Category Archives: Random Savidgeness

The Costa Book Award 2017 Shortlists…

Are here… finally. I love this prize and have done for ages, this year being all the more special because I am judging the First Novel Award and can finally talk about the shortlist. But before I do in more depth in the next day or so here are the shortlists, tell me what you think about all of them.

2017 Costa Novel Award shortlist

  • Jon McGregor for Reservoir 13 (4th Estate)
  • Stef Penney for Under a Pole Star (Quercus)
  • Kamila Shamsie for Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Sarah Winman for Tin Man (Tinder Press)

2017 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

  • Xan Brooks for The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times (Salt)
  • Karl Geary for Montpelier Parade (Harvill Secker)
  • Gail Honeyman for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins)
  • Rebecca F. John for The Haunting of Henry Twist (Serpent’s Tail)

2017 Costa Biography Award shortlist

  • Xiaolu Guo for Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up (Chatto & Windus)
  • Caroline Moorehead for A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini (Chatto & Windus)
  • Rebecca Stott for In The Days of Rain (4th Estate)
  • Professor Stephen Westaby for Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table (HarperCollins)

2017 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

  • Kayo Chingonyi for Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus)
  • Helen Dunmore for Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe Books)
  • Sinéad Morrissey for On Balance (Carcanet)
  • Richard Osmond for Useful Verses (Picador)

2017 Costa Children’s Book Award shortlist

  • Sarah Crossan for Moonrise (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • Lissa Evans for Wed Wabbit (David Fickling Books)
  • Kiran Millwood Hargrave for The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)
  • Katherine Rundell for The Explorer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

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Which ones have you read, which ones are you excited to read and, of course, what do you think of the debut category. I am very excited to be able to talk about them all…

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Gail Honeyman, Jon McGregor, Kamila Shamsie, Karl Geary, Random Savidgeness, Rebecca F. John, Sarah Winman, Stef Penney, Xan Brooks, Xiaolu Guo

What Have You Been Reading & What Should I Be Reading?

On Tuesday the 21st you will all get to finally hear what I have been reading over the summer. Well that isn’t technically true, you will all get to hear about a selection of the particular highlights of my summer reading as the Costa Book Awards 2017 shortlists are announced, including the First Novel selection which I have been judging along with the lovely Sophie Raworth and Sandy Mahal. We have had a wonderful summer of reading and the judging process has been hard (well, choosing the final four books was, the rest was lots of laughing, eating lovely food and having some great discussions about literature and life in general – lovely how books bring people together) because there was a plethora of wonderful books yet only four places allowed on the shortlist, we did ask for five but it was a no go. I can’t even think about how we will decide on a winner. Anyways, let us not think of that now.

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In what seems like a timely fluke two other things have happened which mean I am finding myself much more footloose and fancy free. Firstly my issues with WordPress seem to have been sorted and the site seems to be working now, meaning the end of the great ‘blog freeze’ which I have been fretting with behind the scenes (and then happened again hence why this is back dated) halting the lovely plans I had for the Savidge Reads relaunch and ten year celebrations. However they can continue now and we can all have a jolly time in the lead up to the New Year, which links nicely into the second timely thing…

I have now finished all my events (workshops, author interviews, etc.) for the year which feels very strange and now makes 2018 – and that small thing of hosting Christmas at my house for my family for the first time ever beforehand – feel all the closer and so my brain is now free to start plotting what I want to do next year. At the moment it is just a mulling but really regular routine is top of the list with blogging, podcasting and just life in general, there is still lots to do on the house including finishing the library.

There is also the biggest joy of being able to read just whatever on earth I fancy after a whole summer and most of autumn having a list of required reading. This is both thrilling and weirdly terrifying (I made a video about it here if you want to watch my full panic) as the options seem endless and suddenly I am rusty at just picking what I want to read, when I want to. There are just so, so, so, so, so many books that I could choose from, it is weirdly intimidating.

So I thought you might help, as well as it be a rather lovely way to catch up and have a chat in the comments below, by sharing the books that you have loved and read so far this year that I might like to give a whirl before I share four books I hope you will on Tuesday. So let me know, what books have you loved this year/summer and why should I be rushing to read them myself? I look forward to all the tempting recommendations.

