Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Derby Book Festival - 2016 Launch

by Maryom

 Waterstones Derby was the setting last night for the launch of the second Derby Book Festival - to be held next June, 3rd to 11th.
The event opened informally with a chance to browse the store, say hello to friends who volunteered last year and to indulge in mince pies and mulled wine (it is almost Christmas after all). The audience was then addressed by Liz Fothergill, chair of the organising committee, who told us how delighted everyone had been with the success of last year's festival and announced some of the highlights of the coming year's.
The festival will be opened with two poetry events; Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, will appear at the Cathedral, accompanied by her 'favourite court musician' John Sampson, while Derbyshire's Poet Laureate, Helen Mort will be performing her poetry at an event held at Deda.

Other highlights include an event celebrating the bicentennial of Charlotte Bronte's birth with Claire Harman, who has recently published a new biography of the author, and Tracey Chevalier, who has edited and contributed to a new collection of stories, Reader, I Married Him, inspired by Charlotte Bronte's most famous work, Jane Eyre.
As last year, events will take place in a variety of venues across the city, including some new ones. There will be writing workshops, story-telling sessions, a children's book trail and, of course, author appearances. To coincide with the Festival a book of short stories is being collated through the English-as-Second-Language course bringing together tales from Derby's immigrant community, focusing on their journey to the UK, leaving behind family, friends and homes, and the trauma and cultural shocks encountered both on the way and once arrived here.

Something I'm particularly excited about is the event with local novelist Jo Cannon, who was present last night to read an extract from her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, set in the heatwave of 1976. Her book isn't published till January but you can download a first chapter sampler here.

The evening was closed by a few words from David Williams, representing major sponsor Geldards Law Firm; a humorous and entertaining address in which he stressed why it's important for us, as companies and individuals, to support cultural initiatives in the current economic climate.

2016's Derby Book Festival will be 3-11 June, and the full programme will be announced in April.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Claire McGowan: The Silent Dead Blog Tour - author contribution

Today as part of the blog tour to accompany the publication of her latest thriller, The Silent Dead, we're welcoming Claire McGowan to talk about "Writing the Unknown"....

When I’m teaching creative writing, a question that often comes up is whether people are ‘allowed’ to write something. Can you write a character who’s a different gender or age group to you? What about race or economic background? Can you convincingly use a dialect or vernacular that you don’t know well? Are you allowed to write about things you haven’t experienced?

My answer is usually – of course, you’re allowed to write about anything. You don’t have to ask for permission in fiction and it’s not homework. We can make up whatever we like. But I do understand the anxiety that comes from writing something you haven’t gone through yourself. This seems to be so widespread that authors routinely hide their gender with pen names or initials. I’m writing a series about a forensic psychologist who works with the police. I’m not hugely familiar with these worlds, and sometimes I feel unsure about the details – what colour are the walls in police stations? What do the offices smell like? And so on. However, these details can easily be checked by wangling a station visit or researching the procedural processes.

What’s more difficult is to write about emotional situations you haven’t been in. I feel qualified to write about Northern Ireland and the Troubles (I was sixteen with the Good Friday Agreement was signed and living near the border), as I know I have an experience of that time which can’t be challenged. However, I’ve now taken my character to a place where she has a baby, and I don’t have children. I like to think I can imagine it – but I can also get things wrong. A writer friend who has children recently kindly pointed out a small mistake I’d made, which I wouldn’t have known unless I’d been around small children a lot. So there’s always the option to have things checked. I think this anxiety about permission can really hold writers back – so my approach would be write now, and ask questions later. You can always correct it!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Matt Haig - author event

by Maryom

Christmas came early to Nottingham last Friday - out in Market Square the festive lights were switched on, and on the top floor of Waterstones Nottingham, Matt Haig arrived as one of the many stages of his "Sleigh Bell Dash" tour to promote his latest book, A Boy Called Christmas. It was actually his third event of the day, the first two events were in schools and had included Chris Mould, the illustrator, with one of those events being in front of 300 children. Matt seemed to be finding it a long day and he had yet to catch his train back to London - so don't think it's an easy life for authors on their tours.

The book is effectively part of Father Christmas's 'backstory' - sparked when Matt's son asked what Father Christmas was like as a boy.

Nikolas's father goes away leaving him with his evil aunt Carlotta. Carlotta is not a nice person and doesn't have a nice word to say about Nikolas's father and eventually drives Nikolas to set out to find his father.

