Tag Archives: Michel Faber

Other People’s Bookshelves #82 – Robert Davies

Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to lovely Wales, the land of cwtchs and witches, to join Robert Davies and have a nosey through hisshelves. Before we do Robert has kindly put on a welsh spread of utter delight for us all and is going to introduce himself before we rampage through his bookshelves…

I was born and grew up in South Wales and was encouraged by my parents at a young age to read as much as possible. I studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University which, despite being an excellent degree programme, shattered my interest in reading for pleasure for a long time. I now work in a large South Wales university, and I make use of the local public and academic libraries as much as possible. I’d love to eventually move into the library department, hopefully one day gaining the qualifications necessary to become a librarian. Outside of work I’ve spent time writing, recording and releasing music, and I like to use my free time visiting interesting places like local castles, ruins, forests and museums with my girlfriend. I write reviews of what I’ve been reading on my blog, Book Mongrel.

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

I try to keep everything on my shelves but I’m reaching the storage limit in my small house. I’ve just started to transfer a few shelves’ worth of “read” books over to another bookcase but I think I’ll hit the space limit on that pretty soon too. I’m not concerned with what’s on display – even books I didn’t enjoy or never got round to reading stay on the shelves until I decide to sell or donate them. At the moment the shelves are in disarray (just how I like it), with piles of books put on the shelves in front of the other books which are stacked upright. I quite like how the contents of the shelf are always shifting – I’m either pulling out a new book to read or going back to an older reference book to check some details, so the main bookshelf never stays the same for long.

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

My shelves are mostly organised by “read” and “to be read”, but individual shelves aren’t organised in any meaningful way other that trying to keep similar-sized books together. Generally I’ll try to keep genres together, but it’s not something I’ll painstakingly work on as it never seems to look any neater. I have a lot of graphic novels, comics, coffee table books and textbooks that are generally too large to just stuff in amongst a bunch of paperbacks, so I try to make them fit in where I can. I’m also enjoying the recent Penguin 80 Little Black Classics series, and they are pocked-sized, so it’s sometimes difficult to make the best use of the limited space. I haven’t culled my bookshelf yet but I’m starting to identify which books should really be passed on – I’m planning to donate them to charity shops or give them to friends but I don’t think that will actually free up that much space anyway.

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

I had to think hard about the answer to this question as my parents were always very encouraging with my reading and would usually buy me something from bookshops when I was a kid, even before I was old enough to have a job of my own. I’d also make frequent use of the local library and read as much as possible, so it’s hard to pin down the first book I actually bought for myself. I think it was either a Penguin edition of George Orwell’s Complete Novels, or Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, bought when I was around fourteen or fifteen. I still have both of these on my shelves. They’re nice, well-read, thumbed-through copies, and I think 1984 is full of notes from my English GCSE classes.

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

I don’t really buy into the idea of guilty pleasures any more – I don’t think I would be embarrassed by anything on my bookshelf. I’m interested in grisly stuff and horror/crime/occult books so I have a few items that probably don’t look that great, and may put a few people off based on the subject matter, but they’re part of my collection, and they belong on the bookshelf.

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

My grandmother gave me a very old copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination when I was younger, which I still have to this day. I’m guessing it belonged to her mother or another relative but I don’t have that much information I’m afraid. I found some publication information recently – it’s a Collins Illustrated edition from around 1920. There are some lovely illustrations that accompany the stories, but the pages are very delicate so I try not to handle it too much. I now have a cheap edition of The Complete Poe that I can use for day-to day reading.

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

My parents weren’t big readers so I never really saw many books around the family home. My mother used to read a lot of celebrity biographes and what I believe are called “tragic life stories”, things like “A Boy Called It” and the like. The only book I ever remember my father reading was a London gangster autobiography called The Guv’nor. I’m just not interested in that kind of stuff, so I always tried to seek out books that I was interested in myself. The first real “grown up” book I ever remember taking from the library was Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo. I took it home and tried my best to read it but obviously for a fourteen year old it was way over my head. I liked the cover design and the sense of extreme mystery within the book, and the fact that there was all this knowledge within the pages that my young mind just couldn’t decipher at the time. I still haven’t read it! I also remember my grandmother having a hardback collection of Great Ghost Stories by various writers that I never seemed old enough to read at the time. I now have this book on my shelf.

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

It depends on the book. I generally only borrow books that I’ve read about beforehand, so it’s likely that I’ll enjoy the book anyway. In the last few years, I’ve read some great books that I’ve borrowed from libraries and friends, and then gone ahead and gotten my own copy. Some of the books available in the university’s academic libraries are very rare or out of print, so it’ll give me a chance to do some detective work to find a decent, relatively inexpensive copy in good condition if I want to buy it for myself. I try to make use of the libraries as much as possible but I certaintly do have a bit of a buying addiction!

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

The last books were 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (I found the sequel, 2010, in a local charity shop so now I’d like to read the whole series), Under the Skin by Michel Faber (based on the film and a friend’s recommendation) and The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (another recommendation from a friend).

