Book launch: White Lies by Jo Gatford

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I’ve just got back from the book launch  of my friend’s book- I remember Jo telling me about this book three years ago and it’s such an exciting thing to see the finished product IN MY HANDS. It’s so cool to see that her hard work has culminated in a real. life. book.

It’s a story of a family torn apart by Alzheimer’s, tragedy and secrets and lies. I can’t wait to get started.

I’ll be writing a full review soon…

Blog Tour: The Broken by Tamar Cohen

I’m part of a blog tour for the new book Broken, a psychological thriller that explores how the breakdown of a friends’ marriage can have serious consequences on those around them. I found it quite gripping and read it in a day- the suspense was fantastic and if you like your novels dark and taut, I think you’d enjoy Broken.

The Broken

Its author, Tamar Cohen, agreed to answer my questions- read on!

Tamar Cohen

1. Where do you get inspiration for your novels?
Like most authors, I shamelessly plunder my own life for inspiration, and when that doesn’t yield anything (I’m very boring) I shamelessly plunder my friends’ instead. Seriously though, the spark of inspiration usually does come from something that happens to me or to someone I know and then I think about what would happen if that person or the people around them, reacted to that thing in a very extreme way. That’s what I’m interested in – how ordinary people react to extraordinary situations or crises.

2. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Forcing myself to concentrate when there are so many distractions… Sorry , what were you saying? Writing requires focus. I can’t even have music playing when I write (although I know lots of other writers can). So for me being connected to the Internet is a disaster, because I keep breaking off from writing to check emails or browse Twitter or browse through garden office websites, and then it takes me ages to get back into the writing zone again. I even bought an app which blocks me from the Internet for an hour or two at a time, which sometimes works, although I have my phone on the desk next to me that beeps every time an email comes in, so it’s very easy to cheat!

3. Which authors have had the most influence on your work and why?
That’s a tricky one. There are authors I’ve never met whose writing has had a huge influence on me, like Kate Atkinson who is so playful and original with words and concepts and skips from literary fiction to crime without missing a beat. And Louise Doughty whose Apple Tree Yard was a masterclass in marrying up intense nail-biting suspense, with flawless writing. Then there are authors in know in real life whose writing is brilliant but who also influence me by providing writerly advice when I’m stuck. I’m looking at you Louise Millar, Louise Douglas, Amanda Jennings and Lisa Jewell!

4. What are you top five books?

Blimey that’s a tough one. I always hate answering these kind of list questions because invariably as soon as I’ve hit ‘send’ I’ll remember loads I wish I’d put in. But here are a selection which, if not the top five, are very definitely somewhere around the top:
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (makes me laugh every time)
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (just such beautiful, light prose)
Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett (such huge heart)
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (because I wish I’d written it)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (gotta love a book that makes you feel for a narrator who’s so fundamentally flawed)

5. What’s your advice to budding novelists?
Write, write, write, read, write, write, write, read, write, write, write, read (ad infinitum)

 

January Blues (AKA why I wish I could hibernate)

I hate January. I always have. It’s cold, it’s miserable and there are no twinkly lights to distract from the misery outside. I don’t hold much belief in that ‘Blue Monday’ thing (although I like the New Order song), but I do think January could learn from its more cheerful friends. Such as March. Add to this that the last week has been awful, especially Thursday and Friday and it’s made me desperate for a) a series of snow days so I can stay at home legitimately and b) February.

I’ve agreed to trial an online stress management course with Yoga in Sardinia. I have practised yoga in the past, but don’t have time these days for a full class. The course is designed to help more with mindfulness rather than the physical aspects of yoga. Ironically, I wanted to start this a couple of weeks ago, but work and other things made me too stressed to remember to start! Anyway, I look forward to the next eight weeks of trying to be mindful. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

I have also been stockpiling books since my book buying ban ended on Christmas Day (although it did feel weird to be buying them again and I may have gone a tad overboard. Oops.) I am reading like it’s going out of fashion and I think I will probably do the ban again later in the year when my ‘to-read’ pile becomes huge again.

