Tag Archives: Sarah Winman

The Costa Book Award 2017 Shortlists…

Are here… finally. I love this prize and have done for ages, this year being all the more special because I am judging the First Novel Award and can finally talk about the shortlist. But before I do in more depth in the next day or so here are the shortlists, tell me what you think about all of them.

2017 Costa Novel Award shortlist

  • Jon McGregor for Reservoir 13 (4th Estate)
  • Stef Penney for Under a Pole Star (Quercus)
  • Kamila Shamsie for Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Sarah Winman for Tin Man (Tinder Press)

2017 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

  • Xan Brooks for The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times (Salt)
  • Karl Geary for Montpelier Parade (Harvill Secker)
  • Gail Honeyman for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins)
  • Rebecca F. John for The Haunting of Henry Twist (Serpent’s Tail)

2017 Costa Biography Award shortlist

  • Xiaolu Guo for Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up (Chatto & Windus)
  • Caroline Moorehead for A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini (Chatto & Windus)
  • Rebecca Stott for In The Days of Rain (4th Estate)
  • Professor Stephen Westaby for Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table (HarperCollins)

2017 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

  • Kayo Chingonyi for Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus)
  • Helen Dunmore for Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe Books)
  • Sinéad Morrissey for On Balance (Carcanet)
  • Richard Osmond for Useful Verses (Picador)

2017 Costa Children’s Book Award shortlist

  • Sarah Crossan for Moonrise (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • Lissa Evans for Wed Wabbit (David Fickling Books)
  • Kiran Millwood Hargrave for The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)
  • Katherine Rundell for The Explorer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)


Which ones have you read, which ones are you excited to read and, of course, what do you think of the debut category. I am very excited to be able to talk about them all…



Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Gail Honeyman, Jon McGregor, Kamila Shamsie, Karl Geary, Random Savidgeness, Rebecca F. John, Sarah Winman, Stef Penney, Xan Brooks, Xiaolu Guo

A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

When I read a debut author whose writing I love there is always a mixture of feelings when their second book arrives. As a rule I am both ridiculously excited as their new work could be even better than its predecessor and also really nervous because it might not be. Tricky. It was with this mixed bag of emotions that I met A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman, whose debut novel When God Was a Rabbit I absolutely loved when I read and also had the pleasure of raving to everyone about at my first (short lived, weeps) literary salon in Manchester ‘Bookmarked’ and beyond. I finally read it on holiday, aptly in a desolate cove.


Tinder Press, paperback, 2015, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Marvellous Ways is waiting for something, she doesn’t know what on earth it might be, she just knows she has to wait. Well, she was told to wait by one of the three loves of her life, albeit from beyond the grave in a dream. (This might all sound bonkers, it is, stay with me.) What she is waiting for turns out to be Francis Drake who, on a mission after the Second World War to pass a letter from a soldier to his father, ends up washed up on the shore of the cove where Marvellous spends much of her time. Drake it seems has given up on life and had it not been to keep a promise to a dying man might have ended it all, Marvellous realises her mission is to bring back to him a passion for life and a life yet to live whilst being close to the end of her own.

My initial summation actually makes the novel sound both a little too simple and also much more linear than it is to read. Whilst it has a beginning, middle and end (as all books do) it also has a fluidity and magical element to it that means it all flows and interlinks, if that makes sense? The first thirty pages tell of how Marvellous lives, waiting, by the sea in Cornwall in her late eighties and creates a wonderful image of an eccentric character who likes to swim naked every day, regardless of the weather, and potter around the hamlet nearby sharing her stories. We then switch to Drake at a pivotal moment in World War II and then follow him back to London where he tries to find Missy, the woman he believes is the love of his life.

She watched the tide of life below. People doing their very best, trying so hard to make it better. And she took to wondering, like so many often did, what it had all been for. The triumph of two years ago hadn’t gained access to wallets or purses or homes. People were poor and the city was crumbling.

What he finds is both a woman and a city changed forever and an incident that soon sees Drake fleeing London and into the cove and life of Marvellous. It is from this point that the novel, I think, really grabs the reader as we enter the world of Marvellous Ways again and get lost in both the stories that she tells Drake (how her mother was a mermaid, how she had had three great loves of her life; a lighthouse keeper and two brothers, how starfish came to be) and some of the lives of those who live nearby and become part of Drakes new life. I was soon swept up in what becomes a fascinating and beguiling narrative of one woman’s history and also the history of some of the lives that she has touched; be they a minor character or a major one, be they good or bad.

Rumour has two very distinct sounds. When it flies free the sound is similar to a ship’s hull scraping against a harbour wall. But when rumour is caught, the sound is of expiration: like a fearful sigh in the vacant dark whorls of long-abandoned shells. And marvellous pointed to the whelks.
She knew these sounds well because she’d had a rumour-catcher outside her caravan and it had caught many over the years, most having been carried on the breath of Mrs Hard. She’d launched rumours like royalty launched ships.