Being a children's book it has all those things you associate with Christmas .... reindeer, elves, pixies, and exploding troll heads.... and is also written with humour. The Mole finds many children's books a bit corny on the laughs front but the readings that Matt gave had him smiling with genuine amusement. And those readings... he offered the younger members of the audience choices and went along with their selection. Happily the audience chose exploding troll heads.

Matt Haig is nothing if not versatile as an author having written books for children and books for adults- some to make you laugh others of a totally serious nature and a lot that fall in between somewhere such as The Humans.  I discovered him many years ago in a holiday cottage which had a copy of The Last Family in England - a dog's-eye view of a family falling apart. My favourite is probably The Radleys the story of abstaining vampires living 'undercover' in an English suburb.

A signing followed - with the audience buying copies for themselves and what appeared to be Christmas presents for young friends and relations - while working his way through signing a stack for the store, he said he'd once signed a thousand in an hour!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Crime Author Event - Tim Weaver and M J Arlidge

by Maryom

Another week, another set of crime authors at Waterstones Nottingham, and unfortunately another set of traffic problems. We weren't quite as horrendously late this time but the two authors had taken to the 'stage' and were introducing themselves and their books. The standard pattern of events is to follow this by readings from the authors' latest novels, but last night the authors had 'rebelled' and refused. MJ Arlidge said instead he'd treat us to some of his worst reviews - which certainly raised some laughs from the audience, although to be honest if they were aimed at something I'd written, I'd have been devastated.
Both authors are 'new to me', but not newcomers to the genre - Tim Weaver's What Remains is the sixth book of his series 'starring' investigator David Raker, while MJ Arlidge and his detective DI Helen Brace have reached book 4, Liar Liar. While Arlidge writes about serial killers - some actually based on real life mass-murderers - Weaver's series seems a little unusual amongst crime novels for featuring not gruesome murders but disappearances - his characters will get into a tube train or go out into the garden...and simply vanish!
 The questions from the audience brought up some interesting answers - both authors have come to writing as a 'second career' - Tim Weaver was previously a magazine journalist writing mainly about games, so it was probably quite logical that one audience question was how his novels would translate as a game; MJ Arlidge came to writing via TV - starting out as a screen-writer for Eastenders and Monarch of the Glen, and moving on to crime series, in both writing and producing capacities/roles.
Although both favour working to fairly strict 9 to 5 routines, their approach to writing differs - Arlidge prefers to plan meticulously - knowing what will happen in each chapter and crucially how things will end, before starting to flesh things out. Weaver prefers a more 'winging it' plan of attack - starts with the disappearance, preferably something striking to grab the reader, and maybe knowing the why and how things will end, but otherwise happy to let events unfold as he writes.
The answers at times strayed beyond what was strictly being asked but this informality and spontaneity is something I love about author events, and why I'll happily go along and see an author several times. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan

review by Maryom

Five people, four men and a woman, have gone missing from the area around Ballyterrin, near the Northern Ireland/Eire border. All were members of a breakaway Republican group, all suspected, tried, but not convicted, of having planted a bomb which killed sixteen innocent by-standers. Perhaps they've decided to leave the area completely - though for all five of them to do so on the same day seems unlikely - but then bodies start to turn up..... and DI Guy Brooking and his missing persons unit realise they're looking at kidnapping and murder. Who could be behind this increasingly grisly series of deaths - another branch of the Republican movement, one that's now more interested in promoting the peace process and legitimate political careers? Loyalists looking for revenge? Or maybe someone with closer links to the bomb victims?

This third book of the Paula Maguire series sees her caught up in an unusually disturbing case, one which raises issues about punishment and retribution. Popular opinion considers the missing five as terrorists, holding them responsible for a dreadful crime, placing a bomb on a busy high street; should they be entitled to police protection? Wouldn't the world be safer without them?  As the fifth anniversary of the bombing approaches, with the unveiling of a memorial planned, DI Guy Brooking and his team are working against the clock to find out who is responsible for these disappearances.
 Despite being seven months pregnant, and absolutely everyone she knows advising her to take things easy, Paula is convinced that as a forensic psychologist she can play a helpful role in finding the kidnappers and, of course, it helps distract her from the problems of her private life - small things like having a baby in a few weeks time and not being able to name the father, and the ongoing search for her 'disappeared' mother. 
 Set against the backdrop of modern Northern Ireland, Claire McGowan tells a story that will hook you with its twists and turns, but leave you wondering about the deeper issues behind it. It portrays a town still trying to come to terms with its past during the years of the Troubles but trying to build a lasting peace,despite having once been on opposing sides. This is seen through Paula's eyes, with her mother never having been officially accounted for, and through the long terms effects on the bomb victims' families, for whom nothing will ever be the same again.

