Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Fancy a good book and a good cup of tea?

To celebrate this once-every-four-years day, MacLehose Press and Sussex-based Pure Fresh Tea have teamed up to offer you the chance to win this gorgeous prize:

One lucky winner will soon be able to enjoy Jane Urquhart's latest novel, Sanctuary Line, while sipping one of the ten different varieties of organic tea included in this sample pack.

For more information on Pure Fresh Tea, please
click here, while to read a recent blog post by the Canadian author on Book After Book, please click here.

For a chance to win, please click here. The competition is open world-wide and will close on the 28th March at 1pm.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Charles Dickens Bicentenary

The 7th February 2012 marked the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth.

Organisations from all over the world are offering a rich programme of events, exhibitions and activities to commemorate this special anniversary.

To help you celebrate this Dickensian year in style, I am happy to give you the chance to win two sets of exquisitely clothbound Penguin Classics:

To win a copy of Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, accompanied by two sachets of delicious Pure Fresh Tea, please complete this form.

To win a copy of Oliver Twist, Hard Times and A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, accompanied by three sachets of delicious Pure Fresh Tea, please complete this form.

Both competition will close on 25th March and are open world-wide.

Good luck!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Event review: Vita and Virginia

The Iambic Arts Theatre is a little gem hidden away in the centre of Brighton’s North Laines. Bringing the public a selection of high quality plays, poetry and music events under the guidance of Artistic Director Emma D’Arcy, this month the theatre hosted Vita and Virginia: A love relationships in two acts, directed by Alison Grant.

Dramatized by actress and playwright Eileen Atkins, the show was originally produced by The Players Collective in Lewes in 2011 and, not surprisingly, it was performed to critical acclaim.

I knew that I was going to love the play even before the two actresses - Valerie Dent in the role of Virginia Woolf and Tamar K. Karpas in the role of Vita Sackville-West - recited their first lines. The attention to detail that was evident from the stage setting and the costumes could only be a sign of good things to come!

And so it was: from the very first words used by Tamar/Vita to describe her first impressions about Valerie/Virginia to their joint recital of a passage from Orlando at the end of the play, the audience was captured and taken on a journey made of witty remarks, joy, pain and inspiring conversations.

The two 45-minute-long acts explored the blossoming of the intimate correspondence and relationship between Vita and Virginia and - through their performance - the two actresses knocked down the four walls of the Iambic Arts Theatre and took the spectators from the Sussex countryside to Persia in a whirlwind of social events, intellectual musings and the writing of many famous works.

The dialogues were created using extracts from the letters and diaries of these two great women and they succeeded in cleverly portraying their love affair, both physical and literary, in such a delightful way that I wish the script was available in book form.

As Vita Sackville-West might say, I liked this play “a fabulous lot”!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Book review: The Brothers

Written by Asko Sahlberg
Translated by Fleur and Emily Jeremiah
Published by
Peirene Press

If you’re interested in contemporary European literature, you won’t want to miss The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg, published this month by Peirene Press as the first title in the Small Epic series.

Epic might sound like an overstatement when applied to a novel that is only 122 pages long but believe me when I tell you that, with its 8 narrative voices and a wide spectrum of human emotions, this description is indeed quite fitting.

The setting is a farm in Finland in 1809, where brothers Erik and Henrik have returned after fighting in the war between Sweden and Russia on opposing sides. Family tensions had pushed Henrik to leave his country and seek a new beginning in St. Petersburg but when he turns up at the farm unexpectedly it becomes clear that all those past matters are far from being a thing of the past.

As the Farmhand, one of the novel’s characters, declares at the very beginning of the book: The war has been waged, but here we may yet have corpses.

I had expected the pace of the novel to be stilted because of the frequent changes of narrator. The continuous switching of point of view, however, has the opposite result and makes the narration flow more easily and rapidly. Instead of a linear recounting of events, Sahlberg achieved a dynamic effect and readers keep being surprised by new revelations as each character adds a piece to the puzzle.