Without a doubt, for me, it is Sarah Winman’s creation of Marvellous Ways that gives life to the whole of the novel. What is unusual for me though is that I would have liked the book to be longer. This is unusual as regular visitors here will know that I can veer away from both lengthy novels and novels about the world wars. I would have, shock horror, liked to have had more of both Drake and Missy’s life during the war. Drake for the impact of the war and the propulsion to do what he does, which I think Winman would have written incredibly. Mainly for Missy though because the glimpse of the life that she led during the war (which I knew nothing about and won’t tell you because I really do want you to read this book) made me have a small jaw drop and I wanted to get more of an insight into how that slowly affected her rather than how much it had at the point we meet her. This all sounds very vague because I don’t want to ruin anything. It also sounds like a backhanded compliment which I don’t mean it to because I enjoyed the experience of A Year of Marvellous Ways as it was.

The reason for this is simply Sarah Winman’s writing. Throughout the novel you will be greeted on every page with sentences as simple and sharp as Hatred doesn’t need much watering or care. Just a nudge. She can also be quite whimsical and florid but never at the cost of being twee or unbelievable, just slightly magical. Speaking of which there are some truly gorgeous mini stories, legends and fables that interweave the stories of Drake and Marvellous which add to it immensely. One I particularly loved, and almost included as a quote in this review but didn’t because I want you to go and read it yourself, is that of how starfish came to be. It is just utterly gorgeous.

All these traits of her prose excel when combined to create characters and evoke places and atmospheres. She creates, erm, marvellous fully formed, and often flawed) characters. Marvellous is the standout of the lot unsurprisingly, her narrative just resonates and charms even when she is telling you some of the most unbelievable or cuckoo sounding stories, but that is what is so vivid and wonderful about her. It is hard to describe. It is not just characters that Winman is a wonder at, she excels in settings too. War torn London comes fully to life with all its shattered homes, hearts and hopes. Her writing of Cornwall, with its sense of the possibility of the impossible, comes off the page just as it does when you go and visit it now, all these years later there is still something quite ‘other’ about that part of the world.

I could ramble on and on about A Year of Marvellous Ways for much longer but I will save you from that. Suffice to say I really enjoyed it and loved getting enthralled and (sometimes a little literally) lost in the story of Drake, the story of Marvellous and the story of Drake and Marvellous. It somehow manages to be a story of nothing and a story of everything, most importantly though it is a (sorry in advance) marvellous story of stories and a particularly (sorry again) marvellous storyteller. I ended the book with quite the bottom lip wobble because I didn’t really want Winman’s fairytale to end.

Have you read A Year of Marvellous Ways, or indeed When God Was a Rabbit, and if so what did you think? Have you any second novels of debut authors you’ve loved left nervously on the shelf and if so which ones? I now need to get a wriggle on with both S J Watson (who was also at the first Bookmarked with Sarah) and Lucy Wood’s second books very soon, as they have been waiting on my shelves far too long.


Filed under Review, Richard and Judy, Sarah Winman, Tinder Press

Books To Take on Holiday… Help!

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


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

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


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II

The midway point though the last day of the year seems an appropriate time to pop up part two of my books of 2011 and my last post of the year (is it me or does that feel weird?). We have already had the books released prior to this year and we now move onto the books that were released this year in the UK (I don’t think any of them came out anywhere else in the world but just in case I have popped that clause in). I actually think that 2011 has been one of the best for contemporary fiction and this was a much harder exercise to whittle these down to just ten. So without further waffle from me here they are again with a quote from the full reviews which you can find by clicking on the title…

Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

“Like its predecessor, the wonderful ‘The Observations’ (which I am going to have to re-read soon, it’s one of my favourite books which made me rather nervous about this one), ‘Gillespie and I’ is a book that is all about evoking an atmosphere, wonderful writing, an unforgettable narrator, and those clever twists you never see coming. Yet it is no carbon copy by any stretch of the imagination and stands in its own rite. I loved this book, it’s very easy to find a fault with a book, particularly one at over 500 pages in length, yet there are none I can think of. I would go as far as to say I think ‘Gillespie and I’ could be an almost perfect book…”

The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall

“I can’t hide the fact that I loved ‘The Proof of Love’. It’s a book that gently weaves you in. You become both an ‘outcomer’ and one of the locals. You are part of the loneliness and isolation of Spencer as well as the gossiping heart of the community, part of the mystery and part of the suspicions. It’s a very subtly clever book, it doesn’t show off the fact that it’s a rare and wonderful book at any point, but I can assure you it is.”

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

“I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a place still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book.”

