Tag Archives: Catherine Hall

A Lovely Literary London Trip…

The blog has been a little bit quiet this week because I am down in London and whilst I did bring my laptop (with the intention of catching up with lots of backlogged reviews and the lije) I haven’t turned it on very much as I have been out and about doing some lovely literary and/or touristy things, so I thought I would share some of them with you. First up on arrival in London last Sunday I did something slightly sneaky, I told hardly anyone I was here. I love, love, love catching up with people however I never end up getting time to just have a wander, go shopping or take in an exhibition. I have been desperate to see the Crime Museum Uncovered at the Museum of London for ages and ages (and Sunday was it’s final day) and so stealthily I went, it was amazing.

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You can’t take pictures once you are in, because there are murder weapons and all sorts inside and it is all still owned by Scotland Yard (though there is a book), what impressed me so much was that the way the exhibition is curated and worded the emotion of it all hits you, it is very much about how murder and crime can suddenly happen to anyone by anyone and really, really makes you think about all those involved. I found it horrifying, grimly fascinating but overall very moving and effecting, the Museum of London is also just marvellous, I have no idea why I have never been there before. I spent ages wandering through the exhibitions on London during the plague, the Great Fire, the War and wandering through a Victorian street. Brilliant.

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I then went and pottered around St Paul’s, possibly looking for the First Dates restaurant and then actually for some food. I never visit tourist sights like this and it is SO London, so I wanted a potter round, though I wasn’t paying to go in – I have a theory on paying to go into churches, but that is not for now.

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I then headed to my favourite park in London, Postman’s Park. If you haven’t been you must. There is an area of the park that is a place of memories of those who have died sacrificing themselves for someone else and I never cease to find it moving.

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So that was my Sunday, I managed to be a complete tourist. Monday was spent wandering the shops and reading in cafes, or over pizza, before I met up with Eric of LonesomeReader so the Bearded Bailey’s Book Group could go to the Bailey’s Shortlist party which was very good indeed. The highlight for me might just have been standing with Janet Ellis and Sophie Ellis Bextor talking about books for 10 minutes over cocktails. Lovely stuff.

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Tuesday was more mooching and wandering sprinkled with a meeting or too, sometimes it is just nice to have a wander, before catching up with my almost ex-husband (not long to go) before heading out for dinner with the lovely Catherine Hall and some interestingly spelt Turkish food…

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Wednesday was day one of the London Book Fair. Now if, like I once did, you imagine the London Book Fair to be the Motor Show of the book world (lots of free books and the like) think again. It is a madness of sweltering sales people and deals and other goings on.

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I did however have meetings there on the Thursday but headed over on the Wednesday, with the lovely Rob of Waterstones and Adventures with Words, to go and see Deborah Levy talking about Hot Milk with Alex Clarke, who through Twitter I feel like I have known for years and who is just as lovely as I wanted her to be in real life…

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Before then seeing Jeanette Winterson talking about her new novel which takes on Shakespeare.

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I then ended up seeing lots of friendly faces as I milled round getting my bearings for the following day. I left with Rob feeling like this…

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I then caught up with my mate Andy who I hadn’t seen for seven years for an epic decompress after Olympia before readying myself for a second day, filled with meetings, before meeting up with my old co-host of The Readers, Gav of Gav Reads, we were much happier about it than we looked…

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…Before heading of to Kensington Palace (as you do) for the Man Booker International Prize shortlist party. Where I saw so many lovely faces, some who I had only met on Twitter, some who I have known a while and was delighted to catch up with all of them, and had lots of lovely bookish chats whilst also keeping my eyes peeled for royalty, ha.

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Then it was probably one of the highlights of my trip so far, but something ace is coming tomorrow, as I went off to Soho post Booker party to meet up with some of my fellow Waterstones Bloggers; Kim, Nina, Rob, Kate and Eric for some wonderful cocktails, nibbles and gossip, I mean natter…

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Rob, Kate and I then went off to meet Gav, who had been to the Terry Pratchett memorial, in a cafe on Leicester Square where we proceeded to drink coffee, eat cake and end up plotting a whole new project, more on that soon. Blimey, it has been a full week. I am now off to dash to two more meetings before going on a bookshop crawl with Gavin today, which I will report back on. It’s been such good fun and I still have a few days left. What have all of you been up to lately?

