I cannot imagine a world without books – it’s an unbearable thought. I love reading. I’ve loved it since I first learned to decode print.
In fact I think I remember pretending to read even before I’d actually learned the skill. I would look at the pictures in the books I was given before the age of five and then made up my own narrative which I read aloud to myself and anyone else who would listen.
And then – oh the magic of going to school and being taught to read. Back in the day, in my part of the world, it was the Janet and John books that were the learn-to-read-text books. And I still remember the thrill of progressing through the various levels.
The first novels that I remember reading were Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers stories which I began when my granny gave me the first one when I was in hospital having my tonsils out aged eight. And I quickly moved on to Blyton’s other series.
From then on reading became as vital to my wellbeing as breathing.
It was also my privilege to teach young children to read during my thirty-six year career as a primary school teacher. And, latterly I was a learning support teacher and it was a joy to help pupils who were struggling with deciphering the written word become literate – including those with dyslexia.
And nowadays as a fiction writer myself, I still continue with my first passion of reading. And while I write the sort of books that I enjoy reading, my own reading choices include more than just those from the genre I write in.
I enjoy both non-fiction and fiction. Romantic fiction and crime fiction are my favourite genres but I also enjoy the occasional thriller or historical novel.
I always have a book that I’m currently reading. I read ebooks and print books. I read on the train, on the bus, on the couch and in bed. Reading takes me to so many amazing places and I meet so many fascinating characters with great stories to share. Reading is both stimulating and soothing, challenging and relaxing. It can educate, entertain and engross.
Last year I read 56 books. So far this year I’ve read 6. My two January favourites were A Brahminy Sunrise by Maggie Christensen and Inceptio by Alison Morton and I reviewed them here and here on the blog. They were very different but equally wonderful reads.
And, as for the books I write, I want to leave my readers feeling they’ve had a wonderful read too. I hope to deliver the sort of story they’re expecting, but also to offer some surprises along the way. I hope to transport them away from their own lives and steep them in someone else’s. And I certainly hope they’re engrossed and entertained enough to want to read more of my books.
In what come sometimes feel like a mad, uncaring world where we’re bombarded by all sorts of transient online information, books provide a solid reference point and/or a comforting source of downtime.
Yes,it’s safe to say I love the world of books – I love writing my own books and reading other people’s. Books are a wonderful invention offering revelation, escape and infinite possibilities. Long live books – in whatever form – and long live reading.
How do you feel about the world of books and reading? What do you enjoy reading? Who are your favourite authors? As always, please do leave your comments below.
As 2018 draws to a close so does another year of reading. I’ve read 60 books this year. Yes, I’m a keen reader. I guess most writers are. But even if I never wrote another word I’d still be a reader. I love how it can transport, educate and inspire me. I love how reading can delight me and make me think.
For this round up of my year in books, I’ve picked out my top 20 favourite books of 2018 – 5 non-fiction and 15 fiction. Most of the other 40 came close to making it on to the list but there were, inevitably, a few which I didn’t enjoy or which I didn’t finish. Reading is subjective after all – and one woman’s can’t-put-down is another woman’s don’t-care-what happens.
My Top 20 Books
So what have been the books that have transported, or educated, or inspired me this year? What books have made me laugh, or cry, or think? The list is in no particular order.
Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell
When she was diagnosed with dementia at the age of fifty-eight, Wendy Mitchell was confronted with the most profound questions about life and identity. All at once, she had to say goodbye to the woman she used to be. Her demanding career in the NHS, her ability to drive, cook and run – the various shades of her independence – were suddenly gone.
Philosophical, profoundly moving, insightful and ultimately full of hope, Somebody I Used to Know is both a heart-rending tribute to the woman Wendy once was, and a brave affirmation of the woman dementia has seen her become.
How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett
This bookis a manifesto for quiet activism: how to tackle issues not with shouting and aggression but with gentle protest, using the process of ‘making’ to engage thoughtfully in the issues we are about, to influence and effect change.
Divided by Tim Marshall
We feel more divided than ever. This riveting analysis tells you why.
Walls are going up. Nationalism and identity politics are on the rise once more. Thousands of miles of fences and barriers have been erected in the past ten years, and they are redefining our political landscape.
Understanding what has divided us, past and present, is essential to understanding much of what’s going on in the world today. Covering China; the USA; Israel and Palestine; the Middle East; the Indian Subcontinent; Africa; Europe and the UK, bestselling author Tim Marshall presents a gripping and unflinching analysis of the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come.