On top of this, what at first appears to be a simple story of rivalry between brothers turns out to be a deeper portrayal of the struggle between social classes.

All this in 122 pages of exquisite English. The mother and daughter translation team formed by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah has a lot to be proud of!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Kimberly Menozzi: It's ALL Research

When it comes to writing, there are certain axioms writers (and many readers) know very well. A particularly vexing one is this:

Write what you know.

Unfortunately, this phrase is open to interpretation as well as misunderstanding, so every writer's mileage may vary wildly. I confess that it plagued me for years and made it hard for me to get down to the nitty-gritty of what I wanted to write about.

"Write what you know."


Why did this trouble me so? It troubled me because I was a teenager when I first wanted to write for a living, and as such, I had lived a fairly "ordinary" life. Nothing exceptional had ever happened to me. If I wanted to write about the life of a rock-and-roll musician, this so-called logic dictated that I didn't know enough about it to do so. Nor could I write about being a mother (no kids), or being a sex object (soooo not me!) or a pilot, or anything else which came to mind.

I read the work of Hemingway (in school - Old Man and the Sea was the only book of his I ever read for pleasure and halfway enjoyed) and suffer inside. He'd traveled, fought as a soldier, run with the bulls; you know, he'd actually done stuff. While I didn't expect to have my books taught in schools the way his were, I didn't feel like I could ever meet that standard.

I wrote, though, letting my imagination carry me and my writing fulfill my daydreams. When I married the first time (too young, but that's another story), I kept writing and expanded the short stories I'd written for school. I continued to dream, and quietly longed for adventure so I'd have something worth writing.

I knew I had talent. I just needed something to write about.

I continued submitting my work to agents and publishers, and continued to rack up my rejections (so very many rejections!), never realizing my work wasn't up to par for one particular reason: I wasn't putting myself into the story. I don't mean literally writing a character who stood in for me in the story (that would be a 'Mary-Sue' and I was desperately trying to avoid that), but I wasn't digging deep enough into my own inner workings to give the reader something to identify with.

My life, just like anyone else's, took many, many unexpected turns: divorce, a new long-term relationship, moving across the US, the end of that relationship, another move which took me back to where I'd lived before splitting with my first husband. In the interim I dealt with a very real case of writer's block which lasted five years and managed to significantly derail any progress in my writing self-education. When I finally got back to writing, I finally recognized the lack of emotion in my work, and set about crafting stories which would touch on deeper points.

It wasn't easy. It didn't come naturally. It took ages of writing things I'd never show anyone else. It took crumpling up the paper and throwing it away, deleting the computer file, re-reading and realizing what had seemed so stunning on the first pass was really just a foundation to build on, then razing all the excess and building anew from the germ of an idea I'd started with in the first place.

Eventually I wrote something I wanted to share with everyone. I'd started mining my own wealth of emotional experience and putting it on the page, one way or another. A new novel developed which drew on memories from my life, which I tried my best to share as clearly and honestly as I could, while still giving the story to the main character. It was his story, after all, not mine.

Anyone who was willing to read this project was given a copy and asked for their opinion. I was pretty shameless in this regard, but it went over well enough to tell me I was finally on the right track, even if I hadn't quite reached the destination I had in mind. To my amazement, the story elicited honest-to-goodness tears in several readers, and compelled one very special reader in Italy to contact me and share his thoughts on the first pages.

That novel, as good as it seemed to be, hasn't yet been published. Reading it now I see only that it's a good, solid foundation to build on. I will, one day, but there's a lot of research I'll need to do first.

The thing is, I've come to realize that life itself is research. Every hobby I've ever had was research. Everything I've done in my life is research. Every day I spend living and breathing and feeling is research.

It's all research. My job now is to find the story to go with it.


Kimberly Menozzi has her own website and can be contacted via Facebook and Twitter too.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

In conversation with... Charles Lambert

Hello Charles! First of all, thank you for agreeing to answer my questions and congratulations on the publication of a new paperback edition of Any Human Face, whose cover I absolutely love! Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: It’s about a down-at-heel second-hand bookseller in Rome called Andrew Caruso, half-Italian, half-Scottish, who finds himself in trouble when he decides to organise an exhibition of photographs found among his dead lover’s belongings. It’s about how the photographs found their way into Andrew’s lover’s hands in the first place. It’s about the kidnap and imprisonment of a teenage girl. It’s about the way these three stories, and the people involved in them, connect. It’s also, although I didn’t fully realise this as I wrote it, about loneliness.

I’m glad you like the cover, by the way!

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page?

A: All I had was the central idea of the exhibition, which was loosely based on something that had happened to a bookseller I know in Rome. I wrote a post on my blog about the unexpected repercussions of a show he’d organised in his shop and one of my readers, a novelist called David Isaaks, suggested that I had the germ of a novel. After thinking about it for a few months, I realised that he was right. Everything else came as the book developed.

What kind of research did you need to carry out while you were writing? Did you complete all of it in advance so that you could then dive into the writing process undisturbed or was it more a research-as-you-go sort of process?

A: No, however much I might try to plan ahead and however much I might envy those writers who have their whole novel mapped out before they start, I find myself groping blindly between one moment of illumination and the next. For me, the writing process is precisely that – following the characters as they stumble a yard or two ahead of me into the murk, trailing a little light behind them. ‘Research-as-you-go’ is probably the nicest term I’ve come across for this process! I did though have some help from a good friend, Clarissa Botsford, who provided a wealth of procedural details and helped me avoid too much implausibility.

Any Human Face is a mysterious title. Did it come before or after the novel? Or perhaps it changed while the novel itself took form?

A: I read Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel, Gilead, while I was working on the first part of the novel, and the sentence that provided the title, and that I used as an epigraph for the novel, leapt out at me as being exactly what I wanted. (Fortunately, because this isn’t always the case, my agent and editor felt the same!) The way her words captured a sense both of the universal and of the particular chimed with my feelings about the ambivalence of police mug shots, which formed the heart of Andrew’s exhibition; I’m fascinated by how they exist to identify individuals and yet seem to mark those individuals out as criminal types in a sort of Lombrosian sense. Andrew finds his own identity subsumed by events in which who he actually is is of no importance to anyone. The epigraph also introduces the idea of loneliness which, as I said before, gradually emerged as one of the central themes of the novel. I love the title – its only downside is that’s been confused twice (both times by The Bookseller!) with William Boyd’s rather more well-known Any Human Heart...

The Daily Telegraph described your novel as “A beautifully written crime story that brings to life the Rome that tourists don’t see.” Given the fact that you live in Italy and you seem to have a gift to capture the kind of life that goes beyond the clichés, have there been any talks about a possible translation into Italian? Could it perhaps be something you’d like to try your hand at?

A: An interesting question (actually questions!). The answer to the first part is that no Italian publisher has shown any interest in buying the book so far. I’ve heard, though I’ve no idea how true this is, that Italian publishers are chary about books set in Italy and written by foreigners, out of a (misplaced, in my view) sense of protecting national identity and amour propre. There’s certainly a tendency in Italian journalism to give too much weight to the opinion of foreign journalists, particularly English language ones, which suggests an insecurity and anxiety about Italian culture generally among the people responsible for propagating it. On the other hand, it may be that they simply don’t like the book!

