Tag Archives: Carys Bray

Guessing The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2017

A week to this very day will see the announcement of the longlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Those of you who have followed this blog for the last (almost ten, how did that happen) years will know that the Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of my top five literary prizes ever. For many a year now I have played the all at once delightful and downright difficult game of trying to guess the longlist, so I thought I would do it again this year. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

There is a slight change this year. Normally I do a list of 20 books, for that is the usual longlist length. This year it is all change however as there is rumoured to be a shortlist of just twelve books this year. For me to choose a list of only 12 books is frankly impossible, well ok not impossible but it would be very difficult as one thing about the guessing the list for this prize shows me every year is how many amazing books there are by women published every year. So I have decided if the prize can change its list length so can I, so you will be getting a list of 12 books I have read and would love to see on the list and 12 books I would love to read and see on the list.

First up the books I have read, which has shamefully reminded me of how little of what I read last year I have reviewed but I will in good time, that I would love to see on the list…

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Allen and Unwin)
Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador)
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Penguin)
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Good People by Hannah Kent (Picador)
Fell by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre)
My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal (Penguin)
The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador)
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (Tinder Press)
The Museum of You by Carys Bray (Windmill)

I was going to add Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which I read for the Man Booker Prize last year but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else BUT if it was on the list I would read it again so thought I should give it a nod. Right, now to the books I haven’t read yet but want to, which was again so, so, so tough to whittle down just to twelve.

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Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn (Oneworld)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Penguin)
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Vintage)
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Sceptre)
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber and Faber)
English Animals by Laura Kaye (Little Brown)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Oneworld)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Orion)
Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (4th Estate)
The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (Scribe)
The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill)

There were so many more I wanted to add onto this list. Brit Bennett, Emma Geen, Min Jin Lee, Claire Fuller, Katherine Arden, Stella Duffy and Sara Baume  were all wriggling away in the back of my mind as were heavyweights Ann Patchett, Emma Donoghue and Annie Proulx. See it just goes to show how many amazing books there could be in the list next week. And you know what? I wouldn’t mind if I was completely wrong and was introduced to a whole selection of books I hadn’t even thought of, that is all part of the joy of a prize like this one, so much scope, so many possibilities, so many good reads ahead.

So over to you, what do you think might just make the list next week?

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Books of 2016, So Far…

So as we have reached, well slightly gone over, the halfway point in the year, I thought I would do something I don’t think I have done before and share with you my  Books of 2016 so far. Well it made sense to me considering I had just done the below video for my YouTube channel and so I thought I would share it on here too. (I am really enjoying the booktube community but trying not to bombard you with it on here.) So if you would like to know some of my favourite books of the year so far, grab a cup of tea (as its about 20 minutes of me going on about books) and have a watch of this…

I hope you like the list, some of the books haven’t been mentioned on here before so give you an idea of what is coming over the next few weeks and months*. I would love to hear you thoughts on the books that I discuss and what you have made of them if you have read them. I would also really love to know which books have been the books of your year so far too, so do tell.

*Yes I know there have been a few video posts of late, with work being utterly bonkers in the lead up to one of our biggest festivals this weekend, video’s are so much speedier to make than a review which takes me ages, they will return though, honest – along with the usual rambling posts. I just need to play catch up with life after the musical festival has happened. It is this weekend so I am getting there. 

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Sweet Home – Carys Bray

Having had one of the worst bouts of flu in years over the last week, hence the silence, the one thing that would have made it bearable would have reading. As I seemed to become allergic to light this was not possible until yesterday when I promptly devoured Cary Bray’s short story collection Sweet Home (which I discovered through Jen Campbell) and it proved the perfect reading prescription. Short captivating tales with a hint of magical that entertained me and allowed me to doze between each or every other tale and have slightly surreal and magical dreams that matched the books contents. This was a huge relief to me, for the last week while I have been (seriously) sweating, sneezing, coughing or having an occasional woe is me weep, all I have been dreaming about it giving politicians a tour or a very grey office block, seriously, on repeat. So as I said, this collection was the perfect short series of bursts of escapism.

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Windmill Books, 2016, paperback, short stories, 180 pages, bought by myself for myself

When it comes to short stories I tend to have two types that I really love, make that three. First there is the fairytale; be it a classic, a modern retelling or something completely new. Secondly I like short stories that have a twist you don’t see coming or pack a hefty punch when you least expect it. Thirdly I like a bittersweet tale that encompasses a whole novel in mere pages, I want it all – love, grief, happiness, devastation. In her debut collection Sweet Home, which was published in 2012 by Salt (and annoyingly I missed) and has now been republished by Windmill, Carys Bray delivers all three of these things that I love, sometimes all at once.

It is always difficult to summarise a collection, something I say in every single review I do of one I know, yet there are certain themes which Bray seems to be studying and exploring the intricacies with Sweet Home. The first, funnily enough, is ‘the home’. Through the collection what constitutes a home, what makes a happy one and if home really is where the heart is, are all looked at. In the story Wooden Mum, Bray cleverly looks at the role and respect a mother feels she is shown through the ways her children play with a dolls house and the wooden family within it. It is also the main point of the title story which looks at a woman who buys a piece of forest and building a house made from sugar and sweets…

Of course no one accused the woman of being a witch. But she was foreign. Her words percolated up the tunnel of her throat, espresso-thick and strong. Bad weather had eroded her face. Some believed that the sun had crisped her skin into coriaceous pleats. Others blamed the chaw of a wintery climate. No one knew where she had come from, though lots of people privately thought that perhaps she ought to go back.

This leads us nicely into the element of fairytale that runs through the book. In most stories there is mention of one or comparisons of one. It is probably the retelling of Hansel and Gretel in Sweet Home or in The Ice Baby, a wonderful and quite literally heartbreaking tale of a couple who are desperate to have a child and so far have been unable to. There is also the dystopic fairytale, if such a thing exists, The Baby Aisle where the busy working mum or dad can simply pick up a child in a supermarket, they even have reduced ones, it isn’t specified but I think you could probably get club card points with them too. This really is the second main theme and topic of Sweet Home, children and childhood. In stories like The Countdown, Bed Rest and the incredibly unsettling Just In Case, we find parents who have either lost children, are panicking about losing children or are looking at certain periods of worry in their own childhood’s. One of the most powerful stories in the collection is Scaling Never which is told through the eyes of a young boys as he deals with his own, along with his families, grief after the death of his sister Issy…

The house is full of sadness. It’s packed into every crevice and corner like snow. There are bottomless drifts of it beside Issy’s Cinderella beanbag in the lounge. The sadness gives Jacob the shivers and he takes refuge in the garden. Like the house, it is higgledy and unkempt. The lawn is scuffed and threadbare in places like a grassy doormat that’s felt too many feet.

For those of you who know of Carys Bray’s incredibly well received and read debut novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, this is where I am guessing the story originated and it has certainly left me with a real hankering to get to that novel very soon. Grief and death soon become clear preoccupations for Bray as much as birth, this also links into health and in many of the stories someone is ill be it bed rest for a child to come, a simple bug, Alzheimer’s or cancer. The latter are the case in two of my favourites tales, which sounds odd considering the subject matter. My Burglar made me want to cry as our protagonist goes around her house telling us, and her daughter, that she is sure she is being burgled or the most random items. Then there is what I think is the collections knock out story, Under Covers.

Carol’s bra is spread-eagled in the hedge like a monstrous, albino bat. The wind has blown it off the washing line and tossed it onto the wispy fingertips of the leylandii, where it reclines in a sprawl of wire, hooks and corralling lace. Despite her best efforts, she can’t reach it. Her washing basket is full of dry laundry. She has removed the pegs from the line and placed them in their little bag. But she can’t go back indoors until she has retrieved the fugitive bra. People might see it.

What follows here is the tale of Carol, her husband, and the two girls watching from the upstairs window and it is just so beautifully told and intricately woven. We see the story of the change in a marriage as an older woman tries to find her bra and thinks of all the things it stands for, from a healthy sex life to a healthy life and the two giggling teenagers who have their whole lives, and love lives, ahead of them. If it doesn’t choke you up and have you thinking long and hard about everything then you have no heart – there I have said it!

It is a testament to Bray’s writing that all these subject matters are dealt with in a way that is  honest, unflinching and confronting, yet told in a warm, emotive and tender way even when at their most bittersweet. Bray also does that thing I love so much, she makes the ordinary seem extraordinary and, particularly in the case of On The Way Home where we flit from person to person down a street, she finds the magical in the tales of everyday folk. I think Sweet Home is a wonderful, wonderful collection. I shall be heading to Cary Bray’s novels very soon indeed.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #55 – Naomi Frisby

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the North of England (the north is the best lets us be honest, yes I went there) and the city of Sheffield  to join the lovely Naomi. Before we have a nosey through her shelves,  and steal some of those lovely biscuits and a Bailey’s or two, let’s find out more about her…

I live in Sheffield with my husband and stepson. Until last summer, I was a secondary school English teacher, a job I did for twelve years. I left the profession to embark on a PhD in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. My thesis is on representations of the female gender in circus and sideshow literature, so I’m looking at bearded ladies, human mermaids, conjoined twins and intersex characters, amongst others. I run the blog The Writes of Woman which I set up in 2013. It’s a one-woman attempt to do something about the gender imbalance in books reviewed in the mainstream media.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I keep almost all of them; I’m a nightmare for it. The first thing my dad said when I told him I was moving in with the man who became my husband was, ‘Does he know how many books you’ve got?’ I’m not a hoarder generally but I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to books. The only ones that don’t end up on the shelves are duplicates which I give to a friend or the occasional one I really dislike. I used teaching as an excuse for years, you never know when you might be teaching a particular book or you’ll want an extract either to show students how something’s done or how not to do it. I need a new excuse now!

