Tag Archives: Kerry Hudson

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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Guessing the Bailey’s Prize Longlist 2015

I haven’t done this for a year or two I don’t think, yet as it is International Women’s Day it seemed fitting for me to celebrate it by celebrating female authors and what could do that better than by playing guess the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction longlist which will be revealed on Tuesday next week. Initially I didn’t think I would be able to hazard a guess at this, yet when I started thinking about the books that I have read and loved plus went and looked through my shelves of all the books I have meant to read in the last year I suddenly had far too many. You see that is my criteria for guessing, which books have I read and loved that are eligable and which ones would I love to see listed because I am desperate to read them and think they may well be corkers, as may you!

So here are the books that I have read and would LOVE to see on the list on Tuesday, I have linked if I have reviewed them…

The Bees by Laline Paull, He Wants by Alison Moore, After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry, Thirst by Kerry Hudson, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, The Repercussions by Catherine Hall (which I edited one edition of so haven’t reviewed yet but will with that caveat) and finally The Miniturist by Jessie Burton, which I just read and absolutely adored, more soon.

Then for the books that I really want to read…

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill (which I actually have finished since scheduled this post), Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre, How to be Both by Ali Smith, Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay, Rise by Karen Campbell, Her by Harriet Lane, Weathering by Lucy Wood, I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, Mother Island by Bethan Roberts and Young God by Katherine Faw Morris.

(I could also have mentioned The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart which I have read all of. And I also mulled over Academy Street by Mary Costello, The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald, The First Bad Man by Miranda July, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, A Blue Spool of Thread by Anne Tyler and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer.)

Blimey hasn’t it been an amazing year, again, for women’s fiction. What are your thoughts on the Bailey’s Prize longlist, let me know if you have had a guess and if not which ones would you like to see on the list? Have you read any of the above and if so what did you think? Who would you love to win?

P.S Sorry the pictures aren’t all the same size, it is setting off my OCD slightly too!

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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2014

Now if you have seen me chuntering on about this on Twitter, you can forgive me, ignore this post or just enjoy the exciting news all over again. Yes, today has been the announcement of the Green Carnation Prize 2014’s longlist. You may or may not know that this prize is very close to my heart as it is one that I co-founded way back in 2010 (I won’t go on you can read all about it here) to celebrate LGBT writing as it is something, that believe it or not, there is still sometimes some stumbling blocks in the way of. The prize has gone from strength to strength in the last five years, with a lot of hard work I won’t lie, and is now in association with Foyles Bookshops and this years judges have come up with this rather wonderful selection of books…

The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2014

  • Through The Woods – Emily Carroll (Faber & Faber)
  • The Absent Therapist – Will Eaves (CB Editions)
  • The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • All The Days and Nights – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
  • Vixen – Rosie Garland (Borough Press)
  • Thirst – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan (Salt)
  • In Search of Solace – Emily Mackie (Sceptre)
  • Any Other Mouth – Anneliese Mackintosh (Freight)
  • The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
  • Unspeakable Things – Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury)
  • Invisible Love – Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Europa Editions)
  • The Glasgow Coma Scale – Neil D. A. Stewart (Corsair)

What is exciting is that while I do all the admin of the prize and the snaring of judges, I have absolutely no control over what the judges choose as their longlist out of the submissions they get (this year was the most ever). I just make sure they all have them really and sit in on meetings to make sure it is all above board. I have to keep my mouth shut and remain nonchalant throughout even if books I love get culled – after all I haven’t read the whole lot of submission have I? Well, not since I stopped judging. So the longlist is always a surprise to me. Having had a few days to think on this list (a small bonus that almost makes up for all the press release, website and social media scheduling madness that follows the decision) the more and more I have fallen in love with it.

To me, at least, it seems like a really diverse and exciting list of all sorts of writing be it a thick epic novel or a short snappy one, a memoir, a short story collection, memoir, non fiction or graphic novel. Amazing. There is a mix of the big publishers and the smaller indies. There is also a wealth of authors I had and hadn’t heard of, meaning some new exciting voices look to be on my reading horizon… Yes, I am planning on reading all (eight) that I haven’t yet in the next few weeks and I am really excited about it. Though I might not be able to talk to you about them until after the winner, though maybe not being a judge I can? What do you think? Hmmm, I will have a think! Either way is it bad that I feel very proud of the prize, the judges and even a teeny weeny bit proud of myself?

For more info on the prize, the judges, events and more head to the website here. What are your thoughts on the list? Have you read any of them? Will you be reading any of them? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Thirst – Kerry Hudson

You may remember at the very beginning of 2013 I raved about a debut novel with the rather ‘stop and stare’ title of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. It was by a debut author Kerry Hudson who seemed, by some kind of witchcraft, to totally depict and understand my childhood; lots of moving, not masses of money, lots of trips to the library etc. It was one of those ‘blimey, this book gets me and I get this book’ moments that we are lucky to have every so often. After a small amount of stalking and some meringue caterpillars (long story) weirdly this Kerry Hudson became a mate who loved Alphabites and gelato – not together – as much as I do. A true bonus from a brilliant book. Yet this of course created a dilemma when Thirst came out. I wanted to read it because its predecessor was so brilliant however Kerry was also a mate. So I decided I would do what I would do with any book I want to read, and always will do, and just judge the book on the book. So here goes…

Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2014, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Security guard Dave first meets Alena, not long arrived in the UK from Siberia, when he catches her trying to steal an expensive pair of shoes from a luxury store (which naturally pays its staff piss poorly) and helps her from being arrested, much to the dismay of his manager. Why Dave does this he is not sure, though the fact she is rather attractive may help, and neither is Alena yet in Dave she senses a safety from the world which she desperately needs and soon manages to find a way into his life and into his flat. No, not in that way you dirty lot but from this initial meeting and in the weeks after a relationship of sorts starts though if it is one that either can speak of or will last neither of them know, especially when their backgrounds, and indeed their baggage, start to come to the fore.

Hudson writes both of these characters intricately, and also does something very clever by revealing their pasts in glimpses here and there and creating layers of both Alena and Dave at their best and their very worst, their most attractive and their most ugly. Initially I struggled with Alena as though I knew she had a dark mystery she was running from in her past, which gives the novel a great momentum from the start, I couldn’t work out if she was an innocent victim caught up in something horrendous, or someone far more calculating and unlikeable.

