Monday, 15 January 2018

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

Describe yourself

How do you feel?

Describe where you currently live

If you could go anywhere where would you go?

Your favourite form of transportation is

Your best friend is

You and your friends are

What’s the weather like?

Favourite time of day

If your life was a book

What is life to you?

Your fear

What is the best advice you have to give?

Thought for the day

How would you like to die?

Your soul’s present condition

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

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Four Capital Writers

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

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

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

A Close Encounter
Anne Stenhouse

Afternoon Tea with Angelica
Jennifer Young

The Letter
Jane Riddell

An Ordinary Joe
Kate Blackadder

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Five in December

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other lists include:

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

Books that have never been written

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

Wishing you good reading – and writing – in 2018.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Six in November

Playing catch-up here … I read six books in November

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
Read on Kindle for book group. I hadn’t read Elif Shafak before but was looking forward to this as I was interested in knowing more about her native country, Turkey.

‘Peri, a wealthy Turkish housewife, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion in Istanbul when a beggar snatches her handbag. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground – an old polaroid of three young women and their university professor. A relic from a past – and a love – Peri had tried desperately to forget.’

The premise was good and the story started with a bang but it kind of lost me after that. Rather than learning more about Turkey we spend much of the time in Oxford listening to undergraduates putting the world to rights – as they have been wont to do in many novels (and in real life) over the decades. The ‘three daughters of Eve’ are three Muslim girls – Mona the devout, Shirin the rebel, and Peri the unsure – Peri is troubled in various ways because of tensions within her family and because of her obsession with a charismatic Oxford lecturer.

I could really have done without all the Oxford angst and with much more of Peri’s home, the violent, noisy and hugely colourful city of Istanbul.

Jam Busters by Julie Summers
Although the cover shows an image from the television series Home Fires (lamentably axed despite much protest after two popular series) this is a non-fiction account of the considerable part the WI played during the Second World War from housing evacuees to collecting animal bones. Julie Summers’ research was instrumental in the tv series hence the connection. The ingenuity and dogged cheerfulness of the women who kept the home fires burning is humbling.

Dead Man’s Prayer by Jackie Baldwin
The first in a new detective series, set in Dumfries and Galloway. A detective with a difference – Frank Farrell was once a priest. He’d turned his back on the church but a violent murder which seems to have direct connections with the local parish priest takes him into a past he really doesn’t want to think about, and he finds out some very disturbing personal information. A page-turner – look forward to number two due out next year.

A snowed-in school reunion – which some of the class of ’96 will never be leaving. Can’t you just hear the background music … da da DAAA!!! A good twist on a classic plot, very entertaining.

Love, Lies and Linguine by Hilary Spiers
This is the sequel to Hester and Harriet which I read in August and loved, about two widowed sisters, their young relative Ben, and Daria, a mysterious young woman they take under their wing. In this second novel Hester and Harriet take themselves off to Italy where their holiday takes some unexpected turns while back home Ben gets into a whole lot of trouble. A joy.

Crisis by Frank Gardner
A boys’ own thriller from the respected TV journalist, involving drug cartels in South America and a large cast of characters – all the more to bump off in various gruesome ways. Rollicking stuff.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

'Perfect for the festive season'

Stella’s Christmas Wish, published in November 2016 by Black and White, has had some delightful reviews in the last week. 

From Fictionophile (a booky blog I hadn’t come across before but will now be following):

‘ … This is a charming Christmas novel that will be appreciated by anyone who likes the work of Kate Hewitt or Rosamund Pilcher.  A ‘feel-good’ love story set over the Christmas season, and a heart-warming testament to the importance of family.’

(How brilliant to be compared to two (best-selling) authors whose books I love!)

From Withloveforbooks (again, a book blog I didn’t know; they did a lovely feature on the book, asking me to write a guest post (which I did, on sending Christmas cards) and doing a review which included:

‘ … Kate Blackadder's writing has a lovely flow. Her vivid descriptions of Melrose made the town come to life really well. It was easy to picture Stella's friends and family. I love stories about close communities and Stella grew up among wonderful people. I enjoyed reading about every single one of them. Stella's Christmas Wish is a charming and sparkling Christmas story with a terrific moving and fabulously romantic ending.’

From Lothian Life, an online magazine. Anne Hamilton raised some points about the book that I have been hoping someone would!

‘ … there are several other dimensions to this tale that raise it above being ‘just’ another decent bit of chick-lit.

I’ve said it many times, but the fiction world needs more strong and engaging older characters! And  it’s here that Kate Blackadder delivers that something extra. Stella and her ex, Ross, may be young, but other characters are not – Alice, Gray, Lilias – and rather than these being consigned to the realm of supporting cast, they are main players with their own stories, both developed and resolved.

Kate Blackadder has produced a light but not light-weight read, perfect for the festive season – or actually any other time of year.’

Why not have a read and see for yourself? Stella's Christmas Wish is available on various e-platforms including Amazon http://amzn.to/2dYQOrY

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 …