Tag Archives: William Boyd

Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part One…

So we have hit the penultimate day of 2015, where does the time go? Back by popular demand (well David kindly asked me) is the first of my two lists of the books that I loved most in 2015. Today’s selection for your delectation are the books that I have 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) which means some classics have given way to more modern books but this really reflects my tastes in general. More on that another time though. Without further waffle or ado, here are the first twelve books I really, really, really loved in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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2015 has been a year that has seen me devour and enjoy more graphic novels and memoirs than ever before and I have loved it. Undoubtedly that love was started this year with The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg which combines history, myths and fairytales (with a slightly wonky twist) to create a wonderful visual world of Vikings, giants, gods, eskimo’s and more and celebrates the marvels of great stories and wonderful storytelling. A delight from start to finish.

10 (=).

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If you’d told me back at the start of 2015 that one of my books of the year would involve giant mutant preying grasshoppers /praying mantises then I would have laughed in your face. This would have been a) cruel and b) completely wrong. Grasshopper Jungle is a thrilling, gripping and entertaining rollercoaster of a read that looks at love, sexuality, friendship and how to survive if mutant killer insects who only want to breed and eat take over the world. What more could you ask for?

10 (=).

From the off, and indeed throughout, the world in Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is, to be frank, pretty f***ed up. (I honestly tried quite hard to not use ‘the f bomb’ but it is the only word that seems apt.) Girls are now bred, yes bred, for three reasons. They can become a companion to the men in society who can afford it and have babies, which will only be boys as these girls have been bred to be breeders of the male line; they can become a concubine, and have sex (with no babies) with all the men in society who can afford it; or they can become chastity’s and shave their heads, wear black gowns and raise more manufactured young girls to keep the cycle ticking along. See, I told you, f***ed up, and that is only the beginning. I have a feeling Louise O’Neill is one of those authors whose careers we are just going to watch grow and grow and grow. Atwood, watch out, ha!

9.

Before I read it, I had some really odd preconceived ideas about H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man. First up I thought that it was a tome of some several hundred pages, wrong, it is a novella. Secondly I thought that it was set in the 1970’s (impossible as it was written in 1897) and involved some old man in a mackintosh who smoked, wrong, that is just something I naively surmised from an old 70’s edition of the book my mother had on her shelves. Thirdly I didn’t think I would enjoy it in any way shape or form, so wrong. What I got was an incredibly dark and sinister novel that suddenly becomes both incredibly moving and incredibly disturbing as you read on. Naturally with that in mind, I absolutely loved this book.

8.

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Imagine if Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy had a bastard lovechild… He would be Benjamin Myers in my humble opinion and I think Beastings testifies that notion. I almost don’t feel I need tos say more, but I will. We know it is raining, we know that a young woman has fled the house she was living in with a baby that isn’t hers, we also have the sense that both her and the baby were in danger. We soon learn that she is being followed, although hounded/stalked sounds more sinisterly appropriate, and is heading for a secret island somewhere off the coast. Because on an island in the ocean no-one can sneak up on you. The question is if she can get through the forests and mountains of Cumbria and head to the ocean without being caught and without hardly any supplies. And with that, we are off…

7.

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I only recently devoured Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None yet it shot straight into my top ten without hesitation. Ten strangers are sent to an island under false pretenses, they are soon all accused of murder or implicated in a death, then they start to die one by one following the pattern of an old nursery rhyme. The premise is impossible, yet as Agatha Christie’s fantastic novel unfolds we soon come to learn that anything is possible, no matter how chilling or unbelievable it might first appear. An utterly stupendous thriller, once you have read it you understand why it is the biggest selling murder mystery in the world, ever.

6.

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Sometimes all I want as a reader is a bloody good story. I want a twisting plot, characters that walk of the page and that you love, hate or preferably a bit of both. I want mystery and intrigue. I want to be taken to a world I know nothing about and get lost in it and its entire atmosphere. I can be a right demanding so and so however Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist delivered all this to me in abundance as it took me on a gothic journey with Nella as she walked onto the threshold of Brant house in Amsterdam 1686.

5.

