Inspiring talks at Edinburgh Book Festival

 

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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.

Benjamin Johncock

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.

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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.

Polly Morland

 

Book post

The following three books have been sent on spec and the last one has been sent as gift from an aunt.

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Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica. I haven’t read The Good Girl so this will be interesting. Thanks Harper Collins.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The joy of St. Ives in #Cornwall

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

Review of Under A Cornish Sky by Liz Fenwick

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. 

Liz Fenwick will be signing copies of her novel at the St. Ives Bookseller in St. Ives, Cornwall on Saturday 6 August. Should you not be in Cornwall you can also buy it here

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. 

What are you planning to read this summer?

I’m in the lucky position of receiving some amazing books to read on spec and I’m really excited about the longest for the Man Booker Prize 2016. I’m all set for my August reading list with the following:

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Oh my word was this a surprise sent on spec delivery. My hands shook as I withdrew this 51WNBzVVwEL._SY346_novel from the envelope. I swear my heart was banging with the thrill. I LOVE Eimear McBride! I didn’t read A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing, I inhaled it through all my senses. The rhythm of the writing in McBride first novel simply swept me away, it was like listening to a symphony of words. My ears wanted to wallow in those sentences, they made my heart soar even as the subject matter tore through me. Mind-blowing writing, the kind of writing the inspires you to break boundaries, to be courageous, to experiment with less is more to evoke a sensation, a scene, a memory. I need a ‘do not disturb’ sign for when I read this novel because I will be in a blissed out state for a while. Here’s the synopsis:

One night in London an eighteen year old girl, recently arrived from Ireland to study drama, meets an older actor and a tumultuous relationship ensues. Set across the bedsits and squats of mid-nineties north London, The Lesser Bohemiansis a story about love and innocence, joy and discovery, the grip of the past and the struggle to be new again.

Published 30 August, pre-order here.

Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes

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This novel is available as an ebook today and the paperback is due to be released in October. It’s Elizabeth Haynes, as in don’t wait, if  you have a kindle download it now.  Haynes’ standalone novels tend to have skin crawling, nail biting, I-don’t-think-my-heart-can-take-much-more levels of tension. I have a paperback proof copy and once I dive in I don’t expect I’ll come up for air until I reach The End. I’ve never been disappointed by Haynes’ writing. Here’s the synopsis:

Sarah Carpenter lives with her two dogs in a farmhouse, high on the North Yorkshire moors. She’s on her own for the first time since the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university. She isn’t exactly lonely, though when an old friend, Aiden Beck, needs a place to stay she welcomes him into her home.

Not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of Aiden’s motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son’s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even her best friend, Sophie, has grown remote and distant.

Aiden clearly has secrets, but then so does Sarah, and that’s no reason not to respond to his warmth and charm. But something doesn’t feel quite right. As the weather closes in, and snowfall blocks the roads, events take a dramatic turn and suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can trust.

All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski

This novel has been drawing my eye every time I spotted it in a bookshop. I’d just decided 51Y2F18RHvL._SY346_to invest in a copy when Granta sent me the paperback on spec. It’s set during World War II. I’m slightly obsessed with books themed around wars, fact or fiction, especially books that offer a fresh perspective so I’m looking forward to reading All For Nothing. Here’s the synopsis:

Winter, January 1945. It is cold and dark, and the German army is retreating from the Russian advance. Germans are fleeing the occupied territories in their thousands, in cars and carts and on foot. But in a rural East Prussian manor house, the wealthy von Globig family tries to seal itself off from the world.

Peter von Globig is twelve, and feigns a cough to get out of his Hitler Youth duties, preferring to sledge behind the house and look at snowflakes through his microscope. His father Eberhard is stationed in Italy – a desk job safe from the front – and his bookish and musical mother Katharina has withdrawn into herself. Instead the house is run by a conservative, frugal aunt, helped by two Ukrainian maids and an energetic Pole. Protected by their privileged lifestyle from the deprivation and chaos around them, and caught in the grip of indecision, they make no preparations to leave, until Katharina’s decision to harbour a stranger for the night begins their undoing.

Buy it here.

The Man Booker Prize long list was announced yesterday (see below) and I was pleased to see one of my favourite novels listed: My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

The full list:

Paul Beatty (US) – The Sellout (Oneworld)

J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) – The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)

A.L. Kennedy (UK) – Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)

Deborah Levy (UK) – Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)

Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) – His Bloody Project (Contraband)

Ian McGuire (UK) – The North Water (Scribner UK)

David Means (US) – Hystopia (Faber & Faber)

Wyl Menmuir (UK) –The Many (Salt)

Ottessa Moshfegh (US) – Eileen (Jonathan Cape)

Virginia Reeves (US) – Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)

Elizabeth Strout (US) – My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)

David Szalay (Canada-UK) – All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)

Madeleine Thien (Canada) – Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)

There’s a strong literary crime writing theme in this year’s list which I hope will widen the appeal and readership of the Man Booker Prize list. I haven’t read any of the other books on the list yet but those I’ve selected to read so far are:

 All That Man Is by David Szalay.

Szalay’s appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival this 61ZMCBC3cULyear which is why his book was on my radar, plus I enjoy reading novels that explore the male experience. Here’s the synopsis: 

Here are nine men. Each of them is at a different stage in life, each of them is away from home, and each of them is striving – in the suburbs of Prague, in an over-developed Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a crap Cypriot hotel – to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now. Vibrating with detail and intelligence, pathos and surprise, All That Man Is is a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts – the master of a new kind of realism.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thein

I’ve been interested in novels that explore the history of China ever since I read Wild Swans. Here’s the synopsis:

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In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming.

As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.

Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves.

Basically because the concept is fascinating. I downloaded it to my kindle yesterday. Here’s the synopsis:

Alabama in the 1920s. Roscoe has set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the 51EOYg7cg5L20th century: electricity. It becomes his training, his life’s work. But when his wife Marie inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give it up, with great cost to his pride and sense of self, his marriage and his family. Realising that he might lose them all, he uses his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness on a farm recently falling to ruin. Even the love of Marie and their son seems back within Roscoe’s grasp. Then everything changes. A young man is electrocuted on their land. Roscoe is arrested for manslaughter and – no longer an electrician or even a farmer – he must now carve out a place in a violent new world.

The Many by Wyl Menmuir. 

I downloaded it last night after reading the sample. Here’s the synopsis:

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On the surface, his move to the isolated village on the coast makes perfect sense. But the experience is an increasingly unsettling one for Timothy Bucchanan. A dead man no one will discuss. Wasted fish hauled from a contaminated sea. The dream of faceless men. Questions that lead to further questions. What truth are the villagers withholding? What fuels their interest and animosity towards him? And what pushes Timothy to dig deeper?

His Bloody Project: Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnett.

A few of my crime writing friends have been raving about this book before it was long listed for the Booker and I trust their opinion. As you can image they are overjoyed to see it on the list and it is a complete b51GqaUMgnvLargain at the moment on kindle at £1.99. Check out the sample, I pressed ‘buy’ straight after I read it. Here’s the synopsis:

A brutal triple murder in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a
young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder the local village constable. And who were the other two victims? Ultimately, Macrae’s fate hinges on one key question: is he insane? A story ingeniously recounted through the accused memoir, trial transcripts and newspaper reports, His Bloody Project is a riveting literary thriller that will appeal to fans of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

To be honest I’m tempted to read the entire list. There’s a great audio of The North Water by Ian McGuire on Amazon to tempt you (it’ll be a hardback investment for me) and I’m hoping the publishing date for J.M. Coetzee’s The Schooldays of Jesus is brought forward because that novel sounds wonderful.

Do any of the books above tempt you? What are you planning to read this summer?

Theakston Crime Festival book haul

I had a fab few days at Theakston Crime Writing Festival catching up with friends and making new ones, attending panels and buying books. 

I decided to be quite restrained this year due to having one to two other expenses and a towering TBR pile (or should that be piles?), so I’ve only returned with seven books: four bought and three freebies, and here they are purely to entice you into checking them out!

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The Constant Soldier by William Ryan. I was really hoping that this would be at the Festival as it’s not due to be published until late August. I was delighted to see it first in the hands of author Steven Dunne and then in the festival bookshop. I snapped up a copy as I’ve loved the sound of this novel since I read the synopsis on Facebook.

Death Comes Knocking: Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton by Graham Bartlett with Peter James. I’d attended the panel that both authors were on and I was impressed by their passion for this project. Bartlett was a long serving detective and Commander of Brighton for four years and book features gripping accounts of Brighton’s most challenging real life cases, many of which Bartlett helped to solve. The writing is great and zips along at a cracking pace. Each story is full of personal touches, wit and empathy and offers an insight into the colourful history of Brighton.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. I stood in the bookshop, turned to the first page and the voice just drew me in. I knew I had to go where that voice led so I bought it. Lewis was also on the New Blood panel being interviewed by Val McDermid as a rising star in crime fiction.

Speaking of the legendary Val McDermid it was an absolute joy to witness her being given the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award and Mark Billingham’s speech was brilliantly entertaining.

Ten Days by Gillian Slovo. This was the only book that I chose to get signed. I’ve been a fan of Gillian’s work since I read the Ice Road in 2005. I reviewed Ice Road on my application form to be one of the Guardian First Book Award judges representing the views of Waterstones Nottingham that year, an experience which opened many opportunities for me. I’m still haunted by Ice Road, Slovo makes you experience the lives of ordinary people suffering in Stalin’s Russia in that novel.

The three freebies are:

Epiphany Jones by Micheal Grothaus, which has one of the most attention grabbing opening lines out there.

My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry, which has an intriguing teaser: ‘A little white lie never hurt anyone. Or did it?’

Black Out by Ragnar Jonasson, who is appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year.

Click the links, download the free samples and see what you think.

If you want to find out what attending the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival is really like, then I suggest you read this enthusiastic report from Noelle Holten (@nholten40) who runs crimebookjunkie.co.uk over on bloglovin.com. She had a blast!

Review of For The Love of God, Marie! by Jade Sarson

Marie is a shining light in this inventive graphic novel about faith, racism, sexuality and the confusing impact of mixed messages and double standards from childhood into adulthood.Unknown-1 (3)

Marie’s father preaches about loving your neighbour as part of his Catholic faith but his actual tolerance levels are quite low, while Marie’s are exceptionally high.

You see Marie has a special gift, she just loves to love and to understand people.

Unfortunately Marie’s unique interpretation of what it means to love and understand everyone is often misunderstood.

The opening panels depict Marie as a child playing Mary in the nativity and then attending her Holy Communion while her parents weep with pride. But as Marie grows older the lighter panels grow darker as she begins to learn that some things are not acceptable in her father’s interpretation of their faith. Marie visibly shrinks in these scenes. At one stage she’s symbolically strapped into her father’s belief system as he fastens her seatbelt in a car. These oppressive scenes are only lifted by the fiery shade of Marie’s hair. Red hair that plays to all the myths and prejudices that surround it.

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It’s refreshing to see a female character being portrayed as enjoying sex while she inadvertently challenges convention through exploring her sexuality. There’s such a joyful naive innocence about Marie’s early encounters that I did find myself laughing out loud, especially during the scenes where she’s hauled up before the headmistress due to her enthusiastic capacity for showing people just how much they’re loved.

The novel is broken into sections, each one depicting the emotional impact of the great loves in Marie’s life and how each encounter helps her to grow and be more tolerant of others, despite the challenges she faces. One of my favourite sequences is set around the exchange of an umbrella, one that offers shelter from the rain, which is then used as a metaphor to express a powerful range of emotions. These panels are extraordinary, both uplifting yet heartbreaking in their use of colour, light and shade.

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Marie is one of the most joyful, open and accepting characters I’ve ever encountered in the realms of fiction. She questions everything, accepts the differences that others see as flaws and stands up for herself and those she cares about for their right to be who they are.

Along the way Marie does make mistakes and often learns the hard way that forging your own path through the world takes an open mind and a lot of courage, especially when so many people who profess to care for you are determined to shame you into submission.

For The Love Of God, Marie! is a celebration of what it truly means to love unconditionally, regardless of your race, faith, beliefs or sex. This graphic novel is a glorious, hilarious, tender, heartbreaking yet liberating romp that will move you to laughter and tears and back again. It’s an absolute joy to read.

Published by Myriad Editions on Thursday 21 July. With thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

Follow the author on twitter: @jadedlyco

For The Love of God, Marie! by Jade Sarson is also available from Page 45 in Nottingham from 21 July.