Tag Archives: Patrick Gale

Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part Two…

And so we arrive at the last day of 2015 and my last selection of books of the year. Yesterday I gave you the books that I loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) and today I am sharing the books that I loved the most that came out this year. You can probably all hazard a guess at the winner. Without further waffle or ado, here are the twelve books I really, really, really loved that came out in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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Starting off my list is a book by my favourite author which made does something incredible with a single paragraph that changes the whole meaning of book. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins charmed me, entertained me, thrilled me, beguiled me and then in the simplest, smallest and most understated of moments completely broke me when I never expected it to. It is also a wonderful insight into what it is that makes us human, what can make anyone of us become a hero and the highs and lows that might follow such an act. Kate Atkinson is a master of storytelling, character and celebrating those simple day to day moments (and people) we often overlook.

10.

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A Place Called Winter is a blooming marvellous story. Gale is brilliant at placing you into the heads and hearts of his characters, mainly because his prose calls for us to empathise with them, even if we might not want to. We have all been in love, we have all done things we regret, we have all fallen for a rogue (or two or three), we have all felt bullied and the outsider at some point, we have all had an indiscretion and left the country to become a farmer in a foreign land… Oh, maybe not that. Yet even when our protagonist goes through things we haven’t Gale’s depiction and storytelling make us feel we are alongside Harry. We live Harry’s life with him; the highs and the lows, the characters and situations good or bad.

9.

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Grief is still something that we modern human folk are pretty rubbish at. It is something that we don’t like to talk about along with its frequent bedfellow death. I have often felt that in The West and particularly in Britain we are told to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. In reality this doesn’t help. If we are going through it we bottle it inside, isolate ourselves and tend to make it look like we are fine. When people are grieving we tend to find ourselves unsure what to do and either go one of two ways by being over helpful (and accidentally overbearing in some cases) or by distancing ourselves from people thinking they probably don’t want our help or need us in their faces – or maybe that is just me. Yet until we talk about it more, in all its forms, we won’t deal with it better individually or as a society, so thank goodness for people like Cathy Rentzenbrink who have the bravery, for it is a very brave act, to share their real life experiences with grief in a book like The Last Act of Love.

8.

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Physical is a stunning, raw and direct look at what it is to be male. It celebrates the male physique in all its forms as much as it celebrates the foibles of the male species. It is a collection that asks a lot of questions, primarily ones such as in the poem Strongman, which asks ‘What is masculinity if not taking the weight?’ Be you male or female you need to read this collection. Books, poems and stories are all about experiencing the world of others and walking in their shoes, Physical excels at this and from an unusual and original view point.

7.

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If I told you that you should really read a book set during the Troubles in Ireland which throws in poverty, religion, sexuality and violence, both domestic and political, you would probably look at me in horror, which is why The Good Son is such a brilliant book. It has all of those elements in their unflinching rawness and yet with Mickey’s voice and cheeky sense of humour McVeigh gives us an image of an incredibly difficult and fractured time in some sort of rainbow technicolor whilst with a very black and white viewpoint. It is something I have not experienced before and I thought it was marvellous. It also gives us hope.

6.

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I loved, and hugged, Mobile Library which is frankly some of the highest praise that I can give it. It is a book that reminds you of the magic of books, friendship, family and love without any magic having actually occurred. It is also an adventure story, possibly the most quintessentially British road trip novel you could encounter. It is also a book that despite being marketed for adults, I think many a ‘youth’ should read as I think it will remind them of the brilliance of reading and the fun it can be, as much as it reminds we adults of all ages, of just the same thing. I’m a massive fan of books, Mobile Library reminded me why whilst making me even more of a fan.

5.

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is no surprise that from the title of a novel such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers the subject is going to be, you guessed it, grief. Whilst the idea of members of a family coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and the effect this has on them might not be the newest of subjects, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a book that describes the varying emotions of grief in such an honest and fractured way. We see grief through the eyes of the three people in the house, a father and two sons, as they try to come to a way of understanding the loss that now surrounds them and the blank unknown of what lies ahead. Into this space appears Crow an unwelcome guest who is both helpful and hindering and who will stay put until these three no longer need him.

4.

