The last and the first

First resolution of the new year: to blog more frequently, more immediately. Less thinking about what I should be writing here, more of the ‘here’s what I want to share right now’.

Which leads to the second resolution: review every book I read. It’s only polite, for each author provides me with something which could be returned. Sometimes my reviews are written in full, but more often they are shared briefly on social media or spoken about with fellow readers.

So with that in mind, here is my last review of 2015 and the first of 2016.


thebeesThe Bees
by Laline Paull

This is a beautiful novel that I happily spent a day or so inhabiting Flora 717’s hive world. I know a fair amount about bees from friends and relatives who keep them, but the journey that this novel takes enabled me to explore the facts as well as an imagined world. The deeper parallels with our current society, feminism, balance, understanding the worlds we inhabit made this an incredible read rather than a flight of fantasy.

sladehouseSlade House by David Mitchell
I read Slade House in one sitting, just over 4 hours, because I couldn’t stop reading. I was gripped. The journey through time held my belief with characteristic detail; the repetitive elements were familiar rather than grating. It held the same magic that the journey into The Secret Garden did for me as a child, but with a deeply gothic and unnerving layer. I am certain the attic in Slade House will stay with me, and many others, just as the one at Thornfield in Jane Eyre and the prison that holds the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Which allows me to conclude with my final book related resolution. Focus on my to-read pile and read for me. This allows me to ignore the current trend for reading challenges that part of me would like to take on but the bigger part wonders what is the point? I understand where it is used to engage new readers, but when you already read widely and often I don’t understand the need to pressurise the reading process. Yesterday I shared a link from Pam Mcllroy. She asks, when did reading become a competitive sport? I reposted the link because I felt that she understood my take on why we read without the how we should read. A more personal resolution is to avoid the negativity of should at all costs. And then of course I went and read a book in 4 hours.

Christmas stories from Word Factory

Here’s a little present, from me to you. Or maybe it is a present from them to me. Either way, I am grinning.

At the start of December, Word Factory took part in the Waterstones Piccadilly Christmas event. The store was packed with shoppers, writers, entertainers, lovers of all things book shaped and more.

So here is the recording of my story. If you missed it, enjoy. If you caught it, thank you for supporting me and everything that Word Factory does.

And after you have watched this one, please watch the rest of the team and their wonderful readings. It really was a gift of a night.

Feeling listless?

 

 

Lists

So I’ve recommended my favourite short stories and novels from this year, but what else is out there? I’ve found that I’ve been inundated with book suggestions from websites, magazines and newspapers alike so I thought I’d conclude with a list of lists. These are my favourite sources when looking for some inspiration.

Want to read the books everyone is talking about or will be very shortly? Keep up with all the big book prizes by using Foyles’ very handy Book Awards page. From the Baileys to the Booker (and all the other prizes not beginning with B) they have it all for you within easy reach of a couple of clicks.

Not sure what to read next, or what to recommend? Lovereading is the site for you. Their regular newsletters and easy to use website is a great source of new inspiration. I particularly like their short story section which has recently had a refresh.

The Guardian Books section has always been a Saturday favourite for me, and their website ensures I’m up to date the rest of the week too. Their round ups are infamous, and this year’s part one and part two of the Best Books of 2015 are wonderful. This way you get to find out what your favourite authors are reading, as well as general recommendations in the Guardian’s brilliant article on the best fiction of 2015.

A fan of video over articles? Follow Jen Campbell on YouTube immediately. Her vlogs are humorous at times, always honest and insightful. You are guaranteed to find all the books you need for Christmas gifts with her.

Lastly, but of course by no means least, is Waterstones’ selection of Beautiful Books. If you’d like to gift an ageless gift, then here’s the place to look. There are many publishers now who are doing a grand job of making the book as beautiful on the outside as the inside. I’ll stop there with the book clichés. And the lists, for this year at least.

Books are for life…(the novel one)

Top 2015 Novels

I promised a novel version of my favourites from this year, so here they are in no particular order (yes, they are all that good).

