Review of Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 is definitely one of my standout reads of 2017. It’s one of those beautifully written novels that quietly implants scenes in your memory that you can recall at will. There is a gorgeous fluidity to the writing that makes you forget that you are reading, as you’re drawn into the lives of the people impacted by the disappearance of a 13 year-old girl – known as Rebecca, Becky or Bex.

I loved how McGregor captures the slight sense of disconnection that people feel when they’re trying to make sense of something disturbing, in the short, punchy sentence structure of the opening chapter. There’s a quiet resonance to the chapters that follow, as McGregor delves into the shadow life of each villager, never staying with one for long but giving each enough time so that you have a sense of who they are, how they think and how the unresolved disappearance of the girl has infiltrated aspects of their lives and how it hasn’t. Continue reading “Review of Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor”


What will you be reading over the festive season?


Apologies for going AWOL for a while everyone! I’ve been working on another project related to my on-going health conditions for the last few months, which has required doing quite a bit of research because I’m seeing a specialist in the New Year, and I’ve just started working with a relevant charity – Mast Cell Action.

I have not been the best book blogger this year as there has been quite a lot of change going on in my life, and that pattern is set to continue for a while yet. I’ve been experiencing temporary brain seizures as part of my medical condition that also leave me immobilised for a few minutes, and then I’m usually wiped out for 48 hours afterwards. However, I’m no longer bouncing back like I normally do after one of these episodes at the moment, hence the need to see a specialist in January 2018. As you can imagine this is having an impact on my reading ability, among other things, and I’m finding that I tire much faster these days. I’ll have a better idea of where my future lies in March 2018.

If there’s one thing I’m really proud of this year it’s the series of interviews that I’ve done with many writers called Changing Lives. Every story those writers shared touched me in many ways and has also given me strength and hope in what has been quite a challenging year, those stories have also helped others going through change as I’ve shared them. A huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who has taken part in this series so far. If you would have story of change that you would like to share, please do use the ‘contact me’ form on my blog.

You’ll be pleased to hear that I finally have some book review requests lined up. In the New Year you can look forward to reviews of the following:

The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee

James Orr – husband, father, reliable employee and all round model citizen – wakes one Unknownmorning to find himself quite transformed.

There’s no way he can go into the office, and the doctors aren’t able to help. Waiting for the affliction to pass, he wanders the idyllic estate where he lives, with its pretty woodland, uniform streets and perfectly manicured lawns. But there are cracks in the veneer. And as his orderly existence begins to unravel, it appears that James himself may not be the man he thought he was.


The Earlie King and the Kid In Yellow by Danny Denton

Ireland is flooded, derelict. It never stops raining. The Kid in Yellow has stolen the babba Unknown-1from the Earlie King. Why? Something to do with the King’s daughter, and a talking statue, something godawful. And from every wall the King’s Eye watches. And yet the city is full of hearts-defiant-sprayed in yellow, the mark of the Kid. It cannot end well. Can it? Follow the Kid, hear the tale. Roll up! Roll up!


Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary

On the surface, Lara Chorley and Ruth Hull have nothing in common, other than their nyKUrxNr6EMuR1i0.jpginfatuation with Michael Vokey. Each is writing to a sadistic inmate, sharing her secrets, whispering her worst fears, craving his attention.

DI Marnie Rome understands obsession. She’s finding it hard to give up her own addiction to a dangerous man: her foster brother, Stephen Keele. She wasn’t able to save her parents from Stephen. She lives with that guilt every day.

As the hunt for Vokey gathers pace, Marnie fears one of the women may have found him – and is about to pay the ultimate price.


The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.36468473

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.

So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

I’ll end this post by wishing you all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and if you’d like to share which books you hope Santa’s going to be delivering this festive season, or what you’re planning on reading over the holiday, please post in comments!




