Monday, 29 June 2015

Growing things

I'm in the middle of growing my second novel. I'm writing about allotments, and weeds, and sowing and reaping, which means that the time I spend at our allotment essentially counts as research. This makes me happy.

The fact that I'm writing about something I know (in this case allotments) doesn't make the novel autobiographical. I'm also writing about things I don't know - being a single parent, being an only child, living with someone who struggles to throw things away, and so on.

I'm often asked whether A Song for Issy Bradley is based on my own life. I certainly know a lot about Mormonism, but there are lots of things in the novel that I don't know - I don't know what it's like to be a Mormon convert, or how it feels to be a Mormon Bishop, or what it's like to love Liverpool FC etc.

I don't want to go all Donald Rumsfeld and start talking about known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, but I like to write about a combination known and unknown (to me) things. Here's some pictures of the known things I'm currently writing about.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Authors' Club First Novel Award

On Wednesday evening it was the Authors' Club First Novel Award reception at the National Liberal Club. I won - something that doesn't feel real, but there is photographic evidence, so I suppose it must be true. I hadn't prepared anything to say, so I just grinned like a doofus and said thank you. 

It was a lovely day. Earlier, in the afternoon, Emma Healey, Claire Fuller and I met up at Fortnums for some photographs in advance of the Desmond Elliott Prize announcement on 1st July. The photographer asked us to talk to each other while he took pictures; it was really nice to get a chance to know Emma and Claire a little better.  

Next week I'm off to Devon for a whole 5 days of writing. I can't wait to spend some time alone with novel 2. Writing to a deadline makes the process feel different - aside from the added element of panic, I have a much stronger sense of writing as work, which is probably a good thing (and which is why my blogging is likely to become even more sporadic in the coming weeks and months). 

Monday, 15 June 2015

A year since publication

This week it has been a year since A Song for Issy Bradley was published. It's been an amazing twelve months, easily the most interesting and exciting time of my life (cue the Dirty Dancing soundtrack). 

To celebrate I'm doing an Issy Bradley themed giveaway. In addition to a signed hardback and audiobook I'm also giving away a copy of my short story collection Sweet Home and some items that have a connection to the novel: a DVD of Jane Austen's Persuasion, an "emergency" Mars Bar, a Steven Gerrard air freshener, a pair of goldfish earrings and a scarf covered in geese.

If you'd like to enter, you just need to 'like' my Facebook page and the Facebook post about this giveaway. Good luck! 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

New Books

There was a brief window between finishing my PhD and getting properly stuck into the first draft of novel 2 when I had time to read and enjoy some of the proofs I had been sent. Here are some brand-spanking new books that you'll be sure to enjoy when they are published in the coming weeks.

If you like suspenseful, frightening novels, you'll love Ruth Ware's In a Dark Dark Wood. Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Consequently, she is surprised to be invited to Clare's hen-do. It's clear from the outset that something is not quite right. Perhaps there's something strange about needy Flo, perhaps the feelings of discomfort are all in Nora's head or perhaps it's Clare, the bride to be, who isn't quite what she seems. This novel is set in a dark, snowy wood, in an isolated house, inhabited by a group of friends who can hurt each other in myriad ways - it has all the perfect ingredients for a scary read. In a Dark Dark Wood is less of a who-dunnit, than a why-and-how-dunnit, and Ware will keep you guessing and grasping at straws until the grisly and gratifying conclusion. 

Sarah Jasmon's debut The Summer of Secrets is an evocative and atmospheric coming-of-age story. Set in idyllic countryside, this novel is a meticulous rendering of young friendship. Helen’s summer is set to be boring and lonely, but then the Dovers arrive and she is mesmerised by their casual largesse and bohemian ways. As the weather heats up, emotions heighten and something terrible happens. The novel is divided between the seemingly golden past and a difficult present. It is clear that Helen’s isolation in the present is related to the events of that summer. But what exactly happened and who is to blame? There are plenty of candidates: the petulant and charming Victoria, her damaged mother, her exotic uncle Piet, the mysterious Moira and Helen's morose father. When the denouement finally comes it's guaranteed to take you by surprise.

In Stephanie Bishop's The Other Side of the World artist Charlotte is unable to resist husband Henry's enthusiasm for sun and adventure. She allows herself to be swept to the other side of the world where she is crippled by homesickness and overwhelmed by the lonely routines of motherhood. The are moments in this novel that are so beautifully and painfully evoked that they sent me right back to the claustrophobic and seemingly endless days of toddlerhood (I spent about 8 years with a least one toddler in the house). I felt uncertain and bereft at the end of the novel; I thought about it for days, unable to decide what I hoped would happen next. The Other Side of the World is a meticulous portrait of ambivalent motherhood and the pain of nostalgia. 

On the bleak, windswept moors of northern England a religious cult has cut itself off from society. Meanwhile, vulnerable single mother Stephanie is falling for the enigmatic Nathaniel. Eventually Nathaniel brings Stephanie and daughter Judith to live with the other followers. Judith's feelings, unlike those of her mother, are not complicated by romantic love. She struggles to fit in and determines to escape. Rebecca Wait's The Followers is a fascinating look at what happens when doubt is equated with sin and one man speaks for God. It's also a poignant evocation of parental betrayal and the helplessness of children. I really enjoyed this quietly terrifying and suspenseful exploration of obedience to authority and the dangers of fundamentalism. 

And lastly, although I haven't read it yet (a casualty of PhD revisions) do look out for Cassandra Parkin's recently published novel, The Beach Hut

Parkin is an excellent writer - her collection, New World Fairy Tales, published by Salt, is one of my favourites.