Wednesday 30 September 2015

How To Be Brave by Louise Beech *** BLOG TOUR ***

All the stories died that morning ... until we found the one we’d always known. 
When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. 
They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. 
Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. 
Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Braveweaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. 
A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love ...  and what it really means to be brave

Welcome to the How To Be Brave by Louise Beech Blog Tour.

How To Be Brave is published by Orenda Books in September 2015 and is the author's debut novel.

Author Amanda Jennings is quoted on the front cover of How To Be Brave, she says;

"Moving, engrossing and richly drawn, this is storytelling in its purest form .... mesmerising."

Amanda has summed up exactly what I would like to say about How To Be Brave, especially her point about storytelling. This really is a perfect example of how a story should be told, and Louise Beech tells not just one story in How To Be Brave, but two. Her modern-day tale of Natalie and Rose, and how they deal with a devastating medical diagnosis is beautifully woven together with Colin's story of survival during World War Two.   

Two very different stories of battle and endurance, set in different eras and dealing with different issues, but bound together by hope and resilience.

Natalie and Rose had the strongest of mother-daughter relationships. With father Jake away fighting in Afghanistan, Natalie has the responsibility of ensuring that Rose's everyday needs are met, that she is happy and that she doesn't miss her father too much. Rose and Natalie share a love of books, and Rose spends hours curled up in her 'book nook' escaping to the places in the stories in her books.

Their relationship shatters when Rose is diagnosed with diabetes. Although she's a bright and mature child, she's only nine-years-old and her fear manifests into bad behaviour, surly retorts, foul language and a sudden hatred of books. Natalie struggles to cope, she hates having to inflict pain onto her daughter, yet knows that the regular injections and blood tests are vital for Rose.

Alongside Rose and Natalie is a shadowy figure of an elderly man who tells them to 'find the book'.
This is when the diary of their ancestor Colin starts to play a big part in their life. Colin's account of the time that he was 'lost' at sea becomes their focus, and their guide, and enables them to find their own way through their upheavals.

With a hint of ghost story, mixed up with contemporary, up to the minute narrative and a good dose of wartime history, How To Be Brave is a very special, unique and quite beautiful story.  The stories are blended to perfection, the author masterfully and seamlessly knits them together resulting in a hugely satisfying, intelligent and emotional creation.

Louise Beech has always been haunted by the sea, and regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. 

Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. 

Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull –the UK’s 2017 City of Culture –and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.  

She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show. 

This is her first book, based on her experience with her own daughter’s diagnosis and the true story of her grandfather, Colin.

Follow her on Twitter @LouiseWriter

All the stories died that morning ... until we found the one we’d always known.
When nine
old Rose is diagnosed with a

threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her
daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in
a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man
who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic
Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued.
Poignant, beautifully
written and tenderly told,
How To Be Brave
weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her
child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply
nforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love ... and what it
really means to be brave

Thursday 17 September 2015

After You by Jojo Moyes

Lou Clark has lots of questions.
Like how it is she's ended up working in an airport bar, spending every shift watching other people jet off to new places.
Or why the flat she's owned for a year still doesn't feel like home.
Whether her close-knit family can forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago.
And will she ever get over the love of her life.
What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change.
Then, one night, it does.
But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for - or just more questions?
Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered, safe.
Open it and she risks everything.
But Lou once made a promise to live. And if she's going to keep it, she has to invite them in . . .

After You by Jojo Moyes is published by Michael Joseph (Penguin) on 24 September 2015 in hardback and ebook. After You is the long awaited sequel to the worldwide phenomenon Me Before You.

I have been a huge fan of Jojo Moyes for many years. Ten years ago I read The Peacock Emporium whilst on holiday in Kefalonia and was hooked from there on. Since then, I have eagerly awaited every one of her books, I've enjoyed all of them and recommended them to my friends. It wasn't until Me Before You was published in 2012 that Jojo Moyes really became a huge name. Me Before You has sold over 6 million copies worldwide and went to the top of the charts in nine countries, including Germany where it held the number one slot for 46 weeks.

A major film adaptation of Me Before You, starring Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), has just wrapped and will be on the screens in 2016.

After You, the sequel to Me Before You has to be one of the most anticipated books in recent years, when I saw the announcement that Jojo Moyes was going to write a sequel I was delighted, everyone who read about Lou and Will must have wondered what happened next ....... here it is .....

The most important thing to remember when picking up After You is that it is a sequel, and whilst you could probably get away with reading it as a standalone novel, I'd personally recommend that if you haven't read Me Before You yet, then you really should. Knowing Lou and Will's story will enhance this story, it will mean more to you, and you'll also be catching up on a damn fine book.