Changing lives… with author of Our Altered Life – Charlene Beswick

Today I am welcoming author Charlene Beswick to the blog. Anyone following CharleneCharlene’s online account of her life with her children will know how much she loves them. What they may not know though, is the internal struggle Charlene initially experienced when she first learned that one of her beautiful twins – Harry – was born with Goldenhar syndrome, which meant only half of his face had developed in the womb. Later the family would discover that Harry had autism too. Charlene’s book – Our Altered Life – is an honest and often humourous account of the deeply emotional journey she and her family went on as they learned to create a different way of life together to the one they had been expecting. 

Welcome to the blog Charlene, please introduce yourself to the readers…

I’m Charlene from Staffordshire, I’m 39 years old and mum to twelve year old twins Oliver and Harry. I was a primary school teacher for eight years, which I adored, but the workload and impact on my health (coupled with the fact the Harry is autistic and thinks that sleep is massively overrated) made me quite ill in 2014.

I replaced my teaching income with network marketing. You only get out what you put in with that industry and as the spare time I had allowed me to immerse myself in my writing, my focus and income (eeeeek) dropped. I now focus on writing my blogs and supply teach when I am needed. Occasionally I consider selling a kidney on eBay but hang on to it, just in case.

I am a sarcastic realist and a self-confessed cheese addict who absolutely adores all food! My favourite quote is ‘In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take’ as I feel that’s completely true. I’m not religious but I am spiritual and I think my experiences over the last decade or so have reaffirmed to me the importance of trusting your gut instinct.

I am engaged to Andrew and he has two children too, so we are a merry band of seven (including Sherlock the dog).

What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced to date?

Becoming a mother.

I understand now why my own mum was so completely incapable of making me understand the sheer intensity and depth of the love she had for me and my siblings. It really isn’t a feeling that you can encapsulate in a sentence and I was excited to experience a love that would transcend any description. I always knew that motherhood would change me to a degree and I eagerly awaited the arrival of my babies through my pregnancy, but having a baby born with only half a face formed and complex health needs changed me in a way I could never have imagined and I was totally unprepared.

What were your initial feelings as you processed what this change would mean to you?

Wow, that’s a huge question.

Initially, if I am honest, I fought it. I didn’t want to be a ‘special needs parent’. That’s not the life I had been dreaming of. I felt that I had failed Harry massively and that I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I doubted my ability to love and nurture him, and Oliver – his twin, and I struggled to connect with the intense and unconditional love that I had expected would flood over me. Parents offered me tales of hope and groups to join but I just couldn’t bring myself to access any of it. It was as if I was admitting my life was never going to be the one I expected and I wrestled with the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it. It was a very dark time for me. I wasn’t offered counselling and have always been perceived as a very positive and strong person, so I painted the biggest smile on my face and slowly imploded.

That is completely understandable and a natural reaction considering your new reality. How did you approach managing the change once you had accepted it?

Accepting our new life was a very gradual process. My boys were born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks and weighed only 3lbs 9oz so they were in special care for six weeks which made it harder to bond I think. But as I got to know the boys I simply fell in love with them both. I confided my feelings in my mum (not my husband, which was fatal for our marriage) and I sought private counselling to deal with my own feelings of failure. I threw myself into knowing as much as I could about Harry’s syndrome and prognosis as well as the intense care that he needed as an infant. In no time at all I ‘felt’ like a mum and as soon as I was at peace with the life we had now, I almost evolved as a person. Sounds very dramatic but I really do believe my boys created a mum from the broken wreck I was and without doubt I am a better person now.

What did you learn from the experience?

I don’t believe that I am a perfectionist in the sense that the end result of everything I do has to be perfect, but I do always give 110% of myself and believe that I should apply everything I’ve got (plus some more) to a situation knowing that whatever the outcome, I gave it everything. Having Harry really challenged my self-perception and I think now, I accept that your best is good enough and you don’t always have to push that extra mile to prove yourself to anyone. I also trust that if you run off course it’s not always a bad thing and that often the scenic route teaches us so much more than the easier route ever would have done. I don’t beat myself up when things go wrong (like losing my business) and I think I have a better perspective on problems. I always ask myself ‘Will this matter in two years time?’, if the answer is no then I give myself permission to let it go, if it’s a yes then I have to think about the ways I can make tiny changes in the here and now to help in the long run. Being so logical can be tricky for me as I do follow my heart over my head, but so far it’s helping to keep my blood pressure stable at least!

How do you feel about change now?

Strangely I have always chased change, even as a teenager. I love new beginnings; new jobs, new friendships. The idea of walking into a room full of strangers excites me as I just don’t know who I will meet and how we may affect each other’s lives. I thrive on change and see it as a challenge and adventure. Certainly, raising my boys has been the biggest adventure of my life. Change is inevitable. For me, fighting it is pointless and so it’s better to just roll with it and see where life takes you. I’m getting ridiculously philosophical in my older years!

What would your top tip be for someone going through a similar experience?

Don’t feel that you have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t live there. Try to keep some perspective on exactly how significant the challenge is rather than panicking straight away and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE enough. And make sure you are talking to people and being honest about your feelings.

Finally, if you could change one thing what would it be?

I would go back in time and tell myself exactly what I have said above. I thought that being brave meant never crumbling. Ironically, the bravest thing I did was to go onto antidepressants when I realised that my mental health was suffering. The only time you fail is when you give up on yourself.

Oh, and I would make all cheeses fat-free but taste-full (sorry, I know that’s two things!)

Wise words, Charlene. Real courage does lie in accepting that you might need help for a little while, and that it’s okay to be kind to yourself as well as others. I also think a lot of people would agree with your plea for fat-free and taste-full cheese! Thank you so much for taking part in ‘changing lives’.

Our Altered Life by Charlene Beswick

Our Altered Life

Synopsis: After a healthy twin pregnancy, Charlene and Mark were shocked to be told that one of their boys had been born with half of his face undeveloped. In seconds, the happy family future they had been planning disintegrated into turmoil and uncertainty.

Laugh out loud funny in places, heart-wrenchingly sad in others, and refreshingly honest at all times, Our Altered Life is Charlene’s wonderful account of how she struggled to forgive herself and bond with a baby she didn’t expect. Follow her transition through grief and anger, challenges and triumphs, loss and acceptance, to love for the life she has now with two children she wouldn’t change for the world.

Charlene has given anyone affected by facial differences, a glimpse into the innermost feelings of what it is like to travel this journey. Our Altered Life, with its adorable anecdotes and thoughtful considerations on life, makes for a compelling read. You’ll laugh and cry through this refreshingly honest memoir and when you finish, you’ll feel empowered by this relatable story of fierce love.

Erica Mossholder, MBA, Executive Director, Children’s Craniofacial Association

Buy the book

Social Media Links

Facebook: Our Altered Life

Instagram: Our Altered Life

Twitter: @ouralteredlife

Find out more about Goldenhar syndrome.

Don’t feel that you have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t live there. Try to keep some perspective on exactly how significant the challenge is rather than panicking straight away and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE enough. And make sure you are talking to people and being honest about your feelings.

Author Charlene Beswick

If you enjoyed reading this interview and would like to take part in the changing lives series, please use the ‘contact me’ form on the blog.

Review of My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Fourteen-year-old Turtle has been brainwashed by her father, Martin, to hate my-absolute-darling-by-gabriel-tallent (1)herself and the rest of the female sex while he conducts an incestuous relationship with her. To say that love and violence are closely aligned in Turtle’s mind would be an understatement. Yet Turtle has absolute faith in the idea that her father loves her, even as he forces her to do chin-ups by positioning the sharp end of a knife between her thighs as part of his ‘survivalist’ training regime.

Martin has trained Turtle to fire a gun from the age of six, she’s more at home in nature than in the house, and has been struggling at school. Their home is on a hill in northern California but they are not entirely isolated, as Turtle’s grandfather lives nearby. He often tries to intervene to protect Turtle but he has a fractious relationship with his son. A teacher also offers support but Turtle automatically rejects it and many people, both male and female, are reluctant to view Martin as anything other than a ‘charmer’ or a ‘good guy’.

The first indicator of Martin’s skewed perspective of the world comes early on in the first chapter, as he walks Turtle down to the school bus. It’s part of their morning ritual and as Martin looks out over Buckhorn Bay he explains to Turtle how looking at the ocean view before them is meant to ‘be good for the soul’, and then goes on to explain how one day it failed to move him at all, and how that revelation shattered his ability to hold back the darkness that descended on him.

… One day you don’t know what the hell you’re looking at. It’s irreducibly strange and its unlike anything anything except itself and all that brooding was nothing but vanity, every thought you ever had missed the inexplicableness of the thing, the vastness and its uncaring. You’ve been looking at the ocean for years and thought it meant something, and it meant nothing.

The entire novel builds the tension towards the moment that Turtle has a similar revelation about the relationship she has with her father. The turning point for Turtle begins when she stumbles across two teenage boys – Jacob and Brett – who have got lost in the wilderness beyond her home. Through her friendship with these two bantering boys, Turtle discovers that there are other ways to live, other ways to survive, other ways to love as they tease her and welcome her into their lives.

When Martin senses that his daughter is pulling away from his control he goes on the attack to reinforce his sense of ownership over her. She is his ‘whole world’, his ‘absolute darling’, made by him, moulded by him, owned by him. His nickname for her is ‘kibble’, which is a dry feed for animals, so even a term that on the surface appears affectionate is in fact derogatory. One of Martin’s favourite punishments is to make Turtle kneel on a bed of kibble when he feels she has stepped out of line.

Turtle is frequently deemed a ‘bitch’ by Martin and by herself but for different reasons. For Martin the word creates a sense of detachment so he can abuse his daughter and defer the guilt of his actions onto her, for Turtle it’s a method of self-talk that helps her withstand Martin’s onslaught.

The idea of his daughter becoming independent and unpredictable makes Martin lash out viciously with devastating consequences. He bolts, leaving Turtle to deal with strong feelings of misplaced guilt, grief and relief, as she wonders if or when he’ll return.

Even though the pacing and scene setting moves the story along swiftly, I did find myself having to close the book occasionally just to give my visual cortex a break. Tallent does not hold back during scenes of violence and he’s good at building tension through the repetitive rhythm of the family’s rituals, so that the reader’s senses are stretched thin while waiting for the next outburst. Turtle’s resilience despite the physical and emotional battering her body and mind takes often put me in mind of Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

Tallent’s descriptive powers are particularly strong when he writes about nature, especially when Turtle and her new friend, Jacob, have to fight for their lives when they are swept away by a strong tidal surge and she learns first-hand just how uncaring the ocean can be. The scenes that follow explore whether or not Turtle is product of her genes or her life experience to date.

To have a chance of survival Turtle has to fight the mental conditioning she has been subjected to all her life from her father. As awareness of her true reality rises, Turtle experiences both love and loathing for Martin, craving his touch while also feeling repelled by it, which is a challenging dynamic of an abusive relationship to depict with authenticity in a novel. I think Tallent conveys the complexity of Turtle’s fight with the self fairly well, particularly in the final chapters.

I wouldn’t class My Absolute Darling as a masterpiece, as there are many other real-life and fictional accounts of abusive relationships that are equal to this novel, and some that explore the emotional impact on a deeper level. The two non-fiction books that I’d recommend reading are Strong at the Broken Places: Overcoming the Trauma of Childhood Abuse by Linda T. Stanford and Breaking Free: Help for survivors of child sexual abuse by Carolyn Ainscough.

That said I do think My Absolute Darling is a great début novel. Tallent is definitely a writer to watch as he has a good sense of pace, a perceptive eye for describing the natural world and relating it to the human experience, and he has created a truly memorable character in Turtle. I think Tallent’s real masterpiece is yet to come.

I bought my copy from Waterstones.

Published by Fourth Estate.

Changing lives… with author Sue Johnson: ‘I focused on what I could do – and what helped me.’