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See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done was eagerly thrust into my hands pretty much fresh off the printer with the words ‘this book is wonderfully dark, gritty and gothic, very you, you’ll love it’. Which instantly made me nervous of it. I am one of those people who gets reader stage fright. You hear a book is going to be ‘very you’ and you feel the pressure is already too much or start to contemplate what that person recommending you the book thinks of you before you have even opened the cover. In this case I was oddly flattered, strangely even more so when it turned out that Schmidt’s debut was a fictionalised account of the true crime case of Lizzie Borden, who many believed a murderess. I like my fiction dark, gritty and gothic, so believe me when I say that if that too is your bookish bag then this is just the sticky icky twisty treat for you too.

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Tinder Press, paperback, 2017, fiction, 356 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

He was still bleeding. I yelled, ‘Someone’s killed father.’ I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantle ticked ticked. I looked at father, the way hands clutched to thighs, the way the little gold ring on his pinky finger sat like a sun. I gave him that ring for his birthday when I no longer wanted it. ‘Daddy,’ I had said. ‘I’m giving this ring to you because I love you.’ He has smiled and kissed my forehead.
A long time ago now.

From the very beginning of See What I Have Done we are thrown straight into the macabre action and cloying, dirty atmosphere of the Borden household as Lizzie finds her father dead on the sofa with his head caved. It starts as it means to go on for this is a house that from the very start feels sick. It is grubby, meat being recooked over and over leaving a stench that pretty much sticks to the walls – and all this before it turns out there is not one dead body in the house but two as Lizzie’s step-mother is soon discovered to have met the same end. But who would take an axe to the heads of these two people, especially with such savagery? That of course is what we the reader, seemingly along with everyone in the Borden household and the surrounding streets of Fall River wonders, though of course deep down they all know it must be one of them.

And this, from the very off, is one of the things that makes See What I Have Done so utterly delicious to read, if a rather gory morsel. Everyone is under suspicion; from the police, from each other and from us as readers. Schmidt kindly, with a cunning and beguiling smile as her prose grips us and pulls us in ever more, invites us to play detective alongside the, erm, detectives. Yet she doesn’t make it easy, where would the fun in that be. Instead she takes us into the minds of four people who as it happens could be the main suspects and through them introduces us to some right shady characters on the side lines who could also be worth further investigation.

Bridget looked me over, her caterpillar eyebrows cracked like thunder, and the second officer took notes, took notes. My feet traced circles across the carpet, I opened my eyes wide, felt the house move left then right as the heat ground into walls. Everyone pulled at their necks to unloose their tightly wound clothing. I sat still holding my hands together.

First of all there is Lizzie, who I actually want to come back to as I think she is probably the finest creation (though there is a plethora) of the whole novel alongside the atmosphere. Lizzie however is the one who discovers the body, she is the one who has been home all day, though the house is like a  disorientating maze so anyone could have got in, and she is also, as we get to see her through others eyes and some hints of her own, the one who seems to have the biggest axe to grind – I am sorry I couldn’t help it.

We then turn to Bridget who is the maid of the house, she cooks and cleans (well both of those are debatable when you take into account the slop in a pan on the cooker and the absolute state of the house) does she know secrets that she shouldn’t, does she have a grudge or a secret of her own to keep? We also have Emma, Lizzie’s sister who mysteriously goes out that day but no one really knows where to, there are vague places alluded to and most people seem to believe her but could she have a grudge against her father and his wife, or worse her own sister. Then there is Benjamin a man who has suddenly appeared in the town, looks like a whole heap of trouble and who has met Lizzie’s (incredibly sleazy and delightfully creepy, remember what I said about shady side characters) Uncle John and may have made a pact with him and the devil.

Exciting isn’t it, all these possibilities. I have to say I really enjoyed, if that is the right word, getting into these four people’s heads, watching them watching each other and taking in all their interior viewpoints whilst having a bit of a root around in their potential motives and trying to work out just who on earth did it. I do have my theories but I will say no more for I don’t want to give anything away and take any of the fun of finding out yourself, or at least trying to.