Lou Clark, or just Clark has she is affectionately known has struggled to move on for the past eighteen months. The end of her relationship with Will has left a huge hole in her life and she's lonely and isolated. The gap between her and her family widens daily, her flat is almost bare, the colourful wacky vintage clothes she used to love are consigned to boxes and she spends her days serving drinks to passengers at an airport.

Oh, she's traveled, she spent time in Europe, drifting through different countries, but her heart and her head are still filled by Will. Lou watches the planes take off and touch down, the passengers forging ahead with their lives and wonders how she will ever move on. The pain is overwhelming, it doesn't seem to change, she grasps at things that remind her of Will, yet at same time hides herself away from the world.

Lou's life changes one night, with a bang, literally. She has a nasty accident and suddenly a whole host of new people enter her life, and change it considerably. Moving on, she begins to allow herself some freedom from the grip of her memories of Will, but also learning some surprising and quite shocking truths about him.

After You is a story of grief and love and could be depressing and gloomy, but Jojo Moyes deals with the subject with her trademark warmth and beautifully developed characters.  Lou becomes involved with a group of people who all have issues of their own to cope with, and the scenes set within this group are quite beautiful, bringing a gentle humour to this special special story. There is a real feel of being British in After You; the stiff upper lip compounded with the morbid and black humour that only the Brits can do so well.

I was delighted to be re-introduced to Lou's fabulous family, her parents often steal the scene from the accompanying characters, they are ordinary people, yet extraordinary too; funny and witty, infuriating and daft, yet fragile and gentle and very lovable.

Lou herself is still that same headstrong colourful character that we fell in love with in Me Before You. She's a little blurred around the edges, but as the story unfolds and she begins to open her heart again, that honesty and loyalty reappears. Her special relationship with young Lily is a joy to behold, their interaction is real and charming, they spark off one another, bringing out the worst and the best in each other.

So, I haven't told you anything about the plot of After You, or even what happened in Me Before You, that's not for me to do, and why would I when Jojo Moyes has done it so brilliantly? Fans of the first book shouldn't worry, the author hasn't done anything awful to Lou, or to the memory of her relationship with Will. She has, however, carried on that beautiful story with ease, she's dealt with some pretty serious issues, but dealt with them extremely well, incorporating some dark themes into an uplifting and quite joyous book.

It is clear that Jojo Moyes loves and cares for her characters as much as the readers do, and although there are scenes that will have you reaching for the tissues, and times when the characters really do hurt, on the whole, this is a compelling story of hope and positivity.

Writing After You was a brave move for Jojo Moyes, but I am delighted that she did. It has been an absolute pleasure to read about Lou and her family once more, and to meet the new characters in her life. After You is a triumphant return for Lou Clark, for Jojo Moyes and for her readers. I loved every page, it is thought-provoking, totally absorbing and extremely satisfying.

Huge thanks to the author and publisher who arranged my copy for review.

Jojo Moyes is a novelist and journalist. She worked at the Independent for ten years before leaving to write full-time. 
Her previous novels have all been critically acclaimed and include Me Before You, The Girl You Left Behind and the Sunday Times number one bestseller The One Plus One.

Jojo lives in Essex with her husband and their three children.

For more information, visit the Jojo Moyes website
Find her author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @jojomoyes

Check out the Book Trailer for After You


Wednesday 16 September 2015

Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler *** BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY ****

Kurt Cobain stands at the top of the stairs, wearing the brown sweater. ‘Please don’t leave me,’ she yells up at him. But it’s too late; he’s turning away.

Is Brigitte a loving wife and mother, or a cold-blooded killer?

Nobody knows why she was out so early on the morning she was knocked down in a hit-and-run. Or why a man was found beaten to death in her apartment that same day.

Brigitte claims she has no memory of what happened, but when the investigation is reopened fourteen years later, unwanted questions start cropping up:

What was Brigitte doing before she was run over?

Who killed the man in her apartment?

And why is she haunted by the face of Kurt Cobain, who reminds her of someone she’d rather forget…?

As Brigitte’s world begins collapsing in on her, she is forced to confront the truth about that night – even if it means losing her husband, her kids, and maybe even herself.

Welcome to my spot on the Blog Tour for Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler, published by Scribe on 24 September 2015.

I have a copy of Please Don't Leave Me Here to give away to one of my blog followers. To enter, please complete the widget at the end of this post. The giveaway will be open for two weeks, UK entries only please.

How I love an unreliable narrator, and in Tania Chandler's stunning debut you meet one of the very best of them, Brigette could be anything, and whilst the reader is privy to her private thoughts, her dreams and her reality, we really don't know quite how honest she is.