Today I’m welcoming author Sue Johnson to the blog. Sue has a fascinating and rare medical condition that can add flavour to the words she uses and has overcome negativity from a former ex-husband to create a career from writing. Read on to find out more… 

Welcome to the blog Sue, please tell the readers a little more about yourself…

I am published as a poet, short story writer and novelist. I also create books aimed at helping other writers. I run my own brand of writing workshops and am a Writing Magazine Home Study tutor. I am fortunate to have lexical gustatory synaesthesia – certain words and names flood my mouth with a specific taste. (‘Robert’ tastes of strawberry jam, ‘feather’ tastes of whipped cream.

What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced to date?

The most significant change in my life to date was the ending of my twenty-four year marriage in April 1998. The person I was married to used to say: “Don’t tell people you write – they’ll think you’re weird.” I wrote in secret – sometimes working in five minute snatches. I got work published which led to me being ridiculed by my now ex-husband.

What were your initial feelings as you processed what this change would mean to you?

When we separated, I can remember looking outside the window and noticing how bright the colours were. I felt positive, despite the difficulties I was facing (no money, no job, no home, no contact with my children).

How did you approach managing the change once you had accepted it?

I focused on what I could do – and what helped me. I wrote …and wrote… and wrote. The words that poured out formed the first draft of my novel ‘Fable’s Fortune.’ I went back to college to study creative writing.  I submitted a short story for my first assessment  – inspired by the situation I was going through. The lecturer tossed it back at me telling me to ‘rip it up and start again – I was writing about something I knew nothing about.’

The stubborn part of me (Aries birth sign) wouldn’t let me do that. I looked in Writing Magazine, found a competition and sent the story with no revisions. It didn’t win the competition but I was taken on by short story agency Midland Exposure and the story sold to ‘Woman.’ It was the first of many stories to be sold to women’s magazines.

I have been a Writing Magazine Home Study Tutor for the last twelve years and also run my own brand of writing workshops. I would never tell anyone to rip a story up! There is always something to be salvaged.

What did you learn from the experience?

I look on my divorce as one of the most positive experiences of my life. If I’d remained stuck in a bad situation I would never have achieved all that I have in the last nineteen years. Although some of it was difficult and upsetting it has taught me to count my blessings.

What would your top tip be for someone going through a similar experience?

I would say to anyone in the same situation:

  1. Never lose sight of your dreams.
  2. Write every day – even if you only manage five minutes.
  3. Constructive criticism is good – ignore the other sort!
  4. However bad things seem at the moment, they will get better.
  5. Reward yourself regularly – you deserve it.

My fourth novel will be published by Endeavour Press in December. I am also awaiting the publication of my first My Weekly Pocket Novel. My novel Fortune’s Promise is out now and available from Amazon.

Follow me on Twitter @SueJohnson9

I look on my divorce as one of the most positive experiences of my life. If I’d remained stuck in a bad situation I would never have achieved all that I have in the last nineteen years. Although some of it was difficult and upsetting it has taught me to count my blessings.

Author Sue Johnson

Thanks for taking part in ‘Changing lives’, Sue! I suspect some of your experiences will definitely resonate with readers. If you enjoyed reading this interview and would like to take part in the changing lives series, please use the ‘contact me’ form on the blog.

Changing lives… with author Val Portelli

Today I’m welcoming author Val Portelli – who writes under the pseudonym of Spinks – to the blog. Life changed dramatically for Val when her legs suddenly went out from under her one day and she couldn’t get back up…

Welcome to the blog, Val. Please tell the readers a little about yourself.

Did you know ‘May you get what you wish for’ is actually a Chinese curse?

Five years ago I had a hectic life, long hours, full-time job, a house to run, various social commitments and no time to breathe.

‘Stop the world, I want to get off,’ I said, and my wish was granted.

Now I have even longer hours, a job which doesn’t give me an income (yet), the spiders have taken over the house, and my social life needs to be organised like a military operation.

Haha! I think a lot of writers will relate to you. Spiders love my place too. What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced to date?

Late one Thursday night I was struggling to clear the priorities before going on holiday the following week. Exhausted and too tired to cook, around one in the morning I decided to make myself some toast and get to bed for a few hours sleep before work the next day.