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Finding Brilliant Book Recommendations in the Real World

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me where I got my best book recommendations from outside of the internet. Initially I was slightly stumped by this because surprise, surprise online tends to be where I hear most of the chatter, along with some of the shouting which is beginning to grate, about marvellous books be it from publishers, other bloggers (admittedly I don’t read as many blogs as I would like and have a group of five or six I visit regularly, which I might talk about in due course) and other book lovers tweeting from the rooftops about great books. Offline is a trickier beast and after watching my new spending habits (for I am back buying books in a big way thanks to my new job) recently I discovered in the last few weeks it is through three main channels…

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1. Friends, select ones.

You might think that everyone I know is bonkers about books, you would we wrong. In actual fact most of my friends are either lovely ladies in Liverpool or beardy boys who like picking up other beardy boys more than picking up a good book. However within these groups and with a select few in London there are some true book nerds that I trust BUT only a handful. Polly, Eric, Catherine, Kerry, Simon, Gavin, Kim, Kate, Rob, Uli and Nina you all know you are indeed these folk. Yet I don’t buy everything that they recommend, it takes an almost squeal/squee like moment of bookish joy to get me to purchase something. This did happen just two weeks ago when staying with Catherine Hall and she raved and raved about a book I had never heard of, Ben Byrne’s Fire Flowers, to the point where when I fell in Foyles later that day I had to find it and buy it – and lucky me it was a signed copy so felt like fate

2. Bookshops, select ones.

This sounds really obvious but the best place in the world to find books that aren’t libraries are bookshops. When I am less flush a library is the ideal place, though the titles tend to be more obvious (though the same could be said for some lazy bookshops) in these to reach the reading mass market. However when I am better off nothing beats a good mooch around a bookshop. I say mooch because, and here I might sound like a right wally but hey ho, I tend to move away from the charts as I want something a bit different. Staff recommendation sections are brilliant for this, and also a really good way of judging a bookshop. Ha! I had never heard of Anne Garreta’s Sphinx (all about the fluidity of sexuality and sounds brilliantly quirky) or the publisher Deep Vellum Publishing but having been to Foyles a lot of late (because I seem to be in London every week at the mo for a day or two, which is nice if train tiring) I have my sights on getting many more of.

3. Random Chats, select ones.

I always find it fascinating and delightful when you strike up a conversation that leads to someone waxing lyrical about a book or author when you least expect it. This can happen here, there and everywhere. You could be anywhere and the conversation starts on something else and then you are somehow chatting about books. (I remember having a very long and lovely conversation about Toni Morrison on a train journey to Manchester from London.) This happened most recently when I was booking a work trip, to Stylist Live, with my boss and we saw Nina Stibbe was going to be on. My boss loves her and enthused about her so much I wanted to read both Nina’s books right there and then, as it was I forgot them both and bought Love Nina on the day to be signed. I love those random moments. I will judge my boss on the book though, that always happens on these random recommendations – though to be fair I think I am going to love, erm, Love Nina as I love the premise and the author is ruddy lovely too (it shouldn’t matter but it does!)

So those are how I find my best recommendations outside the interweb, selectively. I mean come on, who doesn’t love a book recommendation that is enthused, passionate and a little bit different? It is how I hope I am with books and is lovely when you find something a bit off the tracks. What about all of you, where do you get your best bookish recommendations in the real world?

