Monthly Archives: April 2015

What I Have Learnt About Reading, So Far…

I am aware that I have been a little quieter over the last few weeks or so and frankly I blame this all on Fiction Uncovered, in a nice way. On Thursday we are meeting for the first of the ‘whittling out the winners’ meeting (or as I harshly put it ‘the first culling’) and it has been pretty full on in the lead up reading lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of submissions. It has been really rewarding both in finding some utter corkers that I had never heard of before and getting very excited about what the list might look like, though I think there is lots more reading, rereading and discussion before we get to that stage.

On a selfish level it has been like a crash course in reading and I have learnt lots about myself and my own reading habits and prejudices (some of which we have discussed before) in a very condensed period. Though I’m aware reading as a judge is slightly different from just reading as you might normally, with the context of only having a certain not endless books to read and deadlines and the fact these books will a) win the author money and b) could make a real difference to their readership, meaning the judges can be judged on their listing. Anyway… As well as keeping lots of notes on the books themselves I have been keeping notes on what the books have taught me about my own reading and, so far, it looks like this…

  • I can’t always judge a book by its cover, sometimes I really can.
  • Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel.
  • You can tell if a book is for you pretty quickly (probably within 70 – 100 pages) – yes there are books that have an amazing twist at the end, but if you can’t get there without wanting to cry or forcing yourself not to fall asleep then is it worth it.
  • Sometimes that first paragraph really isn’t just a bumpy start, sometimes you can stop reading a ‘quite good book’ when its not giving you life… all in all sometimes Simon you’re really not as ‘Savidge’ as you should be, or savage.
  • Font matters. It shouldn’t but it does.
  • Sometimes I like the idea of a book, or ideas behind it, more than I like it in reality.
  • There are lots of ‘very good books’ the ones you really love and want to hug to a pulp are few and far between. Note – this is not a bad thing.
  • I like dark themes in books, I have my limits though.
  • Some books get better with distance, others burn out.
  • My Kindle still works, I still don’t like it.
  • Some book covers feel funky and can put you off.
  • A brilliant writer will make you enjoy subjects that you wouldn’t imagine they could – yes even horses, world wars, sports, ships etc.
  • One bad sentence can kill.
  • I have prose ticks and serious prose crosses.
  • Ignoring a blurb can really help, a surprise joy is a real buzz. Oh and some lie.
  • I clearly have a very different view on what makes a good book from what might make one for others (this might become even more apparent after the meeting this week, ha!)
  • I don’t like being disturbed from a really, really good book.
  • Certain terrain has been far too quarried by novelists.
  • Life’s too short for books you don’t like.
  • There are far too many good books going unnoticed and maybe it’s time to change the direction of the blog to look at those, after all with so many blogs out there shouldn’t I have a point of difference?
  • I funking love books and reading, even when reading till my eyes might bleed.

I think we will stop there for now or I could go on all day. Of course we never stop learning about how we read and indeed our tastes change, just as they do in food, overtime. I am sure that the meeting on Thursday will enlighten me even further, I can’t wait, and I will report back after – well without giving away any secrets. I am hoping that this year might be the first year ever Fiction Uncovered announce a longlist, I am putting that up for discussion this week. I think that could be really exciting.

Anyway those are some of the things I have noticed about my reading habits in the last few weeks/months, some might just become longer posts over the next few weeks, do we share any? What have you learnt about your own reading habits; the good the bad and the ugly?

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Lucky Winners – How To Be Both & A Place Called Winter

Here’s a quick post that might bring some cheer to some of your Tuesdays, and lets face it when the weekend seems so far away again it is always good to get some cheer. In the last few weeks I have gone give away crazy and have now, thanks to Random.Org, drawn the five lucky winners of Ali Smith’s How To Be Both for our Baileys group read of it on Monday the 1st of June, two days before the winner is annouced, plus the one lucky winner of a signed copy of Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter which I will get signed especially tonight! And the winners are…

Ali Shaw’s How To Be Both winners are…

  • Dirtmother
  • Layla
  • Ruth Slater
  • The Book Magpie
  • Mark

And the winner of Patrick Gales A Place Called Winter is…

  • Snoakes (though I will need your real name for the book to be signed at 6.30pm tonight hahaha)

If you can all email me with the name of the book you have won in the title and a your details to get the books sent to that would be brilliant! Well done all! This has given me such a buzz I will have to do give aways more often I think.

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A Mini Northern Tour with Patrick Gale…

I am very excited about the next few days, as I have the pleasure of spending a few nights with Patrick Gale as he continues his A Place Called Winter book tour. I shared my thoughts with you on A Place Called Winter the other day, and while I was all cool and ‘don’t read this review, just by the book’ actually do read the review because I really do want you to read the book (and reviews take blooming ages to write you know) as it really is quite something.  Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, going on a mini tour with Sir Patrick of Gale…

I have to say I love interviewing authors be it at live events or on podcasts, I love getting more insight into the book, it’s origings, themes and the person who write it. I particularly love doing live events with authors when they are lovely, charming, up for a laugh and open to the audience (and myself) asking them pretty much anything, well within reason. I have done an event with Patrick before, along with Catherine Hall, for Manchester Literature Festival back in 2012 and look how enraptured we all were…

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So what I am really saying is if you are in or near Liverpool on the night of the 27th of April (so tomorrow) or in or near Manchester on the 28th of April do come to Waterstones Liverpool 1 or Waterstones Deansgate and join us for what I promise will be a lovely evening with some lovely bookish banter and possibly some lumberjack attire – let me know if you are coming so we make sure we say hello! If you can’t make it, do please read the book, and if you have any questions you would like me to ask Patrick for you let me know.

In fact because I so want you to read the book (and be there if you can, yet not miss out if you can’t) if you pop to the review and leave a question for Patrick in the comments there, I will then draw one of you out of a hat, or get Patrick too, and get you a specially signed copy and send it anywhere in the world. How’s that? You have until 1800hrs GMT tomorrow the 27th of April and don’t forget the Ali Smith give away too! Lovely stuff, look forward to your questions and will hopefully see some of you there!

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A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale

There are some novels that I read where all I want to do for a review is simply write the words… Read this book. Nothing more, nothing less. However I am aware you need more than those three words to get you to part with your pennies or head to the local library, the question is how to encapsulate a book like Patrick Gale’s latest novel A Place Called Winter in a mere review? Well, here goes.

9781472205292

Tinder Press, hardback, 2015, fiction, 340 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

When we first meet Harry Cane he is locked in an institute, what he has done we do not initially know, and is undergoing a rather horrendous kind of treatment. Yet soon he is taken away to Bethel, a community for those who have been shut out or locked away from society. He is encouraged to tell the story of how he got there, the story of how a well to do and well off man started his life in England and then ended up in the middle of the Canadian wilderness building a new life that has seemingly, to an outsider, driven him mad.

Gale structures A Place Called Winter in delightful way, as we get insights into various pivotal moments in one man’s life alternating between their present and their past making the links between the two. We watch how he grows up in England looking after his brother Jack, how he marries and then falls for the charms of Mr Browning; who soon becomes his downfall leaving Harry no choice but to head to the wilds of Canada without his family to start again. In case you are thinking I have just spoiled the whole story, there is so much more to come, including the journey he makes there and the people he meets along the way, not always with the outcomes you may guess at. The last I will say on the plot is that it is a real journey of adventure, danger and self discovery and you will want to read it in a few sittings, often weeping for all sorts of reasons.

A Place Called Winter is a blooming marvellous story. Gale is brilliant at placing you into the heads and hearts of his characters, mainly because his prose calls for us to empathise with them, even if we might not want to. We have all been in love, we have all done things we regret, we have all fallen for a rogue (or two or three), we have all felt bullied and the outsider at some point, we have all had an indiscretion and left the country to become a farmer in a foreign land… Oh, maybe not that. Yet even when our protagonist goes through things we haven’t Gale’s depiction and storytelling make us feel we are alongside Harry. We live Harry’s life with him; the highs and the lows, the characters and situations good or bad.

It also has a wonderful sense of adventure, sometimes exciting sometimes perilous. The surroundings and settings of the book become characters as much as the people. For example the hustle and bustle of London, the leisurely nature of Herne Bay, the power of the seas, the wildness of Moose Jaw and the desolate and endless monotony (cleverly without ever being boring) and harsh extremities of Winter itself. I have mentioned only recently how much I love reading about nature and the countryside/wilderness in books and this has that aplenty.

He opened it, welcoming the cold night air, and stared out at a landscape transformed. There were stars, a seamless, spangled fishnet of them from horizon to horizon, coldly lighting the land and lending the farm buildings, outlined sharply against them, an eerie loveliness.

