Tag Archives: Louise Welsh

Books To Take on Holiday… Help!

Excitingly I am off on holiday tomorrow to Cyprus for a week of sun, sea, sand, ruins, cocktails and much reading on sun loungers (if the weather is to be believed) or the balcony. I cannot wait, this is my first holiday ‘not doing anything’ in three years and the prospect of just reading, mooching about, paddling and swimming is a little bit too joyful. What isn’t joyful however is deciding what on earth to pack book-wise. As many of you will know I loathe my Kindle Fire with a passion (the glare, the lack of pages, etc, I have tried I really have) so books is the only way. After many painstaking hours I have come up with a shortlist, which is 21 books long and takes up the entirety of one case. So I need your help to whittle it down so I can actually fit some clothes in. Here are the choices…

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  • The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett
  • The Sellout – Paul Beatty
  • Black Water – Louise Doughty
  • The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff
  • The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman
  • Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller
  • The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer
  • The Ship – Antonia Honeywell
  • Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
  • The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley
  • Human Acts – Han Kang
  • Disclaimer – Renee Knight
  • A Reunion of Ghosts – Judith Claire Mitchell
  • This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Illuminations – Andrew O’Hagan
  • Anatomy of a Soldier – Harry Parker
  • Merciless Gods – Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle
  • Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins
  • A Lovely Way To Burn – Louise Welsh
  • A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

So which of these have you read and, without giving any spoilers away, what did you make of them? I will then check your answers before I leave and pick seven, maybe 8 (as the flight is 5 hours each way, notice the excuses start creeping in) for the trip. Now I better sort out my pants and other attire, thanks in advance.

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Durham Book Festival; This House Believes That There is No Such Thing as Hard Evidence with Louise Welsh, Peter Guttridge, Dr Dan Grausam & Professor Judith Howard

I mentioned in my last post that once I had decided that the life of a fashion designer or a vet wasn’t for me, maybe being a forensic psychologist would. I have always been a fan of both crime fiction and true crime and I bloody (pun intended) loved Waking The Dead on the telly box and frankly wanted to be Sue Johnston. Anyway I digress, for this reason my final two events at the festival were both crime based. The first was an event in partnership with IAS (Institute of Advanced Studies at the university) where two panels fought the argument as to whether hard evidence exists, with academics from the university and authors, which instantly intrigued me. 
First up to fight against hard evidence’s existence www Professor Judith Howard. She used the example initially of British Weather and the fact that whilst predicting it has got better (like dealing with evidence has) it can never be perfect, you wouldn’t leave your washing out and expect it to be dry just because the BBC or an app tells you too would you? (I know, I would too!) She then talked about new technology and, unless I heard wrong, that pathology could be know as fraud in certain circumstances. I got a bit lost there BUT I did understand that she basically meant improvements mean there is still no hard evidence, as we look at data in totally different ways from the past and will do in the future, we just have more probably evidence that can still go wrong. Those poor criminologists. 

Next up was Dr Dan Grausam who, delightfully I add, did that old trick of getting the audience right on his side from the off. He basically wooed us. He said because of brilliant people like us there was hard evidence in the love of true crime and crime fiction as well as all the television stuff None of this festival, he said, could exist without hard evidence of a love of books or we would just be at some boring existential conference. So really we were all hard evidence of hard evidence. Wow. Twisty. I liked it. 
Author Peter Guttridge was next and he used crime fiction as a way to prove the point of the lack of hard evidence in existence. After all isn’t ambiguity one of the reasons we all love a good crime novel? Nothing is certain and really it is crime fictions guise to be misleading and to write about miscarriages of justice. If it’s all hard evidence fiction wouldn’t work. Look at most novels, multiple eyewitnesses who are unrealisable, and we all love an unreliable narrator don’t we? Well maybe not all of us. His point was that no one (real or fictional) ever sees the same thing in any given situation, plus there is Inattention blindness eg a group are asked to keep score of the amount of times a ball is passed on a baseball court, afterwards they are asked if they notices a woman with an umbrella up crossing the court no one did! He then talked about contamination of DNA followed by quantum physics and dimensions. These last two lost me a bit but I liked the cut of his gib so nodded along smiling. I remember why I changed my mind about being a forensic psychologist… The science bit!