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2015 has also been a year where memoirs have been a hit, in several cases centring around grief and this is one of those. H is for Hawk is an incredibly special kind of read, which all the above culminates towards, simply put it is a generously open, honest and brutal yet beautiful book. Helen Macdonald takes us completely into her life and her world at a time when she was at her most broken and vulnerable and shares that with us in all its technicolour splendour of emotions. You will laugh, you will cry and you will have felt incredibly privileged to have spent time in the company of Helen, Mabel the Goshawk and the writer T.H. White.

4.

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Until this year I had never read a word of Patricia Highsmith’s, well don’t I feel a fool after reading this. Deep Water is one of the most entertaining, snarky, camply dark, vicious and twisted psychological thrillers I have read. It is also one of the most unusual as the reader watches a sociopath come to the fore from their normally meek mild mannered self… and we egg him on and like him, even understanding him oddly, the whole time. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a killer, if this is a prime example of what Highsmith fondly described as “my psychopath heroes”, I can’t wait to meet the rest.

3.

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It seems that 2015 was the year of insects in fiction for me, this time with bees and heaven forefend ones that talk. From this alone I should have had some kind of anaphylactic shock to this book (see what I did there) however I was completely won over by the story of Flora as she works her way through and up the hive in Laline Paull’s wondrous debut The Bees. I have been talking about this book ever since and also been boring as many people as possible with the fascinating facts I learnt about these winged beings as I read. A book which for me had it all; brilliant writing, fantastic pace, fantastic facts and a real heart looking at class, religion and women’s rights.

2.

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Now then, this is the book I have yet to review and yet is a book which took over my life as I was enravelled in the whole life of another man, Logan Mountstuart. A man which I am still struggling to believe isn’t real as his diaries from 1923 – 1998, which make up William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, take us through school romps, to wild affairs, marriages, more affairs, wars and gossip with famous people through the decades and give us not only a vivid encounter with the recent history of Britain and its endeavours (which take us all over the world) but celebrate the lives of us strange folk and the power of the pen and the written word. Ruddy marvellous and a complete and utter nightmare to review hence why I haven’t managed as yet. You can hear me talking about it here though.

1.

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I talked about book tingles earlier in the year, that wonderful feeling you get when you read a book and the words just wash over you and you know everything in this book in front of you is going to encapsulate everything you love about reading. Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike had that for me within paragraphs of it’s very first story. In this collection we are taken to places all over the world, to all walks of life and never given the story we expect in the beginning but something so much more; be it funny, dark or magical. It was a book that arrived completely new to me, no hype or anything and completely bowled me over. I adore this book with all my heart, it brought joy to my beardy face for the whole time I read it.

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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 Susan Barker’s The Incarnations, Susan Hill’s I’m The King of the Castle and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart, but that will be deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read and do pop and see my next list tomorrow. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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The Readers Roadtrip Days 4 & 5; Booktopia Petoskey

There have been a couple of days of radio silence, this is because I have had the utter joy of attending Booktopiaover the past two and a bit days in Petoskey. It has been a whirl of fun, book chatter, book recommendations and book buying – especially in the case of Thomas which I am sure he will fill you in on via his blog soon!

Now if you’re wondering what on earth Booktopia is, I will describe it thus… Imagine around 100 booky people/addicts/nerds (nerds in a good way) two hosts and seven authors who take over a hotel and a local bookshop (and in some cases a whole town) for two days with lots of author discussion, chances to take literary tours, discuss books over lovely dinners – that pretty much sums it up. It was (because this was the last one, sorry if you’ve missed out) organised by two of my favourite people and podcast hosts Ann and Michael (who I hope I can also now call friends) from Books on the Nightstand, who crazily let Thomas and I not only visit but join them in panels too!

 
We were one of the first two sessions discussing our favourite books; Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Professors House by Willa Cather. You will get reviews on them here soon but even better you’ll get to hear those chats on both our podcasts in the next month or so! Very exciting. We also got to visit some author events, record The Readers Live! and just hang out with some wonderful, wonderful, wonderful people.