The story opens in 2008. Brigette and her policeman husband Sam have toddler twins, their relationship feels a bit fraught, right from the start and when Brigette finds out that an old, unsolved murder case is about to be re-opened, she falls to pieces.

Brigette swiftly spirals out of control, developing a love-hate relationship with Sam's colleague Aiden. Her drinking becomes heavier, her dependence on painkillers and tranquillisers muffles her world, and her dreams become more vivid, with Kurt Cobain watching her, speaking to her, frightening her.

Part two of the book takes the reader back to 1994, the time of the murder that has evoked such a strong reaction. We were given titbits of information in part one; was Brigette involved in the murder? Did Sam cover for her? Is Aiden getting uncomfortably near to the truth?

In 1994, Brigette was a stripper, she earned a lot of money dancing provocatively, wearing little but a g-string and going home every night with handfuls of dollar bills. Brigette was unhappy, she wanted more, she wanted to study, to write, to be more than an object for rich men to lust after. Brigette was controlled by her older lover Eric, a man who controlled her, owned her and disgusted her.

Please Don't Leave Me Here is a challenging read, it's complex and complicated and just a little bit strange. However, that really shouldn't put anyone off reading it because it's also incredibly clever and teases the reader all of the way through. The dream sequences are, at times, a little off putting, yet they do add to the darkness and tension that runs throughout the story. There's a seediness about Brigette that even when married to a respectable policeman is difficult to shake off. Her earlier life and experiences seem to have shaped her later years, and it seems incredibly easy for her to slip back to the drink and drugs that played a huge part of her early years.

The character of Brigette totally overshadows the plot, she's larger than life and incredibly well put together. Please Don't Leave Me Here is the story of Brigette, with an unsolved murder and the ghost of a dead rock star co-starring.

A clever and quite chilling story. Tania Chandler is a convincing writer. I will look forward to reading more from her in the future.

TANIA CHANDLER is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. 

Her work was awarded a special commendation in the 2013 Writers Victoria Crime Writing competition. 

Please Don’t Leave Me Here is her first novel, and she is currently working on a sequel.

Find out more about the author and her writing on her blog, Tania Chandler writes 

Find her author page on Facebook

Follow her on Twitter @Tania_Chandler

One copy of Please Don't Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler


Tuesday 15 September 2015

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

It's the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O'Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident.
One night, there's a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.
The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can't remember what happened, she doesn't know how she got there.
She doesn't know why she's in pain.
But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night.
But sometimes people don't want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town's heroes . .

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill was published by Quercus Children's Books on 3 September and is the author's second book.  Asking For It was written for the Young Adult market, and due to the strong language and explicit scenes, is not suitable for younger readers. However, it's a book that packs a very very powerful punch, and the theme is incredibly important, it is not only for the young, every adult should read this.

Emma O'Donovan is having a great summer. The weather is hot, there are parties to go to and boys to impress. Emma is beautiful, the most beautiful girl in town, and she knows it. She is determined that every boy's eyes will be on her first, and likes to make the other girls in town notice too. Emma has a bunch of friends, but she's not very friendly. She's the queen of put-downs, keeping her friends in their place with her acid tongue and her snide comments.

Doted on by her parents, adored by her brother, admired by the other girls in town and lusted after by most of the boys, Emma is on top of the world.

Emma comes crashing down with a huge bang the morning after the night before. She feels terrible after the party, her parents discover her on the front porch, curled up in a ball in the blazing sunshine, obviously the worse for wear. The life that Emma led, where she was the centre of everything disappears when she opens her Facebook page and finds picture after picture after picture ..... and the comments, so many comments ...

slut, skank, bitch, whore
slut, skank, bitch, whore

Emma sees pink flesh, legs splayed, delicate, bruised, ripped apart.  Everyone else sees it too; her friends, her brother, her teachers, her parents, her neighbour, the Priest.

Asking For It is one of those books that I started reading and then really struggled to put it down. During the reading time I went through so many emotions as Louise O'Neill unfolds this story. I was angry, very fucking angry.  I was so so sad.  I was also ashamed. I was ashamed because although Asking For It is a fictional story and the characters are not real and this didn't happen; we all know full well that things like this do happen all the time. There are women who are raped and who will suffer because of it for the rest of their lives, and sadly, it won't be the physical injuries that will affect them the most, it will be the memory of how people treated them afterwards.

If Louise O'Neill set out to explore why so often, women and girls are blamed, shamed and shunned, and rapists are excused, pardoned and given sympathy, she has completely nailed it. She gets into the heads of everyone involved with the case, and also those who have an opinion and exposes the shameful way that victims of rape are treated.