Beyond Tribal Loyalties by Avigail Abarbanel
There is an expectation in Jewish communities that all Jews embrace Zionism and offer automatic, unquestioning support for Israel, “right or wrong”. Jewish identity and Zionism are commonly and deliberately blurred. Jews who criticise Israel are often vilified and excluded. By expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, they risk being branded as traitors and accused of “supporting the enemies of Israel”.
Beyond Tribal Loyalties is a unique collection of twenty-five personal stories of Jewish peace activists from Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom & the United States.
The Biography of Story by Trish Nicholson
An entertaining cultural history and a highly original take on the power of stories in societies past and present. Trish Nicholson brings us a unique interweaving of literature and history seen through the eyes of storytellers, making a fascinating journey for general readers and students alike. From tales of the Bedouin, to Homer, Aesop and Valmiki, and from Celtic bards and Icelandic skalds to Chaucer, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Scott and Chekhov, some of the many storytellers featured will be familiar to you; others from Africa, Asia and the Pacific may be fresh discoveries.
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas
Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.
Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.
But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?
Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell
Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots – non-human ‘carers’ for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask.
Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, ‘uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been’.
A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears’ world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.
Face the Wind and Fly by Jenny Harper
Love, loss and family life against the background of a controversial project that fractures the whole community. She builds wind farms, he detests them. Can they ever generate love? After fifteen happy years of marriage, Kate Courtenay discovers that her charismatic novelist husband is spending more and more of his time with a young fan. She throws herself into her work, a controversial wind farm that’s stirring up tempers in the local community. Sparks fly when she goes head to head against its most outspoken opponent, local gardener Ibsen Brown – a man with a past of his own. But a scheme for a local community garden brings the sparring-partners together, producing the sort of electricity that threatens to short-circuit the whole system.
The Long Walk Back by Rachel Dove
Does everyone deserve a second chance?
As an army trauma surgeon Kate knows how to keep her cool in the most high pressure of situations. Although back at home in England her marriage is falling apart, out in the desert she’s happy knowing that she’s saving lives.
Until she meets Cooper. It’s up to Kate to make a split-second decision to save Cooper’s life. Yet Cooper doesn’t want to be saved. Can Kate convince him to give his life a second chance even though it’s turning out dramatically different from how he planned?
An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns
Jane Austen meets Zane Grey
The American West, 1867. After a stagecoach wreck, well-bred bookish spinster, Annie Haddon, (product of mustn’t-take-off-your-hat, mustn’t-take-off-your-gloves, mustn’t-get-hot-or-perspire Victorian society) is thrown into the company of cowboy, Colt McCall – a man who lives by his own rules and hates the English.
Can two people from such wildly different backgrounds learn to trust each other? Annie and McCall find out on their journey across the haunting, mystical landscape of the West.
Somewhere Beyond the Sea by Miranda Dickinson
Can you fall in love with someone before you’ve even met?
Seren MacArthur is living a life she never intended. Trying to save the Cornish seaside business her late father built – while grieving for his loss – she has put her own dreams on hold and is struggling. Until she discovers a half-finished seaglass star on her favourite beach during an early morning walk. When she completes the star, she sets into motion a chain of events that will steal her heart and challenge everything she believes.
Jack Dixon is trying to secure a better life for daughter Nessie and himself. Left a widower and homeless when his wife died, he’s just about keeping their heads above water. Finding seaglass stars completed on Gwithian beach is a bright spark that slowly rekindles his hope.
Oh Crumbs by Kathryn Freeman
Abby Spencer knows she can come across as an airhead – she talks too much and is a bit of a klutz – but there’s more to her than that. Though she sacrificed her career to help raise her sisters, a job interview at biscuit company Crumbs could finally be her chance to shine. That’s until she hurries in late wearing a shirt covered in rusk crumbs, courtesy of her baby nephew, and trips over her handbag.
Managing director Douglas Faulkner isn’t sure what to make of Abby Spencer with her Bambi eyes, tousled hair and ability to say more in the half-hour interview than he manages in a day. All he knows is she’s a breath of fresh air and could bring a new lease of life to the stale corporate world of Crumbs. To his life too, if he’d let her.
But Doug’s harbouring a secret. He’s not the man she thinks he is.
Isobel’s Promise by Maggie Christensen
Back in Sydney after her aunt’s death, sixty-five year-old Bel Davison is making plans to sell up her home and business and return to Scotland where she has promised to spend the rest of her life with the enigmatic Scotsman with whom she’s found love.
But the reappearance of her ex-husband combined with other unexpected drawbacks turns her life into chaos, leading her to have doubts about the wisdom of her promise.
In Scotland, Matt Reid has no such doubts, and although facing challenges of his own, he longs for Bel’s return.
Can this midlife couple find happiness in the face of the challenges life has thrown at them?
