There’s a chance you’re aware that Maggie O’Farrell has a new novel out – I may have mentioned it. She is doing a series of events promoting the books, one of which was a talk at Blackwell’s in Oxford with Sarah Franklin. I hadn’t organised myself to get hold of a ticket, but then my amazing friend Sam ended up having a spare ticket and invited me along – what luck!
I’ve seen Maggie O’Farrell talk about her work before, but it was still great to hear her in conversation about her new book. Sarah Franklin was a great interviewer and their talk was fascinating – I wish it had been recorded so I could share it with you here. Luckily the event was live-tweeted on the Tinder Press feed, so you can get a taste of the conversation there. Maggie talked about her inspirations for the novel, and how a few ideas for it slowly grew over several years, and finally came together to form This Must Be The Place. She is a charming speaker and it was a great relaxed evening; I even summoned the courage to ask a question!
The event started with Maggie reading from the opening of the novel, which was lovely – I always appreciate hearing an author read their work as it was meant to sound. And the evening ended with an informal signing – I got another first edition hardback of Maggie O’Farrell’s signed, which was great, and got to tell her how much I loved the book and the evening. A success!
The brilliant Kirsty invited me to a meet-up of book bloggers (most people were ‘book tubers’, I was like the only person without a YouTube channel) in London on 25th July. I’ve met other bloggers before, but this was en masse, so I was nervous but excited. We met at King’s Cross, by Watermark Books and the Harry Potter shop, and we all milled and said hello – it was amazing to meet Kirsty after talking online for so long, and it was great to meet lots of other bloggers. The day was a bookshop tour, led by Jen Campbell of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops fame, who carried an umbrella like a tour guide and was a fantastic host. We visited:
Words on the Water – but it was closed!
The London Review Bookshop
I was trying to ‘be good’ and not buy too many books, so I didn’t buy anything until Skoob, which is a really cool secondhand bookshop just behind Russell Square station.
Here’s what I bought at Skoob:
I read some Mansfield stories at uni and loved them, so I jumped on the chance to read more! And this is a nice edition.
Can’t go wrong with some Didion! And again a nice edition – I think it’s a US one.
Then it was on to Persephone Books, somewhere I have been meaning to visit forever, but never seemed to have the chance. As I’m sure you know they publish and sell beautiful editions of lesser-known 20th century books, all in their distinctive grey covers. I bought a couple of their Classics, which have illustrated covers, as well as some lovely postcards. It’s a very pretty little shop, and the assistant on duty was very sweet and helpful and spent lots of time discussing books and making recommendations. You’ve got to go there.
Here’s what I bought at Persephone:
Next we made our way to The London Review Bookshop, which is just across from The British Museum. There is a cake shop too, and we took the opportunity to rest our tired feet and have a sit. We felt like old ladies after all our walking carrying lots of books!
I bought a book I’d been meaning to read for ages, and Kirsty assured me Mary Beard is a legend!
Our last stop was the new Foyles – my first visit there – and I actually didn’t buy anything. I think I was all shopped-out! I also managed to fall really hard on my knee at King’s Cross so I was more than ready to go sit on a train back to Oxford.
Lots of people took photos of all of us, one of which you can see here.
Thank you Kirsty for inviting me, and I am glad to say I have lots of new people on Twitter and Facebook, and new blogs and YouTube channels to follow. A really great day.
‘Tis the season for all things Christmas, but I for one am still thinking about Halloween and all things Gothic… partly because I love Halloween, but also because I recently did two things that have made the Gothic stick in my mind: attending the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition at The British Library, and reading the new collection of Horror Stories from Oxford University Press.
First, to the Library. Now that I live in Oxford I don’t get the opportunity to go to exhibitions in London as often as I would like, so I jumped at the chance to visit this one as part of our day out for my boyfriend’s birthday recently (we also had dinner at Gaucho Sloane – very trendy and a bit ‘clubby’, but the best steak we’ve ever eaten).
Having studied a few Gothic novels at university, including And Radcliffe’s The Italian, I knew a little of what to expect, but the exhibition provided so much more to think about than just the early Gothic novels. From Mrs Radcliffe it takes you through the Romantic poets (both generations), Frankenstein (there’s quite a lot about the fateful night at the Villa Diadoti where the idea for Frankenstein was conceived), through Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker, and right up to twentieth century Gothic writers like Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft.