Emma isn't the nicest of characters, she's selfish and self-centred and seems oblivious to the hurt that she can inflict on those around her, and this is one of the strengths in Asking For It. Louise O'Neill could have created a different Emma, she could have been sweet and innocent, and kind, she could have been the best friend that anyone could ask for, she could have been brave and strong and defeated the shamers. But she didn't. Emma is typical of many eighteen year old girls today; smart, sexy, self-aware. She's determined to have the best, to be the prettiest. She doesn't mind if her girlfriends attract a boy, but she has to make sure that the boy notices her too, that her friends are aware that she could, if she wanted to, take that boy from them.  This hard surface is covering a quite vulnerable and not quite so confident interior. Emma does have her issues, her worries and her insecurities and all of these come to the fore when those photographs do the rounds on Facebook.

Asking For It is a bang up-to-date story, Louise O'Neill has bravely addressed the issues that remain in our society today. We think that we've moved on, we think we've left behind the Jimmy Savilles and the Rolf Harris, we think that women are equal and have a voice. But still, almost every month, we read something else, we hear those words; 'Asking for it', we learn of the cross-examination of victims; how their private lives are discussed sneeringly in court, their choice of dress is sniffed at. Important women, who should be role models speak out, women like Chrissie Hynde, Whoopi Goldberg, Serena Williams, strong independent successful women, yet with just a few words they add to the shaming and blaming.

Emma was #NotAskingForIt.  Women all over the world are #NotAskingForIt - this book is an incredibly well written, very brave and extremely important one. This will be one of my Top Ten Reads of 2015, without a doubt.

I bought my hardcover copy of Asking For It from Waterstones, Nottingham.

Louise O'Neill was born in west Cork in 1985. 

She studied English at Trinity College Dublin and has worked for the senior Style Director of AmericanElle magazine. 

While in New York, she also worked as an assistant stylist on a number of high-profile campaigns. 

She is currently working as a freelance journalist for a variety of Irish national newspapers and magazines, covering feminist issues, fashion and pop culture. 

Her website is and you can find her on Twitter @oneilllo


Saturday 12 September 2015

Out of the Darkness by Katy Hogan

Out of the Darkness is a haunting, sometimes heart-breaking, contemporary novel with a supernatural twist. 
A tale of friendship and redemption, of love and loss, and life after death. 
Set in the lively coastal town of Brighton, Out of the Darkness tells the moving story of three women, complete strangers, each burdened by their own secrets, fears and emotional baggage 
Their lives are changed irrevocably when they are brought together by one remarkable connection: someone who wants to help them.....from beyond the grave.

Out of the Darkness by Katy Hogan was published in paperback on 6 July 2015.

The word 'supernatural' often strikes fear into my heart and I do my best to avoid books that claim to have a 'supernatural twist'. However, bloggers that I respect have raved about this book, and although I stopped myself from actually reading the reviews, my interest was sparked enough for me to cast aside my preconceptions and take the plunge.

It is a plunge!  I dived in whilst sitting on a train on my way to London, and barely raised my eyes from the pages for the whole journey. I finished the book just as I was pulling into my home station on my return journey, and I am so pleased that I stepped out of my comfort zone and read this emotional and really lovely story.

Based around three female characters; Jessica, Alex and Hannah, it's a story that captures a wealth of feelings experienced through some emotionally-charged themes. Jessica is grieving for her mother who died recently, taken so early and leaving an enormous hole in her world. She also has to face up to another potentially life-changing situation, and when Alex and Hannah rush to help her one day, their friendship begins.

These three woman each have their own sadness. There was a time that I thought that Jessica was going to be saved from herself, when she met Finn at the beginning of the book, and although he brought a flash of joy and laughter into her world, he doesn't stay around for long.

Katy Hogan gently and carefully reveals the inner turmoil in each of her characters, and whilst the reader will at first wonder what on earth they have in common, it soon becomes clear that they all have many things to link them together.

All of us will experience death, we will grieve and we will hurt. Katy Hogan explores ways of dealing with this issue that may not sit comfortably with some readers, but is done so tenderly and with such emotive writing that it would be very hard to criticise or dismiss. Out of the Darkness is a book that will touch most readers, will raise questions and may comfort. The writing is elegant, the pace is gentle and the characters are authentic.

Out of the Darkness is a fine debut from an author to watch.

My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review.

About Katy Hogan:
Having grown up with a mother who consulted her tarot cards on a weekly basis, and who would frequently hear voices or sense an other-worldly presence, it has always been perfectly natural for me to assume that there is more to this life than meets the eye. 

I have even experienced a few mysterious encounters myself. But it was only when I suffered the loss of a loved one that I started to question the possibility of life after death, and I decided to find out more. 