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

Yes, quite a few! The ones I’d like to get ahold of next are: Rub Out The Words, the second volume of letters by William S. Burroughs, The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’ Connor and You Can’t Win by Jack Black. I usually have a pretty substantial list of books to be read/bought on my phone or in my notebook.

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

I’m not sure what they would think… my friends and I have very similar tastes but I guess someone who didn’t know me might think that I have a wide range of interests, ranging from classic literary fiction to very low pulp fare. They may notice that I have a big selection of non-fiction, and not very much modern fiction. I don’t think I currently have any major prize winners on my shelves, so this might be something they notice. I think anyone would definitely realise that I’m a horror fan!

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

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My Top 12 Australian Books

Today the lovely Kim of Reading Matters posted a list of ten books written by Australian authors she loves in honour of Australia Day. So I asked if I could copy her. Here I have to say, before I share my list with you, that Kim’s is bound to be much better so you must check it out. Kim is also only reading Australian books this year which I am going to be following with much interest. My knowledge and Australian reading might not be as good as Kim’s however I have loved many a book by an Australian author and so here are twelve books I would highly, highly recommend you give a whirl. You can find the full review, bar one, by clicking on the books title if you want to find out more.

12. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

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Burial Rites was one of those books, based on a true story, that blew me way. It is the late 1820’s in Iceland and the lives of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife Margret and daughters Lauga and Steina, are changed on their farm of Kornsá when the news that they will be housing a criminal in the lead up to her execution, for we are in times when prisons do not exist. The criminal in question is Agnes Magnusdottir who, many believe, killed ‘healer’ Natan Ketilsson and his neighbour along with Sigridur and Fredrik who are to be housed elsewhere for fear they will concoct some tale or escape. What I thought was particularly great about this novel was that first we ask ourselves if we think Agnes is a killer and then suddenly start to ponder why on earth this family have been chosen to house someone who could be incredibly dangerous. Stunningly written, utterly compelling.

11. Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

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As many of you will well know I love fairytales and my very favourite above all the others is that of Rapunzel. In Kate Forsyth’s brilliant Bitter Greens we are sent into the lives of three women. First is Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who has been exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV after a fall from grace too far (which in those times was saying something) and is banished to live in an Abbey with nuns. Second is Selena Leonelli, once one of the most beautiful women in Italy and even the muse of the Venetian artist Titian. Depicted forever in his paintings she has one fear, time, and how it will take her beauty something she will do anything to keep. Thirdly we have Margherita, a young girl trapped in a tower forever unless she finds a way to escape. Yes, you have guessed it all three of these women have the story of Rapunzel in their life somewhere be they the one who retells the tale, mirrors the tale or indeed is part of the tale. Through these three women we learn the magic of storytelling, the hardship of women through the years and how they have had to struggle (in good and bad ways) in order to survive. It is utterly marvellous.

10. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

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Those of you who have followed this blog for sometime will know that I am something of a Marieke Hardy fanboy. I think she is ace and love her thoughts, even when I don’t agree with them, whatever they are when she discussed books on my favourite book TV show here. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead  is a collection of frank, funny and filthy memoir essays about various points in Marieke’s life so far. It is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke, she is quite open to showing some of her worst/most cringe worthy and I love her all the more for it, in a non stalker kind of way.

9. Mateship With Birds – Carrie Tiffany

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I have just noticed that the cover of this book is very like my new wallpaper, anyway… On the outskirts of a town somewhere in Australia in the early 1950’s we join two neighbours. Harry owns a dairy farm and spends his days between milking his herd and watching the local wildlife, mainly a family of kookaburra’s, and looking over his past seemingly happy with and yet questioning his lot in life. Betty rents the house next door with her two children Michael and Little Hazel, often wondering what has become of her life and often wondering about Harry. We follow these two characters, Betty’s children, and their weird neighbour Mues over what I thought was a season – though it could be much longer or indeed shorter as Mateship with Birds has a sense of nothing and everything happening all at once, all in the grubby wilds of the countryside. I loved this, it has the earthy countryside wilds elements which I love, it has a deep sense of unease at times and is a book which just holds you from start to finish. It is hard to say more than that.

8. The Spare Room – Helen Garner

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When Helen says that her old friend Nicola to come and stay in her spare room she has a limited idea of what she is taking on. It is not simply a friend coming to stay for a short holiday; Nicola has terminal cancer and could possibly have come to stay with Helen to die. Helen becomes more than just Nicola’s friend she becomes her nurse, maid and the one who stand up to her no matter how unpopular that might prove. What follows is an emotionally gut wrenching and heartbreaking account of friendship at its most potent and at its most tested. Having been a carer once before I read this the honesty of the novel was both shocking yet also deeply consoling.

7. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

“Another sheep, mangled and bled our, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.” And so starts ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and so we find our heroine Jake as she takes in the sight before her, another of her sheep has been mutilated, killed by some ‘thing’. Yet what is the ‘thing’ that could be killing her flock one by one? Could it be the local kids who think she is some out of town witch? Could it be the neighbours’ crazy son? Could it be a monster, be it real, imagined or from Jake’s hidden past? Could it be linked to the sudden appearance of a new ‘incomer’ in the area? Evie Wyld keeps us guessing as the story goes back in time whilst also going forward, we glimpse moments in Jake’s past not from the point where something awful happened that she fled but slowly back to that moment, which is a treat to read whilst being both highly accomplished and very original. It is another of those wonderful books that keeps you guessing without you (quite) tearing your hair out.

6. Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas

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I am a huge fan of The Slap, I am a huge fan of Barracuda yet it is Christos’ earlier and slighter novel Loaded that I think has stayed with me the longest after I have read it and I think it is because of the voice. he narrator of ‘Loaded’ is quite a fascinating one. Nineteen year old Ari lives in the city of Melbourne in Australia, he is Greek, he has no job, he is gay but secretly, he loves nothing more than going on massive drink and drug fuelled binges preferably with lots of random anonymous sex along the way. In fact from the first page where the novel opens with Ari masturbating with a massive hangover you pretty much know the story that you are getting here, well you think you do at least, as we follow him for the next twenty four hours. As we read on between all the drug taking, drinking, etc there is a lot that this book is looking at and saying. One of the main senses you get is a sense of needing to belong, to be a part of something and yet rejecting that very thing at the same time. The other is just what it means to be an Australian man.

5. Under The Skin – Michel Faber

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There is no link to this book because as I have discovered several times now Michel Faber is an author who I simply cannot write reviews of the books of. I can devour the books happily, I can sit and interview him fine and dandy yet when I come to write a review of his work it’s like a block. In Under the Skin Isserley, an unusual-looking woman with strangely scarred skin, drives through the Scottish Highlands both day and night, looking for just the right male hitchhikers. She picks them up, makes enough small talk to determine she’s made a safe choice, then hits a toggle switch on her car, releasing a drug that knocks her victims out. But why? Well you will have to read the book to find out and it is so worth doing.

4. The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

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I only read this last year however I know it is a book that will stay with me for quite some time as it has a force of nature about it. When Verla and Yolanda find themselves waking up in a strange unknown room, both strangers to each other, dressed in old fashioned uniforms their first instinct is that they are dreaming, then when the realise they are not they panic. Well, as much as anyone can panic when they are groggy from clearly having been drugged. Soon they are taken to another room, where they initially think they will be raped or killed, to have their heads shaved and join a further eight women, all dressed the same and shaven, who too have become captives to a pair of men. Why and for what they do not know, yet. We follow them as the shocking truth is revealed and these two women’s lives are changed forever. A dystopian thriller, a feminist text and a love story to nature.

3. On The Beach – Nevil Shute

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In an alternative 1963, bear in mind this book was originally published in 1957, a nuclear war has left nothing much of the northern hemisphere and the radiation fall out is heading south to Australia where ‘On The Beach’ is set and where the last of earths survivors are living in a mixture of denial and hope. To say all this is not to spoil the story as its pretty much spelt out to you in the first 40 pages (and of course in the blurb), in fact really you could say this story is the tale of the end of humanity, unless of course there is some major miracle – which of course I wont tell you if there is or not as you need to read this book if you haven’t. It is one of the most emotionally draining, terrifying and yet life affirming novels I have read set at the potential end of the world.

2. The Secret River – Kate Grenville

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One of Australian’s contemporary classics, which also caused much controversy when it came out, is The Secret River which initially looks like a tale about one of the first convicts to Australia trying to make a life for themselves, yet soon reveals itself to be superbly brutal and shocking novel about racism and a rather dark time in Australia’s history. As men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold. I don’t want to say anymore than that for fear of ruining the impact this book will have on you if you are yet to read it.

1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

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This book left me speechless and almost unable to review it because of how moving and brilliant it is. Alwyn ‘Dorrigo’ Evans, based somewhat on Flanagan’s own father, is one of the survivors of the Death Railway in Burma where he was a prisoner of war. We follow his life before, during and after it and look at the man before and the man forever changed afterwards. The Narrow Road to the Dark North is a book that you experience, one of those books which makes you feel every paragraph emotionally and in your very core. Not only did it introduce me to a period in history, and indeed a place, that I knew almost nothing about; it also made me want to be kinder than I am, note how lucky I am, tell my loved ones I love them more often than I do and reminded me that not a second of life should be wasted because you never know what may come around the next corner. It is a book about war, peace, love, hate, death and life. Yes, it really is one of those life changing and life affirming books, an incredibly written modern masterpiece. I think it is one of my books of all time.

There is my list. Going of and trying to scout if I had missed any authors (and yes I know some of my list are anglo-Australian) I found a whole selection of authors I must read; Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Shirley Hazzard, Gail Jones, David Malouf, Christina Stead, Patrick White, etc. I must also read some more of the authors above and more form authors such as Tim Winton. Oh and get to some more of the classics too. I really want to read Picnic at Hanging Rock quite badly. Anyway, I would love to know which books you have read on the list and also which are your favourite books by Australian authors, I am always ready for more recommendations. Happy Australia Day everyone, though if you are in Australia it is probably the day after – oops. Now over to you…

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Hear Read This is Back… And We Would Love You To Get Involved!