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On the Radio, Whoa, Oh, Oh, On the Radio…

Just over a week ago, which seems such a long time ago now weirdly, I had the pleasure of doing something I have always dreamed of… Live Radio. (If any of you are thinking ‘well he’s got the face for radio’ you are very mean and naughty, ha!) Last Sunday afternoon Fiction Uncovered took over Resonance FM and took to the airwaves and I got to be one of hosts and also interviewed on a few sessions. Weirdly I found being interviewed much tougher than doing the interviews. Anyway I thought you guys might want to listen in to some of the interviews, discussions and debates that took place…

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First up myself and my fellow judge, who has become a really good mate, Matt Bates were interviewed about judging the prize by Matt Thorne. We talked about the process of reading, judging, whittling down to the longlist and the final eight giving you a bit of insight into those titles too. We also talked about the state of British fiction and bookshops which Matt, being the buyer for WHSmith Travel stores in stations and airports, had some fascinating insight into. You can hear it here.

Next Matt Bates stayed on air to interview Susan Barker about her wonderful Fiction Uncovered winning novel The Incarnations, which I will be reviewing very soon. Listen here.

I was then in the host seat, and got to say the immortal words you dream of ‘and that was a song by…’, to interview David Whitehouse about his Fiction Uncovered winning novel The Mobile Library which is the best fairytale for adults I have read in quite some time AND a must read if you love books, which of course you all do.

Nikki Bedi chaired a really interesting and topical debate with Danuta Kean, Nikesh Shulka and Naomi Frisby (who blogs at Writes of Woman) about diversity in publishing and proved a fascinating discussion which I only heard snippets of so need to listen into myself for the full chat.

I then came back on air to chat to Lavie Tidhar about his brilliant, harrowing and thought provoking Fiction Uncovered novel A Man Lies Dreaming where we discussed how humour can be used both to combat and highlight the horrors of history, or in this case and alternative history.

Where do great writers live and the importance of landscape was the next discussion as Matt Thorne hosted a chat with Catherine Hall, Alex Wheatle and Luke Brown. I love books about the English countryside as you know and was busy with a sandwich and bag of crisps while they were recording so will be catching up with this one very soon.

I was back being grilled again by Matt Thorne, along with Naomi Frisby about the state of reviewing, blogging and social media and how books and writers are, or sometimes aren’t, excelling in the digital world. I almost got myself in trouble twice in this part of the show, but I think Naomi and I did a good job in talking about the blogosphere and the digital world.

The penultimate discussion was with Sophie Rochester and Rosa Anderson who co-founded Fiction Uncovered about five years of the prize. Again I missed this one as I was having a coffee so will be catching up with this one very soon.

Finally Matt Thorne was joined by Bethan Roberts to discuss her Fiction Uncovered winning novel Mother Island which I think is a brilliant suburban thriller and family drama which I will share my thoughts on soon. Listen to them discussing it here.

So there you have it, a good few hours of bookish chatter, discussion and debate for your listening tackle. I am not sure when they will go on iTunes and be podcasts but you can play these sneakily with your headphones on at your desks in work. Oh go on, we all do it… Oh. Just me then. Whoops.

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Ten LGBT Books That You Might Not Have Read But Should…

I don’t normally think about doing posts especially around Pride, not because I am not proud – I’m out and happy about it, I never know if proud is the right word – but because I always think that co-founding a prize like The Green Carnation Prize (which celebrates LGBT writing) means that I promote LGBT stories and LGBT authors. However with the reissue of three Vintage Classics, which you can win here, then the amazing news in America yesterday it felt the time was write for me to share my top LGBT novels, until I realised I had done it before. Oops. I then thought about doing a list of ten contemporary books you might not have read but should until I saw that Eric of Lonesome Reader had already done one this morning. Drats! However once he gave his blessing for me to do the same I popped a list together and neither of us have a book or author in common. Interesting. Here are mine, if I have reviewed them I have linked them in the title so you can find out more…

With A Zero At Its Heart – Charles Lambert

A collection of snippet like stories which create the whole of a human life. Experimentally it wonderfully evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it. You can read a full review here.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

Now if I told you that a book about an impending apocolypse caused by giant horny mutant grasshoppers could be one of the most touching stories I have read this year about friendship and love and the blurred (and often confusing) lines between the two, you would probably think that I was mad. This is how I felt last year when everyone, and I mean everyone, who had read Grasshopper Jungle in America raved about it to me and said I simply had to read it. I did and they were right. It had also lead me into more YA fiction which by the looks of it is where some of the most exciting and intellegent LGBT themed writing is coming from. You have to read this book. I have to post my review sooner than soon.