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
Know me well enough and you will have seen I have a shelf dedicated to Atwood’s books. Literally because there are so many of them. I’m going to explain why in my next post but for now, you can understand her work is a favourite. This latest novel is a step sideways from the MaddAddam trilogy, and I briefly reviewed it as the Handmaid’s Tale for this generation. It is an incredibly readable, darkly humorous look at where our world could get to without much work.

How to be Both – Ali Smith
At the other end of my bookshelf, I almost have a full shelf of Ali Smith’s books – yes, you can see the pattern emerging. Her latest novel is my favourite so far – I find joy in seeing how open she is to pushing the boundaries of what a novel can be and is never limited. This is a novel of two halves, and which half you start with depends on which book you pick up. It is the present and it is the past. It is what limits us and what sets us free. It is a book you have to read.

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan
I talked lots about Logan’s short stories in my last post, and her debut novel is no less magical. A story of love, loss and finding connections – it is a gorgeous tale to get lost in. I cannot wait for more of her work.

The Ecliptic – Benjamin Wood
I fell in love with Wood’s writing with his debut novel a couple of years ago which I go back to again and again. This is just as mesmerising. If you’re looking for a book for a writer or artist of any kind, then this is the one for them (or you). The lengths we go to for art, for love, for understanding are encapsulated here. I felt bereft at the end and yet entirely satisfied.

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh
Don’t let my friendship with this wonderful man seem like a bias. Paul’s debut novel is stunning. Want to learn more but also be completely transported? This is the novel with you. One of my top if not favourite child narrators, join Mickey on his journey through the Troubles. And if you’re a fan of audio books then wait for this to be released because if Paul’s performances are anything to go by then his narration is going to be mind blowing.

Vitus Dreams – Adam Craig
This is a novel I am incredibly proud of. Written by my publisher/editor/friend at Liquorice Fish, this is a book I’ve seen from in vitro to birth and I am so pleased that it is out in the world now. Walk into this journey with Vitus and explore the places between dreaming and waking, and the reality and losses of both.

 

The First Bad ManThere is one novel that isn’t in the picture, and only because it’s on my kindle not in paper form (a rare thing). The First Bad Man by Miranda July is a you-have-to-read-it-why-haven’t-you-read-it-yet book. Please read it and then find me and Charlotte (from Nothing Good Rhymes with Charlotte fame) because we need to have more people to discuss this book with. It may even start a book club.

Books are for life…(the short story one)

bookscuptureChristmasTree
Sculpture by Malena Valcarcel

This time of year brings the need to compile lists out in all of us. I’ll put the blame on the stories we were told by our loved ones in order to have some kind of clue (or just a short list) of what we would like to receive.

Books have always been high on my gift lists. Even before I could read, the greatest gift my family could bestow upon me was a well chosen book. I still have the first books my grandpa brought me – Swallows and Amazons, and a miniature library of the Beatrix Potter stories. They are among my most treasured possessions – a link to a man who I barely knew whose love I still feel through our shared imagination.

So there will be a few of these posts to inspire you to surprise your loved ones, along with the many more that are popping up across the internet, newspapers and magazines. First to start with my greatest interest at the moment – short stories.

20151121_164452This year short story lovers have been spoilt for choice. My currently-reading and to-read shelf is packed with collections from established and new writers, and I would recommend them all but for now here’s my top three female writers whose stories have fuelled my creativity and made me dream big whilst writing my collection.

Don’t Try This at Home – Angela Readman

Any book from And Other Stories comes with an automatic recommendation from me. They continue to publish incredible writers, and if you are unsure of what to get for the book lover in your life then look at their subscriptions which are guaranteed to delight. With Readman’s debut collection, there is real magic in the ordinary – think Angela Carter or Adam Marek if you want literary comparisons. There’s a reason Readman is collecting awards, including the Costa short story award. These stories have taught me to be fearless, to go beyond what you initially see or create, and will be a collection I return to again and again.