I hope all your turkey and trifle are settling down. I have to say I feel ridiculously full after two Christmas dinners and I have another coming on Wednesday with my mother. I may explode. Anyway, I thought I would pop a quick post up between reviews and my forthcoming best of 2015 lists to tell you the exciting news that the podcast Hear Read This is coming back very soon. First with an A Little Life special and then a new series in 2016. Hoorah.

Now if you are wondering what on earth I am talking about, firstly shame on you though you now had a backlog of podcast listening, let me explain. Many of you will know I host The Readers with Thomas, and before with Gavin, where we talk all sorts of book based banter every fortnight. Interspersed with that I also make the podcast You Wrote The Book where I interview an author (the latest one is with Michel Faber which the recording of was one of my highlights of the year, one of my fav authors – whose books I do not seem able to review – who was wonderful to spend time with) and chat about their books and the like for 25 minutes or so. On top of that once a month I have been known to join Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words along with Gavin to record Hear Read This; a podcast where four hosts discuss two books over one episode… well we used to.

We have had a break but have decided, after recording a very fun (for us anyway) Christmas special of Adventures with Words that we will be back in January with a bit of a twist for the return. Firstly we will only talk about one book a month; warts, spoilers and all. We shall still sing a books praise (A Month in the Country) or slate it from the roof tops (The Martian) or bicker and differ if the case demands it we will just go into it all in more detail. The other change is that each month we will each suggest a book and you get to vote for which one we read. Here are this months choices…

Which could possibly be my choice?

So which is it to be? Will it be some good old gothic with ghosts, apocalypses and more in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial? A thrilling, dangerous and illicit love affair in Patricia Highsmith’s cult classic Carol? A collection of mythical beasts from all over the world in Gods, Memes and Monsters? Or will it be a world in where the Nazi’s won the war as envisioned by Philip K Dick with The Man in the Castle? You can choose by voting on the Hear Read This post here. And I would love, love, love you to vote – though I can’t tell you which one is my choice, though some of you may guess.

You have until the special A Little Life episode of Hear Read This with Rob and myself, where we come at the book from almost polar opposite opinions, which will go live soon. The winning title, along with how else you can be involved, will be announced on New Years Day, so you (and Rob, Kate, Gavin and I) can get spending your book vouchers asap and get reading! So which book is it to be?

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Running A Literary Festival

Tomorrow night Gladfest 2015 will start at Gladstone’s Library. We all love a book festival don’t we? In fact many of us probably dream of running our own, even if it was just in our back garden with our favourite authors having a chat on the decking, but what is it really like to organise one? Gladfest 2015’s Festival Director, Louisa Yates, kindly took some time out of her hectic schedule to tell me all about the running of Gladfest and why hosting a festival means so much to her and all at Gladstone’s.

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So in case anyone missed me talking about the festival a while back, which I am really excited about, tell us all a bit about Gladstone’s Library and Gladfest?

Gladstone’s Library is a pretty unusual place – it’s a library, yes, but it’s actually much more than that. It was the vision of the Victorian Liberal statesman, WE Gladstone who decided that rather than bequeath his lifetime collection of books to the Bodleian Library or the National Library, he’d set up his own. With books at one end and the later addition of 26 bedrooms at the other (now, boutique style, I am pleased to report), it’s a residential library. It’s also the UK’s only Prime Ministerial library attracting writers, authors, academics, students and visitors from around the world.

 This weekend we’re hosting our third literary festival, Gladfest, and we have some great writers and authors including Jessie Burton, Michel Faber, Alice Oseman, Patrick Gale and Robyn Cadwallader. For 2015 we also have a much more extensive programme of activities for children and young people thanks to funding from Arts Council Wales.

With just a matter of days/hours to go before it all starts, what are you doing right now?

All the actual planning and organising starts around about December time and really kicks off at the beginning of the year when we are compiling the programme and signing up writers. I’d love to think that when we invite people to speak at Gladfest, it has something to do with my sparkling personality but I have to admit, that’s probably not it at all. The library is a truly special place.

We’re now at the ‘putting up the marquee’ stage and ‘getting the craft fair stands sorted’ stage and the ‘nailing fence posts in’ stage. It’s all hands to the pump and we call in favours from far and wide – friends, family and colleagues. This weekend, you’ll find me helping supervising the parking, handing out tickets and introducing the guest speakers –it’s full on but I love it.

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Literary festivals are becoming increasingly popular, where did the idea for Gladfest come from and what’s different about it?

We first mooted the idea of a festival back in 2012. We wanted to stage a series of lecturers but could not find consecutive dates in the diary, so just 17 weeks later we staged our first Gladfest. We’ve tried to hang on to some of that impetuous spirit to make sure Gladfest is a friendly place to be. For us, it’s about the writers and the books and the audience. There’s no Green Room, there’s no VIP area, everyone mucks in together so if you happen to be with us this weekend, don’t be surprised if you are queuing up for lunch with Jessie Burton or Michel Faber.