Of course, being based on true events, even if still brimming with grey areas and shrouded in what ifs and maybes which has kept so many people fascinated, you know what actually happened or can look it up. What Schmidt does with Lizzie’s character, which also makes you forget it is real, will have your absolutely hooked even when you sometimes want to look away or pop the book down for a five-minute breather.

Under Schmidt’s prose, Lizzie is probably one of the most interesting women in fiction you will meet this year and also one of the most grimly fascinating character studies I have come across in a long time. Broken and vulnerable yet cunning and sneaky. Is she a misunderstood victim of her household or a product of it? Is she a potential killer or is she mentally unwell? Whatever the case she is completely enthralling to read, all the more so because her narration is slightly off; sometimes repetitive and childlike, sometimes wise beyond her years and almost gleefully sinister and knowing. You never know where you are with her and you feel she knows this all too well – I could be talking about Lizzie Borden or Sarah Schmidt herself when I say that, ha.

Underneath the sofa were tiny pieces of paper that had come away from police officers’ notebooks, trailing from sofa to kitchen like Hansel’s and Gretel’s hoping to find their way back home. I rubbed my forehead again. There would be many things Emma would have to fix to make everything right. I could see father’s blood on the sofa. I considered things.
Words slipped out of me then. ‘I was here talking to Mrs Borden this morning.’
Emma seized. ‘When was this?’ Her voice scratched at my ear.
‘After she told Bridget to keep cleaning the windows. She said there was a strange smell.’
Emma’s nose twitched. ‘What kind of smell?’
The sweet syrup tripped through my limbs. ‘I don’t know. It was probably her.’ I giggled.

One of the benefits of leaving it sometime between reading a book and writing a review of it is that you can get a distance from it – an excuse which I will be using for why some reviews have taken so long to write. I digress. After all, sometimes books fade a little from that first reading rush, or of course they can grow on you as the themes and thoughts they bring up bloom the larger the more time that you have away from them. Then there are books like See What I Have Done, which as your read them worm their way deeper into your psyche and leave something lingering there long after, these are the books you don’t forget the ones whose characters and places just refuse to budge. I urge you to read Lizzie’s tale and let yourself become entwine in the Borden house before it starts to stick in your head, rather like an axe could.

In rather exciting news, as sometimes books can bring people into your life who become lifelong friends or soul siblings, myself and Sarah will be starting a ‘sinister’ book group later this year where we read an unsettling read a month and you can all join in, titles and dates to be released soon. In the interim, you can get Sarah’s book here if you haven’t already which you really should have.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Books of 2017, Random Savidgeness, Review, Sarah Schmidt, Tinder Press

Savidge Reads in Spain

As this goes live, I will be in the city of Bilbao for a week of escape. It dawned on me a few weeks ago that I had not had a trip away to properly relax since Cyprus back in spring last year and so it seemed the perfect time for me to getaway with a big pile of (Costa) books and just go somewhere I could read, relax, wander and escape. So I picked a city that I have always dreamt of going to… Bilbao.

Believe it of not I actually took this picture.

Why Bibao? Well of course there is the Guggenheim which I have always wanted to see (and I have already walked past as I type this, it was closed so it was just an initial nosey as I walked along the river to get my bearings) then there is the pintxos (like tapas only more intricate and hand crafted, just as scrummy if not more so) then there is all the other culture which it has in abundance. A lot like Liverpool, only on a much grander scale and with possibly better craft and design) Bilboa went from an busy industrial harbour, where the river meets the estuary and meets the sea, to a place forgotten, slightly worn down and then has emerged through culture and art into one of the most exciting and vibrant cities. I type this like I know it (well, I do know Liverpool) yet this is my first trip though already a 30 minute walk has shown me it appears to be true.

So before I head back out to find some more pintxos, because when in Bilbao how can I not, I wondered if a) you had any delightful recommendations for places for me to go and b) if you would like me to do some posts on here of some of the things that I get up to while I am in such a culture brimming city? I have heard of a floating library which might be up many of your streets.

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A Decade of Savidge Reads

Dear lovely reader of this here blog,

Yes YOU looking at this screen, I do mean you. This is as personal as I can get through the ether to speak directly to YOU.

Today Savidge Reads turns ten whole years old, which (obviously) means that I have now been banging on about books on the internet for a whole decade, which just seems madness. Who would have thought it, eh? Certainly not 25 year old me when I first pressed published back in 2007. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear me, happy birthday to me!

Kitkat-Cake

Last year I had a cake, this year I don’t but if I did it would be this one.

To commemorate this milestone I thought it would be nice to do three things (I wanted to do ten but some of them involve that figure so bear with) to mark the occasion over the next year. Yes, the next year. And one of them involves you as I think it would be lovely to hear more from you lovely bookish lot. After all it is thanks to lovely readers like yourself reading this now, that have made this blog what it is and I am super-duper grateful for that. I don’t know if I say it enough, thank you, you all mean and have meant a lot.

The first, which is all me, new content. Woohoo! Really I should have done my relaunch now, what a silly sausage. Life, it gets in the way sometimes doesn’t it, like that pesky thing – work, ha! Anyway, I will be backdating the blog with content now that a WordPress glitch has been fixed. I will also be bringing some new features and series onto the blog which I have been working on a while. I am still tweaking these but one will be a book club with the wonderful Sarah Schmidt where we choose a dark/gothic/creepy/unsettling book each month (launching the first six in advance soon)  for you to read along with us which I am super excited about.

The second, which will happen over the next few weeks/months, is that I would like you to suggest various lists of tens that you might like to see. I asked on Twitter what I should do to celebrate ten year of the blog on the blog and, apart from the obvious ask of actually write a blog) people came up with the following of which more suggestions are most welcome in the comments down below so get suggesting…

  • Top ten best things that have happened because of the blog.
  • Top ten tips for blogging.
  • A blog on blogging, ten highs and lows.
  • Top ten books of all time.
  • Top ten writers.
  • Top book from each of the ten years.
  • Top ten book to film adaptations.
  • Top ten authors or books I discovered because of the blog.

Now that last bullet point links into my third idea of celebration which all comes down to you. I would love, love, love, love, love for you all (yes ALL, ha) to email me with a favourite book that YOU have discovered because of this blog and give me a paragraph or two on why you loved it. So we all keep spreading the booky LOVE. Lovely. And as a thanks I will pick someone every so often at random who will win a book or two based on the book you loved and why you loved it. Does that make sense? Basically email me your thoughts on a book you found from Savidge Reads and then loved to savidgereads@gmail.com with ‘A Book of the Decade’ as the title and you could win a book or two at any point through the next year, and with that a new series was born.

I hope that seems like a nice set of ways to celebrate? As always I would love your thoughts on anything else you would like to see and the like in the comments below, let’s get book chatting. And thank you again for a decade of delight. It has been ace.

Here’s to the next ten.

Simon xxxxx xxxxx

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Telling Hometown Tales Again… An Update

So, way back when in the depths of the past, I told you all about how I was joining the lovely team at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, part of Orion and the monster (in a large way, not scary or evil) publishing house Hachette. Basically, it is an initiative to find more diverse voices in the landscape of writing from all over the UK. We not only can I tell you what the first four books will be and who the eight authors are (as each book has a published author writing about their home town and then an unpublished author from the same town or region if you flip the book over) for the first in the series AND excitingly I can tell you who the next four published authors are and where we are looking for new voices. One of them could be you…

The first four books out in June are from Glasgow, Yorkshire, the Midlands and Highlands and Hebrides and they are…

  • Hometown Tales: Glasgow will include a “moving” account of growing up in the shadow of Woodilee Hospital by short story writer and author of The Gracekeepers (Harvill Secker) Kirsty Logan, and “a deeply personal portrait of the city” by new voice Paul McQuade.
  • Hometown Tales: Yorkshire will feature Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love and A Manual for Heartache(Picador), writing about her childhood home in Snaith, and new voice Victoria Hennison on village life in Holme-on-Spalding-Moor.
  • Hometown Tales: Midlandswill pair a story about a Jamaican girl adopted by a couple living in Fleckney, Leicestershire, by Kerry Young, author of the Costa First Novel-shortlisted Pao (Bloomsbury), with new voice Carolyn Sanderson’s tale of young love in Milton Keynes.
  • And, last in the four-strong tranche, Hometown Tales: Highlands and Hebrideswill include an account of growing up on the Isle of Mull by Colin MacIntyre, author of The Letters of Ivor Punch (W&N) which won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award in 2015. MacIntyre’s piece will appear alongside a “bold and inspiring” coming-of-age story set in Inverness by new voice Ellen MacAskill.

