Monthly Archives: November 2015

Everything is Teeth – Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner

I am rather a fan of Evie Wyld as an author and as a person. I have had the pleasure of interviewing her and having a few coffees and wanderings around bookshops, including her own, the Review Bookshop in Peckham which is also delightful. I first ‘met her’ in book form when I read her first novel After The Fire, A Still Small Voice. I was genuinely bowled over by it and the incredible writing from a debut author, I know people say that a lot but it is true. Then when I read All The Birds, Singing I was blown away once again by her prose but also fell for her sense of menace/the gothic and the way she pulls of something unusual and original in its format. With her latest book she has gone and done something completely different again working on a memoir with illustrator Joe Sumner and creating the truly wonderful Everything is Teeth.


Jonathan Cape, 2015, hardback, graphic novel/memoir, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s not even the images that come first when I think of the parts of my childhood spent in Australia. Or even the people. It’s the sounds – the butcher birds and the magpies that lived amongst us on the back veranda. And stronger still, the smells – eucalyptus, watermelon and filter mud, rich and rude and sickly strong, Most of all, the river, muddy and lined with mangrove. Salt and sulphur; at low tide the black mud that smelled bad, that had stingray burrows hollowed out in it. The smell I associate with the smell of sharks.

When Evie was a young girl she grew up between Australia and the UK. It was on the coast of New South Wales where Evie first learnt of the wonders and the terrors of sharks. After initially reading a few books and going to a shark museum with her father (which later seems somewhat pivotal) sharks soon become something of an obsession for her and one that catches her at the oddest of times, where even back in landlocked London she believed one could be following her or suddenly appear out of a bin and attack her or a friend. Oddly I used to worry that a shark might suddenly turn up in any swimming pool I frequented until I was about twenty-six, seriously. Anyway…

What initially starts as quite a funny and natural obsession (we have all had these keen interests that verge on obsessions in our childhoods) slowly takes on a darker side with greater menace the more we read on and the book takes a slight shift in direction. For Everything is Teeth is also a book about grief, the threat of loss and the potential of depression or fear to be around us at any time no matter how old we are. At least that is how I read it, the shark’s presence being a way of dealing with growing up and all the strangeness that that brings for us, an escape and a way of confronting fears in a different way. Not wanting to give too much away, the later stages of the book centre around the dying and death of Evie’s father and how something like that can bring nostalgia and fears from childhood back to the fore. The bite size (pun not intended) intense bursts of memory in Evie’s wonderful writing making this all the more potent along with the illustrations.


Oh, the illustrations! I loved, loved, loved Joe Sumner’s illustrations in Everything is Teeth as much as I loved Evie’s writing. (Note, Evie and Joe have worked together on this blog before when Evie and I got him to draw some of your imaginings of the Australian mythical Bunyip.) They are initially deceptively simple, yet have both a precise artistic and then much more comic like edge to them making the sharks seem all the more terrifying and real, with a brutal beauty. These are certainly not comical comic pictures, well with the exception of the shark coming out of the bin which made me cackle. They also, again pun unintended, have hidden depths with a sense of menace looming the longer you look at them.

It is this that makes the pairing, and therefore the whole body of work produced in Everything is Teeth, so powerful; the deception of simplicity of both the lyrical words and the enchantingly disarming images. Yet in fact the more of these intense bursts you read and take in the images of the more intensity they give and the more layers that reveal themselves and make it all the more powerful, effective and moving. It is a book you can’t shake for a while after you have read it, rather like the nagging feeling there could be a shark swimming just behind you at any given moment. I loved it, I hope we have many more novels from Evie Wyld and many more graphic memoirs/novels and the like with Evie and Joe, lyrical and visual treats indeed.

Have any of you read Everything is Teeth and what did you make of it? Which authors you love would you like to see head into the world of graphic memoir or novels? Which graphic novels have you read which affected you deeply? It is a genre I am getting more and more endeared towards when done brilliantly, so I must read more.



Filed under Books of 2015, Evie Wyld, Graphic Novels, Joe Sumner, Jonathan Cape Publishers

Book Riot’s 25 Outstanding Podcasts for Readers

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled yesterday to learnthat The Readers, which I have been a cohost of for just over 4 years with Gavin and now Thomas, has been announced as one of Book Riot’s 25 Outstanding Podcasts for readers. I am seriously chuffed.


If you haven’t listened to The Readers yet then you can do so over at where you will The Readers and also  You Wrote The Book which will be returning with Helen Macdonald as my guest in mere days.

What is also lovely about the list, which you can see in full here, is that the lovely Ann and Michael of Books On The Nightstand are also there AND there are loads and loads and loads of new podcasts to discover. (Though I feel Adventures with Words should surely be on the list too, fingers crossed next year.) So you now have no excuse not to have books in your life, or at least you ears, any moment you don’t have your face in one!


Filed under The Readers, The Readers Podcast

The Woman Who Fed The Dogs – Kristien Hemmerechts

I love discovering a new publisher or imprint so when a pile of books arrived earlier this year from World Editions I was delighted. I find when I meet a new imprint I tend to, rightly or wrongly, judge them by what the first book that I read by them is like. Well, if every book from World Editions is going to be an introduction to a new (to me) voice from around the world bringing with them an unusual, and in this case quite confronting, topic or view point with them then I am going to be a huge fan. The Woman Who Fed The Dogs is a book that bothered me from start to finish, but not one I resented for such bothering. Let me explain…


World Editions, 2015, paperback, fiction, translated by Paul Vincent, 222 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The most hated woman in Belgium. That’s what they call me. Much more hated than that woman who murdered her five children. Most people have already forgotten her. Not me. Meanwhile other mothers have murdered their children, though not as resolutely as her, not as unerringly. She is and will remain the queen among murderess-mothers, the gold medallist, the Medea of out age.
I don’t deserve a medal. I deserve hatred, scorn, poison. People send me letters in which they describe in great detail what they would do to me if they had the chance.

