Articles

Announcement: Foyles Affiliate Programme

I am pleased to announce that I am now part of the Foyles Affiliate Programme. You may have heard of the Amazon Affiliate Programme, and this works in the same way. My posts will each include a link to buy the relevant book from Foyles. If a reader clicks through and purchases that book from Foyles, I receive a small commission. From now on you will see a link at the bottom of my blog posts that will lead you to Foyles.

You are under no pressure to buy the books that I talk about on this blog, so please don’t feel obliged! Foyles invited me to join and it seemed like a great way to support a bookshop I love, and it benefits me too. If you are a book blogger and are interested in joining the Foyles Affiliate Programme, you can find out more here.



 

 

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Articles, Events

Book blogger/book tuber meet-up!

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:

  • Watermark Books
  • Words on the Water – but it was closed!
  • Hatchards
  • Skoob
  • Persephone
  • The London Review Bookshop
  • Foyles

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.

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Here’s what I bought at Skoob:

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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.

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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.

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Here’s what I bought at Persephone:

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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!

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I bought a book I’d been meaning to read for ages, and Kirsty assured me Mary Beard is a legend!

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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.

Yay for bloggers and books and bookshops!!

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Articles, Events

The Desmond Elliott Prize for Debut Fiction 2013

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)

MarlowePapers_hb.indd the_universe_versus_alex_woods the_panopticon the_palace_of_curiosities petite_mort the_fields signs_of_life seldom_seen jammy_dodger the_painted_bridge

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!

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Articles, Events

Susannah Cahalan at Foyles

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness has been one of my favourite recents reads. It is enthralling, fascinating, and moving, as well as brilliantly written; so, of course, I jumped at the chance to see author and New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan speak about her work and the life-changing experiences which the book details. I reviewed it in January and am still thinking about it.

Susannah reading from Brain on Fire

Susannah reading from Brain on Fire

Susannah appeared to have some sort of breakdown at the age of 24, unable to work and behaving strangely. She also had terrifying seizures that resulted in her admission to an epilepsy ward; but it wasn’t epilepsy. Susannah’s bizarre behaviour, delusions, paranoia, lack of motor skills, affected speech and lack of emotions clearly signalled that something else was wrong. After undergoing every test in the book and seeing a number of doctors, she was diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Essentially part of her brain was inflamed because her immune system was attacking it, affecting her ability to function, to think and to feel.

Susannah’s extreme symptoms made it seem as if she had ‘gone mad’. In fact, at one point doctors thought she had schizoaffective disorder. The research that lead to her diagnosis and treatment, by two amazing doctors, Dr Dalmau and Dr Najjar, could be used to change the way that mental illnesses are diagnosed and treated forever. This is astounding, wonderful, potentially life-changing for so many people.

Brain on Fire on the shelves at Foyles, in the Psychology section

Brain on Fire on the shelves at Foyles, in the Psychology section

In the Cafe at Foyles, Susannah Cahalan was in conversation with Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, who suffered from encephalitis as a child. She read from Brain on Fire and gave candid answers to questions and words of thanks from the audience, many of whom had been affected by encephalitis is some way. It is always wonderful to hear a writer talk about their work in person, and Susannah was charming and funny, as well as honest and sincere. It was quite moving to hear fellow encephalitis sufferers share their stories, and many of them talked and exchanged details after the event. The possibilities for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness added an extra poignancy to the subject matter, and I couldn’t help feel moved. Susannah has been the only writer that I have actually been quite nervous to meet, as well as excited, because I admire her so much. I wished I could have talked to her more about her fantastic book.

So glad I got to meet this brilliant woman

So glad I got to meet the author of this wonderful book!

Huge thanks to Karen Browning at Penguin for telling me about Brain on Fire in the first place, and for inviting me to this event. Click here to hear Susannah discussing her experience and her book on BBC Woman’s Hour from Monday 4th February 2013.

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Articles, Comment

Fiction Uncovered Announce their Best of British for 2012

Fiction Uncovered are hard to pinpoint at first. I use/view their site as a news source, a book review site and a blog. They describe themselves as:

Fiction Uncovered is a promotion which celebrates our best British fiction writers. The promotion is supported by Arts Council England and funded by the National Lottery.  In 2012, retailers including Waterstone’sFoylesiBookstoreAmazon and The Book Depository will support the promotion. We also work in partnership with The Reading Agency to reach libraries and reading groups, and with Lovereading UK to reach dedicated readers. You can see a full list of the Fiction Uncovered partners here.

Fiction Uncovered creates the opportunity for eight British fiction writers (novels, short stories, graphic novels) to be part of a major promotion supported by retailers, and a major publicity and marketing campaign.The eight titles for the Fiction Uncovered 2012 will be selected by a judging panel. (Text taken from the Fiction Uncovered website)

Now in its second year, the 2012 list of eight British authors has some truly great stuff on it, one of which is This is Life by Dan Rhodes, which was reviewed on the blog earlier this year. See the review here.

Personally, I love promotions like this. Fiction Uncovered do not present an award, and they are not telling you that YOU MUST READ THIS OR EVERYONE WILL THINK YOU’RE UNCOOL, they are simply helping to promote some genuinely good British writing. It is also fantastic that they work with the Arts Council England, a credible and highly respected organisation that reminds us that writing is an art form and should be paid attention to, and, frankly, yes, revered. Richard & Judy’s Book Club, this ain’t.

I am also thoroughly pleased by the retailers’ involvement. Physical book sales are suffering, and shops like Foyles and Waterstones may be big brands but they are championing the printed word in a sea of ebooks. Yes, they promote ebooks too (see Waterstone’s recent Kindle deal with Amazon) but they have not simply given up and conceded defeat to the digitalisation of information. I personally do not own an ereader, and though I do not object to them per se, I think it is vitally important to maintain the industry of printed books. Obviously. Printing is only a cornerstone of modern civilisation for goodness’ sake.

While not all the books on the Fiction Uncovered 2012 list grab me immediately, I like that they are varied – something for everyone and all that. When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones particularly appeals, as does Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson. I have put them on my To Be Read list and hopefully will get around to reviewing them soon…

The variety of the list is important. It means that different types of readers are included, but it’s lack of in-your-face promotion means that the recommendations are not patronising, nor do they claim to be the be-all-and-end-all of good fiction in 2012. There are probably loads of other good fiction books out this year, this is just a selection.

Which books on the list appeal to you? Find out more about them here and let me know!

Lizzi Thomasson

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Events

The White Review No. 3 launch at Foyles

The-White-Review-Issue-3The night of Thursday 13th October saw the launch of issue no. 3 of The White Review, a new quarterly dedicated to art and literature. Foyles hosted the event in the Gallery at their Charing Cross Road shop, a calm white space with wooden beams in the ceiling that remind one of a Grand Designs-type barn conversion; but much smaller. The room is pretty much the perfect size for this kind of event (a bit formal, a bit casual, free wine, intellectuals), as it is big enough to hold a sizeable crowd and feel like a party, but small enough that a few minutes of mingling familiarises you with the faces of most of the attendees.

Hannah and I arrived just in time to share the lift (though we didn’t realise at the time!) with one of the evening’s speakers – sculptor Richard Wentworth. In we went. We got our free wine (thanks Foyles) and positioned ourselves for the talk. Drinks lasted almost an hour, after which The White Review’s editors Benjamin Eastham and Jacques Testard welcomed us and introduced the ‘entertainment’ – a lively chat about current art and literature with writer and critic Marina Warner and sculptor (and our lift-buddy) Richard Wentworth. Seated and jovial, the pair had a rather general and brilliant discussion about various issues in art and literature that were at least vaguely relevant to the new issue of The White Review. The looseness of the discussion proved to be a good thing as these two greatly intellectual and intelligent, as well as experienced and wise, people were able to both entertain and teach their audience.

Marina Warner mentioned, in her complimenting of The White Review as a whole, on the fact of the care put into the creation of the quarterly. This lead to an exchange on the concept of care on art and literature – the act of the artist or indeed editor considering every aspect of the work as it is put together. Warner’s chief point in relation to The White Review is that the care that is put into a piece of work, whatever it may be, makes the work highly aesthetic but not without depth. The intellectual content is given just as much attention, as both it and the aestheticism of the work are given equal importance. In the case of The White Review this results in a beautiful quarterly that feels almost more like a book than a magazine, in which great attention and dedication has been given to every aspect. Richard Wentworth commented that the care put into the issue was such that it did not become neurotic and therefore grotesque – it was just the right amount it seems.

The ‘after party’ took place across the way at members’ club The Phoenix (attached to the Phoenix Theatre, lots of signed headshots on the walls) where we were packed in with our fellow attendees for a couple more drinks. The evening ended with us both – separately – looking through issue no. 3 on our trains home. Warner and Wentworth were right – the amount of care put into the Review is evident and enviable. It is a beautiful object, to look at and to hold, and the words and pictures contained within its pages are beautiful also.

The White Review No. 3 is available to buy online, along with all other issues.

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