katewritesandreads

katewritesandreads

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Seven in July


I read seven books in July, one I wish I hadn’t.


Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
Christian Aid sale purchase. Loved this police procedural. The main character, Manon Bradshaw, is a detective sergeant and what she has to deal with is this – ‘Edith Hind is gone, leaving just her coat, a smear of blood and a half-open door’. How could you not want to find out what happened next? The New York Times, no less, called it: ‘Smart and stylish. Manon is portrayed with an irresistible blend of sympathy and snark.’




I Found You by Lisa Jewell
Read on Kindle. Lily has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night, she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one.
Alice finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement, she invites him into her home.

I stayed up very late to finish this. My goodness, it has some extremely dark and harrowing moments. You have been warned.




Alone Through China and Tibet by Helena Drysdale
Christian Aid sale purchase. I am rather obsessed by China (see why here) and wish that, like Helena Drysdale, I saw it before its modernisation began.

She went in 1985 and I travelled vicariously with her. I would not have the courage to do what she did – or the temperament. I like knowing where I'm going to sleep, and even the thought of arriving other than ridiculously early at a station or airport gives me the screaming heebie jeebies.

But I like to think that in some respects that I am more prepared for a journey than Ms Drysdale. I wouldn’t take the hour-and-a-half bus trip to Glasgow without an emergency granola bar. She got on a bus to go through Tibet, a journey of several days in one of the most unpopulated parts of the planet, and she did not take a single thing to eat with her, nor any water. Her fellow travellers were laden with snacks, including tins of mandarin oranges – they fished the segments out with chopsticks. She does not say whether they offered to share with her but after a day or two someone by the roadside ‘made us omelettes’. I’d have eaten my own hand by that stage.



Christian Aid book sale purchase. Another sojourn in China, this one a mere twenty-two years later but in a very changed country. Canadian Mitch Moxley finds himself in Beijing in 2007 as a correspondent for China Daily. He wants to be a journalist, or so he says … he doesn’t actually seem very keen on writing, or working come to that, but he gets up to various shenanigans as twenty-something men are wont to do … But hey, he’s in China so I’m willing to follow him.



Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Read on Kindle. I heard about this on the Portobello Book Blog (read Joanne Baird’s review here).

I loved it. Loveday works in a second-hand bookshop in York for the wonderful, mysterious Archie. She lives on her own and doesn’t seem to have any friends or family – her story is slowly revealed. When she picks up a book on the street Nathan enters her life. 

I never intend to get a tattoo but after reading this I’m pondering which first line of a book would I choose if I did. Perhaps it would be the beginning of Lost for Words: A book is a match in the smoking second between strike and flame. Isn't that lovely?

 *****
I’m not going to say what the sixth (e-)book was. If I’d read the first page on Amazon I’d never have bought it – won’t make that mistake again. I kept going thinking surely it will get better but it never did. Banal writing, badly edited (not self-published, shame on the publisher). A young couple’s marriage is in crisis but as we never see them in the good times so what? I could tell you what happened to them but I couldn’t tell you anything about them, they were so one-dimensional. Two hours of my life I’ll never get back.
 *****



The Print Petticoat by Lucilla Andrews
Lucilla Andrews was the doyenne of hospital romance and some of her titles have just been brought out as e-books. This one is set a few years after the Second World War in a maternity unit that was evacuated from London and has not yet gone back. Joanna has several men who are very keen on her and it takes a serious and unexpected event to show which is the right one for her.

The 'print petticoat' by the way is a reference to the full-skirted uniform worn by nurses at St Gregory's Hospital.
 
Lucilla Andrews’ wartime memoir No Time for Romance (highly recommended) became part of a controversy involving Ian McEwan and his novel Atonement.

I was honoured to be asked to contribute an article for the publisher’s website and I chose to write on my favourite books about nurses (fiction and fact), see ‘Florence, Cherry, Lucilla and Me’ here.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Seven in June


I read seven books in June.