As The Woman Who Fed The Dogs opens we are thrown into the world of Odette who instantly starts to tell us her current predicament. As she goes on we get glimpses of what it is that she has been an accomplice to. Something that has left her one of the most vilified women in her country, for even if she didn’t do the actual wicked deeds, how on earth could someone know their partner was doing horrendous things and not tell anyone about it unless they were in some way a part of it? This is what Kristien Hemmerechts goes on to look at as we follow Odette’s unravelling in her cell, something which makes for very confronting reading.

There is a certain additional edge to the novel when you know that it is based on a true case. Michelle Martin was the wife of Marc Dutroux who, between 1995 and 1996, abducted and raped young girls in Belgium before finally being caught and sent to prison. Martin herself became an accomplice for allowing the final two missing girls to starve to death while her husband served an unrelated police sentence. What Hemmerechts does is try to understand and explore what on earth would make a woman cover up for someone so wicked to the point where they too cause a death even if not physically. Why would anyone do that?

I’ve been in prison for sixteen years because I didn’t save them although I could have saved them. So they say. They weren’t there, but they know for sure I could have saved those girls.
If it were all so simple.

Whilst I have to admit some of The Woman Who Fed The Dogs is quite graphic, it is more sexual than violent and you never feel like there is a voyeuristic element to what you are reading. You couldn’t read about a book with a subject like this and not expect there to be some disturbing parts to. That said the victims aren’t really featured, and what happened to them hinted at, which I thought showed a huge amount of respect for them and what the book is really about for Hemmerechts. It seemed to me that Hemmerechts makes this book very much about the psychological and sociopathic aspects of a case like this, the cause and the consequence, not the actual crimes themselves.

It is in that context that Hemmerechts does something very clever with Odette. Never at any point do you empathise with her. Whenever you are in danger of swaying that way Hemmerechts will show you another side of Odette’s life, she will be discussing how little self worth she has and then suddenly some out with a defensive or venomous comment which makes you see there is more going on than meets the eye. It is a fine balancing act to portray someone as a victim and an accomplice; for clearly M (which is all we know him as) was abusive, yet at the same time shows that Odette had a mind of her own when she chose. I thought Hemmerechts did this very well. It raises the old questions of what can turn a good person bad, or if we all have a dormant inner evil that can be sparked be it chemically or through abuse. It also raises the questions of when victims become bullies and how can someone who feels powerless exert some kind of control no matter what consequences that could have.

 ‘You would have met me,’ said M. ‘I would have found you.’ And he said I should be grateful to him, that I owed everything to him. ‘Without me you’re nothing.’
‘Kiss me. Please.’

Had I begged for a kiss? Yes, I had begged for a kiss.
‘You have to earn a kiss, Odette.’

My only real qualm with the book was that occasionally I got really confused. You see as Odette tells her story she often interrupts herself or deviates by focusing on women who she feels have done worse or just as cruel things as it seems people believe she. This tends to be at moments where she seems to find it it hard to discuss her crimes, often at the start and then less and less as we read on. Whilst I understood both the device and the messages meant  by Hemmerechts doing it, sometimes I couldn’t work out if she was talking about herself, talking about another prisoner she meets, famous female criminals she reads about or indeed her own mother or M’s. Instead of highlighting a point I was sometimes confused instead. However all it took was to flick back a few pages, sometimes not the nicest of tasks with a topic like this, to work it all out. A small niggle yet a niggle all the same which meant occasionally the book jarred.

That said I can’t say that it ruined, or lessened the impact, of the novel as a whole as I think The Woman Who Fed The Dogs is a very brave novel and one which raises some really awkward yet thought provoking questions. It is not a book that forgives or excuses by any stretch of the imagination, more one that (as I said before) tries to explore and understand a horrendous situation of a desperate and dependent woman. It asks the reader to try and leave their preconceptions to one side and look into a completely different life and situation so abhorrent to our own. I respect any book that does it as successfully as this one, which whilst disturbing never makes the reader feel accepting or complicit.


Filed under Kristien Hemmerechts, Review, World Editions

Dear Thief – Samantha Harvey

There are some books that seem so hard to describe I occasionally slam my laptop shut and simply think ‘oh why bother?’ Within this select group of books there will be ones however that you keep heading back to, in some kind of self torturous act, because they are books that you think need to read by more people and so need to be talked about. Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief is one such book as I am rather worried it won’t reach all the readers it should. True, I can’t go and force you to buy it or borrow it from the library; however I can strongly urge you to do so. Why then, when I think you should all read it, has it been so hard to write about, because in a way Dear Thief is one of those quiet and clever books that is about everything and nothing all at once.


Vintage Books, 2015, paperback*, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

On the whole I do not think of you anymore. So it was strange when you came into my mind like that, standing over my bed with your spine stacked tall like a wonder of the world and with thighs like someone who hasn’t eaten for a year, hovering as if you wanted something.

