Tag Archives: Nell Leyshon

Fiction Uncovered 2013

One of the bookish initiatives that I love the most has to be Fiction Uncovered. In case you haven’t heard of it, as I know it is a UK initiative and not sure how much worldwide audience it gets, the aim of Fiction Uncovered is to really do what it says on the tin… It uncovers fiction that might have gone under the radar in the last year and undeservedly missed out on any awards or, more importantly I feel, word of mouth on the scale it deserves. Each year I get more and more excited about what the list might be as each year it has supplied me with some books I have really loved. Plus we all love a list of books we might not have heard about don’t we?

Guess what? The list has now been released and here are the eight novels that I think we should all be getting very excited and interested in at the moment. Like last year I will give you the bumph the book comes with and then my initial thoughts in order of authors surname so you don’t think I have favourites…

All The Beggers Riding – Lucy Caldwell

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. (Trad.) When Lara was twelve, and her younger brother Alfie eight, their father died in a helicopter crash. A prominent plastic surgeon, and Irishman, he had honed his skills on the bomb victims of the Troubles. But the family grew up used to him being absent: he only came to London for two weekends a month to work at the Harley Street Clinic, where he met their mother years before, and they only once went on a family holiday together, to Spain, where their mother cried and their father lost his temper and left early. Because home, for their father, wasn’t Earls Court: it was Belfast, where he led his other life…Narrated by Lara, nearing forty and nursing her dying mother, “All the Beggars Riding” is the heartbreaking portrait of a woman confronting her past.

Simon says: Not to start off on a negative slant but the blurb mentions horses in the first line, I don’t like horses or books with horses in… and this book is now making me think of horses. However as you read on the blurb actually sounds very interesting and here we have one of those things that I love… someone looking back on their life and possibly a domestic drama with the added subjects of ‘the troubles’ and possibly some secrets, or am I reading too much into ‘where he led his other life’. The fact the narrator is looking after someone who is dying, bearing in mind my current situation with Gran, might be tough but it could also be therapeutic. Sorry I have gone on…

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher – Anthony Cartwright

Why Sean Bull sets out one day to assassinate Margaret Thatcher…’Judas Iscariot’s here, look. Here comes Judas Iscariot…’ Nine-year old Sean has never seen anything like what happens on the day Margaret Thatcher takes power and his grandad discovers his uncle voted for her. So begins the start of a family secret and the end of Sean’s idyllic childhood in the industrial Midlands – until, one day, deciding that someone’s got to stop the train of destruction, he sets out for revenge. A heartbreaking and timely story of a moment of national crisis as felt by one family, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher delivers a devastating English twist on the dictator novel.

Simon says: Have people been expecting Maggie to die imminently for a while? First Damian Barr and now Anthony Cartwright, though technically it is the other way around though we haven’t heard so much about this book. As one of ‘Thatchers Children’ (which to me means I wouldn’t have voted for her, but couldn’t have anyway yet I cannot deny her leadership affected my childhood completely) I do find hearing about people of around the same generation as me and how it affected them, so I want to read this one soon.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

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.

Simon says: I am slightly kicking myself as this has been in my bureau, printed off especially as I wouldn’t read the e-book which is how this came out initially, for quite a while. I am definitely going to read it, well I was anyway, all the sooner now though. I think it sounds fascinating… Sorry I haven’t read it sooner Niven – though that might be because I was promised it would come with a Caramac chocolate and it didn’t!

The Village – Nikita Lalwani

“The Village” by Nikita Lalwani is a disturbing and utterly gripping modern morality tale set in contemporary India. On a winter morning Ray Bhullar arrives at the gates of an Indian village. She is here to make a film. But this will be no ordinary tale about India – for this is no ordinary village. It is an open prison, inhabited by murderers. An apparent innocent among the guilty, Ray tries hard to be accepted. But the longer she and the rest of the crew stay, the more the need for drama increases. Soon the fragile peace of the village will be shattered and, despite Ray’s seemingly good intentions, the motives of the visitors and the lives of the inhabitants will be terrifyingly, brutally exposed.

