The tail in the tales

When I saw this tweet, I immediately knew I had a story to submit. A story of a mermaid lost in the wrong world. Of a girl searching for her place. Of a little guidance when you least expect it.

This year has been A YEAR. Personally, professionally, all of it. And if my writing has come second to all of that, then submitting has been at the bottom of the list. So, I tentatively pushed Bridget, Lucy and Una out into the big bad world.

Apart from I had a little bit of safety. I knew that my river girls would be safe in the hands of the Dancing Bear Books team – even if they didn’t want to publish their story.

BUT THEY DID!

As you can tell, I was a tad excited. It really did make a huge difference when the big bad world was just a bit too close for comfort.

So why I am I telling you this?! Well. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS HERE!

You can order it direct from the Dancing Bear website NOW! It’s full of weird and wonderful stories, empowering tales, wholehearted goodness. The team are also working for it to be available via Amazon and Waterstones (stores too!) but supporting Indies directly is always lovely.

And as the foreward says – the magic starts with you…


A little note about Little Book of Fairytales

The Dancing Bear Books team created an opportunity for this book because they could see the need for diverse content. We live in a time where fairy tales have never been more relatable, a time where pantomime villains seem to be pulling strings and in consequence, each one of us has become an underdog hero. This book is for voices that have been silenced and stories that have been brushed aside. Little Book of Fairy Tales welcomes everyone; their tragedies, their successes and their love stories.

This book is written for and by minorities. DDB made an extra special effort to make sure that voices who don‚Äôt usually get to speak have a platform. Having these voices and having them tell their own stories was hugely important to DDB, and as minorities, they wanted to create something that was for minority groups. This representation isn‚Äôt a last thought or tokenisation. Something I respect hugely and it’s why I wanted to get involved.

As the fairy tale Queen, Kirsty Logan says:

Fairy tales and folk tales are darker, stranger, messier and more satisfying than people might remember. They’re not just about being pretty or winning princes; they’re about loss and betrayal, regret and confusion, joy and fulfilment. They’re about us.

Kirsty Logan, interviewed in Why long-lost folklore still matters to modern listeners

Listen to the Whisper Network

If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.

Chandler Baker’s novel, Whisper Network, starts and ends with a call to be heard. For the women at the heart of the novel to be heard, for the voices that inspired their stories¬†to be listened to.

The novel is not straight forward, stories like these rarely are, and it’s suitable that it doesn’t fit in the narrow boxes that publishing houses like it squeeze most into. In parts, social commentary, thriller, women’s fiction: dark humour edges it but with the bite of reality that stops you laughing too hard.

It’s a story of how one man’s actions affects the lives of multiple women. It is the story of how the world sees the action of few women that would change the course of one man’s life. It’s the story of how the world views one story as more important than the others. It’s the story of our mothers, sisters, daughters. Our bosses and our assistants. The invisible and the seemingly seen. The story of how all actions will have consequences but they’re not always in our control.

I don’t want to deep dive into the story, pick it apart and re-present it for you. Because that’s what happens. I want you to explore it and find your own story in it, as I did, and as the author wants you to. Her notes on why she wrote the book are as worth reading as the novel itself.

One thing I will say, is that I went into reading it with this marketing bi-line:

Big Little Lies Meets #MeToo in THE Must Read Book of 2019

I often avoid the books that come with the hype, the order to read it, and to be honest for the first chapter or so, it tainted my reading. I was looking for the clever cinematic reveals and the self-reflected story. Yes, that does come with it but it’s a carefully told story with excellent literary devices. And they are all more the satisfying when they happen to you rather than you looking for them. Let their stories take you in, as hard as it is hear all of them.

Whisper Network is published today. I hope women, and men, will read it, discuss it, and continue to learn with it.

ARH reviews: The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

So it is no secret I am an admirer of Logan’s writing. I started getting excited about her first collection of short stories, The Rental Heart and Other Stories, back in 2015. I use the title story as an example in workshops – I cannot forget the protagonist in that story. In fact I cannot forget so many of Logan’s stories. I ate up her first novel and her second collection soon after and have been waiting impatiently for more stories.

The Gloaming novel Kirsty Logan

The Gloaming is packed full of the stories that I had been waiting for. The magic within them, the unsettling dark and light of the island, the weight of myth, legend and the elements.

