by Jamie

5 questions for Julia Crouch

March 26, 2011 in Books, Crime by Jamie

Before becoming a writer, you were a graphic designer/illustrator. Do you think being such a visually literate person has informed your writing in any way?

Yes – I tend to write with my eyes. I ‘see’ the scenes as I’m writing them. If I get stuck, I shut my eyes and play the ‘movie’.

A big part of my work as a designer/illustrator was drawing. If you’ve ever sat and drawn anything, you’ll have observed something closely – a great exercise for all writers. Simiilarly, looking for the right image, typeface and layout to get the client’s message across is all about defining character, detail, tone and narrative. More or less what a novelist does. The structuring, logical part of a designer’s thinking is also very handy for the second draft.

You’ve recently had your first book released. Has the experience of being published differed in any ways to your expectations?

Publication day was a bit weird – I’m on a deadline for novel #2, so it was more or less business as usual during the day – except for a tad more tweeting and blogging than normal. The launch the following day was better than I could have expected – Brighton Waterstones, wine provided by publishers, new frock, stacks of my books, loads of friends and colleagues, signings and sales. And I’ve got lots of author events lined up for the next few months, so the public side of it is very much as I had hoped (I like getting out and about).

The process leading up to publication was wonderful. It is such a great feeling to have people taking your work seriously and to work with an agent and an editor to make it as good as it possibly could be. As is the case for most writers, this followed years of working on my own, in my spare time, with publication only a wild dream. Now I get to write full time. Life is good.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I guess it’s got to be The Cat in the Hat, the first book I read on my own, at a precocious three years old. I remember being so excited by the imagination at play there – the way the words could lead to anything, the feel of the pages, the big broad flat planes of colour…

I always had my nose stuck in a book – it was a bit of a family joke in our decidedly unbookish family that I could always be found at parties curled up behind the sofa, lost in my own little world.

An illustration of the importance reading plays in my life is that when I arrived in the marvellous city of Venice for the first time, on my own, aged 19, I checked into the Youth Hostel there, but I didn’t go out and explore. Instead, I spent the next three days on my bunk, completely gripped by John Fowles’s The Magus. Venice could wait. I had to finish that book first.

What was the last book you read?
Funnily enough, I’m just finishing Someone Else’s Son by Sam Hayes, and I’m loving it. She is such a great storyteller, and captures the darker side of life brilliantly. The book suffered a hiatus when I left it, half-read, in the hairdresser, so before I went and picked it up I read The Hand that First Held mine, by Maggie Farrell. I loved that too – the characters really come to life, and there’s a great sense of London in it. It is ultimately a hopeful book about love, but there is a thread of threat wound through it that keeps the pages turning.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

The Summer Book by Tove Janssen – although it would have been difficult, because it was only translated into English about 8 years ago. This simple story was the book I read that made me realise that I could write a novel. It’s nothing like my own work, but there is something about the way the setting and character and story work that I found incredibly inspiring. Perhaps if I’d read it sooner, I’d have got started earlier!

Julia Crouch will be appearing on the Crime Writers Panel at WordFest. Find out more about her and her writing on her website. Her debut novel, Cuckoo, is out now.

by Jamie

5 questions for Mark Chadbourn

March 18, 2011 in Books, Journalism by Jamie

In a previous life you were a journalist who experienced his share of hairy situations. Which would you say was the most extreme?

Probably being set on fire (accidentally) while sleeping in a tent in the Arctic circle.  I was reporting on NATO manoeuvres in northern Norway and living with the soldiers in minus 20 degree blizzard conditions.  A lamp exploded, spraying burning oil over me and the soldier who was working on it.  I dived into a snow drift to put the blaze out.  He was more badly burned, but was airlifted out and survived.  It was the first time I realised it was actually possible to die while working.  If the oil had splashed a different way, I might not be here now.

How does making your living as an author of fiction differ from doing so writing journalism?
As an author, you only have yourself to answer to, whereas when you’re a journalist you’re following the direction of various strata of editors.  That’s definitely a plus.  Journalism is certainly more short, sharp shocks – quick deadlines, constantly moving on to something new.  Writing novels is a long haul and you have to make sure you have strategies for keeping your focus and your drive.  Writing fiction is a solitary job and you have to be disciplined and a self-starter.  Journalism is very social, with lots of camaraderie – that’s quite a big, and tough, adjustment to make. 

What do you think you would be doing if you didn’t write for a living?