She went to the mirror again and inspected herself; she didn’t have food around her mouth, anything in her teeth; she had good lips, pretty eyes and beautiful breasts, everybody said so. She checked that her expression wasn’t too pathetically grateful, though she was. She was so grateful and very afraid of being sent away, but the trick of staying was to make him the thankful, fearful one. And as she caught herself smiling in the mirror she reminded herself that this was all just a trick, there was nothing real here, and killed the smile instantly, like a small insect under a hard finger tip.

The same applies to Dave, though almost in reverse. Initially we see him as the lonely good guy who looked after his mother when she was dying of cancer and also followed her dying wish of marrying the wrong women. Poor Dave. Yet as we learn more his story gets darker as grief and regret, along with loneliness inside a relationship, all take over. Who here is really the good and who is the bad? Do we have to be one or the other or do we have both in us which we have to keep in check?

Of course these are the points that Hudson is making with Thirst, or one I thought she was making, is that no character is black or white, nor is anyone wholly good or wholly evil. We are all various (I nearly said fifty, shame on me) shades of grey and we have all done things in our past that are commendable and things that we all feel ashamed of. Hudson looks at these both with Dave’s failed marriage and also Alena’s past (which I don’t want to give too much away of because it’s utterly chilling and needs to be experienced cold) as she becomes caught in the sex trafficking industry and has to do anything she can, no matter how bad or how dark, to get through it. Both characters ask the questions of how far we can be pushed as people both physically and emotionally and what we will do in order to survive life and all it throws at us.

Before I make all this sound to dark and depressing I must mention two things. Firstly there is a love story at the heart of this and one which thankfully isn’t saccharine or sugar coated but real and bumpy and awkward and wonderful. Secondly there is a lot of humour in Hudson’s writing, a sentence can make you laugh before the next one tears you apart emotionally and vice versa. There is also hope. Though by me saying that don’t think this book has a happy ending; you will be left to decide that, which is another brilliant stroke. Like its predecessor Thirst looks at the sense of belonging, be it to places or people, that we as humans all hunger for (no pun intended) and the journey that the quest to find it takes us on, be it another country or just through the highs and lows of getting through your day to day life.

He went and sat on the scorched, scratchy piece of grass outside with his food. The dogs did nothing, just flicked their tails in his direction and flared their dry black nostrils when he opened a bag of crisps. And there they sat together, all of them with nowhere to go.

To bring up Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma again, the things that I loved about it are the things that I also loved about Thirst and I think could be the things that carve Hudson’s career for the long haul and make her stand out. Her characters are real, funny and flawed, they walk the places we walk and whilst they pay attention to the beauty, or beautiful ugliness, of their surroundings and the people who walk in and out of their lives, they also live and breathe, go to the toilet and eat crisps like we all do. Hudson’s celebration of the simple and everyday actions making them all the more vivid. They are also about those people who might not be able to put pen to paper and write about their own life experiences and yet whose stories need to be told in all their beautiful brutality.

Phew, if I had hated it that could have been awkward. I would have just never reviewed it and anytime it was mentioned swiftly say ‘Did someone say free gelatos?’ There is the slight point that I now think Kerry is rather a genius and have some internal envy and rage going on, but let’s move on. If you want to see more rave reviews (they are popping up everywhere) head to Lonesome Reader and Workshyfop. Who else has read Thirst and what did you make of it? What about Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma? Which other books have you read which brilliantly celebrate the small day to day things in life that make us who we are? And which books have you read that shine a light on the people in society whose voices are sometimes lost in the literary middle classes?

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Green Carnation Prize 2013; Winner & Thoughts

On Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Andrew Solomon’s was the latest winner of the Green Carnation Prize with Far From The Tree, a book about exceptional children and celebrates what it means to be human in all its diversity. Chair of the judges, Uli Lenart, has described it as “A work of extraordinary humanity. Life affirming, insightful and profoundly moving. Andrew Solomon continuously makes you reassess what you think. An opus of diversity, resilience and acceptance; Far From The Tree is a book that has the power to make the World a better place.” I have to admit that I am yet to read it though of course it is now high on my TBR pile – I think I might try and read a chapter at a time between fiction reads.

What has been really lovely is that the author himself said this “I am profoundly honored and utterly thrilled to have won this prize.  When I was born, it was a crime, a sin, and a mental illness to be gay; now it is an identity, and a much celebrated one at that, as the very existence of this prize clearly demonstrates.  My book is about how we can use that shift, of which gay people today are the fortunate beneficiaries, as a model for helping others with stigmatized differences to find dignity in them.  I believe with all my heart in a prize that celebrates the particular contributions of gay literature, and that recognizes that human diversity, like species diversity, is necessary to sustain the world as we know and love it.  I am delighted to play any part in putting forward that idea, and I thank the judges with all my heart.”

It is that sort of comment from a writer, which really makes you think, and now many people (myself included) will hopefully go off and read a book that Kerry Hudson says “is the sort of book that makes you grateful to have found it and that remains a gift for a lifetime”. I am up for that, aren’t you? Every year it has been the aim of the prize to highlight brilliant books, some you will have heard of some will be new to you, hopefully you go off and read them. I think the prize has a great track record of that.

GCP Winners

Someone asked me the other day if I felt proud of the prize and the part I had played in setting it up. I had never thought about it like that before, yet taking pictures of all the winners together (like the one above) the other day, I thought ‘yes, I am bloody proud’ but I am also as proud as the people who have taken part and supported it be they readers, publishers, all sorts of folk on social media and most importantly the amazing judges this year are what make the prize so worthwhile. And I would like to personally thank Christopher Bryant, Sarah Henshaw, Kerry Hudson, Clayton Littlewood and Uli Lenart – who should get extra thanks as he chaired amazingly and kept me going through the process – as without them there wouldn’t have been a prize this year. Now I have to get thinking about next year…

Anyway, do go off and read them, winners and long and short listers alike ok? And let me know how you get on with them, it is hearing about people reading them that really makes me beam like a loon! I am hoping some of you already have read some of the winners and shortlisted books though?

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Vote For Scotland, Well For Kerry Hudson and Tony Hogan…

So we are all agreed that we need brilliant books? We are also all agreed that we need brilliant authors to write these brilliant books? We also know that brilliant authors need money to be able to spend time thinking up and writing up these brilliant ideas (and occasionally eating sweets) too? Good. We are all on the same page.

