all latest reviews!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of Serpent's Tail, will receive a copy of Femmes of Power by Del LaGrace Volcano and Ulrika Dahlis is:

Juliet, who read and reviewed Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe and The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Erotica edited by Barbara Cardy.

"Italy in Books": December winner

December is over and so is the "Italy in Books" reading challenge 2011... thank you ever so much for participating!

I hope you have enjoyed reading, reviewing and sharing your thoughts! A few books made recurrent appearances and I like to think that this was because you were inspired by other people's reviews, in the true spirit of the reading challenge!

So, for one last time, please follow this link and catch up with all latest reviews!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of Peirene Press, will receive a copy of Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius is:

Juliet, who read and reviewed Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel and Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers.

Books through my lens #11

The distinctive colourful country names on a white background of Mondadori's travel guides conjure up images of distant places and fun-filled days. This picture was taken while on holiday in Italy - without one such guide. If you ever end up in Lido degli Estensi, I highly recommend the libreria Le Querce, which was like a mirage on a rainy November evening at the deserted seaside resort.