Elizabeth Gilbert: A Signature of All Things

Some months ago, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Bloomsbury Publishing, London, for the London leg of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book tour to promote her wonderful new novel, A Signature of All Things.

Ar 201uthor Elizabeth Gilbert (l) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013
Author Liz Gilbert (left) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013

Over the Christmas break I finished reading the book and, I have to say, what a wonderful read it is.

Liz has created such a great character in Alma Whittaker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who excels in her chosen field of botany. She is not, however, an attractive heroine who meets the love of her life and lives happily ever after. Instead, her story is one of immense personal strength, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, ultimately, heartbreak.

I am a huge fan of Liz’s work and it was a pleasure to meet her at the event. A friend pointed me in the direction of Eat, Pray Love a couple of years ago and I have never looked back. She writes with a rare eloquence which reads as though she herself is speaking from the page. It makes her stories sound deeply personal and all the more believable. I have since gone on to purchase more of her books and shall read them with great pleasure!

 

New Year Resolutions: Top 10 Advice for Writers

Happy New Year All!

I’m not normally one for resolutions. “The way to Hell is paved with good intentions,” my mother used to say. So I figured there wasn’t much point, since I am pretty rubbish at the whole self-discipline thing.

However, I do feel somewhat obliged to make some changes, regardless. Naturally, the gym will have to feature, following the eating, drinking and generally being far too merry over the festive period.

The main feature of my resolutions will be writing-related though. I am on the brink of self-publishing some adult material for the kindle which is very exciting. I’d also like to make some significant progress with my novel over the course of this year.

It strikes me that many of you will be in the same position and therefore, some advice wouldn’t go amiss at this point, but rather than expect you to listen to me, I have sought snippets of wisdom from some of the greatest writers to help us. Read on…

 

1. Stephen King (Grammar and Composition)

Stephen has written a whole book about writing here but there are a few more tips specifically on a more technical note on this wonderful website: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/StephenKingWriting.htm. I particularly like the paragraph about avoiding adverbs. If you need to describe a verb, you’re not using the correct one.

2. Elizabeth Gilbert

Having had the privilege of meeting this lovely lady and one of my favourite authors right now, I am thrilled that Liz offers her own advice to aspiring authors here. She has been dedicated to her craft from a very young age, much younger than me. She also tells us that self-forgiveness is more important for a writer than discipline: “Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it.” I am constantly setting myself ridiculously low targets that I still seem to fail to achieve. Liz’s advice is that this really doesn’t matter. You’ll get there in the end. I like that.

3. Ernest Hemingway

In this article about Hemingway, he talks more about the actual practice of writing. As I start writing my novel this year, I plan to use his tactic of only stopping when I know what will happen next. I have found while writing my short stories that it seems to work best to write it all in one go, but this won’t be possible with a novel for obvious reasons.

4. Mark Twain

Quotations by Mark Twain seem to litter the internet like cigarette stubs in an overflowing ashtray (although altogether more appealing). This article picks out the ones related to writing so you don’t have to wade through the mire. Point number 8 about avoiding verbosity is one which I will remember. It is tempting to use grandiose language in the false belief that it will enhance your work. In fact, it makes the prose sound less authentic so should be avoided. I guess the exception would be if this was a particular trait in one of your characters. The wonderful example of Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals springs to mind!