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As the Yorkshire Ripper began his several years of killing women, Una herself was the victim of sexual abuse. Una looks back on this period in hindsight and looks at how the situation around the Yorkshire Ripper and the attitude towards predatory men and their victims not only caused the murder of many innocent women and the pain and loss to their families and loved ones, but how the ‘victim blaming’ culture of the time also affected people like Una who were the victims of crimes that went undetected/unsolved or people feared reporting. Becoming Unbecoming is a very brave, important and thought provoking book. I urge you all to add it to your reading stacks and talk about it once you have.

3 (=).

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So here is the thing my next choice, Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, it is not actually out until the end of next month, however I had the delight of reading it in advance early this year and fell completely in love with the writing, the characters, everything. So really I couldn’t save it until my best of 2016 list even though I know I will read it again in the new year! My review is set to go live around release but for now I will tease you with this – England 1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands. And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

3 (=).

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The Natural Way of Things is a book that will shock many of its readers for all the right reasons. By the end you will be enraged as to why women are still subjected to ‘slut shaming’ and victim blaming if they speak out about something bad? That is the dark root at the heart of this novel from which everything else spirals, only not out of control as scarily you could imagine this happening. That is where the book really bites, its reality and its all too apparent possibility. Shocking all the more because what seems extreme isn’t the more you think about it. This is a fantastically written horrifying, whilst utterly compelling, story that creates a potent set of questions within its readers head and asks you to debate and seek out the answers yourself. I cannot recommend reading it enough. (It is out in the UK in June but already available in Australia, I suggest trying to get it early!)

2.

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I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, even more so when one takes me out of my comfort zone. What makes this all the better is when this comes at the least expected time. This happened with All Involved by Ryan Gattis which when I was first emailed about, being told it was the tale of the 1992 LA Riots from a spectrum of seventeen witnesses and participants, I instantly thought ‘that isn’t my cup of tea’. Thank goodness then for several people raving about it and saying I must read it because one I started I couldn’t stop reading, even when I sometimes wanted to. It is a book that has stayed with me ever since I read it and lingers in my brain, when it is out in paperback everyone I know is getting a copy.

1.

So my book of the year will not surprise many of you. I think A Little Life is just incredible, it is a novel that looks at love, friendship, loss, pleasure, pain, hope, survival, failure and success. It is a book about class, disability, sexuality and race. Overall it is a book about what it means to be a human. It’s amazing, it is also brutal. Saying that you read a book like A Little Life I actually think does it a disservice as it is one of those all encompassing books that you live through. It is rare that a book as it ends leaves you feeling a somewhat changed person to the one who started it, that is what happened to me and is probably why this will be one of my all time reads. (Yes, I stick to that claim and you can hear me on Hear Read This defending that statement in a special that went live recently!)

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and two corking crime novels Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I don’t care if this is deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read. Oh and fancy ending the year/starting the new by winning some books then head here. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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The Green Carnation Prize Shortlist 2016

When this news goes live I will be in a  meeting room or restaurant in Soho networking and schmoozing like a demon, ha. So I won’t be able to instantly shout with glee about the shortlist for this years Green Carnation Prize, even though I will be desperate to and have been since the list was decided a week and a bit ago. Anyway here is the official word on it (my unofficial word will follow)…

The six shortlisted titles celebrating LGBT writing have been announced after hours of debates between the judges over an exceptionally strong longlist. Once again with a list including fiction; from debut novelists to well established literary faces, non-fiction; from investigations into the modern drugs world to a memoir of a mother’s illness, from Victorian London to Jamaica, the Green Carnation proves itself as one of the most diverse prizes.

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  • Sophie and the Sibyl – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Chasing the Scream – Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (OneWorld)
  • Mrs Engels – Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)

Chair of the judges for 2015, author Niven Govinden said of the shortlist “After a lively and robust debate, we’re proud to unveil our shortlist, which we feel represents the best of the best: books that excel and incite passion in the reader.”

Simon Heafield, Marketing Manager for the prize’s partner Foyles said “We’re very proud to play a part in promoting a shortlist of such quality. Indeed, most are books we’ve been actively promoting instore this year so we’re delighted that readers will again be given good reason to investigate them further.”

The Green Carnation Prize is a prize awarded to LGBT writers for any form of the written word, in any genre, including novels in translation. This year sees the second year of the prize’s partnership with Foyles bookshops. The partnership will see Foyles offer event space in their flagship store to host the award ceremony on Tuesday December the 8th 2015, with public events celebrating the prize to follow around the UK in 2016.