An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It – Jessie Greengrass

Often with short story collections and anthologies, I dip in and out, selecting stories at the “right” time. Every now and then a collection comes along where I cannot help but read them in one go. With these I tried to pace myself, but consumed them all within a day or so. It was a day incredibly well spent. The stories are linked by the search of absolution which at times is captured rather than fulfilled. Most of all it showed that no matter whether in the past or future we continue to be surprised, out-witted and led by the creations of our imagination and our minds as a whole. ‘Some Kind of Safety’ reminded me that carefully chosen words and very little space (less than 3 pages) can create the most honest and intense stories. Greengrass is fearless when using the first person narrative allowing the reader to feel these stories as presented truths rather than tales. I found this collection on a table of selected short story writers at Waterstones Cambridge – well done them for selecting astutely. I had not heard of Greengrass before then but she will certainly be a writer I search out in the future.

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan

Another independent, Salt, who can always be relied upon to present us with wonderful storytellers (buy direct from them too ,- they have a 20% off offer on at the moment). I’m not sure how I had not heard of Kirsty Logan before, but ‘The Rental Heart’ is possibly the most perfect story and that level of perfection and exploration doesn’t stop there. Her retelling of traditional fairytales, are balanced by the creation of new ones. References to Angela Carter can be made again, as can those to Ali Smith and Marina Warner. Logan thrives in this condensed form, but her debut novel is also a fantastic escape; the extended tale of The Gracekeepers story in this collection. Along with her debut collection and novel, she has a second collection A Portable Shelter that came out as a limited run of 1000 beautifully bound books which now seem impossible to find due to 800 of them being pre-ordered! If anyone finds a copy, please remember I would love to receive this as a gift this Christmas! If you fancy seeing her read, and to get a signed copy of one of her books – come along to Word Factory next Saturday (28 November 2015).

I would love to hear about your inspirations – and let’s face it, we can all use a little help when picking out new books to surprise people with. Next on the blog will be the novel list…

 

Let the title do the talking*

12 short stories. For you to read. Now. Get electrocuted.

casualelectrocutioncasualelectrocutioncontents

I am so proud to be involved with this project. With thanks to Fran for inviting me and all her hard work alongside Jane and Bernie. They are super stars and this is the first of many for Literary Salmon.

Did I forget to mention, read the collection now.

*if the title doesn’t work, then the praise and inspiration should! Find out the full story on Twitter – follow the salmon.

Taking on Ben Nevis for Tom

If you are linked to me on social media sites, you may have noticed that a few of my writing/reading/life in general updates have been replaced by cycling routes and photos of me half way up mountains. This isn’t a normal occurrence, and it’s for a really good reason.

tomI’m going to take on Ben Nevis (and then cycle 25 miles and canoe for 3km – in one day) for this little guy and plenty more like him.

Brain Tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children under the age of 15, most people are not aware of this fact. One of my bosses, Andrew, and his family were unlucky enough to have it written in bold and underlined in November 2010 when their son Tom passed away after a gruelling 7 month fight against a particularly deadly type of tumour.

Tom would have been 14 tomorrow. I wish I could have known him, his energy and fearlessness that I’ve heard so much about from his family. I’m proud to support Andrew and the work that Tom’s Trust does in Tom’s memory.

Whilst nothing can take away the pain of losing him, their work is making a real difference to the lives of other children currently fighting or recovering from this terrible disease.

brainbowIn partnership with Addenbrookes Hospital and two other charities, Tom’s Trust has funded and launched “Brainbow” – the UK’s first rehabilitation service dedicated to children with brain tumours. Tom’s Trust is currently raising funds to expand and continue this service so that all affected children in the East Anglia region can be given the best chance to achieve their true potential.

TomsTrust LogoThe companies I work for as a marketing executive have put forward three teams so that twelve of us will take on the Ben Nevis challenge for Tom’s Trust. Each team will raise at least £2000 by the end of the challenge. On 12 September, I will trek to the summit of the tallest peak in the British Isles (Ben Nevis stands at 1344 metres and we start pretty much at sea level), then cycle 25 miles and canoeing a 3km course on a loch. In one day. Preferably in under 12 hours.