The Many Colours of Us by Rachel Burton
Julia Simmonds had never been bothered about not knowing who her father was. Having temperamental supermodel, Philadelphia Simmonds, as a mother was more than enough. Until she finds out that she’s the secret love-child of the late, great artist Bruce Baldwin, and her life changes forever.
Uncovering the secrets of a man she never knew, Julia discovers that Bruce had written her one letter, every year until her eighteenth birthday, urging his daughter to learn from his mistakes.
As Julia begins to uncover her past she also begins to unravel her future. With gorgeous lawyer Edwin Jones for company Julia may not only discover her roots but she may just fall in love…
The Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly Johnson
Marnie Salt has made so many mistakes in her life that she fears she will never get on the right track. But when she ‘meets’ an old lady on a baking chatroom and begins confiding in her, little does she know how her life will change.
Arranging to see each other for lunch, Marnie finds discovers that Lilian is every bit as mad and delightful as she’d hoped – and that she owns a whole village in the Yorkshire Dales, which has been passed down through generations. And when Marnie needs a refuge after a crisis, she ups sticks and heads for Wychwell – a temporary measure, so she thinks.
A novel of family, secrets, love and redemption … and broken hearts mended and made all the stronger for it.
The Winter that Made Us by Kate Field
When Tess finds herself unexpectedly alone and back in Ribblemill, the childhood village she thought she’d escaped, she’s sure she can survive a temporary stay. She’s spent a lifetime making the best of things, hasn’t she?
Determined to throw herself into village life, Tess starts a choir and gathers a team of volunteers to restore the walled garden at Ramblings, the local stately home. Everything could be perfect, if she weren’t sharing a cottage and a cat with a man whose manner is more prickly than the nettles she’s removing…
As winter approaches, Tess finds herself putting down her own roots as fast as she’s pulling them up in the garden. But the ghosts of the past hover close by, and Tess must face them if she’s to discover whether home is where her heart has been all along.
It’s Who We Are by Christine Webber
Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control.
The events of It’s Who We Are take place between October 2016 and June 2017, against a backdrop of all the political uncertainty and change in the UK, Europe and America.
The story is set in East Anglia, London and Ireland, and is about friendship, kindness and identity. Most importantly, it highlights how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you.
One Thousand Stars and You by Isabelle Broom
Alice is settling down. It might not be the adventurous life she once imagined, but more than anything she wants to make everyone happy – her steady boyfriend, her over-protective mother – even if it means a little part of her will always feel stifled.
Max is shaking things up. After a devastating injury, he is determined to prove himself. To find the man beyond the disability, to escape his smothering family and go on an adventure.
A trip to Sri Lanka is Alice’s last hurrah – her chance to throw herself into the heat, chaos and colour of a place thousands of miles from home.
It’s also the moment she meets Max.
Alice doesn’t know it yet, but her whole life is about to change.
Max doesn’t know it yet, but he’s the one who’s going to change it.
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
A retired couple, Gerry and Stella Gilmore, fly to Amsterdam for a midwinter break. A holiday to refresh the senses, to see the sights and to generally take stock of what remains of their lives. But amongst the wintry streets and icy canals we see their relationship fracturing beneath the surface. And when memories re-emerge of a troubled time in their native Ireland things begin to fall apart. As their midwinter break comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are – and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.
Gift Horse by Jan Ruth
Caroline Walker’s daughter suffers a horrific riding accident. Her distraught parents wonder if she’ll ever walk again, let alone ride. And when Mollie’s blood group is discovered as rare, her husband offers to donate blood. Except Ian is not a match. In fact, it’s unlikely he’s Mollie’s father.
Eighteen years previously, Caroline had a one-night stand with Irish rock star, Rory O’Connor. Caroline fell pregnant. Deeply flawed boyfriend, Ian, was overjoyed. And Caroline’s parents were simply grateful that their daughter was to marry into the rich, influential Walker family.
Caroline turns to Rory’s friend Connor; and although his almost spiritual connection with his horses appears to be the balm she needs, Caroline cannot forget Rory, or her youth – both lost to a man she never loved.
Eighteen years on and after surviving cancer Rory lives as a virtual recluse in the Welsh mountains. Through his well-meaning but interfering sister, he is shocked to discover he has a teenage daughter. Or does he?
As the truth begins to unravel, Caroline finds herself faced with a complex trail of moral dilemma.
Snow Angel by JJ Marsh
December in a small Devonshire village is the perfect time for a Yuletide festival, a Narnian wedding or a murder.
Now retired, Beatrice is working on a book, planning a wedding and pretending she doesn’t miss the cut and thrust of Scotland Yard.