He Wants – Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s writing is so deft in so many ways it is hard to try and do it justice, or without spoiling any of the many delights, twists/surprises and ‘did I just actually read that then?’ moments which the novel has in store as we discover the ins and outs of widowed Lewis’ life. It is a story of the everyman and a story that, if you are anything like me, will leave you feeling completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. It is a perfect example of the sort of book I want to be reading. I loved it and you can see my full review of it here, was one of my books of 2014.

Physical – Andrew McMillan

Slight cheat here because this collection of poetry is not actually out for another two weeks (my blog, my rules) however you might want to order or put a copy on hold now. McMillan has the power to titillate and disturb in each of the poems that he writes whilst also, in particular the middle section, constructing poems the like of which I have never seen or read before. It is playful and also perturbing, saucy and sensual aswell as being masculine and moving. I haven’t read or experienced anything quite so like it, or so frank about all the forms of male love.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is a road trip tale started when which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy accidentally kidnap each other. This book is not only a love story to the powers of books and a good story, it looks at friendship and also the scary reality of some of the extremist views in certain parts of America (where I bet they are seething today) and the movement of ‘straightening therapy’. Bonkers and brilliant, it is one of those books that you hug to yourself afterwards and also cleverly packs one hell of a punch over a subject that is current and we need to talk about more – find out more here.

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

In part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a horrendous childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India until his mother’s death when Ritwik moves to Oxford to find himself. Yet also a story of his elderly Oxford landlady Anne Cameron. As Ritwik experiments with his new found freedom and who he really is as a person he must also face is past and find a friend in Anne like he never expected, the story of their relationship is beautifully told. It is also a very vivid and, occasionally quite graphically, honest look at the life of some gay men in the early 1990’s – which as someone reminded me rudely today on the radio is over 20 years ago. I feel like I need to read this book again.

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I could have chosen this or The Long Falling also by Ridgway as they are both exceptional. Is Hawthorn & Child a novel or is it a series of short stories, who cares when it is this good. One of the many stories that make up the book will stay with me forever, ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it’s three separate narratives; one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The way Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which and plays a very interesting game with so called acts of masculinity. Brilliance. A sexy, quirky, stunningly written book which should have won the Booker.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Yes I too now have Shabba Ranks in my head. Back to the book though, the tale of Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is one you are unlikely to forget, just like its protagonist. As his elderly years start to approach more and more Barrington decides it is time to leave his wife and follow his true heart which lies with his best friend Morris, much to the horror of his family and many people he knows. Evaristo writes a wonderful, funny and moving novel which gives a much missed voice in the literary scene and in the LGBT scene a change to be heard, understood and by the end celebrated. You have to read this book.

Sacred Country – Rose Tremain

Possibly the oldest out of this selection of books but one which I think addresses something that we need to be discussing more and seems to be missing in literature in general, unless it is just me… the transexual story. Tremain introduces us to Mary Ward, who has felt different from everyone all her childhood, as she realises that she should actually be a boy. We then follow her journey from the turbulence of her youth in Northern England to London where believes she will be able to live just as she was meant to, yet can she?

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

So with my last choice, I have slightly cheated again as this isn’t out in the UK for another month and a half (though if you’re in the US it has been out a while) yet this is probably a book I am going to urge everyone, no matter their sexuality/class/colour, that they have to read as not only is it one of the best books I have read on love and sexuality and friendship, but one of the best books I have ever read on what it means to be human. Seriously that good. I cannot praise it enough, it’s tough to read but so it should be. Will easily be one of my books of the year and very likely to be one of the best LGBT books I ever read. Yep, that good.