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

“Rebecca Makkai is certainly a big fan of books of all genres, this adds to her prose and not just in the words and descriptions she uses but also the style. We have a letters and one of Ian’s short stories interspersed in some chapters, there are also chapters in the style of other books such as ‘Choose Your Own Fiasco’ where Lucy gives you her current scenario and you have to decide for her by going to ‘number three or go to number five’ like those quest books I used to read. It’s a really inventive way of writing the book, there is even a table or two in there, and adding another dimension to the whole experience of reading, in some books this doesn’t work, in this one it did.”

The Hunger Trace – Edward Hogan

“There is a real sense of humour in this novel, dark but often very funny, yet in many ways it is a moving tale of people and their sense of isolation or being an outsider often leading to events in their pasts be the recent or from years ago. These are events that leave a trace on you and which is described beautifully when Louisa discusses her prized bird Diamond who she saves and leads to the novels title. ‘When a falcon is undernourished, the feathers cannot grow properly. A fault line appears, even if the bird is fed again. The fault is called a hunger trace.’ It is this hunger trace that runs through the main character of this novel and their obsessions which keep the real world at bay be they Louisa’s birds, Christopher’s obsession with Robin Hood or Maggie’s need to succeed despite what anyone else says.”

There But For The – Ali Smith

“…so far it’s my favourite of Ali Smith’s works to date that I have read. She has taken bits of her earlier work; great characters, observations, comedy, unusual narratives, prose and pacing and put them all together. It’s a tour-de-force as opposed to a hotch-potch. I don’t want to say this is her most accessible book, even though in many ways it is, because that makes it sound like it’s not experimental and it is. It’s just honed down, controlled and done without ego.”

The House of Silk – Anthony Horrowitz

“I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.”

In Other Worlds: SF & The Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

“…because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.”

Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson

“It takes a relatively simple, and equally possible, scenario and flips it on its head. In fact it’s the very domestic and almost mundane ordinariness of the books setting which makes it so unnerving. The fact Watson does this, on the whole, in one house between three characters is truly impressive. It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. I am wondering just what on earth, Watson is going to follow this up with… and how?”

When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

“You see initially after reading it I was a little conflicted about it, however with time for the dust to settle I realized I really, really liked it. There’s a warmth in this novel which is quite unlike any other I have read and it lingers. So as I was saying all in all I really, really, really enjoyed ‘When God Was A Rabbit’. It’s a book you gulp down for the first half and then watch unfold more delicately in the second.”

So there you have it, my top twenty books of the year. (I should add here that ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson and ‘Mr Chartwell’ by Rebecca Hunt were initially on this list but then I discovered this morning they were actually published initially in 2010 and had already popped Part I up – oops, there’s two more recommendations snuck in there though.) So over to you, what do you think of this list and what were your favourite books of 2011?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2011

Boxing Day Books (The Savidge Reads Advent Winners)

Hello one and all, I do hope you have a lovely Christmas Day? Thank you for your festive wishes. Mine was very nice; I had goose for the first time and found it rather delicious. I have also been playing card games (mainly spite and malice, which my thirteen year old sister has been teaching me), scrabble, drinking rather a lot and worn my party hat all day long. Oh and I had presents, no books but I got a really funky set of psychedelic proper chef knives for my new pad (I am moving at the end of Jan, oh the books are going to have to be sorted), lots of Jelly Belly – too many is never enough and my favourite present so far has been three pairs of Mr Men lounge pants (Messy, Tickle and Bump) so there was one present with a literary twist. I have been reading but not as much as I would have expected, that is normally left for today, Boxing Day, my favourite Christmas Day.

There is something about Boxing Day that I have always found rather joyous, and not just the left-over’s from Christmas dinner which normally end up in a sandwich (though my Mum is currently off making pastry for a pie this year) and the endless supply of crisps and chocolates that we all buy for Xmas day and then don’t eat because we are too full. I love the fact it’s a delightfully lazy day, well at Savidge Christmas’s it is, we generally spend most of the day lounging around reading before a big TV fest in evening (Miranda Hart going trekking with Bear Grylls will be my Christmas TV highlight) so I am looking forward to that, I have already recorded an episode of The Readers so I feel I can now slob – that was my hard work of the day, now it’s time for my good deed of the day. It’s time for present giving…

Boxing Day can be another day of presents as the family you didn’t see might pop round, we won’t be seeing any other family members so today I have plucked all the Savidge Reads Advent Calendar winners from a random number generator and here are the winners…