And so began a fascinating journey into the world of the supernatural, where I met 'ordinary' people who claimed to have experienced the extraordinary. 

This is where I found the inspiration for my debut novel, Out of the Darkness
Although it’s fiction, much of the phenomena written about in the story have been experienced by me, my friends, or people I spoke to during my research. 

I have started work on my second novel, but when I am not writing, you will find me keeping tabs on my teenage children, or walking my dogs in the Hertfordshire countryside.

For more information, check out Katy Hogan's website
Find the novel on Facebook 
Follow her on Twitter @KatyHogan


Thursday 10 September 2015

The New Woman by Charity Norman

What would you do if you found out that your husband, your father, your son - was not who you thought? Could you ever love him again?

Luke Livingstone is a lucky man. He's a respected solicitor, a father and grandfather, a pillar of the community. He has a loving wife and an idyllic home in the Oxfordshire countryside. Yet Luke is struggling with an unbearable secret, and it's threatening to destroy him.

All his life, Luke has hidden the truth about himself and his identity. It's a truth so fundamental that it will shatter his family, rock his community and leave him outcast. But Luke has nowhere left to run, and to continue living, he must become the person - the woman - he knows himself to be, whatever the cost.

The New Woman by Charity Norman was published in the UK by Atlantic on 23 July 2015, and is the author's fourth novel. Her previous books are: Freeing Grace (March 2012), After The Fall (January 2013) and  The Son in Law (March 2014).

I'm not sure why or how I've missed Charity Norman's books in the past, but after reading The New Woman, I have now bought all three of her back catalogue and if The New Woman is anything to go by, then I'm in for a real treat.

Luke Livingstone and his wife Eilish are due to celebrate thirty years of marriage. They've had their heartbreaks over the years and losing their baby daughter Charlotte left a huge scar on their hearts. However, they have raised Kate and Simon to be strong, successful independent adults. They are content and happy, wealthy, have a wide circle of friends and enjoy their careers. Their marriage is viewed by friends and colleagues as a strong and most loving relationship.

So why, at the beginning of the story has Luke decided that he must commit suicide? Why has he prepared letters to his family, and made sure that all his paperwork is in order? Luke has a secret that consumes him, and has consumed his whole life since he was a very small boy. He can see no way to continue as the happily-married, professional man, father of two, beloved Grandpa and pillar of society. A chance meeting on a train on the very day that is supposed to be his last changes his mind, and from there on Luke will turn lives upside down. He will shatter everyone's version of reality, he will open a box that can never be closed. He will have regrets, he will lose friendships, and love, but he will, at last, be the person that he knows he always was.

The New Woman is one of those books that challenges and changes views. Gender dysmorphia is a subject that I knew nothing about before I picked up this book, but after reading, I honestly feel as though I have taken Luke's journey with him. Charity Norman writes with such emotional honesty, with such apparent ease and authenticity. She explores the feelings of not just Luke, but those that know him and love him so very very well. The pain experienced by his wife Eilish reverberates through the story, his son Simon's anger is fierce and heartbreaking, his daughter Kate's deliberate and brave determination to try to understand and accept Luke's new life - all of these are wonderfully drawn.

As Luke becomes Lucia and she learns that she is not alone and there are other people out there like her, Charity Norman introduces some beautiful characters, not least Lucia's closest friends; the sad and beautiful Chloe who is desperate to be loved. The indefatigable Judi, his work colleague who is accepting and encouraging. There are small players throughout this story, characters without names, but people who make such a difference to Lucia. The young man in the shop who smiles and calls her Ma'am, the Big Issue seller ...   There are also the people who mock, who refuse to understand, who are cruel and uncaring. The GP, the men in the car .... each and every one of these people together make up this truly beautifully captured story.

The level of research that the author must have done for this book shines through and she has detailed the pain and distress so incredibly well. The range of emotions experienced by both Lucia and her loved ones is vast and so well developed. I did find myself becoming really emotionally involved with the characters throughout the book, they are so realistic, they captured me and kept me hostage right up until the very last.

The New Woman is a book that I've already raved about to friends, and I will continue to recommend it to everyone that I meet. The characters are still occupying a corner of my head, and I think they may stay there, and I hope that they will enable me to try to understand the complexities of our human race, and to accept that we are all human regardless of how we look or sound.

My thanks to the publisher and to RealReaders who sent my copy for review.

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. 

After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law in the northeast of England. 

Also a mediator, she is passionate about the power of communication to slice through the knots. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. 

Find her author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @CharityNorman1


Tuesday 8 September 2015

The Marlborough Literature Festival

The Marlborough Literature Festival
2 - 4 October 2015

The Marlborough Literature Festival brings together author talks, interviews, creative writing workshops, children’s activities and poetry events to the beautiful, historic town of Marlborough (just a short train ride from London).