5. Anais Nin

The final piece I have chosen is a little more abstract. As a deeply emotional person myself, this article struck a chord. I firmly believe that writing should move people, regardless of the genre. Horror stories seek to frighten, to shock and horrify, for example. I always try and show emotion in my writing because for me, when I read a book, I want to be swept up and carried along on a tidal wave. If I have to reach for  a tissue when I’m reading a book, I consider the author to have been successful. I only hope I can do the same.

 ~~~

Whether you are a writer or not, I wish you all the best of luck for your endeavours in 2014. Onwards and upwards!

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

So, here we are. I’ve arrived in West Cumbria, chez Mama and Papa, amid severe gales and showers of both sleet and hail. To make matters worse,  the distraught feline on the back seat made her displeasure all too obvious by howling for most of the journey.

So tempers were frayed to start with, before I learned that my father’s broadband connection has been reset and so the network and password data on the back of his router is useless. Cue a phone call to TALKTALK to get it all sorted.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world as it is. So, I consider today to have been a triumph, since I have not lost my temper with anyone yet. However, it’s only just gone dark. There’s plenty of time before bed!

So, as I settle into a Christmas with my family, as I’m sure many of you will be doing, it’s time to reflect on a year of success for my fledgling writing career. And also to look forward to how it will likely leap forward in 2014.

By far, one of the most wonderful experiences was my first week at Swanwick which I shall treasure forever. Meeting so many talented writers and being immersed in a literary world was such an inspiration. Certainly, it gave me confidence and courage to write more than before and with a more determined purpose.

Visiting authors at book tours has also become an inspirational pastime which I look forward to doing much more of in 2014. Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Forsyth have given me food for thought about my next steps into the world of authoring.

I have been writing my short stories which, as many of you know, will be published under my pseudonym sometime in January. One of my tasks over the holidays is to browse through thousands of book covers to choose just the right ones for my stories.

All very exciting stuff for someone who, less than twelve months ago, didn’t know whether this was just a passing phase that I would get bored of eventually. Although I do still get moments of self-doubt, as I believe most writers do from time to time, I believe I’ve made great progress this year.

So, if you’re a dedicated follower of this blog, first of all I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” and also give you a taster of what’s to come in the next few months.

Short stories published for the kindle and available through Amazon only to start with. Watch this space or check my Facebook page () for details.

I’m off to Brittany in France for a writing retreat at Easter, another in Rome in June and then Swanwick again in August to top up on inspiration and meet up with my writing friends.

I also plan to be developing a website for my alter ego to help promote my kindle stories so look out for more on that. So, with that and continuing this blog, I shall be a very busy lady.

Finally, I have this novel which has been swimming around in my head for a while and really needs to get onto the page. So, there’ll be more work on that from to time.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2014!

Triskaidekaphobia, friggatriskaidekaphobia and an Etymologist comes to Warwickshire!

As 2013 draws to a close and we look forward to a brand new year, we begin to think about resolutions we may or may not stick to and changes we will make to improve our lives. It may also be a time when we choose to overcome certain fears, which brings me onto this marvellous word: triskaidekaphobia.

It’s a word that comes from the Greek tris meaning “three”, kai meaning “and”, deka meaning “ten” and phobos meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. So, it means “a fear of the number thirteen”. I’ve stayed in hotels myself where there is no room thirteen. They tend to be smaller, private hotels rather than the big chains, but nonetheless, it’s a very real fear for some.

There is also a related word: friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is the fear of, specifically, Friday the 13th.

For some, just hearing the phrase “Friday the 13th” brings them out in a cold sweat. Presumably, these are the same folks who make a habit of avoiding walking underneath ladders, throw salt over their shoulders and make themselves a recluse on that fateful day.

If that’s you, I have some advice. When you wake up on Friday, think of something positive and keep it in your mind all day. Maybe it’s a holiday you’ve planned for 2014. or maybe you’re going somewhere for Christmas, visiting family and friends. Get excited about it (if you’re not already) and hold that feeling of excitement. Before you know it, the day will have passed, for the most part, without incident. Then, it’s all over until the next one (my calendar reliably informs me this will be next June).

I am not especially superstitious myself. Life is unfair enough at times without adding the inevitable problems of an unseen force over which we can have no control. Still, I will no doubt buy a lottery ticket over Christmas, and cross my fingers at some point in the hopes that it makes a difference to whether or not I win. Touch wood, and all that…

 ~~~

Speaking of etymology, I went to a book signing this week.

Mark Forsyth (aka The Inky Fool) visited Warwick to promote his new book The Elements of Eloquence so I managed to bag myself a seat. I also managed to be first in the queue for him to sign all three of his books for me which was a real treat. He wished me well with my writing journey too.

I found him to be a most engaging speaker. He is just as eloquent and articulate as you would expect if you’ve read his books. He recited all sorts of long-forgotten yet wonderful words in the English language with a distinguished wit and charm.

Etymology is a fascinating topic for writers and in The EtymologiconMark writes about it most beautifully. It is wordsmithery in its finest form, creating powerful images for each word and a small lesson in history in every paragraph.

I’ve not yet read The Horologicon, though it promises to be just as entertaining as the previous book. It goes without saying that I expect The Elements of Eloquence to be no different. Stay tuned for reviews of all three books in the new year!

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School: Reflections

What an amazing week!

I am thrilled to report that my first Swanwick Summer School was a magnificent success. It was truly wonderful to be a part of such a lively community of fellow wordsmiths. The term networking doesn’t really apply, not least because it doesn’t feel as though I’ve made new contacts; instead, I have made new friends. It’s a unique and inspirational environment. To hear everyone’s stories about what they write and their lives in general was delightful. I was particularly touched that the fact that I am not yet published mattered not one jot to anyone I spoke to. Some of these characters deserve a particular mention.