This isn't a story that's easy to read or one for the squeamish - there are graphic descriptions of the injuries caused by a bomb blast that will upset anyone - but at its heart lies a interestingly knotty moral dilemma. The missing five haven't been found guilty of the crime they're accused of - is it right for others to take justice into their own hands? What do you think?

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - adult crime

Paula Maguire 1; The Lost
Paula Maguire 2; The Dead Ground

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Pale House by Luke McCallin

review by Maryom

In March 1945 Captain Gregor Reinhardt finds himself back in Sarajevo after a two year gap. He's got a new 'job', having been moved to the Feldjaegerkorps elite branch of military police, but still has his old conflict between duty to Germany and determination to do right. He's no happier with the attitudes of high-up Nazis running the country and the war, but is increasingly frustrated that there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about it.
Sarajevo is in complete turmoil. Russian and Partisan troops are advancing on the city, refugees fleeing out of the path of the fighting, the German forces are moving out, and their local supporters the Ustase feel free to do whatever they wish. In this chaos, who's going to notice a few extra dead bodies? Well, Reinhardt does. First, in the hills surrounding Sarajevo, he comes upon evidence of a massacre of civilians - but in the same location are other bodies that he believes don't quite 'belong' there. Then five mutilated bodies turn up within the city, again in curious circumstances that alert Reinhardt's policeman's instincts. Even in the midst of so many other atrocities, Reinhardt isn't going to let these past without investigating, and finds himself on the trail of a lucrative scam being run by some of the German troops.
I read the first of this series, The Man From Berlin, back in August, just as The Pale House, book two, came out and, apart from forgetfulness, I can't think why I haven't read this sooner. Reinhardt is a man trying to keep his ideals in a world where precious few of them are left; one of those 'good' men who find themselves caught up in something they don't approve of but powerless against the might of authority. Therefore, the massacre of civilians by the army is something he can do nothing about, but whenever it is possible  he's determined to see justice. Reinhardt's investigations lead through the streets and alleyways of this old city, from theatrical evenings in the company of a beautiful woman to the grim cellars of the Ustase's headquarters, The Pale House, where people disappear without trace.
Although his past is explained, mainly through flashbacks, I feel it probably IS necessary to read The Man From Berlin first to understand both Reinhardt, with his mix of honour and patriotism that pull him in opposing directions, and Sarajevo and its people.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - No Exit Press
Genre - Adult historical crime whodunnit World War 2

Monday, 16 November 2015

Paperweight by Meg Haston

review by Maryom
Stevie is counting down the days to the anniversary of her brother's death. She has special plans for how to mark the day but her father's concern for her health might have stopped them. He's arranged for her to receive treatment at an eating-disorders clinic in the New Mexico desert, where, isolated by geography, cut off from communications with friends or family, her life and eating patterns will be strictly supervised, day and night. Stevie has plans though to outwit them, to escape and 'celebrate' the way she'd always intended.

Paperweight is an emotional, thought-provoking book - the story of a teenager so overwhelmed by guilt, grief and feelings of worthlessness that she doesn't know how to continue.  Stevie's life has been spiralling downwards for some time. First her mother abandoned their family with seemingly no explanation, then Stevie got dragged into a destructive relationship with Eden, a girl she met at a writing seminar, and now Stevie is carrying additional guilt about her brother Josh's death.

It's an odd sort of book to use the word 'enjoyed' about, but I did. It presented Stevie and her problems in a way that made me sympathise with her, understand WHY she wanted to carry out her 'remembrance' plan, while still hoping she could be stopped. Stevie isn't always a comfortable,'nice' person to be around - which I think made her seem more 'real' - and she contrasts with some of the other girls at the clinic who she herself despises for trying to be pleasant and cheerful.
Without doubt it's an 'issues' book - about eating disorders, how events can work as catalysts to bring them on, how they can hopefully be cured - but the way it's told, by leaking Stevie's back story bit by bit, makes it engaging and readable.

Maryom's Review - 4 stars
Publisher - Hot Key Books
Genre - teen/YA,