When a local celebrity dies in suspicious circumstances, Matthew encourages Beatrice to do some private investigating. Her enquiries reveal more than predicted and she discovers even her nearest and dearest are capable of deceit.
A snowstorm hits the village and Beatrice chases a lead, throwing everyone’s plans into disarray and threatening lives. The ancient forest conceals a primeval web of complex loyalties and lethal bonds.
Angels protect their friends. But destroy their enemies.
All the books above are available in a selection of formats and can be bought online and in book shops. And , of course, it’s always worth asking at your local library.
Have you read any of the above books? If so did you enjoy them too? What would your top read/reads be for 2018? Feel free to comment below.
When I was looking for a literary agent and publisher for my first novel, Change of Life, nearly ten years ago, one of the rejection reasons I was given was the age of my main characters. I was told nobody wanted to read a romance where the prospective couple were in their late forties and especially where they had to deal with awkward teenage children and cope with one of them falling seriously ill. It seemed realism was out and hearts and flowers happy-ever-after romanticism was in.
Things have moved on a bit since then. There are romantic novels, where difficult issues are included in the story. However, romance does still seem to be dominated by the ‘Cafe in the Seaside Village’ type stories with their matchstick female figures on their pastel-coloured covers. But even although the covers are clichéd, and the stories follow a formula, they can be very enjoyable in a hearts-and- flowers, young love, happy-ever-after sort of way.
But it seems to me that romantic fiction with older lead characters is still in the minority – even although the biggest part of the population in the UK is over fifty. I don’t believe it’s because people don’t want to read such novels and I think maybe the big publishers are missing a trick here.
I should also say before going any further that what follows is merely my impression and my opinion. It isn’t based on any scientific research.
And my final disclosure is one of vested interest – I am 61 and three-quarters years-old.
Oh and PS – I should also say that I’m in no way anti romantic fiction with young main characters. I’ve recently read and thoroughly enjoyed three excellent romances with protagonists in their twenties and thirties. These were June Kearns two historical romances: The Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy and The 20s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz. And my most recent read is Kate Field’s The Magic of Ramblings which truly is magic – and poignant and beautiful.
But I also enjoy reading about older characters falling in love. I like romances where the protagonists are in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. And I like a bit of realism. I like to see the prospective couple facing up to the issues, complications and challenges that come with age. I like it when there are several generations of a family involved in the story. And I like to see there’s hope and fun and love to be had by us all – regardless of age.
Authors in other genres – crime for example – have created hugely successful older lead characters. There’s Detective Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Novels and there’s the wonderful Vera in the series by Ann Cleeves – to name just two.
And there are some fabulous romance writers who are nailing it in this regard. Books by Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, Gilli Allan and Hilary Boyd spring to mind. Do check them out if you like more mature, romance-plus fiction. You’ll be in for a highly enjoyable read with any of their books.
Which brings me to the age of the readers of books – I don’t as an author aim for a particular age group. I have young and old readers. Indeed my children’s novel The Silver Locket seems to have been read by as many, if not more, adults as children.
I don’t get the impression that Crime or Sci-Fi or Fantasy are particularly appealing to one narrow age group – Harry Potter is not just read by children, and I’m guessing the Outlander books appeal across the adult age range to those who like the genre.
Why should romance be any different? Although I do get that someone in their twenties might not want to read about people the age of their parents/grandparents falling in love and you know… But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t mean that older readers shouldn’t be able to read romances centred around people their age.
So I suppose what I’m saying is let’s have romantic fiction that’s a bit more relaxed about age, a bit more inclusive.
As a writer I enjoy writing about characters nearer my own age, facing up to life-changing challenges and dealing with all sorts of issues – as well as finding themselves falling in love. Other writers prefer writing about younger characters regardless of their own age.
As a reader I enjoy all sorts of romances and other genres too – and the characters ages are incidental – what matters to me is that it’s a good story, well told, and with a satisfying resolution.
And in conclusion – I’m no further forward with nailing this genre thing – but it’s been fun thinking and writing about it. I know my books aren’t chick-lit or ‘pure’ romance. But I don’t think ‘love-at-the-last-chance-cafe-for-the-chronologically-challenged-with-baggage’ classification is going to work.
As always please do leave your thoughts and comments below.
As the publication date for my next novel draws ever closer, my thoughts are now turning to how to ensure it catches the eye of prospective readers both online and in book shops.
An attractive cover and an engaging back-cover summary will of course be essential – and by working with my editor and cover designer I’m confident I’ll get both of these things right.
But nailing the precise genre and the single words and phrases that perfectly describe the book’s content are equally – some might say even more – important. And it’s here that I’m not so confident. And here’s why.