So I know this rather brilliant author called Kerry Hudson and she has written a debut novel that might just have the longest title in the world (‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’) and is one of those books that when you read it you find it really hits a chord and think ‘oh that was me too’. In fact on occasion you feel sure this author wrote this book for you, as I did with this book, even though they didn’t know who the flipping heck you were (at the time, oh how things change). Anyway for this reason, because we need more authors writing books for us, I am pretty much demanding or begging (whichever way you see it I don’t care just do it) for you to vote for it to win the Scottish Book Awards. You see if it does Kerry might win £30,000 to help towards writing more bloody good books (not eating Krispy Kremes) and even maybe finally buy me that sodding ice cream float she’s been promising me forever. It only takes takes about thirty seconds and it is the last day to vote today so… Do. It. Now. HERE.

Time for a picture and some more subliminal messaging…

unclesamshowJust in case you missed it, here is where you can vote http://www.scottishbookawards.com/vote/

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Your Country in Ten(ish) Books…

I don’t want to call this a challenge, or even worse a meme (do you remember when we all did those back in the day?), yet I am thinking that this could be a fun exercise if you lovely lot would like to join in. What the funk am I talking about, well you would be right to ask as once more I assume you dear reader/s get updates from me telepathically. Enough waffle Savidge, just get on with it. So as some of you will know I host/co-host a couple of book based banter podcasts; You Wrote The Book, Hear… Read This and The Readers. My normal co-host for the latter, Gav, is having some time off and so I have been joined by the lovely Thomas and seeing as Thomas is in Washington we have been looking at America and the UK, or even America vs. the UK. A fortnight ago we discussed American classics and I came up with the idea of both Thomas and myself creating two separate lists of the ten books that sum up our countries for us and ones we would give to someone if they moved to their country to ‘read up on it’. So I thought you lot might like to join in…

17451-01Initially I have to admit that I thought this would be stupidly easy. The British Isles are relatively piddly in comparison to the mammoth size of other countries. I didn’t envy Thomas and his 50 states to cover in ten books. As I thought about it more and more though I suddenly realised it was actually much more of a mission than I had supposed. For a start we had agreed to only have authors from our own counties books. So instantly one of my choices ‘The Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks was discounted, as it is set in Eyam (the only place outside London to get the Black Plague and self sacrifice itself to save others) which is just down the road from my home town in Derbyshire but she is from America. First hurdle.

Second Hurdle. I wanted the book to reflect a current vision of the British Isles, as I went through my shelves I was surprised (especially as I think I don’t like them, clearly I am a liar to myself)  how many of the British Isles books I owned were about WWI or WWII. This then meant a book like Sarah Water’s ‘The Night Watch’, which depicts war torn London, was therefore banished. However eventually I got there, though I have since realised I missed Edward Hogan’s bloody brilliant The Human Trace’ out of it, and found my eleven books – yes I cheated a tiny bit with an additional novel, but I made this game up. I wonder if Mr Monopoly ever tried that at Christmas gatherings, anyway here it is with the book title, author, place and mini summary for you…

The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy (London) – Set in Loughborough Junction in South London, this is the tale Robert, owner of a dry cleaners, as he says goodbye to his business and the area he knows. It also looks at the customers who come, from all walks of life, to his shop and the little things they leave behind that they forget yet which tell many a tale.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Birmingham) – Frank is a local news presenter and personality. Recently he has become rather obsessed both with the people and the places of his city that others seem to forget. What about all the people with no one to care for them, who die alone and what of the bits of our cities architectural and cultural heritage are we all too quick to gloss over or tear down  and cover with something prettier?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Norfolk) – Not officially set in Norfolk, that is just my guess, this is the tale of Arthur Kipp as he settles the eerie estate of Eel Marsh House and Alice Drablow. A book which wonderfully conjures the atmosphere of some of Britain’s coastal villages, and the literary heritage of a cracking good ghost story.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Edinburgh) – Possibly not the most evocative tale of Scotland but this is something I clearly need to address. This is set during Edinburgh’s famous festival and really brings the hustle and bustle of that place to life as well as being a great crime novel with a very good sense of black humour, you will laugh.

The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway (Northern Ireland) – Grace Quinn is a woman deeply unhappy living in the rural wilds of the North Irish countryside. However after a turn of events (which will make your jaw drop) she heads to Dublin and the home of her son. Ridgway looks at the differences between city life and rural life in Northern Ireland and also the differences between the generations.

The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall (The Lake District) – One of the most ‘earthy’ books I have ever read, yet if you asked me to explain the term ‘earthy’ I would find it very hard to explain. Set in the infamous heat wave of the 1970’s Spencer Little is a stranger who settles in a village in the middle of nowhere, but why? A tale of suspicious townsfolk and one which also lifts the lid on the secrets behind closed doors, especially as the heat makes people do unusual things.

The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough (Wales) – Set in the Welsh Countryside this tells the story of two very different neighbouring farms and the sons of which who make friends. One, Robin, from a hippy family the other, Andrew, from a family so impoverished he is almost feral – why does he choose to sleep with the farm dogs rather than his family?

Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death – M.C. Beaton (The Cotswolds) – A bit of light relief amongst these books with the no nonsense former PR Director now come amateur sleuth as she moves from London to the idyllic Cotswolds only sometimes people don’t welcome an outsider… Murder and mayhem ensue in the most wry and cosy of mysteries with a thoroughly modern Anti-Marple.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale (Cornwall) – A book that celebrates Cornwall and also a sense of everyone’s nostalgia from younger years. We follow Julian back to a fateful summer holiday in Cornwell which leads to many family secrets being revealed and how we see things differently as adults.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (Brighton) – Going back in time a little and looking at the place no deemed the gay capital of England, and a celebrated seaside resort, when it had a much more underground and shady sense of place. We follow Marion and Tom who are both in love with the same man and how society at the time informs their decisions and their lives.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson (Great Britain all over) – My slight cheat as I think this book, which travels all over England and Scotland, really looks at English society from the 80’s which is very similar to today and the real sense of what it is to grow up working class in our country rather than the often emphasised ‘Hampstead’ view.

So there you have it, that is my list of books that encapsulate the British Isles for me. I know that Thomas is working on his list of ten books which as soon as it goes live I will link to, its is now live here. I can say I have read two of them (one a major hit, one a bit of a dud with me) and am really excited about trying all of them. In the meantime you can hear us talking about them on this fortnight’s episode of The Readers.