I’d like to think that Gladfest is the literary festival writers would choose and that’s partly because we’ve been able to draw on a community of people that has been evolving for many years – our regular visitors and patrons include people like Salley Vickers, Terry Waite, Rowan Williams and Tony Benn. I think it’s also because we understand the practical flip side of being a writer. Earlier this year, statistics showed that the average annual income of a writer was about £5,000 and among the literary community, there’s been a lot of discussion about why so many authors and writers don’t get paid when it comes to taking part in cultural festivals. Why? Good question. There’s often an underlying assumption that art does not need to be paid for, and actually many literary festivals are more about ‘location marketing’ to attract visitors to a town or region than celebrating books and ideas. At Gladfest, we provide guest speakers with a package that covers travel, food and accommodation – effectively, everything they will need apart from booze! It means that although we have sold more tickets than ever before this year, we will only break even; at the end of the day we are hosting a community of writers and thinkers, helping bring their work to a wider audience.

Have you already got plans for Gladfest 2016?

 Actually we have! We’re in talks with some very exciting speakers so once Gladfest 2015 is wrapped up, we’ll give ourselves a well earned break during October and November and then get cracking again.

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 A huge thanks to Louisa for taking the time out of her bonkers schedule this week. Gladfest takes place this weekend from the 4th to the 6th at Gladstone’s Library located Hawarden, North Wales. I am going to be there all day on Saturday seeing the likes of Sarah Perry, Jessie Burton, Melissa Harrison and Michel Faber, there are a load more wonderful authors over the weekend so do head to https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org  for more information

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Get Your Glad Rags On For Gladfest 2015

I mentioned the other day how much I love literature when it is live and how I am a big fan of events in bookshops, hotels and of course festivals. Over the autumn I am going to be attending a few literature festivals and the first one, and indeed the only one I can talk about for now, is Gladfest which happens on the borders of North Wales and Cheshire and is just down the road from me, taking place in the most gorgeous venue with a brilliant line up of authors and events.

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If you love books (which of course you are, that is why you’ve popped by) then if you have yet to get to Gladstone’s Library, which you can see above, then you really should. It is the UK’s only Prime Ministerial Library after it was former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone founded the library in 1894 and donated 32,000 books from his own personal library at Hawarden Castle. Today, the library has a world-renowned collection of more than 250,000 items specialising in theology, history, culture, politics and literature attracting writers, academics, clergy and students from all over the world. The library is seriously stunning…

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If that wasn’t enough, and frankly getting a sneaky wander around the library should be, the line up of authors is brilliant. Gladfest 2015 will be playing host to Patrick Barkham, Matthew Bradley, Jessie Burton, Robyn Cadwallader, Sarah Dunant, Richard Beard, Judy Brown, Sarah Butler, Zia Chaudhry, Martin Edwards, Michel Faber, Simon Grennan, Lesley McDowell, Michael Nobbs, Sarah Perry, Patrick Gale, Melissa Harrison, Peter Moore, Alice Oseman. I have my sites on seeing many of these authors when I head there for the day on the Saturday.

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Oh and did I mention that is also a residential library with 26 bedrooms, dining room/coffee shop, Common Room, conference facilities, chapel and gardens. So if you need somewhere to kip there might be rooms but if you are a budding writer and need a retreat then head here and follow in the steps of authors like Sarah Waters, Sarah Dunant, Salley Vickers, Loyd Grossman, Tony Benn as well as many of the authors who will be in attendance.

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Oh and if you are a writer you might like to check out some of the talks and workshops on subject froms how to review your own work to how to be creative, and even how to inject fear and loathing into your writing!

Gladstone Room 2

There are more than 20 talks and workshops taking place across the three day literary festival as well as music, singing, crafts and of course, delicious home-cooked food at the Food for Thought Café and the library’s famous, Gladstone Cookies. Gladfest will host a full programme of activities for young people including the ‘So You Want to be an… Actor, Director & Scriptwriter’ events as well as storytelling and discussions on Shakespeare and Roald Dahl.

Basically there will be blinking loads on! I won’t be staying there the whole weekend (but I have it in my sites on it for a future reading retreat one weekend) however I will be there on the Saturday to see Melissa Harrison, Michel Faber, Peter Moore, Sarah Perry and Jessie Burton. I am gutted to be missing Patrick Gale on the Sunday and the murder mystery dinner on the Friday but thems the breaks.

William Gladstone 2

The festival runs from the 4th to the 6th of September, I went last year and loved it, despite being terribly jetlagged. Tickets cost £6 for the talks and £10 for the workshops. To book, call 01244 532350 or email enquiries@gladlib.org or visit https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org For more information, times and how to book then do get your mitts on the festival programme here. Hopefully I will see some of you there that weekend – oh and of course I will be reporting on it, and podcasting from it, over the coming months!