Calling Major Tom by David M. Barnett
Read on Kindle. Think of a story where a highly trained astronaut is about to leave on a one-way trip to Mars, his task to take ten years to set up a colony there. However, when he dies before take-off his place is taken by forty-year-old Thomas Major (and yes, he is Bowie fan) who is unqualified for the job except that he is so unhappy he relishes the thought of the forthcoming solitude. Now think of the Ormerods, a family firmly rooted on Mother Earth, where a teenage girl is desperately holding things together for herself, her little brother and their increasingly forgetful granny, terrified that bureaucracy will separate them.

It seems impossible at first that these stories could plausibly coincide. Yet they do, in this cleverly constructed and heart-warming book.



The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
OK, I cracked. I couldn’t leave my last two Liane Moriartys unread any longer. They lay at the side of my bed saying … go on, you know you want to …
Hypnotherapist Ellen is fascinated by what makes people tick. So when she falls in love with Patrick, the fact that he has a stalker doesn't faze her in the slightest. If anything it intrigues her, and the more she hears about Saskia, the more she wants to meet this woman. But what Ellen doesn't know is that they've already met . . .
Not my favourite, which remains The Last Anniversary, but once embarked upon not to be put down until finished.


Truly Madly Guilt by Liane Moriarty
Some similarity to Big Little Lies – an event at a social function has unexpected consequences and results in someone’s death. Terrific characters – I loved Vin in particular, and little Ruby just jumped off the page.

So that’s where my bingeing has got me … no unread Liane Moriartys; I can only hope she is typing at top speed at this very moment.



Foreign Fruit by Jojo Moyes
On the bright side I found a Jojo Moyes I hadn’t read at the Christian Aid booksale and enjoyed it very much too. Set partly in the 1950s and partly fifty years later, the story centres around Arkadia, an Art Deo House, in a staid English seaside town. Notorious in its early days for its bohemian inhabitants, it falls into disrepair until its transformation into a hotel uncovers past secrets.



Autumn by Ali Smith
Read for Book Group. I must admit, because I thought it would be a difficult read, that I put off starting it until the Sunday morning before the Monday evening meeting – but then found myself completely involved and read the first 150 pages without looking up, finishing it in the afternoon. Her writing is mesmerisingly good. There’s not a plot as such but different stories illustrate the state of Britain in the time of Brexit. It has some very funny scenes such as when Elisabeth is trying unsuccessfully to produce a suitable photograph for her new passport, and when two characters get onto a TV programme called The Golden Gavel (clearly AS is poking fun at Antiques Road Trip). An unexpected treat.



The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell
I loved Lisa Jewell’s earlier books but after I read, and wasn’t very keen on, The House We Grew Up In, I didn’t pick up her more of hers until I saw this one and liked the premise.
Lydia, Robyn and Dean don't know each other – yet.
It would be a spoiler to tell you what these three have in common so I’ll just say that it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for my favourite TV programme Long Lost Family. Loved it. Now I’m back being a Lisa fan with lots to catch up on.


The Boy that Books Built by Francis Spufford
Christian Aid Book Sale purchase. FS had a difficult childhood in some ways – good parents but also a little sister with a very rare medical condition. So he retreated into reading and in this beautifully written memoir he revisits his favourite childhood books. I think he’s a little younger than me but we both grew up before the ‘Young Adult’ book was a thing.

I was a retreater too, if not for the same reason, so I felt we were kindred spirits even if our tastes rarely coincide – for some reason the Narnia books completely passed me by and neither have I read Tolkein or Ursula Le Guin, all of which obsessed him. However, we are a hundred per cent on the same page about Little House on the Prairie; he has a wonderful chapter on the series, and its author, including an account of a visit he made (in order to write a newspaper feature) to De Smet, immortalised in the later books, and now trading on the fame Laura Ingalls Wilder brought to it.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Interview with Helena Fairfax




Helena Fairfax has written: Palace of Deception, The Scottish Diamond (standalone romantic mysteries featuring the same characters with a bonus story A Question by at Hogmanay if you buy the anthology); A Way from Heart to Heart; The Antique Love (voted Most Romantic Love Scene Ever by readers of Love, Romances and More); The Silk Romance and a short story with recipes Come Date Me in Paris.