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My shelves are split into fiction and non-fiction. The fiction section has separate sections for children’s/young adult, poetry and plays. The non-fiction section is divided into memoir, music, television, feminism, history, travel and so on. All sections are then in alphabetical order and in the case of writers with more than one book in my collection, by date of publication. (Unless it’s a hardback as they only fit on the middle and bottom shelves. Although I have exactly the same system for them.) That sounds very anal, doesn’t it? I get frustrated when I can’t find things I want quickly! The exceptions to this are the books I’m reading for my PhD and review copies from publishers. The PhD books have two shelves roughly arranged into those I’ve read and want to use in my thesis; those I want to read next because they look most useful, and those I’m planning to read later on. Review copies are stacked up on top of the shelves in the kitchen; I’ve run out of shelves for those. I’ve only culled once when I moved from Sheffield to London from a house to a flat. My dad was helping with the move and took the boxes of books to donate to a charity shop, a couple of years later I discovered they were in my parents’ garage. Most of them are still there; my dad’s been working his way through them!

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I’m not entirely sure what it was. It was probably an Enid Blyton or a Roald Dahl bought with birthday or Christmas money. If I was going to guess, I’d say Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl Is a Monitor but that might be because the cover’s bright pink so it stands out in my memory. I’ve still got all my books from childhood, some are on my shelves, some are on my stepson’s.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No. I’ve stopped believing in feeling guilty about books I enjoy reading. The ones people would be surprised at, I think, are the ‘women’s fiction’/so-called ‘chick-lit’ novels (I dislike both of those terms) but the Jilly Cooper, Freya North, Miranda Dickinson, Marion Keyes, Jojo Moyes, Ruth Saberton novels are on the fiction shelves like everything else.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would bea collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

At the risk of sounding like an arse, it’s a signed manuscript of Carys Bray’s novel A Song for Issy Bradley. I was due to cover an event at Cheltenham Literary Festival for Hutchinson Books where they introduced forthcoming books from Helen Dunmore and Dea Brøvig. A few weeks before it happened, Bray was signed by Hutchinson and added to the bill. So I could read the book before the event, I was sent the manuscript. It has a different title to the finished novel and it’s pre-final edit, so not only is it exciting that I have it from a book geek point of view but from a writing point of view, it’s interesting to compare it with the published version and see what changes an editor at a publishing house decided to make.

As for saving in a fire, I’ve become less precious about my books. I also have an online database in case I ever do need to replace any (also to stop me buying duplicates which was happening with alarming frequency). However, the Carys Bray manuscript would definitely need saving and I have a few favourite novels that are signed – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (with the original black and silver cover) and Trumpet by Jackie Kay are two that come immediately to mind – which I’d be gutted to lose. Now you’ve got me wondering whether I should put them all together somewhere in case I ever need to grab them!

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents didn’t have many fiction books when I was growing up but of the selection they did own, it was Wuthering Heights that attracted me the most. There were two reasons for that: one, no one else had managed to get past the first few chapters and I was determined I would! Two, we lived on the border between South and West Yorkshire so I was aware of the landscape where it was set. I did read it. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on it (alongside Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) and I’ve taught it to secondary school students. I have my own copy on my shelf – it’s heavily annotated!

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I went through a stage of buying every book but I’ve begun to borrow more recently, partly because I’ve a group of bookish friends that I met through Twitter so we’ve quite a library between us and I was acquiring too many unread hardbacks on the shelves long after the paperbacks had been published. If I love something though, I do have to own it. This also applies to books I’ve read on Kindle (which I do quite frequently); if I really love it, I have to have a physical copy to keep on the shelf.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Because I’m not working at the moment, I’m on a book-buying ban so I haven’t bought anything since early December and they were all PhD related. The last review copies to arrive were Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent and Mailbox by Nancy Freund and for Christmas, I got Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and an anthology of short stories Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical from my husband and Storm by Tim Minchin, DC Turner and Tracy King from a friend. I’ve started to get into graphic novels lately.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I have a ridiculously long wishlist of books I’d like but nothing particular like a series or a first edition. I did read Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star recently and it went straight onto my ‘best books I’ve ever read’ list but I read it on Kindle, so I definitely need that on my bookshelves, it’ll need to go on the newly created ‘In case of fire, rescue these first’ shelf!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I think they’d probably think I was up my own arse! My collection’s mostly literary fiction so it probably does look pretentious. I suppose I’d like them to think I was intelligent; I might have a Barnsley accent but…what’s that phrase? Don’t judge a working class book by its cover.

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A huge thanks to Naomi for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Naomi’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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