Over the space of Boxing Day 2001 to June 2002 our unnamed narrator writes a letter to her estranged best friend of many years, Nina. We soon learn that Nina, who could be alive or dead, and our narrator had one of those friendships we all encounter from time to time where the love is so powerful for each other that sometimes it can verge on too intense and slightly dangerous. As we soon learn the friendship with Nina, or Butterfly as our narrators’ son once gave her the nickname, did indeed go too far and the reader guesses why pretty early on.

Some of you might now be pondering that if there is no mystery left to uncover why on earth would you read on? Or indeed you might be asking if the book has some kind of twist, as I have noticed all the covers give it a slightly Gone Girl look, and in truth there isn’t one. “So why would I want to read this?” I hear you cry. Well, the writing, remember that crazy thing called prose? For this is one of those books that is all about the writing; the nuances of the prose, the complexities of the characters and the sheer power and atmosphere that words can create. It is a bit of a cliché to say that a book can be haunting, yet that is what this book has done to me since I finished reading it especially the more distance I have had from it. Every so often I remember a moment or a sentence and get a little shudder. I mean with sentences like ‘What remains when old age comes, when decay begins, when the body falls?’ how can you not get chills down your spine.

It is hard for any author whatever their calibre to keep a novel sustained when it is created in the form of a letter. However I think Harvey does this expertly. Yes, there were a couple of times when I felt like the book needed a little edit (I know, hark at me) or an odd occasion were the book meandered yet I put the latter down to it being the thought processes of our unnamed narrator as she looks back over a rather difficult and dark time in her life, now in another equally bleak one. If you are now thinking that Dear Thief sounds awfully depressing, it isn’t, honest. Harvey seems to know just when things are getting too bleak and either injects a salacious or highly eroticised moment (there is something obsessive and sexual about the narrative I still can’t put my finger on, as it were) or a moment of dark humour – or what I found funny at least.

Sometimes I imagine, out of sheer playfulness, that I am writing this as a kind of defence for having murdered and buried you under the patio. It turns out I am not at my desk in central London but in a cell awaiting trial without bail, because whoever bought the cottage in Morda decided to dog foundations for an extension to the kitchen, which was admittedly always too small, and the digger turned up bones and teeth and a silver cobra, which they believe would have been worn on a woman’s upper arm, some small hooped earrings and some scraps of undecomposed leather and a zip from a pair of winter boots.
People in the village mutter: How could she have done it? Which leads me to think: How did I do it? Suffocation is the kindest way, especially if you were in one of your stupors; strangulation unlikely since you would not have let me; knifing or bludgeoning impossible because you are, after all, a friend, one held dearly and much loved, and I am not a monster.

It was with our unnamed narrator that I felt the wonder of Harvey’s writing, whose debut The Wilderness I was a huge fan of when it came out, really culminates. I ruddy love an unreliable narrator and here we have one in full flow. As Dear Thief carries on the author of the letter often back tracks, questions what she has just written, makes things up, and fills in the blanks of her memory etc, all to create her own truth. This is where the nuances and the subtlety of Harvey’s work really comes to the fore and where a reader who likes trying to work out truth and lies, and where the lines of love and hate blur, can have a field day. I might have liked a bit more rage on occasion yet, and I feel I need a cup of tea (maybe some cake) with Samantha Harvey to discuss this in more detail, I felt the often clinical and cold way in which the letter is written comes in part from the ‘therapy’ of writing this all down, from self preservation during the methodical picking of old scars and also from her recent grief that seems to start the whole exercise off? That’s what I thought, but as I said you can never quite work this woman out no matter how much time you spend in her head; which with my taste in books, proved fascinating.

More than this, I am aware I haven’t been completely truthful and I wonder why? How can it be that we begin something wholeheartedly and slip, so quickly, into guarded omissions and liberties with the truth? Under the circumstances the goodness of human nature is very quick to buckle, don’t you think? But then, of course you agree, and you hardly need me to point it out.

So as I said at the beginning, Dear Thief is quite a tricky book to write about and also quite a difficult one to instantly process. That is the very point of it though. It is a book that needs to linger in your mind, as you linger in the narrators, and cogitate it all over time. It is often easy to forget there are books out there that don’t need huge bangs, pops and wallops to show you the power of great writing and a good yarn. Thank goodness then for Samantha Harvey and a book like Dear Thief, I look forward to her next.

Who else has read Dear Thief and what did you make of it? Have you read The Wilderness, if not you must instantly or maybe read my review and see what you think first. I have realised I haven’t read Samantha’s second novel All is Song, possibly because my mother pilfered it as she is a huge fan I must rectify that have any of you read it?

*I did have the hardback as this was one of the books we shortlisted, and discussed fiercely, for Fiction Uncovered this year – however my mother nabbed it, so the arrival of the paperback was the perfect timely reminder to review it.


Filed under Review, Samantha Harvey, Vintage Books

Young Writer of the Year Award 2015 (Who Would Like To Win A Signed Set of the Shortlist?)

I have been feverishly lost in the world of sneezes and coughs for the last week and so missed the announcement of The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2015 (wow that’s a mouthful)  shortlist earlier in the week for authors under 35. The four shortlisted authors and their works are…

  • Ben FergussonThe Spring of Kasper Meier, a critically acclaimed historical fiction debut
  • Sarah HoweLoop of Jade, a poetic exploration of heritage and identity
  • Sunjeev SahotaThe Year of the Runaways, his Man Booker shortlisted second novel
  • Sara TaylorThe Shore, a Baileys-nominated collection of interlinked short stories

Now I have to admit that I have all three of these on my shelves (well Sarah Howe popped through my letterbox yesterday which was nice of her) but have yet to get around to any of them because clearly I am a fool. I do like the sound of all four of them. I know Rob of Adventures with Words loved the Fergusson and Kate has raved about the Taylor, obviously Sahota was up for the Booker and the Howe was new to me but exciting (and slightly petrifying as its poetry which I always think I am rubbish at understanding yet really enjoy) because I hadn’t heard of it and wanted to know more.