For more information please visit: www.greencarnationprize.com or www.foyles.co.uk

Back to me and my unofficial thoughts… I really like the list. Yes, there is a lack of women on the shortlist but as someone who was sat in the meeting watching (with slight glee) the judges having the nightmare of shortlisting, from a cracking longlist, the discussions went past genre, gender, race and was just about which of the final six books resonated and were the best of the best. I have no idea how they are going to choose the winner in a couple of weeks, poor things.

I have read three of them in full (without being a judge, obviously) and half of two of them and can see why it was so tough as they were corkers. I will be sharing my thoughts after the winner is announced at the start of December. In the interim, have you read any of these books and what did you make of them?

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Durham Book Festival; It’s Been A Bookish Blast

So. That. Is. It. Durham Book Festival has come to an end for me. It has been an absolute bookish blast with over two days of non-stop bookish delight. I have been introduced to authors old and new (to me or debuts) and enjoyed every minute. From the Gordon Burn Prize (which I have now decided I want to judge one day), to the finale event discussing Wearside Jack it has been brilliant. Pat Barker thoroughly entertained me and made me want to read everything that she has ever written, I got to join in with a fascinating debate on hard evidence, I saw Lauren Laverne talking fashion, got to take part in Read Y’Self Fitter giggling away with our tutor Andy Miller, be thoroughly freaked out about the state of modern Russia and heard Patrick Gale and Liza Klaussmann talking about sexuality and sexual secrets. What more could you want and where else could you get all of this other than a literary festival?

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It has also been a real hoot (as you can see from my naughty gleeful look captured above brilliantly by Picador’s Emma Bravo) and the lovely team at New Writing North and Durham Book Festival have been wonderful hosts and putting up with diva demands, well they probably would have if I had made any. I didn’t honest. I got to meet lots of lovely people who I have not met before but I have spoken to for ages on Twitter, like the brilliant Ben Myers and Andy Miller, as well as some lovely faces that I have met before including some of the lovely young talented reviewers that myself and Lauren Laverne have given masterclasses to and who I had some ace chats with at the events…

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And they will be the lovely folk who will be blogging and reviewing for the rest of Durham Book Festival on the Cuckoo Review website and on the festival’s blog BECAUSE THE FESTIVAL IS NOT OVER and you can still go and see some corking events (Philip Pullman, Carys Davies, Stuart Evers, Mary Portas, Bill Bryson and more) over the next week, which they will all be reviewing on the site along with some of the books discussed and more. All good stuff!

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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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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2015

The twelve strong longlist of titles celebrating LGBT writing have been announced after hours of debates between the judges over an exceptional list of submissions, the most the prize has seen in its history to date. Once again with a list including fiction; from debut novelists to well established literary faces, non-fiction; from poetry to investigations into the drugs world, the Green Carnation proves itself as one of the most diverse prizes. I would say all this (and I did as I wrote the press release) because as regular readers of the blog will know, I am one of the founders and now Honorary Directors of the Prize. What some of you might not know is I find out the longlist very last minute and this year (what with never being anywhere long in the last few weeks) I found out a while after the meeting. The list is a very strong one I think…

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  • Blood Relatives – Stevan Alcock (4th Estate)
  • Deep Lane – Mark Doty (Jonathan Cape)
  • Sophie and the Sibyl – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts – Mel Evans (Pluto Press)
  • A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Chasing the Scream – Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (Oneworld)
  • The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker)
  • Mrs Engels – Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)
  • Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy (Bloomsbury)
  • The Curator – Jacques Strauss (Jonathan Cape)

To prove how out of the loop I am with the books, apart from the fact that I chase the submissions, I have only read five of the books and so have rather a lot of wonderful reads in the next month before the shortlist is announced on Thursday the 5th of November. I have shockingly only reviewed two of the five I have read, which I need to sort out sharpish. Yet at the moment book reviews seem like some elusive thing that I dream of doing, or sometimes have nightmares of people screaming down the phone at me for not doing, as I don’t seem to be able to find the time at the moment. But I will, I really will. anyway, you can find out more about the Green Carnation Prize and the longlist on the website.

Do I have any favourites? Were there any I was sad not to see make the list? Well, that would be telling. What I would love to know are your thoughts on the list and which of the books you have read and what you thought of those?