At least the TV is better- one of my favourite drama series ever, The Bridge, is back on. I love Saga and Martin.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

I also have stocked up on teas from Whittards and Palais des Thes. So, snow, make your entrance whenever you like. Just make sure you arrive on the days I’m supposed to be at work, yeah? Thanks.

How are you getting through January?

 

Guest Post: My library card changed my life

Today’s guest post is by Alison and is a topic really close to my heart- if it hadn’t been for my local library when I was on maternity leave (and suffering bad depression), I would have never left the house. Read and enjoy!

When I was little, I thought my library card was the best thing in the world. It was something I was allowed to look after for myself, I discovered Judy Blume, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Shirley Hughes, Enid Blyton and Jill Murphy, stories of Enchanted Forests, Schools for Witches and cities full of Skyscrapers and to top it all off I could take them all home. Behind every cover was a world I had yet to discover. The library was also frequented by lots of different people, children would come after school to pick up their new books and spend time with new friends (both real and imaginary) and older people would come to read the newspapers and enjoy the atmosphere.

As I got older, the library started to mean different things to me. It was where I could go to use the internet when I didn’t have a connection in my shared house, where I could hire out DVDs and Music and where I could borrow books when I couldn’t afford to buy them due to living on a budget. The library also provided Stephanie with a place she could get new books when she was on her Book Buying ban. It also helps you get out of your comfort zone with books and authors as the selection varies from library to library.
I love reading and have acquired quite a lot of books in my 28 years so much so, a friend called me, ‘Matilda’ when he helped me move house! The library allowed Matilda to esc ape in to stories. Without it she would simply have been lost. “Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world, like ships onto the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message, ‘You are not alone.”# Matilda may have only been a story itself but it highlights the simple message. Libraries are needed to help people. They give elderly people a place to go, they give support to local communities through learning and resources and they give direction and knowledge to those who are looking for a path.

Image: Roalddahl.wikia.com

Image: Roalddahl.wikia.com

My friend Rosie is a librarian (or the more complex, LRC Digital Facilitator) for Middlesbrough College. She highlighted that investment needs to be key, ‘how are you going to draw people in if your libraries don’t have Wi-Fi but your nearest Wetherspoons and McDonalds do?’
Yes, we are moving into a world where books are being replaced with digital files but surely, we should keep these environments within our communities to embrace people and their love of reading. Councils across the country are making cuts and libraries stand directly in the firing line as a non-essential service. The author, Caitlin Moran, credits her local library in Wolverhampton with schooling her when she was Home Schooled. I think she puts it in the best way; it is not just one door closing with the closure of a library but ‘a trillion small doors closing.’#
The title of this post is a phrase that appears on my friend Rosie’s Library Card from Stockton libraries. She posted a Library Card Selfie of herself on Facebook to highlight the @WeNeedLibraries song video which is collected these images.
For more about their campaign to save as many libraries in the UK as they can: https://twitter.com/WeNeedLibraries
Also, check out Voices for the Library, a useful site for library lovers; http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk
Post a selfie, read a book or simply just go and love your local library!

 

Guest Post: A Ginger Cat, Children’s Books and New Year’s Resolutions

Today’s post is by the lovely Alice. Enjoy!

It’s funny, and possibly a little bit weird, that I keep finding myself drawn to Alice in Wonderland. For years, I sort of resented it as a book because people would always associate it with me, just because my name was Alice, which at the time was quite an unusual name. Luckily (although that is debatable), soon everyone who used to shout ‘Hey! Alice in Wonderland!’ at me learned two new songs, ‘Alice the Camel’ and ‘Living next door to Alice’.