I had some expert guidance and advice from Roy Devereux about writing magazine articles and, more importantly, getting paid for it. I also had a one-to-one session with Roy where we discussed an article I had already written and talked about the next steps to getting it published. I’ll let you know my progress with that one.

Special thanks must also go to Autumn Barlow for her course on self-publishing. She gave many hints and tips which I shall be following very soon. Thank you Autumn!

Thanks must also go to Alison Chisholm for her course on writing autobiographies. She has opened my eyes to the fact that autobiographical writing can be done using fixed periods in your life, something which had never occurred to me before. I now have a couple of ideas to explore in this genre too.

Tarja Moles provided some superb information about creating and managing a blog. Look out for some great new content and improvements to this site over the coming weeks.

I even met a fellow ailurophile, the multi-talented Stella Whitelaw and learned of a local writers group, the Bardstown Writers, which I hope to visit very soon.

The highlight, however, would have to be winning an original signed Curtis Jobling cartoon at the AGM auction on the final evening. I will admit to being just a little starstruck as I asked him if I could get his picture in the bar!

IMG-20130815-00181

In short, I have come away from Swanwick with many more friends and a certain magic coursing through my veins. I am more inspired to write and more determined than ever to be a success. I cannot thank you all enough…

Swanwick Eve

Tomorrow I’m off to my very first residential writing event in Swanwick, Derbyshire (see link here).

I’m really very excited. My college course was only once a week for a couple of hours and there was the online writing course that I went on in April. While both informative and interesting, and despite the fact that I learnt a great deal from both these endeavours, the writers school in Swanwick will be a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the writing world for a whole week.

I’ve connected with a few people on Facebook already, so it’ll be nice to meet up with some of these people when I arrive. I’ve also been in touch with an author with whom I have a one to one session arranged. He has already given very positive feedback on a piece which I sent him earlier, so I’ll be thrilled to get his advice on how to get published.

There’s a pretty hefty schedule arranged for us throughout the week, judging by the programme which arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. However, my goal is not to fill my week entirely by listening to others talk. I also want to get some serious writing done.

As regular readers will know, I am a sufferer of Procrastination from time to time. How thoughtful, then, that the organisers have arranged for the whole of Tuesday to be a “Procrastination-Free Day”. Perfect!

So, look out for perhaps an update during the week, and definitely a selection of post-writing school reflective thoughts around the 18th/19th August.

Right folks! I’m off to pack my pens and notebooks. See you next week…

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go

This critically acclaimed novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2005, is yet another tome which has sat on my bookshelf for some time waiting for me to pick it up. I’m so glad I did; it’s one of the best stories I’ve read in some time.

I was about two chapters in when I realised that, as the narrator reminisces about her childhood, there is never any mention of parents or siblings. From then on, I was gripped with the feeling that something wasn’t quite about right about her and her friends. I simply had to read on to find out what it was.

This is finally answered when the author allows Kathy’s character to pose these questions herself to her former guardians who answer them in a quite poignant fashion. I was genuinely moved by some moments at this point.

Highly recommended for those of you who enjoy something which will challenge your perceptions of what it means to be human and how we judge others.

 

William Golding: Lord of the Flies

Following on from my post regarding books I read as a child here, I have recently re-read this award-winning novel.

At the age of 12 when I first read it, I remember that I didn’t particularly enjoy it. However, I couldn’t quite remember why. Now, I do.

A group of school boys, some quite young, become stranded on a desert island. The book takes the reader on a journey into the psyche of Ralph, one of the older boys. He assumes the role of leader and goes about creating a crudely democratic society in which decisions are taken by voting. He even adopts a method of ensuring everyone has a turn to speak their minds by using a conch shell found on the beach.

Ralph is homesick and longs for his quintessentailly English life. In order to try and secure a rescue as soon as possible, he builds a fire on top of the mountain top and assigns boys to take it in turns to keep the fire alight to produce smoke.

The antagonist and, by the end of the book, Ralph’s sworn enemy, is Jack. He has no time for this peaceful existence and becomes obsessed with hunting the wild boar which inhabit the island. He and his followers gradually descend into a tribal existence, painting their faces with the blood of the creatures they hunt.