The answer to the second question is that I would never translate the book myself. I’m convinced that people should translate into their own languages, rather than out of them, and, although my Italian is more than adequate for everyday purposes, I’d far rather write something new in English than attempt to rewrite anything in Italian. Apart from anything else, I’d be tempted to start tinkering, so I’d end up with something that was neither an original work nor a translation. Besides, I already have my ideal translator in mind – Isabella Zani…

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: Any Human Face is actually the middle volume of a trilogy of novels set in Rome, dealing with the uses and misuses of power at various levels, and involving many of the same characters. Martin Frame, the retired journalist, for example, appears in all three. I’m hoping the other two volumes will be published before too long. At the moment, I’m working on a novel about grief, sentimentality, Paris, sibling rivalry, and I have no idea what else! (see above for details of my writing process…) I’ve also just completed a collection of short stories, entitled Sheet Music, which looks at the way people hurt each other in the name of love – two of these have already been published in anthologies by the admirable Fiction Desk and another some time ago by the Barcelona Review. And I have a shorter work, provisionally entitled With an O at its Heart and composed of exactly one hundred 120-word stories, which is the nearest I expect to come to writing an autobiography.

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 cope with them as well as I can, although my blogs have suffered in the past few months. I think, like most people, I find social networking a source of delight and frustration in more or less equal measure. I tend to see Facebook as a community, in my case of both readers and other writers, and Twitter as a sort of writing exercise, perhaps because I’m used to working in larger scales than that offered by 140 characters. If I were stronger willed and could turn my internet connection off, I’d almost certainly have written more, but more isn’t always better...and, of course, fewer people might be aware of what I actually do write. The fact that I live in Italy, of course, also makes social networking essential in a way it might not be if I were in the UK and able to meet my readers face to face. (Something I would very much like to do…)

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

A: It’s the answer most writers give. Read. Read. Read. Followed by the second most popular answer (which assumes you’ve actually written something). Cut. Cut. Cut. It can be the hardest thing to accept, but the bits you most love are often the bits that need to go. You can always make a special folder for them all, to be enjoyed privately...

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

A: I think you’ve covered everything!

Charles Lambert and his publisher, Picador, have generously offered four copies of Any Human Face for a giveaway. As usual, all you need to do is click here and fill in the form. The competition is open world-wide and will close on the 5th March at 1pm. Good luck!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Green Books: Sharing Books

Welcome back to the second in my series of blog posts about Green Books.

Anyone who reads a lot must be aware of the amount of paper that is used in making books! Whole forests (or more usually plantations) are cut down to produce our reading materials! Surely an issue of concern for anyone even remotely interested in the environment?

So how can we reduce this environmental impact? In this post I'll talk about sharing books and in the next post I'll look at what the publishing industry can do.

The public library is perhaps the best known form of large scale book sharing. The future of UK Public Libraries is currently threatened (details here) and they need our support! Libraries offer access to books for people who otherwise couldn't afford them and are a great way to find new writers. Writers whose books are borrowed through public libraries are supported through the Public Lending Rights Scheme.

Bookcrossing is a fun way to share books. This international website and real-life project revolves around people leaving books in public places for other people to find. Each book has its own unique number and can then (theoretically at least!) be tracked as it travels round the world! Just recently I had an email to say that a book that I left somewhere in Edinburgh six years ago had just made its way to Spain! Bookcrossing Meet-Ups offer a chance for booklovers to discuss books and to share them without the worry of them possibly disappearing without trace.

I often swap books with my Mum and with some of my friends, which always leads to good conversation even though we don't always agree about what we like and dislike!

These days there are a lot of good quality charity second hand bookshops in the UK. Although obviously not free they do offer a cheaper alternative to the high street bookstores (and often a better choice for those of us with eclectic reading tastes!). Quality of the books can vary and where a public library would get rid of books that are too battered some charity shops have no such concerns - but this can mean good bargains! There are of course also a good selection of second hand shops run on a business basis, including online.

So plenty of ideas there for sharing books to cut down on their carbon footprint (and to save a bit of money too!) Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section!

The next post will look at how the publishing industry can reduce its carbon footprint!

Crafty Green Poet

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Book review: The Devil’s Music

By Jane Rusbridge
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Nominated for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, The Devil’s Music is Jane Rusbridge’s debut novel.

The book opens with an informative glossary of knots and what follows is a story that, just like a knot, is made of different strands that come together by being separated. In fact, I believe that the essence of the novel is to be found right at the beginning of the book, in the following passage:

[…] waiting for me, is the new length of yarn-tarred hemp, its smell of salty, windswept miles. The dip and curve of the strands is thick as muscle. This is what gives rope its strength, the laying together of strands which have been twisted in opposite directions. Rope is bound together by the friction of its parts.

Andrew and her mother are the main strands forming this metaphorical knot and it is their voices that Jane Rusbridge chose to narrate this story. Two people, three voices.

At first we meet Andrew as, following the death of a father who never understood him, he returns to England. His sister Susie recruits his help to renovate ‘The Siding’, the family’s seaside retreat. This is the place that, in his eyes, changed their lives. His mind keeps going back to the traumatic episode that was a catalyst for this change and that is recounted by the second narrative voice, that of Andrew as a child.

The family dynamics that lead to the incident involving young Andrew and his younger disabled sister, Elaine, is however better understood through the voice of their mother. We learn about her abusive husband, her struggle to keep Elaine at home with her, her depression and the freedom that she glimpses when she meets - and falls in love with - a young painter.

Despite her story not being told in the first person, it feels more emotional and authentic than the two other strands of narration and I found myself looking forward to the chapters that portrayed her point of view.

Written with a careful choice of words - beautifully evocative of an era long gone - this is a novel that explores family ties and the meaning of memories. And memories, as two other novels taught me last year, are not always what they seem to be.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Competition time: I Will Have Vengeance

To celebrate to publication of I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio De Giovanni, here is a chance to win one of two copies of the book, courtesy of Hersilia Press.

All you need to do is click here and complete the form with your details. The competition is open to European readers and will close on the 8th March.

The synopsis:

Naples, March 1931: a bitter wind stalks the city’s streets, and murder lies at its chilled heart. As one of the world’s greatest tenors, Maestro Vezzi, is found brutally murdered in his dressing room at Naples’ famous San Carlo Theatre, the enigmatic and aloof Commissario Ricciardi is called in to investigate. Arrogant and bad-tempered, Vezzi was hated by many, but with the livelihoods of the opera at stake, who would have committed this callous act? Ricciardi, along with his loyal colleague, Maione, is determined to discover the truth. But Ricciardi carries his own secret: will it help him solve this murder?

On the publisher's website you can also download the first chapter of the book and access a variety of reviews and interviews with the author.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Books through my lens #14

Brighton's Jubilee Library helps celebrate LGBT History Month 2012! For more information on events etc., please click here.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The people behind the books - Q&A

Interviewed this month is Joe Pickering, publicist at Penguin Books UK, whom you can also follow on Twitter.

Q: Hello Joe! First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to answer my questions! You are a publicity manager for Penguin. Which imprints do you work on and do you have a favourite?

A: I work for the division of Penguin called Penguin General, which comprises the imprints Hamish Hamilton, Fig Tree, Viking & Penguin Ireland. I work across all four imprints but Hamish and Viking the most. I couldn't really pick a favourite: it's more book-to-book and all four publish ones I've loved.

Q: Can you briefly describe what you do on a typical day? Is there a particular activity that you especially look forward to?

A: Get in, turn my computer on, get a coffee, go through emails that have come in overnight and/or reminders I've set myself. Usually I'll have a particular book campaign or two in mind that I want to concentrate on that day: send out pitches, set up events, think of feature ideas, who to contact about radio, bloggers, etc. Emails come in all the time though about various things; some can be left but others require immediate attention. Every day requires a lot of multi-tasking and prioritising – and discipline with my time.

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

A: I worked at Waterstone's Brighton while at university then transferred to the Leadenhall Market branch in London when I moved back here after I finished my studies. I worked there for just over a year and a half. It was a store that held a lot of events and when I decided it was time to move on and I needed to change what I was doing, the events manager very helpfully put me in touch with a publicist at Random House; she put me through to the Assistant who had an opening for a work experience placement the following week. I was there for three weeks and two weeks at Random House and during that time a job as Publicity Assistant at Simon & Schuster came up, which I got. Most people seem to start off doing work experience, it seems, and you're fortunate if a position comes up in that time.

Q: I imagine that you attend festivals and literary happenings around the country to promote your authors. What is your favourite event and why?

A: I love Edinburgh Book Festival: it's very friendly, a great city and is happening at the same time as the comedy and arts festival so there's a lot to do. I really enjoy events at Topping & Co and Mr B's in Bath: wonderful bookshops and lovely, friendly staff. Events like Book Slam and The Book Stops Here in London are great: they have a great feel to them as they tend to be in places that aren't particularly 'bookish'.

Q: You worked with authors such as Nick Hornby and Mohsin Hamid. I wonder: do you ever get star-struck? Is there any writer that you’d love to work with?

A: I think when I first met Nick Hornby I was aware how famous he is but, more often than not, I've dealt with them over email before I've met them so have a feel for what they'll be like. This year I'm working with John Banville and Zadie Smith and I am quite aware that they're extremely well-known and respected.

I'd love to work with Tobias Wolff, if for no other reason than that I just love his work and think it would be a pleasure to promote.

Q: What is the publicity campaign that, so far, you have been most proud to be a part of?

A: My one for David Vann's Legend of a Suicide. That book came from nowhere and knocked me sideways and I was convinced it would have the same affect on others. In short, I think I helped kick-start the writing career of someone who should go on to write lots and lots of good books and I genuinely believe Legend of a Suicide will in the future be regarded as a classic. It's a nice thing to have been a part of.

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

A: I'll say right away that there will be lots of books from other publishers that I'm sure will be great. Granta, for instance, are bringing out Denis Johnson's sensation Jesus' Son, an outright American classic that's been inexplicably out of print in the UK for many years. That's one of the best books I've ever read and everyone with any interest in good literature should read it.

From us there are lots I've enjoyed but for the sake of keeping it succinct I'll pick out four:
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The Apartment by Greg Baxter
The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
Ancient Light by John Banville

These are very different but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any to someone looking for something new to read.

Q: Thank you for your time!

A: Thanks for the questions!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Book review: A New History of Italian Renaissance Art

By Stephen Campbell and Michael Cole
Published by Thames and Hudson

If you are looking for a book about Italian Renaissance art you will have a tough time choosing from the countless tomes that have been published on the subject. If you are looking for a book with gorgeous illustrations and an approach that will appeal to both students and non-specialist readers, you don’t have to look any further.

With the Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci gracing its cover, this newly published hardback is one not to miss.

The history of Italian Renaissance art – from the traditions of the Fourteenth century to the trends of the Seventeenth century – is explored chronologically in conveniently divided chapters. From painting and sculpture to architecture and decorative arts, Professors Stephen Campbell and Michael Cole place the artists and their works in a well-explained geographical and historical context.

The book also includes all those tools that you’d expect from a first-class reference book: glossary of terms, a comprehensive bibliography, a list of recommended reading and a very useful index, which I have already used to create a personalised Renaissance tour on paper of all my favourite Italian cities.

A New History of Italian Renaissance Art doesn’t simply aim to be an indispensable resource when it comes to this particular artistic era. It makes you feel a part of it!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Chris Womersley on writing Bereft

Inspiration is a curious concept and when it comes to the writing of a novel it is, at least for me, not a singular thing. The etymology of the word ‘inspiration’ harks back to notions of inhaling something from without - a spiritual influence, a divine force. For those of us who are queasy about notions of divine visitation (how would God taste, after all?), it is still useful to think of such matters in this way, for it relieves us of the burden of genius. After all, a preparedness to fail is perhaps one of the writer’s most essential qualities; it’s always handy to have someone to blame for a lousy reception - as long as you’re also willing to share the credit should things go well.

For me there is rarely a single moment of inspiration but, rather, a series of small insights that coalesce over several months – sometimes years - into a bunch of characters living in a particular time and place, each of them with their own set of problems. These characters, the setting and their problems must be out of the ordinary, make me sit up and pay attention. After all, they have to intrigue me enough to want to spend several years of my life with them.

Novels emerge over time and for me the process is better likened to an archaeological dig more than anything. It begins with a feeling, a sense of something interesting beneath the ground. Activity is sparked by the discovery of a couple of shards that suggest to me that there might be a story somewhere beneath the surface: a character trait; a manner of walking; the image of an abandoned house I cannot shake; a tantalising what-if.

What if a man were to meet a young girl he came to believe was the ghost of his murdered sister? A time of great loss, right after World War I. During the Spanish flu pandemic, perhaps? There is a sense, for some, that the end of the world is at hand. A London séance? The man’s name is Quinn. He is injured, lonely, grief-stricken. She is wild, sassy, superstitious. Her name is always present, intrinsic to her character. She is called Sadie Fox. Each of them finds in the other a quality they themselves lack, as well as an aspect of someone they have lost. There is justice yet to be served.

Thus the premise for my novel Bereft was born several years ago.

But that, of course, is merely the beginning of having a novel ready for publication. What follows is, for me, a rather arduous process of trial and error, of poking around in the tunnels beneath the ground in search of useful trinkets, scraps of dialogue, of seams of meaning from which I can hopefully construct a narrative of sorts. There are moments of easy digging, when the way ahead seems obvious and certain. At other stages the ground is impossibly compact and defies progress, in which instance I might have to double back and seek a new direction. Sometimes the tunnels cannot hold and entire byways are closed down. I’m not a writer who is able to plan out a novel in advance, aside from the roughest of sketches. I have a sense of certain scenes, an ambience in which I wish the action to occur, the response I am seeking to evoke in a reader.

And, if I am lucky I can emerge after a few years from my various tunnels, having assembled the disparate shards into something with a compelling narrative, an urgency to the lives of my characters and – most important of all – a story that makes the reader desperate to turn the page.

Then I just have to write another one. Which reminds me … I’ve been thinking of a young man new to a city, a million-dollar art forgery scam, some charismatic criminals, a place called Cairo.

Inhale, exhale.


For a chance to win a copy of Bereft by Chris Womersley, please click here and fill in the form. The competition will close on the 15th March.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

In conversation with... Liz Fielding

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

A: Thanks so much for inviting me to visit with you…… Flirting With Italian is Sarah Gratton’s story. She’s just broken up with her fiancé (he fell in love with someone else) and is picking up her life pretty much back where she was when she first graduated as a teacher. Starting over with ambitions she’d put on hold. Since travelling was top of the list she takes a job teaching at an international school in Rome. While she’s in Italy, she’s eager to find out what happened to the woman who saved her great-grandfather’s life during the war.

With Valentine’s day approaching, Flirting with Italian sounds like the perfect book to think about romance. Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page?

A: I’m a punster rather than a plotter. My inspiration for this book came from hunting for my ancestors on Genes Reunited. I knew who my heroine was, knew she was going to Rome to find out what had happened to the woman who had saved her great-grandfather’s life during the war. But that wasn’t enough to sustain the story. She had to be doing something for herself. It was her great-grandfather – a feisty old guy – who suggested she needed a just-for-fun affair with a hot Italian lover to blow away the cobwebs of her lost love. Something to make her smile when she was old. The story grew from that.

You’re an established published writer: was this your dream while growing up? How did your first book deal come about?

