Heartbreaking Silliness (Part One)

One of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler, once wrote a recommendation for another of my favourite authors, Barbara Pym:

She is the rarest of treasures; she reminds us of the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life.

Pym has been compared to Jane Austen possibly because of her sharp eye for the ways and manners of her contemporaries – particularly the groups of women that are found in country parishes, helping the vicar, or some dry academic at Oxford; among the office staff at a charity or small-time academic publisher. Her stories are full of missed opportunities and regret, the secretive competitiveness among women vying for recognition and even affection from the important men they orbit, yet are full of  understanding, wit and humour. I love them.

Here are my top three:

Excellent Women – A post-war London housing problem (all those returned servicemen now have families and want homes) sees Mildred Lathbury having to share a bathroom with a glamorous couple – anthropologist Helena Napier and her dashing husband Rocky. Continue reading “Heartbreaking Silliness (Part One)”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: Possession by A S Byatt

 

A S Byatt is 9780375712357a seriously good, and by that I also mean literary, writer. But of all her books, none has quite caught my imagination as this one.

I first read Possession on a road-trip around New Zealand’s gob-smackingly lovely South Island and found it hard to tear myself away from the book. The two experiences are happily entwined in my mind, making it one of my best holidays ever. Ignoring the scenery, Possession has such a lot going for it:

  • hidden letters revealing a secret love affair between two Victorian poets;
  • two academics discovering a connection from across the Atlantic over said poets;
  • a narrative that see-saws between past and present as events from the past are slowly revealed and which keeps you reading;
  • characters you really connect with;
  • superb writing;
  • a story of such emotional pull you can read this book again and again.

I guess it might be time to reread this one.

Series Settings that Hit the Spot – part 1

When reading it is wonderful to be lured into a novel by a charming location – quaint English villages, coastal towns, places that don’t even appear on the map but keep drawing you back when you find them. Imagining a quirky setting and the people who live there must be fun to write too and once you’ve created it, how hard it would be to leave, never to return. No wonder so many book series centre around a place. Here’s a few series that have wonderful settings I happily return to again and again. Continue reading “Series Settings that Hit the Spot – part 1”

Quick review: Happiness for Humans

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Happiness for Humans is a debut novel by P Z Reizin and a brilliant pick-me-up read. It is modern, witty, quirky and romantic by turn and wonderfully original. The plot follows two main characters, Jen and Tom who are both rebuilding their lives after failed relationships and in Tom’s case he is also missing his son who has gone to university.

Into this quite normal scenario is the meddling of two computer generated AI (Aiden and Aisling) who try to get them together, while darker undercurrents force them apart again. It’s a bit like the fairy element in A Midsummer Night’s Dream only for the modern age. There’s also a nod to Woody Allen and a hint of Douglas Adams, so it wasn’t surprising I was chuckling my way through the book.

There are plenty of surprises, some mad-cap action sequences and loads of odd-ball minor characters that keep the plot humming along. And Reizin does a great job of making the AI characters, who narrate chunks of the story, well-rounded and believable, in the way that human characters would be. This is a lovely novel you won’t want to miss.

2018 in Fiction – Top Authors Return

2018 is turning into a dream year for readers like me. I am so excited about seeing the return to the bookshops of quite a few of my favourite authors – particularly those who only turn a book out once every five or more years. Here’s a list of the books that have me rubbing my hands with glee.

Circe by Madeline Miller

I have this already on my bedside table, and am glad to say it is mine, all mine, and not a library book! Miller’s Orange Prize winning novel, Song of Achilles, was so powerful it had me in tears, the characters and storyline haunting me for weeks afterwards. Sticking to the classical era, which is her speciality, the new book is about the daughter of Helios, the Greek god of the sun. Circe is a nymph with magical powers but Miller gives her the psyche of a woman and all the problems of finding a place in the world. But this is Greek mythology, so anything can happen, and I expect to be sitting up at night over this one. Continue reading “2018 in Fiction – Top Authors Return”

Cosy Mysteries – Invitation to a Murder

The word cosy always makes me think of teapots, so I was surprised to discover a few years ago that it is also a sub-genre of crime fiction – the kind of mystery novels I quite like. The big awards given to the best in the genre are called the Agathas, in deference to the author who inspired them – that massive best-seller and all-time favourite, Agatha Christie. Continue reading “Cosy Mysteries – Invitation to a Murder”

Scrivener Tips 1: Project Targets

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I’m a fairly recent convert to Scrivener. But one thing I really like about this software is that I can give a project a completion date, set a rough word count for the work as a whole and then check in to see how I’m doing day by day. It’s a great way to keep on track and creates a competitive, ‘beat the clock’ impulse which really boosts creativity.

So here’s what you do:

Once you’ve begun your project, set up the document how you like it – if it’s a novel, you may have put in some notes about scenes, characters and background. Once you’ve done all that and got started with the writing, go to the top menu across the screen and choose Show Project Targets, then choose Options. Here you can type in a deadline for completing the work and a projected word count – approximate, of course. The rest is maths – the software calculates how many words you should be writing each day to reach your target.

Once you have completed your writing for the day, have a look at your project targets. Did you write the required number of words? Maybe you wrote a few hundred more. You will be pleased to see that your target word requirement per day is now smaller. Yay! This can be a big incentive to whipping through that first draft.

Happy writing!

 

Chick Noir – Is it just a fad?

 

First there was Gone Girl, then there was Girl on a Train. Suddenly everyone was wanting more edgy thrillers about women in danger and the publishers cottoned on and there were more and more of these chick noir novels appearing, often with the world ‘girl’ in the title.

While I believe this genre has been around in many forms since the beginning of storytelling – (from those Old Testament heroines like Yael and Deborah through to ‘the girl’ in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, just for starters), this new breed of heroine is often an unreliable narrator – drinks too much, has memory lapses, tells lies or is blinded by emotion – which makes things interesting. Continue reading “Chick Noir – Is it just a fad?”

The Mockingbird Effect

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the world’s best loved books, with its powerful themes, evocative setting and memorable characters, to say nothing of the writing. But one of the things about it that I love best is the voice of young Scout the narrator. Currently reading When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (why had I forgotten to read this gem before?), which is also written from the point of view of a child, I got to thinking about other books with child narrators. It seems very powerful to me to write about issues that plague us as adults from the point of view of childhood innocence. Here are some of my favourite novels with a child narrator: Continue reading “The Mockingbird Effect”

Indie Author Tips 2: More About Covers

Yes, I know I said you could design your own ebook cover, and you’ve given it your best shot, you really have. But somehow, despite your best efforts, you’re not happy. The good news is, there are plenty of graphic designers and cover design websites that will solve your problem, some at surprisingly little cost.

One solution is to buy a pre-made book cover. Here’s a few online sites that supply single-use book covers, with both ebook and ebook-plus-print-copy cost options. All you need to do is select a cover you like and supply your title/by-line/tagline and they do the rest. There’s usually an option or two for a bit of tweaking, re fonts and colours as well. Here are just a few of the online design companies that caught my eye – there are bound to be more, but these particularly impressed. Continue reading “Indie Author Tips 2: More About Covers”