There are some gruesome moments when one of the boys is killed in an accident by the beach and a second loses his life towards his end. For that reason, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book for younger children.

Having said that, it’s a thought-provoking story which explores political themes in a graphic fashion, along with giving us a well-deserved reminder that without our creature comforts of modern life, we may not be so different ourselves.

Alan Bennett: Smut

I never had Alan Bennett down as a writer of prose. An accomplished playwright, certainly. Something of a national treasure here in the UK, one could even argue.

My local library is fast becoming somewhere where I test out things that look interesting but might be from an author I’m not yet familiar with, so it’s a good way of making discoveries, both positive and negative, before committing to purchasing a book. In this case, it was not the author that was new but the genre he had chosen.

In both stories, the central characters are middle-aged women and both these women have sexual experiences which some would consider unconventional. Bennett writes not in the erotic style, but instead chooses to use specific language to infer what’s happening, rather than graphically depict it.

In an excerpt of an interview with Mark Lawson for the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/0/21870866), the writer reveals he could only have written this book until after his parents had died.

“You can’t write to the notion of what your parents of you,” he says. Which is good to bear in mind for me. I’ve thought from time to time about writing some erotica, but my mother would never forgive me. I suspect if I ever do, I shall use a pseudonym.

Certainly a literary lesson for me, this book. I shall look out for more of his work.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love

Every now and then, you come across a book which, quite literally, changes your life. Maybe not a huge shift but it does make you see things differently. It gives you a new perspective, perhaps. This is one such book.

As a result I now have a new favourite author: Elizabeth Gilbert. This woman is amazing! I first heard of her through a YouTube video where she was giving a wonderful talk about the elusive nature of the creative genius. I was completely hooked and wanted to read her work instantly. So, off I went and bought this book.

I found it, eventually, in the travel section at Waterstones. Having now read the book, I can only surmise that the person who put it there has not, for this is not a travel guide at all.

Instead, this is an intrepid journey of a different kind. Ms Gilbert chooses to share with us the trauma of her divorce and the subsequent quagmire of depression which leaves her a mere shadow of her former self. She then sets off on a trip during which she travels into the depths of her soul to discover true happiness.

Having been through a divorce myself, there was a great deal in this book which I could relate to. I never had the courage myself to deal with it in quite the same way as this lady has done, and I applaud her bravery.

This is a book that will move you to tears, both in happiness and sadness. I loved it so much that I went out and bought the sequel the day after I finished it, and read that in two days flat!

Exeter Writing Retreat

One of the most wonderful things I have gained by joining the Urban Writers’ website (http://www.urbanwritersretreat.co.uk/) is a community of fellow writers, all experiencing the same problems and insecurities as me.

This is very important, since writers by their very nature, tend to be rather solitary. When I sit down to write, I must have no distractions. No TV or music and, especially, no chatter. Almost any noise (including hungry cat meows) is enough to put me off my pen strokes.

However, it’s surprising how easy it is to become distracted by all sorts of things. One can quickly gain experience in the Black Art of Procrastination, suddenly getting an urge to grab the hoover and do a bit of tidying round the house. And I am not a tidy person, trust me. All this home-making lark does not come naturally to me.

So, imagine my excitement when I spotted a retreat in Exeter where I could escape the house for a day. I packed my laptop, my fountain pen, spare cartidges, my notebooks and off I went. (Click here for more info.)

The weather was gorgeous when I got there. It was easily the sunniest day of the year so far. I found my way around the city, parked up and went to the venue to meet my fellow writers.

There were five of us altogether, including the lady who runs these things. We kicked off at around 10.30 and I left around 5pm. We had a half hour or so for a lunch break where we discussed our projects. One lady turned up all excited as she had just had her story accepted for publication. We were all thrilled for her.

In that time, I managed to create 3 characters for my novel and write an entire 3000-word short story, albeit a first draft. In short, I managed to accomplish more in that day, than I had done previously in perhaps two weeks.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to be able to drive down to Exeter every month. It’s a fair old distance from my place and therefore quite a long drive.

However, they do offer online retreats too, which I may well partake of in the near future. I look forward to catching up with my new-found writing friends.

Revisiting Children’s Favourites

One wonderful thing which has come from following my recent writing project, the Get Writing! Bootcamp is that the daily prompts opened up some wonderful memories of literature I read as a child.

As a child, I remember many happy afternoons spent at the local library choosing colourful books with stories which I can still picture today. (Mum, if you’re reading this, do you remember The Great Horse Chestnut Tree? We must have got that dozens of times!)