In the real world, bookshops and libraries shelve books according to genre. This makes it easier for readers to both seek out and browse the books that interest them. Similarly in an online book store, prospective book buyers will click on genre type or associated keywords in order to find what they might be looking for. It makes complete sense to organise things this way.
And if writers and publishers get it right, you won’t find cookbooks in amongst books on mountaineering and you won’t find detective novels in amongst science fiction. Simple.
Only sometimes it’s not that straightforward. What if the book you’ve written is cookery for mountaineers whilst they’re out on the mountain? Or, what if the seasoned, somewhat cynical detective with the disastrous personal life is part android/ part Martian and investigates crime throughout the solar-system? And no, I haven’t written a book like either of these examples.
But I do find myself in a similar quandary when it comes to classifying my new book, just as I was with the previous two.
All three books have a strong romantic element to them. But they don’t fit neatly into the romance genre. For one thing, the protagonists aren’t young, and besides coping with relationship issues, they are also facing up to other serious challenges.
In my first book, Change of Life, the main characters are a couple who have been married for more than twenty years and who are in their late forties. Their marriage is already under strain as the story begins with the female protagonist, Rosie, suspecting infidelity on the part of her husband, Tom. She is then faced with the even bigger shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple’s children and wider family too, all have significant parts to play in supporting Rosie and Tom as they confront the challenges ahead.
My second book, Displacement, also centres around two main characters, this time just setting out on a new relationship with each other. There is Jack, a retired policeman, and Rachel, a children’s book author and illustrator. They meet at the beginning of the novel on the Scottish island of Skye. They are both divorced and in their fifties. Rachel has recently lost her son, a soldier, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. And Jack is recovering from the heart attack which brought about his early retirement. There is a strong political element to the story too, because as part of Rachel’s attempts to come to terms with the loss of her son, and to move on from it, she travels to the Middle East to visit her brother in Israel-Palestine. She wants to explore her Jewish heritage, but she also finds herself facing up to some very difficult questions about conflict, nationhood and humanity’s difficulties in finding ways to peacefully co-exist.
And the new book, Settlement, is a sequel to Displacement. Jack and Rachel’s romantic relationship has deepened, but is under threat. Rachel is returning to Israel to begin work on a book about how ordinary people can be instrumental in working for peace, and Jack is returning to work as a police consultant in the Historic Crimes unit in Edinburgh. This time as well as the social/cultural/ political strands, there is Jack’s experience of being the victim of violence and of suffering from PTSD.
All three books have the romantic love and relationship between two people at their heart, but this ripples out and links into wider families, communities and issues. All three books are romance+ – i.e. plus other issues. None are conventional romance/love stories. They are not centred around 20 or 30-somethings. The conclusions aren’t happy-ever-after – but are, rather, there-is-hope-for-the-future- as-long-as-they-work-at-it-and-accept-the-rough-with-the-smooth-and-give-each-other-space.
So wish me luck as I try to narrow down my latest novel’s genre and keywords from – Contemporary Romantic Literary (not sure about the literary) Fiction also featuring politics, crime and mental health in several very different settings – to something altogether more snappy. And don’t get me started on whether it should also be labelled Women’s Fiction. Short answer – I don’t know, probably…
As for where it should be shelved…
In Part 2 of this three part series of posts on classifying books, I will be looking at the romantic genre and asking what readers want and expect when reading romances.
In Part 3 I will be looking at the issue of age – the age of the main characters and of the target readership – in romantic fiction and in several other genres as well.
Please do add your comments below. For example: What genre(s) do you prefer? And what are your expectations when reading books in that/those genre(s)? Or for you, is it story first, genre second?
What a great story! This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. It was one of those books where you want to get to the end to see how it all plays out, but you also don’t want it to end because you know you’re going to miss it.
From the back cover:
Jane Austen meets Zane Grey
The American West, 1867. After a stagecoach wreck, well-bred bookish spinster, Annie Haddon, (product of mustn’t-take-off-your-hat, mustn’t-take-off-your-gloves, mustn’t-get-hot-or-perspire Victorian society) is thrown into the company of cowboy, Colt McCall – a man who lives by his own rules and hates the English.
Can two people from such wildly different backgrounds learn to trust each other? Annie and McCall find out on their journey across the haunting , mystical landscape of the West.
An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is a romantic novel with a difference – at least it was for me. I’ve never read a romantic story set in nineteenth century America’s Wild West before. Indeed, before reading this, I would have said a Western setting wouldn’t have interested me. But having read a couple of reviews I was intrigued enough to give it a go. I’m so glad I did.