It’s hard to really answer that as I’ve always earned a living writing in one form or another, since I left university.  I’d probably be doing something in the music industry as that’s a big love of mine.  I once ran an indie record company and managed bands, which I found hugely stimulating.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was Mysteries by the philosopher Colin Wilson.  It was an eye-opening examination of what is often called paranormal experience, but filtered through psychology and science.  Highly recommended.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

Probably Mysteries as there’s so much in it that altered the way I think about the world.  But other than that, I’d recommend House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski which shows how much it’s possible to break form and structure yet still achieve an emotional result.  Or Little, Big by John Crowley which is possibly my favourite book of all time, a whimsical, magical examination of family, history, love, meaning… so many things.

Mark Chadbourn is the author of lots of novels, including The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, Jack of Ravens and the Kingdom of the Serpent Series. Find out more on his website.

by Jamie

5 questions for publisher Scott Pack

March 15, 2011 in Books by Jamie

Scott PackFormer Waterstone’s bookbuyer turned publisher Scott Pack will be bringing the infamous Firestation Book Swap to WordFest next month. Although still responsible for the reins at The Friday Project, an imprint bringing the best of the web to print, Scott’s role at Harper Collins also encompasses that of digital publisher for the company too.

So, Book Swaps are all about the cake, right? For anyone hoping to ingratiate themselves with you at the Crawley Bookswap, what’s your favourite cake?

I’ll be honest, pretty much any cake would do. But cherry cake would be top of the list.

Book swappers take note. Staying on cakes, can you think of one of your favourite books, and then recommend it by summarising it as if it were a cake?

[Desperately tries to think of cake puns and fails]. Perhaps Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec because he was quite nutty and it goes down well with a cup of tea. That was a bit shit, wasn’t it?

How can anyone accuse someone who looks like this of being a fruitcake?

Georges Perec

Seriously though, a fine fine choice. Perec and cakes aside, what was the first book you remember having a big impact on you as a child?

The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preussler was the first book that truly thrilled me. I was, at various points, scared, upset, excited and overcome with joy. I was about 9 or 10 at the time. In a delightful twist of fate I have now re-published it for the first time in 30 years under its original title, Krabat. Sorry for the plug but it’s the only honest answer I can give!

No problem. People might like to know that the back story to your encounter with it is fleshed out a bit on your blog, here.

What was the last book you read?
Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli. Imagine Jeeves & Wooster starring in an episode of Lovejoy directed by the bloke who made The Long Good Friday.

And lastly, Scott, which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

I would tell myself to stop snogging Catherine Oldham and read The Odyssey earlier than I did.

First Lorelei King recommends The Iliad, and now you’re going with The Odyssey. I also felt I came late to Homer, as I wasn’t properly exposed to The Simpsons until Do The Bartman hit the charts. Thanks very much for your time. We’ll see you at the Bookswap.

by Jamie

5 questions for author Sam Hayes

March 11, 2011 in Books, Festival information by Jamie

Sam HayesSam Hayes is the author of four novels for Headline, including Blood Ties, Unspoken and her latest, Someone Else’s Son. She will be appearing at WordFest as one of the panellists on the Crime Writers panel.

Before becoming a writer, you had a slightly eclectic career history. Which would you say was most useful for you as a writer?

I’d say that would have to be the time I spent working as a Private Investigator. For a couple of years I did everything from serving court documents on reluctant recipients to tracing missing persons to negotiating with a rather large and angry man with a German Shepherd about debt recovery. It was a fascinating insight to how people react in emotional situations.

You’ve enviably successful as an author over the last five years or so. Is the life of a full time writer what you had expected it to be when you set out to attempt to be one?

It’s actually better! I have to say, though, there’s a lot more to it than just writing books. There isn’t really a typical working day for me and I love the variety. Sometimes I’m out and about meeting readers at events and signings, other times I’m catching up with paperwork and emails. Occasionally I get to have lunch with my editors and agents and I’ve been to some pretty decent events put on by my publisher. An evening at the Groucho Club meeting with lots of journalists was particularly memorable! But of course it is all about the writing and that’s what I love best. Nothing beats the solitude, peace and excitement of getting lost in writing a novel.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I used to read a lot as a kid and admit to being an Enid Blyton junkie when I was quite young. I also adored the Narnia books and read them often. But I didn’t read the book that had a huge impact on me until I was thirteen. Jonathan Livington Seagull by Richard Bach changed my approach to writing (yes, I wrote when I was a child) and also to living. It’s most uplifting and inspirational and I keep a copy in my office to read every now and again.

What was the last book you read?