 Last but not least was author Louise Welsh (who I have read, see I have read some of the authors at these events) who was fighting for hard evidence. First of all she did it by holding a pen up and dropping it, hard evidence of gravity. She then asked us all to take out or phones and get our cameras ready, where she promptly pulled out a gun (not real) and shot her fellow panellist and said ‘there you’ve proof I shot him’. More hard evidence. She also debated contaminated evidence saying ‘just because it’s contaminated doesn’t mean it isn’t right’ you just need more and more of it. She then told us a fascinating true crime case of a man who ended up being caught by pollen. Stuff like that blows my mind. Finally she advised us that if we had murder in mind we should make it look an accident, push someone down the stairs is probably best. We all laughed… Nervously. Ha. 

It was then opened up so the panellists could take a pop at each other’s arguments before we all joined in. People brought up how ‘the camera never lies’ but with editing ability now it can. There was also a discussion about how science disproves itself all too often as it advances (slight over my head again) before we all got to vote on who we agreed with. I voted for Dan and Louise, hard evidence that if I like your books and you make me laugh I’m putty in your hands. Another bloody (pun intended, again) brilliant event. 

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Durham Book Festival; Patrick Gale & Liza Klaussmann

The audiences of the Durham Book Festival are a saucy lot if two of the events I have been to are anything to go buy. It seems that the subject of *whispers* sex, sexual secrets and sexuality gets the forces out in their droves. I know it is early on a Sunday, do forgive me but ‘shenanigans’ (which seems much more of a Sunday word for it all) came up in Pat Barker’s session within  few moments of her being on stage. The same happened when Patrick Gale and Liza Klaussmann were in conversation with Caroline Beck late yesterday afternoon, as sexuality and sexual secrecy (and shame) seem to be at the hearts of both their books – which of course makes us all want to read them instantly.

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Lots of you will have heard me rave on and on about the brilliance of Patrick Gale’s work and in particular his latest, A Place Called Winter which is one of my favourite books of the year. You can read my review here for a more in depth look at it, but a brief summarisation is that it tells of a man who leaves Edwardian Britain under a cloud of shame and in some form of penance, and in some ways survival, heads to outback Canada where of course he still can’t hide from his true human nature. I just realised that makes it sound like a murder mystery, rather than a love story and tale of friendship. Can you see why I am not in book publicity? Anyway, it’s brimming with secrets, sexuality and bear grease – well maybe not the latter but it sounds fun, see totally not appropriate as a book marketer am I?

Alongside Patrick was Liza Klaussmann whose latest novel, Villa America, I have not read yet (there is a theme at the events I have been to so far on unread yet books, but as Patrick told me yesterday re Pat Barker ‘if it is a brilliant book, it will keep’ which is now my new life motto) sounds like an absolute corker. It tells the tale of Sara and Gerald Murphy who it’s said were inspirations for Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and who seemed to have the perfect lives, which Liza said ‘seemed to perfect, so I knew something was going on there’ and so she looks at what could have been going on behind the scenes of a perfect seeming marriage and reveals some sensational secrets. Come on, admit it, you want to read both of these. I told you so.

What is great about a live event is seeing how much some books, no matter how different the setting or indeed the authors are, can link together in so many ways. Obviously there is the subject of sexuality (I don’t think I have written the word sex so much in a post ever, what have you done to me Durham Book Festival?)and sex, plus secrets, lies and facades. There was more.

Both books are written about real people; Patrick’s is very much based on his great great Grandfather and what might have been his story and reasons for heading to Canada, Liza’s about the Murphy’s and the Fitzgerald’s and the whole whirlwind that went around them in that time. When asked about the responsibility and what these people thought Patrick said he felt now that most of the people who knew his great great Grandfather were dead he felt he could be freer, but he knew they might have disapproved, Liza too felt the Murphy’s might be unimpressed (as they were with Tender is the Night) but as they were dead it was alright. There was much laughing throughout and many a book was sold and signed afterwards.