The main characters were vividly and convincingly drawn.
First of all there’s Englishwoman, Annie Haddon, who is tougher than she knows. The reader can’t help but root for her as she faces extreme adversity and danger following the crash of the stagecoach in which she is travelling. Her courage, her ability to stand her ground, and the way she copes with the cruelty dished out to her by her family, all keep the reader on her side.
And then there’s Colt McCall, a handsome and charismatic cowboy with an interesting and mysterious past, who comes to Annie’s aid. All I can say is – what’s not to love?
The rest of the characters form a strong supporting cast. There are Annie’s relatives – her cruel aunt and her horrible cousin. There’s Annie’s revolting suitor, and there’s a magnificent Sioux scout. They, along with various army personnel and saloon girls, all add interesting detail to the story – detail that is sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous and sometimes sad.
The descriptions of the landscape bring the setting to life – along with the details about clothing and culture.
So everything is well set up by the author for this most intriguing, will-they-won’t-they tale. And she certainly delivers. Yes, indeed – what a great story!
An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is published by New Romantics Press and is available here as an ebook and as a paperback.
This debut novel by Olga Wojtas is impossible to confine within one genre as it both kicks against and embraces quite a few of them. It is part crime, part comedy, but there are also elements of thriller, fantasy and sci-fi along with historical and romantic. All I can suggest is a new genre of olga-fic.
Back Cover Summary:“Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name. Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins. But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?”
My Review: This book is brilliantly written, completely original and as far as my reading goes it’s unique. The main character, Shona, is well-educated and knowledgeable on many topics, she’s eccentric, kind-hearted, morally upright, brave and stoical – but she’s also utterly lacking in perception when it comes to understanding her fellow human beings and is completely bonkers.
I don’t know if the timing of the release of this novel is a coincidence or not, as this year is the centenary of the birth of author Muriel Spark, and there are currently many events going on in her home city of Edinburgh to celebrate her life and writing. And probably Spark’s most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in the fictional Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls in Edinburgh.
Coincidence or not, I love d how Olga Wojtas has taken this fictional school and made it Shona’s alma mater – and that’s she also made Shona fiercely proud and protective of her former school’s reputation and extremely resentful of what Spark did, as she sees it, to trash that reputation.
The plot centres on the time-travelling mission given to Shona by her school’s founder and is a mad and clever mix of fact and fiction. The supporting cast are hilarious. I especially loved Old Vatrushkin, a most endearing serf. And Shona’s complete lack of understanding of what’s actually going is also very amusing.
I enjoyed, too, Shona’s attempts to introduce elements of Scottish culture to her Russian friends, the Burns supper and square sausage being just two examples.
I would however advise against reading this book on public transport. I read part of it while on the train and did get some funny looks from fellow travellers as I smiled and nearly choked on stifled laughter.
This novel really is the crème de la crème or rather, as Shona would prefer, cremor cremoris
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is available as a paperback and as an ebook and is published by Contraband.
This is a beautiful book, both in its words and in its presentation. The cover is gorgeous in look and feel and the text more than lives up to the promise of the cover.
Back Cover Summary:An entertaining cultural history and a highly original take on the power of stories in societies past and present. Trish Nicholson brings us a unique interweaving of literature and history seen through the eyes of storytellers, making a fascinating journey for general readers and students alike. From tales of the Bedouin, to Homer, Aesop and Valmiki, and from Celtic bards and Icelandic skalds to Chaucer, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Scott and Chekhov, some of the many storytellers featured will be familiar to you; others from Africa, Asia and the Pacific may be fresh discoveries. Beginning with oral tales of our foraging ancestors, the emergence of writing, the great migrations, the age of exploration and the invention of printing through to the industrial revolution and the digital age, Nicholson brings us voices from all corners of the world. Combining this extraordinary breadth with telling myths, epics, fables, fairy tales and legends, she reveals their story-power in the comedy and tragedy of human affairs. And what of Story’s future..? A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity is our own human epic, thoroughly researched and referenced, and told with the imaginative flair of an accomplished storyteller. This is a book-lover’s book, illustrated and handsomely presented in hardback and paperback volumes designed ‘to have and to hold’.
My Review: To be human is to tell stories. It’s in our human nature to make sense of our lives through the stories we tell ourselves and others. And it’s the development and variety of humanity’s stories that Trish Nicholson explores in her book. She travels from the earliest oral traditions to the crossroads that the digital age has now brought us to. A crossroads where our stories can be spread across the globe and where they can be used either as tools for freedom or for oppression.