Her latest novel Felicity at the Cross Hotel is published today, 7 July, as an e-book and in paperback. Isn't the cover gorgeous?



A quaint hotel in the Lake District. The Cross Hotel is the perfect getaway. Or is it?
Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …
Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he's forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.
With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves?

I was delighted to receive an advance copy and after I read it I had some questions for Helena:

Helena, welcome to Kate Writes and Reads. I really enjoyed Felicity at the Cross Hotel and one reason is that I think a hotel is such a brilliant setting for a novel because it’s a natural way for all sorts of people to come together. I wondered if you’d ever worked in a hotel yourself?

Thanks so much for having me, Kate! I'd been keen on the idea of the hotel setting for a while before I got down to writing Felicity at the Cross Hotel, and for exactly the reason you say. It's the perfect setting for people of all backgrounds to come together, and they could be at the hotel for all sorts of interesting reasons.

And yes, I have worked in a hotel myself. Just like my heroine, Felicity, I worked behind the bar one summer. The hotel I worked in was a family-run hotel in the Bavarian Alps. With my own hotel – halfway up the side of a mountain in a remote location – there were lots of similarities with my fictional Cross Hotel in the Lake District. There was the same sense of a family community, a mix of lots of different people, including a grumpy chef (I wonder if all chefs are grumpy!), and the same way that gossip spread like wildfire round the village.

You cleverly manage to get two sorts of hotels into the story. The Cross Hotel is a one-off family-run hotel while Felicity’s family is in the chain hotel business. Which would be your preference for a holiday?

When I go on holiday I really don't mind what the hotel is like, as I usually like to be out for most of the day sight-seeing. The Cross Hotel would be perfect for a relaxing break, though. I could imagine relaxing with my book on the terrace every day, with its gorgeous views to the lake, drinking tea and eating the chef's delicious cheesecake. (And it would be nice to get to know Patrick Cross, too!)


I see from your website that you live in an old Victorian mill town ‘right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors’. The book is set in the Lake District so not too far away from your home – is it an area you know well?

The Lakes aren't far at all from me and I used to visit often, especially the area round Ambleside and Coniston Water. The landscape in the Lakes is completely different from the rolling moors and hills round where I live in Yorkshire, and I love the drama and romance of the mountains. Even the sky appears different at times – more steely and dramatic. It's no wonder Wordsworth called his home ‘The loveliest spot that man hath ever found’.

Apart from the hotel, and the relationship between Felicity and Patrick, there are other strands to the story. One of them is Patrick’s love of diving. I don’t want to give any spoilers but we do read about Patrick recalling something that happened while he was diving years earlier. I really felt I was there with him in cold murky Lake Emmswater. What research did you do to evoke this so well?


I have been diving myself, but that was in the sea around Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean. It was an amazing experience, and the waters I dived were the favourite spot of Jacques Cousteau. I can understand why! The Caribbean Sea is crystal clear, and the fish darting past are every shade of jewel-like colours. It was also warm – unlike the water in the Lake District! Freshwater diving in a cold lake is very different from diving in warm seas, and I knew I would have to get some help with the research, to make sure I had every detail correct. In the end I got in touch with the divers of Penrith Divers' Club and asked if I could watch them kit up and enter the water – just to see how putting on a dry-suit for cold water diving was different from wearing the wet-suit suitable in the Caribbean. The divers were really interested in my story and incredibly helpful. They gave me a CD they'd recorded underwater and explained all the manoeuvres they'd undergo to deal with a situation such as the one that Patrick Cross faces in my book. They had some fascinating stories to tell, and having gone to meet them I made friends for life. Felicity at the Cross Hotel is dedicated to them.

