Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer; the Kitchen Table Crime Review


Belinda Bauer was a journalist and screenwriter before she began writing crime fiction. I’ve just read the first of her novels – Blacklands.

I like to read books that inform my own writing, so I was drawn to Bauer because I agree that moorlands are evocative landscapes, sometimes breathtaking…sometimes chilling. It’s easy to lose a body on a wide moor; sheep, even horses die unannounced, and it’s possible to imagine a walker wandering in bad weather until they finally lie down and are not discovered until their bones have turned white.

We know murderers of the most evil distinction (presuming you can tolerate the idea that there are different levels of evil intent in murder), use moorland to dig shallow graves which even they won’t ever find again.

Steven’s uncle is out there – buried somewhere on Exmoor. Steven is as obsessed with his dead uncle Billy as his nan – Poor Mrs Peters,  she’s called around Shipcott town – she lost her son to serial killer Arnold Avery, now languishing in a high security prison. The body has never been discovered, and Steven believes, with every sinew of his twelve-year-old body, that if only Billy could be given a proper burial, everything that is wrong in his family would come right again:
His nan would become a proper nan; she’d smile, play with him, bake cookies.
His mum would settle down with one man, instead of regularly chucking boyfriends out of their cramped house.
Maybe, even, Steven would be more popular at school, not bullied, not ‘almost friendless’.

Every spare moment Steven has, he spends out on the moors, digging with a ‘brute spade’, hoping to hit on his uncle’s skeleton. It’s a hopeless task, and Seven knows it, so he decides to enlist a helper. The only person who could actually tell him where Uncle Billy lies – Arnold Avery.

belindabauer.co.uk/index.php/category/Belinda%20Bauer/
Steven writes a letter to his uncle’s murderer. I loved the letters Steven composed in Blacklands. It’s easy, when using a child as a protagonist, to give them an intellectual maturity they would not really have, but Bauer doesn't do this. Steven’s letters totally convinced me. He’s not a stupid boy; he knows what he’s doing. Except, of course, he does not. Avery’s letters back to Seven are equally convincing, and utterly frightening. They  offer a series of connecting clues…and we all know how twelve-year-old boys love a quest.

From almost the beginning of the book, the reader is in a lather of sweat over the safety of Steven. Avery will hunt him down; we understand that. He may be languishing at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but that won’t stop him pursuing yet another victim.

In the Moors (2013), the first book in my trilogy, The Shaman Mysteries, is set on the Somerset Levels, a moorland that stretches from the wide arc of Bridgwater Bay right across to the mysterious and esoteric Glastonbury, and I use all that landscape for the two following novels, Unraveled Visions (2014) and Beneath the Tor (out this year). Unlike Bauer, I use a single protagonist, Sabbie Dare, whose adventures as a modern-day shaman in practice as a therapist leads her to understand that she can sometimes help people who bring very dark problems to her…very dark problems indeed. Linda Bauer, on the other hand use the town of Shipcott itself as a link between her first three books, turning them into a trilogy set on Exmoor.  Bauer has gone on to write further ‘stand-alone’ novels, all of which are scary beasts – I hope to do the same! (see my previous post http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-mood-board-different-way-of.html)

I had just a few plausibility problems with Blacklands, but these were nowhere near troubling enough to stop me reading, because there are two toweringly exquisite aspects to Bauer’s writing that make this a crackerjack of a book. 

I loved Bauer’s writing style. It takes us deep into the minds of the characters. And, because of this, her characters are as real as people down the street; you feel their turmoil. In this extract, Steven tries hard to please his his nan, who has never recovered from the murder of her son and takes out her desperate misery on all around her. Steven has made her a new shopping trolly, working secretly with borrowed tools, using an abandoned pushchair; it was one of those all=terrain buggies, as if the parents who’d bought it were planning an ascent of Everest with their infant in tow…When Steven presented the rejuvenated trolley to his nan, she pursed her lips suspiciously and jerked it roughly back and forth across the floor as if she could make the wheels fall off this instant if she only tried hard enough.
‘Looks silly,’ said Nan.
‘They’re all-terrain wheels,’ Seven ventured. ‘They’ll bounce over stones and kerbs and stuff much better.’
‘Hmph. That’s all I need – some kind of cross-country shopping trolley.’

Blacklands won the 2010 CWA Gold Dagger and it was the 2010 Channel 4 TV Book Club choice. The Guardian thought it had…“lucid, uncluttered prose” and was “genuinely chilling”.