There’s almost too many brilliant moments to highlight and bore you discussing for ages but two had to be firstly, being asked to sign copies my favourite book (Rebecca as if you need to be told) which was very surreal but lovely…

And also getting an amazing gift from and amazing woman, Karen Brown you are a star, who had our four favourite books made into prints by none other than Jane Mount who makes the amazing Ideal Bookshelves prints, how stunning and delightful is this?!? We were all unusually speechless and very moved.  

There were lots of other highlights with lots of wonderful people so instead of going on here are some pictures that sum up the whole two days… 

  
  
  
It has honestly been amazing, thank you to everyone who made Thomas and I feel so welcome and discussed books with us for hours! I think we need a Booktopia UK don’t we? I also need a big sleep. I’ve done three cities and five bookstores today so I’m quite tired, more on that tomorrow.

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Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist Predictions…

Sorry I couldn’t come up with a more snazzy title than that this morning but having just spent a good hour or two going through my bookshelves, both of the books I have read this year and the ones I have yet to (which made me have a moment of weeping from the shame), so my brain is slightly frazzled. The reason I was doing this exercise was to see which books I thought would make it onto the Man Booker Longlist tomorrow, always a fun game which many people have joined in with already. I must say, before I reveal the list, there is no way on earth I think I am a) anywhere near right b) in a position where I feel I should be c) am not sure I want to be anywhere near right as I like the surprise of new to me books. How can any of us, unless we are one of the judges or the administration team, have a clue? I have just gone on books I have read and loved and books that I really want to read that I can see as being ‘Booker’ books, whatever that is – let’s not open up that can of worms! So here goes…

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A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
All Involved – Ryan Gattis
The Good Son – Paul McVeigh
Girl At War – Sara Novic
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
TheWallcreeper – Nell Zink

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I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers
At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison
The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall
The Well – Catherine Chanter
Tender – Belinda McKeon
Us Conductors – Sean Michaels

Note, I am missing one and that is because I don’t have it. I think The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma could also be on the list, it is one I am very eager to read at some point. Now you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute sunshine whatabout x, y or z’ well these lists are tricky and you can only go with your gut but I did have another 11 that I could have had on that list which at the moment I purged I thought could go either way…

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Yes, I know those are a pile of nine books but I cannot find my copy of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is on a very high shelf (yes those shelves in the picture above go on up very very very high) and I couldn’t reach it without getting chairs involved and all sorts. I loved A God in Ruins but I wonder if the clever sneaky very subtle twist will be a marmite effect as I know lots of people who (because clearly they have hearts made from coal surrounded by ice, ha) were left slightly unmoved by it. Anyway, any of the above and aforementioned, if not pictured, I would like to see on the list very much indeed. Though as I have mentioned part of the joy of it is the surprise that may await us.

Would I have a tantrum if any of these weren’t on the list? Possibly with A Little Life, which might be one of my books of a lifetime, and All Involved because I think Gattis has written a fascinating insight into gang culture which puts you on a roller-coaster from start to finish (unputdownable would be the cliche I would use if I could, oh… I have) and is crafted and characterised beautifully, and A God In Ruins will ruin you, if you have a normal person’s heart – hehehe. Annoyingly I have only reviewed the Atkinson as the other two will be on You Wrote The Book in due course so am holding off till then. Oh, I am rambling, let us wrap up. What I can say is that I am very excited about tomorrows list and will be awaiting it with much interest.

If you would like to see more guesses there are some at A Case For Books, A Life in Books, Farm Lane Books and over at Neil D. A. Stewart’s blog. Oh and if you want a whole different list you can vote on then check out the Not The Booker Longlist 2015 too. Now over to you, what do you think of the books I have chosen (have you read any?) and which books are you hoping will make the list and why? Let me know if you have had a go at predicting tomorrows list.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #57 – Sandra Danby

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are having a nosey around the shelves of author Sandra Danby who spends her time between the UK and Spain, though has this weekend kindly opened her doors to us in her UK home but do grab some polverones to have with your horchata, which she kindly brought back on her last trip. Now that we have helped ourselves to those we can get to know Sandra and her bookshelves a little bit better…

I grew up on a small dairy farm at the bleak edge of East Yorkshire where England meets the North Sea. I started reading early and have never stopped. When I was eight a friend of my mother’s emigrated to New Zealand and their house was emptied of furniture, I was given a small oak bookcase. My very own bookcase. I shared a room with my older sister, so this was a really big deal. I filled it with Puffin books [I was a member of the Puffin Club], alphabetized: I still organise my bookshelves the same way. And some of those first Puffin books are still on my shelf, the faded letters still visible on the spines. The only difference is that after +35 years as a journalist, I now write fiction as well as read it.