This year’s line up includes Booker Prize Long-listed author Andrew O’HaganSalley VickersAlexander McCall SmithHelen DunmoreNeel Mukherjee, poet Gillian Clarke and Peter Kosminsky (director of the BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall).

They’ve also got children’s author Ian Whybrow, a workshop on how to write teen fiction with Jasper Fforde, creative writing with Sarah Butler and an open-mic poetry event in the local pub!

This year the Big Town Read (a massive book club discussion) is Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

The full programme can be viewed here.

Mavis Cheek on the origins of the Marlborough Literary Festival 

It’s twenty-five years since my first novel was published by The Bodley Head and in that time the world of publishing has changed beyond all recognition.
Small publishers have been gobbled up by big financial houses; the Booker-McConnell has become the Man Booker and the prize money raised from £21,000 to £50,000; we have a prize for women only – the Orange (soon to be something else) valued at £30,000; publishers seem to be in meltdown over the arrival of e-books and the kindle and more and more authors are doing the unthinkable and self-publishing with some success. 
My own particular bugbear is the rise of celebrity publishing which has pushed many a fine author off or to the bottom of a publisher’s list. This last is one of the reasons we started our Festival for Literature in Marlborough, so that we could return to recognising and celebrating and supporting real writers writing really good writing – you will not find celebrities, politicians, television cooks and gardeners, comedians, sportspeople in our Festival – unless they are excellent writers. 
In a world where mass media prevails, it is easy to overlook the value of well-written words in all their forms. We undertook to redress that balance here in Marlborough and if the success of the enterprise is anything to go by, it continues to be something the reading public wants, too. 
This wonderful market town has many fine literary connections already – Siegfried Sassoon, John Betjeman, Bruce Chatwin – and of course, William Golding whom we are very proud to single out each year with our Golding Author. 
It would be nice to think that the Festival will still be here in twenty-five years time and that it will still reflect the quality in authorship we have managed to sustain in its first three years. 
Mavis Cheek, September 2012

Tickets can be booked online via The Pound Arts Centre, who are also available on 01249 701628.

More information can be found on

Find them on Twitter  @MarlbLitFest #MLF2015 


Monday 7 September 2015

The Sense of an Elephant by Marco Missiroli

Pietro arrives in Milan with a battered suitcase full of memories, to take up a new job as concierge. 
Living in his palazzo are lost and eccentric souls: Poppi, a lawyer; Luciana and her son; and Luca, a doctor, whose wife Viola holds a secret that could destroy their marriage. 
Right from the start Pietro has a special interest in Luca and his family, and soon he's letting himself into their apartment while everyone is out. 
As his story emerges in snatches and flashbacks, each prompted by his case of treasures, we begin to find out what has brought him to be guardian here, so late in his life . . .
For readers of The Elegance of the Hedgehog and The Yacoubian Building, this is an atmospheric and unforgettable novel about the ties that bind.

The Sense of an Elephant by Marco Missiroli is published on 10 September 2015 as a Paperback Original by Picador.  Translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley.

This novel became a phenomenal word of mouth success in Italy in 2012 owing to bookseller, bloggers, librarians and critics talking about it and passing copies around.

the sense of an elephant
Definition: elephants "take care of the herd without regard to the kinship"
(p.65 The Sense of an Elephant) 

Pietro is the new concierge at an apartment block in Milan. He's not a young man,nor he is he experienced in such a job. Pietro used to be a priest. It's not clear from the beginning just why or how Pietro has made this vast change, but gradually his story is uncovered.

The reader is gently introduced to the inhabitants of the apartments through Pietro's dealings with them. The Martini family, the lawyer Poppi, doctor Luca and his wife and Luciana and her man-child son are all brought to life vividly by the pen of Missiroli.  It is the Martini family that hold the biggest draw for Pietro, and it soon becomes clear that this link is the reason that Pietro is now a concierge and no longer a priest.

This really is a cast of wonderfully drawn characters who lead the story so very well. Coupled with the present day are flashbacks to events that happened in the past, events that create such a strong bond between the two strands of the story.

There is an overriding theme of death and departure, and whilst that may sound depressing, it really isn't. There are scenes and dialogue that are breathtakingly beautiful, there are events that will make the reader stop and contemplate their own life, and maybe their own death.

These characters love and they care, they are an eclectic mix of unusual people but are bound together in the care of Pietro who really does "take care of his herd".

Quiet, gentle and compassionate, The Sense of an Elephant is a book that can be read quickly, yet its message, and most importantly its characters will remain, fluttering around your head for quite some time after the final page is turned.

With thanks to Kate from Picador who sent my copy for review.
Marco Missiroli was born in Rimini, Italy. 

He is the author of the prize-winning novels Senza Coda, Il Buio Addossoand Bianco

The Sense of an Elephant was awarded the prestigious Campiello Prize in 2012.

Marco writes for the culture pages of Corriere della Sera, and for Vanity Fair.


Sunday 6 September 2015

The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller *** BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY ***

Everyone has secrets. How far will you go to protect yours?
After living next to the neighbours from hell, Minette is overjoyed when Cath and her two children move in next door. Cath soon becomes her confidante, a kindred spirit, even her daughter’s babysitter.
But Cath keeps herself unusually guarded and is reluctant to speak of her past. And when Minette witnesses something unspeakable, she begins to question whether she really knows her new friend at all…

Welcome to the first stop on the BLOG TOUR for The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller,

The Good Neighbour is published in paperback by Ebury Press on 10 September and is Beth Miller's second novel. Her first; When We Were Sisters was published in August 2014.

Minette is a young mother, her daughter Tilly keeps her busy but she has struggled with motherhood and the challenges and changes that it has brought to her life. One of her biggest challenges has been the elderly couple who used to live next door. Their constant complaints about the noise have worn her down, tiptoeing about the house, trying to keep Tilly quiet, constantly on her guard. This, coupled with the seemingly endless days filled with trips to the toyshop, and no adult conversation has made her tired and desperate for something more in her life.

When Cath and her two young children move in next door after the departure of the neighbours from hell, Minette is overjoyed. Cath appears to be a breath of fresh air, someone who will be a friend, someone to admire and who inspires her. Cath's children have multiple medical problems, yet she seems to cope so well. She makes friends easily, soon becoming a central part of the neighbourhood, throwing parties, finding out about everyone, making introductions and pulling the neighbours together. She also manages to care for her son Davey who is in a wheelchair whilst ensuring that her daughter Lola avoids the many things that she is allergic too. Oh, and she's training for a fundraising triathalon at the same time.

Cath becomes the centre of Minette's world. After all, her relationship with her partner Abe is not at it's best at the moment. He works hard, he's tired, their sex life is non-existent. Cath makes Minette feel alive again.

I have so many things that I want to discuss about The Good Neighbour and I'm looking forward to talking to my friends who have also read it. It's difficult to address my questions in a review, as by doing so, I would give too many things away about the characters and about the plot.

I can say that The Good Neighbour is set on a street that seems to be populated by the weirdest bunch of people I've ever come across in one novel. Minette is a complex character, who appears to be quite meek and mild, downtrodden and struggling, yet at times she makes some mind-boggling decisions that don't seem to fit in with what we have learnt about her. Whilst she does defend her thought processes with brief glimpses into her past, I really wanted to know more about her, pre-baby.

Cath. Where to start?  I didn't like her at all, even when the reader learns her full back story, I still didn't like her. She's an extraordinary character who is quite frankly, fucked up. She also succeeds in fucking up most of the people that she meets. She speaks in a dialect that seems to be a cross between London and Yorkshire and refers to herself as Cathykins. She's dangerous, manipulative, and I really couldn't warm to her at all. There is so much more about Cath and her past that I wanted to know in detail. Again, like Minette, the reader is treated to brief snapshots of the past, but I need to know more. I need to be able to find my empathy for Cath, I want to understand her, but I really can't.

The Good Neighbour is a puzzling, yet intriguing look at life behind the front doors on a typically average street in an English town. I must admit that I had worked out what Cath was up to fairly early on in the story.  I put that down to having worked in a very famous high-security forensic psychiatric hospital, and I think this proves that Beth Miller writes with authority and  authenticity about issues that are complex and difficult to understand.

The Good Neighbour is a page turner and despite my loathing, yes loathing, of most of the characters, I found myself turning the pages so quickly, desperate to see how things would turn out. The ending is quite unexpected I'm happy to say, but again, has left me with so many questions that I am desperate to discuss with other readers.

Beth Miller has kindly provided a signed copy of The Good Neighbour as a prize for one of my blog readers. To enter, please complete the widget at the end of this post.  Good luck everyone. (UK entries only).

I'm thrilled to welcome the author, Beth Miller here to Random Things today. Beth has agreed to answer some questions for me. Please do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour over the coming days.

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  
Do I read them?! I know some of them by heart! I even know exactly how many I have! (The first novel has 52 reviews on Amazon, Fact Fans.) Yes, I read them all. I even read the ones on Good Reads, the Wild West of reviewing. I take the positive reviews very seriously; the bad ones not so much. No, I do, but I completely accept that not everyone is going to like it. There are books I adore that have got crummy reviews. There is no one book that everyone likes. So if my book doesn’t suit someone, I don’t mind hearing that. I’m always interested to hear what people think about it: good and bad. The thing I hate is silence. I’d far rather have a bad review than not know what someone thought. The imaginary bad review… that’s the WORST. I hope this nudges my brother to finally tell me what he thought about my first novel, which he has had for over a year.

How long does it take to write a novel?    
From my experience, anything from about a year up to twelve years. My first novel took, yes, twelve years, from writing the words, ‘Chapter One’ to being published. I think that is an unusually long time. The second novel took just under a year. I guess I got all the messing about out of the way with the first one. Come back to me when I’ve finished the third and we’ll see if I have got faster or slower.

Do you have any writing rituals?
No, unless you count mucking about on the internet before starting?

What was your favourite childhood book? 
Awkward Magic by Elizabeth Beresford. I loved that book. I still love it and re-read it every couple of years. I read it out loud to my children recently, but to my chagrin they didn’t think it was as marvellous as I do. EB also wrote The Wombles books, but Awkward Magic is in a league of its own. The characters, the atmosphere, the humour, the emotion, the tension, the inevitable-yet-surprising ending… it’s the perfect book.

Name one book that made you laugh? Name one book that made you cry?
I much prefer funny books to sad. PG Wodehouse books generally make me laugh, and so do Bill Bryson’s, but I guess if I had to choose one laugh-out-loud book it would be Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Douglas Adams). It’s just so exactly my sense of humour. As for crying, I recently read Little Women to my daughter and I could barely get through it for sobbing. It’s not like Beth, my namesake [spoiler alert] even dies in that one, but for some reason I was choked up by the emotion of it. Not a cool choice, but a true one.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Great question! My favourite female character is Billy, in Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin. Scruffy, deadpan, a woman’s woman – I think she would be terrific fun. And for altogether different reasons, I would quite like to meet Mannix, from the most recent book I read – Marian Keyes’ enjoyable The Woman Who Stole My Life. He seemed rather attractive. Or even better, Maurice Zapp from David Lodge’s Changing Places. He is one of my most favourite male characters ever.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 
I have given numerous friends Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. It’s the perfect book, a grown-up equivalent to Awkward Magic. I don’t mean it’s in any way like it, content-wise, but it has the same mix of humour, tension, emotional truth and cleverly hidden plot devices that I just admire so much. (They’re also both quite short.)

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 
I find the way Anne Patchett writes about writing extremely inspiring. For anyone interested in writing their own stories, I really recommend a couple of essays in her book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. In fact I’ve just remembered that another essay in that book, about opening up her own bookshop, makes me sob like a baby. Though it’s non-fiction, I must add it to my list of books that make me cry.

What is your guilty pleasure read?  
Well that’s the wonderful thing about the Kindle, isn’t it? You can read any kind of nonsense and no-one knows, as long as you put on your ‘Don’t bug me, I’m reading Nabokov’ face. I don’t think I feel guilty about any books I read. I like popular books, page-turners, chick-lit, kids’ books. I do sometimes feel guilty about re-reading old favourites when there are so many new and untried books out there.

What book have you re-read? 
Loads. It’s so comforting, re-reading. Probably the books I’ve read the most number of times are The Go-Between (L.P. Hartley), Heartburn (Nora Ephron), Wifey (Judy Blume), Patchwork Planet (Anne Tyler), The Snapper (Roddy Doyle), High Fidelity (Nick Hornby), Trilogy of a Scottish Childhood (Molly Weir) and My Uncle Oswald (Roald Dahl). Actually I have also read Pride and Prejudice dozens of times but saying that feels a bit like putting a classical record into your Desert Island Disc choices in amongst the pop, to make you sound more sophisticated.

What book have you given up on?
This happens rarely, but there was one very recently… I can’t name names, alas. Let’s just say that I gave up on a fairly new book which had tons of great reviews. I got about a quarter of the way through, but just found it utterly predictable and repetitive. I’m afraid I lost patience, even though I know what a blimming hard slog it is to write a book. I feel bad about abandoning it. But not as bad as if I’d finished it. Life is too short to finish books you don’t like. Classics that I have given up on include Madame Bovary – I just didn’t get on with it – and anything by Thomas Hardy, can’t bear him, sorry Hardy fans.

Beth Miller has published two novels with Ebury Press (Random): When We Were Sisters and The Good Neighbour. 

She is currently writing her third novel, and is awaiting the publication of her book about the world’s greatest radio show, For The Loveof The Archers.

Find out more at her website
Follow her on Twitter @drbethmiller

Signed Copy of The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller