Saturday, 29 April 2017

My Life in Books


I saw this via @PoppyPeacock some time ago and thought it looked like good fun. The idea is to answer the questions using book titles you read in 2016. Here's my attempt at describing my life in books. I've also included one non-fiction book as it is a book I often refer too and fits in with my PhD studies. Let me know if you have a go yourself. 





* Describe Yourself:
* How do you feel:
* Describe where you currently live:
* If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
* Your favourite form of transportation:
* Your best friend is: 
* You and your friends are like:
* What’s the weather like:
* Favourite time of day: 
* If your life was a book: 
* What is life to you: 
* Your fear:
* What is the best advice you have to give: 
* Thought for the Day: 
* How you would like to die:
*Your souls present condition:

The End

Friday, 10 February 2017

Quick Reads Does Crime

The Quick Reads event at Foyles on Wed 8th Feb at 107 Charing Cross Road, London marked the launch of six new Quick Reads books, published on 2 February. The line-up featured some of crime's most wanted authors - Mark Billingham, Dreda Say Mitchell, Clare Mackintosh, and Harry Bingham - chaired by novelist and Quick Reads commissioning editor, Fanny Blake.

I attended both as a huge supporter of Quick Reads and in my capacity as Senior Library Assistant at the medical library in the North Middlesex University Hospital to pick up the latest six titles.

'Quick Reads are the bridge between literacy and literature. They’re the next step after learning the basics, they’re a crucial tool in the journey from being a non-reader to being someone who has the world of books and words at their disposal.' Cathy Rentzenbrink

Mark Billingham, Clare Mackintosh and Harry Bingham have all written a short story in the brand new collection, Dead Simple while Dreda Say Mitchell has written the new Quick Reads title, One False Move.


The evening began with Fanny Blake, Chair of the panel, introducing the authors:

Dreda Say Mitchell's books are inspired by the gritty, tough and criminal world she grew up in. She still lives in London's East End. In 2016, she became a Reading Ambassador for the Reading Agency to promote literacy and libraries.

Mark Billingham Mark Billingham was born and brought up in Birmingham. He is the author of 16 novels. Time of Death is the 13th Tom Thorne novel and is currently being adapted for television by the BBC.

Harry Bingham is a successful crime thriller author and the creator of one of the most critically-acclaimed and engaging female protagonists in crime fiction in DC Fiona Griffiths. He also runs The Writer's' Workshop, an editorial consultancy for first-time writers, and organises the York Festival of Writing. He lives near Oxford.

Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant and is the founder of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. She has written two novels. She now writes full time and lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their three children.


Fanny Blake asked Dreda Say Mitchell: Why did you want to be involved with Quick Reads?

Mitchell said she had been working with the Reading Agency for some time including the six book challenge. The first place she came across QR was during her work in prisons. She felt they worked well for prisoners, many of whom have reading difficulties, as QR are mature adult stories and work cognitively at adult level.

Mitchell grew up in the East End where she noticed girls progressed more than boys...some of the girls may have had babies young but would then later in life go into education.
She explained how her work in prisons evolved. "Somebody close to me ended up in a Detention Centre while I went to university and it affected me deeply.

One False Move by Dreda Say Mitchell (Hodder) - is a gritty novel set on the Devil's Estate in London, the same setting as her recent Flesh and Blood trilogy.

A young mum just out of prison, wants to go straight. Something happens and she only has twenty-four hours to get out of the dilemma and create a better life for her young daughter.

Fanny Blake asked Mark Billingham if he had encountered any problems while writing his QR short story:

Gillingham replied it had been great. And that when writing a short story there were certain things you didn't do, like going off on tangents. Making every word count. The short story is not in a good place publishing-wise. Plus it's harder to write. In the crime short story there's only room for only one twist. And how the prose ends up being muscular - hard boiled. His QR short story in the anthology is about a game of scrabble in prison.

Harry Bingham on the other hand, found it hard to go from his natural crime novel writing to something like the QR short story. He overcame this by thinking of a reader who may be encountering a crime story for the first time. As it's only a few pages, there should be little twisting and more emphasis on solving the conundrum.

Bingham edited the Dead Simple crime anthology (Orion) - the crime collection brings together eight writers including himself, Mark Billingham, Clare Mackintosh, James Oswald, CL Taylor, Angela Marsons, Jane Casey and Antonia Hodgson.

He also spoke about putting the crime anthology together and how he thought about an emerging reader - "you wouldn't want Noddy stories", he wanted a gender balance and feels the collection is like a chocolate box with a diverse list of author stories to choose from.

Fanny Blake asked Clare Mackintosh about literacy in the prison service:

Clare Mackintosh replied there was an absence of it. She grew up with books in every single room unlike the vast majority of people coming in to custody who couldn't read or write. Mackintosh felt literacy was creating an unfair divide. She came across QR when organising a literacy festival and thinking about literacy and accessibility. She read some QR because of event. Mackintosh added she had been terrified of writing the short story and found it really hard.

Dreda Say Mitchell grew up without books in the house with only her dad's tabloid newspaper and mum's bible. But her mother made sure they went to their local library once a month so they had access to books. There was always more of an oral tradition in their house.

Fanny Blake asked the panel how important was setting?

Mitchell replied that she is a lover of London and loves writing about the East London, it's a rich and diverse character.

Billingham said London had become a character in his books. But that he had a love hate relationship with it, i.e. writing about the city that has so much happening underneath and then standing on a bridge by the Thames and thinking wow! Crime writers can give a good introduction to a city, for example, if you want to know about Edinburgh just read Ian Rankin. He said, there was no point setting place somewhere dramatic if you can't write about it

All the authors agreed that a good sense of place sells a book.

Clare Mackintosh spoke about how the open landscape can be quite threatening, that she sometimes finds London threatening and will walk around like a person about to be mugged! She tends to research feelings rather than places and used to spend a lot of time sitting on the circle line to see how this felt for one of her characters.

Mark Billingham wanted to set the record straight, he did not wear a false baby bump when writing about a pregnant women! He tends to do less research these days, felt he had wasted time in the past researching, trying to get it right and yet still getting spoiler letters. He once placed a Starbucks in Brixton, when it didn't have one and immediately received letters: "I think you'll find there is no Starbucks in Brixton!" He said that some writers have a fetish-like approach to research, though things like DNA and getting that right is paramount.

Fanny Blake thanked the authors and handed over to the audience.

A question from the audience:
Do you have to have a devious mind to be a crime writer?

Harry Bingham:
No. You have to be in tune with your character. Bingham thinks about the crime, what it is, what it looks like. Is that devious? No, that's professional.

Mark Billingham:
No, you have to be a reader. He always has one looking over his shoulder when he's putting together a plot, and often thinks, that would fool them! "I create the best performance that I can". The key to creating suspense is the cliffhanger and characters that readers care about that makes them utterly gripped.

Another question: How are you matching up the young men with the books (Earlier in the evening the writers discussed how men tend not to read fiction as much as women)

Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agency answered:
It's challenging and I can't ever say you do one thing. There are books available in public libraries and getting a book into young peoples hands is one of our aims. We go into public libraries, adult learning organisations, colleges, workplaces and prisons with the Reading Ahead scheme (formerly called the Six Book Challenge) it's a gateway. We support young people and adults by changing their perception of reading, opening up opportunities and building their confidence. The programme isn't just about books - it's about newspapers, magazines and websites too. The new name reflects this to help those for whom books might be a barrier to joining in. When they've read six things, they get a certificate. It might be the first time they've ever got one. "It's my job to get you reading and then you get your friend reading and he gets his friend reading and so on plus it's also important to see family members reading so we work with parents too."

Fanny Blake closed the panel discussion by asking the crime writers for their crime novel recommendations:

Dreda Say Mitchell - Sharp Objects (2007) by Gillian Flynn

Mark Billingham - Slow Horses (2010) by Mick Herron

Harry Bingham - Sharp Objects (2007) by Gillian Flynn

Clare Mackintosh - The Night Visitor (2017) by Lucy Atkins



Follow the authors on Twitter:

@MarkBillingham
@DredaMitchell
@harryonthebrink
@claremackint0sh
@Quick_Reads
@readingagency

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Top Twelve Reads of 2016

My plan at the beginning of 2016 was to read Orphan Lit and review it. Here are some of my favourite reads, in no particular order, some reviewed and some not, from last year and nearly all of them feature orphans! 


Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days – Jeanette Winterson

I recently won a ticket to the Guardian Christmas event with Jeanette Winterson and Nigella Lawson where they spoke about traditions, recipes and memories and Jeanette red from her Christmas book. For the twelve days of Christmas, a time of celebration, sharing, and giving, she offers these twelve plus one—a personal story of her own Christmas memories.  These tales give the reader a portal into the spirit of the season, where time slows down and magic starts to happen. From jovial spirits to a donkey with a golden nose, a haunted house to a SnowMama, Winterson’s innovative stories encompass the childlike and spooky wonder of Christmas. Perfect for reading by the fire with loved ones, or while traveling home for the holidays.  The orphan narrative resurfaces in these Christmas tales featuring abandoned young children locked in or out of doors, trapped inside chests or treated cruelly as in Mrs Reckitt’s Academy for Orphans, Foundlings and Minors in Need of Temporary Office. Jeanette Winterson is a heroine of mine and this Christmas collection will become one of my treasured books. The perfect Christmas gift that I gave myself.




This is a strange book filled with old black and white photographs of peculiar children, an abandoned orphanage and a mysterious island. As the story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I felt the second half of this book works more for a YA audience. The film of the book was released in September 2016, and I look forward to watching that soon.



My Name is Leon - Kit De Waal

This book made me cry and I don’t think I’ll ever quite forget it. It is very well written and truly captures the voice of a traumatised child in care. Leon experiences what it is like to be nine years old and taken away from a mother and brother whom you love and adore. To be left alone in a strange world where all your belongings have disappeared and living with a stranger whose house rules you have to get used to.



Song of the Sea Maid - Rebecca Mascull


Written from protagonist, Dawnay’s viewpoint, the book opens onto eighteenth century life in London. We witness the terrible poverty and the way orphans, and women were treated. Ultimately though, this is a feel-good novel that re-writes the often terrible history of the neglected, nameless, and homeless orphan. This is ‘the age of sail, orphanages, the flora and fauna of islands, and even the origins of all humankind’. Impeccably researched, at times I had to wear a peg on my nose as the scenes of filthy London were so rancidly lifelike. In many ways this novel is the true definition of the ‘What if’ scenario. What if a poor female orphan was given an opportunity to become educated. What would she become? If you like stories about independent women, think Forever Amber, historical novels with a touch of romance, then this is the book for you.




The Fish Ladder - Katharine Norbury

Katharine joined us at last year’s Finchley Literary Festival where she spoke about The Fish Ladder, a beautifully written travelogue, memoir, with exquisite nature writing, fragments of poetry and tales from Celtic mythology. It explores the void, the hole, the ‘missingness’ that can quite suddenly engulf a person who has experienced trauma as a baby or a young child.



Mothering Sunday – Graham Swift

I’m currently re-reading this book and enjoying it even more. The writing is exquisite. The emotions of Jane Fairfax, the orphan, captured perfectly. Abandoned outside an orphanage at birth in 1901, this is a fairy tale about the transformation of Jane from servant to world-renowned writer. At times the lyrical waves of prose remind me of a stanza in the way certain refrains are repeated throughout the book – it’s very cleverly done. Mothers Day 30th March 1924, Jane looks back at this one perfect day that will haunt her for the rest of her life.



The Good Guy - Susan Beale

The inspiration for this novel came from Susan Beale’s adoption files. The papers included interviews with her mother, grandmother and one with her birth father. This is an extremely evocate, powerful and well-written novel that has truly captured the essence of 1960s suburban, New England and the plight and stigma of the unmarried mother.



The Mountain in my Shoe – Louise Beech

This novel is about a missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. But more than that it is about a young boy who has been fostered. Louise uses a Lifebook throughout the narrative – this is a book put together throughout a child’s time in care – to fill in the gaps – in this instance Conor’s past. It is a clever device and not one I had seen before. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we are willing to go for the people we love.


The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

This Gothic novel was birthed to amazing reviews and it was one that had been on my TBR for some time. Along with many other people I also coveted the cover. From the first to the last page, I could not get enough of this book. Set in the early 1890s, and told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love and friendship, and the many different guises it can take.



The Mother – Yvvette Edwards

Another FLF guest, this novel is about a 16 year old boy who is stabbed and killed by another 16 year old boy. The book follows the trial of the boy accused of his murder and the narrator is the victim’s mum. A truly harrowing and emotional journey as the protagonist goes through a tidal wave of emotions dealing with that worst of all parent nightmares, losing a child. Extremely well-written, the narrative explores the harsh realities facing families who have lost children to knife crime.



Butterfly Fish - Irenosen Okoji

Irenosen also joined as at the Finchley Lit Fest where she spoke about Butterfly Fish, a powerfully told story of love and hope, of family secrets, power, political upheaval, loss and coming undone. Let go and fly with the flow of the narrative of this haunting and compelling magical realism novel. The Benin scenes are particularly breathtaking. It is a story of epic proportions, skillfully held together by Irenosen Okojie, an author to watch out for in the future.



The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – Vaseem Khan

Another Finchley Literary Festival guest, Vaseem kept us all entertained with his experiences in Mumbai that were the inspiration for the series. On arriving in Mumbai he was greeted with the unusual sight of seeing an elephant wandering down the centre of the road. This vision stayed with him and a passion for elephants developed – after cricket and literature of course! A well written book, easy to read and very entertaining with wonderful descriptions of the vibrant city of Mumbai. It is the first in the Baby Ganesh detective agency series, I have the second in the series on my TBR list.


All that is left for me to do now, is wish you a very healthy, creative, and booky New Year.