Orwell, Murakami, Murdoch

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

I wish I had the space to keep everything I read. I do keep favourites, series, anything I know I will want to read again. Everything else is donated to Oxfam, I believe firmly in recycling books and buy quite a lot of mine second-hand either from my local Oxfam shop or via Oxfam online. I review books for my blog [www.sandradanby.com] and so receive advance e-books which tend to pile up on my Kindle, I do have a periodic clear out and delete the ones I know I will never want to read again. If I read a book on Kindle and I absolutely love it, I buy the paperback. I buy hardbacks of my favourite authors, the ones I know will be 5* – Kate Atkinson, Sarah Waters, PD James, Jane Smiley, Hilary Mantel, William Boyd.

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?

I have a to-read shelf in our spare bedroom, hidden away behind the door. Books are scattered around the house in various bookshelves, and some seem to have migrated into my husband’s study: he has all my old William Boyds, for example, and old Grishams. 95% of my books are on the shelves in my study, and in piles on the floor. There is a system but at the moment it is a bit out of control. The fiction is A-Z without genre separation, shelves for poetry, short stories and drama, two shelves of Spanish language text books and novels [we live in Spain some of the year which I blog about at www.notesonaspanishvalley.com], and a shelf of journalism and creative writing text books dating back to when I taught journalism. My reference bookshelf includes the usual suspects plus research books for my novels, so lots on adoption and family history for the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series [I’m writing book two now, book one Ignoring Gravity is available at Amazon] plus World War Two which I am fascinated about and will write about ‘some day’.

the to-read shelves

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

Yes, I still have it and re-read it. When I was 10 I was given Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome as a present and loved it. I bought Swallowdale, the second in the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series, with my own money. Every birthday of Christmas present after that was another S&A book.

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?

Guilty pleasures? I am fond of crime [I like the intellectual puzzle, not the violence] and often pick up a familiar Susan Hill or Stieg Larsson. I recently blogged about reading a Simon Serrailler novel and called it a comfort read, which Susan Hill took me to task over – I meant comfort in the sense of ‘relaxing into the familiar’. Also I find children’s/YA series addictive: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Wolf Brother, Swallows and Amazons. But they are not hidden: they are either on my bookshelves or my Kindle. And they do get re-read.

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

My father’s copy of Treasure Island. It’s a beautiful thing, not worth anything I don’t think, but I love its green and gold binding. It is more than a book: it is a memory of my father who encouraged me to look at books and newspapers even before I could read the words. It’s because of him that, as a farmer’s daughter from a remote seaside corner of Yorkshire, I made my own magazines full of stories and drawings, and seemed destined to read English at university. He always gave the impression that everything was possible.

The S's

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

My mother’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the one I wanted to read, knowing it was controversial but not understanding why. I did read it, much later, in fact I took it to university with me though the paper was thin and fragile by then. I am proud of Mum, who ordered the book from our village newsagent and brought it home in a brown paper bag. By some quirk, the warden of my college – Goldsmiths, London University – was Sir Richard Hoggart who was an expert witness at the obscenity trial of LCL in 1960 when Penguin published the full unexpurgated edition.

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

It is rare that I borrow a book from a friend. I do borrow library books, particularly for research or to try out a new crime series. If I like it, I will buy it. I do not want to know how much I spend every year on books. Best not calculated.

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

This week I bought the new poetry volume by Clive James, Sentenced to Life. Very moving, very true, a difficult but beautiful read.