Now if you are wondering about my favourite LGBT books that I hinted at back at the start, well below is a video I made discussing them when I was flirting with the idea of being a booktuber. Have a gander as there are ten more tip top recommended books, even if I do say so myself.

If you need a list of the titles they were; Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones, The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller, Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs, The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall, A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood, My Policeman – Bethan Roberts, In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett, A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White and Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin.

If that wasn’t enough, and as if there can ever be enough book recommendations, then do check out Eric’s blog post today (where I have gained ten new to me recommendations) and also the Green Carnation Prize website for all the previous long and shortlists. Oh and don’t forget you can win those Vintage Pride Classics here. Happy Pride and well done America! Love wins.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #56 – Nina Pottell

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the hub of London metropolis and are just finishing having a lovely trim with the lovely Nina. You know when you ‘meet’ someone on Twitter and think they are probably really ace in real life, then you meet them at a bookish party say a few words and think you should be best friends for life so stalk them afterwards, sound familiar? Well, that is what happened with me and Nina. I was the stalker to clarify, it happens often, look at the results…

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Anyway, now we are back at her house with a good cuppa and some lemon drizzle, it’s over to Nina and her lovely bookshelves which I have been asked to say a big thanks to John the Builder for. Thank you John the Builder!

I’m a born and bred Londoner and a massive book lover. I’m a hairdresser and work in the West End and love my job a lot as it’s so varied. I have very loyal clients, lots of whom are avid readers so am always recommending books for them to read, be it just the one or a whole summer reading list. In between appointments you’ll find me sitting in my chair reading. I am also a huge tweeter of books (and tweet as @matineegirl) which started after being part of a Reader’s Panel for PanMacmillan and Picador. A blog related to books is currently a work in progress………

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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 used to keep all my books but before moving into my flat two and a half years ago I had to do a heavy cull! Also my tastes have changed a lot so it felt right to do it. When I moved I had 40 odd thrillers that I didn’t feel I needed to take with me, I’d overdosed a little on serial killers! They were destined for a charity shop until a work friend said she’d have them. She has since read them all AND kept them! I’m very fortunate to have books sent to me, if I’m sent something that isn’t my cup of tea I always pass on to a friend or client, I keep all the rest.

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?

Mine are arranged a little haphazardly. I do have all my poetry books together, the rest are grouped by authors or ones I just feel belong together. Last year was the first time I kept a list of everything I’d read and they are all grouped together, as are my reads of this year so far! This is where I get a little nervy, as where do those current reads by authors I have grouped together go? I keep my ever growing TBR on their own shelf/shelves/floor.

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

I’m not sure what my first bought book was? Far too long ago to remember… I’d hedge a bet on it being Enid Blyton or Judy Blume possibly. I adored reading as a child though was often told by my parents to put my book down as I needed to go and get some fresh air occasionally! Many of the first books I read were library books, my sister and I nearly had a residence in Primrose Hill library.

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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?

I don’t have any books that I hide! I have a couple of odd books that maybe don’t seem to fit in with the rest of mine. 95% of my books are fiction and every now and then I’ll buy something spur of the moment. For example I went to Prague last year and found it fascinating so bought a book on communism – which has never been read!!!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a 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?

I think my most prized books are a recipe book which belonged to my Nan. This was mysteriously in the boxed books that moved in with me though I didn’t put it there?!? It was published by Selfridges & Co in 1936. Bizarrely I’ve just tried to find it to take a pic but I can’t?!? Also my school edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird because it’s a favourite and reiterates my love of reading and books. And I’d probably add How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward and Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler because they are both books I’ve wanted to hug or as Simon would say gave me the ‘book tingle‘.

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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?

Regarding what grown up books I first read. My Dad was and still is an avid reader and I suppose it was him that made me read and love John Wyndham because they were on the shelf at home. We weren’t a ‘classics’ family by any means but I loved William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and George Orwell’s 1984 because of my Dad. I don’t own any Wyndham but particularly enjoyed The Chrysalids.

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?

If I borrow a book and love it I will definitely buy a copy of my own. As a whole I buy the books I want.