Bauer says that Blacklands is “probably my most personal, reflecting as it does my own memories and experiences of childhood. Into that mix I've introduced Arnold Avery - the most heinous monster any child could imagine. I wanted to write about the way a terrible crime can pass through the generations like ripples on a pond.

This is an approach I appreciate, both as reader and writer. I don’t enjoy crime novels that concentrate on the gratuitous; that only show how terrifying   and shocking a murder is and how clever those who solve the mystery are. I like to hear the voices of those who are affected by crime, essentially the victims and their families, but often others who come close to the crime. In Blacklands, we are truly able to empathize with Steven and his family, and for me, that’s what makes this book a prize-winner.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Seven Secret Ways to Get Ink on Paper by Alice Loweecey


Alice Loweecey is the author of five crime fiction novels, and contributor to  Writes of Passage, Adventures on the Writer's Journey. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.


Baker of brownies and tormenter of characters, Alice Loweecey recently celebrated her thirtieth year outside the convent. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she's not creating trouble for her characters, she can be found growing her own vegetables (in summer) and cooking with them (the rest of the year). 


Here are her Seven 'Not-So-Secret' Ways to Get Ink on Paper!

Mandy Patinkin. No, he’s not my number one way to get ink on paper. But he did star in Sunday in the Park with George, a musical about the artist Georges Seurat. In the final scene, his character, Seurat’s fictional grandson, reads pieces of his grandmother’s diary in which she describes watching Seurat create art.


Mandy Patinkin. Copyright playbill.com

“White,” he reads out loud. “A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.”

How inspiring! How creative! How to pare it down to the bare bones! That is, until I’m staring at that lovely white paper or Word doc and nothing’s coming.

A creature called “Deadline” likes to appear on my desk right about then. It usually looks like the outcome of several illegal horror movie experiments mixed with wolf spider DNA. Google “wolf spider” if you don’t need to sleep tonight – I’m not going to insert a picture here. (You’re welcome.)

When I’m being menaced by that creature and my creative mojo is binge-watching Firefly on Netflix instead of, you know, creating, I reach for my Top Seven Secret List.

Firefly. Copyright 20th Century Fox Television

1. Set a goal with a reward. For example, when I reach 500 words, I will then allow myself to binge-watch two episodes of Firefly. The words don’t have to be creative, but they do need to be productive. Which ties into not-so-secret way number two:








The Bride of Frankenstein. Copyright Universal Studios
1. Research. I love research and can get lost in 
it for hours. I like to front-load my research so all of 
it is at my fingertips as I'm writing. I’m a visual 
writer, so I screencap maps, house floor plans, real 
estate listings, poisonous plants, anything that I’ll 
need for when I’m deep in the murderer’s head. 


3. Outline.   The word is not scarier than Michael Myers with his knife! I started out as a pantser—letting the story flow on its own. But when I write my first mystery, I knew I’d have t plant clues and remember them, and for me the answer was learning to outline. From the multitude of sites and suggestions and how-tos, I chose the Snowflake Method. [website: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/] I like it because it’s customizable. Now that I learned the method, I use only the pieces that work best with my methods. Which leads to not-so-secret way number four:


4. Character charts. I swear by 'em. I start filling in one for a new character and the character tells me so much about him/herself in the process.  I refer back to these charts constantly while writing the book because they’re packed with tidbits and backstory. I use the Snowflake Method's character charts, but there are several out there. Or make up your own. I prefer not to make up my own for this step because it’d be too easy for me to get in a rut of my same old ways of thinking.
Hanged Man tarot card; learntarot.com
5. Turn your usual process upside down.  Write a 2-page synopsis if that's something you usually do after the first draft is complete. Outline if you’re a pantser. Front-load the research if you usually research on the fly. Sometimes turning things back-to-front gives my brain the kick in the butt it needs.





The Flemish Giant. New York Post
6. Rethink the inciting incident. If you discover you’ve started the book with the wrong inciting incident—this happened to me—I trolled news stories past and present. After a few hours I ended up using the news like a buffet: One element from here, part of a subplot from there, a quirky character from a third article. I now have a file of news stories labeled Plot Bunnies.