I also remember learning about Native Americans during my first year at primary school.  We learnt the wonderful poem The Song of Hiawatha by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and there was an afternoon where we dressed up to recite a shortened version of the poem to our parents. I remember my poor mother trying in vain to plait my hair like an Indian squaw and losing her temper with my stubborn straight locks!

On a family trip down to London one winter, I remember going to see a recital of Captain Beaky and his Band at some theatre or other. I had the book for several years afterwards. Goodness knows what happened to that.

During my recent house move, I found a present my mother bought me for my 5th birthday: Little Grey Rabbit’s Storybook by Alison Uttley. Another charming little book with great illustrations brought back some more wonderful memories.

Well, all this reminiscing got me thinking: what if I read some of these books again, now I’m much older? Would the stories be as wonderful now as I remember? How much has adulthood changed my perspective? Will I even be drawn to writing some children’s stories myself?

So, I have a new mission folks. I’m going on a shopping spree for some of my childhood favourites. My objective is to try and answer these questions and maybe discover something about children’s literature along the way.

Feel free to add your own comments and memories of your childhood reading experiences. It’s nice to share!

Sue Townsend: The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year

I don’t think there’s a Christmas I can think of where my mother hasn’t bought me at least one book. Some years there are several. They are carefully purchased throughout the year and kept in a cupboard or the back of a wardrobe until I visit during the festive season.

Occasionally, I get one a few months later with a comment such as “Oh, here’s the book I meant to give you at Christmas, but I’d forgotten where I put it, so here it is!” This was one such book, carefully wrapped and handed over in February!

I raised my eyebrows when I saw the author’s name.

“Is this the same Sue Townsend who wrote Adrian Mole all those years ago?”

“Yes, I think so,” my mum replied.

I was intrigued but in the middle of two books at the time already. Adding a third to the mix didn’t seem like the sensible thing to do. Instead, I put it to one side until such time as I was ready. I managed to finish it just the other day.

In the main, this is a funny book. Eva is fifty and has just sent her naive but extremely clever twins off to university, where they meet the infuriating Poppy who has huge social and emotional issues of her own.

This life-changing event is what tips Eva over the edge and she decides to go to bed, fully clothed for a little while to think. The ‘little while’ turns into days, weeks and months and, during this time, we learn a great deal about life in Eva’s household (and indeed her life in general) which she has faithfully tried to maintain to the best of her ability since her marriage.

Her assessment of the world from between her sheets as she slowly descends into mental illness is comically portrayed by the author and it’s not until the last couple of pages that you realise how ill she has become.

I was disappointed in the ending of this novel which is a shame as the rest of the book was engaging and funny with rich characters. I really wanted there to be a happy ending but it never comes. It felt as though there should have been more, as if the novel was somehow unfinished.

An entertaining read, all the same. Especially if you’re a Sue Townsend fan.

 

Stephen King: On Writing

I was never a fan of Mr King until recently. I seem to have been under the impression that he only ever wrote horrific stories that would give me nightmares for months.

It would seem that this is just not true, as my previous post here will testify.

On Writing has almost spiritual significance for me. My partner bought me a copy as I first became interested in writing and instructed me to read it. Since I hold his advice in very high regard (usually!), I set aside a weekend and read it from cover to cover.

It has proved informative and entertaining in equal measure, telling the story of the author’s life and offering some wonderful advice about The Craft, as he calls it. In fact, it’s how I’ve come to refer to my writing too, and also where the inspiration for this blog came from (see my first post here).

For anyone even considering writing, or for anyone who enjoys Stephen King generally, I’d highly recommend this book. Actually, even if you’re not a fan of his, I’d get it anyway. It’s not his usual fare, although the writing is very much his own style.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it changed my life!

Paul Sussman: The Labyrinth of Osiris

I spotted this is Tesco, of all places. Not my favourite place for novel browsing, I must admit, but there we go. I was drawn by the title, as I’m a big fan of ancient Egyptian mythology and history.

The story is well planned, and although it flits around quite a bit from place to place, this is essential to the storyline and doesn’t detract too much from the action.

I also like the fact that the author has helpfully included a glossary to explain the Hebrew and Arabic words which frequently appear in the text.

The two central characters, Ariel Ben-Roi and Yusuf Khalifa, are well thought through and their relationship is intriguing. The fact that one is an Israeli Jew and the other an Egyptian Muslim adds extra religious, cultural and political dimensions to the story.