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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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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…

Theology Room Gallery

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.

History room and reader

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!

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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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Lucky Winners – How To Be Both & A Place Called Winter

Here’s a quick post that might bring some cheer to some of your Tuesdays, and lets face it when the weekend seems so far away again it is always good to get some cheer. In the last few weeks I have gone give away crazy and have now, thanks to Random.Org, drawn the five lucky winners of Ali Smith’s How To Be Both for our Baileys group read of it on Monday the 1st of June, two days before the winner is annouced, plus the one lucky winner of a signed copy of Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter which I will get signed especially tonight! And the winners are…

Ali Shaw’s How To Be Both winners are…

  • Dirtmother
  • Layla
  • Ruth Slater
  • The Book Magpie
  • Mark

And the winner of Patrick Gales A Place Called Winter is…

  • Snoakes (though I will need your real name for the book to be signed at 6.30pm tonight hahaha)

If you can all email me with the name of the book you have won in the title and a your details to get the books sent to that would be brilliant! Well done all! This has given me such a buzz I will have to do give aways more often I think.

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A Mini Northern Tour with Patrick Gale…

I am very excited about the next few days, as I have the pleasure of spending a few nights with Patrick Gale as he continues his A Place Called Winter book tour. I shared my thoughts with you on A Place Called Winter the other day, and while I was all cool and ‘don’t read this review, just by the book’ actually do read the review because I really do want you to read the book (and reviews take blooming ages to write you know) as it really is quite something.  Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, going on a mini tour with Sir Patrick of Gale…

I have to say I love interviewing authors be it at live events or on podcasts, I love getting more insight into the book, it’s origings, themes and the person who write it. I particularly love doing live events with authors when they are lovely, charming, up for a laugh and open to the audience (and myself) asking them pretty much anything, well within reason. I have done an event with Patrick before, along with Catherine Hall, for Manchester Literature Festival back in 2012 and look how enraptured we all were…

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So what I am really saying is if you are in or near Liverpool on the night of the 27th of April (so tomorrow) or in or near Manchester on the 28th of April do come to Waterstones Liverpool 1 or Waterstones Deansgate and join us for what I promise will be a lovely evening with some lovely bookish banter and possibly some lumberjack attire – let me know if you are coming so we make sure we say hello! If you can’t make it, do please read the book, and if you have any questions you would like me to ask Patrick for you let me know.

In fact because I so want you to read the book (and be there if you can, yet not miss out if you can’t) if you pop to the review and leave a question for Patrick in the comments there, I will then draw one of you out of a hat, or get Patrick too, and get you a specially signed copy and send it anywhere in the world. How’s that? You have until 1800hrs GMT tomorrow the 27th of April and don’t forget the Ali Smith give away too! Lovely stuff, look forward to your questions and will hopefully see some of you there!

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A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale

There are some novels that I read where all I want to do for a review is simply write the words… Read this book. Nothing more, nothing less. However I am aware you need more than those three words to get you to part with your pennies or head to the local library, the question is how to encapsulate a book like Patrick Gale’s latest novel A Place Called Winter in a mere review? Well, here goes.

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Tinder Press, hardback, 2015, fiction, 340 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

When we first meet Harry Cane he is locked in an institute, what he has done we do not initially know, and is undergoing a rather horrendous kind of treatment. Yet soon he is taken away to Bethel, a community for those who have been shut out or locked away from society. He is encouraged to tell the story of how he got there, the story of how a well to do and well off man started his life in England and then ended up in the middle of the Canadian wilderness building a new life that has seemingly, to an outsider, driven him mad.

Gale structures A Place Called Winter in delightful way, as we get insights into various pivotal moments in one man’s life alternating between their present and their past making the links between the two. We watch how he grows up in England looking after his brother Jack, how he marries and then falls for the charms of Mr Browning; who soon becomes his downfall leaving Harry no choice but to head to the wilds of Canada without his family to start again. In case you are thinking I have just spoiled the whole story, there is so much more to come, including the journey he makes there and the people he meets along the way, not always with the outcomes you may guess at. The last I will say on the plot is that it is a real journey of adventure, danger and self discovery and you will want to read it in a few sittings, often weeping for all sorts of reasons.

A Place Called Winter is a blooming marvellous story. Gale is brilliant at placing you into the heads and hearts of his characters, mainly because his prose calls for us to empathise with them, even if we might not want to. We have all been in love, we have all done things we regret, we have all fallen for a rogue (or two or three), we have all felt bullied and the outsider at some point, we have all had an indiscretion and left the country to become a farmer in a foreign land… Oh, maybe not that. Yet even when our protagonist goes through things we haven’t Gale’s depiction and storytelling make us feel we are alongside Harry. We live Harry’s life with him; the highs and the lows, the characters and situations good or bad.

It also has a wonderful sense of adventure, sometimes exciting sometimes perilous. The surroundings and settings of the book become characters as much as the people. For example the hustle and bustle of London, the leisurely nature of Herne Bay, the power of the seas, the wildness of Moose Jaw and the desolate and endless monotony (cleverly without ever being boring) and harsh extremities of Winter itself. I have mentioned only recently how much I love reading about nature and the countryside/wilderness in books and this has that aplenty.

He opened it, welcoming the cold night air, and stared out at a landscape transformed. There were stars, a seamless, spangled fishnet of them from horizon to horizon, coldly lighting the land and lending the farm buildings, outlined sharply against them, an eerie loveliness.

I love a book that looks brims with layers and explores several themes, or can set your brain off thinking about things  from a different angle or that you may not have before. I found the way Gale looks at and discusses homosexuality fascinating and heartbreaking. It is the way that due to society everything must go unspoken. There was no such thing as ‘being gay’ you were seen as a sexual deviant of the lowest order, end of. Even those rare people who tried to be accepting struggle, as Harry is asked “Is it… Is it emotional or simply a physical need the two of you are answering?”  to which he replies “I suppose, in a different world, where everyone felt differently, it would be both. When a thing is forbidden and must live in darkness and silence, it’s hard to know how it might be, if allowed to thrive.”  We the reader live in a world where it has become more acceptable (though we still have a way to go) and gay rights are fought for, we look back on this in hindsight and see how horrific it is.

Gale even looks at the psychology that this world must have created, the need for secrecy and how it might even bring out internalised homophobia in those who were living such a life. “Christ, Harry! Listen to yourself. You’re not attractive when you plead. I preferred you married and unobtainable. In fact that is how I prefer all my men. Men can’t live together like a married couple. It’s grotesque and whatever would be the point, even if they could? It’s not as though they’re going to start a family.” (See what I said about Gale putting you in the heads of those you do and don’t want to empathise with.) Gale also looks at the ironies of a place where men would dance with men due to the lack of women, and shack up with other men in winter for practical reasons be they financial or simply survival, yet who would exile gay men as they would women of rape or the indigenous Indian community.

In case that makes this sound like one of those worthy books which tries to preach at the reader it isn’t at all. Yes, one of the main themes is homosexuality yet by its very nature what the whole of A Place Called Winter is about is humanity and also love; regardless of gender be it familial, platonic or passionate. It was this which led me to describing it as ‘Austen meets Brokeback Mountain’ as it wonderfully combines a marvellous contemporary novel with the sense and sensibilities (see what I did there?) of the classic trope. It is pacy, thrilling, horrifying and puts you through the wringer emotionally, whilst having those wonderful storytelling and prose qualities of the past where you have the tale of a life and the intricate situations, places and people who surround and intertwine with it.

I will wrap up by simply saying that A Place Called Winter is a fantastic novel and I think the best that Patrick Gale has written so far. It has all the qualities that create a real treat of a corking read for me. It introduces you to wonderful characters, takes you away from the world you know, makes you think, laugh and cry and all whilst telling you a bloody good story. I was completely lost in Harry’s world and his life and recommend that you go on the journey with him as soon as you can. Easily one of my books of the year; so go on, read this book!

If that still hasn’t sold it then nothing will, well, maybe I should add that for a few days (because I binged on this book) I became an uncommunicative zombie whose head was stuck in this book at all hours, even refusing to watch House of Cards! Oh and even higher praise, this book has lots of horses in it and spends some time on a long boat journey and I didn’t even care, which regular readers here will know is a huge achievement. Anyway enough of my thoughts, who else has read A Place Called Winter and what did you think?

Ooh, and quick note,  if you are ‘oop north’ and near Liverpool on Monday the 27th or Manchester on Tuesday the 28th of April (next week) then do please come and see me in conversation with Patrick about A Place Called Winter in Waterstones. Details here and here. Hope to see some of you there.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Patrick Gale, Review, Tinder Press

Green Carnations & Feeling A Little Proud…

On Friday night I was a bundle of nerves. I had been in London since Wednesday and had been seeing lots of friends and doing loads quite a bit of shopping and just having a break, yet the reason I was down in London was for the Green Carnation Prize Winning Announcement and Party. The bit I was feeling about was giving a speech all about the prize; especially in front of lots of authors, publicists, industry bods and some of my friends. Eek. But I did it…

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And as I did it started to hit me how much the prize had achieved in its five years, especially after the announcement that Anneliese Mackintosh had won. Huge congratulations to her. I had the pleasure of speaking to Anneliese afterwards, who was shaking from genuine shock that she had won (and possibly overdosing on Night Nurse, the poor love) and who said a big thank you. Initially I said ‘ooh don’t thank me, it’s the judges who chose it’ (who did an amazing job) and Anneliese replied ‘but thank you for setting it up’. I have to admit I felt a bit emotional, and I hadn’t even won.

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I then got very quite drunk and as I was talking to people it seemed to finally click how far it had all come. I was in a room with all these people who were saying what a great long and shortlist it has had over the past few years, how pleased they were about the partnership with Foyles and that it was becoming a prize that they could trust would throw them great reads. By the end of the night I was a beaming mess of happiness, which is a nice feeling to have.

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So now Any Other Mouth and Anneliese Mackintosh join the Green Carnation Prize winning family along with Andrew Solomon, Patrick Gale, Andre Carl Van Der Merwe, Catherine Hall and Chrisopher Fowler! So that is all your Christmas stocking lists sorted for this year – oh along with this years corking shortlist. Have you read any of the Green Carnation Prize winners, short listers or long listers and if so what did you think?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #25 – Mike Ward

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we are all probably feeling a little full after the festive food and so thankfully we can have a wander along the seafront and down the pier as we are in Brighton! This week we join Mike, and his cat LouLou – who came with the name, as he makes some room for us in his study (with alcoves for books and everything like a gentleman’s club) which of course I am rather jealous of. Anyway, before I get myself arrested for stalking, I will hand over to Mike to tell us more about himself before we go routing through his shelves…

I grew up in a house full of books, so was always a keen reader as child when I used to devour books, mainly Enid Blyton, and I used to dream of being orphaned or packed off to boarding school and thereby being exposed to smugglers and wicked relatives – sadly (or perhaps thankfully) this never happened. As I got older I sort of fell out with reading, only picking up books when on holiday, then three years ago I moved from London to Brighton and found myself with a hour long commute each way and started reading again.  I also joined the local book group – an enormous but friendly group where often 25 or more people will turn up on the allotted first Wednesday of the month for lively debate and a few pints.  I had always viewed reading as a solitary activity and the book group really opened my eyes to the pleasure of talking about books.  Last autumn (at Simon’s suggestion) I set up my own book review blog 0651frombrighton.blogspot.co.uk, which has become a bit of an obsession. I started off trying to blog a book a day, drawing on a back catalogue of books that I had read previously, this has now settled down to three a week – Wednesday (non-fiction), Saturday (fiction) and Sunday (glossy coffee table books) – which I can comfortably keep supplied by reading 2-3 fiction and 2-3 others a week.  I decided to take a concise approach to my reviews, so some of my reviews are little more than a few lines, though recently I have allowed myself to write some slightly longer reviews. Recently I have started to read more non-fiction including autobiographies, which regular readers of my blog will know are a source of constant frustration for me on account of the dreadful writing style of the ghost writers.

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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?

Occasionally I have a purge of books, relegating ones that I didn’t enjoy to the charity shop, but generally I keep most of them on the shelves.  Recently I have started to buy more e-books to feed the dreaded Kindle, but as a Times subscriber I also picked up their paperback of the week most weeks over the last year so the shelves are still receiving regular new additions. If I don’t manage to finish a book (100 page rule) then it generally gets sent to the charity shop.

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 in two alcoves – one for fiction and one for non fiction.  The fiction shelves are alphabetical by author and my Agatha Christie’s are further split into detective series in order of publication.  I also make sure that any unread books protrude about an inch in a futile attempt to shame me into not buying new books until I have read all the ones I own. My mission this year has been to read all of the unread ones, so that in future whenever I but a book I will read it straightaway – I’m almost there with the fiction shelves with only about 10 books left to read.

