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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Qualities Of Wood by Mary Vensel White

The Qualities Of Wood

When Vivian Gardiner joins her husband Nowell to help him clear out his late grandmother’s house, she gets a lot more than she expected: a new sister-in-law; a mysterious neighbour; a gun in the attic; and the mystery surrounding a dead girl who has been found in the woods behind the house.

Set in the American Midwest, I found this novel very atmospheric and beautifully written. As you read, you feel as though you’re almost in the house with Vivian. With her you experience her husband’s mental and emotional absence from her as he tries to finish writing his latest mystery novel, the fellow feeling she develops with Dot, her new sister-in-law, and the tension created by the presence of Lonnie, Nowell’s unpredictable and sometimes incendiary brother.

Beyond the house Vivian also explores the wood, which almost seems to have a life of its own. What draws everyone there? Nowell, Lonnie, the mysterious, yet attractive, neighbour Mr Stokes, and ultimately Vivian herself.

The wider neighbourhood is also full of intrigue. I loved Katherine and Max, who take Vivian under their wing, and the town’s obsession with its founding father William Clement and his descendants who are all about to arrive for a festival.

It is the festival, the clearing of the house and the subsequent yard sale that ultimately bring the Gardiner family secrets out into the open. The ending demonstrates what happens when family secrets are left to fester, fed by jealousy and half truths.

This is a well written novel and I enjoyed learning about the characters as the author stripped away layers of their past. There is a richness to the descriptive writing that gives it a great sense of immediacy and reality.

Overall an interesting novel focusing on family, place and the unlocking of mysteries.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Love Is All You Need

Love is All You Need
Enjoy these 10 great stories with heart - the winning tales of love from The Sophie King Prize 2014, chosen by bestselling author Sophie King.

"I picked those that surprised me and also left a lovely warm feeling A bit like a love affair, really …" Sophie King

Meet 10 women, from different places, backgrounds and times, and each with a different experience of men and romance.

Their stories in turn hold the promise of romance, reflect on finding love, or show the lengths we'll go to for the special person in our lives.

An anthology of stories which are funny, thought-provoking, and thrilling, with characters you'll empathise with as they discover that ... Love is All You Need.

Stories by Alyson Hilbourne, Yvonne Eve Walus, Johanna Grassick, Pauline Watson, Melanie Whipman, Linda Triegel, Laurel Osterkamp, Helen Yendall, Mary Lally, Sherri Turner.

Today, I'm pleased to have Sherri Turner, one of the contributors to this exciting new anthology, as a guest. I asked her some questions about her involvement.

How did you first hear about the Sophie King Prize and what prompted you to enter?

I read about the prize on one of the writing blogs I frequent. I was attracted to it because Sophie herself was the judge and I enjoy reading her books. Also, it was for a romantic story and who doesn’t like a good romance? I entered in 2013 and came second, but there was no anthology that year. So I was thrilled to be on the shortlist again this year and to be offered the chance to have my story published in the anthology.

What was the inspiration behind the story you have in the anthology?

I always find this a tricky question as usually once I’ve written the story I can’t remember where it came from. However in this case the inspiration for ‘Funny Face’ was something that was said to me a while ago that made me look at myself in a different way. I won’t say what in case it spoils the story!

What sort of emotional response are you hoping for when people read your story?

I hope they find it amusing and also touching. It is a humorous story, but it also looks at how we are all our own worst critics and how it can be refreshing to see ourselves through others’ eyes.

Is there a link that ties all the stories in the anthology together?

The link is love, all kinds of love - new love, old love, lost love, rediscovered love. All of the stories in the book have love at their core. Some are funny and some quite sad, but together they show how love touches all of us.

What does it mean to you to have your work included in a high profile anthology like this?

I am delighted to have my story in the book. The fact that Sophie herself chose the stories and the quality of the other authors included in it makes it a very exciting place to be!

You can buy a copy of the e-book here. And the paperback is due out in August. It looks like a great selection of stories, perfect for summer holiday reading, and I can't wait to read it!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Speaking Of Love by Angela Young


Speaking Of Love

‘Your stories have relieved me of my madness.’ This quote, attributed to Sally Pomme Clayton, really sums up the story of ‘Speaking Of Love’.

The novel is about the complications of family and love, and the problems caused by the inability of those involved to speak about love. It is also a book about storytelling and as such the structure, with stories stacked within stories, is a little like a series of Russian dolls.

Iris is a storyteller – she tells us her own story, but she also tells us a number of the other stories that run through her like her lifeblood. The stories she tells are also about family relationships, and serve as a counterpoint to the main narrative.

The other main theme of the book is mental health. With Iris, and to a lesser extent, her daughter, Vivie, we see the effects on people’s mental wellbeing of the inability to speak about love, or about feelings and needs.

In many ways this is quite a difficult book to read, with some very dark and distressing themes. But there are also some beautifully uplifting moments, and in the end, it is a rewarding read.

Relief from the darkness which Iris and Vivie both seem to have locked themselves into, ultimately comes from Iris’s former neighbour, Dick, and his son who has long been in love with Vivie.

In bringing these four together the author provides an ending that, whilst left fairly open, is full of hope for the future. At this point, all the stories, both told and untold come together.

Thanks very much to the author for a review copy of this book.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Sue Guiney in Cambodia

I just wanted to share with you a little piece I wrote recently for The Weekly News about my wonderful friend and fellow writer Sue Guiney and the amazing work she has been doing in Cambodia.

You can find out much more on Sue's website here.

Here's what I wrote.

The plight of street children in Cambodia might seem a long way from the life of a novelist living in the UK. But when Sue Guiney decided to set her novel ‘A Clash Of Innocents’ in a children’s home in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh,  she couldn’t help getting involved.
Now, her fight to improve the lives of these children runs though all her work and for the last four years she’s been visiting Cambodia and working with local schools and NGOs to help them.
Sue spent February and March this year running writing workshops for the young people of Anjali House, a shelter in Siem Reap in the north of the country, and the Children of the Mekong Centre in the small Cambodian country town of Banteay Chhmar.
In a trip that took in the chance to watch the kids from Anjali House winning a football match in a local league, a Cambodian book launch for Sue’s latest novel ‘Out Of The Ruins’ in Phnom Penh, and an appearance in Siem Reap’s annual Giant Puppet Parade with a monkey made by the children, she definitely experienced Cambodia to the full.
But, of course, the main focus of the visit was the writing workshops. Sue used the theme of ‘change’ to inspire the Anjali House workshops, encouraging the children to listen to David Bowie’s well-known hit ‘Changes’ and use the lyrics to prompt their own thinking and writing.
Since Sue’s first visit to Anjali House there have been big changes. For one thing the shelter has moved premises and now occupies what would have originally been the luxurious home of a wealthy Siem Reap family. With its carved wooden doors, high ceilings and gallery it offers much more space for the children than their original school.
But the changes the children have seen in their immediate surroundings are also reflected in Cambodia’s political situation. Change was the catch-word that took the people of Phnom Penh onto the streets to demonstrate after the elections of 2013, and the children are living in unstable times where anything could happen.
As well as giving the children an opportunity to practise their creative writing skills, both in English and in their own language of Khmer, the workshops gave them a safe place to talk about what they saw happening around them in Cambodia. Political change, upheaval and the scars of corruption and war were all discussed as they reflected on the power of words.
Highlights of the trip were events at both Anjali House and The Children of the Mekong Centre where the young writing students got the opportunity to read out their work. For Sue, this was what the trip was all about! It wasn’t just the writing, but the chance for the youngsters to stand up, take pride in their work and be rewarded with a sense of self-worth and achievement.
Every time Sue goes back to Cambodia, she finds herself falling in love all over again with the children, with the adults she works alongside, and with Cambodia itself.
Sue’s work has snowballed since her earlier visits and this time around, when a student from Anjali House asked if she would soon be teaching all the children in Cambodia, the only answer she could possibly give was, ‘Why not?’

If you want to find out more about Anjali House and even make a donation to the wonderful work they do, you can go to their website. http://anjali-house.com/
Sue’s latest novel ‘Out Of The Ruins’, the second in her Cambodian trilogy, is out now.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SUCCESSIO by Alison Morton


Today, my writing friend Alison Morton launches SUCCESSIO, the third novel in her award-winning Roma Nova thriller series featuring sassy detective Carina Mitela. As writer and broadcaster Sue Cook says, it’s a “A real edge-of-the-seat read, genuinely hard to put down.”

I’ve known Alison as a Twitter friend for ages and followed her progress, but I’ve often wondered how different or difficult it is to write in an alternate history setting. And just to complicate things, she adds a feminist twist, but has plenty of love interest! 

So, Alison, Romans in the 21st century - how do you write that?
Thanks, Helen. All the usual good ‘craft’ rules apply: cracking story, engaging, and hopefully slightly quirky characters, emotional pressure, dilemmas and conflict, snappy and purposeful dialogue and, of course, a badly tangled love life.

The tools for writing alternate history are similar to regular historical fiction, plus an overactive imagination and a good overall sense of how history ‘works’.

My top tips:
·         Identify the point when your alternative timeline diverges from the standard historical timeline and make it logical;
·         Research the divergence point thoroughly so you can set the scene accurately;
·         Anchor the divergence point story with references to the past;
·         Use elements from the historic record carefully, but not fearfully;
·         Think through the setting that has formed your characters;
·         Make sure your characters live naturally within their world.

What’s SUCCESSIO about?

She senses danger crawling towards her when she encounters a strangely self-possessed member of the unit hosting their exchange exercise in Britain. When a blackmailing letter arrives from a woman claiming to be her husband Conrad’s lost daughter and Conrad tries to shut Carina out, she knows the threat is real.

Trying to resolve a young man’s indiscretion twenty-five years before turns into a nightmare that not only threatens to destroy all the Mitelae but also attacks the core of the imperial family itself. With her enemy holding a gun to the head of the heir to the imperial throne, Carina has to make the hardest decision of her life…

 And here’s the trailer (with some exciting music): http://youtu.be/B6Tr0VvKbJI

SUCCESSIO is available through your local bookshop (paperback) and online as ebook and paperback at multiple retailers.

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here on her blog at www.alison-morton.com
Twitter: @alison_morton