There were some beautiful and very cool ‘originals’ like an early copy of Frankenstein, a script for the film Hellraiser, a first edition of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, and letters between some of the writers I’ve mentioned. Towards the end the exhibition became more and more about film, with a focus on Hammer Horror, as well as later movies like Hellraiser as mentioned, and The Shining (for which there was also an original script with notes by Stanley Kubrick). In short it was a Gothic and horror fan’s dream. We absolutely loved it and I would highly recommend it, even if Gothic and horror aren’t really your thing (and a trip to the BL is always nice isn’t it?). The gift shop for the exhibition was also amazing!
In October, just in time for Halloween, Oxford University Press released a beautiful new collection of Gothic stories, simply titled Horror Stories. It has a fantastic cover, featuring a gargoyle of Thomas Becket, and it is a truly beautiful book:
It is a beautifully finished book that you just want to take care of. It has a classic ribbon as a page marker, meaning no folded over pages or crappy old bus tickets as bookmarks. It has also pleasingly thin pages that flop over in a very satisfying way. It is ‘so Oxford’ and a book they should be proud of.
The content is as good as the production. There are stories from some of the best and most famous horror writers, including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood. But there are also writers here that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with horror, but who actually fit in rather well, namely Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling. It’s also worth noting that the stories by the more famous writers were none that I had ever heard of or read, so that added some intrigue and excitement.
This volume is also my first opportunity to read The Yellow Wall Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is not only psychological and rather chilling, but also a groundbreaking piece of feminist literature. I’ve read it once and am sure I will have to read it again to be able fully grasp the depth of it. The narrator’s tone is so cheery throughout you could mistake it for contentedness, but as you read on, and reread certain sentences, it becomes clear she is anything but content. The ending really gripped me and I read the last couple of paragraphs more than once. There is something quite unnerving about it.
But then, unnerving is something that the Gothic does so well. It creeps us out, amazes us, draws us in, and scandalises us with its horror and glory. I have just finished reading The Raven’s Head (2015) by Karen Maitland, which was dripping with the Gothic, and it certainly did all of those things – as did all the stories in this brilliant new volume from OUP. I really recommend it as a Christmas present (as it’s so beautiful as well as brilliant) for the Gothic fan in your life – even if that’s you! It’s also a perfect example of the power of short stories, and their ability to enrapture you with deceptively simple means. I personally feel that Modernism (such as the stories of Katherine Mansfield) and Gothic are two of the best genres for short stories, and I intend to read more of both in 2015.
I’m sure there are lots of you who love short stories – why do you think they work so well? And will you be reading this new volume of Horror Stories? Or attending Terror and Wonder? It’s so good!
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination is on at The British Library until 20th January 2015. You can book tickets here.
Horror Stories was published in October 2014 by Oxford University Press. My thanks for the publisher for the review copy.
Sarah Waters’ new novel, The Paying Guests, came out last week on 28th August, and of course it was amazing. I was very lucky to be sent an early copy, and also that I managed to nab a ticket to the event held last night (2nd Sept) in Oxford. Sarah Waters was in conversation with Viv Groskop at The Divinity School in the Bodleian Library. I saw Donna Tartt there in October (how could I ever forget THAT?) and it is such a lovely venue. It is not only beautiful, but atmospheric and really cool, being the first teaching room ever built at the University of Oxford (in the 1400s!). It looks like this:
And the event itself was just as lovely. I made notes like a nerd, and I’m actually glad I did as it’s helped me to remember all the things Sarah talked about. It was rather a lot really, and I can’t talk about it all here, but I will mention some of the absolute best things. Yes, in bullet points.
Sarah’s “kernel” moment when plotting was the question of what would happen if a wife’s affair was with a woman rather than a man. She had been looking at real life crimes of the early twentieth century that were caused by affairs, and she decided to mix things up. And you can’t have a Sarah Waters book without lesbians! (except for The Little Stranger – though someone there might have been a secret lesbian)
It was crucial that Frances and Lillian really love each other for the story to have depth and, I think, to veer away from sensationalism.
Her fondness for Frances, and the fact that she, in some ways, belongs to the feminism of the suffragette era – but she is also ahead of her time with her defiance and bravery. This is demonstrated very well through her differences with her mother, and also with Lillian in some ways.
Class is always a very good way of adding complexity to a historical setting. There were a lot of class shifts in the 1920s and it is a big issue in the novel. Frances was of the last generation of daughters that were expected to stay at home and help (Sarah talked about Vera Brittain giving up her degree to come home and help her parents with housework!), and Lillian is also very tied to her home despite being married.
The choice of setting. Sarah spoke about how her novels have grown out of each other, and that the 20s was a good halfway point between her Victorian novels and those set in the 1940s – this also meant that in some ways The Paying Guests has a past and a future in the Sarah Waters universe, which I really like.