7. This final idea is a version of reversing the process. 
Write in longhand if you usually write on the laptop, or write on the 
works for any draft I’m in, regardless of deadline. Because if the words aren’t flowing onto the laptop if you prefer longhand. This keyboard, it doesn’t matter if I write faster on my laptop. I need to write, period. Sometimes my brain needs the visuals of lots of ink on paper. 







Never be scared of that blank page again!

You can find  out more about Alice Loweecey, her books and her writing life at 
 www.aliceloweecey.net

Monday, 20 April 2015

ARE YOU YOUR OWN CHARACTERS?



Writers always write about themselves, it is often said. Most writers deny this – they deny it loudly! I can hear myself, recently announcing to a someone who'd read the Shaman Mystery Series…"No, Sabbie Dare is NOT ME! She’s absolutely nothing LIKE ME! Okay, she keeps hens and is a pagan and so am I, but that is pure coincidence!"

I’m right; ‘course I am. But also I’m being a little underhand. Our own minds, memories and experiences are our first arsenal as writers. There is an established link between creating characters and being the character. It has been said by many literary theorists that all character is autobiography, and that no writer can get under another person’s skin – they effectively reinvent themselves each time they invent a character. And although this suggestion is vehemently denied by many authors of fiction, it is the truth…or at least, it’s something writers shouldn’t be afraid to accept in their hearts – and exploit with their heads. 
The definitions of ‘fiction’ and ‘autobiography’ are subtle and flexible, and can be put to good use for a writer’s benefit. Each of us has expereienced life in its vast array. All our opinions, experience, thought processes, memories, hopes, traits, flaws, likes and loathings, and all facets of our education are totally personal and unique to us. And yet all of that is also part of a greater humanity; we're profoundly alike, us homo sapiens. We should capitalized all of this as a tremendous source of character. You know you, better than any other person.

Read the following two excerpts…

Autobiographical Journal                
          When I was eleven, my father was taken seriously ill with a stroke. He lay in the middle of my parent’s double bed, so that when the family arrived, the house seemed filled to bursting with people trying find somewhere to sleep
          I had been playing in my friend’s garden. When I came home, no one knew I’d re-entered the house. I overheard two of my aunts talking. I can’t remember what they said now, but what I can recall is that at the time of listening I half-understood they were discussing who would tell me my father had died. Later, when my mother did tell me, I recalled the incident, confirming what had been going on. 

Fiction
     ‘Someone will have to speak with her.’
     It was her aunt Vivienne’s voice, a modulated and gentle flute, blown note by husky note. It always made Bridget’s body feel as floppy as a rag doll, like Kate, eyes permanently closed, limbs limp, the way she felt in the optician’s chair when he said: ‘Now, which is clearer…the red…or the green?’
‘Obviously it must be Ann,’ said Aunt Paula.
‘I honestly don’t know if she’s up to it.’
Two of them, Vivienne and Paula – two of a host – heavenly host, her aunts with wings and nativity halos. The family descending, her mother had said. As if from heaven. There were too many for comfort, even when you subtracted Father. The bedrooms were full of family.
Bridget paused in her search through the dressing-table drawers. Paula and Vivienne 
stood (she couldn’t imagine they would sit together on the bed) in the tiny box room one wall away.
‘Tony could do it.’
‘Why him?’
‘He’s the…well…family elder.’
‘No. Not a man. We must give Ann time.’
‘How much time are you suggesting?’
She was nearly eleven, too old to be imagining that every conversation was about her 
– bad as thinking everyone out walking is going the same way as you. Childish thoughts, for children.
The whole house was full of whispers. Passing through rooms, she heard tones 
dropped and muted. Not for her ears, these conversations, so they whispered around her. Bird-watchers in a hide, looking out at that rarest of ornithological wonders, a child who must not hear.
‘Well, I don’t care.’ Glimpsing the colours of her swim-suit behind school knickers, she 
yanked it out and carried it off.
She ran down the road, the swim-suit sailing behind her, still gripped by the same 
finger and thumb that had snatched it from the drawer.
‘I don’t care. I don’t care.’
  Nina Milton The Diary of Bridget Wakeham (New Fiction, Forward Press 1992)  


The first example is totally autobiographical – a diary entry, in which the writer has recounted only what she is sure she truly remembers. It is bland, rambling, forgettable. The concentration on accuracy removes the build-up of tension we gain in the story. It might be thought of as a first draft, in which the writer is quickly getting things down in the right order, something that could be polished…for memoir, or indeed, for transformation into fiction. 