What do you think of the list? I know it might not be the most conventional but to me it seems the truest for me personally. Which of them have you read? Who fancies giving this a go themselves? I would so, so, so love if some of you did be you in the UK, America, Australia, Japan, Canada, India, France… anywhere, and spread the word. Basically have whirl, over a few days (it took me four) and link back to it here so I can come and have a nosey, go on, you know you want to…

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A Bookshop Crawl with Kerry Hudson…

So as I have mentioned already, today is the day of the Books Are My Bag initiative which I am a big fan of. I thought it would be nice to do something book shop themed today and a post the lovely Kerry Hudson had written for me for Independent Bookshop Week (which I had planned to post back then but couldn’t as Gran was so poorly) and her book launch seemed perfect. So I will hand over to the lovely Kerry who also loves an Indie book shop as much as I do…

It was complete coincidence that the paperback of my debut novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, came out during Independent Bookshop Week but it’s very fitting that it did. For the last year Tony Hogan has found its way into people’s hands largely thanks to word of mouth and personal recommendations. Thanks to Indies like Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace and Dulwich Books in…um…Dulwich, reading the book, loving it, blogging about it and hand-selling copies. Yes, getting buy-in from the chains and wholesalers, the Goliaths, is important but I think we all know and understand the power that the Indie’s, the Davids of the bookselling world, have.

That is why, to launch my paperback, I cycled around the capital. On a tiny red bike. On a day hotter than the surface of the sun. Delivering 80’s goodybags filled with gliders, Sherbet Dib-Dabs, Wham Bars and Vimto lollypops to some of London’s finest Independent Bookshops.

my trusty steed

I began my tour close to home at Broadway Books. Broadway Books is right by Regent’s Canal and is great for cult classics and local author books and, vitally, have one of the best fish and chip shops in East London a few doors up. If anyone can tell me what is nicer than sitting by a canal, eating a bag of chips and reading a great book I’ll call them a liar.

Broadway Books

Next a cycled off to Pages of Hackney, located in hyper-hip Clapton they have a great stock of new books upstairs and a selection of secondhand books, a comfy sofa and (sometimes) a very cute pug downstairs. My next hop took me to chic Exmouth Market and Tales of Clarkenwell, a calm, stylish indie where Peter told me that they’re opening a Toronto branch soon, or maybe that they already have…I was a little sun-addled at that point. To be honest.

Village BooksIt was time to head South, first to Village Books in Dulwich. On the way I ask directions from a local who beams at me ‘that’s an amazing bookshop’ and it is indeed. As I sign books Kate, a bookseller who clearly loves her job, tells me how each of the booksellers have customers who appreciate their personal taste and so come to them specifically for recommendations. Dulwich is very pretty and just as well because I get hopelessly lost making it to my next destination, Dulwich Books. They’re expecting me, and have busted out the leg-warmers and eighties tunes in preparation. Dulwich Books and their very active bookgroup were some of the earliest Tony Hogan…supporters and it’s amazing to be able to say thank you to them in person.

I resist the the lure of their kids section beanbags, buy myself an ice-cream up the road and carry on my way to…Bookseller Crow on the Hill in Crystal Palace. I love what Jonathan and Justine, who’ve been trading for twelve years, have done with the shop. So much care has been taken with the curation of the collection of books, they have regular author talks and Jonathan runs a subscription scheme ‘Flight Club’ where subscribers are sent a mystery book that Jonathan feels people will especially enjoy. I leave Jonathan with the bag of sweets and Lloyd Cole crooning sweetly to his customers and hop on the tube down to my final stop, Clapham Books. Clapham Books has the most incredible shop interior with a kind-of-glass-pagoda-ceiling (go see it, you’ll know what I mean). As we had a chatter they told me they’ve been doing two book events a week for a while and I confess to them which well known author scares the pants off me…nope, my lips are sealed! I leave them saying I’m ‘off for a giant beer’.

Clapham Books

That day I only visited a fraction of the amazing Independent Bookshops in London and if you consider how many more there are across the UK it is hugely heartening. So what’s so special about Indies? What I find special is that every single shop is as unique as their owner and staff and that they are run and staffed by people with a huge passion for getting books to readers, but they can only continue if we, the book buying punters, put our hands in our pockets and support them.

These bookshops are doing something incredible in the current climate. They are striving, staying creative, loving books and reading, hand-selling debuts like mine, that otherwise nobody would know about, and staying in business where many other businesses couldn’t. Indie bookshops, clever hardworking booksellers, I salute you!

Here, here. I couldn’t put it better myself – hence why I am off to mine today for Books Are My Bag and seeing what new books might end up in my bag. A big big, in fact a HUGE, thanks to Kerry for doing the post today, especially now she is on the path to stardom both being short listed for the Polari First Book Prize and also winning the debut novel category for the Scottish Book Awards (which makes her eligible to be the overall winner if the general public vote her to be, which I think they should here from October the 1st – put it in your diaries) when she is the next Mantel we will remember these days fondly.

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Filed under Bookshops I Love, Bookshops We Love, Bookshops You Love, Kerry Hudson

Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One…

At the weekend I was a little vocal on Twitter about how disappointed I was in The Guardian’s Holiday Reading Guide for the summer. Here I do want to preface that a) I know that I am probably not the person that this guide is aimed at… but b) I normally like these guides because they introduce me to some books I would never have heard of. To my mind this was not the case with the produced list of books which frankly look like they have gone through all the prize long lists, the best seller lists and then popped them into a very long guide. There seemed to be no diversity, nothing particularly new to liven the bookish blood on a break away over the summer. Post rant several people said I should have a go and so I thought ‘sod it, I will’. However to be a bit different I decided that I’d compile two lists. The first, a list of books I have read and would recommend. The second, books I haven’t read but I have on my list of summertime reading material (if the sun ever bloody turns up) as I thought that might make it less predictable and will appear tomorrow. Here are today’s titles…

Fiction… Which might not be to everyone’s taste as each one of them has quite a punch not normally associated with ‘a good beach read’ but I like a bit of depth on a holiday read like I do anytime of the year.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra (Hogarth Press, £14.99, out now)

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it’s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate.
Possibly one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. So much so the review has taken me over two weeks to write, it will be on the blog over the weekend. In the interim, this is one of the most affecting books on war I have ever read. It won’t be everyone’s ideal summer read as it is incredibly confronting but it is a book that will quite possibly change your life let alone your summer.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hogan (Vintage Books, £7.99, out 4th of July in Paperback)

When Janie Ryan is born, she is destined to be the latest in a long line of Aberdeen fishwives. Ahead of her lies a life filled with feckless men, filthy council flats and bread & marge sandwiches. But Janie isn’t like the rest of them. She wants a different life. And Janie, born and bred for combat, is ready to fight for it.
It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles.

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi (Viking Books, £14.99, out now)

A stunning novel, spanning generations and continents, Ghana Must Go by rising star Taiye Selasi is a tale of family drama and forgiveness, for fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is the story of a family – of the simple, devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart, and of the incredible lengths to which a family will go to put itself back together. It is the story of one family, the Sais, whose good life crumbles in an evening; a Ghanaian father, Kweku Sai, who becomes a highly respected surgeon in the US only to be disillusioned by a grotesque injustice; his Nigerian wife, Fola, the beautiful homemaker abandoned in his wake; their eldest son, Olu, determined to reconstruct the life his father should have had; their twins, seductive Taiwo and acclaimed artist Kehinde, both brilliant but scarred and flailing; their youngest, Sadie, jealously in love with her celebrity best friend. All of them sent reeling on their disparate paths into the world. Until, one day, tragedy spins the Sais in a new direction.
It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Jonathan Cape, £16.99, Out now)

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.
I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book… It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I know everyone is talking about this book at the mo but sod it, its f**king brilliant.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project, £7.99, out now)

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
This is technically cheating as I have not quite finished this as I type, however I will have by the time this goes up and a review will follow shortly. Safe to say I love this book, its one where you feel the author is speaking just to you and you want to hug the book (and maybe the author) as you read it and whenever you stop, or in my case are made to stop to clean, work or some other annoying thing.

Crime… Where I shocked myself as I only had two recommendations and yet love crime but have learnt how little I have read of it this year. Shameful. To make up for it one will give you nightmares, the other will probably make you laugh quite a lot.

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad Editions, £7.99, out now)

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died? Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence. Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues’ lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town. A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes’ new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.
With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on.

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley (Orion Books, £12.99, out now)

It is almost Easter in Bishop’s Lacey, and the villagers are holding their collective breath as the tomb of St Tancred in the church that bears his name is about to be opened after five hundred years. And as luck would have it, it’s inveterate eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce who is first at the scene. But the body she finds lying there is clearly not that of a desiccated saint. For a start there’s the pool of fresh blood, and then there’s the gasmask, from under which an unmistakeable shock of golden hair identifies the corpse as that of Mr Collicutt, St Tancred’s celebrated organist. Despite her tender years, Flavia is no stranger to murder – but even she is baffled by the peculiar circumstances of Collicutt’s death. Especially when soon after, an effigy of St Tancred appears to be weeping blood onto the church floor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Flavia soon finds herself exploring a secret maze of underground passages beneath the church – and is drawn into the equally dark and fetid world of one of Bishop’s Lacey’s most peculiar families.
I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

Classics… Where I choose two titles that might not be the best known classics, I think would make a delightful read over the summer months.

Mariana – Monica Dickens (Persephone Books, £9, out now)

Mariana is the story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity and happiness in the 1930s. We are shown Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday at her beloved Charbury; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion. Like Dusty Answer, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, this is one of those novels about a young girl growing up and encountering life and love which all have the common characteristic of being funny, readable and yet perceptive. But Mariana is more than this. As the Observer’s Harriet Lane wrote in her Preface, critics may have tended ‘to dismiss its subject matter: crushes, horses, raffish uncles, frocks, inconsequential jobs, love affairs…but it is Mariana’s artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers. As a snap-album – as a portrait of a certain sort of girl at a certain time in a certain place – it now seems, sixty years after first publication, entirely exotic.
It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings. It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future.

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Books, £9.99, out now)

Switch off those TVs, kill your mobiles and settle down with the most controversial book ever written. Once denounced as ‘wicked’, ‘sordid’, ‘cheap’ ‘moral filth’, Peyton Place was the top read of its time and sold millions of copies worldwide. Way before Twin Peaks, Survivor or Big Brother, the curtains were twitching in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, and this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, abortion, adultery, repression and lust. Take a peek …
I got the page-turning escapism that I was looking for but I also got so much more, the humour, the sadness, the shocks. I found a book that was so well written and so believable (yet incredibly and quite delightfully melodramatic) it made me care about a community and feel a part of it. I also found some characters that I will never forget and a book I will have to go back to time and time again.

Non-Fiction… Where in trying to find titles I was saddened to discover my yearly attempt to read more non-fiction is just not happening!

The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe (Two Roads Books, £7.99, out now)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is touching without ever being saccharine, confronting and honest without ever being emotionally manipulative. It also celebrates life and highlights that we are part of each other’s ‘life-book-club’s’ through the discussions we have at book groups, on blogs, to our friends and family, or randomly on public transport about books and the power that they have. It has also left me with a list of books to go off and read as long as my arm.

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr (Bloomsbury, £11.99, out now)

It’s 12 October 1984. An IRA bomb blows apart the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Miraculously, Margaret Thatcher survives. In small-town Scotland, eight-year-old Damian Barr watches in horror as his mum rips her wedding ring off and packs their bags. He knows he, too, must survive. Damian, his sister and his Catholic mum move in with her sinister new boyfriend while his Protestant dad shacks up with the glamorous Mary the Canary. Divided by sectarian suspicion, the community is held together by the sprawling Ravenscraig Steelworks. But darkness threatens as Maggie takes hold: she snatches school milk, smashes the unions and makes greed good. Following Maggie’s advice, Damian works hard and plans his escape. He discovers that stories can save your life and – in spite of violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28 – manages to fall in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.
I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Magical/Other… A section which I tried so hard to make simply a sci-fi section but showed that I clearly barely read any and that to even try and sound au fait with the sci-fi genre would have diehard fans chastising me, but I honestly did try!

The Machine – James Smythe (Blue Door Books, £12.99, out now)

Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century. Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares. Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece. A Frankenstein tale for the 21st century, The Machine is a story of the indelibility of memory, the human cost of science and the horrors of love.
I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people.