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Novel Insights on Savidge Reads #2: Reading Apathy Strikes

A few months ago I was a little bit gutted when the lovely Polly of Novel Insights decided that she wanted to give up blogging, especially seeing as I nagged and nagged and nagged for her to start one in the first place – can you tell I am not quite over it yet? Anyway I felt the blogosphere would miss Polly’s ‘novel insights’ into the books she has been reading and so I have bribed her (the things I know after twenty seven years being friends) to come and do a monthly post on Savidge Reads of the books she has been reading and rather enjoying. Well Polly has been a bit rubbish and not bothered for a few months (excuses about weddings, new jobs, looking for a house, training for some charity thing, etc, etc) but now, bloody finally, she has come crawling back to share some of her bookish thoughts over the last *cough* three months.

img_5742-fixedWell as I start typing this post I am wondering whether Mr Savidge has decided to disown me or whatever the blogging equivalent is! So if you are reading this then I have hopefully been forgiven for being tardy in the extreme with my second guest post on Savidge Reads. (She thinks she has been forgiven, dear readers, she forgets I am in charge of her hen weekend!)

Being completely honest, I am not sure that ‘Novel Insights’ is an appropriate pseudonym for me at the moment. I am definitely experiencing a kind of reading apathy. The symptoms for a book lover like myself are worrying, but the cause is clear. At the moment I am planning a wedding, in the process of finding a home to buy and six months into a rewarding but demanding job. Oh, and silly me signed up to do a 12 mile gruelling obstacle course called Tough Mudder, which took place this weekend just passed (involving lots of running, mud ice etc), so I have been training for that too.

All of these things are both exciting and major life events and I’m not sure how I am going to return to a normal speed of activity once this year is over. I am extremely grateful for my good fortune but none of this leaves much time for reading. I did go to a very enjoyable Penguin Bloggers event with Simon a few weeks ago and the wonderful Foyles and I enjoyed listening to the author’s readings, but have to admit that my mind was still in several different places and it wasn’t an immersive experience for me. I did take away copies of those that sounded promising though so perhaps over the next few weeks/months I will flick through those and see if there is anything I fancy.

Having said all of this, I have read a small handful of really excellent books. Anyone who is in Riverside Readers with me will recognise that three out of five of them are book group choices! I have mixed feelings about this as I’m sure most book group members do at some point, because when you are not reading as much as you would like, it can feel as if you are only reading books selected by others. On the other hand, without it perhaps I would have read much less and two of my favourites of this year are book group choices…

‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey swept me away to Alaska, with a mix of magic, human struggle and the feeling of a raw frontier experience that reminded me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels that I used to read as a kid. My Uncle and Auntie sent me The Little House in the Big Woods and then each subsequent book (some may remember The Little House on the Prairie TV show that was based on the most famous in the series). It is a beautifully conceived novel, with a moving plot line and charming characters and I would recommend it to anyone to read.

‘Under the Skin’ by Michael Faber (who also wrote The Crimson Petal and the White), is probably the most original and surprising novel that I have ever read. I dare not say anything more about it for fear of ruining the reading experience for others, except to say that it is a fascinating piece of literature. It is also apparently being made into a film with Scarlett Johanssen, which I am a little dubious about.

I chose the infamous ‘The Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel to read, when I went out to meet my photographer fiancé who was travelling in India and Philippines. I spent a wonderful week with him on a little Philippine island called Boracay and dipped into this book now and then. I bought The Life of Pi partly because I was looking for reading inspiration and saw it was 20p (Simon tuts VERY loudly in the background) and also because I always thought that I should get around to reading it. I became quite involved in the story and genuinely wanted to find out what would happen to the hero but I found his narrative voice to be quite superior sounding which irritated me at times. Overall, it was an excellent read and was left pondering at the end, which I liked.

  

I raced through Val McDermid’s ‘Wire in the Blood’. I am proud owner of a signed copy, which I procured at an event that Savidge Reads hosted in Manchester Waterstones. I thought the plot line was totally ace and the villain, a monster almost on a par with Hannibal Lecter.

The last book that I finished was ‘The Twin’, by Gerbrand Bakker, also chosen by Armen for our book group. I won’t talk about it as we haven’t discussed it yet, and somehow I don’t think that’s the done thing! It was the kind of book that puts one in a sombre, contemplative sort of mood. I can’t wait to discuss it.

 

So, I suppose it hasn’t exactly been a complete reading drought, but when I went to my shelves the last time to choose my next book, I didn’t feel exactly enthusiastic. Perhaps this is because I still have a stack of books from when I was blogging or perhaps it’s because I keep thinking I should read my piled-high work emails on my commute instead of taking a more vicarious pleasure in reading a novel.

One thing that I will say is that it has been therapeutic writing all of this down, and perhaps one of you kind people might suggest a book that might deliver the reading rush that I am looking for?