Another strand is Felicity’s relationship with her parents and her younger sister. Her father is an unpleasant and ruthless businessman but also a loving family man. Have you ever met anyone like that in real life?

I have met someone like that in a place I once worked – a man who was quite cold and hard, and a bit of a bully in business, and yet with his own family he was always kind and generous. His children were open and friendly, and completely different to him. I thought it would be interesting to explore that father/child relationship between Felicity and her dad, because it must be very difficult for the children of such a father. Patrick Cross's father, too, ‘wasn't a very nice guy’, and yet Patrick has grown up to be unselfish, caring and thoughtful.

I was once part of a discussion in which several women including myself ‘admitted’ that they give their cars (and other inanimate objects) names. The men in the room were baffled by such behaviour … In the book, Felicity’s ancient car, Agnetha, is almost as much a character as the people. Does your car have a name?

It doesn't have a name – but I'm very attached to it! My car is also an old banger, but I feel it's like a trusty old horse. I know it sounds ridiculous, but getting rid of it would be like putting it out to pasture. I'd be really sad! On the other hand, I have had cars I couldn't get on with at all. Cars that were cumbersome and awkward to drive, and one that was a total drama queen and would break down if asked to drive over a puddle. I swear all cars have a personality!

What was the inspiration for the book? Having coming up with the hotel in its lovely setting do you think you’ll set other stories there?

This might sound crazy – and very far from my Lake District setting – but my heroine was actually inspired by the heroine of a Bollywood film called Jab We Met – a girl with a cheerful, lively personality who transforms everyone around her. I'm also a big fan of the TV series The Hotel Inspector, and I liked the idea of Felicity thinking up ways to rejuvenate the Cross Hotel. I have ideas for more stories in the same setting. At the moment, they are just ideas scribbled in my notebook, but one day I hope to see them fully fledged!

Thank you for answering my questions, Helena. All the best with the book and your writing.

Thanks so much for having me here, Kate, and for your thoughtful questions!

Felicity at the Cross Hotel is available now.

Find out more about/contact Helena:
@HelenaFairfax


Lake pictures by Pixaby

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Running an imaginary hotel


I wrote my first People’s Friend serial after winning the First Instalment of a Serial competition at the Scottish Association of Writers conference (see here). Called The Family at Farrshore it’s now available as an e-book and as a large-print edition in libraries.  

When PF Fiction Editor Shirley Blair asked me to think about a second serial I thought a family-run hotel would be a good setting. It’s a natural place for all sorts of people to come together.

My grandparents ran a hotel in Inverness shire in the 30s and my mother told me some stories about that.


During two summer holidays when I was a student I worked in family-run hotels – one on an island, and one by a loch where a bridge would shortly be replacing the ferryboat.

And of course I have also stayed in hotels so I could use those as research too.

I brainstormed lists of everything that came to mind from these three resources and came up with lots of material, some of which I used and some I didn’t (yet). As a background to the story, I went with the building of a bridge that can be seen from the hotel window and will put the ferryman out of work and impact in other ways on the community. That scenario was real, as I’ve said, but I had fun making up people to populate it and fictional situations to put them in.

Once I’d got my characters, I watched TV programmes on hotels, and googled restaurant menus and various aspects of running a small hotel – in fact I got so carried away with that last one I had to remind myself I was writing a story not planning to become a landlady …

I did incorporate one of the stories my mum told me about her family’s inn – a smugglers’ tale from a couple of hundred years ago.

I liked how The People’s Friend illustrated the first instalment of The Ferryboat.



When Judy and Tom Jeffreys are asked by their daughter Holly and her Scottish chef husband Corin if they will join them in buying The Ferryboat hotel in the West Highlands, they take the plunge and move north.