As you will know if you have been round this neck of the blogosphere for a while I am a huge fan of both Kirsty Logan and Cathy Rentzenbrink as writers and as people. for a while what they have written (because I have read these between Costa submissions and everything else) is ruddy marvellous. As are Colin and Kerry’s, who have both been on my book periphery for a while so I am keen to go and read their novels even more now, and I can’t wait to see what Paul, Victoria, Carolyn and Ellen come up with in the future. Ooh, it is exciting.

Now then, what about the next set of books and the areas we are looking for authors from or to write about their links to? Well we have these fabulous four.

  • Hometown Tales: Birmingham will feature both a new writer and BAFTA award-winning comedian, writer and author Stewart Lee, who will write about the post-punk scene in Birmingham and how music has shaped his memories of the city.
  • Hometown Tales: Wales will be contributed to by Tyler Keevil, a writer originally from Canada, now living in Wales, who will explore the idea of migration. Keevil won the Journey Prize and the Wales Book of the Year People’s Prize, and is is one of the judges for the Wales Book of the Year 2017, while his new novel, No Good Brother, is due topublish with The Borough Press in February.
  • Hometown Tales: Lancashire will see a new voice juxtaposed by novelist Jenn Ashworth’s story set over a pub crawl one night in Preston. Ashworth, who has previously written about what it’s like growing up in a Northern working-class Mormon community and how it influenced her novel The Friday Gospels (Sceptre) for The Bookseller,last year published Fell (Sceptre)and lectures in Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
  • Hometown Tales: South East will welcome a new writer in the company of award-winning BBC broadcaster and founder of Boom Shakalaka Productions Gemma Cairney, writing about her home town of Margate.

I had a sneaky suspicion Jenn Ashworth might be up for it (because I asked her to her face) and I am so thrilled as she is just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful writer – and also now a pal, but that doesn’t mean I have rose tinted glasses just to clarify. I also nearly passed out from joy when I heard Gemma Cairney had said yes, seriously, almost passed out. I am looking forward to what they, Stewart and Tyler come up with and just as importantly, if not more so, what some new writers come up with and submit.

So there we have it, if you are someone with a hometown tale to tell, or know someone with a hometown tale to tell then please make sure you head here and get in touch. Oh and if you are thinking ‘but my hometown isn’t on here’ we want this series to grow and grow and so please submit for your area too. Basically, get writing because we want to get reading.

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Ooh He’s in the News…

I am aware that this could be seen as a huge brag, when really I am just a little bit proud, however if you happen to be passing a newsagent or news stand today then you might like to pick up a copy of The Times where there might be a face or two (or three or four) that you know…

Times pic

Yes, myself and the fabulous Jen Campbell, Sanne of Books and Quills and Lucy The Reader, have all been featured in an article on BookTube and books which is all rather exciting. I have to say I was nervous as nervous on Tuesday when I went down for the photo shoot, as I am definitely not model potential, but had and amazing time and could quite possibly have quite easily got used to the pampering and hair teasing. Ha. Here is a picture from the set, well shoot, which I love…

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If you can’t get a copy (not that you might even want to, ha) to read physically, then you can head here to do so, it is behind a paywall but I think you can sign in once without paying to read an article. I think. If you don’t follow my channel but fancy a nosy it is here.

I know from some of the feedback that people like the blog or YouTube and not both, but as this is a bit of a moment I thought I would share it with you lovely lot as without people visiting this for the last nine and a half years (almost a decade, jeez) then it might never have happened. I think even my mother is quite proud of this, so it must be something special. Ha!

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