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

Early Warning by Jane Smiley and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

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

I have no idea what someone else would think of my shelves, it is such a broad mixture. I don’t mind what a visitor might think of my reading taste: I buy and read the books I want to read, I don’t buy them because of labels or image. If I did I wouldn’t have The Hobbit next to William Trevor, or Orwell next to Spike Milligan, Murakami and Murdoch. I find book snobbery pointless.

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

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What Happens When You Move & Don’t Update Publishers With Your New Address?

Well, you go and visit the lovely family members you were staying with after a few weeks of being in your own little new world and find they have had an avalanche of parcels for you, which you then have to lug all the way back to your new abode. Let me illustrate that for you…

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I stopped doing ‘incoming posts’ but know some of you like them so see this is a random special return. (I’m not going to list all the books just some highlights, you can click on the pics for a bigger image I think.)

There was some delightful parcel opening once I had dragged several ‘bags for life’ (and really tested them to see if they live up to their name) brimming with parcels home, as some of the finds were wonderful. In general these were unsolicited copies, but I had asked for a few. Maura at Riot PR had sent some of the Waterstones 11, so I think I have almost all of those now, as I don’t have relationships with all of the publishers on the list. I have been very excited about them all but both ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ by Will Wiles and ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan in particular, but didn’t think those two would be appearing via my postman, I was wrong as I had a copy from Little Brown, so I might give one away when the book comes out. ‘The Art of Fielding’ by Chad Harbach I asked for with the clause that I would try it but I might not finish it, I am being honest, and so I will at some point.

I am beyond excited about Peter Ackroyd’s biography on ‘Wilkie Collins’ and the new short story collection ‘Guilt’ by Ferdinand Von Schirach as I greatly admired ‘Crime’ when I read it last year. I think William Boyd’s new book, which Alice at Bloomsbury had signed for me as I couldn’t make the Bloomsbury Blogger event, ‘Waiting For Sunrise’ might be the next from these piles I read, though it is getting a lot of mentions on blogs, we will see. It could have some stiff competition from ‘Love From Nancy’ (which is more Nancy Mitford letters than I could dream of) as to who makes it from the TBR to the bedside table, we will see.

Pretty much all the other books came unsolicited as I mentioned but there are some titles there that I am intrigued by, I will have a proper sift over this weekend, and so am pleased arrived. I have yet to read Peter Carey, ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ just looks so looooong, but ‘Chemistry of Tears’ looks shorter and sounds very interesting so I will give this major Man Booker winner a whirl finally. I am also thrilled with two of the recovered (in a team up with the V&A) and soon to be reissued Vintage Classics which turned up, ‘The Sea, The Sea’ by Iris Murdoch and ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’ by  John Fowles. They are authors I have read one book by before and then I said I will return to and then haven’t. Both look very good, and I fancy some more chunksters this year, and I had no idea ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ was neo-Victorian until recently so I am definitely going to give that a whirl soon.

What books have you bought/been sent/been given lately? Which of these would you like to see me give a whirl on a whim? What are you reading now?

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Savidge Reads Grills… Jane Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which current contemporary authors do you really rate?

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

What is your favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for Jane Harris?

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

***

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

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Very Human Hearts

I wanted to pop a small thank you post up before a bigger review, which I am currently having a fifth stab at getting right as I keep feeling I havent done the book justice, later today. I havent gotten around to responding to comments you have posted lately which I have been wanting too (though I do have time pencilled in this evening to do just that) but a big thanks for them all. Especially the ones which concern ‘Do I Want To Read?’ as your thoughts are always really helpful, in fact Gran says thanks for your suggestions for her book group choices for next year too, you all seem to know just what I might like and what more could I ask for?

I do have to extend an extra thanks as I received a little surprise parcel from a reader who has sent me things before this morning (it had been left at the shop next door) which took recommendation a little further with a note attached saying ‘I didn’t comment, I just thought this would say it all… read it’ and enclosed was…

… a copy of ‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd! I am most chuffed,so a huge thanks to you who wishes to remain nameless! Though of course it now causes a new dilemma, when oh when to read it?

Oh and in case you think it’s all take, take, take at Savidge Reads HQ you might want to pop onto the blog tomorrow when I will be giving away to two lucky readers over twenty books each … all will be revealed tomorrow!!

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