Really, the novel is about what happens when ordinary lives are interrupted by passion. In my review I spoke about how the characters are ordinary people made extraordinary, so it was great to hear this! It’s something that Sarah Waters works with to great effect in a lot of her work (with passion, but also tragedy and drama).
I could waffle for hours about how brilliant Sarah Waters is. She is one of the most perceptive and intelligent writers I know, and is very down to earth and likeable. I could have listened to her for a lot longer.
A huge thank you to Blackwell’s and Virago, as well as Sarah Waters and Viv Groskop, for such a fantastic evening.
Let me just say this now: Donna Tartt is my favourite writer. Hands down. I read The Secret History and then The Little Friend about ten years ago, and something latched on inside of me and has never let go.
I was amazed and excited to hear that she would be publishing a new novel this year. I tore through The Goldfinch (you can read my thoughts on it here) and before I had even got a copy I ran to Blackwell’s to buy a ticket for the event I attended tonight, at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
I have seen and met authors before whom I respected and whose books I love; but for me this was different. I was overwhelmed even at being in the same room as Donna Tartt. I gasped when I saw how tiny she is in real life – and how neat and modest, her black bob perfect as always and her slim frame wrapped in a dark suit. And yet she is bright, with wide eyes and a beautiful voice. She talked with passion and intelligence about how she writes constantly, always carrying a notebook with her and jotting down descriptions, ideas, scenes – some of which will never be part of a finished book but are, for her, like scales are to a musician or sketches are to a painter.
She talked a lot about art. Fabritius’ painting ‘The Goldfinch’ is her new novel’s namesake but also a force behind the story that drives it along but also pushes and pulls it around; it is also a painting that Tartt loves and that she writes about with great beauty and understanding. She spoke of going to a private viewing of the painting and those with it it the gallery in Amsterdam with her Dutch publisher and the majesty of the artworks and the deep affect they had on her – to see them in person. Donna Tartt is a writer but she understands what it is to be an artist in all senses of the word. She understands the impetus to create, and also the deep joy that art can bring to those who experience it.
She also loves antiques (very important in The Goldfinch and an element I loved – Hobie’s shop is almost magical) and sleeps in the same carved bed that her grandmother was born in. It is a bed that came from France in a ship (to America), and as a child she was amazed by this. She had never been in a ship to France and neither had anyone else she knew; but the bed had, and it contained something of the ship and the ocean within it. This is why Donna Tartt is so wonderful – she sees the beauty in the world and translates it into beautiful writing for her readers to enjoy.
After the event there was a signing. I queued, nervous, clutching my huge hardback copy of The Goldfinch. What would I say? What would she say? As she wrote my name and her own, I told Donna Tartt that The Secret History was my favourite book and I thanked her for her work; she looked so pleased, and she shook my hand.
Literary prizes are always fun: plenty of speculation and eager guesses, plus loads of reviews and recommendations to savour. There are also the bloggers who try to read whole longlists and shortlists, whom I really admire because I could never take on that amount of reading with a deadline! And the nominated books are always so diverse, and I am very reluctant these days to read a book I know isn’t my sort of thing.
The longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize came out today, and as is only right social media subsequently exploded with congratulations, reading challenges and excitement. Personally I am rooting for Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson. I read the book a few months ago when the lovely Sophie from Mantle at Pan Mac sent it to me. All the other books on the list look equally worthy, however, so I cannot imagine how the judges are to go about choosing a shortlist, and then a winner.
Almost English is the only one I have read and while I won’t be committing to reading the whole list I like the idea of choosing a couple to read so that I feel a bit more informed about the whole thing. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton appeals, as does The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris, The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, and Unexploded by Alison MacLeod (you can find out more about all these titles, and the rest of the list, here). No promises, but I’ll see how many I can read before the shortlist is announced in September.
Have you read any of the longlist? What do you think of the choices this year? Comment below!
I just got back last night from a week in Scotland with my boyfriend and so I am a little behind on all the events and news du jour in the book world thanks to intermittent WiFi and hours spent driving around the highlands (both of which were actually awesome). I’ve been glued to my phone since my late night return (healthy) and so have caught up a bit. I think.
Firstly, the Desmond Elliot Prize for Debut Fiction shortlist was announced.
I did a post here about the longlist and how exciting it was, and so now I’m back from the wilds I’m reading about the shortlist. It’s much shorter than I thought it would be but I actually like the succinctness of that. To be honest the three books that have been chosen were not necessarily ones I would have chosen but they are all brave, innovative debuts that deserve recognition, and I congratulate the authors and their publishers. Well done! I personally want Jenni Fagan to win for her novel The Panopticon not only because I think it’s a really cool idea but also because she went to my university. Not biased AT ALL.
Lots has been going on at Tinder Press too.
Check out their Facebook events page for stuff going on with Bryan Kimberling’s novel Snapper, as well as lots of news on their website. AND there was a great review of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in Heat magazine, which was pretty cool. My review of it will be up soon.
And a bloody good list it is too! Yonahlossee is mentioned, as well as The Ocean At The End of the Lane, the new adult novel from Neil Gaiman, which everyone is going nuts about. Especially Headline’s Sam Eades.
Anything else you think is super big news from this week or last week, please fill me in!
This is the first year that I’ve followed the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction, and I’m excited about it already. The longlist of ten debut novels (all have to be written in English and published in the UK) was announced on 25th April, and the shortlist will be announced on 23rd May. The winner will be awarded the £10,000 prize at Fortnum & Mason on 27th June.
The Prize was launched in 2007 in memory of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, who died in 2003. The judges look for “a novel which has a compelling narrative, arresting character, and which is both vividly written and confidently realised.” (Quote from desmondelliottprize.org)
I really like this idea, or aim, and though there are a lot of literary prizes out there, I like that this one has quite a ‘pure’ aim behind it, in that it celebrates the qualities that make a novel officially ‘good’, and that it can help to launch the careers of first-time novelists that really deserve recognition. Reading through the longlist it also seems that the titles chosen are a good mix of ‘buzzy’ popular titles and slightly under-the-radar books that need a little more exposure. To me it looks like a healthy mix of genres too, with no one type of novel being particularly favoured.
Of course this year everyone has picked up on the fact that the majority of the longlist is made up of books written by women. The Prize’s website identifies this as a trend, with three of the five previous winners having been women. Personally I think this is totally irrelevant – there is more then enough comment in the media about the proportions of men and women achieving or doing this or that, and for a literary prize that celebrates pure talent and merit, I think gender should be ignored. The novels are what matters, and they should to an extent speak for themselves. To me the background, experiences, talents and techniques of the authors is much more interesting than whether they are a man or a woman.
Let’s have a look at the lovely covers of the long list: (all images from desmondelliottprize.org)
While I cannot critique each book on the list individually I feel this is a strong selection of titles. I love the variety and feel I could get along well with most of the novels, though some more than other obviously! I will hopefully be attending the Desmond Elliott event at Foyles on 30th May, at which authors from the Prize’s history will be reading from their work and discussing the 2013 Prize, as well as what inspires them to write. The event will be chaired by Robert Collins, deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times, and tickets as well as more information about the event are available here.
What do you think of the longlist? Have you read any of the titles? Comments welcome!
So here it is! The shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. I had no idea how many would be chosen when I made my predictions, and luckily all those on the shortlist are ones I predicted would be! But like I said, I chose a very wide range of possible titles. Still quite pleased.
The titles on the shortlist are (all images from womenspriceforfiction.co.uk):
Huge congratulations to all the authors, as well as their publishers! All the titles chosen have really impressed everyone who has read and reviewed them (I’ve got my eye on Where’d You Go Bernadette) and I reckon they are all worthy choices.
Personally I think Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith have a very good chance, but they are a bit ‘safe’ as they are already very successful. Everyone has been going nuts over Life After Life, so realistically I think that has a very high chance of winning.
The winner will be announced on Wednesday 5th June at a special awards party in London – I’m very excited to hear the winner’s name. Who do you think it will be?
This week sees the publication of the first book from Tinder Press, which is very exciting in itself; what’s even more exciting (I know) is the fact that it is the new novel by the much-loved Maggie O’Farrell. Instructions for a Heatwave is her sixth novel and the first of hers that I have read, although the interest and enthusiasm exhibited by dedicated fans for her novel The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox has got me reading that one now too. Personally I loved Heatwave – I reviewed it before Christmas and had to fight to stop myself gushing about how much I loved it.
In 1976 a heatwave struck Britain, halting life in its tracks and making people behave strangely. Robert Riordan goes out to buy the paper one morning and does not come back. His disappearance prompts his three estranged, grown up children to come home to their mother Gretta (a wonderfully drawn character that Maggie describes as ‘tragi-comic’), and their complicated and emotional relationships are reexamined in the light of their father’s mysterious disappearance. The three children, Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife are each given their own chapters and are depicted with enough depth of feeling as to almost make the reader feel as if they are real people.