Anyway, before I move on to giving away a signed set of all four of the books and how you can win them, I will just flag up the fact that if you happen to be in London the on Monday then there is a special free Foyles event happening with 3 of the shortlisted authors and 3 previous winners, who will be in conversation with Sunday Times Literary Editor Andrew Holgate more here I wish I could go, I’m quite jealous. The winner will then be announced at a ceremony on Thursday 10th December.

So, the question you now all want to know, how can you win a signed set of the four shortlisted titles? Well I thought I would make it simple… ish. I say ish because I was going to do a post around it and struggled, though this might have been because I was off my face on Lemsip. Anyway. What I would love you to do is tell me who your favourite author under 35 is and why, recommendations of their titles would be a delight too! Good luck, you have until midnight GMT on Friday the 27th of November!


Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away, Random Savidgeness

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

When lots of people tell you over a very small space of time that you simply have to read a book you should listen. This was the case with Louise O’Neill’s debut novel Only Ever Yours, which won the inaugural YA Book Prize earlier this year. I think four if not five very esteemed people I was on several panels with at a conference raved about it endlessly in the space of one and a half days. So naturally I had to pick it up at the nearest bookshop I fell into on the way back to the train station. I started it on said train and suddenly the 5 hour journey had absolutely flown by and I was left looking like something that should be left in lost luggage (a bit battered and worn out) when I got to Liverpool. Yes, Only Ever Yours is one of those books that grabs you and simply will not let go… even now, months later.


Quercus Books, 2014, paperback, fiction, 400 pages, bought by me for me

I am a good girl. I am pretty. I am always happy go lucky.
The robotic voice spills down the walls and crawls along the floor, searching for a receptive ear. And we eves are more receptive when sleeping. We are like sponges, absorbing beauty, becoming more and more lovely as we dream. More and more valuable.
Except for me.

From the off, and indeed throughout, the world in Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is, to be frank, pretty f***ed up. (I honestly tried quite hard to not use ‘the f bomb’ but it is the only word that seems apt.) Girls are now bred, yes bred, for three reasons. They can become a companion to the men in society who can afford it and have babies, which will only be boys as these girls have been bred to be breeders of the male line; they can become a concubine, and have sex (with no babies) with all the men in society who can afford it; or they can become chastity’s and shave their heads, wear black gowns and raise more manufactured young girls to keep the cycle ticking along. See, I told you, f***ed up.

It is in the interior of one of these schools/factories/compounds that we join frieda and isabel who have been friends since they can remember (no my spell check hasn’t backfired, these girls – or the eves as they are called – have no capital letter at the start of their names because they are lesser and need to know it from the off) who now at sixteen enter their final and defining year when they will be introduced to boys for the first time. These teenage boys will define the girls roles in society based in some part by how they interact with them, which is a tricky beast as we discover, though mainly on their looks which have to be perfection. So the pressure is on and the claws are out, this is the year when their lives will change and no one wants to be less than a companion.

The screen snaps back into a mirror. S41 Delicate Iced Chocco hair. #66 Chindia Tellow eyes. That’s me. That’s what people see when they look at me. I peel off my nightdress and throw it into a trapdoor implanted in the wall underneath the vanity table. The cupboard opens, beeping loudly until I step in, the steel trap closing like a greedy mouth around me.
‘You have gained weight.’ The voice fills the cupboard. ‘You are now 118.8 pounds. I will recommend in your weekly report that you are to take extra kcal blockers until your weight stabilizes between 115 and 118 pounds.’ 

It is a grimly fascinating yet ultimately plain disturbing setting and plot that Louise O’Neill creates. Here is a world where everything is wrong with you if you are less than perfect, even the slightest blemish can ruin you. This of course breeds elitism to the point where it isn’t just weight or height that distinguish, so do race and even when you first menstruate. This is a world where the ideal is to be two dimensional, what do you need the third for after all when all you need to do is look pretty, be able to hold a simple conversation and have male babies every few years? Yet of course by being human, even if manufactured, these girls have feelings, insecurities (which are to be encouraged), fears, jealousies, bitterness and rage. None is particularly likeable, but I imagine I would be a Grade A bitch in such a situation, it is survival of the fittest and prettiest after all so even your closest friends are a threat.

‘Nice? Nice? NICE?’ megan shouts. I try to shush her but she is beyond reason.
‘Yes. You’re nice,’ agyness lies again, looking perplexed at this reaction.
‘Who cares about nice?’
‘I do. I think personality matters.’
‘Are you brain dead? Personality does NOT matter. All that matters is being pretty, you…’ she stammers with rage, ‘you feminist.’ There’s a horrified gasp. ‘Well, it’s true,’ she says defiantly. ‘Being pretty is all that matters.’