It’s a big ask for a book to live up to such a title but it most certainly does. Because of the nature of its contents, this is a book for dipping into rather than reading from cover to cover. Each chapter is a delight and there is no stuffy academic prose. The index of storytellers is comprehensive going from Aesop to Zola, as is the roll call of cultures visited which ranges from Aboriginal to Zulu.
Every chapter has something to commend it but one of my favourites is the one on Sir Walter Scott. Yes, because this is a storyteller whose roots are close to home for me, but also because it’s so absorbing and interesting. And it’s a great example of one superb storyteller telling a great story about another.
I highly recommend this book to oral storytellers, to writers and to readers.
I’m delighted to welcome author Christine Webber to the blog today to talk about her new contemporary novel It’s Who We Are, and about her writing in general. I read and very much enjoyed her previous novel Who’d Have Thought It?and I reviewed it here. And I will be posting a review of the new book here very soon.
I was intrigued to see that there was a thirty year gap between your first novel In Honour Bound and your second one Who’d Have Thought it? What were you doing in between?
Christine: As those of us of a certain age know all too well, thirty years can disappear in a flash! I wrote my first novel when I was working as a news presenter for Anglia TV. I always meant to carry on writing fiction, but shortly afterwards, I left the company to pursue a new career in medical and social journalism – and somehow fell into becoming an agony aunt. I wrote columns for Best magazine, TV Times, The Scotsman, BBC Parenting, Woman, Dare, Full House and several others – not all at the same time though! Then I started getting work as a ‘relationships expert’ on TV programmes such as Trisha and The Good Sex Guide… Late. While this was happening, I decided to train as a psychotherapist – and I started my own practice. Meanwhile, Hodder commissioned my husband and me to write a book about orgasms (The Big O). This did quite well and led to my staying with Hodder and writing a whole range of self-help books. Later, I penned titles for Piatkus and Bloomsbury. I knew I longed to write more novels. It just took a while to get on with it!
Why was fiction writing something you wanted to come back to – especially after such a long gap?
Christine: I kept having ideas for fiction, but life was so busy, and I felt I had to focus on work that actually paid me. In some ways I regret that now. On the other hand, my years of writing about relationships, and being a therapist, gave me great insight into how our minds function – which is useful when it comes to portraying characters realistically. And the decades of juggling broadcasting, health writing, newspaper columns, and therapy did provide me with a financial cushion which has enabled me to do what I do now. I know many other indie authors, who have had long-term careers before writing, feel the same.
You write what could broadly be described as contemporary romantic fiction, but it’s definitely not chick-lit. Why do you go for older protagonists who are in their fifties and sixties?
Christine: I suppose it’s all about wanting to read material that mirrors our own experiences. And – like many other writers and readers of my vintage – I feel there is a lack of good stuff about the people we really are. I first tried to change publishers’ attitudes to the over 50s in 2009, when I was planning a guide for female baby boomers. I wanted to write about finance, locations, housing, beauty, friendship, romance and health – basically everything that needs to be considered if we are to age more vibrantly than people of past generations.
I had to change agents and publishers to get this book accepted. I was told constantly, ‘no one wants to read about older people!’ Anyway, I did get Too Young to Get Old published and now I have transferred my zeal for writing about the individuals we are – as opposed to out-dated stereotypes – into fiction. But I had to venture into indie publishing in order to do it.
Do you detect a growing popularity for this kind of multi-generational novel where middle-aged and older characters are at the centre of the action?
Christine: I really do. And I would urge interested writers and readers in mid-life to investigate the excellent new organisation – launched recently by Claire Baldry – called Books for Older Readers. We are a growing band. One might even say that we are creating a ‘genre’! Check out the website: www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk. The group is also active on Facebook and Twitter.
Describe for us your typical writing day.
Christine: I’d love to describe something scheduled and organised. But I’d be lying if I did. Like lots of people, I have constraints on my time, for family reasons. I also think it’s absolutely vital to get exercise, so that has to be worked into every day too. And, as every indie writer knows, the marketing and social media aspect of one’s ‘operation’ also has to be managed. In practice then, I tend to do correspondence and marketing in the morning. And try to leave two or three hours to write mid-afternoon. I also have a new resolution, which is to find half an hour after lunch for reading other authors’ novels. I need an expandable day, really! The other component that forms an essential part of my writing day is that I always play music while I work. And I invariably start each day with Mozart, who feeds my soul and sanity. There’s nothing like tapping into creative genius for getting your own grey cells into shape!
And finally, please do tell us a bit about your new book, It’s Who We Are.
Christine:It’s Who We Are is a contemporary novel. It’s very different from Who’d Have Thought It? which is essentially a romantic comedy. People do fall in love in the new book, and there are plenty of comedic moments too, but it’s a far more serious work than the last one. But then life is more serious than it was just a few years ago. Think back to the London Olympics – we don’t feel like the same country now, do we? And writing contemporary fiction seems to me to have to reflect that.