A great read, and also a great shame that this was the last work from this author as he died suddenly after publication. I may well have to dig out his earlier work…

Goodreads.com

Calling all Social Networkers! If you like reading, this is for you…

I was directed towards this wonderful little site a few months ago by my partner. Basically, it’s like Facebook for people who are active readers.

Simply create yourself a profile, add a few of your favourite books, and away you go. You can share your reading preferences with friends, rate the books you read and even add full-scale reviews.

You can join groups, take quizzes, and there’s even a creative writing section where authors leave their stories.

Enjoy!

http://www.goodreads.com/

 

Creating a Plot

Something else we’ve covered in the Creative Writing class is plot structure.

I guess a good question to be asking ourselves as we write is: what happens next?

So far, this has tended to be my biggest problem. I love starting a new story and introducing the main character. For a while, the words will flow effortlessly and I begin to feel very proud of myself for my creation.

Then, I come to a stop.

Where do I go now? I ask myself. Where can I take the story next? How can I keep the reader involved?

I’ve learnt that it helps to write a brief plan for short stories. To do this,  I separate the piece into three acts, like a play.

The first act concentrates on setting the scene; I will introduce the main characters and some background, telling the reader what has brought them to the current situation. I will also leave a couple of subtle clues as to what happens in act two.

The second act will involve more of the conflict in the story. It will have some action or drama. I love to write in the first person, so this part of the story will often include some internal dialogue of the protagonist.

Obviously, the third act will conclude the story. There will be the moment where things ‘come to a head’. There may be an argument, for example, which forces our protagonist into a corner where they feel vulnerable. Sometimes there is a practical solution to a problem, as well as an emotional resolution.

Gradually, the plan becomes a list of activities or key scenes. Often, a small amount of research may be necessary. I’m writing a ghost story at the moment, for example, which requires some knowledge of Victorian burial customs. My general history knowledge is appalling (as my mother would be very glad to tell you) therefore I have had to call on the 21st century Oracle, the World Wide Web for small details to add weight to my story.

The planning can take a couple of days or several weeks, depending on how much I apply myself to the task. Then, once I’m happy, I then begin to write.

Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I spotted this during a refreshment stop at Warwick Services on the M40. (See how easily I get distracted by books?!)

The author writes in the first person, narrating the thoughts and memories of a retired man reflecting on his childhood and young adult life.

He creates tension without the use of action throughout the first half of the book. Instead, he cleverly uses the character’s memories to convey clues as to what happens next.

In this case, a solicitor’s letter is the catalyst to a chain of events which makes our character relive moments of his past.

This is a novel which covers a huge range of emotions: teenage angst, first love, jealousy, bereavement and, in the end, remorse and regret for the daft things we do when we’re young.

An intriguing read, for sure. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

James Bowen: A Street Cat Named Bob

Well, it was about time that I mentioned a cat book!

My mum bought me this for my birthday last year, knowing that I’m mad about all things feline. This was no exception.

A Street Cat Named Bob  is a lovely heart-warming tale about homelessness on the streets of London and about how caring for someone (or something) else can help to draw out the best in everyone.

There are some frank and open insights into the author’s personal circumstances and how he came to be on the streets in the first place.

It’s not a book that will change your view of life, but it’s entertaining all the same, especially those of us who have feline friends.

Stephen King: 11.22.63

Apologies for anyone who’s following who’s wondering why I haven’t posted in 4 days; I’ve been on a reading rampage, and this book by Stephen King is the reason.

The book starts in 2011, but the action takes place mostly in the period 1958-1963. A portal is discovered in the back room of a diner which transports the narrator, on each visit, back to 1958.

The mission the young teacher undertakes is to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He spends a lot of time almost as a secret agent, following Lee Harvey Oswald and bugging his home for evidence that he was, in fact, acting alone on that fateful day. The methods he uses to achieve this are inspired, given the lack of Wi-Fi, computer surveillance and other gadgets which the likes of the CIA would take for granted nowadays.

If you’re a fan of the conspiracy theories and you’re hoping to find some whisper of evidence that Oswald was coerced or had help, or even wasn’t there at all, look elsewhere. This book will not fulfil your fantasies.

It is, however, an exceptionally well-written story about a time before mobile phones when people could leave their doors unlocked when they went to bed at night. It’s also a wonderful love story about soul-mates who come from different times.

I’m not usually a Stephen King fan but this is the third novel I’ve read now. I may be changing my mind…