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness (Canongate,  £14.99, out now)

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story. Wise, romantic, magical and funny, “The Crane Wife” is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.
It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away. Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury, £7.99, out now)

Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, from time to time, the flotsam and jetsam of the past can become caught in the cross-currents of the present and a certain kind of magic floats to the surface…Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers’ lamps and baying hounds as Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.
There are those rare books that come into your life and once finished you feel a little bereft because they were so good. Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short stories ‘Diving Belles’ is one such book, in fact I loved it so much I had to ration it out to the point I was only reading one or two stories a week. I simply didn’t want to it end.

So there you are, if you managed to stay with me for the long haul then well done. Tomorrow I will be sharing with you the books that I haven’t read yet which I really fancy getting to over the summer months (if summer decides to show itself) and think some of you might like too! In the meantime don’t forget to share you thoughts on the books you have loved the most so far in the first half of the year. Also let me know what you think about the selection above, which ones have you read or been meaning to read? Also, if any of you fancy doing summer reading guides, or already have, do let me know as I would love to have a gander.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

Back at the start of last year one of the lovely publicists at Bloomsbury told me, with great certainty and authority, that they were publishing Damian Barr’s memoir and that I was going to ‘adore it’. In my usual contrary-Mary style I said something like ‘oh really’ with eyebrow cocked. Well Alice, who also told me I would love ‘The Song of Achilles’ and ‘Diving Belles’, you were right again with ‘Maggie and Me’ and in hindsight you really should have bet me a tenner that I would have loved it, in fact in the future you really must bet me that, plus interest. Anyway…

*****, Bloomsbury Books, hardback, 2013, non fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Maggie & Me’ is Damian Barr’s memoir, mainly of his youth – though we do get to know more about him now thanks to the last chapter epilogue. It is the sort of book that I have pondered since reading if it would have been easier to have written as fiction. Why? Well, Damian’s childhood is one that came littered with difficulties, a broken home life, not much money and people around him who took advantage of that an abused him. One thing is for certain though; this is no misery memoir, not by a long shot.

‘We watch the news for our revision and it’s always strikers chanting ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out”!’ Except for John we all join in. But it doesn’t quite feel right – hating her just helps me fit in. I don’t need to stand out anymore: six foot tall, scarecrow skinny and speccy with join-the-dots spots, bottle-opener buck teeth and a thing for waistcoats. Plus I get free school dinners and I’m gay.”

I do feel that ‘Maggie and Me’ is a book that you need to know as little about as possible in order to get the most from it. There were several times when I was genuinely horrified by what I was reading, yet never (and this is mainly thanks to Damian and the generosity he provides, possibly through hindsight) did I start to judge anyone, it is like Damian is saying ‘here is my life, this is what happened, take from it what you will’. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him, though I did at times (sorry). What I felt he really wanted, and it is what I got from the book, was that through his story, and in people reading it and passing it on, he hopes he might help other younger people in that position or older ones who had been through it.

I am worried I have made it sound like it is the misery memoir that I state it’s not, because honestly it isn’t. Despite the hard home life and lack of money and the coming to terms with his sexuality whilst the epidemic of Aids had arisen, there is always a shred of hope or escapism which keeps him going. As much as I was horrified and moved, like all the best reads I also found myself laughing out loud. This either came in the form of the wonderful Granny Mac, who Maggie Smith is destined to play at some point I feel sure, and her wonderful sayings like “Wit’s fur yae disnae go by yae.” or from many of the family members when they react to the people or situations around them.

‘Bottle blonde’, she huffs, furiously bleaching the inside of a teapot that we’ll all taste later. ‘Pound Shop Dolly Parton. Midden. Hoor’s handbag,’ she curses into the suds before shooshing me for asking what a ‘hoor’ is?’

‘Maggie and Me’ is also very much a book about books and how they can save someone and provide a huge sanctuary for someone. Interestingly (well I think it is) myself and my Granny Savidge were talking about how books and reading, which is by its nature a lonely pastime, has made us so many friends. This is what books did for Damian along with providing a huge amount of escape for him, intriguingly he had a taste for horror which one wonders might have been because they showed a more horrible world than his own could be at times.

‘Somehow he’s managed to smuggle new horror books out of Newarthill Library – our junior cards don’t permit Stephen King, James Herbert or Dean Koontz. But here they all are. I’d never dare but Mark would. We take turns reading out loud. Particularly gory bits get read at least twice. Pennywise the Clown smiles his big red gash and boils our blood for candyfloss. Cujo is off the leash. Red-eyed rats swarm around our feet, their filthy fur tickling our ankles before they shred our shins.’

Interestingly as I was reading Damian’s memoir I was also thinking of Kerry Hudson’s ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ and is like a fictional naughty little sister of ‘Maggie & Me’. I kind of like the idea of just having them next to one another on my shelves, companions to recommend to everyone, though as I like my books alphabetised the idea is abhorrent in reality. Like Hudson’s wonderful book, with ‘Maggie and Me’ I found a background which really evoked mine to me again. Whilst I was never abused we didn’t have much money (I remember water on my cereal when we couldn’t get milk), I wasn’t particularly popular and was the last person to get picked for games (until I started forging my own notes, ‘bad knee’) and always felt somewhat apart and so turned to books. I wish the younger Damian and the younger me had been friends really, or at least geeky book and boy loving penpals.

Anyway, back on track away from the waffling, as you may have hazarded a guess I really loved ‘Maggie and Me’. I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Who else has read ‘Maggie and Me’ and what did you think of it? In a way I have a feeling it’s like Augusten Burroughs book, which is high flattery indeed as I love those, and hopefully will get the attention that ‘Running With Scissors’ had, or indeed Edmund White’s memoirs or Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’. I am waffling again. What other books about being a ‘child of Thatcher’ do you know as I would like to seek more out?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2013, Damian Barr, Non Fiction, Review

We’re Going Through Changes…

In case you are confused, this is still Savidge Reads… I just thought that it was time to have a minor facelift of sorts to be honest, and we all like a change now and again don’t we? This isn’t going to be one of those big revamps which involves lots of fireworks and shouting to everyone about it nor is it a case navel gazing because its coming from a positive place and just seemed like the right time.