The Ross family grows and changes with the tide, pulling you in and along with their unfolding. Although Mara leads, the multiple perspective allows you to weave in and out of views to see the full picture. Piece by piece.

The novel is a mesmerising dive into what it is to belong, loss and grief, the turn and tumble of love, how sexuality belies what ‘should be’.

I want to write more about Mara, Islay, Bee, Peter, Signe, Pearl. Having read their story quickly, gulping in words that bring wonder and often don’t fit my sasanach mouth, I want to tell you everything.

Instead I will say this. Read The Gloaming now.

The books your tokens are waiting for

As we all know, book tokens are second only to carefully chosen books, when considering the best gifts one can get. I had¬†planned on putting together a list like so many others to recap on my reading this year to inspire gift choices, but I’m a few days or even a few weeks too late for that. These recommendations are the books I’ve loved this year, the ones Santa was kind enough to drop into my stocking, and the ones I’m looking forward to in 2017. That should be enough to be getting on with…

The one that outshone all the rest: novel category
Harmless Like You – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

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Lorrie Moore has said this debut is¬†’cause for celebration’, and she’s not wrong. I read an interview with the author, who said that every time she sees the novel in a shop, she wants to rescue Yuki. I thought I understood that feeling, of an author who has put their first baby out into the big bad world. But that wasn’t quite it. Having read the novel, it’s a maternal ache that won’t go away when you see Yuki’s portrait splashed with paint, her unseeing face lined up in rows on a shelf. This is a book of opportunities lost and gained, the chances that you miss or when fate takes your hand and pulls you away. It’s a book of relationships, the hard must haves, the fleeting passions, and unknowing unbound love. As the novel concluded, I cried. Not a solitary tear, but body convulsing sobs. Yuki had got in, and I¬†was with her, with all of the gains and all of the losses. That, is something not many writers can do, but I implore you – take this journey with Yuki. It’s worth it.

Close seconds: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon. Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies. Two very very different child perspective novels which bring light to the worlds we encompass. Read them, they are brilliant.

The one that outshone all the rest: short story collection category
A Wild Swan and Other Tales РMichael Cunningham

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The short story category is always a tough one for me. I’m still writing /editing /rewriting /adding to¬†my own collection, so I’ve found myself dipping in and out of collections over the past year. This collection was a gift last Christmas and it found its way to the top of the pile over the summer. These stories are retellings; subverted, twisted, and yet so close to the fairytales that should make you shiver.’Crazy Old Lady’ and ‘Little Man’ are two of my favourites, but it’s hard to have favourites in a collection of 11 stories that you wish wouldn’t stop at just 11. Even if you don’t like fairytales (what kind of strange creature are you?), try this.

Close seconds: Lightbox – KJ Orr. One Point Two Billion – Mahesh Rao. The Isle of Youth – Laura Van Den Berg. No One Belongs Here More Than You – Miranda July. Public Library – Ali Smith. Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood. A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin. Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman. Fen – Daisy Johnson. I¬†told you I’d been dipping in and out of collections! All amazingly talented writers. Read them, even if you think you prefer novels (what kind of strange creature are you?).

The ones I have lined up next (aka Christmas Haul):

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The Accidental Dictionary РPaul Anthony Jones. The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises РBrian Kiteley. Angel Catbird Vol. 1 РMargaret Atwood. Hag-Seed РMargaret Atwood. Fantastic Beasts: The Original Screenplay РJK Rowling. Autumn РAli Smith. The Wonder РEmma Donoghue.

 

 

The one you should be pre-ordering now:
Ink – Alice Broadway

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I had the fortune of winning a copy of this book, which isn’t out until February. Order it. Order it now. I believe it will be categorised as YA, and it is a coming of age story, but it doesn’t matter your age, this book will get under your skin and leave its mark. The strong themes of story telling, what we leave behind when we’re gone, and the art of tattooing, make this a compelling read. Leora is a character that may believe she’s yet to be formed, but her sense of self is clear from page one. This is a beautiful unfolding of a life. I’m not sure if there will be more, but I can see this challenging the likes of Hunger Games for its ability to shine a mirror on the world we live in currently for a new age of ravenous¬†readers.