The thing is, I really like that book now. It’s a collection wonderful, unexpected bits, and stuffed full of great writing. And last year, I went through a phase of following other Alices on Twitter. Which is actually how I found Steph (WutheringAlice is a bit of a mash-up of two of my favourite books.) I like Steph’s blog because we share lots of the same interests – books – magpie-ing, craft – unlike Steph though, I can’t knit, which is a shame. And I know very little about beauty products. But then, that is why it’s great stumbling on blogs that you not only identify with, but you can learn from.

alice

Anyway, back to Wonderland. I found this quote the other day:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

My new years’ resolution – you may as well make resolutions you know you can keep – is to keep reading interesting and magical books. To myself, but also to my children. They are at the point (aged 4, 6 and almost 8) where they are keen to be read to, but also want to read things for themselves. We’ve had years of enjoyment reading the Julia Donaldson books to them, and Oliver Jeffers remains a favourite, as does anything Lauren Child has written. The biggest girl has just discovered Harry Potter books, and is ploughing through them at an alarming rate. And now, on some nights it is just easier to let them read to themselves (or in the 4 year olds’ case, recite a Charlie and Lola book she knows off by heart. ) But there is something about reading stories out loud to children that is especially magical. With loads of kids owning tablets, kindles and e-readers now, I have become more and more determined to continue to read books to the children; actual books they can touch and turn the pages of. I’m all for technology, and I don’t stand in their way of exploring it, but the thought of reading everything on a handheld device gives me the creeps. And so I’ve started by buying a book that made me laugh out loud the first time I ever read it.

Orlando

It’s a book about Orlando the Cat : A Trip Abroad. He goes on holiday to France, by accident. (He was supposed to go to Newhaven! As you do, when you are a cat.)

Kathleen Hale004

It’s just a wonderful story, with great illustrations. The writing is hilarious; there is a bit where Orlando is so excited, he jumps on to a table does his world-class impersonation of a ham. And the illustrations are so brilliant that the book is every bit as attractive to adults as to children; I would own this book even if I didn’t have kids. There are loads of stories in the Orlando series, he goes on lots of interesting, and slightly bizarre adventures. The first ones were written in 1938, so they are dated in places, but haven’t lost any of their charm or wit.

As well as Orlando the cat, I want to read more young fiction. Just because you are essentially a grown up, with a mortgage and a kitchen that includes more than one type of pasta and an actual recipe book (this is basically my criteria for being a grown up) doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy fiction aimed at teenagers. It’s a genre that just seems to get better and better! The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder are two of the best books I’ve read in the last year.

Happy Reading! New Year, Same You,  but with added book-based adventures.

Guest Post: The Map That Came To Life- A means of escape

I’m really happy that Michael (one half of TheBigForest) agreed to guest post for me- I hope you enjoy today’s post as much as I do!

levelcrossingthemapthatcametolifebl

When I was young I was given a large scale picture book for older children called The Map That Came To Life. It had been published more than twenty years earlier in 1948 and showed an England that had already disappeared.
The story tells of John and Joanna who are on their summer holidays. They walk, with Rover the farm dog, from their Uncle Georges Farm to Dumbleford Fair. Uncle George has shown them the previous evening how to read a map and the book unfolds in large picture book double spreads juxtaposing the map with illustrations of the ‘real’ countryside that comes to life and a written narrative about the children’s adventures.

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I’m not sure what held my imagination as a child, perhaps that I have always seen maps as an effective means of time travel or that my grandparents owned a farm in rural Sussex and I too walked across the fields to the village. I’m sure it couldn’t have been an identification with John all rocked up in shorts and long school socks or a wish to be friends with Joanna with her shiny plaits and large white bows. They look about 12 or 13 and, well, all rather uncool.
There is a beauty and simplicity to the world A Map That Came To Life portrays. Like so many children’s books there is drama (a fire, a lost child) but you know it is all going to be fine in the end. Uncle George will pick them up in his horse and trap and take them home for a slap up tea with Aunty Mary.

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A couple of years ago I was surprised to find another copy of The Map That Came To Life dated 1963. Someone, perhaps Ronald Lampitt who drew the original, had tried to update the 1940’s illustrations. The perky hats and shoulder pad dresses had been blurred to a softer silhouette, the steam train replaced by a diesel and the cars had sleek lines rather than the older ‘sit up and beg’ profile. The biggest change was that the gentle lithograph colours had become all bright and shiny and so much was lost.
I was thinking about the comfortable world of the Map That Came To Life the other day when things were a bit tough. There is something so wonderful about escaping in to a story book land where tigers who come to tea are not the slightest bit threatening or everyone just comes together and builds a house for their neighbours.
Is there a story book you would like to escape in to?

Guest blogger: Michael is a consultant in the arts and culture sector he is also one of the designers at TheBigForest a business based in Brighton and London. Find TheBigForest blog here.
If you want the reading list here it is!
The Map That Came To Life by HR Deverson and drawn by Ronald Lampitt; A House In The Woods by Inga Moore; The Tiger Who Came For Tea by Judith Kerr.

What I’ve learnt from my book buying ban

Image: Musee D’Orsay

Back in July, I decided to put myself on a book buying ban. Originally, it was going to just be until November 1st, but then I got cocky and extended it to Christmas Day. I broke only once- to buy this (which was cheaper than a copy of Marie Claire):

1385497_10151678726832267_669650736_nThere have been many times in the last few months where I’ve desperately wanted to buy a book, but refrained. I’ve also probably not made a massive dent in my ‘to be read’ pile- but I have made SOME progress.

So what have I learnt?

  1. Book buying is almost a habit with me; I buy books when I’m sad, when I’m bored, when I’m celebrating. It’s just a reflex.
  2. Moving is a good thing, because then I will be able to house more books.
  3. I prefer novels in eBook format and non-fiction in paperback (I like seeing pictures properly).
  4. I am lucky enough to live in a city with a REALLY good library service. I’ve read many books that I probably wouldn’t have bought.
  5. Maybe I should go on a book buying ban for a couple of months every year. Like a book detox, if you will.
  6. I have a serious weakness for craft books. A SERIOUS weakness. Magazines don’t really replace those for me.
  7. I’m utterly bored of most magazines.
  8. I’ve read more fiction in the last few months than I have in the last couple of years.

Now, local bookselling establishments, I will be spending ALL MY MONEY in your shops as of December 26th. Brace yourselves!

 

‘Tis the season… for Edgar Allan Poe

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Image: Wikipedia

I joked recently that most of my life references come from watching hours of The Simpsons; in Poe’s case, this is true. I only know The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart because they were featured on the programme. I also have a vague recollection of reading The Black Cat as a teenager (it’s really grisly). Anyway, recently, Poe has been creeping into my life: a friend sent me a letter on Poe notepaper, Benn and I watched The Raven (which stars John Cusack as Poe- it’s a brilliant, slightly daft film. I highly recommend it!) and then I stumbled upon a documentary that dealt with his troubled relationships with women. I was hooked. I do love reading the work and biographies of damaged souls.

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As the nights draw in and Halloween moves ever closer, Poe’s tales seem to appeal more and more. That such a troubled person could write such visceral and haunting tales is fitting. So I decided to get the collected works out of the library and I am on the hunt for a great biography of him; let me know if you can recommend one!

Have you read Poe? Where should I start? I’ll let you know how I get on…

How I’m staying sane while pregnant…

Ah, pregnancy. A time of blossoming, blooming-ness. Also a time when you think the following:

“OH MY GOD,  I’M GOING TO HAVE NO MONEY FOREVER…”

“Um, this baby has got to come out of me somehow.. I wish the stork would deliver it overnight, like the Tooth Fairy or something.”

It’s actually pretty hard sometimes to keep your sense of perspective, or to not get really bloody paranoid at the slightest thing. I’m over halfway through now (and in total denial that this baby has to arrive somehow in eighteen weeks) and I’ve found that there are ways I can make myself feel slightly saner than I would otherwise.

1) Hoarding books. I buy lots of books. Secondhand, mainly, as we have a great Oxfam bookshop nearby. I know I probably won’t have time for much reading once Fidget arrives, but having lots of books in the house makes me happy. It also drives Benn mad, but that’s an added bonus. Of course, if something super-new comes out, or I’m bored of my collection, I’m lucky in that Brighton has some excellent libraries. I borrow a lot of my crafty books from them.

2) Pampering. I’ve got very into nail polish recently. I’ve always been a make-up fan, but I’ve found that changing my nails on a regular basis has become a bit of a ritual. I also found, during the first trimester (when you feel most tired/rubbish and generally in a bad mood) that using henna on my hair really worked as a pick-me-up. I got lots of compliments and felt brighter. Baths, lie-ins and lovely slow days have all helped me feel better, especially during times of massive work-related stress recently.