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Savidge Reads Grills… Jane Harris

The wonder of the internet means that you can do an interview anywhere in the world. So today we are whizzing up through the countryside with Jane Harris, author of ‘The Observations’ and ‘Gillespie and I’ which has become my latest favourite book, with Glasgow as the destination. Whilst sipping on cups of tea, from a flask of course not that train dishwater, and maybe munching on a cupcake or two. Discussing ‘Victorian sensation novels’, second book syndrome, reading, writing and books. So grab yourself a cup of tea too and join us for a natter…

Can you explain the story of ‘Gillespie & I’ in a single sentence?

Thinking of a single sentence to describe this book is quite difficult. I’m tempted to take the Hollywood route and say that it’s “Jaws” meets “The Turn of the Screw” – but with a heart. (Simon can confirm that without their being any sharks or boats he actually knows what Jane means here.)

How did the story come about? Was there anything in particular that inspired you with this novel?

When I was thinking about what to write after ‘The Observations’ I went back to the box in the attic where I’d kept a number of unfinished ideas for short stories (which is where I discovered the beginnings of ‘The Observations’). On one scrap of paper, I found something I’d scribbled years ago: “Artist, 19th century, Glasgow.” This appealed to me – although I’d wanted, after my first novel, to write something contemporary and short. But this historical idea was the one that grabbed me so. . . I went with it. Initially, I had thought of writing something quite feminist, perhaps featuring one of the Glasgow Girls (a group of Scottish female artists of the time) and her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist, but once I began doing my research the story changed direction. It was particularly when I read about a particular court case that the beginnings of a psychological thriller plot began to form in my mind.

It’s a book that you don’t want to give too much away with, so that makes reviewing it and questioning you rather difficult. I think it’s safe to say that the narrator Harriet Baxter is quite a complex lead figure, how did you create her?

You’re right, she is complex and also flawed (as are most, if not all, of my characters). I like flawed characters. I had a lot of fun with Bessy, the narrator of ‘The Observations’, but I knew that in my second novel I wanted a new challenge and so I picked a character who was quite different from Bessy. Instead of an almost illiterate (though clever) Irish girl who is quite garrulous and uncontrolled in some ways, and who doesn’t know the first thing about punctuation, I came up with Harriet who, as narrator, is a highly-educated, very controlled Englishwoman, who is completely anal and who over-punctuates and uses long sentences. I had in mind one or two old ladies of my acquaintance, apparently charming, girlish-voiced old dears, whose polite manners and polish conceal a viper-like wit.

As ‘Gillespie & I’ goes on there are lots and lots of twists and turns, which of course we don’t want to spoil. Yet when reading it there are the subtlest of hints which cause the reader to become engrossed and also rather uneasy, was that a difficult situation to create? How do you know when you are sewing the right, or indeed wrong red herring, seeds of doubt in a readers mind as you write the book?

I was learning all about that sort of technique as I wrote this book and I’m still not quite sure what the answer is. I think partly it’s down to instinct. Of course, I plan everything beforehand, the major twists and turns, but I tended to seed the red herrings and clues as I went along, and kept checking that I wasn’t overdoing it by reading everything aloud. It’s only when the manuscript is finished that you can really tell whether you’ve over or under-done it. I also had a lot of help in this respect from my editor and a handful of trusted readers. As it turned out, in the initial draft, I had been too subtle, so it was a question of going back and making a few things a bit clearer.

I think it’s fair to say that both ‘Gillespie & I’ and your debut novel ‘The Observations’ are quite gothic and have the Victorian ‘sensational’ feel about them, were books by the likes of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon books that you have always loved or is this just the sort of books you naturally write?

I’m an indiscriminate reader in that I will read almost anything that is set in front of me. As a child, I would read cereal packets if there was nothing else to hand. So I devoured all kinds of books: contemporary, pre-20th century, all the novels my parents left lying around, and everything I could carry home from the library. To be honest, I think it’s an accident that I’m writing this kind of novel. When I started writing, I was coming up with contemporary short stories about my boyfriends and family. It was only in desperation (after almost giving up writing) that I decided to try and write a novel set in the 19th Century, based on an unfinished, lengthy short story which seemed to hold some promise. Luckily for me, that book caught the attention of a publisher. However, having said that, as a child I loved 19th Century novels like Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Water Babies etc, and as an adult I still love Henry James, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Wilkie Collins. However, I do wonder if I’ll return to writing about the contemporary. One strand of ‘Gillespie and I’ is set in the early 1930s, which pleases me, because at least I have a toehold in the 20th century.

After the success of ‘The Observations’ did you ever worry about that ‘second book syndrome’ or feel any additional pressure about ‘Gillespie & I’? Was this why there was such a gap between the two?

The only thing that worried me about ‘second book syndrome’ was the fact that, even before I had begun book two, I knew for certain I’d be asked this question by journalists and bloggers and it would be an effort not to betray my irritation. Ha ha! (but true).