The others I can’t wait for: Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman, Winter – Ali Smith, House of Names –¬†Colm T√≥ib√≠n.

 

On Awareness

First tip for giving books on World Book Night…do it when you have a voice!

The conversations I had yesterday whilst fulfilling my book giving duties (see yesterday’s post if you haven’t already) where somewhat limited due to my voice petering out within seconds but I loved the challenge of speaking to complete strangers about reading and it’s importance.

From the women in Harvest Moon with the amazing jumpers who were engaged and wanted to know more (thank you for allowing me to slope of when my voice stopped!), to the man who was fundraising whilst showing off his tractors (only in Hitchin) whose non-reading confession came from his friends rather than himself.

 

Thank you to the owners of Chilli B and Groundworks who let me talk to their customers and leave books on tables.

And now it’s a case of waiting. I’ve explained a bit more about my relationship with with Reasons to Stay Alive, the book I gave yesterday, on my previous post. Without a voice, and with some nerves, I decided that explaining that personally to each recipient may be a bit much so I wrote a letter and popped it inside each¬†book to explain why I was a book giver, and why this book. You can read it by clicking the image. I’ve invited those who found or were given the book to get in contact to let me know where it ended up…here’s hoping for some news soon!

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As I explained yesterday, my giving of this book was well timed with Depression Awareness Week. This book has helped so many people, and although there are a lot of resources out there, I’ve collected together some of the articles I’ve read during¬†DAW this year:

If you have any articles, blogs, quotes, and of course books, you think I should add, please let me know. I’d also really recommend checking out the #WhatYouDontSee campaign on Twitter.

I was scared of the title

WBN_logo_in_headline.jpgWorld Book Night is here again! I’m so pleased and proud to be a volunteer book giver for the third year in a row. Two years ago I started bold; talking to strangers on a quiet night at my local pub about reading and Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Last year I went even closer to home, reaching out to non readers at my 9-5¬†with Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit. This year is personal in a different way.

This year, I’m giving Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. The team at World Book Night explain it as

Full of warmth, humour and life-affirming wisdom, this is an incredible little book that offers a lifeline to anyone who has ever suffered, recovered from or encountered depression. Matt Haig recounts his own experiences with delicate precision and tells a compelling story about how reading and writing helped him out of his darkest period.

I did not want to have depression. No-one has ever wanted depression, it is a ridiculous statement to make, but yet this is how simply I thought about it. I was scared of the label. Of the indelible ink tattooed on my face, on my actions, on my very being, once those words were said. I was scared of what it would make me without even realising I was neck deep in being/feeling all the things I didn’t want to face. I was scared of what it had done to people I love. I fought for too long, for too many people I couldn’t help. Including myself.

I was scared of the title. I had heard lots about Reasons to Stay Alive, about how it helped so many people understand or explain an illness that is often inexplicable. The title, the book, doesn’t allow you to run and hide. It confronts the very fears by presenting itself as the ‘pro’ list when the ‘cons’ are reasons not to stay alive. No one wants to hear those words, see those words, and yet by just opening that door¬†to¬†that conversation lives can be saved.

Confession: I hadn’t read the book when I applied to be a book giver and selected it as my choice. However I brought myself a copy earlier this year. I wish I had read it sooner. I wish someone had handed it to me. So far it has opened up conversations with loved ones who have dealt with their own anxiety or depression, and/or support me. I’m sure this blog post and the giving of these books today will open up even more. Timely as it is almost the end of Depression Awareness Week.

Today I’ll be facing strangers and handing them this book. Or I’ll be leaving it in places for people to find in the hope that they will let me know where it ends up. I will try to focus on those who may not read, but I think with this book I¬†can be a little more open and aim to speak to those who could be helped by this book in some way.

IMG_20160423_100708To end this on a lighter note, I’d like you to imagine me out there with these books. I have been ill with a cold/flu bug this week which has left me with no voice. I can only whisper. Imagine me walking around a nearby town, wrapped up in a ridiculous number of layers, speaking to strangers in a whisper about depression and reading. I’d laugh already but that might start a coughing fit.

I promise photos, stories, and more World Book Night celebrations on here later…

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.

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 clich√©s. 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 РSwallows and Amazons, and a miniature library of the Beatrix Potter stories. They are among my most treasured possessions Рa 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 РJessie 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…