Simon says: I feel like I might have heard small rumblings about this book, now having read the blurb I cannot believe I haven’t read this book as it sounds soooooo up my street. Firstly as i have been meaning to read a book set in India for a while, secondly because ‘an open prison, inhabited by murderers’ sounds genius in terms of fictional potential tension, atmosphere and danger.

 The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

“The Colour of Milk” is the new novel by Orange longlisted author and playwright Nell Leyshon. ‘This is my book and i am writing it by my own hand’. The year is eighteen hundred and thirty one when fifteen-year-old Mary begins the difficult task of telling her story. A scrap of a thing with a sharp tongue and hair the colour of milk, Mary leads a harsh life working on her father’s farm alongside her three sisters. In the summer she is sent to work for the local vicar’s invalid wife, where the reasons why she must record the truth of what happens to her – and the need to record it so urgently – are gradually revealed.

Simon says: Every year there is one book I have already read which I have loved, and may partly be while I therefore feel tuned in with FU, I absolutely adored this book when I read it last year. Thrilled.

The Heart Broke In – James Meek

Would you betray your lover to give them what they wanted? Bec Shepherd is a malaria researcher struggling to lead a good life. Ritchie, her reprobate brother, is a rock star turned TV producer. When Bec refuses an offer of marriage from a powerful newspaper editor and Ritchie’s indiscretions catch up with him, brother and sister are forced to choose between loyalty and betrayal. The Heart Broke In is an old-fashioned story of modern times, a rich, ambitious family drama of love, death and money in the era of gene therapy and internet blackmail.

Simon says: Now I had an unsolicited copy of this last year (kicking myself again) and Ritchie as a character, from the blurb, put me off so much with the rock star to TV producer story line (the idea bored me and I felt I had seen it before) that I gave it to a relative, who I don’t think has read it yet but I can’t go and steal it back off. It is the only one I feel a bit unsure about… at the moment, maybe I need to be more open minded?

Orkney – Amy Sackville

On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?

Simon says: I definitely heard a lot about this book last year, lots and lots, which is probably what put me off it. Apparently it is a book about books and writing though so again maybe I cut my nose off to spite my face with this one too around the time it came out. Not that I had a copy, I just mean when all these people were raving on book shows I sort of switched off – oops.

Secrecy – Rupert Thomson

It is Florence, 1691. The Renaissance is long gone, and the city is a dark, repressive place, where everything is forbidden and anything is possible. The Enlightenment may be just around the corner, but knowledge is still the property of the few, and they guard it fiercely. Art, sex and power – these, as always, are the obsessions. Facing serious criminal charges, Gaetano Zummo is forced to flee his native Siracusa at the age of twenty, first to Palermo, then Naples, but always has the feeling that he is being pursued by his past, and that he will never be free of it. Zummo works an artist in wax. He is fascinated by the plague, and makes small wooden cabinets in which he places graphic, tortured models of the dead and dying. But Cosimo III, Tuscany’s penultimate Medici ruler, gives Zummo his most challenging commission yet, and as he tackles it his path entwines with that of the apothecary’s daughter Faustina, whose secret is even more explosive than his. Poignant but paranoid, sensual yet chilling, Secrecy is a novel that buzzes with intrigue and ideas. It is a love story, a murder mystery, a portrait of a famous city in an age of austerity, an exercise in concealment and revelation, but above all it is a trapdoor narrative, one story dropping unexpectedly into another, the ground always slippery, uncertain…

Simon says: Ok, this one really excites me and weirdly enough I was looking at this when I was wandering round an empty library only yesterday, and please don’t tell my new work, I don’t have membership at that library… not that you could take them out anyway. I definitely want to read this one.

What are my thoughts on the list overall? Well, thank you for asking! I am overall excited by it. I had that initial moment of ‘well, I have hardly heard of any of these’ – which is the point silly Simon – before realising that maybe I had heard of one or two. It is a diverse list which I like and with Nell Leyshon as a choice I feel already I will bloody love the others as much as I did that. We will see. I will say I was surprised by how many of the authors have won awards either with the book on the list (Govinden, Meek) and how many of the authors have been listed and indeed won awards before with other works (Lalwani, Sackville) and how many are still eligible for some of this year’s prizes ahead (Sackville again, Thomson) but maybe they haven’t been submitted, or maybe that isn’t the point. Safe to say I want to get my mitts on all of them of course.