Here’s the long answer. I don’t think I felt any additional pressure for the second book. I think writing books is hard enough anyway. The first one was hard. The second one was hard. They’ll all be hard, in different ways. My first novel took me 12 or 13 years -four years in total of writing with about nine years of just lying in a box (that’s the novel, not me), so I’ve done the second book in less than half the time. The gap between the two was four years (The Observations was published in 2006 in the UK, and I submitted ‘Gillespie and I’ at the end of 2010). Both these novels are 500 pages long: that’s twice as long as the average novel, so it follows that it should take twice as long to write them. Four years divided by two is two years. The received wisdom is that a writer should be turning out a book every two years. If you look simply at page count, I’ve done that. Besides, I could have produced a book within two years, but it would have been a much worse book. In my opinion, the book is everything; some arbitrary deadline is nothing. Better to have a book that I’m proud of – a book that gets reviews like the one you gave ‘Gillespie and I’ yesterday (for which MANY thanks) – than a book which is undercooked or less ambitious.

Both of your novels seem perfect for adaptation, have there been any discussions of this, can we look forward to them on the screen?

‘The Observations’ was optioned for television but nothing has come of that so far and I believe the option may now have expired so it’s available again. I’d love to see an adaptation of ‘Gillespie and I’. I was particularly impressed by the recent TV adaptation of ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’. I had been dreading the series as it’s a favourite book of mine and I was worried they’d make a hash of it but I think they did a fine job. So, we’ll see what happens.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing for?

I always enjoyed writing compositions at school, but nobody in my family was a writer, I didn’t know any writers and it just didn’t seem like a career option. In my secondary school the careers guidance woman told me that hairdressing was a safe bet. I had to take my exam results to the assistant head and ask him if they were good enough to go to university, because nobody was pointing me in that direction. It turned out my results were good enough, and so I went to university and took English and Drama as my main subjects. I loved reading literature, but got rather sidetracked into theatre and drama (the English Department at Glasgow was so dry and old-fashioned in those days that it put me off reading for years). So it wasn’t until years later, when I was 29, that I began writing in earnest, and that only happened because I was stranded in a country where I didn’t speak the language, knew virtually nobody, and had no TV and hardly any books and no money, nothing to distract me, apart from a pen and some pieces of paper.

Which current contemporary authors do you really rate?

Anne Tyler. William Boyd. Jonathan Franzen. Sarah Waters. Michel Faber. Barbara Vine.

What is your favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ read?

Well, I do love leafing through my collection of back-copies of “Hustler”. Not really. Seriously though, I don’t think I have a guilty pleasure read. I love reading Victorian ‘true crime’ stories, such as the Madeleine Smith trial – perhaps that counts?

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

I begin work early, as soon as I wake up, which can be anything (under normal circumstances) from 6am onwards. I work all day, that is, I sit at my computer all day, although sometimes I’ll delete more words than I write. For the last novel, I tended to begin the day by editing what I’d done the previous day. I always read the work aloud as I write. Every few paragraphs, I’ll pause and read it back. Sometimes, I go outside and look at the garden for a breath of fresh air, but I hardly ever leave the house. I like things to be neat, so tend to tidy up the room if it’s looking too disorganised. I read a book during lunch or, if my husband is working at home, we eat together, chortling, while watching an episode of Seinfeld. Laughter is important. A chuckle at lunchtime and a chuckle to end the day (night-time chuckle is currently the fabulous “The Trip” with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon). I rarely work beyond 6pm, though I will sit at the computer fiddling about on Facebook and Twitter in between bouts of writing and at the end of the day. When writing a novel, I require satisfaction-guaranteed TV in the evening, in order to cleanse my brain, so am a fan of all the most wonderful shows like The Apprentice, Masterchef, Great British Menu and America’s Next Top Model. Having spent all day in the 19th Century, trying to juggle plot and characterisation and voice and sentences, I require something to take me into a different world entirely. Plus, I can’t really go out much while writing as I find it too distracting, with the result that I’m a bit of a happy hermit.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your book or is it something you avoid at all costs?

Book blogging seems to me to be increasingly important. I think that readers and book-lovers have found a real community online in sites such as yours, a place to share opinion and hear about what people whose opinions they respect are reading. I am as much of a book fan as anybody, so I do surf sites to track various books (but after I’ve read them – I hate knowing too much about a book or film before I experience it for myself). As for my own books, I can’t help but read reviews. I know that it’s possible not to (which is the route my husband takes, as a film-maker) so I do believe those people who say they don’t read reviews, but I, for one, can’t help it.

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?

Gosh, that’s a hard question as I’m not sure I have a single favourite book. I’m assuming that all Savidge Readers will have read Great Expectations, so I might have to plump for The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, which is still up there for me as a work of genius. (Simon is slightly embarrased to say he has not read Great Expectations, Dickens escapes him – oops!)

What is next for Jane Harris?

I’m reaching the end of writing some short stories, a bit of a break from writing novels, and about to turn my thoughts to a new book. Don’t want to say too much now as I believe you can talk a book away.

***

A big thank you goes out to Jane Harris for taking part in this. I was very excited and interestingly so was she, there is mutual appreciation in the air. You can visit Jane’s website here to find out more. Oh and if you fancy winning a copy of ‘Gillespie and I’ then simply scroll a little further down… after having left a nice comment here of course.

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