Thursday, 22 February 2018

Seven in January

Seven in January

I read seven books in January. (I know it’s almost March but this month I’ve published a new story collection and had other news to report … )

Yes, the Tom Hanks. And it’s a signed copy, courtesy of the wonderful Topping bookshop in St Andrews and my (also wonderful) husband.

Each of the stories involves a manual typewriter in either a minor or a major way (TH has collected about a hundred of them). Some of the stories have the same characters. Some are very thoughtful, others very funny. I think my favourite, and falling into the funny category, was the very first one, about three best friends, two men and a girl, Anna. One of the men, the narrator, makes the mistake of having an affair with Anna for ‘three exhausting weeks’, after which they revert, with mutual relief, to their previous relationship.

Between Friends by Jenny Harper
‘Love, secrets and loyalty’ in contemporary Edinburgh. When Marta bumps into an old acquaintance, Tom, during the Edinburgh Festival and asks him to dinner, a whole domino effect of disasters occurs, as Marta is unaware of the effect that Tom’s appearance will have on her two best friends Jane and Carrie. Of course the Edinburgh setting was bound to appeal to me but I also enjoyed this gripping story of female friendships.

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
I read this author’s The Whaleboat House last year and loved it. Enjoyed this one too which is set in Tuscany in 1958. A young English scholar tries to decode the clues in a mysterious garden and in doing so uncovers secrets of love, revenge and murder from 400 years ago and much more recently …

The house Susan Hill shared with her Shakespearian scholar husband had bookshelves everywhere. One night she went in search of Howard’s End. She couldn’t locate it but she did realise that there were books on their shelves that she’d forgotten they had, some she would love to re-read and perhaps two hundred that she hadn’t read at all. So she decided to give up buying new books for a whole year, instead going through the house shelf by shelf. At the end, with great difficulty, she compiled a list of the forty books she would keep if she had to give the others up.

I liked reading about her experience – and although I could do the same (check my to-be-read pile, print and Kindle!) I’m afraid I would not have the self-discipline.

Year of the Tiger by Lisa Brackman
A thriller set in China, with flashbacks to the war in Iraq where the narrator, Ellie, was a medic. Ellie’s friendship with a missing local artist leads her into big trouble when both Chinese and American government agents hound her about him.

I’m mad keen on books – fiction and non-fiction – set in China since a visit there a few years ago. 

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange 
'1919. Henry [Henrietta] moves to the countryside with her family, scarred by her brother's untimely death. Her only friends are characters from her favourite books - until, one day, she wanders into the woods and meets Moth, a striking witch-like woman. Together they form a bond that could help Henry save her family and overcome her grief.'

Henrietta is twelve, but this could be read by anybody of any age. Adults will read it on an extra level, knowing about the horrors of the First World War and of the way mental illness (not just of war veterans) was treated at this time. 

I adored this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Excellent contemporary police procedural. A workman falls from the top of a half-finished building – accident or murder? The answer – spoiler alert – has its roots in the Nazi occupation of Holland and a present-day extortion racket. Great sense of place and an interesting protagonist in Lotte Meerman, a police detective who has just returned to work four months after being shot; not all her colleagues are pleased to see her … 

This is the second Lotte book; I'd like to read the other two (which is why, see above, I could never do a Susan Hill).

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Writer of the Week

I have a story in this week’s People’s Friend called Goodbye Sukey (issue dated 24 February). I was delighted when the editor, Shirley Blair, said that she was going to make me ‘Writer of the Week’ and sent me some questions to answer about how I came to write that story and, more generally, about my writing.

You can read the interview here.

If you like Goodbye Sukey you can read more of my short stories in these three collections. All of the stories have been previously published in The People’s Friend, Woman’s Weekly and elsewhere, or have been placed in competitions.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

A sweet treat for St Valentine's Day

A sweet treat for St Valentine’s Day. Fourteen stories, zero calories.

The Palace of Complete Happiness and other love stories published 14 February.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Fourteen stories to make the world go round

According to Wikipedia, ‘Love makes the world go round’ was first used as a song title in 1896.

And on Valentine’s Day each year it makes the world go round even faster, I expect, leaving red roses whirling in its wake so that the earth looks rather like this:

These 14 stories for the 14th of February (or any other day of the year) were all previously published in women’s magazines. And if you think women’s magazine stories are all in a 1950s time warp then do think again …

Two for Joy
Superstitious Jess is looking for true love – will the magpies or the tea-leaves point her in the right direction?

Bonnie Prince Charlie
Isabel has an unexpected guest staying for Bed & Breakfast – and there are people who would pay to know his whereabouts.

Sam Something
Sam is enjoying a cappuccino while waiting for his colleague – when he overhears his name being mentioned at the next table.

Summertime Blues
It’s the year of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, but Lindsay, part-time record-spinner on a Scottish island, is feeling far from chirpy.

A Green Wedding Dress
As Caitlin attends a rather strange, small registry office ceremony she can’t help comparing it favourably with her own lavish and traditional wedding.

Please, Mr Postman
When Petra tries to track down some missing letters she ends up meeting some of her new neighbours.

Ae Fond Kiss
When café owner Mary takes part in a flash mob to sing one of the Robert Burns’ love songs she finds herself standing next to one of her customers.

A Parallel Universe
Louise meets David for the first time in fifteen years and wonders about the life they might have had together – is it too late?

See You Later, Alligator
Lizzie’s met an explorer who wrestles alligators but is she intrepid enough to fall in love with him?

And Pomona Came Too
There’s a third party in Nick and Jill’s relationship – his metal detector. He even wants to take it on their weekend break to Basking-in-the-Wold …

Making a Scene
Of course her little boy’s birthday party is Lorna’s first priority but how she wishes she could be in two places at once.

Meet Your Match
Patsy decides it’s time to look for a new partner on a dating site but she gets distracted by her memories, and by three items that have arrived in the mail.

For Love or Money
Jackie is about to marry someone who’s made a lot of money – is she trying to leave her two oldest friends behind?

The Palace of Complete Happiness
While escorting a school party through the Forbidden City in Beijing, Milly comes to the conclusion that she can learn a lesson from the life of the imperial family.

The Palace of Complete Happiness and other love stories is available to pre-order now, and will be delivered to your Kindle on St Valentine’s Day. 
Go on, spoil yourself.

Monday, 15 January 2018

My Life (maybe) – according to the books I read in 2017

Describe yourself

How do you feel?

Describe where you currently live

If you could go anywhere where would you go?

Your favourite form of transportation is

Your best friend is

You and your friends are

What’s the weather like?

Favourite time of day

If your life was a book

What is life to you?

Your fear

What is the best advice you have to give?

Thought for the day

How would you like to die?

Your soul’s present condition

This is a fun idea I saw first on Portobello Book Blog:

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Four Capital Writers

Three fellow writers and myself, all Edinburgh based, have set up a website together. Appropriately, we call ourselves Capital Writers

And to give you a flavour of our writing we have produced an anthology, Capital Stories, one story from each of us.

The stories in the anthology are arranged chronologically and are set in Edinburgh, from Regency times to the present day:

A Close Encounter
Anne Stenhouse

Afternoon Tea with Angelica
Jennifer Young

The Letter
Jane Riddell

An Ordinary Joe
Kate Blackadder

Apart from being writers living in Edinburgh we have something else in common. None of us were born in Scotland’s capital city but we have come to live in it at different times and for different reasons – and we love it.

We have each posted on the website an account of how we came to be here. This is mine, a tale that encompasses the murder of Rizzio, a horde of mice, and a name on a telephone list …

Anne, Jane, Jennifer and I propose to blog about things that interest us, to tell of the delights of Edinburgh including its past and present literary heritage (and promote our books along the way … )

We are looking forward to that and hope that you will travel virtually from wherever you are to join us …

… and we hope that you enjoy Capital Stories (99p).

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Five in December

I finished five books in December. I also got about a third of the way through Storm Country by Peter Davies, about tornado chasing in the Great Plains of America but, can’t really explain why, I didn't find his writing engaging so I’ve given it up for now.

The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd
Read for book group. This is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th century Amsterdam working for an English bookseller. One day a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives - the Monsieur – who turns out to be the philosopher and scientist René Descartes. In a note at the end the author tells what are the known facts of Helena Jans’ life – for example she was literate at a time when most in her class were not and Descartes did acknowledge that he was the father of her child. Guinevere Glasfurd has filled in the gaps most satisfactorily, with a great sense of the time and place. If you liked Girl with a Pearl Earring you will like this.

Samosas and Ale by San Cassimally
A feast of short stories with an Indian flavour, although they are not all set in the subcontinent. All have the name of a dish in brackets after the title. My Grandson the Detective (Korma) is a clever crime story. Nasreen (Phaal), like several of the stories written convincingly from a female viewpoint, was the sad story of an ‘honour killing’. Kokilaksha (Methi Pak), also with a female narrator, has an irresistible opening: ‘Although I have been on the lookout for a suitable man to father my child, I did not specifically book my Amsterdam-Delhi flight with that purpose.’ (I googled ‘Methi Pak’ and see that it is a dish that has health benefits but to some palates tastes bitter.) A beguiling collection.

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Bought in Christian Aid Book Sale and saved for pre-Christmas reading. Although not worth the wait … I loved the idea of people on an Amtrak train in the US going through blizzards to get home in time for Christmas –  but Christmas (as opposed to winter) was barely mentioned until page 222 and there were too many virtually indistinguishable folk. There was a good twist at the end though and if I’d enjoyed the rest of the book more I’d have gone back and had a quick re-read in the light of that, but life’s too short.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
Got on Christmas morning. Finished 27 December – there’s something about a diary as opposed to a chapter book; it’s almost impossible to stop reading. Shaun Bythell runs a second-hand bookshop (called The Bookshop) in the book town of Wigtown (in south-west Scotland – Scotland’s answer to Hay-on-Wye). He’s not Basil Fawlty but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly and plenty of them seem to frequent his shop, asking, for example ‘do you sell books?’ It’s not an easy way to make a living – in an area that is very summer-tourist dependent, and is also dependent on finding the gems among the dross in the books he’s offered and on the vagaries of selling online. A host of local characters get a look in, particularly his very eccentric Morrison-skip-diving assistant Nicky. I do hope there will be a further volume.

A Book of Book Lists complied by Alex Johnson
An irresistible, dippable-into Christmas present. I am in good company in keeping a note of books I’ve read – the book includes records kept by, among others, David Bowie and Art Garfunkel.

The other lists include:

The books on the International Space Station
Books left behind in hotels
Desert Island Discs: The books
A telephone box library
Scottish prisoners’ favourite books
Big Bang Theory: the art of the television bookshelf

Books that have never been written

Again I am in good company. I have a list of titles for about 50 books that I am unlikely ever to write – I may post them here sometime (or sell them to the highest bidder??). Samuel Taylor Coleridge apparently loved making lists of books/poems to write and then not doing so, while a list of proposed but never realised titles by Raymond Chandler include The Man with the Shredded Ear, Uncle Watson Wants to Think and The Diary of a Loud Check Suit.

Wishing you good reading – and writing – in 2018.