To celebrate the publication of Instructions for a Heatwave, the amazing team at Tinder Press organised a host of events. On Tuesday 26th, excited fans (including me of course!) gathered at Waterstones Piccadilly to hear Maggie in conversation with The Observer’s Elizabeth Day, herself an admittedly huge fan of Maggie’s work. I already had a proof of the novel but I bought myself a lovely big hardback for Maggie to sign; it is a beautiful book, inside and out.
Maggie read beautifully from the book, and then sat down to a Q&A session with Elizabeth Day, taking questions from the audience as well. I’m always saying how interesting it is to hear an author talk about a book that you loved, and this occasion was no exception. To hear an author read their own work aloud is also fantastic, as you hear how it is ‘meant’ to sound, how it was first conceived of. Maggie has a lovely speaking voice and she read clearly and with great character, entertaining the audience and bringing this fantastic book and its characters to life.
Elizabeth Day was a wonderful host and, having met Maggie before, created a lovely relaxed atmosphere in which discussion came easily. The audience was enraptured. When asked about feminism and gender issues, both in the novel and in real life, Maggie spoke of how feminism is ‘common sense’ to her and that she kept the radical feminist movement of the 1970s in mind when she wrote the character of Claire, Michael Francis’ wife, in the sense that Claire may have heard about these issues and was probably thinking about them when dealing with her troubled marriage and trying to create a place for herself in the world.
I was rather pleased by Maggie’s answer when Elizabeth Day asked her what she thought about being pigeonholed as a writer of ‘women’s fiction’ that was only about domestic life; Maggie argued that all life is really about family, as they are a crucial influence on us throughout our lives. In her research for Heatwave she read many books about families, and even found herself reading Hamlet – as she pointed out, that too is a story about a family.
Then came the inevitable discussion about the character of Aoife, the youngest sibling. She lives far away from the rest of her family in New York, and her life is something of a mystery to them. Her biggest secret is that she is not able to read, something she keeps from every single person in her life. To the reader it soon becomes clear that Aoife has dyslexia, as she describes how letters seem to move and change in front of her eyes. But of course Aoife lives in a world that does not yet recognise her condition, and she feels there must be something wrong with her. Her predicament creates, Maggie said, an interesting relationship between Aoife and the reader, as we know she is dyslexic but she does not. The reader is also the only one to share Aoife’s secret and this creates a deep sense of sympathy with her. To me she was the most real, the most engaging, the most likeable. When asked why she chose to give Aoife dyslexia, Maggie’s answer was twofold: her son was diagnosed with dyslexia while she was writing the novel; and also that because Aoife is the youngest she felt that she needed some kind of curse or burden, like the youngest children often do in fairytales. This added, for me, an extra spark to Aoife’s character, and further marked her out as special in some way.
The next night it was the official launch party for Instructions for a Heatwave. After a long day at work I was ready to collapse on the sofa, but made my way over to a townhouse on Fitzroy Square for what turned out to be a really great evening. In two high-ceilinged green rooms, publishing bods, as well as authors, journalists, bloggers, and members of Maggie’s family (including her three adorable children) milled around and chatted, drinking champagne and white wine and eating yummy little canapes that were presented on a variety of impractically shaped platters (one was like a giant ruler, another was like a flight of stairs…). Having met Headline publicist extraordinaire Georgina Moore at the Waterstones event, I went over and said hello, and was introduced to two fellow bloggers, both called Amanda, from book blog One More Page and fashion and lifestyle blog The Women’s Room. It is always great to meet fellow bloggers and hear their perspectives on the book in question. The Women’s Room is more of a fashion blog but Amanda was really enthusiastic about Heatwave and very eager to hear more about book blogging, and I was happy to pass on my knowledge.
Mary-Anne Harrington from Tinder Press made a great little speech about Maggie and her work, and congratulated both the author and the publishing team for all their hard work. Maggie was then persuaded to come up and say a few words, and she was very gracious in accepting praise and very grateful that we had all turned out for the event. Then it was time for a splash more wine, and lots more mingling. I was lucky enough to chat to the lady of the hour, as well as Georgina and Sam Eades from Tinder Press, and Emily from editorial at Headline. Everyone was so welcoming and happy to be there, and the party had a great feel to it and plenty of chatter that I’m sure could be heard outside. Well done Tinder for organising such a great event!
I loved reading Instructions for a Heatwave, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the press events this week. Meeting Maggie and the amazing team at Tinder Press has been a joy, and has added an extra layer of appreciation for the work they do. I cannot wait for the Tinder Press launch party, to which most of the authors will be coming (amazing!!), and for the individual events to promote each title. Congratulations to Tinder and Maggie O’Farrell for a job well done.