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha and I’m currently reading One Day by David Nicholls.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

Probably Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I used to get terribly bogged down with the classics as a teenager and this one passed me by back then. I blame this on my rather stern English Lit teacher!

by Jamie

5 questions for Lorelei King

March 10, 2011 in Acting, Audio, Books, Screen writing by Jamie

Lorelei King is one of the most successful American actresses working in the UK, appearing in Hollywood blockbusters including Notting Hill and The Saint, and independent films, such as House of Mirth and 24 Hours in London. She is a prolific audio actress and co-founder of Creative Content, an audio publishing company.  If that wasn’t enough she also writes for television and radio, working frequently for the BBC.

As someone with at least two main jobs, what shared traits would you say are crucial to both an actor and a writer?

Discipline, attention to detail, understanding character….

How do you approach narrating an audiobook? Do you consider the various characters separately, as you would do were you playing a single character in a play, or is the main narrative voice essentially the ‘role’ that you’re playing?

If it is a book with first person narration, then yes – that voice is the main character and the other characters come out of her voice. There are a couple of schools of thought on this: some people think that with first person narration there should be very little characterization of other voices, as the narrator is essentially simply relating what they said – but I’m a ham, so I like to give it a bit of welly. But it’s also about clarity: I think it’s important to give each character a distinctive voice so that the listener can tell who’s speaking. Third person narration is different – the narrator’s voice is perhaps more neutral, and the characters can have more colour.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I learned to read when I was very young, but the first book that had a significant impact on me was ‘The Razor’s Edge’ by Somerset Maugham, which I read when I was nine. Much of the subject matter was way too old for me, but I was completely captivated by Larry and his spiritual journey. Inspired, I asked my parents for books on yoga meditation that Christmas – heaven knows what they thought! For me, it was an exciting and important book because it showed me that while the world was wide, there were also inner worlds to be explored. I was a deep thinker as a kid; I’m far shallower now!

What was the last book you read?

I am co-owner of a small digital publishing company, Creative Content, and one of the nicest parts of the job is proofreading the eBook versions of our crime fiction list. The last one I read was “The Broken Token” by Chris Nickson – a story set in 18th century Leeds. I really enjoyed it – the period detail was fascinating!

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

The Iliad – such a page turning, action adventure! I wish I’d come to it sooner….

by Jo

World Book Night @ Crawley Library

March 6, 2011 in Books, Festival information by Jo

There was a full house last night at World Book Night in Crawley Library. The event was organised by WordFest’s Neil Ayres, in fact the WBN event was how he came on board with this project.

Crawley Library is a particularly wonderful building by day, but the atmosphere of the place when dimly lit with live acoustic music, wine and of course free books made it even more so, which bodes well for many of the events we have planned for the beginning of April.

There were readings from authors Sam Hayes (pictured below), Julia Crouch & Alis Hawkins each of them giving just enough away to intrigue the audience, many of whom also bought books from the Waterstones mini-stall me and three colleagues were manning.

Sam Hayes @ WBN Crawley Library

We also busted open one of ten boxes of our programmes hot off the press, they’ve made it all seem even more real. I was particularly excited seeing them all done with no glaring errors- a big relief, I am also a big fan of the smell of printing ink so got a fix of that too.

WF Programmes all done and dusted.

I hope that all such events and those coming up will help illustrate just how integral to communities libraries are, so much is done within them already and there is so much potential too. What libraries need is more, not less, funding to expand on the resources they have and can potentially offer.  Wordfest will be an extreme example of what is possible in a community, with dedication, talent and enthusiasm. We aim to be apolitical in as much as anything ever is, but by no means do we want to an example of our society (whatever the specified size…) being based on always expecting people to do things for free, be they cultural or otherwise. Essentially this is a pilot which we hope will generate excitement and confidence in the need for further funded public projects that benefit a wide audience. Crawley deserves a rich cultural programme as much as any place, people should be able to expect such things without exclusion in the form of a privileged location or ticket prices.


by Jamie

The Free Book Backlash

March 4, 2011 in Books by Jamie

Aliya WhiteleyAuthor Aliya Whiteley asks anyone who loves reading to turn off their inner cynic for a bit.

We live in a cynical time.

It’s difficult to believe that the nineteen year old model in the commercial did benefit from the age-defying-liposoid-destructor-of-fine-lines-and-wrinkles cream. Or that the shiny sports car did find a long straight coastal road to cruise down in solitary bliss, thus bringing earthly happiness to the driver. Maybe the power of advertising is on the wane. Or maybe we’ve just become too clever for our own good.