The second example is an excerpt from a short story. It is autobiographical fiction – in other words the writer draws on her own experience to weave a story. The section quoted doesn’t stray far from the truth of the diary entry – but the as the story progresses, the ‘plot’ dictates that the story veers into complete fiction. 

Strong writing cannot stick too closely to a remembered chronology of events. To gain that tension, you need to lightly alter, or ‘hold back’ information. Drama is generated by removing the ‘blandness’ of diary writing. It also slows the writing down, so that it can focus on the important moment and prevent the writing becoming ‘garbled’.  Equally, when a recalled event has been completely revamped to create a satisfying plot, you can still use the character – how you felt, what you thought, what your instant reaction was, what outcome there was to all of that, just as, in my story above, I remembered myself).
Read this at your Kitchen Table:
The 2011 Man Booker prize winner by Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending.

Try this at your Kitchen Table:
  • Think back – possibly, but not necessarily, to your childhood
  • The memory does not have to be crystal clear, but it should still raise emotion in you
  • Recount it, just as you remember. 
  • Check back to my 1st example above – write down things that you can remember and state what you think you’ve forgotten
  • Try to write between two and five hundred words
  • Now start again. First, have a little think. How would you dramatise these events if you were using them to write fiction?
  • Rewrite the facts you’ve now recorded as a very short story or an extract from an unwritten whole.
  • Do this fairly quickly...use free writing and don’t think about it much beforehand...you did your thinking during and after the previous exercise. Take the three tips below:
    • Dip down into a scene – as in the first extract above.
    • Concentrate on that scene – not on the facts your remember
    • Recall the emotions you felt and try to portray them, rather than just the facts 
  • This time aim for between five hundred and a thousand words, or more.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction - a stellar coterie of six women writers


The 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction – 
a stellar coterie of six women writers. 


Previously called the Orange Prize, the award was created to redress a gender imbalance after it became clear that the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist was sans a single female author – in fact most of the big literary prizes were overlooking quality writing by women. Readers were missing out on great novels, and in January 1992  a group of publishers, agents, journalists, reviewers, booksellers and librarians merged to start a prize specifically for women writers. Orange signed on as the sponsor. 



The first Orange Prize for Fiction was awarded to Helen Dunmore in May 1996 for A Spell of Winter and since then the best exemplars of fiction writing by women in English have won the przie;, to include Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andrea Levy, Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei, Rose Tremain,  Madeline Miller, and last year, newcomer  The 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction – a stellar coterie of six women writers. 

Previously called the Orange Prize, the award was created to redress a gender imbalance after it became clear that the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist was sans a single female author – in fact most of the big literary prizes were overlooking quality writing by women. Readers were missing out on great novels, and in January 1992  a group of publishers, agents, journalists, reviewers, booksellers and librarians merged to start a prize specifically for women writers. Orange signed on as the sponsor. 

McBride
The first Orange Prize for Fiction was awarded to Helen Dunmore in May 1996 for A Spell of Winter and since then the best exemplars of fiction writing by women in English have won the przie;, to include Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andrea Levy, Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei, Rose Tremain,  Madeline Miller, and last year, newcomer Elmear McBride.

But, the cry continues, as it has from the start; do we need a prize that excludes half the population? After all women can – and do – win the Booker and the other big prizes.  A.S Byatt has been quoted as describing the prize as “spurious”, but she may be missing the point.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty chaired the judging panel this year and was quoted as saying…"We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice. I also don't think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don't think it's time to end a women's prize."

I agree. This prize flags up gender issues in the publishing industry, not by shouting for equality, but by showing just how weighty, wide-ranging and innovative women’s writing is. Strange, then that the reason I love it above the other big prizes, is because the long list always offers such good books to read. Not stupidly clever-clever, like the Booker often is, just rollicking reads. 
As Kate Mosse has said,  "Every single bookseller says it sells books like no other prize… "

The quality of the titles on this year's Baileys Prize shortlist proves this; they are, between them highbrow,  ambitious, but; accessible, gripping. I have roared my way through half the list already and I’m keen to start the others, now. Here is, in order of enjoyment, the KTW review of the Baileys prize shortlist:

How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton) by Ali Smith,  one of my favourite writers. How to be Both is almost two stories, intertwined, with more than 500 years separating the characters - one a Renaissance painter, secretly female, the other a modern teenager living in the UK and desperately in need of some love.  Smith suggests you can read them in either order, but I would strongly suggest you start with 'camera' not 'eye' as you're far less likely to give up! "As always, Smith is being playful and inventive 's work. How to be both, almost  eludes description, which I’m sure was the very effect Smith was aiming at. It’s well worth the slight struggle although not my favourite of hers; The Accidental will remain that.

A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus) is Anne Tyler’s 20th novel. She’s been writing since she was an undergraduate, and I discovered her in my own twenties. I’ve loved her books since then, and have read most of them. Although Breathing Lessons, which is a heart-rending novel, is often said to be her best, A Patchwork Planet is my own favourite. Her multi-layered shortlisted story is equally absorbing. I found it
thoughtful, but also intriguing, as Tyler looks at how our memories both create, but also destroying the histories we make up; especially about our relationship with people we love.

The Bees (Fourth Estate) by Laline Paull is “ambitious and beautiful”, according to the Telegraph, while Gwyneth Jones in the Guardian reminds us that “the crisis The Bees invokes is genuine, frightening and getting worse. Hive collapse disease remains a deadly real-life mystery, although some pesticides are certainly implicated, and "African" outbreeding with A mellifera scutellata (those "big fierce dark bees from down south") hasn't solved the problem.' The story is set in a bee hive – yes – set every character is a bee. Described as the Animal Farm for 2015, I can’t wait to read it. Guardian

Outline (Faber/Vintage) by Rachel Cusk. According to James Lasun in the Guardian, Cusk has a gift for making the most mundane situations compelling, plunges right in, emerging with a miniature tour de force of human portraiture and storytelling virtuosity. The story is set in Athens, where a writer is running a writing workshop. Any writer will recognise that scenario; they probably avoided writing about it like the plague, but Cusk dives in, making, according to Lasun “as gripping a read as a thriller”.
The Paying Guests (Virago) by Sarah Waters was the first book on the newly-announced list that I read, grabbing the hardback as soon as it was on the shelves as I have grabbed Walters’ books since the outset of her highly acclaimed career. This story, is set after the 1st world war, a time of austerity for a middle class widow and her daughter. They take a young couple into their home, and the outcome of that simple decision changes their lives. It’s a story of illicit love that combines many thematic ingredients class, gender, economic dependence, morality, suspense, and of course lesbian romance. This story is perhaps less well plotted than her others; she so well known for her amazing twists that I felt quite let down when I finally realized there wasn’t really going to be one. Even so, powerfully written, with her most steamy sex scenes for a long time. 
A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury) by Kamila Shamsie is one I haven’t read yet, but I have taken in Lucy Popescu’s long Guardian review, and I know I’ll have to steel myself to take this one on; as it crosses time, country and theme widely over 300 pages.  Popescu admits that “It is a rare writer who can transport her readers in just a few pages to another place and time. Shamsie’s writing is so evocative that she does just that. In this work she contrasts three different empires: the ancient Persians between 515 and 485 BCE, the dissolution of the Ottoman state, and the decline of British colonial rule in India. Spanning two continents and two defining events in the early part of the 20th century, the novel brilliantly illustrates how war tests loyalties and destroys empires.” However, she has to sum up that, “The parts of have not quite become a whole; the task is too great. However, Shamsie's passionate curiosity about how empires grow, collapse and die makes this a novel well worth reading.”
The shortlist in its entirety is worth reading and I, like a lot of my bookworm friends will be ordering all the ones we haven’t yet indulged in, right away..

But, the cry continues, as it has from the start; do we need a prize that excludes half the population? After all women can – and do – win the Booker and the other big prizes.  A.S Byatt has been quoted as describing the prize as “spurious”, but she may be missing the point.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty chaired the judging panel this year and was quoted as saying…"We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice. I also don't think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don't think it's time to end a women's prize."

I agree. This prize flags up gender issues in the publishing industry, not by shouting for equality, but by showing just how weighty, wide-ranging and innovative women’s writing is. Strange, then that the reason I love it above the other big prizes, is because the long list always offers such good books to read. Not stupidly clever-clever, like the Booker often is, just rollicking reads. 
As Kate Mosse has said,  "Every single bookseller says it sells books like no other prize… "

The quality of the titles on this year's Baileys Prize shortlist proves this; they are, between them highbrow,  ambitious, but; accessible, gripping. I have roared my way through half the list already and I’m keen to start the others, now. Here is, in order of enjoyment, the KTW review of the Baileys prize shortlist:

How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton) by Ali Smith,  one of my favourite writers. How to be Both is almost two stories, intertwined, with more than 500 years separating the characters - one a Renaissance painter, secretly female, the other a modern teenager living in the UK and desperately in need of some love.  Smith suggests you can read them in either order, but I would strongly suggest you start with 'camera' not 'eye' as you're far less likely to give up! "As always, Smith is being playful and inventive 's work. How to be both, almost  eludes description, which I’m sure was the very effect Smith was aiming at. It’s well worth the slight struggle although not my favourite of hers; The Accidental will remain that.

A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus) is Anne Tyler’s 20th novel. She’s been writing since she was an undergraduate, and I discovered her in my own twenties. I’ve loved her books since then, and have read most of them. Although Breathing Lessons, which is a heart-rending novel, is often said to be her best, A Patchwork Planet is my own favourite. Her multi-layered shortlisted story is equally absorbing. I found it
thoughtful, but also intriguing, as Tyler looks at how our memories both create, but also destroying the histories we make up; especially about our relationship with people we love.

The Bees (Fourth Estate) by Laline Paull is “ambitious and beautiful”, according to the Telegraph, while Gwyneth Jones in the Guardian reminds us that “the crisis The Bees invokes is genuine, frightening and getting worse. Hive collapse disease remains a deadly real-life mystery, although some pesticides are certainly implicated, and "African" outbreeding with A mellifera scutellata (those "big fierce dark bees from down south") hasn't solved the problem.' The story is set in a bee hive – yes – set every character is a bee. Described as the Animal Farm for 2015, I can’t wait to read it. Guardian

Outline (Faber/Vintage) by Rachel Cusk. According to James Lasun in the Guardian, Cusk has a gift for making the most mundane situations compelling, plunges right in, emerging with a miniature tour de force of human portraiture and storytelling virtuosity. The story is set in Athens, where a writer is running a writing workshop. Any writer will recognise that scenario; they probably avoided writing about it like the plague, but Cusk dives in, making, according to Lasun “as gripping a read as a thriller”.
The Paying Guests (Virago) by Sarah Waters was the first book on the newly-announced list that I read, grabbing the hardback as soon as it was on the shelves as I have grabbed Walters’ books since the outset of her highly acclaimed career. This story, is set after the 1st world war, a time of austerity for a middle class widow and her daughter. They take a young couple into their home, and the outcome of that simple decision changes their lives. It’s a story of illicit love that combines many thematic ingredients class, gender, economic dependence, morality, suspense, and of course lesbian romance. This story is perhaps less well plotted than her others; she so well known for her amazing twists that I felt quite let down when I finally realized there wasn’t really going to be one. Even so, powerfully written, with her most steamy sex scenes for a long time. 
A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury) by Kamila Shamsie is one I haven’t read yet, but I have taken in Lucy Popescu’s long Guardian review, and I know I’ll have to steel myself to take this one on; as it crosses time, country and theme widely over 300 pages.  Popescu admits that “It is a rare writer who can transport her readers in just a few pages to another place and time. Shamsie’s writing is so evocative that she does just that. In this work she contrasts three different empires: the ancient Persians between 515 and 485 BCE, the dissolution of the Ottoman state, and the decline of British colonial rule in India. Spanning two continents and two defining events in the early part of the 20th century, the novel brilliantly illustrates how war tests loyalties and destroys empires.” However, she has to sum up that, “The parts of have not quite become a whole; the task is too great. However, Shamsie's passionate curiosity about how empires grow, collapse and die makes this a novel well worth reading.”
The shortlist in its entirety is worth reading and I, like a lot of my bookworm friends will be ordering all the ones we haven’t yet indulged in, right away.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Go with the Flow…Writing advice from OCA tutor and novelist Nina Milton




Free-writing is not about rules, or even guidelines. It’s about a freedom that comes when writing can simply be enjoyed...


Nina Milton writes regularly for the Open College of the Arts Blog; weareoca.com. 
This month, she's talking about that 'Marmite' writer's technique, free-writing/. She answers all those questions you really wanted to know. 

  • Why are there so many rules?
  • Why are there so many names? 
  • Why do I give up every time I try this?
  • How can I enjoy free-writing?
  • How can I fit it into my day?


    Go to       http://weareoca.com/author/nina/    to find out...