I have five main characters in this book, and they are all facing tremendous upheaval in mid-life. One of the women has decided to divorce her perpetually unfaithful husband. Another is coming to terms with widowhood and contemplating a change of career. Then there are three men – a rich business man who hates running the family firm and is trapped in a loveless marriage, a priest who is so intensely lonely that he feels people must be able to ‘smell it’ on him, and a larger than life freelance singer who’s in a panic about his ageing voice and the fact that he has no savings whatsoever.
Like many of us in our fifties, these individuals are amazed at how unsettled they feel just at a time when they had expected to be living a calm and stable existence. Thrown into the mix there are family secrets, which become uncovered as elderly parents die or become ill – and these cause all five characters to question who they really are.
Thank you, Christine. An interesting and thought-provoking interview. And I agree that, as in your books, life goes on in all its richness and complexity for all of us – regardless of age.
It’s Who We Areis published on January 16th and will be available in bookshops throughout the country and on Amazon
In spite of the time of year this is not a post about resolutions. I think the other 3Rs that this blog is based on - Writing, Reading and Reflecting are quite sufficient.
However, I do want to share with you some of my ongoing plans and intentions for the blog and my writing in general during 2018.
The manuscript of my new novel Settlement is almost ready to go off to the editor and is planned for release in the first half of the year.
Settlement is the sequel to Displacement and, as I’ve never written a sequel before, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s been quite a balancing act judging just how much of the back story to include from the original book. I don’t want the new book to seem repetitive to those who’ve read the first one, but neither do I want it to be necessary to have read the first one in order to enjoy the second.
And, as far as writing about my writing here on the blog goes, I plan to continue doing occasional posts on the process of writing, on my works-in-progress, and on my wider writing life.
I certainly intend to keep reading throughout 2018. I believe it’s vital for writers to be readers too, but even if I gave up writing tomorrow – can’t imagine that happening – I’ll still be reading on my deathbed.
I will also continue to post reviews of books I’ve particularly enjoyed as, apart from wanting to share the love of good books, I also like to do my bit to help my writing colleagues get their work in front of readers. And I find that putting together a review – figuring out what worked in a book and why – helps me improve my own writing skills.
And finally, I also intend to continue to do the occasional reflective post on topics I find myself thinking about and want to explore with readers of the blog. These topics may or may not be directly related to books – but will of course involve writing.
I also plan in 2018 to do a bit of a content/function audit of this blog and of my two author websites. As part of that I’d like to seek your much valued and appreciated opinions on various writing/blog related things.
And, as there’s no time like the present I’ll get started on that right away –
Question: I’d be interested to know your opinion on author newsletters. Do you sign up to them and if you do, do you read them? Are you prompted to buy an author’s latest book when you read about it in their newsletter or to respond to offers – such as free short story?
And finally I’d like to wish all readers a happy and healthy 2018.
It’s that time of year. As 2017 comes to an end it’s time for reflection. And one thing I find myself thinking about is all the great books I’ve read this year. I love reading and, although as a writer myself, I consider reading to be vital in helping my own writing to develop, I’d read whether or not it helped me as an author.
I’ve read around thirty books in the last twelve months and I’ve reviewed many of them here on the blog.
My 2017 reads have come from a mixture of genres and have been both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve enjoyed some more than others. That’s to be expected.
But even with the ones I didn’t enjoy or gave up on, I felt I’d achieved something – even it was simply that I learned I didn’t like a particular author’s style and why it didn’t appeal to me.
On a more positive note I enjoyed the majority of what I read very much indeed and picking just twelve has been difficult. The list is presented in the order I read them from January to December and among my main criteria for choosing them were the following:
Did I keep reading the book way past my usual go-to-sleep-time?
Did I find myself thinking about the book between bouts of reading it and after I’d finished it?
Did I not want to get to the end but simultaneously was desperate to see how it would play out?
If I answered yes to all three the book made it to the cut.
And here they are:
Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayers
Blast Radius by RL McKinney
The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech
Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin
The Angel in the Stone by RL McKinney
The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen
Madness Lies by Helen Forbes
A Biography of Story by Trish Nicholson
Have you read any of the above? Did you enjoy them? What would be your top choice(s) from your own 2017 reading list?
And before I go, I’d like to thank everyone who has followed the blog over the last twelve months, and everyone who has taken the time to read the posts and to comment on them. I appreciate it.
I’m taking a short blog break over the festive season and will be back on the 8th January 2018.