Penguin Bloggers Night, Thursday 8th March 2012

Waterstones Piccadilly

A rather splendid moment in any book blogger’s blogging career is being invited to brilliant events like this one. Penguin holds a special night for book bloggers every year and this year, for the first time, I was invited. In typical me fashion I arrived late, but luckily it was all chat, wine and canapes for a good hour before the evening got underway. The evening itself took place in the 5th floor bar of Waterstones Piccadilly – a wonderful, beautiful bookshop I have been visiting for more than ten years and in which I feel very much at home. A perfect venue.

In a sectioned off area, the writers, bloggers and Penguin publicists mingled (and drank) as anticipation grew. We had not heard of every author on the list, and had not read every book that was to be read from, but for me and Hannah, this did not matter. This was a chance to hear something new, books that have just been or are about to be released from a variety of authors that we desperately wanted to know more about.We were soon ushered (or rather herded) to our seats and publicist Joe Pickering welcomed us and announced the first author to speak – Naomi Alderman. She read (from her Mac – it’s that new) an excerpt from her novel The Liars’ Gospel. She chose a passage about the ritual sacrifice of a lamb, guts and all. The audience was rapt; the tone was set for the evening. Joe introduced each author in his own, uh, unique style, making everyone laugh. It was wonderful to hear the authors read their work aloud – only they know how it is really supposed to sound and what the feeling or intention behind it really is. The small space meant that the readings felt quite intimate, and the interval provided an opportunity to meet the authors and talk to them about their work, and our ‘work’ as bloggers.

Needless to say the table of free books emptied pretty quickly, not only of books but also of the lovely canvas tote bags with their ‘Oceans of books’ design. Canvas totes are very de rigeur it seems. Meeting other book bloggers was interesting and fun, as we compared methods and styles, as well as tastes and intentions. It was particularly great to meet the authors of blogs I had already read, namely Jess of Prose and Cons Book Club, Rachel of Book Snob and Naomi of Bloomsbury Bell. It seems there is great little community out there and I am glad to be a part of it! It also seemed like the Penguin team and their writers really appreciate what we do (all publicity is good publicity) and who doesn’t like to hear that.

Marina Lewycka

I particularly enjoyed hearing Marina Lewycka read from her latest novel, Various Pets Alive & Dead. I have always been aware of Marina’s work but have never read it, despite hearing good things. The novel is a bit of family romp, taking in two generations of the Free family. Parents Doro and Marcus meet when he saves her from a hedge at an anti-Vietnam war protest in London. They promptly fall in love and raise their children on some sort of hippy commune. At the start of the novel we meet their son Serge, and learn that after 40 years together the couple plan to get married. Serge is pretending he hasn’t dropped out of his maths PhD, whilst working at the London Stock Exchange and lusting after the mysterious Maroushka. I am desperate to read more!

Elif Shafak

It was also wonderful to hear Jennifer McVeigh read from her debut The Fever Tree; and Elif Shafak read from her new novel Honour. We also managed to speak to Jennifer McVeigh during the interval, and she proved both charming and intelligent, having worked in various industries, including publishing, before studying novel writing at Bath Spa University and taking up writing full time. The Fever Tree tells a love story set against the back drop of smallpox and diamond mining in South Africa in 1878. Frances is left destitute after her father’s death and has no choice but to move to SA to marry a penniless doctor. The novel promises to be tragic and poignant, covering all bases, and I honestly cannot wait to read it. I feel the same about Honour. Esma is a young Kurdish woman living in London in the late 1970s, trying to deal with the murder her brother has committed. We have all hear of honour killings, but this novel takes us a level deeper into the after effects of these tragic events.

The other books and their authors at the event were:

The Apartment, Greg Baxter; Konstantin, Tom Bullough; 22 Britannia Road, Amanda Hodgkinson; Mo Said She Was Quirky, James Kelman; The Village, Nikita Lalwani; The Colour of Milk, Nell Leyshon; The Old Ways, Robert MacFarlane; and Pub Walks in Underhill Country, Nat Segnit.

All are available to order or pre-order direct from the Penguin site or from Waterstones.

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