Day 1; The Complete Nancy Mitford – Reading With Tea
Day 2; Burned by Thomas Enger – Harriet and Ellen B
Day 3; Smutt by Alan Bennett & Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Steel Reader and Gaskella
Day 4; Godless Boys by Naomi Wood & Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Louise and Dog Ear
Day 5; The Great British Bake Off Book – Dovegreyreader and Janet D and Novel Insights
Day 6; Jennifer Egan books – TBA
Day 7; The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall – Rhonda Reads and Simon Saunders and Belinda
Day 8; Shes Leaving Home by Joan Bakewell  – Gaskella and Mystica
Day 9; Sophie Hannah’s series – Emma
Day 10; In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood & China Mieville books – Louise and Ragamuffinreader
Day 11; Sue Johnston autobiography – Sue and Simon T and Ann P
Day 12; Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – Janet D and Dominic
Day 13; Selected Agatha Raisin books – Kirsten and Victoria
Day 14; The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall – Janet D and Ann P
Day 15; When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman – Femke and Ruthiella and Alex and Joanne In Canada
Day 16; all David Nicholls novels – Sue
Day 17; Patricia Duncker novels – Gaskella
Day 18; A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French – Ann P and Gabrielle Kimm
Day 19; all the Yrsa Siguardardottir novels – Kimbofo
Day 20; Frozen Planet & White Heat by MJ McGrath – Emma and Mystica
Day 21; A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse & The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Nose in a Book and Novel Katie
Day 22; The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Jenni and Ann P and Femke
Day 23; Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series  – David
Day 24; Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series – Harriet

Merry Christmas to both those of you who won (and some of you won a few times) and those who didn’t. If you did email me savidgereads@gmail.com with the book/s you have won in the subject and your address and I will make sure these are sent out in the first week of January. Right, I am off to go and pick at some stuffing before curling up with my book. Hope you are all having a wonderful time, what did you get for Xmas?

Oh and a MASSIVE thank you to the publishers who got involved: Penguin, Faber and Faber, Profile Books, Hodder, Picador, Atlantic, Serpents Tail, Ebury, Corsair, Constable and Robinson, Portobello, Little Brown, Virago, John Murray, Headline, Bloomsbury, Europa Editions, Mantle, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster & Transworld


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Those Happy-Sad Books…

I have been mulling this over for a while, yet it still might come out a little jumbled so bear with me. I was watching ‘The Café’ (a drama on the telly, but this post is about books) the other day and from about ten minutes in I knew I was going to love it. It’s situated in a café on a British seafront where the owner, her mother and her daughter (a jobless budding writer) spend most of their day chatting with its frequent customers. Sounds a bit non-descript so far but it’s honestly not. There’s a wonderful array of characters (a competitive old woman and a gay man who makes his living as a human statue are my favourites) a possible love story, but it’s the tone of the show that gets me the most. It’s in some parts utterly hilarious, in a gentle yet knowing way, and yet also in another moment quite heartbreaking – it is from some of the people behind The Royale Family so makes sense. I love the balance, which is pitch perfect in this case and am now desperate for books that match that balance of happy and sad in equal balance.

I should state I don’t mean any melancholy books, I also don’t just mean hilarious books. You see after an episode of the café I am left feeling a little emotional (I haven’t cried yet, but I can’t promise I won’t) but generally extremely uplifted and happy (from all the giggling) and like I have actually been part of the place, emotions and lives these characters inhabit.

I have been trying to think of examples and one, though it wasn’t quite perfect, was ‘A Spot of Bother’ by Mark Haddon (read pre-blog, its hard to imagine that time now). The last one I can recall doing just this was ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman which hit the exact note of making me laugh out loud before that heartbreaking sense in your gut from page to page, beautiful and spot on. I am sure there are others out there. I was tempted to say ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls (watch out for a Nicholls giveaway tomorrow) as it almost has that feel yet not quite. Maybe that’s because it is a love story (hence I haven’t mentioned ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ etc) rather than a family tale, and I am now thinking if a family at the heart of a happy-sad novel is what makes it work… Or maybe not? Maybe the atmosphere, tone, pitch and delivery have to be just right? Maybe it is just me and the mood I am in, maybe ‘happy-sad’ isn’t really a type of book, I think it is out there though, what say you?

Anyway if you have any recommendations of these sorts of stories I would love to hear about them (and you could win such a book as part of the Savidge Reads advent calendar today too) as I would like a lot more of them to immerse myself in during 2012, suggestions anyone?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

When God Was A Rabbit – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 15

So today I am talking about ‘those happy-sad’ books which I have suddenly realised I really love and my quest to find more. I thought I would share one with you. In fact actually I am sharing one with you again. I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Winman’s ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ when I read it earlier in the year and so gave some away as a treat. Now it has a new Christmas cover and so I thought that would be a good excuse to give four of you the chance to get a lovely special edition (I like the idea of special edition books, beat that Kindle, ha) to read over the festive period.

All you need to do is go to the happy-sad books post and leave a suggestion of a book that matches the criteria I am after. You have until 8am GMT on December the 17th when I will draw all the winners so far! Good luck.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness