katewritesandreads

katewritesandreads

Friday, 24 November 2017

Seven in October


I read seven books in October – four novels, three non-fiction.


Gail Honeyman won Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014 (for a first novel for writers over forty). At the Frankfurt Book Fair there was a bidding war for it and since publication it has won or been shortlisted for many prestigious awards; film rights have been bought by Reese Witherspoon.

Eleanor is socially awkward, has a lowly clerical job and keeps herself – and her history – very much to herself. But when circumstances force her to interact with her one of her colleagues and then the wider world, her life gradually changes. Her story (narrated by herself) unfolds slowly, and it’s not a happy one. But despite everything Eleanor has no self-pity and there are moments of great humour in the book – tears and laughter in fact. I enjoyed it very much and it stayed in my mind for a long time after I finished it.
 

I saw Nell Stevens at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year – having been very intrigued by the description of her book in the programme. Nell, from London, did an intensive Fiction MFA, a prestigious course at Boston University and (how amazing is this?) that included funding for the students to live somewhere of their own choosing for three months in order to concentrate on their writing.

Reasoning that ‘there has never been a literary novel set in the Falklands’ she went to live on Bleaker Island, where the only other human inhabitants were a farming couple whose rare time off the island coincided with Nell’s arrival. The other little issue was that Nell had to exist on the food supplies she’d brought with her. The novel she planned to write turned into more of a journal; this book comprises that journal, extracts from the putative novel plus other writings. I loved her fiction writing and her descriptions of the ‘end of the world’.


Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
This is one of a newish series whereby a novelist chooses a Shakespeare play from which to write a contemporary novel. Anne Tyler chose – did you guess? – The Taming of the Shrew. And, although I expected nothing less from one of my favourite authors, she has done it most plausibly. Loved it.



by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Published in 2007, written by a woman who grew up on her grandparents’ farm. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to reading about this era but I am. As it says in the blurb, ‘This, however, is not a tale of suffering’ … but is ‘filled with stories of a family that gave its members a remarkable legacy of kinship, kindness, and remembered pleasures, and brimming with recipes and how-tos from everything to catching and skinning a rabbit to homemade skin and hair beautifiers, apple cream pie … ’ I don’t think I’ll be trying the recipe for ‘head cheese’ though …


 Being the English Girl by Claire Watts
Read on Kindle. A very enjoyable YA novel about a girl visiting her flighty French-exchange student. Part of a series – I’ve also read Gingerbread and Cupcake.


by Mara Wilson
Have you ever wondered what happened to the little actress who played Matilda? I hadn’t particularly but I picked up this book at the Christian Aid book sale and found out. There are several sad and poignant reasons why Mara Wilson isn’t a professional actress anymore but she needn’t worry about being unemployed; her writing is brilliant.


I love reading books on writing (yes, I know, displacement activity …) so was pleased to find this at the Christian Aid Book Sale although I’d never heard of Anne Lamotte, an American novelist and lecturer on creative writing. I didn’t really get on with it/her though; I think perhaps there was a culture clash plus I found her rather negative.

But I liked this – a quote made by the coach of the Jamaican bob-sled team (in the film about them called Cool Runnings) is one she reiterates to her desperate-to-get-published creative writing students: ‘If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.’

And I liked the explanation for the title. Her brother had put off doing his summer project on birds until the night before school went back. As he slumped at the kitchen table, horrified at the magnitude of his task, his father comforted him and told him to take it ‘one bird at a time, son, one bird at a time’.




Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ups and downs


It’s been an ‘up’ week at katewritesandreads:

On Monday, to celebrate National Short Story Week, I brought out a new collection of eleven stories, nine of which have won/been placed in competitions. See last blog post for further details.



On Wednesday I was interviewed on radio, a first for me. Crime writer Wendy H. Jones has a fortnightly radio show called Wendy’s Book Buzz on Mearns Radio, which operates from Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. My first instinct when Wendy asked me was to say No! I couldn’t do that but then I remembered that my new policy when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone (where my writing is involved ...) is to say Yes, I'd love to! and worry about the details later. So there I was clutching the phone and chatting to a very-well prepared Wendy about Stella’s Christmas Wish


It was the nearest I shall ever get to being on Desert Island Discs … I’d chosen six songs in advance and in between playing them Wendy asked me some great questions. Later, I plucked up courage to listen to the whole thing – how weird it is to hear your own voice. Good music choices though! See what you think – it’s available on listen-again (go down the list to find Wendy's Book Buzz) until about the 24th of November I believe.

And on Saturday, as well as having lunch with 32 of the brilliant Authors and Book Bloggers in Scotland Facebook Group, I acquired a couple of copies of The People’s Friend Special, no 149 with its lovely Christmassy cover. 


I have a story in it The Overnight Guest: Judith is dreading Christmas. Instead of it being a quiet day spent with her son like last year, she’s with him, his new girlfriend – and her three children. But on Christmas Eve there’s an unexpected development …



Sunday, 12 November 2017

Another World/National Short Story Week







National Short Story Week 2017 runs from 13-19 November. 

To celebrate it, I've put together an anthology of some of my short stories. What most (nine of the eleven) have in common is that they won or were short/long-listed in competitions including the Muriel Spark Short Story Award, judged by Maggie O' Farrell, and the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award. All the stories have been published in anthologies/magazines.

The Real Thing
Inspired by Pride & Prejudice’s Mary Bennet, long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award in 2009. Looking at her sisters’ relationships, Mary concludes that fianc├ęs are fun but husbands are hard work.

Four in the Morning
Judged by Maggie O’Farrell, winner of the Muriel Spark Short Story Competition, 2008. Her memories, her worries about her daughter, strange noises in the dark house – all conspire to prevent newly widowed Alison from sleeping.

The Ties that Bind
When Eleanor and Doug sort out their late mother’s possessions they come across a puzzling photograph.

Home before Dark
Was this move to the country a good idea – or a terrible mistake? It’s late – surely Billy should be home by now?

The Shimmering Shores
Joy gets away from an unhappy home life by taking the bus down the Scottish east coast every week, hoping to have a chat with bus driver Vic.

Angel
It’s 1923. Beatrice pays a visit to the sad lady in the house across the square and makes an unexpected friend in her garden.

Lucky Tatties
Anne remembers the sweets she used to get in the village shop, including the ‘lucky tatties’ – but who were they lucky for?

Second Best
Georgie may never have won a show-jumping medal at the Olympics but she does have something that has eluded her former rival.

Booty and The Beast
The narrator gives up on love to concentrate on her career as beauty columnist but she can never forget Ronan.

Pittenweem
Barbara thinks she made the right decision all those years ago but a new young colleague makes her wonder if it’s too late to change her mind.

Another World
Shortlisted for the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award in 2006. Liam recovers from an injury, sustained on active service, in the company of his younger sister – but can he ever tell her about that other world he’s been through? 


Available on Kindle: 

http://amzn.to/2hv8xOb


#shortstories








Saturday, 4 November 2017

Living vicariously – or not





One reason I like writing fiction is that I can live vicariously through my characters. I can look different, travel to other times and far-off places, and have talents that I certainly don’t have in real life. For example I have been an archaeologist, played the fiddle, been a glamorous redhead, and travelled back to the 1950s (not all in the same story ...).

But I’ve never wanted to do what my heroine Elizabeth Duncan, in A Time to Reap, does – be a farmer.

My father was a farm manager so I was brought up on several farms in the Scottish Highlands. Most of my uncles were farmers, on both sides of the family. But get up early every single morning, be outside in all weathers? Not for me, thank you very much. I was roped in to help at some unearthly hour of the morning when it was time to gather the sheep off the hill and, I am shamefaced to recall, I did nothing but moan about it.

Sometimes I’d watch what Dad and his colleagues were doing, whether it was sheep-dipping, lambing, ploughing, making hay bales or milking the cow, and with my siblings and neighbouring children I roamed around over a wide radius, untroubled by traffic or worries about bogeymen.

My much-preferred occupation though was to read (in the garden on warmer days, hugging the Raeburn the rest of the year). The books I liked best were set hundreds of miles away geographically (in rambling houses in Cornwall, tapping walls for secret passages and finding buried treasure), or light years away from my own experience (having midnight feasts in a boarding-school dormitory). When, around the age of ten, I tried to write stories myself I aped my favourite authors. Write about life on a Highland farm? It never crossed my mind for a minute.

So no one was more surprised than me when many years later I found myself writing a serial for The People’s Friend – about a farming community in 1963. Despite my upbringing, research was required. Online I found a ‘calendar’ of a farmer’s year from around the right time-period and place. I asked a cousin how a haystack was made. In a second-hand shop I found a copy of The Farm as a Business: A Handbook of Standards and Statistics (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, seven shillings) and an item in it, about cattle-rearing, gave me an idea for a plotline.

I got rather obsessed with remembering life on big estates – not just the farming side; there were gamekeepers, foresters, gardeners, the wider community – and trying to think of it from the perspective of a grown-up, not as the child I was when actually there.

I enjoyed writing A Time to Reap more than anything I’ve ever written and of all my characters (in over 50 short stories, two other serials and a novel) I’d like to be Elizabeth Duncan.

That’s on paper only though – I’m afraid the intervening years have shown no improvement in my bad temper when I have to get up very early.

It’s April 1963 in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Duncan, widowed with two small daughters, is the farm manager on the Rosland estate, the job previously held by her husband, Matthew. Following a hard, snowy winter, her working life is made more difficult by the unpleasant estate factor.

Elizabeth enjoys support in the small community from family and friends, including her cousin Peggy and local vet Andy Kerr. The arrival of an American visitor at Rosland House unsettles her in a way she hadn’t expected but, after Matthew’s mysterious death, a new relationship has been the last thing on her mind. However, as she dances at the annual estate ball in September, that may be about to change …

A Time to Reap is available in a large-print edition in libraries, and on Kindle.