In a book like Only Ever Yours there is almost too much to talk about, though this is not a bad thing. I haven’t even started on the whole ‘sex as a powerful weapon vs. weapon of self destruction’ part of the book which I found fascinating – when the girls are given alone time in what seems to be a broom cupboard with the boys – or the way she discusses cyber bullying. However I am worried that anyone who hasn’t read the book yet and hears about all this might be worried it is all too much or all too preachy. I don’t think it is either. I think O’Neill holds back in some aspects; it could be grimmer, it could have had a lot more in it, yet less is more and the fact that O’Neill holds back to a degree, whilst writing a ripping yarn that doesn’t let you put it down, makes it all the more sinister because it is all the more possible. Well, I say possible, this is happening in the world now. I found this also stopped it from being preachy, it is a book designed to make you think and that it does in abounds, praise be.

There were also two things that had particularly stuck me by the end also. Firstly was the fact that O’Neill keeps the world in which the reader enters very confined. It doesn’t really matter that the world has gone to hell outside the four walls we remain in because actually the truly terrifying stuff is happening within them. This is all the more scary because we see the world doing it now. Girls (and the attention is shifting to boys now) are judged on their looks, size, gait etc now by the media and society as I type this, it makes the horror of O’Neill’s world close in on you all the more. Secondly what I think was a master stroke was that O’Neill gives us a group of girls whip are designed to compete with each other, almost in their DNA by default, their bid for freedom means they must one up or destroy their friends, so why do we (women and men) do it so often when we have so many options and so much more freedom than mere generations ago. Remember what I told you about it making you think on.

Then if that all wasn’t enough, there is the ending! I won’t give it away but I will say that it delivered a wallop that was almost winding, yet made your head snap and then realise how powerful it was in its brutal brilliance. Louise O’Neill, if you ever read this, I think you are an utter marvel for this book. So pertinent, so engaging, so important, so well written – I hope this book is now stocked in every school possible, it should be on the curriculum. It is certainly going to be high up on my list of books of the year.


Filed under Books of 2015, Louise O'Neill, Quercus Publishing, Review

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

I am sure I have mentioned more than once or twice that I love books set in the British countryside. I mean I love books set all over the world; from India to Australia, Japan to Brazil and everywhere in between, as part of the joy of reading is that you can experience the entire world through the pages of a book. Yet for me there is also something really interesting about reading a world you already know (for I was brought up in many different parts of the British countryside) as seen through other peoples eyes be it the authors or the characters they populate their books with. It was this that made me so eager to read At Hawthorn Time when I first heard about it, from the cover alone it screams this is a book about nature and the countryside. Sold.


Bloomsbury Circus, 2015, hardback, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The end is the beginning is the end in the case of Melissa Harrison’s second novel At Hawthorn Time, as we witness the results of a car crash when the novel opens. What we are left wondering, and of course to find out, is who was in each of the cars and who the bystander is observing it all on the outskirts of the small village of Lodeshill somewhere in the wilds of the British Midlands. You might now be thinking ‘hang on is this some high octane mystery about a collision… you said it was about the countryside’ well I wasn’t fibbing, that is what we get as we read on.

I have mentioned before my issues with books that start with a bang and then settle down before sadly proceeding to peter out and become somewhat exhausted by themselves and the pressure the author put on them to start with. At Hawthorn Time is not one of these novels. What unfolds as we read on is a book that grips you not with bangs and whistles, instead grabbing you with its beautiful writing, its characters and its theme of human nature vs. the natural world itself, the latter which is struggling in part because we simply take for granted what we see before our eyes and almost become immune to, tending to forget and starting to forfeit. Whilst this is not the case with all but one of the four main characters, it is these characters integrations with nature that reminds us of what we are missing out on by not being as focused or grateful for the little things as we should be.

Howard and Kitty are recent incomers to Lodeshill, moving into the village for the start of their retiring years mainly because Kitty wants to head back out into the countryside despite the fact, much to Howards annoyance, that she isn’t originally from there. We soon realise that one of the couple hopes this will reignite their relationship and the other is there to reignite their creativity and to move further away from some of the secrets they hold. Jamie is a young man who has lived his whole life in Lodeshill, as have many generations of his family, and yet who yearns to get away from it as much as he feels completely tied to it. He knows the folk lore of the area, can tell you all the different types of trees and yet spends his days in a windowless distribution centre on the edge of the village day dreaming of upgrading the car he is remodelling and races down the quiet straight roads at night. Finally we have Jack, a nomad and a wanderer; who has dropped out of society for a simpler and more natural way of life, working when he needs to and sleeping the fields and forests as he goes.

Through all four of these characters Harrison looks at the different ways in which human nature and nature itself work together and against each other. For Howard and Kitty instead of lessening the divide between them it almost magnifies it. One it seems is much more cut out for the city than the countryside. While it reignites the creative spark in ones heart, it bores the other to death. One wants to go out to the forest and take all the nature in, the other wants to just go to the pub. This is a path well trodden in fiction, film and on the radio and I must say that Harrison both keeps you with them by writing their story in a way that is both filled with humour yet is also slowly more and more tragic as we read on, had this not been the case I might have been occasionally waiting for Jamie or Jack to stroll onto the page.

The swallows that nested in the eaves of Manor Lodge bore the same genes as the ones who had built the first mud cups there nearly 150 years before; the swallows at the rectory went back even further. Every April they arrived in the village from Africa, lining up like musical notes on the telephone wires and swooping for beakfuls of mud on the banks of the dew pond on Culverkeys Farm to repair their nests. When they first moved in Howard complained about them shitting on the Audi, but Kitty said they brought happiness to a home. Now they just parked the cars a little further from the side wall.

It is with Jaime and Jack that I found the themes more powerful and where the heart of At Hawthorn Time and strength of Harrison’s writing really lies. Both their sections had me completely lost within them. Jack is a man who is so much in love with nature he has gone back to the natural world without becoming feral. Yet considering his wants to be so at peace with the world society (on the whole) seems to either see this exclusion of all the trappings of modern life as something other, something weird or even something dangerous and sinister. You could understand why he would rather spend his time out with the trees and wildlife than with people who don’t understand him, judge him. or fear him. I found this fascinating. I also loved Jack and wanted to adopt him – even if he just wanted to live in my shed.

I found Jamie’s situation equally as intriguing and complex. Here is a young lad who loves everything about the place he grew up, the childhood he had and the people he spent it with. However as he grows older and discovers there is a world outside that is both petrifying and exciting, also tempting. How he deals with those two extremes and elements, the pressure from family and work whilst also wanting to be his own person and not be swayed rang so true to me. Do you dare to go out in the world and possibly change for good or for bad, or do you stay where you are and appreciate your lot or become embittered by it. This and the conflict of the old and the new is something that seems to be on the minds of some of the other characters in the book as we go forward and is what brings to the fore the whole theme of forgetting and forfeiting the wonders of the natural world all around us.

‘I mean , if you collected together all the mischievous fairies, black dogs and, I don’t know, haunted houses from all over the country, you’d soon see they’re all of a type – just ways of explaining what was unexplainable back then. Fortunately,’ he continued, turning to Chris with a grin, ‘we have science now.’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Dad. It must have been amazing growing up in those times: there’d be a story attached to every cave, every rock, every tree. It wouldn’t be, you know, there are some trees -’ Chris waved an arm at the general view – ‘and we know everything there is to know about them, though hardly anyone actually bothers to learn their names, It would be a case of, this tree, this oak tree, has a wicked witch in it, this willow tree is magic -’

I found At Hawthorn Time a really interesting, engaging and beautifully written novel. Harrison’s writing of the natural world is just gorgeous, making the divide between nature writing and fictional storytelling become wonderfully blurred. A scene can become a standout moment with just the addition of a bumble bee going about its daily life while all the human drama is unfolding in front of it without it even noticing. I have never seen this done in quite such a subtle and effective way before. I also think Jack is going to stay with me as one of my favourite characters of the year. I look forward to whatever Harrison chooses to write next and will certainly be heading to her debut Clay in the not too distant future.

Who else has read At Hawthorn Time and what did you make of it? Have you read Clay as I would love thoughts on that too. Also do let me know of any books you love which feature the English countryside heavily. You can see my thoughts on some great books featuring the British landscape I wrote for Fiction Uncovered here. Maybe it is time I did a top ten novels about the British countryside (if I haven’t already) or books featuring nature, what do you think?


Filed under Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing, Melissa Harrison, Review

Paris, No Words Just All My Thoughts



Filed under Uncategorized

Object Lessons in Book Lust

By the time you read this, this could be less of a blog post about book lust and more about the books I have just been and bought because the book lust bug has me under it’s spell. As I type this it is very late on Wednesday night, I should really be in bed sleeping before I get up at 5.30am and get ready to get the train to London for two days of meetings. Instead I am wide awake having spent the last forty minutes or so trying to find out about some books that I am lusting after; Bloomsbury’s new Object Lessons series. They look stunning…


Yes, you know what I mean now don’t you. You can feel your fingers straying to open a new window and google which ones have come out and where you can get them from. I know, because that is what has just happened to me. Having done some digging and visiting their website I am still not sure exactly what they are. I mean, what does this mean? Object Lessons is a series of concise, collectable, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Each book starts from a specific inspiration: an historical event, a literary passage, a personal narrative, a technological innovation-and from that starting point explores the object of the title, gleaning a singular lesson or multiple lessons along the way. Featuring contributions from writers, artists, scholars, journalists, and others, the emphasis throughout is lucid writing, imagination, and brevity. Object Lessons paints a picture of the world around us, and tells the story of how we got here, one object at a time. Does it even matter when the books look so gorgeous?

Of course it does, though having read this review I now want them all, and it looks like there are going to be 20+ of them in total over the next how many months. “The Object Lessons series achieves something very close to magic: the books take ordinary—even banal—objects and animate them with a rich history of invention, political struggle, science, and popular mythology. Filled with fascinating details and conveyed in sharp, accessible prose, the books make the everyday world come to life. Be warned: once you’ve read a few of these, you’ll start walking around your house, picking up random objects, and musing aloud: ‘I wonder what the story is behind this thing?'” Yes that is me sold, so much so that if I see any of these (when I happen to fall into any London bookshops between meetings) I am probably going to have to buy one or two, or three… or four.

What books are you lusting after at the moment? Have you heard of the Object Lessons series? Have you read any of them? Would you be interested in me writing about random books I am lusting after, or would you rather I kept them to myself so it doesn’t become contagious and doom us all?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Green Carnation Prize Shortlist 2016

When this news goes live I will be in a  meeting room or restaurant in Soho networking and schmoozing like a demon, ha. So I won’t be able to instantly shout with glee about the shortlist for this years Green Carnation Prize, even though I will be desperate to and have been since the list was decided a week and a bit ago. Anyway here is the official word on it (my unofficial word will follow)…

The six shortlisted titles celebrating LGBT writing have been announced after hours of debates between the judges over an exceptionally strong longlist. Once again with a list including fiction; from debut novelists to well established literary faces, non-fiction; from investigations into the modern drugs world to a memoir of a mother’s illness, from Victorian London to Jamaica, the Green Carnation proves itself as one of the most diverse prizes.


  • Sophie and the Sibyl – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Chasing the Scream – Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (OneWorld)
  • Mrs Engels – Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)

Chair of the judges for 2015, author Niven Govinden said of the shortlist “After a lively and robust debate, we’re proud to unveil our shortlist, which we feel represents the best of the best: books that excel and incite passion in the reader.”

Simon Heafield, Marketing Manager for the prize’s partner Foyles said “We’re very proud to play a part in promoting a shortlist of such quality. Indeed, most are books we’ve been actively promoting instore this year so we’re delighted that readers will again be given good reason to investigate them further.”

The Green Carnation Prize is a prize awarded to LGBT writers for any form of the written word, in any genre, including novels in translation. This year sees the second year of the prize’s partnership with Foyles bookshops. The partnership will see Foyles offer event space in their flagship store to host the award ceremony on Tuesday December the 8th 2015, with public events celebrating the prize to follow around the UK in 2016.

For more information please visit: or

Back to me and my unofficial thoughts… I really like the list. Yes, there is a lack of women on the shortlist but as someone who was sat in the meeting watching (with slight glee) the judges having the nightmare of shortlisting, from a cracking longlist, the discussions went past genre, gender, race and was just about which of the final six books resonated and were the best of the best. I have no idea how they are going to choose the winner in a couple of weeks, poor things.

I have read three of them in full (without being a judge, obviously) and half of two of them and can see why it was so tough as they were corkers. I will be sharing my thoughts after the winner is announced at the start of December. In the interim, have you read any of these books and what did you make of them?


Filed under The Green Carnation Prize

Catching Up With Myself and All of You…

Blimey it has been a bonkers week or so. I swore to myself that I would get some more reviews up on the blog last week and this week but it seems I am slightly delusional, or I just think overly hopeful which is much nicer, as with trips to Paris and back, fireworks for over 15,000 people, the installation of the stunning poppies and then Remembrance Sunday and today, the shortlist for the Green Carnation (annouced 2pm on the 12th of November) to sort and administrate, my mothers 50th and another trip to London for a few days of meetings in the morning… I have run out of time. Phew! It does give me a reason to share a picture of the Poppies Weeping Window now housed in Liverpool until mid January again though, this was taken by me on Sunday as over 13,000 poppy petals showered down to remember all those who lost their lives in WWI from Liverpool. Stunning and incredibly moving, do come and see them…


…Anyway, whilst I catch up with myself (and I have Monday off next week so am planning a lovely long weekend at my mother’s partying then coming home and chilling for two days) I thought I would catch up with all of you and ask you how everything was going on and what is going on in your book worlds!

So what is new? To steal from one of my favourite sections on The Readers… What have you read, what are you reading and what are you thinking of reading next? I have read Sophie Hannah’s The Visitors Book,  I am reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (I have literally read about three pages) and am planning on turning to Margaret Atwood’s collection Stone Mattress  next. You?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

For Insiders Only – Joel Dicker

Yesterday I told you all about how DS Automobiles had worked with the author Joel Dicker on creating a special one off story for them and today I get to actually tell you all about it. In keeping with the idea of the whole campaign being about the visual story (which is also the story behind the story if you will) I will also share the first webisode and the first chapter too, before leaving you to go and find more. I feel very digital and thoroughly modern with all this going on. So, to the novella For Insiders Only


It is a normal quiet day on the banks of the river Seine with tourists checking the sites of Paris in it’s autumnal beauty when suddenly there is a commotion. It seems a man has been thrown or pushed into the river, though no one sees how this happened or if anyone was involved. Someone who becomes involved is Inspector Paul Roman of the First Judicial Police Division who is a great believer that it is the little, sometimes slightly quirky, cases that often need the most looking into. When it turns out that the man who ended up in the Seine, Frank Hord, had GHB in system and his colleague, Gut, has gone missing, Roman feels like this might be one of those more unusual cases. His suspicions seem to be correct when he receives a call from a fellow policeman from the edge of the Black Forest, who is working on a case with some similarities.

‘I received a note concerning a citizen of Stuttgart, drugged with GHB and who was the victim of an attempted murder last night,’ Weg said. ‘Is that correct?’
‘Yes, he was thrown in the Seine. He doesn’t remember anything.’
‘I’m wondering if it could be linked to a series of other suspicious deaths that have just occurred here in Stuttgart,’ said Weg. ‘A week ago, four men were found dead, drowned in a lake in the Black Forest. All showed signs of GHB in their blood. I’m the one handling the investigation. I thought they’d drowned, but now I’m wondering if they might have been murdered.’

Because it is a novella, I don’t want to give too much away but what I will say is that as you read on more and more twists and turns follow. There are masked ‘libertine’ festivals, secrets in the forest, questions of hidden sexual desires and much more as Roman, with Weg (which he finds most annoying) in tow, tries to solve the riddle of attempted murder and mass murder and if the two really are connected. I was gripped throughout and loved how such a modern story had such a dark little heart.