I stood up, and found myself on the floor. Strange, I hadn’t tripped or fainted. What was I doing down here? Laughing at my stupidity I tried to get up but nothing happened. I wasn’t in pain but my legs wouldn’t function. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I managed to crawl to the bottom of the stairs and phone for help.

A few hours later I was in a room with a senior nurse instructing some students on how to apply plaster to my leg. I felt so sorry for them, and tempted to take the gauze out of their hands to cut it to a suitable length. No way would their efforts go anywhere near the monstrosity my limb had become.

‘Are you keeping me in overnight?’ I asked forgetting it was already four in the morning. ‘Only I’ve got to go to work and I’m going on holiday on Tuesday.’

‘We’ll have to see about that’ was the response, but never in my wildest dreams would I have expected how my life would change from then on.

It must have been quite a shock. What were your initial feelings as you processed what this change would mean for you?

At first I went through all the emotions; anger, frustration, despair, ‘why me?’ Then I felt ashamed and grateful as I shared an ambulance trip with an old lady who could hardly move, but still managed to make us laugh as she flirted outrageously with the drivers.

How did you approach managing the change once you had accepted it?

A month later I was still in hospital, and although I had arranged for a friend to bring in my laptop, and buy me some nightdresses (I normally slept au natural) I wanted out.

‘If we let you go home have you got someone to look after you? Is your bedroom on the ground floor?’ Actual answers ‘No’ and ‘No’.

My job at the time involved supplying hotels, so after telling my boss I might need some extra time off, I gave him my orders for a single bed plus all appropriate bedding to be delivered to my home, and set up in the living room as I was unable to climb the stairs.

Bed-bound, and gazing at the ceiling (it needed painting) I thought about how I now had the time to do jobs around the house, but not the opportunity. My wish had come true.

It seemed my knee had decided to visit my ankle, the operation to insert a long metal support was followed a year later by another one to remove it as the bone had collapsed through the metal, and being able to walk was a long distant memory.

Going stir-crazy but unable to do anything, I took my frustrations out on my computer and started writing again, something I’d always loved but had neglected due to lack of time. I completed my first book, part romance, part memories of my holiday island, and approached a publisher.

What did you learn from the experience?

I had to learn patience. Things that used to take ten minutes now took an hour or more. I became great pals with the ambulance drivers who picked me up for my regular hospital reviews. Making sure I was ready as instructed two or three hours before my appointment, ten minutes being examined, then another couple of hours waiting for transport home meant a full day for every brief six-week check-up.

I was lucky. It seems a funny thing to say but I had strong arms from my years playing netball, an active brain, and plenty of time to observe people a lot worse off than me.

I’ve learnt a lot since then but I’ll never forget that first ‘We want to see more’ communication from a publisher. The happy, skippy dance had to be a mental rather than a physical one as none of the nerves in my leg were talking to my brain.

By coincidence my first published book was actually called ‘Changes.’ Perhaps it was an omen.

How do you feel about change now?

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in day to day living we forget to stretch our boundaries, or follow our dreams. Change is inevitable; sometimes it involves minor things you hardly notice, sometimes major life-changing events.

What would your top tip be for someone going through a similar experience?

Forget what you ‘used to do.’  You’re a new person now, try to look at things in a new way.

If the answer to a problem is not obvious try approaching it from a totally different angle. It might not turn out how you expect but that’s what keeps life interesting.

My mother called me stubborn; I call it being inventive. My first purchase as a disabled person was a ‘picker-upper,’ a long pole with claws on the end to be able to grab things. Obviously access to coffee was a priority. A small computer desk, a plastic litre bottle of water (it used to contain whisky but don’t tell anyone) a cheap second kettle and online shopping soon had that sorted.

Finally, if you could change one thing what would it be?

It would be nice to exchange my left leg for a ‘proper’ one, as long as it didn’t become a ‘Monkey’s paw.’

On a less selfish note I would reintroduce respect into the world, and see what impact it had.

Thanks for taking part in Changing Lives, Val. I’m with you, an inventive mind can see solutions where others see problems, and that, as you’ve already discovered, is a good thing when unexpected changes occur in life.