I love a book that looks brims with layers and explores several themes, or can set your brain off thinking about things  from a different angle or that you may not have before. I found the way Gale looks at and discusses homosexuality fascinating and heartbreaking. It is the way that due to society everything must go unspoken. There was no such thing as ‘being gay’ you were seen as a sexual deviant of the lowest order, end of. Even those rare people who tried to be accepting struggle, as Harry is asked “Is it… Is it emotional or simply a physical need the two of you are answering?”  to which he replies “I suppose, in a different world, where everyone felt differently, it would be both. When a thing is forbidden and must live in darkness and silence, it’s hard to know how it might be, if allowed to thrive.”  We the reader live in a world where it has become more acceptable (though we still have a way to go) and gay rights are fought for, we look back on this in hindsight and see how horrific it is.

Gale even looks at the psychology that this world must have created, the need for secrecy and how it might even bring out internalised homophobia in those who were living such a life. “Christ, Harry! Listen to yourself. You’re not attractive when you plead. I preferred you married and unobtainable. In fact that is how I prefer all my men. Men can’t live together like a married couple. It’s grotesque and whatever would be the point, even if they could? It’s not as though they’re going to start a family.” (See what I said about Gale putting you in the heads of those you do and don’t want to empathise with.) Gale also looks at the ironies of a place where men would dance with men due to the lack of women, and shack up with other men in winter for practical reasons be they financial or simply survival, yet who would exile gay men as they would women of rape or the indigenous Indian community.

In case that makes this sound like one of those worthy books which tries to preach at the reader it isn’t at all. Yes, one of the main themes is homosexuality yet by its very nature what the whole of A Place Called Winter is about is humanity and also love; regardless of gender be it familial, platonic or passionate. It was this which led me to describing it as ‘Austen meets Brokeback Mountain’ as it wonderfully combines a marvellous contemporary novel with the sense and sensibilities (see what I did there?) of the classic trope. It is pacy, thrilling, horrifying and puts you through the wringer emotionally, whilst having those wonderful storytelling and prose qualities of the past where you have the tale of a life and the intricate situations, places and people who surround and intertwine with it.

I will wrap up by simply saying that A Place Called Winter is a fantastic novel and I think the best that Patrick Gale has written so far. It has all the qualities that create a real treat of a corking read for me. It introduces you to wonderful characters, takes you away from the world you know, makes you think, laugh and cry and all whilst telling you a bloody good story. I was completely lost in Harry’s world and his life and recommend that you go on the journey with him as soon as you can. Easily one of my books of the year; so go on, read this book!

If that still hasn’t sold it then nothing will, well, maybe I should add that for a few days (because I binged on this book) I became an uncommunicative zombie whose head was stuck in this book at all hours, even refusing to watch House of Cards! Oh and even higher praise, this book has lots of horses in it and spends some time on a long boat journey and I didn’t even care, which regular readers here will know is a huge achievement. Anyway enough of my thoughts, who else has read A Place Called Winter and what did you think?

Ooh, and quick note,  if you are ‘oop north’ and near Liverpool on Monday the 27th or Manchester on Tuesday the 28th of April (next week) then do please come and see me in conversation with Patrick about A Place Called Winter in Waterstones. Details here and here. Hope to see some of you there.

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The Thwaites Wainright Prize Winner is…

Last night Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel was announced the winner of the Thwaites Wainright Prize for UK nature and travel writing! As promised I said that I would get the whole shortlist to one lucky winner who told me their favourite fiction and non-fiction titles about the countryside…

Nature books aptly surrounded by my floral sofas inherited from Granny Savidge

Nature books aptly surrounded by my floral sofas inherited from Granny Savidge

And the winner picked at random with the help of Random.org (I was going to get the submissions throw them in the air and see which one the cats picked but they were having none of it) is… Caroline C who recommended The Poet’s Wife by Judith Allnatt and A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson; the latter is all about bees and we all know how much I now love books about bees and bees themselves. Caroline C if you could email me your details to savidgereads@gmail.com I will get these books sent to you.

In the meantime do keep your nature book recommendations coming, I have a review of a book set in the wilds coming later, and also don’t forget you can win a copy of How To Be Both by Ali Smith here until the end of play Monday!

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The Nature Of, Erm, Nature Writing

I think I have mentioned in the past my love for books set in the countryside, particularly ones set in the British countryside. This isn’t patriotism or xenophobia because chuck me into the Brazilian jungle, drop me on the islands of Sweden or the African plains and I am more than happy with the right book and the right writer – there is just something about the countryside I grew up in, or like it, that speaks to me. These books I mentioned are in the most part (seriously about 98% of the time) fiction. So why when I love the countryside and am obsessed with wildlife programmes on the telly do I not ever read any non-fiction nature books?

