I agree with… Sarah Waters

“I tend to write about houses quite a lot… I’m very interested in the dynamics of relationships [that occur] within houses and it seemed like a bit of a pressure cooker – bringing these two households together with their very different agendas in life and the class tensions between them, and adding this element of desire between the two women and seeing what happened.”
Sarah Waters, interviewed by ‘The Bookseller’ magazine [June 13, 2014]

Waters is talking here about plotting her new book, The Paying Guests. It is set in London in 1922 and the house she refers to above is the villa in Champion Hill, Camberwell. Spinster Frances and her widowed mother Mrs Wray take in lodgers in order to make ends meet. From this, Waters spins her magic: a tale of class and sex.

The quote reminded me immediately of a new creative writing book by my former creative writing tutor, Shelley Weiner. In Writing Your First Novel: A 60-Minute Masterclass, Shelley describes the ‘desert island’ plot used by writers such as Thomas Mann [The Magic Mountain], Agatha Christie in numerous whodunits, William Golding [Lord of the Flies] and Daniel Defoe [Robinson Crusoe]. According to Shelley, Ann Patchett, author of Orange Prize winner Bel Canto, admits she has used the ‘desert island’ plot in just about everything she’s written.

The set-up seems straightforward. Simply mix together the following:-
A group of strangers;
A common predicament;
A confined location;
Individual desires and motivations.

The mix in The Paying Guests also includes class and sex. A potent mixture for a master storyteller such as Waters to explore.

To read more about Sarah Waters’ other novels, click here for her website.
To read more about Shelley Weiner’s thoughts on plotting and writing, click here.
To order Writing Your First Novel: A 60-Minute Masterclass by Shelley Weiner [Guardian Books] on Kindle, click here for Amazon.
The Paying Guests by sarah waters 23-6-14


‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters [published in the UK on August 28 2014 by Virago]

Book review: Found

FOUND BY HARLAN COBEN 12-8-14September. A sunny day in Paris and I needed a book to read on the Eurostar train home. I needed a page turner. I searched my Kindle. What was required was Harlan Coben.

I started to read Found, Coben’s latest UK release, which I thought was the new Myron Bolitar story. Except, it isn’t. It is the third in the Mickey Bolitar YA [young adult] series. I didn’t know this series existed. Mickey Bolitar is Myron’s nephew. I guess the two M’s got me confused… oh well.

Found may be a YA novel but that doesn’t stop the story from being gripping, in true Coben fashion this really rattled along. Ideal for a train journey. Mickey is Myron Bolitar’s nephew who, surprise surprise, is a basketball player and amateur detective. This is story three in the series, and I did need to know the back story. But Mr Coben [below] is very efficient at filling that in without stopping the story moving forward.

Two storylines are woven together. On Mickey’s basketball team, one player moves away suddenly, another is dropped from the team for taking steroids. Mickey investigates. Meanwhile, continued from book two in the series, one of Mickey’s friends is in hospital after an adventure when the four friends – Mickey, Spoon, Ema and Rachel – solve a mystery. It appears now though that this mystery is not completely solved.

[photo: Claudio Marinesco]

[photo: Claudio Marinesco]

The quartet combines to track down a missing teen and discover the truth of what happened to Mickey’s father. In true thriller fashion, it starts out with the two stories being completely separate but in the end they overlap. I knew the overlap was coming, but couldn’t see where.

To read my review of Coben’s One False Move, part of the Myron Bolitar series, click here.
For Harlan Coben’s website and details of all his books, click here.
Follow Harlan Coben on Twitter here.
‘Found’ by Harlan Coben [UK: Orion]

Dealing with reviews… the Robert Graves way

I’ve been reading poetry by Robert Graves recently, an anthology bought on impulse because of his war poetry. I knew little about his other works. ‘Tilth’ stands out because of the inspiration, as follows:-

From a review in a New York critical weekly: “Robert Graves, the British veteran, is no longer in the poetic swim. He still resorts to traditional metres and rhyme, and to such out-dated words as tilth; withholding his 100% approbation also from contemporary poems that favour sexual freedom.”

Gone are the drab monosyllabic days
When ‘agricultural labour’ still was tilth;
And ‘100% approbation’, praise;
And ‘pornographic modernism’, filth
Yet still I stand by tilth and filth and praise.

Now that is how to answer the critics with style!

Selected Poems by Robert Graves 19-12-13

‘Selected Poems’ by Robert Graves [Faber & Faber]

Book review: A History of Loneliness

A history of loneliness by john boyne 2-9-14I don’t normally start a book review by talking about a completely different book, but I will today so bear with me. John Boyne is probably best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a book about a young German boy during World War Two who moves to a house in the country where he makes friends with Schmuel, a boy who lives at the other side of a wire fence. Written for ‘younger readers’ it is the story of Bruno’s transition from childhood innocence to horrific understanding, the book was made into a film starring David Thewlis. Despite the label ‘for younger readers’ this, and Boyne’s more recent First World War novel Stay Where You Are & Then Leave, provide food for thought for adult readers too.

So with that in mind I came to A History of Loneliness, Boyne’s latest adult novel, excepting a harrowing storyline which tackles emotional and difficult issues with honesty. I was not disappointed. When I look back at the books I’ve most enjoyed reading, so far this year, Irish writers rank highly – particularly A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry.

The History of Loneliness is a depressing title – it has to be about loneliness, doesn’t it? Yes, but it’s about so much more – the soul of a boy growing up in 1960s Ireland and becoming a priest, it’s about guilt and responsibility and honesty [with oneself, with others]. And, given its setting and time, it is about the Catholic church in Ireland and child abuse. But it is not a depressing novel. It is the story of Odran Yates’s journey from childhood to seminary to adulthood, via Rome where he serves tea to two Popes, back to Ireland where he watches from the sidelines as one then another trusted Irish priest is convicted of child abuse.