Here are all the links to Val’s platforms. Val writes under the pseudonym of Voinks:




Spirit of Technology 

ABC Destiny 

Changes: Trailer 

Forget what you ‘used to do.’  You’re a new person now, try to look at things in a new way.

If the answer to a problem is not obvious try approaching it from a totally different angle. It might not turn out how you expect but that’s what keeps life interesting.

Author Val Portelli

If you enjoyed this changing lives interview and would like to take part, please contact me via the form on the blog.

Review of Charlotte by David Foenkinos

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I was standing in Waterstones when a slim novel caught my eye and I withdrew it from the bookshelf.

A large letter C framed the following passage on the cover:

Franziska wants to call her Charlotte,

in homage to her sister.

Albert does not want his daughter

to bear a dead woman’s name.

Still less one who committed suicide.

But he senses that conflict is pointless.

Besides, who ever feels like fighting

during a war?

So Charlotte it will be.


Hooked I opened the book,

and discovered a piece of history that is relatively unknown.

A true story about a young woman called Charlotte Saloman written in single lines.

One perfect line after another.


My heartbeat quickened with excitement.

As it always does when I’m intrigued by an original voice. 


Foenkinos shares the heartbreaking tale of a German-Jewish child called Charlotte,

who is born into a family haunted by multiple suicides.

Charlotte develops a natural gift for creating modern art through words, paint and music.

Her greatest achievement is a work titled Life? Or Theatre? A Song-play,

an autobiographical expression of Charlotte’s interpretation of life, 

and the impact of World War II, both within and around her.


In the past, Charlotte falls in love,

with a man who does not appreciate the influence he has on her,

as the Nazis march across Europe.

In the present, Foenkinos shares his passion for his subject,

and the parallels he discovers between his own life and Charlotte’s.


In the past, Charlotte is compelled to leave the people she cares about

and is lost for a while in her pain.

Until love finds her again.

But there is nowhere to hide when deception is rife,

and the price of betrayal is a life for a life.

In the present, Foenkinos writes his way into Charlotte’s world,

describing how she infiltrates his work,

how hard it is to convey the influence she has had on him.

He shares the moment he understood how to tell Charlotte’s story,

and why the discovery of her work was profoundly moving

for those who had sent her away in good faith,

believing it was the best way to keep her safe.

For years, I took notes.

I pored over her work incessantly.

I quoted or mentioned Charlotte in several of my novels.

I tried to write this book so many times.

But how?

Should I be present?

Should I fictionalise her story?

What form should my obsession take?

I began, I tried, then I gave up.

I couldn’t manage to string two sentences together.

At every point, I felt blocked.

Impossible to go on.

It was a physical sensation, an oppression. 

I felt the need to move on to the next line in order to breathe.


So, I realised I had to write it like this.

Foenkinos made me live this moment in history.

And I wept for a woman I never knew existed,

until I read this beautifully conceived and executed tale.

One that marks the life of a remarkable young artist,

her grand passions, frustrations, sadness and joys,

leading up to the moment the Nazi’s ‘final solution’ 

murders any thoughts of hope, of finding a resolution.

As one heartbeat stops, followed by another and then millions more. 

Foenkinos has created a work of art in Charlotte

Line by perceptive line.

This is a masterclass in the emotional power of structure, of form.

And the enduring level of insight that can be shared in a single line of prose.


Charlotte often looks at the piano.

She is incapable of touching it.

She can still see her mother’s fingers on the keyboard.

On this instrument, the past is alive.

 Charlotte has the feeling that the piano can understand her.

And share her wound.

The piano is like her: an orphan.

Every day, she stares at the open sheet music.

The last piece her mother ever played.

 A Bach concerto.

Several Christmases will pass this way, in silence.

Interview Paula and Albert Salomon for Pariser Journal, 1963

Charlotte has won the Prix Renault and the Prix Gonccourt des Lycéens and more than half a million copies have been sold to date in France. Charlotte has been translated into nineteen languages.

Follow the author on Twitter: @DavidFoenkinos

Buy the book.