This is what I have been pondering on the many times I have headed into a branch of Waterstones in the last few months with birthday vouchers burning a hole in my pocket. As suddenly there seem to be books about nature here there and everywhere. Now I would say this is due to the success of H is for Hawk recently only I know someone will (quite correctly I am sure) say ‘no you philistine there have been lots of books about nature around forever, that one has just hit the public psyche;’ or something like that.

Yet why has the nature book suddenly become so popular and to the fore? If I had to hazard (a word which always makes me think aptly of buzzards, just putting that out there) a guess I wonder if it is because we are all beginning to get a bit over tired of screens and commuting and rushing and are looking out to nature as a calming influence. What do you think?

Anyway, fate has seemed to step in, as is often her want, as I then had an email from FMcM who do the PR for the Thwaites Wainright Prize, which I had to admit I hadn’t heard of before. As soon as I discovered it was for UK nature and travel writing I was sold especially as they were emailing about the shortlist which had just been announced, the winner is announced tomorrow…

  • Running Free: A Runner’s Journey Back to Nature, Richard Askwith (Yellow Jersey)
  • The Moor, William Atkins (Faber & Faber)
  • Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet, Mark Cocker (Vintage)
  • Meadowland, John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld)
  • H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald (Vintage)
  • Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place, Philip Marsden (Granta)

After going and googling away I saw this as a really exciting list of, bar the aforementioned H is for Hawk, new to me books and could be a really interesting way into this kind of writing. Yes even the running one. I also thought this would be a good chance to give some of these kind of books a whirl and as luck should have it a set is winging its way to me in the post, perfect post Fiction Uncovered reading as something very different and new to try.

And so could you. Yes, the lovely folk at FMcM have said one lucky visitor of this blog (again, like yesterday’s book giveaway, in the UK only due to postage) can win a set of all the shortlisted titles! What do you have to do? Well you know I love a book recommendation as much as recommending books so… I would like to know which fictional AND non fictional books about the countryside and nature have been a complete hit with you? Let me know by midnight tomorrow night (April 22nd) and I will announce the winner on Thursday, good luck! Oh and if you have any theories on why nature writing has become so popular again I would love to know that too.

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The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Giveaway: How To Be Both – Ali Smith

Really this post should be basically entitled, who would like to read Ali Smith’s How To Be Both along with me as that is what I really want to know. What on earth am I talking about? Well, the other day I got a lovely email from the lovely folk at the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction, whose longlist I tried to guess a while back and whose shortlist I discussed here, to see if I would like to champion on of the shortlisted books once they were announced. Of course I said yes immediately, especially when they said that five of you could win the book too.

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I was instantly desperate to do it, though I was worried there might be some raised eyebrows at a man reading one of the titles (seriously did you see my Twitter account the other day when I dared ask why a single man couldn’t be on the judging panel as a man who loves fiction written by women, anyway…) and it seemed obvious that the book I should keep on championing would be Laline Paull’s The Bees which I have read and banged on about ever since, or maybe A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie. However I thought there could be a nice twist, and the start of something different on Savidge Reads, by having it as a kind of book group (like we did with the Not The TV Book Club when I hosted it here and here or when I did the Sensation Season) and doing something I haven’t read as yet and so plumped for…

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How To Be Both By Ali Smith. This is a book I have been meaning to read for bloody ages both as I love Ali Smith, and have done for quite some time, and also because I love the idea that a book can be read in two different ways, literally not just figuratively.  I also love the idea of having a book group of sorts on Savidge Reads, I have been a fan of Cornflower’s Book Club for some time, where you know the books in advance and can read ahead and join in the debate, rather than when I post my reviews, which I hope have an element of surprise.

So who fancies joining me? We could agree to all read it and talk about it on Monday the 1st of June, two days before the winner is announced, what do you think? I would love lots of you to be involved, I think it could be a hoot.

I can also get copies of it into five of your hands (you have to be in the UK to be eligible for postage reasons, sorry, I would still love readers everywhere to join in) thanks to the folk at the Baileys Prize for Fiction who have held some copies aside. All you have to do is leave a comment saying you are in and up for it below by 1600hrs GMT on Monday the 27th of April! Good luck! Oh and you are all being spoiled silly as I have another give away coming tomorrow too…

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