So, I hear you ask, what happens next? Well in a nutshell nothing but all of us going off and reading a few/all of them really. One of the things that I find the most charming about it, which might sound odd from someone who has set up a book prize, is that from the list of the eight titles the judges (including the lovely Dovegreyreader) decide upon there is never a singular winner, they are all deemed winners. (That said I do think that is what any good book prize’s short and long lists should be about frankly, just saying!) Which I think makes Fiction Uncovered all the more lovely and sets it out from other prizes etc. Can you tell I am a big fan?

Now, over to you… What do you think of the initiative and the list of eight Fiction Uncovered titles this year? Which of them have you read and what did you think? Which ones have made you desperate to give them a read and uncover a fabulous story or two in the future?

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist?

So tomorrow is the announcement of the first, yet technically eighteenth, Women’s Prize for Literature. As has become the routine in the last few years, I do love to have a go at guessing what books might be on it. This isn’t based on what people ‘in the trade’ might be thinking or any of that gubbins, though I love all the speculation, it is simply based on books I have loved, am desperate to read or simply think might be on the list, though I am sure I will be proven delightfully wrong once again this year and a million miles off in my guesses.

The first four of my guesses are some of my favourite books of 2012, well, those that fall into the submission guidelines, they are…

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Next up some books that I have read, or in the case of the Atkinson am reading, and am yet to review but have thoroughly enjoyed…

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
Past the Shallows – Favel Parrett
May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Holmes

Next up another four more books that are on the bedside table at the moment…

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Tell The Wolves I Am Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Origins of Love – Kishwar Desai

Three more books that I am keen to read very soon and also one which I have been mulling over reading or not because of the Jesus factor, if it gets long listed will definitely read it…

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland
Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussmann
Above All Things – Tanis Rideout
The Liar’s Gospel – Naomi Alderman

Finally a mix of four books that would cause some talking points if they were listed (well one would for me particularly)…

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I am pretty much sure that Hilary Mantel is going to be on the list and, unlike the general consensus I have heard of late, I have no grumbles about that at all. It has been really annoying me that people are now laying into her, everyone was really celebratory of her Booker double, after winning the Costa Prize too. Surely great books of the year should be able to win as many book prizes as they are eligible for, no? I can’t be doing with all the gripers, yes I know too much talk can put you off a book but don’t be mean about it. Rant over.

As for the other three, well I don’t think many people are predicting that J.K. Rowling will be on the list yet I would be quite chuffed if she was – it would get people talking, the book deals with current themes and it might get me to finally read it which I have been saying I will for ages. If ‘Bitter Greens’ gets on the longlist I will be talking about it to everyone because it is the retelling of Rapunzel and we all know that is my favourite fairytale and I named my duck after her when I was four. I have just had this in the post and have been sooooooooo excited, I am saving it for some long journeys I have coming up. Finally, the Flynn, why not? It has been a huge seller, everyone has been talking about it and the twists and turns and characters, even if you love to loathe them, are great. Though of course it is a crime novel and so may be written off for that, it could be a dark horse though.

I know I have missed out some of the big hitters like Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Aminatta Forna, Nicola Barker and Rose Tremain (who I now desperately want to read the works of as though Gran and my mother love her I haven’t but The Beard’s mother yesterday was raving about her and we seem to be on an authorish wavelength) but I wanted to have a different and varied list overall. I wouldn’t be upset if any of them were on it. I also debated ‘The Friday Gospels’ by Jenn Ashworth, yet didn’t think there would be two books with ‘gospel’ in the title, why I don’t know and ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney. I mulled over some other debuts like  ‘The Innocents’ by Francesca Segal and I couldn’t work out if Katherine Boo was eligible, though I really want to read it but then decided I just couldn’t second guess it could I?

Yet that is part of the fun isn’t it, the fact that no one could guess the longlist because there are so many eligible books that have come out in the last twelve months and we have no idea how many books have been put forward. Plus how dull would it be if we could guess? One of the things that is great about the longlist is finding a whole new selection of books and authors you have never heard of before and want to go and find out more about. I am getting even more excited about the prize now.