A: I always wanted to write. As a kid I’d watch some great drama on the television and then go away and try to write something like it. Big ambitions, but sadly usually only a page or two to show for it. The dream didn’t go away, however, and eventually I started writing children’s stories for the BBC’s Listen With Mother, children’s picture papers and articles for magazines, but the book still called. It was an article about Charlotte Lamb and Anne Hampson in a national newspaper that drew me to romance and I knew I’d found my natural home.

Regardless of which of your previous novels won you the most awards (and you did win a lot!), is there any one in particular that are you fonder of?

A: As I look along the shelf, each of my books brings a little leap of pleasure, a warm memory about a hero or heroine I’ve particularly loved, but I have to say that of all of them I still want to just hug Matty Lang, the heroine of The Marriage Miracle.

She had made an appearance in an earlier book and nearly stole the show. I had to promise her a book of her own to make her behave, but honestly, I did not want to go there. I took me three years (and Matty’s continual nagging) before I found the courage to tackle a story I knew was going to stretch me until it hurt. She rewarded me with one of those very special, once in a lifetime books and earned herself a Rita® into the bargain. She also taught me a valuable lesson. To be fearless in my writing.

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: I’m just starting on the second story in what I hope will be a trilogy about the Amery sisters and their ice cream business Scoop!. Elle’s story, Tempted By Trouble, was published last year. Next up is Sorrel Amery – the sister who is going to be a millionaire by the time she’s twenty-five. She’s done her homework, knows all the moves and it’s all going swimmingly, but then someone throws a rock in the machine.

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: It’s very easy to let FB, tweeting and chasing around the blogosphere eat into your writing day. I’ve just bought myself a timer to remind myself that half an hour is the limit. There is no point in having a great internet presence, everyone knowing your name, if you don’t get the books written.

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

A: Just one? Write from the heart. Write what you want to read. Be honest. It will shine through.

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

A: I have just distilled the essence of what I’ve learned in twenty years of publication into Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance. It’s a hand in the dark for the aspiring writer, the book I wish I’d had when I started writing fiction. It would have saved me a lot of time.

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

And for a chance to win a copy of Flirting with Italian, click
here and complete the form. The competition will close on the 20th February at 1pm.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Book review: The Two Week Wait

By Sarah Rayner
Published by Picador

I read One Moment, One Morning, the novel that brought Sarah Rayner into the spotlight, over two years ago and I still praise and recommend it at any given occasion. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity of reading an early copy of her latest novel, The Two Week Wait.

Like its predecessor, The Two Week Wait focuses on important – and often controversial – issues: motherhood and infertility. And – now as before – Sarah Rayner excels at dealing with such personal matters with compassion and understanding.

In Yorkshire, Cath and Rich are married and want to build a family. After two years spent fighting cancer, Cath is now healthy but, as a consequence of the illness, she can’t have children. In Brighton, Lou and Adam are both gay, single and wanting a child.

For different reasons, time is running out for these four adults to fulfil their desire and create a new life. Thanks to the advances in fertility treatments, however, they are in a position to help each other through the egg-sharing plan offered by a London clinic.

That is how, without even meeting in person (which, by the way, was a great choice to avoid getting over-sentimental), the two couples of would-be parents set out on a parallel journey of hope and faith, which culminates in the two week wait of the title. This is the decisive period that follows the embryo transfer and that will confirm whether a woman is pregnant or not.

Regardless of how things turn out for Cath, Rich, Lou and Adam – I’m not going to spoil the surprise! – The Two Week Wait is a well-researched novel that has a lot to teach. And I’m not only referring to the concepts of IVF, egg sharing etc. Through characters such as Cath’s sister-in-law and Lou’s mother and sister, Sarah Rayner tackles the scepticism and criticism that are far from being uncommon where fertility treatments are concerned.

If you’ve read One Moment, One Morning, this novel will feel like meeting old friends. If you haven’t, you have two whole novels to discover and enjoy. In both cases, you’re in for a treat!