I bet Darwin didn’t foresee this stage of evolution. Water monkey to man, yes. Trusting fool to suspicious cynic, no. And who’s to say that cynicism is better? There must be something left in this country that we can all believe in, other than the fact that Judi Dench is a national treasure. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that there is an untouchable force of goodness still out there, one that doesn’t deserve your pessimism: the free book.

I know what you’re going to say. Marketing ploy. It’s a strategy designed to get you hooked on the series, so that you have to buy all 362 volumes to find out what happened to the main character, and the author obviously lost interest after book 38 but the completionist in you demands the whole set on your bookshelf. Even though the books have gone up in price consistently throughout the series. And the final installment is a special edition hardback only with built-in leather bookmark and gold plating. If only there was an alternative to purchasing it. Possibly you could have reserved them all through your local library instead, except that’s just been closed down.

I do apologise; it seems dyspepsia is catching.

The adult in me knows that the publishers are not giving away merchandise for the sake of my mental improvement. But the child in me says – a free book! Look everyone, a free book! A book, and they’re giving it to me! Yes, I’m very easily pleased when it comes to literature gratis. I think most keen readers are. We’re the kind of people who accept pamphlets in the street, and stand outside libraries that are about to be closed down, chanting and brandishing placards. We still have a sense of wonder about the written word, wherever it appears.

So I refuse to turn my nose up at any free book. I don’t care if I get hooked on the author’s work and end up buying their back-catalogue, or find out that it’s really not my cup of tea and end up sending it off to the charity shop for someone else to appreciate. Because however cynical the reasons may be for providing it, it doesn’t mean that it was written by a cynical mind, or that I have to bring cynicism to the reading of it. One of the greatest things about the book is that it gives the reader a view into another world. When I look into that world, I want it to be through unclouded eyes, so that I can make my own opinion about what I’m seeing.

That’s why I’m going to be attending all the events I can get to during what has rapidly turned into World Book Week, and snaffling up the free books I’m offered. Novels are a wonderful thing and I refuse to stop believing in them.

Even if it does make me an easy target for marketing departments. Maybe they’ll offer me some kind of installment plan with a modest rate of interest for that series about undead autistic teenage sweethearts that they got me hooked on last World Book Week. I’m sure they’ll help me out; they’ve only got my best interests at heart, right?

Aliya Whiteley is the author of Light Reading and Three Things About Me, both from Macmillan. She is also the keeper of the Veggiebox. She’ll be at Crawley Library for World Book Night.

by Jamie

World books for World Book Day

March 3, 2011 in Books by Jamie

To celebrate World Book Day (that’s today, in case you’d overlooked the timeliness of the post), we thought we’d bring you a book from each continent. So here we go.

The Devil That Danced on The Water
Aminatta Forna’s wrote a moving semi-memoir and a paean to a Sierra Leone that is lost to civil war.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Antarctica
The coldest continent is perhaps written about far more than a place barely anyone’s been to should have been, but a segment in Michael Chabon’s excellent fictional history of American comics industry approaches it fairly unconventionally.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet – Asia
David Mitchell’s most recent book tells the tale of a clerk working in the Dutch East India Company who is allowed more than a glance into the secretive culture of early nineteenth century Japan.

Riddley Walker – Europe
In post-apocalyptic Kent, Russell Hoban deconstructs and reconstructs written English in a tour-de-force of creativity. If you are really in a reading mood, and have a few days to commit to it without distractions, there are few better reads.

The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, Australasia
Set in Victorian-era Melbourne Fergus Humes’ mystery outsold Sherlock Holmes when it was first unleashed on the world, following Humes’ self-funded initial run at home. It has been described as a crucial turning point in the history of the detective novel.

Come Thou Tortoise, North America
Jessica Grant’s book about a naïve ‘leapling’ (someone born on 29 February) splits its time between her return home to Newfoundland following her father’s death, and the exploits of Winnifred, her lonely tortoise left behind with friends while Audrey undertakes a long journey back into memories of her childhood.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – South America
In an ever-changing found paradise/hell in Latin America, master of magical realism Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves the unconventional epic of several generations of a particularly long-lived family.

by Jamie

World Book Night at Crawley Library

March 2, 2011 in Books, Short stories by Jamie

Win these books

Win these books by coming along to Crawley Library this Saturday

In an effort to promote reading, this Saturday over one million books will be given away by volunteers across the UK and Ireland.

Crawley Library has an exciting event planned for the evening, featuring five authors and more free books than you can shake a… er… bookmark at. Oh, and did we mention the wine?