As I mentioned above, and indeed yesterday, what is so great (I think) about the campaign around For Insiders Only is that you get to see how each of the five chapters is crafted before you read them. You get to see what is inside the mind of the author, what inspires the incidents that unfolds and what ideas are spawned and never used. You get the story behind the story, press play to see it…

Because I am being so lovely and generous today, and filled with the remnants of all the joie de vivre from my trip to Paris last week, here is a link to the first chapter once you have watched the first webisode above. You can then pop to see the next one (and then all the other instalments ahead when they go live) by following the link here.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of the interactive story? Do you like the fact that you get to see the story behind the story? Should other companies be doing the same thing and giving us stories in new or unusual ways? All thoughts, as always, welcome.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Joel Dicker, Random Savidgeness

Popping to Paris to Meet Joel Dicker

One of the things that I love about doing this book blog is the people I have got to meet and the opportunities that I have got to participate in all because of a love and enthusiasm for books… well and writing about them a lot and having you lovely folk popping by. When I received an email a few weeks ago asking if I would like to go to Paris to meet Joel Dicker and talk about a book he had written for the car company DS, I promptly ignored it as I thought it was either a) meant for someone else b) a joke. However when another email came back less than a week later asking again I thought it really must be meant for me and so I emailed back and suddenly a few weeks later I am flying from Heathrow to Paris in all it’s autumn glory!


The wonder of literature, hey! So what on earth was all this actually about? Well, it turns out that DS (who are a car company formed by a merge of sorts between Peugeot and Citroen) have been looking at ways to get their brand out whilst also doing really different things with other creative types in all sorts of industries. They have been working with a fashion designer, an astrophysicist, and architect and now with a writer, the author Joel Dicker who many of you will know from the huge success that was The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair which came out here in the UK in 2014, to create a one off book and a whole mini series of webisodes around it.


I spoke to Joel about the whole process and interestingly, before any of you cynics start kicking off ha, he said that since the success of his writing (and by success he means millions of copies sold, though is too humble and polite – for he is charming – to say it) he has been made many offers by many different companies and often turns them down because he feels their heart or reasons behind the project might not be in the right place. However when DS approached him he knew fairly quickly that the project was for him because they wanted him to create a story and not just in the normal form. He would get to write the story, but he would also get to write, direct and star in a series of films about the writing process, something which he finds as fascinating as every other reader and lover of stories. Plus when he was younger he wanted to be a commercial/advertising executive, a director and a film star and here he got to do all three… and write a novella, which for an author who likes to write long novels was also a real challenge. Here it is…


I have read it and will talk to you all about it tomorrow. I will say it is set in the Black Forest and Paris, is brimming with murders and is completely gripping. You of course want to know how you can get your hands on a copy (like a wally I completely forgot to get a signed copy for one of you lucky lot, sorry) and the answer is that once the four websiodes have aired, each which give you a hint behind the chapter that you can then read on the DS Writer website here, which is a brilliant site and makes you feel part of the story/show/book. The catch? There is a tiny one, and that is that when the fifth film comes out the only way you can get to read the fifth chapter is by going to a DS showroom and test driving the new DS4, after which you can have a copy of the book and find out the secret of the mystery. Here is the trailer of it all, click and be hooked, I was…

Now before you cynics out there start rolling your eyes, hang fire. I think it is really incredible when big corporations do things with a cultural edge, and not just because they sent me on a trip to Paris, which admittedly was very lovely, but because authors, artists and culture need support both to create and also financially to live. As someone who works in the cultural and arts world, and who has also had lots of dealings with the publishing industry, I know how valuable these sort of relationships can be. After all DS could have simply just created some new generic fancy pants adverts couldn’t they? Instead they have worked with an author to create a story that tells itself on many different levels and gives the story behind the story it’s own space too, and I think that is quite brilliant. I would like to see many more big companies doing the same… Imagine all the stories that we readers would get and all the different ways those stories could be told? So go and have a gander and let me know what you think!

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Poignancy of Poppies

Hopefully you will think this an apt post on Remembrance Sunday. The last week has been a little bit bonkers. Work has taken over with trips to London, then Paris and back in a day, followed by a firework display for 20,000 on Thursday and then on Friday some very, very special arrivals to Liverpool in the form of the poppies from the Tower of London. So work has been bonkers but I couldn’t be prouder than when I turned the corner of St George’s Hall as the last thousand or so were being attached. These will be open and housed at the hall until mid January for free so anyone who wants to see them, and pay their respects or just have a quiet moment, can. I blooming love my job, my team and what we do.  Here is how I first saw them…


I saw the Poppies in London and was incredibly moved by them, so when I knew Liverpool was getting these ceramic beauties which hold so much poignancy I couldn’t quite believe it. While we don’t have all of them, we have the several thousand that make up the Weeping Window, no matter how far away or close to them you are they have a certain magic about them, they make you tingle in a highly emotive way. It’s quite haunting even though it is also mesmerizingly beautiful.


As many of you will know the Tower of London poppies were designed by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper to mark 100 years since the start of World War One, each of the 888,246 poppies placed over a period of time were installed to represent one of the deaths in the British and Colonial forces between 1914 and 1918. We now have the Weeping Window coming from the top of the columns of St Georges Hall (which is huge) where over 30,000 men had signed up to fight for their country by the end of 1914, more than 13,000 of whom lost their lives, so the building holds a real resonance to everything the poppies stand for.


This will be all the more poignant today when we hold the silence at 11am outside the building, as has been done for decades, with hundreds of people to remember everyone that fought for our country and for freedom before hundred of poppies are released from the roof. A fitting tribute.


For more info on the Poppies and the incredible programme around them head here. Don’t forget to pay your respects and hold the silence at 11am to remember all the incredible people from wars past to present who have fought, and are fighting, for freedom and a world free from tyranny in favour of hope, freedom and peace. We must not forget.


Filed under Random Savidgeness