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

My newest editions added to my shelves include The Repercussions by Catherine Hall as I’m a massive fan of her first two. The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain because Twitter was shouting about it and Daunts had a beautiful window display. And Kung Fu High School by Ryan Gattis because his new book All Involved is phenomenally astounding so wanted to read his first. One kindly sent to me, added to my shelves recently is The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink which is a very special book and really resonated with me, for personal reasons.

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

I wish I had more of my books from childhood on my shelves. I still have Heidi and Mallory Towers but there are lots I don’t….I shall be having words with my parents later….

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

I’m proud of my bookshelves and the books on it. All my friends know I massively love reading and books so scan my shelves seeing which ones they should read next, as they value my recommendations. I’m rather anal about the condition of my books and have ‘rules’ should somebody wish to borrow one, which include, using a bookmark if you can’t remember the page number! My wonderfully prized possession proof copy of Shotgun Lovesongs was placed in a ziplock bag by a work colleague as she was scared of ruining it!!

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A huge thanks to Nina for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and for my lovely haircut and bookish nattering this week in London, you wait till you see what she is going to do to my hair for the Fiction Uncovered party! 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 Nina’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Book Tingle (#BookTingle)

When I was sat with my lovely fellow judges at the first proper Fiction Uncovered meeting, the subject of what we were all looking for in winning books came up. As it went around the table with the judges and the Fiction Uncovered team things like the prose and writing style, something different that stands out, great stories etc all come up. When everyone looked at me for my response the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I want the book tingle’ and they all looked at me like they might have someone unhinged (or living up to the Simple Simon namesake) sat with them. And so I explained…

For me a book tingle is a rare and elusive phenomenon. You would initially think that for a book to give me all the tingles it would simply need to be an amazingly written book that ticks all my literary likes. Well yes, but you see there is more to it and I bet you have all had them too. You can have books that start amazingly and then, for various reasons, go off on a tangent, these ones don’t. From start to finish they have you.

The first time I had this sensation was with Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love*.  I should hear add that since then Catherine and I have become firm friends, down to the book actually, yet when I picked it up I hadn’t heard of her before and had no knowledge of the book. Oh, expect that on the cover it said ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne Du Maurier’ which piqued my interest and also made me wary all at once. In fact, cheeky little scamp that I am I actually thought ‘compared to Du Maurier eh? Go on then, impress me…’ and it did taking me completely by delightful surprise. You see from two or three paragraphs in I just knew this was a book for me. It is often the sense of surprise when this happens that adds to the experience.

These books are rare gems; you don’t get them often. There is an almost unexplainable feeling from the start which lasts until the final full stop. Not for a single moment does the book let you down, or indeed out of its grasp, you are effectively spell bound by it. It feels like all the rest of the world goes completely out of your mind and all that is left is you, the book and the author’s words. It is the prose, the characters, the atmosphere, everything! You almost feel, without it sounding arrogant, that this book was written just for you.

This has happened again very recently, if I may be so bold, with Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, review coming soon. Four pages in and I knew we were off. I was in an effortless zone of book reading bliss. This book has nothing in common with The Proof of Love, well actually maybe something in hindsight but I wouldn’t have known from the start. They are set in different times, completely different places, yet somehow I just knew. And it is the same with some other books which gave me that same sensation (have I said tingle too often now making it sound even weirder than it did at the start?) like Gillespie and I, The Hunger Trace, Small Island, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, My Policeman etc ** from the very beginning I just knew. They all just got me, or did I just get them, either way it was a perfect match.

So what I am saying really, and what I think I am not looking for in just Fiction Uncovered judging but also in my reading life in general, is that the reason I keep reading is to hunt for that next kick and those extra special books. The books that you more than simply just love, the ones that give you that magic feeling, don’t let you go and afterwards become both part a landmark in your reading history and a part of your psyche.

