Hi everyone, I have opened a new blog to mark my new direction. It goes live on Sunday 25 September, so if you would like to keep following me you can find the new blog here.
A wise person once said to me that one day I would have to give up book blogging and they were right, it’s time to stop.
I originally began my blog because I wanted to learn more about social media as I could see it would become more prevalent in my working life. As my passion has always been reading I began a book blog specialising in highlighting debut authors and those who hadn’t risen to prominence yet. This has evolved over the years and I’ve had the pleasure of highlighting the work of many authors before their stars rose.
The bonus of my blogging experience has been meeting many of my favourite authors, agents, publishers, publicists, blog readers and book bloggers, many of whom I’m proud to call friends. Many personal dreams have come true too, from running my own book club to being quoted in praise pages of novels and the marvellous scary moment I found myself sitting on a stage at the Brighton Festival talking about what makes a book worth publishing.
However, the whole time I was battling increasing ill-health up until February 2015, which was when I learned that I had multiple rare allergies. There were times at the height of my illness when I thought that one day I wouldn’t wake up from what I now know to be anaphylaxis.
Fortunately I’m a reader, and my natural instinct was to turn to the written word to find everything I needed to know in order to manage my health condition once my allergies were confirmed, which has worked out well for me so far, but it is a balancing act as two of my particular allergies are in almost everything in one form or another, including the vast majority of medicines. Even homeopathy isn’t an option for me.
Facing your own mortality makes you appreciate time in a new way. You understand how limited it is, how quickly life can be extinguished and you start thinking about what actually matters to you.
I reprioritised. I slowed down the book blogging just as my job began to evolve and change at an escalating pace, and I ended up winning a couple of awards at work that mean a lot to me. I also signed up to a six week writing course with local author Megan Taylor and that led to being shortlisted in a writing competition, which was unexpected and encouraging.
Then time slipped away again because when you run a book blog you spend time highlighting other people’s creativity and the enjoyment you have received from it, but you lose the time to be creative yourself.
That’s what occurred to me as my hand hovered over a pack of sketching pencils in the St Ives post office. My first thought was how can I fit sketching in once I return home? And I realised then that by putting everyone else’s needs first I was losing an essential part of myself.
I have now reached a stage in my life where something has to give because I can’t do everything, much as I’d like to, if I want to explore my own creative impulses, which is why my wise friend said that one day I may have to stop book blogging.
Thank you all for your support to date, it has meant more to me than you will ever know.
As I learned at the Edinburgh Book Festival, sometimes you have to step out of established roles in order to flourish.
Thank you for reading,
I was reminded of The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan as I read We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed by Fire by Jules Grant, as she has a similar ability to authentically capture the voice of those caught up in a culture of drugs and violence.
Donna is the lesbian leader of the all-female Bronte Close Gang in Manchester, and Carla, single parent of Aurora and part-time MC, is her best friend and second-in-command.
The reader is thrown straight into the action from the start as Donna describes everything she sees, hears and feels in blunt brutal terms. She is aggressively sexual, taking what she wants when she wants it, mainly because she can’t have the love that she truly desires.
The Bronte Street Gang has organised a unique operation that works well for them in a male dominated world. However, should a male gang member make the mistake of entering their territory without permission Carla soon teaches them a lesson they will never forget, as she has a violent streak that leans towards maximum humiliation of her victims. As long as each gang respects their mutual boundaries they generally rub along but beneath the surface resentments are bubbling, and when Carla is suddenly gunned down everything changes.
The novel alternates between the present to the past, where the complex reasons for Donna’s attitude to life are revealed and you begin to appreciate that this young woman has never really had a chance in life. Reasons that go a long way towards explaining why Donna is determined to avenge Carla’s murder and break the behavioural pattern that has haunted her life in order to save her god-daughter, Aurora, from the same fate, no matter what it costs her personally.
We also see the story unfold from Aurora’s perspective, a street-wise child who has learned how to pipe up and when to shut up due to what she has witnessed so far in her short complicated life.
The voice created for Donna is powerful, authentic and full of the rage that comes from profound grief, it leaps off the page. There is a core of truth in her edgy expressive descriptions of emotional suffering within the grim gang culture and what it takes to survive. Honest, heart-breaking and violently raw Donna’s story is not one that will be easily forgotten, and nor should it be.
Published by Myriad Editions. With thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
If you like the sound of this novel you may like the sound of another two books by Myriad Editions.
Men Like Air by Tom Connolly
Due to be published on 22 September 2016
It is April in Manhattan and the destinies of four very different men are about to collide. Nineteen-year-old Finn has just arrived in the city with his irrepressible and volatile girlfriend, Dilly, determined to even the score with his older brother Jack for abandoning him in the UK in the aftermath of their parents’ deaths. Across town, successful gallery owner Leo Emerson is haunted by loneliness, unsettled by the contrast between his life and that of his brother-in-law and oldest friend William, who is enviably contented in his faith and his marriage.
When Finn wanders into Leo’s gallery, a series of unexpected and interconnected events unfold, changing the lives of all four men, for better or worse. Leo and William’s settled existences are overturned by events outside of their control, while Jack and Finn’s complex relationship reaches its long overdue showdown.
Beautifully orchestrated and richly comic, Men Like Air explores the romance and solitude of cosmopolitan life, the transformative power of art, and the impact we have on one another’s lives – and what happens when the ties that bind us are tested or broken. It is an intense and uplifting story of growth and renewal, mapping the complex workings of the human heart across the streets of New York City.
Tom Connolly is also the author of The Spider Truces.
Noon in Paris, Eight in Chicago by Douglas Cowie
Chicago, 1947: on a freezing February night, France’s feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir calls up radical resident novelist Nelson Algren, asking him to show her around. After a whirlwind tour of dive bars, cabarets and the police lockup, the pair return to his apartment on Wabansia Avenue. Here, a passion is sparked that will last for the next two decades.
Their relationship intensifies during intoxicating months spent together in Paris and Chicago. But in between are long, anguished periods apart filled with competing desires – lovers old and new, writing, politics, gambling – which ultimately expose the fragility of their unconventional ‘marriage’ and put their devotion to the test.
Published by Myriad in May 2016.
All the books are available to order direct from the Myriad Editions website.
I’ve just returned from a few wonderful days at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I think I picked the right year to go as many of the talks were truly inspirational and also put me back in touch with things that I’d forgotten, things that can have a positive impact on your day to day life.
I really enjoyed learning about the different techniques that many writers employ in order to write a novel. All the author talks reinforced that there is no set pattern, that each writer has to find their own way from the beginning to the end of the process, and that it is a hard slog, especially for those who strive to reach a particular standard of writing, but a worthwhile one.
Author Simon Van Booy said that he would have given writing up long ago if he didn’t have this obsession to get a sentence right. I have to say that the obsession shows in the quality of his writing, as reading The Illusion of Separateness was like listening to a symphony of words for me. I told him that I’d never realised what was possible within a sentence until I read his work as he signed my copy of his new novel Father’s Day.
Simon was on stage with author Kit De Waal (author of My Name is Leon) and both authors have used their success to create writing opportunities for others. Simon founded Writers for Children in 2013, a project which helps young people build confidence in their literary abilities through annual writing awards. Kit has created the Kit de Waal Scholarship, which is a fully funded scholarship opportunity for a budding writer to hone their skills at Birkbeck, University of London. She revealed that one of the first recipients is a young boxer who used to hide his poems in his boxing gloves. I found Kit’s talk enlightening as she highlighted the good work that many social workers are doing in challenging circumstances but which often goes unrecognised.
Author Benjamin Johncock explained how he writes with pencil and paper, line by line, perfecting each one before moving on to the next, and as he said this the whole construct of his novel fell into place for me. The Last Pilot took Benjamin six years to write but there’s a stunning evocative fluidity to the writing that demonstrates just how much care he took. It was also fascinating to hear how Judith Claire Mitchell had written A Reunion of Ghosts, which despite dealing with the emotive topic of suicide is also surprisingly funny. One of the sections she read out was a fantastic word play around the word ‘then’.
If you’re editing, you need to deconstruct. Take your work apart and you’ll know which pieces to leave on the floor.
It was also an absolute joy to listen to authors read their new novels along with personal insights that fed into their work. Author Donal Ryan’s new novel All We Shall Know (published 15 September) features Irish Travellers and when Donal was asked if he knew any he told a story of one encounter with them. A Traveller had come to the family house and his mum had donated the scarf his sister had made to them, but the scarf was part of a project for school so he had to go and get it back. This led to him sitting round a fire being told hair-raising and fascinating Traveller tales while trying to negotiate the return of his sister’s scarf. Donal made it sound like such a craic, his voice bubbles with Irish wit as does his writing, which is also filled with beauty, truth and compassion.
I also enjoyed the reading by Philip Hensher, as he has a dry wit and an ability to bring colourful characters vividly to life with just a few words. I’ve never read his work before so I corrected that after the reading and bought Tales of Persuasion. One of his writing tips was to write a pastiche of a well known story or novel to liberate the imagination and free it of constraints.
Joanna Cannon’s reading from The Trouble With Goats and Sheep showcased her natural sense of pace, ear for dialogue and how the actions of characters can evoke a powerful sense of place and time. Ywenande Omotoso, author of The Woman Next Door, also has a similar gift. Both writers were fascinating as they explained how they wrote their books and created the characters within them, characters that were so well drawn they were instantly recognisable, ensuring you immediately understood the underlying tensions within each story.
Joanna also shared some personal experiences during the NHS Debate which generated empathy for the struggles of young doctors and the medical profession in general, where empathy can sometimes be lacking both towards themselves and their patients due to certain constraints and expectations.
There was a lot of discussion around mindfulness during the NHS Debate and the positive proven neurological benefits it can have. This was also highlighted in the talk by Dr James R. Doty who has written a wonderful book called Into the Magic Shop, which I read from cover to cover the day before his talk, nodding in recognition at key passages.
James explains how as a child he had an alcoholic dad who vanished regularly and a mother with mental health issues, and how he felt shame and fear on an almost daily basis due to the lack of money and his parents instability, until the day he walked into a magic shop to buy a product to do a trick and was invited to learn about a magic trick that could change his life.
If we focus on healing wounds of the heart, society will change.
Dr James R Doty
That magic trick was mindfulness and was the start of a life-changing journey, one that led him to become one of the most well respected neurosurgeons in the world. This was by far the most inspiring talk I attended, as I have personal experience of how well mindfulness can work. I was pleased to hear about the Global Compassion Initiative, which is a new Initiative between the Global Health Academy and the Stanford Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, as I believe they are moving in the right direction.
I was also moved by Philippe Sands QC, author of East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, who said: “Individuals can make a difference in relation to the big issues of the day.” His journey of self-discovery was not dissimilar to Dr James R. Doty’s in many ways, it all comes back to mindfulness, being aware of the suffering of others and feeling compelled to do something about it. Sometimes the tiniest gesture can have a big impact.
During the many talks I attended I learned how Shakepeare’s First Folio was a coveted status symbol when it was first published. During the fascinating talk by Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare studies, it soon became clear that people have not changed much in the way that they personalise books by their favourite writers by making annotations and corrections in the margins, or in marking them in someway to denote ownership and status. Like when you have your books signed by authors, as I have done above. I remember feeling inordinately pleased when Donal Ryan added the date and venue, as this kind gesture will anchor my happy memory of hearing him read in this time and place.
I also loved learning about the origins of democracy in Democracy: A Life by Paul Cartledge and how Shakespeare’s ideas are relevant today in a time of globalisation during Professor Richard Wilson’s passionate and engaging talk about his new book Worldly Shakespeare.
The strength of the Edinburgh Book Festival is in how the sheer diversity of speakers and talks available can open your mind to new ways of thinking and of being. I picked the right year to go as the whole experience was illuminating, even as I sat with friends, both old and new, appreciating how everyone I came into contact with, or simply listened to, was adding to my life in some way.
I thank you all for that.
The option to make a change in your life is the very definition of freedom. It’s about not being put in your place.
The following three books have been sent on spec and the last one has been sent as gift from an aunt.
Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica. I haven’t read The Good Girl so this will be interesting. Thanks Harper Collins.
City of Thorns by Ben Lawrence. It seems wrong to say that I’m looking forward to reading this one, but I know this book will move me and open my eyes. Thanks Portobello Books.
Pendulum by Adam Hamdy. I believe there was a bit of a buzz circulating around this novel at the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival this year. Thanks Headline.
Dead Gone by Luca Veste is a present from one of my aunts, I’d say she has good taste in thrillers, don’t you agree?
Have you read any of these books or would you like to read them? Click the links above to find out more and please share your thoughts.
I’ve just returned from two weeks in beautiful St. Ives in Cornwall. The view from the train from St. Erth to St. Ives is spectacular and overlooks Porthminster beach (pictured above). I walked from one end of the town to the other and explored most of the streets, nooks and crannies during my holiday.
I also explored a lot of art galleries everywhere I went in Cornwall, from St. Ives to Boscastle. I fell in love with the sculpture of Icarus by Philip Wakeham in the Penwith Gallery in St. Ives, I walked around it for ages trying to embed it in my memory as there isn’t an image online that does this sculpture justice. I also liked the work of Andrew Strange, Carol Cruickshank, Jan Phethean and Jackie Gale which is currently on display in the Crypt Gallery, St. Ives, and Helen Setterington’s work also caught my eye in The Old Forge Gallery in Boscastle. I was so inspired I found myself standing in the Post Office in St. Ives one day contemplating buying drawing pencils and paper and I haven’t sketched for ages.
My favourite place was the St. Nicholas Chapel on the Island in St. Ives.
A sense of peace fell over me as soon as I stepped out of the car park and onto the path to the Chapel. All you can hear is the waves crashing against the rocks below and the birds calling to one another as they soar above the Island, as the hustle and bustle that takes over the centre of St. Ives from 10.30am-5pm each day falls away. Benches are dotted all over the Island so you can sit and enjoy the view, which is stunning. If you want to have the Island virtually to yourself, go up on a sunny day when everyone else is heading to the beaches. This was a tip I received from, William, one of the volunteers who looks after the Chapel.
My second favourite place was the Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden.
I went there on the only day that the weather was a bit drizzly, first thing in the morning. It was fascinating to see Hepworth’s workshop and all the tools that she used to create her sculptures. Her work is showcased in the enclosed garden and there’s a real sense of creative energy there, as her work complements and reflects the nature surrounding it.
My third favourite place was Olives Cafe which is hidden up the back streets near The Loft bar and the entrance to the Island.
Great staff and delicious preservative free cakes served in generous portions. They’re also a popular destination for cream teas I noticed. Cornerways Guest House, where the author Daphne Du Maurier stayed in the 1940s, is close to Olives Cafe.
My best ice cream experience was at Moomaids of Zennor on the Harbour.
They do a dark chocolate sorbet that will make your tastebuds sing with pleasure. I only had it the once but I’ll always remember the experience.
My best scone experience was from the St. Ives Bakery, where you can buy them for just 50 pence each.
This was also a popular destination for freshly baked Cornish pasties. Unfortunately due the nature of my allergies I couldn’t have any of the fudge, rock, sweets, pasties, fish and chips or eat out in any of the restaurants but if my situation was different there were loads of places I would have loved to have tried. (I know, absolute torture to be in Cornwall and not to be able to have most of the treats the area is famous for, not even the jam on the cream tea, I used fresh sliced peeled pears instead which I have to say is a winning combination).
I did have the Scotch breakfast once in Scoff Troff though, the eggs were fantastic, a rich buttery yellow and you’ll receive great service in there. Their creative menu is inspired by their travels around the world. The Yellow Canary Cafe is also a great place to eat and for coffee. I met author Liz Fenwick in there early one Saturday morning and we chatted about writing and the new book she’s working on, which sounds great. (Thanks for the writing tips, Liz!). I bought free range chicken from Harvey Bros, the local butchers, again great service with a smile and a bit of banter. The local greengrocers were also well stocked with the handful of fruits and vegetables I can tolerate and I bought free range eggs and Cornish butter from The Allotment Deli in St Ives.
My best experience overall was seeing Nicholas Nickleby, Part 1 at the world famous open air Minack Theatre one night.