Lovely stuff, a couple more books to add to your TBR’s if you haven’t already. If you have read either or both books I would love your thoughts on them. I had a corking first day at Durham Book Festival and now have Andy Miller, Louise Welsh, Lauren Laverne and Mark Blacklock ahead of me today, its almost too much bookish delight!

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Durham Book Festival Begins & I Will Be Doing Something A Little Bit Different This Weekend!

This week is the start of the two weeks of book joy that is Durham Book Festival. And I am really excited. I love a book festival at the best of times (and even at the worst) yet Durham holds a very special place in my heart as it was the place I would often beg to go (after the airport and the Hancock Museum) at the weekend when I was a little from the age of about three until I was about ten. I have yet to go back. This will all change from Friday as I have been kindly asked to be the festival’s inaugural Blogger-in-Residence… and the line-up is corking!

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From today until the 17th of October, the great and the good of publishing will be heading to Durham for a whole host of wonderful events. There are exciting conversations from debuts to events with the likes of Philip Pullman (whose Northern Lights has been distributed to 3,000 readers in the county as on big read) from talks about the world of fiction to politics in Russia or the British countryside. Seriously there are some marvellous events which you can see the whole gamut of here.

Over the first weekend of the festival I will be heading to events with Xinran, Pat Barker, Patrick Gale (who probably thinks I am stalking him), Liza Klaussman, Andy Miller (who I am hoping to have a pint and a pie with), Lauren Lavern (who I might actually be stalking, not really but I think she’s ace), Richard Benson, Louise Welsh, Mark Blacklock and more… Phew. That’s quite a lot to fit in. Oh and of course the announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize on Friday night, which I am really, really, really excited about – I have read two of the long list and am going to try and squeeze the rest in this week on lunch breaks, evenings and on the train where I can.

To do something different, and as blogger in residence it seems fitting, I am going to spend the whole weekend live blogging and tweeting as I attend the events. I have also been meeting with, talking to and doing a master class with some amazing young talented reviewers and bloggers who will be doing the same over the weekend and in the weeks that follow. They will probably put me to shame, so it is best I go first. Ha.

I am also really hoping that I get a bit of time to have a mooch, fall into some bookshops (and possibly some book tents) and see one of the icons of my childhood… The Durham Cathedral Knocker!

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Do let me know if you will be there as it would be lovely to say hello and if you can’t be there let me know what you would like to hear about the festival and from the events!

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Incoming Thoughts…

It has been about a month since I shared some of the highlights of the books that have come through the Savidge letterbox and so I thought I would share some of the books (as I am being very tough on books that now come through the door unsolicited) that I will be reading over the next few months as the mood takes me. Though I have been thinking about how I might change things on Savidge Reads in the New Year, but more on that after I have mulled it further. Anyway back to the books that have come to Savidge Reads HQ and have made themselves most at home. First up some books which have come out quite recently…

Out Now

First of all, I have to mention the book that is causing some big buzz here there and everywhere at the moment and that is S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. I have to admit that initially I was a bit sceptical about the book because of all the hype. I knew it was written by ‘the man behind Lost’ and if I am honest I wasn’t sure about it because I stopped watching Lost after the first series as I got, erm, lost. However as I saw people discussing it and how the book houses postcards, napkins with maps on, letters and much more my interest was officially piqued. When it arrived in the post last week I will admit I did do a little dance of glee. As yet I haven’t dared open it, I am planning on spending the day with it next weekend – as I don’t want to lose the pieces inside or put them in the wrong order. This is partly why I still haven’t opened Building Stories by Chris Ware, it is still wrapped on the top of my bookshelves.

Elsewhere in that pile are some new to me authors such as Ismail Kadare (who won the International Man Booker Prize, and its short so worth a punt), Jorn Lier Horst (who I was recommended I would like for giving a very different twist on the cold crime genre) and Nadifa Mohammed (whose Black Mamba Boy I have always meant to read and haven’t and is one of the Granta Best Young British Novelists), all of whom I am going to give a try.

There are authors I know too of course. M.R.C. Kasasain’s The Mangle Street Murders was one of the books I mentioned in my ‘books to look out for in the second half of 2013’ on The Readers, I love a Victorian mystery and this looks like a great start of a new series with a duo with a new dynamic and looks at the roles of women in Victorian society, ace. Val McDermid I have been a big fan of for ages and am very excited to read the next Tony Hill and Caron Jordan series after how she left us with The Retribution, this time Tony is prime suspect in a crime. Kishwar Desai’s series is one I often tell myself off for not reading more of, this is her third so I really must read her second.

The last two books are from more famous authors I suppose you would say. Donna Tartt really needs no introduction at the moment as The Goldfinch has had more press and social media buzz than I have seen in a book in ages. It has really put me off and after hearing the last episode of The Readers, her publishers sent me this to see if I could be tempted. We will see. I loved The Secret History so I am not sure why I am so anti this one. Finally there is the memoir of Anjelica Huston (who I like to call Jelly Who-Who, and have been slightly obsessed by since she played the Grand High Witch in the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and as Morticia in The Addams Family) I can be a bit funny about celebrity memoirs but I find her a fascinating woman and apparently her mother was a great writer and it runs in the family by all reports. Actually a bit giddy about this one.

Next up, some more books to keep your eyes peeled for in 2014…

Coming 2014

Oh actually Essie Fox’s latest The Goddess and the Thief, another Victorian delight, is out at the start of December my mistake. Louise Welsh is back with A Lovely Way To Burn the start of a new trilogy which sounds like a crime set in a dystopian London from the blurb. Tim Winton is back with Eyrie a novel of a man who has shut himself off from the world and whose past comes to haunt him through some neighbours he meets. Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li (who I have meant to read for some time) also sees the past coming back to haunt three friends, now living continents apart, who were involved in a mysterious accident in their youths that saw a woman poisoned.

Eat My Heart Out is meant to be the debut of the Spring as Zoe Pilger has apparently written The Bell Jar meets The Rachel Papers, intriguing – Sam Byers loves this book. Lost tribes are hunted in 1950 in Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees which Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand has been raving about. If you like your books with a dark disturbing twist and sense of malice The Bear by Claire Cameron looks amazing as a camping trip goes horribly wrong and five year old Anna is left to fend for her and her three year old brother as her parents have disappeared and something is lurking in the woods.

Ray Robinson’s Jawbone Lake is one that will intrigue me personally as it is set in the Peak District, which is of course my homeland, and you know I love a good tale set in the countryside and a literary thriller, which apparently this is. I actually spent some time with Ray when he was writing it and we hunted murderous spots in Matlock – though I’ve noted there are no thanks for this tour in the author’s acknowledgements, the bugger, ha! This is probably going to be my next read.

Finally, blimey I have gone on, three books I bought when I fell into a second hand bookshop the other day…

Second Hand Treats

You will read my thoughts on A.M. Homes May We Be Forgiven in the next few weeks and suffice to say I am a bit on the fence with her. I think she’s an incredible writer but almost too good. That might sound crazy though it will make sense when you see my review; I decided to grab Jack as I want to try more of her work. Tove Jansson is an author many people, especially Simon T of Stuck in a Book, have recommended so I thought I would try her short stories. Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky I know NOTHING about but it was a silver Penguin Classic and so I thought ‘oh why not?’ and snapped it up.

Phew – that is more chatter than I had planned, I do apologise. So do tell me your thoughts on any of the books that are out, the ones that are coming and any of the authors mentioned. Oh and if you think this is a showy off post go here and see my thoughts on that. Also do let me know what books you have got your hands on lately or what you are keen to read, I look forward to hearing all about them.

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The Girl on the Stairs – Louise Welsh

If I had done the list of forty books/authors to read before I turn forty back when I turned thirty earlier in the year then Louise Welsh would have been one of the authors on that list. I know many of you would imagine that list would have some of the classic authors on, and indeed it will, but there are many modern and contemporary authors that I have been meaning to try, Welsh is one of them as so many people have recommended I read one of her novels. As it is I still haven’t made that list, though I have been mulling it over again. I have, however, finally read Louise Welsh and I don’t think that ‘The Girl on the Stairs’, her fifth and latest novel, will be the only and last time I read one of her thrillers.

John Murray Publishing, hardback, 2012, fiction, 278 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Modern day Berlin is the setting for ‘The Girl on the Stairs’, as Jane moves from Scotland to the trendy area of Mitte to be with her high flying businesswoman girlfriend Petra. However being heavily pregnant with rather a lot of time on your hands in a new and strange to you city can feel quite isolating especially when you have neighbours you are rather uncertain about. Directly next door it is the relationship between father and daughter, Albert and Anna Mann, who Jane hears screaming at each other one night. Anna, just thirteen though looking rather inappropriately older, is then seen with bruises, could there be abuse going on next door and where is the mother? As Jane meets more her other neighbours, Karl and Heike Becker, Heike announces that Greta was killed by Albert and buried under the creepy ruined backhouse between the apartments and the local graveyard. Could the ramblings of a woman with early dementia be true and if so is Anna a young girl in a lot of danger with no one to protect her?

Louise Welsh plays a very clever game with her readers as ‘The Girl on the Stairs’ continues. Jane decides that she needs to find out more about the Mann’s and Greta in the hope of possibly saving a young girl from possible abuse. Is she doing this because she is soon to be a mother herself of with too much time on her hands, and the saying ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ came to mind for me, is she imagining things from too much time on her own in a city she doesn’t know and with a whole lot of hormones and conflicting feelings to do with her pregnancy. Do we believe Jane or do we think she might have cabin, well swanky apartment, fever?

I have to confess that somewhere in the middle I did have a break from the book, but it was one of those breaks you aren’t sure why you needed or how it happened. You know sometimes you pick up a book its going really well and then suddenly you realise you’re reading something else? That sounds like a rather damning thing to say about any book, weirdly I think in the case of ‘The Girl on the Stairs’ it is a compliment. Welsh’s writing, the situation she creates for Jane and the clinging atmosphere of the novel all become quite headily claustrophobic. Interestingly you start to understand Jane and the predicament she is in and why she could be going a little loopy, if indeed she is. I felt I needed some space now and again to breathe and escape (something that alas Jane cannot do) and that is why I stopped in the middle of the book I think. The book stayed with me though and so I carried on and then couldn’t quite put it down again.

The atmosphere of the book is one of the things that I most enjoyed about it. ‘The Girl on the Stairs’ has a delightful mixture of the Gothic and the fairytale elements to it. We have the young girl in danger (the cover of the book makes me think of Red Riding Hood, but who is the wolf?), the old graveyard, the women of ill repute, the creepy abandoned backhouse and possible ghosts and murder.  It also has the history and atmosphere Berlin a city renowned for its past, its divide and as Jane is told “This city is full of ghosts, most of them harmless. It’s the living you have to watch out for.”

Louise Welsh also packs a huge amount into ‘The Girl on the Stairs’ as it is filled with plot, many twists and several big themes. We have homophobia, the Catholic Church, child abuse, dementia, sperm donation, sibling relationships, possible infidelity… this book is brimming. This occasionally I felt, whilst brilliant, was to the cost of some of the characters. Jane is a fascinating psychological character yet because the whole book rests on whether or not she might be bonkers there is only so much Welsh can show and tell, fair enough though with no real back story etc she is occasionally a little under written, the same with the Mann’s for they are the mystery initially and heart of the story. However it was characters like Petra and her brother, her bosses partner Jurgen etc that not only didn’t seem fully formed, I just didn’t like them – again though this could have been part of the whole darkness of the book, and to be fair when the denouement came I was still unsure what was and wasn’t real and then there were a couple of brilliant, brilliant twists. Swings and roundabouts!

Overall I enjoyed ‘The Girl on the Stairs’. I had a few hiccups with it along the way but really those were all called for, the claustrophobia and the hidden characterisations etc, because of the possibility or not of the mystery at the heart of the novel. If you want an unusual and gothic feeling thriller then I would steer you in the direction of this book. I certainly finished the book wanting to try more of Welsh’s work myself.

So who else has read ‘The Girl on the Stairs’ and what did you think? Which of Louise Welsh’s other novels have you read and what did you make of them, would you recommend any to me for future reading?

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