To hear me talking about it slightly more eloquently, yet with more giggles, listen to the latest episode of The Readers. I would love to know (in the comments below) which books you’ve read that have given you the book tingle, or whatever you would like to call it, from the very start and held you throughout, plus how it feels when you just know a book is going to be just your sort of book. Which books do you feel were really written just for you? Do also share them on Twitter with #BookTingle, let’s get it trending!

*You may have noticed I have not mentioned Rebecca. This is in part because it is the book that got me reading again, so is a whole separate stratosphere and also in part because I wouldn’t have known what a book tingle was if it had hit me square between the eyes.
**These with Catherine Hall are the books, prior to my last tingle with Ms Burton, that I thought of when I was thinking of books where the feeling hit me within a few pages or a chapter. I just knew.

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A Bloomin’ Brilliant Birthday

Thank you for all your lovely birthday wishes. I had an absolute blast and managed to turn a day into a week and a half thanks to a weekend in Newcastle with my Mum, a trip to London for my birthday and a few days after and then my birthday party proper this weekend. I was quite pleased with it all and thought, as this blog is about books and more, I would share some of the lovely times I had over the week.

First up was the weekend that I had in Newcastle with my mother which was just lovely. I might report on it in the next few weeks but in the meantime, and in case I decide not to or my Mum doesn’t want me to, we had a marvellous time visiting the old haunts we lived in and visited, eating marvellous food, drinking wonderful cocktails, shopping and seeing Still Alice. Note – Still Alice is just wonderful (I haven’t read the book and feel like I now might need to, should I?) I cried from about twenty minutes in until the end. Julianne Moore is sublime, see it.

This is not me and Julianne Moore, it's me and my Mum outside the old flat we lived in 30 years ago!

This is not me and Julianne Moore, it’s me and my Mum outside the old flat we lived in 30 years ago!

Next up, after a brief day back in the office, I headed off to London on my birthday morning (after opening a large array of wonderful presents from my wonderful loved ones) and to the first meeting of the Fiction Uncovered 2015 judges. It was only at the bloody Groucho Club – I couldn’t take pictures, not of the amazing macaroni on a bed of grilled mushrooms which won everything nor the cake and Happy Birthday they wrote around the bowl, it was lovely though. We all had a marvellous time and are now fully ready and prepared for the mammoth yet marvellous task ahead of us. I then spent a few hours with Catherine Hall and Kerry Hudson with far too many sweet things and bubbles before meeting Polly and going to Ebury’s Fiction Party where I had a good old natter and catch up with many lovely folk and met some wonderful authors

Wednesday was meetings and then it was my London party night, woohoo. I was joined at dinner by the aforementioned Polly and Catherine and also Kate and Rob of Adventures with Words, who are also my cohosts on Hear Read This, as well as the lovely Leng Monty – who is one of the Independent’s Rainbow List Ones to Watch, so watch out.

Polly, Rob, Kate, me, Leng and Catherine - post food and cocktails!

Polly, Rob, Kate, me, Leng and Catherine – post food and cocktails!

Things carried on in a more messy vain as Polly, Catherine, Leng and I headed to my favourite beardy bar in London, The Duke of Welly, and were joined by my mates Uli of Gays The Word, Eric of Lonesome Reader (a blog which makes me sick with jealousy because his reviews are sooooo good) and that Kerry Hudson…

Uli (not impressed at having a selfie), me, Catherine, Kerry and Leng - living it up in the Welly

Uli (not impressed at having a selfie), me, Catherine, Kerry and Leng – living it up in the Welly

It all ended in many giggles on a nightbus as all the best nights do.

You can't take them anywhere!

You can’t take them anywhere!

After another day in London and a day in the office, Saturday was birthday party part two. I had my lovely friends Kate, Barb, Sarah, Sue and Rachael (or my harem as now I refer to them) for some wonderful (rather amazing to be honest) grub and lots and lots of drinking and laughing…

The Lovely Liverpool Ladies and I...

The Lovely Liverpool Ladies and I…

It has, all in all, been a ruddy marvellous week. I think 33 is going to be a really, really, really good year – I just feel it in my bones. Finger crossed eh? What have you all been up to?

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