3) Saving.  I am an oxymoron- I am a spendthrift who worries about money. I know that I spend a lot of money on little fripperies; a lipstick here, a takeaway sandwich there. I’ve put a little money aside each month for when we don’t have so much. I can use this to take Fidget swimming, or to have a haircut or just to meet friends for a cuppa and a bit of cake. By having this money, I don’t have to rely on Benn to give me money and I won’t have to feel guilty if I have a bit of a treat. It’s helping my sanity by thinking about the future.

4) Regular exercise. My friends and family will tell you that, when it comes to exercise, I walk everywhere but am essentially lazy. However, it’s getting to the point where I feel like my legs are walking at twice the pace to cover half the distance they usually would. However, I’m really enjoying aquanatal classes at the local swimming baths. They’re half the price of yoga classes, much more fun and I feel like I’m having a real workout. Bonus, the baby appears to love them! I’m also finding that they’re helping me sleep (which can be hard, when you have the next Michael Flatley practising ‘Riverdance’ in your abdomen.)

5) Don’t feed the trolls. Ignore the internet message boards, where people post stupid and grammatically incorrect queries. Try and avoid reading too many horror stories that make you panic (ask me how I know). Don’t search WebMD to find out whether trapped wind is actually a sign of impending death. Actually, this advice is quite good even if you’re not pregnant. What I would say though, is don’t get involved in the so-called ‘Mommy Wars’. Read about them, if you like, but then resolve to take an ‘each to their own’ view of parenting. So what if someone does/doesn’t breastfeed or is an ‘attachment parent’? As long as no one is hurt, it’s really no-one else’s business.

6) Read sensible parenting books. There are loads of mad ideas about impending parenthood- just google Gina Ford to see what I mean (my favourite bit of her Wikipedia page lists Drs Penelope Leach and Miriam Stoppard as critics of her methods and, er, Eamon Holmes and Michelle Gayle as supporters. Wow.) I can recommend this book and I bought this book because I read an interview with the author and he looked sensible.

7) Be prepared for ‘surprises’. There are LOADS of things that the pregnancy books don’t tell you about. You might need breast pads from four months. You might grow lots of extra hair- everywhere. You’ll probably get weird muscle spasms. Actual mums won’t tell you this until you ask about it and you will always be greeted by the phrase, “If we told people about this NO ONE WOULD EVER HAVE CHILDREN.” You may feel slightly miffed at first, but then you will realise that you too shall one day be a member of this hallowed club of women with wisdom.

Spring Goals

I figured, as it’s nearly the end of February and we’re predicted a really warm end of the week, I thought I would look ahead and set myself some goals for the next few months; the period between now and June is busy at work and I need to make sure that I’m not just doing work stuff. So, with that in mind, I’m going to set some goals for the time period until June 1st.

1) Read more fiction- and enjoy it! I’ve written about this and I’m determined to continue with it. I’m slowly getting to grips with the problems I’ve had. Maybe I read a few rum books, but it’s getting better. I am currently loving Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Vile Bodies’, so I will read more of his books in the coming weeks.

2) Be positive- it’s really easy for me to get bogged down in my job, so I’m going to try and take everything as it comes. This target also means I need to not allow stress to envelope me. Which leads me to…

3) Get into exercising- I started both jive and yoga this weekend and I really want them to become things I really, really enjoy, even when the novelty has worn off. I’ve started to read up on the history of both and this is really helping me get my head around what I’m doing.

4) Do more writing- and be brave about it! I need to make sure that I start work on the ‘novel’ and maybe put myself forward for writing competitions, solicit some work (perhaps) and really get going with the work. Writing is the thing I love doing more than anything. I should do more of what I enjoy.

5) Knit some yoga socks!

6) Make something with my sewing machine.

7) Buy some utterly brilliant shoes that I will actually wear.

I think that’s a pretty comprehensive and achievable list… Do you have any goals for spring?