The rundown hotel needs much expensive upgrading – and what with local opposition to some of their plans, and worrying about their younger daughter, left down south with her flighty grandma, Judy begins to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Other characters include Corin's rather intimidating parents Philip and Verity; Iris, a young widow with a small child, who loses her job at the hotel when the Jeffreys take over; Sandy, Iris' childhood sweetheart; Donny the ferryboat man; and forthright Roberta who refuses to name the day but has been engaged to Donny for eleven years. And of course there are hotel guests, both pleasant and otherwise.
 
Ulverscroft bought the large-print rights and produced a cover that got lots of nice comments when I posted it on social media.


So much so in fact that I asked if I could buy it and my graphic-designer husband altered it to make a terrific cover to go with the Kindle edition.


For my third serial I chose to write about a Highland farming community in the 1960s (A Time to Reap, coming soon on Kindle) but a hotel is a setting I hope to return to.

I was delighted to hear of a forthcoming book set in a hotel in the Lake District, Felicity at the Cross Hotel, and asked the author Helena Fairfax to tell me more about it. You can read her answers in a blog post here on publication day 8 July 2017 but to whet your appetite this is the really gorgeous cover:


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Eight in May


I read eight books in May.



A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
I read this before I went to Scandinavia for the first time – a visit to Copenhagen at the end of May. Helen Russell, a journalist on a glossy, London-based mag, gave up her job and moved to Denmark for a year when her husband got a job in ‘Lego-land’, a small town in rural Jutland, around thirty miles from the Danish capital. She decided to try and find out if Danes are as happy as they are reputed to be. And they are: she asked people she met from all walks of life to rate their happiness on a scale of one to ten and no one fell below eight despite – or maybe because of – those long dark winters. 

Living there as a non-native wasn’t all hygge but there were compensations not least pastry sampling (in the name of research of course). I decided to follow her example ...



 Then I read:


The Runaway Bridesmaid by Daisy James
After finding her own boyfriend and her sister in a compromising position just before the latter’s wedding ceremony Rosie swaps her Louboutins for Wellingtons and flies from bustling New York to sleepy Devon to the house she’s been left by her aunt. Great fun – and see Daisy James’ latest title Sunshine after the Rain whose cover I previewed here.


The Coffee Shop Book Club – various authors including Jojo Moyes, Ian Rankin, Tracy Chevalier, Jenny Colgan, Tessa Hadley and Val McDermid.

Christian Aid book sale. Short stories. I knew I hadn’t read the book before so couldn’t understand why the stories seemed familiar until I twigged – duh, the clue is on the cover – that they were first published in Woman & Home to which I had a subscription for a while.

I particularly liked As The Time Draws Near by Eowyn Ivey. Piper returns to Alaska to scatter the ashes of her daredevil father ‘Red’ Robertson. I really loved Ivey’s writing and look forward to reading her novel The Snow Child which has been on my Kindle for ages.


The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Read for book group. Becoming a vegetarian is apparently a very subversive act in South Korea and the fallout from one young woman making this decision is told here from three viewpoints (none of them hers). Several of the group admired some aspects of the writing but only one was very enthusiastic about the book … which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.



I is for Innocent and O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton

Yes, another Kinsey Milhone gumshoe blitz.

There was an interesting To the Reader note in O is for Outlaw which clarified the timeline of the books – or rather lack of timeline. The books: are sequential but Miss Milhone is caught up in a time warp and is currently living and working in the year 1986, without access to cell phones, the Internet, or other high-tech equipment … You’ll find few, if any references to current movies, fads, fashions or politics.

Famously, Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series is written in ‘real time’. The plus side of this meant that Rankin could set books around topical subjects such as the G8 summit in Edinburgh; the downside of course was that Rebus got older and so eventually had to retire.

As Sue Grafton planned from the outset in the mid 80s to write twenty-six Kinsey Milhone books I guess she had to make an early decision about how she was going to handle time and thought she wouldn’t have wanted Kinsey to age too much (plus her lovely landlord Henry who’s in his 90s clearly would not survive a further twenty-six years however good his gene pool). Hats doffed to her for pulling this off so successfully.