I booked the trip through Oates Travel, along with a trip to the Eden Project and a third trip which covered Jamaica Inn (has to be done if you’re a fan of Daphne Du Maurier, you can also learn about the history of smuggling and if you stay overnight be prepared for some mysterious bumps in the night), Tintagel (King Arthur country) and Boscastle (where novelist and poet Thomas Hardy met his first wife, Emma, in 1840 and where there’s a fascinating Museum of Witchcraft and Magic).
It was magical to sit on the stone steps of Minack Theatre surrounded by the sea and stars while watching such an entertaining performance. At one stage there was a play within a play when Nicholas Nickelby ends up joining a theatre company which was putting on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Major liberties were taken with the plot and there were frequent Acorn Antiques style missed cues, it was one of the funniest productions I’ve ever seen on stage, I was in stitches. When the play within a play ended though the whole cast came together to sing in harmony and it was one of those unforgettable beautiful moments that makes all the hairs of your arms stand on end. Well worth every penny.
If you do go to the Minack Theatre I advise taking a blanket and wearing layers as it can get quite chilly when night falls. I wasn’t that sensible (although I was wearing layers) and was fortunate to meet a lovely lady on the coach who shared her blanket and flask of coffee with me. You can hire seat pads with back rests for £1 and drinks and food are available to buy, plus there’s a gift shop on site.
I’d read The Many by Wyl Menmuir on the train to St. Ives and was so moved by it I read it again later that week. Obviously being a bookworm I headed straight for the St. Ives Bookseller on my first day.
I’ve never seen such a wide range of books packed into such a compact space. They have books to suit all tastes and there seems to be a more literary and contemporary readership locally going by the books on the main display table. I ended up buying six, three as gifts which I posted while I was there (fast delivery too from the local post office). Two copies of In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings were sent off to aunts, basically because if you can’t get to St. Ives and want to know what it’s like this psychological thriller depicts the beauty of the place (read my review here).
For myself I bought Under A Cornish Sky by Liz Fenwick (before I was invited for coffee, you can read my review here) and The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson. I genuinely did feel a buzz of excitement when I walked in a few days later and spotted To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey on the display table and immediately bought it. I read Eowyn’s book on the train journey home and I was completely hooked. The novel is fascinating and a review will follow soon.
While on hols I also read The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, which was an unforgettable experience that also moved me to tears, the new novel Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes, a gripping psychological thriller, and The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, which is full of the kind of truths that shake you up in recognition, a great recommendation from @WaterstonesNG on Twitter. I read Death and the Seaside by Alison Moore on the Island, which was such an immersive reading experience I soon forgot to look at the spectacular view. Then I picked up a copy of The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier at Jamaica Inn and proceeded to read most of it on the journey between stops during the day.
Craft fairs, second hand goods, antique fairs and farmer’s markets were frequently held at the Guild’s Hall, which is seconds away from the apartment I was staying in.
I bought a lovely scarf and learned my purchase would be supporting Circle Home Children’s Centre in Pokhara, Nepal and I bought a little silver cockle shell pendant from Natural Silver, which is wild jewellery cast from natural objects, to remind me of my trip to St. Ives. I treated family members to local fudge, sticks of rock and chocolate from I Should Coco, where you can eat Poldark’s face as it’s currently adorning slabs of chocolate due to the popularity of the BBC TV series based on Winston Graham’s novels.
I visited every beach in St. Ives but spent the most time on Porthminster Beach (that for me is one to two hours at a time before I seek shade).
The children’s entertainment team on the beach were fantastic, energetic and full of fun. All the kids I saw with the team were having a fabulous time. Dogs are also welcome in St. Ives, many of the shopkeepers leave bowls of water outside for them. I just loved the look of sheer joy on the faces of the dogs as they tore across the beaches and splashed about in the sea, I think they were even happier than the kids!
I stayed at Apartment 6, Customs House, St. Ives, which I booked via Trip Advisor.
It’s a great one bedroomed apartment in a Grade II listed building which had everything I needed, including a thoughtful welcome pack and a really comfortable bed, plus it was only two minutes walk away from the sea. The owner also supplied a pack with things to see and do in the local area, complete with discount offers and a local bus timetable which made it easy to explore as much of Cornwall as you wanted to. The Tate St. Ives wasn’t open this year, so there’s that and the annual St. Ives September Festival, which sounds wonderful, plus many other attractions to tempt me back at some point in the future.
Photos from the Eden Project: Possibly not the best place to visit with my particular set of rare IgE allergies and intolerances, the three primary ones being corn in its multitude of forms, spices, basically the only exception to this IgE allergy is vanilla consumed in small doses, and salicylate intolerance. I only visited the rainforest biome for a short time before I started reacting and had to give up and leave it. The Eden Project is very well organised though and there’s plenty for visitors to see and do, both inside and outside the domes.
Photos from Tintagel, where there’s a wonderful old Post Office that’s a medieval half-house. I loved the garden, it contains a wishing well and has that same peaceful feeling I experienced on the Island.
Photos from Jamaica Inn, which was a brief visit. You can view the Daphne Du Maurier room where you can see the typewriter she is said to have used to write Jamaica Inn, which was her first commercially successful novel. There’s also a fascinating Smugglers museum, a gift shop, a farm shop, restaurant, bars and accommodation. The place is huge.
Photos from Boscastle, which was severely flooded in 2004. I have to say that standing there you can feel how scary and isolating that experience must have been, but to look at the place now you would not know that it was nearly destroyed twelve years ago. Boscastle has beautiful tea rooms, lovely walks, shops, art galleries and a Museum of Witchcraft and Magic which covers a lot of fascinating history. I also bought the local mag – the Boscastle Blowhole – while I was there.
I took all the photos above on my iPhone 5S.
As you can see the weather was glorious for most of my trip. I hope you’ve enjoyed my report of my holiday to St. Ives and that it inspires you to explore Cornwall. Have you been and have you got any tips to share with future travellers to Cornwall? I’m also open to suggestions for other places in the UK to explore!
Do not let the gorgeous summery cover for Under A Cornish Sky fool you into thinking that this is a traditional boy meets girl romantic summer read, this novel is much more than that as it tackles sexism, ageism and body confidence issues head on.
Demi is a curvaceous, pretty young blond whose mother has recently passed away, she’s also been passed over for promotion and has just discovered that the man who professes to love her has broken her trust in a way that will leave you fuming on her behalf. His betrayal is no ordinary betrayal and is a comment on the tremendous pressure that some young women can be subjected to, especially when they’re feeling vulnerable and place their trust the wrong man.
Homeless and desperate Demi boards the sleeper train for Cornwall to go and stay with her grandfather, whom she’s never visited before. But this proves to be a temporary solution as her grandfather needs a hip replacement and will soon be moving into an old people’s home. As Demi gets to know her grandfather she discovers more about her mother and her father, a man whom she’d been told was dead.
Victoria is an older woman who on the surface appears to have everything she wants. She lives in Boscawen, a rambling Cornish house surrounded by gardens, orchards and the sea. Trapped in loveless marriage Victoria embarks on soulless sexual encounters. These are fairly graphic and Victoria is written as a hard unlikeable character, but stick with her as she’s every bit as flawed, vulnerable and human as Demi.
As Demi and Victoria are thrown together in unusual circumstances they both have to learn to see past the surface of things to find meaning, self-worth and real love in their lives.
Both characters are well drawn and I particularly appreciated how Fenwick explored the assumptions that women can make about each other in relation to their sex and how easy it is for them to make the same assumptions that some men would when encountering women like themselves, despite intellectually knowing better.
Body confidence issues are explored through the experiences of both women. I was particularly moved by Victoria’s experience as she is stripped of everything she clings to as part of her identity and eventually discovers true joy.
Under A Cornish Sky examines the complexity of human relationships, where secrets, lies, presumptions and assumptions are tangled then unravelled to offer moving insights to the motivations of each character. This is a great summer read written with warmth, depth and an understanding of the fragility of the human heart.
Published by Orion.
Follow the author on Twitter: @liz_fenwick
I bought my copy from the St. Ives Bookseller, which I have to say is a great bookshop. Considering how compact the shop is there’s a wide range of books available and they cater for all ages groups and all types of readers.