I will report back when the list is announced at some point tomorrow, I am hoping really early. In the meantime which books do you think might just make the longlist, which ones would you be particularly thrilled to see?

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Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part Two…

As I mentioned on Saturday I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – today I am listing my favourite books published for the first time in the UK in 2012. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

I think ‘The Lifeboat’ is one of the most brilliant fictional takes on ‘mental warfare’ and how people change under certain circumstances that I have come across in a very long time, especially from a modern writer. Dare I say there was something rather Daphne Du Maurier-like about the darkness that develops? What I won’t say is anything about the other characters (apart from the fact I was scared of Mrs Grant) because I don’t want to give anything away, but Rogan creates a fascinating psychological game with them all, and with Grace herself Rogan pulls the trump card.

9. The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page. This is a highly, highly recommended read.

8. The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The book is a story of a girl who leaves an unhappy home, yet we figure that out as we read on because really Mary is quite happy with her life on the whole thank you very much. The fact the story is reminiscent of a Victorian classic also works in the books favour because it feels comfortable and yet different, does that make sense? I have to admit that i did hazard a guess at ending that seems to have shocked other people I know who have read it, which I will not spoil or even hint at, not that it stopped me loving the book because I was being taken along by Mary who I could have read for another few hundred pages or more.

7. Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce

If you are thinking of dipping your reading toes/eyes into fantasy from literary fiction or vice versa, or more importantly if you just want a really good story, then you need to read ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’. I am really pleased that I ended up choosing this for one of The Readers Book Groups on a whim because I can promise you that I am going to read everything that he has written so far after reading this. I really like his prose and in a way he is doing with literary fiction and fantasy what I think Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill have done with their crime novels, merging them so they become one genre, a genre I call ‘bloody good books’.

6. The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe

There are some books out there that you need at a certain time in your life. They can be therapeutic and upsetting but show you just how important a book can be as an object that emotionally resonates with you. These books may be recommended when you are going through something or they may be found through researching yourself. That said they are not self help books, just books which chime in with you at that moment. Will Schwalbe’s ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is one such book, a book that seemed to mirror my life in many ways it was both a comfort and occasionally uncomfortable, overall though just amazing.

5. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.

4. The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

I thought that ‘The Age of Miracles’ was a truly marvellous novel, definitely one of the highlights of the year so far for me. Naturally because I loved it so much I am finding it very difficult to do the book justice as I feel I missed so much out. I was so lost in the book that I felt the people’s dread and I felt like I was with Julia along the way; I got very upset several times, and as the book went on worried all the more. I was hooked. It seems almost patronising to say ‘I was also really shocked this was a debut novel’ yet if I am honest I was. Karen Thompson Walkers prose is wonderful in the fact it captures the changing atmosphere of the people and the planet, and I should mention here the brilliant way she creates a divided society with people who keep ‘clock time’ and people who decide to live with the earth’s new unnaturally timed days, and also ever so slowly and skilfully builds up the tensions in relationships, fear and terror as the earth slows down and the book leads to its conclusion.

3. Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last.

2. Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

‘Diving Belles’ is a collection of stories that it would be easy to describe as fairytales for adults, that very statement may of course put people off, and while it is a book that finds the myths and legends of the Cornish coast seeping into every page of it there is so much more to it than that. Of course writing about a whole collection is always difficult (made doubly so when you loved every single one in the book) as you could end up giving too much away on each story or end up writing something as long as the collection itself.

1.  My Policeman – Bethan Roberts

I adored ‘My Policeman’, despite the fact it made me cry on a few occasions. I found it incredibly difficult to break away from it for any period of time yet I also found that as the book went on I was trying not to read it too fast, in part from the sense of impending doom and also because I didn’t really want it to end. I felt I was there, a bystander watching it all, feeling for Marion then Patrick and vice versa. It is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally engaging novels I have read this year. It is also a book that highlights a bit of our history that we often brush under the carpet, mainly because we think we are more tolerant now, and yet is one that should definitely be acknowledged and learnt from.

There are of course a few other books I must mention, for example both winners of the Green Carnation Prize, ‘Moffie’ by Andre Carl van der Merwe and ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ by Patrick Gale, and also Kerry Hudson’s ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ which was one of the debut highlights of the year for me, I will be reviewing/reporting back on all the long list next year, as they were all rather brilliant. Also ‘The Lighthouse’ by Alison Moore and ‘Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy which would have been joint tenth with ‘The Lifeboat’ and my final two had I done a Simon’s Booker Dozen type of post. Overall it has been a great year of reading and I am looking forward to the next.

What about you? What have been your highlights of the year published in 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think?

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The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

Every so often you meet a character in fiction that you will remember for the rest of your life. These don’t always have to be the narrators of a book nor do they have to be likeable, I am thinking of Mrs Danvers now in ‘Rebecca’, yet when they are it makes a book very, very difficult to put down. In ‘The Colour of Milk’ by Nell Leyshon, an author I hadn’t come across until this book which is her fourth, with Mary and the story she tells I found one of those exact books and (cliché alert) I simply could not put the book down.

*****, Fig Tree/Penguin Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 172 pages, kindly sent by publisher

It is 1831 when we meet Mary, or as she writes ‘in this year of lord eighteen hundred and thirty one i am reached the age of fifteen’, a young girl and one of four daughters living on a farm where you work, sleep and eat before doing it all over again the next day. The family isn’t a particularly happy one, particularly as it is led by an angry and unpredictable father who will even beat his own father if he dare cross him. Mary herself is rather unruly and some what the black sheep (farm pun not intended) of the family, this could be all from the fact she was born with a crippled leg at birth, and soon is forced to move away, yet oddly doesn’t want to leave, to the vicarage to care for the vicars invalid wife.

‘he ain’t lazy, i said. he ain’t got no choice but to sit there. ain’t like his legs’d take him anywhere.
might as well be dead for all the use he is, she said.
wish i were dead, grandfather said, having to listen to you going on like that.’  

Before you all think I have lost the plot (and the use of spell check on my lovely new laptop) the way the novel is written is one of the things that make it so special, alongside Mary’s narration which as a device it also underlines, because it isn’t your usual fare. You see the tale of an unhappy farm girl who moves to the big house, where good or bad things might happen to her, is not really an original one. However with Mary’s character and the fact the novel is written as she talks, and sometimes almost phonetically ‘straw berry’, really adds to the voice of the novel and makes it stand out. It also somehow gives it that feel of being a classic novel even though it is a contemporary novel, the last time I read a book like this was Jane Harris’ ‘The Observations’ narrated by the ever swearing and gutsy Bessy Buckley, and I loved Mary just as much.

‘my leg is my leg and i ain’t never known another leg. it’s the way i always been and the way i always walked, mother says it was like that when i come out into the world. i was some scrap if a thing with hair like milk and i was covered in some hair like i was an animal and my nails was long. and she says i took one look around me and i opened my mouth and i yelled and some say i ain’t never shut it since.’

Really Mary is the reason that you end up loving the book so much, well it was for me. She is a heroine of teh first degree; gutsy, funny and tells it like it is, occasionally she almost breaks your heart too. The book is a story of a girl who leaves an unhappy home, yet we figure that out as we read on because really Mary is quite happy with her life on the whole thank you very much. The fact the story is reminiscent of a Victorian classic also works in the books favour because it feels comfortable and yet different, does that make sense? I have to admit that i did hazard a guess at ending that seems to have shocked other people I know who have read it, which I will not spoil or even hint at, not that it stopped me loving the book because I was being taken along by Mary who I could have read for another few hundred pages or more.

There are certain books that you instantly take to aren’t there. Books which coax you into the heart of their tale and just have you hooked. ‘The Colour of Milk’ by Nell Leyshon is one such book, for me it is one of those books that is pretty much perfect, in fact so much so I would dare any of you to read it and not do it in one reading gulp. Seriously, I dare you to prove me wrong. And if you don’t believe me then check out reviews from bloggers I trust, and who agree, here and here, one of my books of the year without a doubt. Now who has read any of Nell Leyshon’s other novels?

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