[photo: Richard Gilligan]

[photo: Richard Gilligan]

It is an unexpected page turner. Boyne [above] drops hints at ‘things that happened’, enough to make you want to know what. He maintains the suspense by telling Odran’s story in disparate chunks – the first four chapters move from 2001 to 2006, 1964 to 1980 – answering some questions and asking new ones, and weaving in the story of Odran’s sister Hannah and her family. Some bits made me chuckle, some made me laugh out loud, others brought a lump to my throat. A favourite was the discussion with Katherine Summers, a neighbour of the Yates who cycles by wearing short skirts to the horror of all the Catholic mothers, about the naughty bits in The Godfather. Most of all, this book tells the story of the priesthood from the 1960s when the word of the priest was God, to 2008 when a stranger spits in Odran’s face because he is a priest wearing a black suit and a white plastic collar.

I’ve found a new author to explore, and that is always exciting.

To read my review of John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are & Then Leave, click here.
For more about John Boyne’s writing, click here for his website.
To read my review of A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, click here.
‘A History of Loneliness’ by John Boyne [published in the UK by Doubleday]

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Cloughton Wyke 1′

John Wedgwood Clarke writes about the edges of North Yorkshire, the forgotten bits, the ugly bits, the hidden bits. He is a new discovery for me. His latest pamphlet, In Between, was written for the York Curiouser Festival, and is inspired by the snickets and alleys of old York.

[photo: valleypressuk.com]

[photo: valleypressuk.com]

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Cloughton Wyke 1’
Iron light. Fulmar and kittiwake
laugh in Anglo-Saxon,
ripple quick shadows
over the beach.

It transports me instantly to the North Yorkshire cliffs where I grew up, and the constant presence of seabirds. Cloughton Wyke [below] was one of many destinations for the Danby family explorations on Sundays, sandwiches wrapped in foil, trifle in colour-coded Tupperware bowls, orange squash.

I cannot read this poem enough.

[photo: whitbyseaanglers.co.uk]

[photo: whitbyseaanglers.co.uk]

For John Wedgwood Clarke’s blog, click here.
To find John Wedgwood Clarke’s poems around York as part of the York Curiouser Festival, click here for a map.
To listen to John Wedgwood Clarke read his poem ‘Castle Headland’, click here.
For more poetry published by Valley Press, including In Between, click here.

ghost pot - cover 15-7-14


‘Ghost Pot’ by John Wedgwood Clarke [Valley Press]

Book review: Pop Goes the Weasel

Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ Arlidge 2-9-14Fog creeps up the Solent and into the city from the sea, casting a shroud over the streets, driving the population indoors at the end of the day and pulling the streetwalkers out into their night domain. Empty backstreets, dirty abandoned industrial estates, overgrown riverbanks. Murder will take place this night.

This is a great follow-up by Matthew Arlidge to his first novel about Detective Inspector Helen Grace, but please read Eeny Meeny first or you will be a bit baffled by the back story. These two books tick a lot of boxes: gritty realistic drama, lead female detective with a raw damaged personality, in fact a lot of female characters, set in Southampton [not London, not Edinburgh] with flawed heroes and damaged villains. Arlidge [below]is an accomplished TV writer and author; whether he is writing about police procedure, or the nasty druggy backstreets of a port city where the population rises and falls with the tide, I believe him.

[photo: janklowandnesbit.co.uk]

[photo: janklowandnesbit.co.uk]

The murder scenes are graphic and anatomical, a bit too much for me, so I admit to skipping a few paragraphs. I don’t like blood and gore, but I do like Helen Grace and DC Charlie Brooks. I didn’t take to Emilia Garanita , the reporter from the local paper, or the new Detective Superintendant Ceri Harwood. Woven through the chase to find the hooker who kills her victims are stories continued from Eeny Meeny: why is Helen Grace driving to Aldershot to spy on a boy, what happened to Helen’s sister, can Charlie have a baby and stay in the force, and how does Garanita always know where Grace is?

Helen Grace’s story will run and run, I am sure there will be a third book.

To find out why Matthew Arlidge likes the bad guys, click here to read an article for the WH Smith Richard and Judy Book Club.
To find out why I liked the first book about DI Helen Grace, Eeny Meeny, click here.

‘Pop goes the Weasel’ by MJ Arlidge [published in the UK on September 11, 2014 by Penguin]

I agree with… Deborah McKinlay

“I can say now that the lean years focussed me on what I really wanted – in that nothing-to-lose way that is often motivating. But I am in no rush to repeat them. I hope, if you’re still battling through, that you find yourself with a packet of smoked salmon in your grocery basket when you least expect it. I did.”
Deborah McKinlay, in an interview with ‘We Love This Book’ [March 12, 2014]

[photo: orionbooks.co.uk]

[photo: orionbooks.co.uk]

McKinlay [above], a published non-fiction author and journalist, wrote a novel The View from Here. After a struggle to find an agent in London, she sold it herself to a small New York publisher. Struggling for grocery money, she continued to write. Now describing herself as “not only mid-career; I am also mid-life – too old for a girly agent pal,” she returned to the agent trail in New York, feeling the American characters in her new novel That Part Was True would be more attractive to a US agent. She found one, who promptly sold the novel back to the UK where it is published by Orion.

So, a circular trail. I took two lessons from Deborah’s experience:- don’t give up, and be true to yourself.

To read the full interview with Deborah McKinlay at We Love This Book, click here.
To read a review of That Part Was True in The New York Times, click here.

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay 19-6-14


‘That Part Was True’ by Deborah McKinlay [pub. in the UK  by Orion]