(I hope these figures have made you smile now, perhaps even giggle. I’m hysterical.)

There are more details on Just Giving where you can also donate.

It goes without saying that all donations no matter how small will help make these children’s lives better and go a long way to helping them in their recovery from this life-changing disease. If you can spare any loose change for this brilliant cause and to support the team and I in our efforts, I would be very grateful.

To those who have already donated or will do, I am so thankful.

Dog Horn Presents – free launch event on Monday 8th July

doghornevent

Join me in conversation with Aliya Whiteley and Montague Kobbé on Monday evening at The Victoria Library, Westminster from 7pm. This will give you a chance to hear them both read excepts from their new books, as well as put your questions to them.

Tell us if you are coming along!

Aliya Whitely launches her latest novel, Skein Island: Marianne Percival has been summoned to Skein Island by its owner, the reclusive Lady Amelia Worthington. There’s only one problem – Lady Worthington has been dead for years. So who wrote the summons? And what does it have to do with the disappearance of Marianne’s mother? All the answers lie on Skein Island. It’s a retreat, and it holds many strange relics from a time of heroes and villains. At its centre stands a library that holds the stories of thousands of women. And underneath the library there is a secret that Amelia Worthington kept from the world. A secret that is about to be uncovered.

Montague Kobbe launches his collection of micro-fictions, Tales of Bed Sheets and Departure Lounges: Fifty bilingual micro stories strung together by emotional ties progressively weave a sense of reality that is both drastically different to that expressed in each individual tale and at the same time shared—perhaps even created—by the entire collection. The conventional tropes of love and lust, travel and sleep are deliberately approached with awareness of the tradition and a dose of provocation, sending the reader on a dangerous path along the outer edges of the cliché, hanging by the thread of irony and humour over the abyss of the banal. Form is central to a concept in which the short story has been boiled down to its most fundamental core: action. In this sense, context has often been totally or partially removed, giving primacy instead to the verb and its echoes, both within the collection and in relation to literary tradition. Equally central to the concept is the role of sound.

News. Of the big variety.

My debut short story collection will be published.

There. No messing about. No, what should I say. No, it’ll be small – nothing to worry anyone about. No, looking at my feet. Because essentially that has what I have been doing for the last couple of months.

The details, which will be fleshed out over the next year or so, are that it will be published by Liquorice Fish (whom I have spoken of in previous posts) who continue to provide a wonderful home for my short stories.

And now I am getting very excited about it. Not least because I just told Ali Smith. And she grinned and gifted me the title of my collection.

In truth she wrote down the words I gave her, when I floundered over what I had been considering as possible titles in the small hours between sleep. And you know what, this is perfect.

Yet to be determined (for those who can read Ali's handwriting)

This is happening. To the people who I have should have told by now, offline, please forgive me.

Lost Voices: Published!

When I found out that ‘Once, there was a bear’ was a winner in the Lost Voices competition and would be joining six other works in the anthology pamphlet, my first thought was that I had almost got my wish to be published before I turned 30 as it was due out in March. But I was very happy to know I would be published at some point in the very near future.

Lost VoicesFor my birthday I disappeared up to North Wales to relax and write. On the way home, I switched back online and found that the anthology had actually been released a day before I turned 30. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since.

I have received so many wonderful comments about the story, and I love hearing from my family and oldest friends when they’ve received their copies.

2015-02-11 20.50.19 2015-02-11 21.13.44

I’m so proud to be part of such a wonderful anthology; beautifully edited and designed by Adam Craig. Which leads me to the next bit of news. I have been invited to submit a story for Liquorice Fish’s anthology Past Tense which is being created in honour of Cinnamon Press’s 10 year anniversary. ‘Fallen’, a micro fiction, will be part of a pamphlet anthology of 10 stories from past and present Cinnamon Press writers. Past Tense is due to be published in November.

If you’d like a copy of Lost Voices or to find out more about Liquorice Fish visit the Cinnamon Press site.