So what’s on the agenda? Well, the first 40 people through the doors come six thirty will get a free copy of David Mitchell‘s incredible Cloud Atlas, the official World Book Night contribution to proceedings. But we also have copies of John Lenahan‘s excellent Shadow Magic, courtesy of The Friday Project, as well as free copies of Sam Hayes paperbacks, supplied by Headline. Faber & Faber has donated 24 copies of Edna O’Brien‘s short story collection Saints & Sinners.

Sam will be there on the night too, following her signing during the day at the County Mall branch of Waterstone’s, which she’ll be undertaking along with fellow thriller writer Julia Crouch. Both Sam and Julia will be reading some of their work at the library event, as will historical novelist Alis Hawkins, author of Testament.

Also there on the night will be fantasy author Tim Stretton (The Dog of the North) and dark comedy writer Aliya Whiteley (Light Reading, Three Things About Me).

Guests will also be automatically entered into a raffle, with beautiful book prizes, including a complete collector’s set of Revolutionary Writing from  Faber & Faber.

If you would like to come along, please call the library on 01293 651751. Entry is £3. The gig starts at 6:30pm and you’ll get at least one free book and a glass of wine (if you’re over 18 of course). All welcome.

by Jamie

Ella Minnow Pea

March 1, 2011 in Books by Jamie

What better way to kick off a blog about words and books than with a review of a book about words?

Ella Minnow Pea is a good concept novel, well worth, I believe, the author’s probably considerable time spent penning it. But the reader not interested or able to enjoy it for what it is (a rather weak political story laden with drippings of wordplay) may feel their time might be better spent elsewhere.

The story, such as it is, is an epistolary dialogue, mostly between the eponymous character and her cousin Tassie, but littered throughout with notes and notifications from various other family members and neighbours, all residing on the small island nation of Nollop (formally Utoppiana), which is located twenty-one miles to the southeast of Charlestown, North Carolina.

The islanders pride themselves on a sense of community and the apparent equality in which all live their lives, until, that is, the cenotaph bearing the pangram attributed to the island’s favoured son, Nevin Nollop, loses one of its letters. The novel begins with a letter from Ella to Tassie, in which Ms Minnow Pea informs her cousin of this news. It doesn’t take long for the island’s mysterious Council to decree a ban on the use of the fallen letter. (‘Z’ being the particular letter in question.)

Whilst Ella sees this development as an exciting challenge, inaugurating a new era for the island, the more savvy Tassie sees through the new law and rejects it for the totalitarianism it is.

It doesn’t take long for more letter-bearing tiles to begin dropping from the monument, and soon people are abandoning the island in their droves for the USA. (Funnily enough no mention made of Green Cards or work permits at this stage.) The Council begins requisitioning the abandoned property and it’s not long before the misuse of certain letters of the alphabet results in a number of floggings, imprisonments and yes, even executions, all the more disturbing when juxtaposed with the jollity of the storytelling.

All the while Dunn has ever-increasing lippogrammatic fun as his characters struggle to carry on communicating through the medium of words, remaining surprisingly coherent until the loss of the twelfth letter, the letter ‘U’, whereafter everything devolves into a brand of makeshift argot a la Russell Hoban’s excellent Riddley Walker. Once we reach this point, there is obviously the necessity for a complete suspension of disbelief, as words in print and words uttered are two entirely separate entities, and it is simply not feasible that, when using a morphic vocabulary, lines between punctuation and spelling will not begin to diverge. Also, from page one I became suspicious of the lack of deaf islanders in a purportedly Utopian nation – are we to suppose that those with physical impairments offer too awkward a prospect to amalgamate in a society founded on principals of equality?

Other than the rather weak political digs that the story seems to be grappling onto for dear life in the hope of gaining some narrative credibility (How difficult is it to take a sideswipe at authoritarian extremism?), the remainder of the novel revolves around the remaining law-abiding islanders pursuit of a pangram (a sentence containing all the letters of a given alphabet) made up of less letters than Nollop’s original.

And that, pretty much, is it. There’s plenty to marvel at, not least Dunn’s decision to lose the letter ‘D’ so early on. And if you love word-games, you’ll no doubt thrill at the prospect of reading this book. But if you want some of the other things many expect from a good read: strong characterisation and setting, emotional depth, vibrant, clear and unexpected plotting, you’d do well to look elsewhere.

As a literary curiosity, ‘Ella Minnow Pea’ was a revelation for me, and in spite of my criticisms, I highly recommend it. I suspect that this review will do its job well, causing the readers well suited to the read to make a mental note of it as one to look out for, and sending those not so inclined scurrying away to more tried and tested territory.