The non-fiction shelves were loosely themed into biography, history, philosophy and by country – though it got a bit random – for example all of my George Orwell’s sat on the Spain shelf because of Homage to Catalonia.  More recently I’ve moved all the really big books to the top shelf to free up space lower down, so the theming has got even more random – every now and then I have an enjoyable Sunday morning re-organising the shelves with the Archers omnibus on in the background.  I’m a sucker for glossy coffee table books so the TBRs in non-fiction number over 100, so still some way to go with my target.

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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 have no idea, but I would guess that it was an Enid Blyton as I was an avid fan – I always secretly wanted to be orphaned as it seemed to open up a world of adventures!  I did randomly buy a load of Enid Blytons on ebay recently, so whilst I don’t have my original copies I may have a replacement….

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?

Everything is on show – I trust that any embarrassing ones will simply merge into the background…

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

I’m not terribly sentimental so this is a difficult question, I do have quite a few signed copies though they are all merged into the shelves so in a fire I would probably struggle to grab them all.  My favourite book ever is Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale and I do have a signed copy so I would probably grab that. I met Patrick at the event Simon hosted last year (or was it the year before?) in Manchester – I’m looking forward to his next book which is partly set in Canada I believe and must be due out soon.

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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?

I remember being introduced to Agatha Christie by my Gran when I was about 11 years old, it was quite exciting to realise that I wasn’t just restricted to children’s book anymore.  I have the whole collection now – as a result of another slightly obsessive ebay binge. My favourites are the standalone stories and the Miss Marples, I’m not so keen on the Poirots, which is a shame because they are by far the largest group. I think that I’ve read  all of the Christies at some point over the years, but occasionally I will pick one up and find that I either haven’t read it or don’t remember it.

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?

No – I hardly ever borrow books, so generally I always buy my own copy. I also rarely buy secondhand, not for any reason other than I tend to buy based on review, recommendation or previous work by the author, so charity shops are a bit too hit and miss for me to bother with; I will buy second hand from online sites though.

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

I attended a brilliant and intimate Times+ event a couple of weeks ago and left with a goodie bag containing Hugo Rifkind’s My Week*, Sathnam Sangara’s Marriage Material and Kevin Maher’s The Fields. I love an author event and book signing so always look out for them.  I did go through a phase of always getting a cheesy photo with the authors but then I met Lionel Shriver and was too scared to ask her – she is one intimidating lady!  I also can get a bit starstruck – when I met David Sedaris, I was so conscious that his anecdotes include people he has met at book signings that I clammed up a bit.

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

I would love to have my Agatha Christie’s in the re-released facsimile copies of the first editions – the cover artwork is awesome, obviously owning the originals would be even better!

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

I think at first glance they would probably think I was well read – simply based on quantity.  If they looked deeper they would probably notice that I am very light on the classics and may change their view! What would I like them to think? I don’t know… hopefully that I have interesting taste?

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A huge thanks to Mike for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and almost making me sick with jealousy his study, the levels of jealousy that these posts evoke in me is unhealthy! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Mike’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Savidge Reads’ Top Ten LGBT Books…

As I mentioned yesterday I am in a little bit of a reading funk. So I was routing through my bookshelves, and preparing for the event I have coming next Tuesday, I thought that I would make a little video of my personal top ten LGBT themed books. This is by no means what I think are the best LGBT themed books, it is a list of the ones that have a special place in my heart from my young teens all the way to now. So have a gander if you fancy it…

I know there are some celebrated books and authors missing yet these are the ten books that I mentioned.

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

I am aware I have missed some of my favourite authors like Stella Duffy, Sarah Waters, Geoff Ryman, etc, lots and lots of Green Carnation books, nonfiction and classics, the latter mainly as I am playing catch up with Larry Kramer and Radclyffe Hall etc.

That is of course where you come in… What are the books you love with LGBT themes? Which books have I missed and might I have read and need to re-read (I feel I need to pick up ‘Rough Music’ by Patrick Gale again at some point) or try for the first time? Which of you the books I mention have you read? Who is coming to Leeds on Tuesday for my scary solo event? Who is currently reading ‘Tales of the City’, which I will be picking up to re-read today, to discuss on Friday on the blog? Lots of questions for you there.

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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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