As you might have noticed if you come here often or occasionally (and thank you if you do) in the last few weeks I have been a little bit quieter. This isn’t because I have ‘been thinking’ about everything blog wise –  which has happened in the past – but other things have taken priority. Firstly just with getting Gran sorted out with a hospital (as she was so, so poorly suddenly in the last two weeks), which as I mentioned before take so much rigmarole it is untrue, which took about four days of telephone calls, also with everything Liverpool Literature Festival wise and because I accidentally got a new job…

Yes, that is right (and I think I am allowed to tell you about it, though I don’t start till next week) I am now Social Media Strategist for Culture Liverpool three days a week and I am beyond thrilled – in part as I now get to go to all the summer festivals the city is hosting and also because the office is on the 10th floor overlooking the Mersey, I don’t normally like heights but the view is amazing.

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All this has meant I have had more time away from the blog and the needed step away to realise it had become a bit of a monster that needed feeding everyday and I was possibly struggling with it more than I thought. I also realised I didn’t feel I was in it as much, so be warned the posts and reviews are going to be less ‘professional’ and more my sense of humour, hopefully you will like it but sorry if you don’t. Hence the change really, and the changing banners (thank you Gavin) which I love, love, love – oh and I have made a Facebook page now too, can’t really be a Social Media Strategist if you don’t do your own.

Now speaking of that new role of mine again; one thing I will be doing, as well as the book reviews and book thoughts which are the main focus points of the blog, is keeping you informed of the lovely events and stuff I am going to be doing off blog. Some of these might be a retelling of an adventure I had recently walking to a ‘treasure island’ from the coast the other weekend, some might be the things I am doing for work. In the latter case, to clear any thoughts doubting Thomas’s might have up, I will not be messaging about them for work but because you might be interested in coming on the off chance or you just might like to hear about them after, as I know most of my readers don’t live down the road but miles (tens, hundreds and thousands) away. And hence I will simply pop two pictures below and you can do with the information what you see fit…

Council Estate of Mind Debut Authors

Not being funny but that is a pretty good line up isn’t it? Anyway, enough from me! I might be back with a review later, depending if I am happy with it, though I am actually hosting an afternoon tea with John Whaite (he won the Great British Bake Off last year, which I looooooove) this afternoon and might get lost with all that, which I will be reporting back on in due course. How is all with you? What do you think of my new view at work? Do you like the changes to the blog?

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The Machine – James Smythe

So it seems another day, another book that is a bit of a swine to review in many ways thanks to Mr James Smythe and his third book, though my first of his, ‘The Machine’. There are two main reasons that this book has vexed me from a ‘book thoughts/review’ aspect (as a reader – though is there a difference – I simply thought it was brilliant) firstly the fact that for me the book was so brimming with ideas and themes it will be difficult to encapsulate them, secondly I don’t want to spoil how the book pans out and so I am going to have to watch my words very carefully and allow you to stitch a picture of the book together yourselves, rather like the ominous relationship between the Machine, of the title, and memory in the novel…

***** Blue Door Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is a hot day on the Isle of Wight as Beth waits for a mysterious parcel. All we know initially is that whatever is contained in it is something that Beth both has her hopes and dreams encapsulated in, yet at the same time clearly doesn’t want anyone else knowing she had. (This is slightly scuppered when the delivery men have to take her window out in order to get it in her high rise flat.) Once they have left and the unwrapping begins we discover that Beth has bought, highly illegally, one of the few ‘Machines’ left since they were banned some years ago.

This ‘machine’ was designed to rewire the brains, and memories of those who suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s, until someone saw the commercial benefits of an appliance, if you will, that could edit and re-write (“Purge. Commit. Replenish.”) memories and which then went wrong as Beth learnt when her husband, Vic – or Victor, with a nice nod to ‘Frankenstein’, started to use one after an incident fighting in the war, he now lies just a body with no memories in a home. Now though, Beth plans to re-programme her husband with ‘the machine’. But what if people can’t be programmed like a computer, what if ‘the machine’ has other ideas, and possibly memories, of its own?

“She can’t call in sick again the following day, she knows, not this close to the end of term; so she leaves the house after making sure it’s all unplugged. She shuts the spare bedroom door behind her – the Machine’s room, she thinks as she does it – and checks the locks on her front door twice. She doesn’t know why. The Machine’s not going anywhere.”

As if that wasn’t enough of a story/plot for anyone Smythe throws in even more for his readers to ponder and involve themselves with. Firstly is the setting, when we first learn of the machine we get the feeling there is a science fictional element to the book and indeed we are proved right as we learn that global warming, thought it’s never spelt out as such, has caused huge weather changes and floods worldwide changing the landscape of all forever, London itself now has ‘the Barrage’ on its skyline to protect it from further flooding. Yet despite the newly found heat of the UK and the fact it hardly ever rains (almost impossible to imagine as a Brit, yet you do) little else has changed, poundland is still very much a commodity, pubs are still going, etc which oddly adds to the unease of the whole of the book. The sense of place and atmosphere, along with the machine itself are all at once familiar yet very ‘other’ becoming quite unsettling and adding a sense of horror around the edges.

“When it rains, most of the South Coast gets caught up in celebrating. It still rains a little more in Scotland, but the closer you get to London it almost entirely ceases. It’s not a drought any more, though so many people still call it that. The hosepipe ban started and never ended. When it rains, if the kids are in the classrooms, they get more restless than at the end of term. They can’t be kept, and sometimes one or two of them have just stood up in the middle of Beth’s class and walked out, choosing instead to dance around on the torn Astroturf outside.”

For me one of the aspects of ‘The Machine’ that really hit me the most, along with everything else yet this had a real emotional pull, was the theme of memory. Whilst Vic is not suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia his situation echo’s that of many of those who do suffer from it and also those left caring or on the outside, like Beth, from the affects of it. How does someone cope loving someone who can’t remember them let alone love them back? Do we ourselves forget what the person was really like as we look at someone who seems so helpless; do we not edit the memories of just the happiest of times with them? Even here though the sinister creeps in, as we hear more of Beth’s internal narrative (and struggle) we question just what she herself has chosen to remember of her husband, is he really the man that she describes with loss driven and lonely worn rose tinted glasses?

I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people. I think that is all I need to say to be frank.

Who else has read ‘The Machine’ and what did you make of it? Which of his other books have your read? It seems that ‘The Explorer’ is meant to be quite something, is that the one that I should try next?

I will be in conversation with Mr Smythe (along with Kerry Hudson and Claire McGowan) on Monday night in Liverpool – scroll down this page a bit for more details – do come along.

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Head Down; More Reading, Less Everything Else…

I shouldn’t really be typing this. I should actually be busy reading and nothing else. But having looked at the next few weeks it seems that all I should be doing is reading and pretty much nothing else. You see, the thing is my bookish projects have started to get a little out of hand, though in a good way, I think…

Books Ahead

What you see above this is two piles of books I really need to read over the next few weeks, yes I said weeks. On the left are some of the books that I need to read or re-read for discussions that I will be having at the Liverpool Literature Festival (you can find the brochure here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3). I say some of the books as I am still waiting on a few and need to dig out a few Jeanette Winterson and Philippa Gregory novels before the big World Book Night launch that I will be reporting on and involved with launching this year in Liverpool and sort of kicking the festival off.

On the right we have some more books that I need to be reading (again am waiting on a few copies of other books by these authors) in preparation for forthcoming episodes of You Wrote The Book! which seems to have kicked off with a bang and now I am kicking myself with joy at some of the authors who have said yes (though Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Caitlin Moran still need final confirmations) and so might be making the podcast weekly instead of fortnightly.

Here I should note that I am in no way complaining about all this, it has left me all a bit daunted/panicked and a little muddled too. Which is why I need to stop talking, tweeting, photo posting, and blogging – well at least lessen them all – and just get on with reading shouldn’t I? I haven’t even taken into account that I will be reading the entire Women’s Prize shortlist for We Love This Book. Erm, let’s move on, shall we? Ha!

Anyway, I thought I would explain where I am at and why the blog and I might be a little quieter for a month or two (of course reviews of these books will pop up, as will bookish thoughts and reports from various events and things). I have said ‘Middlemarch’ reading is now postponed until further notice, I was going to say May or June but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep so will update you after May if that is ok. Right, best get on with some of this lovely reading hadn’t I and stop this waffling on. What are you all reading at the moment?

P.S if you see me on Twitter too much can you tell me off, ha!

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In Other Words

So over the last few weeks I have been mysteriously hinting at what I have been up to as I have been working with Culture Liverpool on the first Liverpool literature festival. Well now I can finally tell you all just what I will be doing and all the events that I have planned for ‘In Other Words 2013’, and I am really, really excited about it…

IOW2013its

One of the things I am super excited about is that fact that Liverpool is the only city outside London that is hosting World Book Night for 2013. So on the opening night of the festival, which is in honour of the library re-opening after a huge revamp, is jam packed with exciting things as the ‘marketplace’ will be brimming with book swappers, book shoppers and even a cafe that is doing a special literary based menu. If that inst enough some of the authors (Philippa Gregory, Jasper Fforde, Jeanette Winterson, Jackie Kay and Patrick Ness) will all be at events on the opening night. Naturally I will be clamoring to get to these events, and these authors, to report back and have some serious fan-boy moments.

Over the next three weeks there are even more stonking events with James Herbert doing a special night of ‘Tales of Terror’ in some very dark and spooky infamous Liverpool tunnels, the Mersey’s finest poets Roger McGough and Brian Pattern (my favourite author as a kid) are appearing, as are Denise Mina, Janet Street Porter, Melvyn Bragg, Karen Campbell and Helen Walsh (who will be giving a writing workshop) and Rosie Garland having a book launch with a big circus… and much, much more! How awesome is that? And all of it will be (almost) on my doorstep. It is too exciting for words, in other words.

Now apart from going and being a real fan boy and a punter, I will also be hosting some events which are;

Novel Approaches: Ben Marcus & Keith Ridgway

Free | 24th April

6.30pm , Studio 2, Parr Street, 33-45 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN

Join authors Keith Ridgway and Ben Marcus in conversation with Simon Savidge about the novel, what makes it a novel, how it is evolving and how both authors, rather infamously with two highly talked about books of last year, are breaking the stereotypes of what can constitute a novel and how the written word can be used in many different ways.

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite

Ticketed | 28th April

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite , Liverpool Town Hall, High Street, Liverpool, L2 3SW

Join the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012 for tea and, most aptly, baked goods in the delights of the Town Hall to talk about his time on the show, swapping banking for baking and how his new book John Whaite Bakes looks at food for any mood, plus he will share some top tips too.

Cost: £10 includes afternoon tea made by the Town Hall , Please book in advance at http://www.itsliverpool.com/culture

Council Estate Of Mind: Class And The Novel

Free | 29th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , Kuumba Imani, Millennium Centre Cafe, 4 Princes Road, Liverpool, L8 1TH

Join authors Kerry Hudson, James Smythe and Claire McGowan, currently Director of the Crime Writer’s Association, in conversation with Simon Savidge about class and the novel. Why is it that the middle and upper classes have been more predominant in fiction and how the ‘council estate’ novel is now rising as its own sub-genre and how to give voice to the unspoken in society.

First Words; Debut Authors In Discussion

Free | 30th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , The Attic, 33-35 Parr Street, Liverpool L1 4JN

How hard is the road to getting your first book published? Is being an author all you expect it to be? These questions and many more will be answered by debut novelists of 2013 Beatrice Hitchman, Sarah Butler and Gavin Extence, John Ironmonger and Kerry Hudson who debuted in fine form in 2012. They will also offer tips to budding debut novelists out there too.

Celebrating The Bookshop

Free | 5th May

2.30pm – 3.30pm , The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX

If you love words, you have to love a bookshop. Join Jessica Fox; who swapped NASA and the US for a book shop in Wigtown, Sarah Henshaw; who sells books aboard a barge she lived, worked and travelled on all last year; Jen Campbell; a bookseller whose books are about the odd things people say in bookshops and Mandy Vere; of independent bookshop News from Nowhere for a discussion on why we love a bookshop, why we need them and why the future is bright for them even in the age of the e-reader.

So all in all I am excited on all sorts of levels, in part because I am getting to interview some cracking authors for my own events, in part as I have been loving being involved in the cities first literary festival and also because I am going to just geek out with lots of book based goodies for a solid two weeks.

I will of course be reporting back on the blog and also on The Readers and You Wrote The Book! too, so if you have any questions for any of the authors or want me to report on any of the events specifically then do please let me know. I really had better get a wriggle on with some serious reading hadn’t I?

(Oh and well done Kateg who correctly guessed that all the books in the picture yesterday were off books by authors, well some of them, that I will be having events with at In Other Words, email me with your details to collect your prize!)

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