Since I’ve read so many Kinseys on the trot I notice (from a writerly perspective) that when a character is mentioned for the first time, however minor they are, we are always told what they are wearing in some detail, maybe not a technique that would work for everybody but effective here. Observing clothes would be part of Kinsey’s quick summing up of a person perhaps because she is supremely uninterested in what she herself wears – jeans and a black turtleneck being her uniform.

A quick Google tells me that in the US a ‘sport coat’ is what we in the UK call a sports jacket – but it sounds much more dashing.


And courtesy of a rescheduled flight and an unexpected four-hour train journey I was able to – yes, let’s hear it for the Kindle – bring my monthly total to eight with these two corking books:




A dual time-line novel (a device this author has made her own I think). Each story had a connection with Red Hill Hall –in earlier times a family’s stately home and now a hotel. The parallels were cleverly done and I enjoyed both the historical and the contemporary strands.


Felicity at the Cross Hotel by Helena Fairfax
Of which I shall say nothing for the moment, except do go and buy it and look out for an interview with Helena Fairfax here in early July.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Meeting Hans Christian Andersen


I spent a most enjoyable few days in Copenhagen recently.

Like every tourist I was keen to see the Little Mermaid and that wish was fulfilled when I took a boat trip from the colourful harbour area. 


And like every tourist I was surprised at how small she was – and where she was. Somehow I thought she was in the middle of the sea rather than by the shore – but I suppose that would be too difficult.


The statue of the Little Mermaid* of course is there because she is the creation of one of Denmark’s most famous sons, Hans Christian Anderson.
Before Anderson there were no authors of fairy tales – only collectors of tales from the oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation, from region to region and culture to culture.

So says the Introduction to Best Fairy Tales which I bought while I was in Copenhagen.


(It’s published by Macmillan in London and I suppose I could have waited and bought it for less when I got home but I thought it was a lovely edition and a fitting souvenir of my holiday.)

Andersen was born in rural Denmark in 1805 to a poor family, but his shoemaker father read to him from the Arabian Nights and encouraged his early interest in theatre.

Later, in a way that makes a good tale in itself, Andersen was able to travel, visiting twenty-nine countries and meeting fellow writers and folklorists.

His first volume of stories included The Princess and the Pea and The Tinderbox and astounded Denmark’s literary establishment.

I ‘met’ him in a very touristy shop devoted to him (how bemused people from long ago would be if they saw the trinkets commemorating them) but at least there was no charge for having your photo taken with him.



I saw him again in the grounds of Rosenborg Castle.


This statue wasn’t completed and unveiled until after Andersen’s death. Apparently he objected to earlier versions which had him reading to a group of children, maintaining that his stories were for adults too.

The leafy graveyard in which he is buried was about five minutes walk from where I was staying



His grave is well kept, and on that day pretty with planted pansies, but it occurred to me that it ought to be burnished with gold and studded in diamonds as grateful thanks from the various film corporations and from other authors and illustrators who have taken his stories – The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Red Shoes, The Snow Queen, to name but a few – and made them their own.

* photo courtesy of Rosemary Gemmell


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Sunshine After The Rain


I had the pleasure of meeting Daisy James at a writers’ event recently and am delighted to be able to reveal the cover of her new book – the perfect beach read!

So pack your sunglasses, sun hat, sun cream and … Sunshine After The Rain:



A summer that changes everything…



Frazzled workaholic Evie Johnson has finally had enough! When she’s blamed for a publicity disaster at the art gallery she loves, she decides to flee the bright lights of London for the sun-drenched shores of Corfu and turn her life upside-down.



Under the shade of the olive trees, she picks up her dusty paintbrushes and begins to chase the dreams she had put aside for so long. But she never expected to bump into drop-dead-gorgeous Sam Bradbury – and certainly not whilst wrapped only in a towel!



A summer fling is the last thing Evie wanted but a few stolen kisses under the stars might just begin to change her mind…

Order Sunshine After The Rain here.