Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Guest Post: S.J Bradley's Imaginary Bookshop

Hi Sarah, congratulations on the publication of your novel, Brick Mother and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

My review of Brick Mother will be appearing in the next month or so but I can tell you that I am half way through it and its great.

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Picture taken by Ricky Adam

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Hello! Thanks. My bookshop would be called 'The Accidental Bookshop'. It would be half bookshop, half art-party.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
My bookshop has a front and a back door, and they're in unexpected places. The front door is up a cobbled backstreet, and on the way to it you walk past half a dozen unchained pushbikes, and a tea room, and the front windows are bowed and leaded. It's not really in the central part of town, and it looks like a tiny place from the outside.

Then there's a sort of magic as you walk through the shop, because there are a load of secret staircases and passages. Though the bookshop feels quite compact, it actually covers a lot of ground – and the back door goes out into an industrial estate under a motorway flyover.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Yes! There are lots of secret doors and revolving shelves. If you come in through the back door, in the industrial estate, you go up a set of steps, past something that you're not sure whether is a scale model of an brutalist shopping centre, or a piece of junk somebody left there by accident. The stairs turn around and back on themselves, and you come out on a little wooden landing, with two doors. Should you take the left door, or the right?

Well the truth is, it actually doesn't matter. One day, the left door might bring you out in the reading room – a large oaky room, with comfortable chairs, and a huge desk. On another day, the left door might bring you out into the cat petting part of the bookshop (Jessica - this is such a great idea. This bookshop needs to happen!) – a small, light room, with lots of cushions, and dark corners where cats can sleep. The secret passages in the Accidental Bookshop rearrange themselves all the time. That's part of what makes it such a wonderful place.

The other thing is that some of the books trigger other sets of secret shelves. So if you pull a certain book out – London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century, maybe, or Animal Farm – the first shelf disappears, and in its place appears another. So if you don't like the book you've chosen, you end up putting it back on another shelf, and finding something altogether different, and new.

It's a wonder for anybody who doesn't know what they're looking for, and a nightmare for anybody who loves order and alphabetisation.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
One thing that is special about the 'Accidental Bookshop' is that it doesn't have any real classification system. The reason for this is that it's fun to stumble upon something you didn't know you would like. So, instead of keeping all the fiction and non-fiction seperate, or having a seperate 'women's fiction' or 'fiction in translation' shelves, everything's all jumbled up together.

You might come in thinking you're looking for a book about the Vietnam war, and end up picking up a second-hand version of one of your childhood favourites, instead. It's not what you think you came in for, but you love it just the same. The bookshop is a wonder of discovery and accident.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I would have lots of fiction in translation, lots of children's fiction, and lots of story-books for adults. There would be a lot of graphic novels, and little self-made biographies and picture books. The obscure and the artistic would be encouraged.

What wouldn't be sold in the Accidental Bookshop? Business books, and political biography. I wouldn't sell the kind of books that allow politicians to rewrite their own history, and represent themselves as important, or justified, figures. Instead, I'd have a large section of historical and political books written by people whose voices aren't often heard – groups involved in grass-roots struggle. Workplace organisers, anti-globalisation activists, and the like.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
The display table would be a bit of a shambles. The cats keep getting up on there, and knocking things over. It's probably best to draw a discreet veil over the display table, to be honest. It's got paw prints all over it.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
I'd like to get Harvey Pekar in to do a graphic novel writing workshop. He can come in and tell all the visitors a story, and they can all have a go at drawing it. Afterwards, the results get pinned up on a bunting line in the study.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Brick Mother and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I'd say that it engages your emotions in a realistic, and non-dramatic way, in a tale about institutions, and life, and loss. I'd say that it'll draw you in and make you think about things you've never considered. It's a serious book, but also a book that's very human, and touching.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
I love all types of cake so I found this question very difficult. It's generally true that people will go anywhere for cake, me especially. The trouble would be in me not eating the cake before everybody arrives...

I'd probably serve a dairy-free cherry chocolate cake, with lots of pink icing – and a cherry on the top!

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Picture taken by Ricky Adam
Bio: SJ Bradley is a writer from Leeds, UK, whose short fiction has appeared in various publications. In 2013 she was shortlisted for the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize and her novel, Brick Mother, is out now on Dead Ink Books. She is the curator and organiser of the non-profit literary social Fictions of Every Kind, which aims to give support and encouragement to anyone engaged in the lonely act of writing. Her blog is at www.sjbradleybooks.blogspot.com

Brick Mother is available from your favourite bookshop.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Book Review: The Lying-Down Room

The Lying-Down Room
By Anna Jaquiery
Published by Mantle
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

The great thing about book reviewing is that you might be sent a book in a genre your would not normally read and it turns out to be a fantastic read. The Lying-Down Room by Anna Jaquiery falls into this category. I don't normally review crime but when the chance came up recently to get my hands on an advanced copy I said yes. It was time to try something new and I'm glad I did.

The Lying-Down Room, the first novel in the psychological crime series, tells the story of Commandant Serge Morel, who can only piece together the clues of the crime as he does origami in the early hours of the morning with a glass of red wine as his side during the sticky, stifling summer heat of Paris.

Elderly women are being targeted and murdered in a strange way. First they are 'baptised' in the bath and drowned. Afterwards the murderer, whilst listening to the soundtrack of Faure's Requiem is covering them in make-up and putting on a red wig, before placing them into their bed. The only clues that link together the murders is a man and a young boy, handing out religious pamphlets a couple of days before the murder.

The investigation into the murders is an important plot line but for me the most enjoyable part of this story was the characterisation. Jaquiery had chapters told from the viewpoint of Morel as well as the main suspect. We learn through these chapters that none of the characters are what they seem. There is no clear-cut 'goodies' and 'badies' even the people investigating the case operate on the edges of the law. Morel watches his ex-wife from a distance, observing her every day life as well as having an affair with his friend's wife and one of his officers, Lila tries to involve herself with the domestic matters of one of the victim's family.

This book isn't simply about the police investigating a murder. There are many strands to this novel and Jaquiery explores these with great detail. As well as exploring the morals of the crime and its affects on the investigation team and the families, The Lying-Down Room also explores the prejudices of small communities around homosexuality, the attitudes in Russia to mental health and orphans and also the way society treats the elderly.

The Lying-Down Room isn't a book full of twists, turns and car chases but, instead slowly unravels. This is an absorbing read, and do you know what - I think I'll definitely read the second in the series.

The Lying-Down Room is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Guest Post: J. Paul Henderson's Imaginary Bookshop

Today J. Paul Henderson has popped over to answer the Imaginary Bookshop questions as part of his Last Bus to Coffeeville blog tour.

I will be reviewing Last Bus to Coffeeville later this month.

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1. What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? The Trouser Press 

2. Where would your imaginary bookshop be located? Next door to a Bang & Olufsen dealership; we’d arrange things so that each store could get a 50% discount on any items bought from the other.

3. Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage; a cocktail bar, etc. A Passport Photo Booth – You can never find one when you need one.

4. What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones? It would be on stilts and have no mobile phone reception. 

5. What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch? I’d ditch the Mind Body & Spirit section, liberate the shelves of all celebrity autobiographies and then throw out the Booker Prize winners. I’d then divide the shop into Good Books and Bad Books, and probably make a living from selling the bad books.

6. Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why? Dictionaries – they’re overlooked and under-used; every person should own at least one.

7. If you could run only one author event, who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run? Richard Brautigan (deceased). A girlfriend once bought me a copy of Trout Fishing in America for Christmas. I thought the book was about trout fishing in America and so we broke up. It turned out to be the most unusual and enjoyable story I’d ever read; it started me reading fiction again and led me to believe that maybe one day I could write a book. The event would be fun, intimate, and eventually be broken up by the police.

8. A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Last Bus to Coffeeville and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? I’d say it had 383 pages and was therefore perfectly formed. It’s probably a Zen or feng shui thing; we’d probably know for sure if I hadn’t closed down the Mind Body & Spirit section.

9. What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop? Chocolate Cake: the king of calories and the queen of diabetes.


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Author biography: J Paul Henderson was born and grew up in Bradford, West Yorkshire, gained a Master's degree in American Studies and travelled to Afghanistan. He worked in a foundry, as a bus conductor, trained as an accountant and then, when the opportunity to return to academia arose, left for Mississippi, returning four years later with a doctorate in 20thC US History and more knowledge of Darlington Hoopes than was arguably necessary. (Hoopes was a Pennsylvanian socialist and the last presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party). American History departments were either closing or contracting, so he opted for a career in publishing, most of which was spent selling textbooks, in one position or other, for John Wiley & Sons. He lives in a house in England, drives a car and owns a television set. And that's about it.

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Last Bus to Coffeeville is available from your favourite bookshop. Last Bus to Coffeeville is also available as an Amazon Kindle ebook is currently 99 pence.

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The next stop on the Last Bus to Coffeeville blog tour will be at Page to Stage on Monday 4th August. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Book Review: The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms

The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms
By Ian Thornton
Published by The Friday Project
Available in paperback and ebook

Ian Thornton's debut novel, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms is more than just a novel with hints of historical WWI truth. This is a novel about the bonds of friendship, a love story and the way people will go to many lengths to run away from reality.

This is a story that spans over one hundred years, covering all of the 20th Century. At the start of the novel, the protagonist, Johan Thoms is an old man with a plan - he must go back in time. Slowly he reveals his childhood and the tales of near death experience when he was a boy with a deer and his student days of booze and sex but this is not want he wants to go back in time for. It is not to re-live the days of him being a child genius at chess but to stop the outbreak of World War I because contrary to common understanding, he started World War I and has the deaths of millions on his conscience.

In June 1914, at the last minute Johan swaps with the usual chauffeur and is given the privilege to drive Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia through the city. However, this moment of great importance is hindered by him driving down a dead-end side street and his inability to reverse a car. A gunman stands and takes a shot and the rest as they say is history. Convinced he ruins everything he touches he flees, leaving behind the love of this life, Lorelei, his family and his university career. He goes on the run as the Great War unfolds around him. Each year the burden of guilt becomes greater.
The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms reminded me of  a less superior version of Laurent Binet's HHhH and it also reminded me of Daniel Wallace's Big Fish with the way it explores the concept of truth, the retelling of history and the way stories form our lives. Johan's adventures across Europe have him bumping into Orwell and Hemingway in Spain during the Civil War and hiding out in the English countryside as he tries to maintain a grip on reality.

Other reviewers have complained that Johan doesn't develop as a character after his unfortunate involvement in the outbreak of World War I but I think he does. Johan has a constant battle with his conscience and is unable to untangle himself from the guilt. He must learn to either face up to the guilt or let it slowly eat away at him.

Johan's adventures through Europe are broken up with letters from Lorelei and her search to find Johan. I would quite like there to be a sequel to The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms and I would want it to explore Lorelei's search and her life in 1920s America.

If you like books routed in history, enjoyed HHhH and Big fish then this is the book for you. Its a great story. I'm looking forward to reading Thornton's next book.

You can buy The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms from your favourite bookshop.


I was kindly sent a copy of the book by the publisher.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Longlisted for the Man Booker prize

I wasn't longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. again.

One day they will accept unpublished novels stored on a computer hard drive and my novel will be front of the queue, waving its chapters around in the air, snarling at the other millions of people with novels on their hard drives.

Anyway, in the mean time I should probably carry on redrafting my novel. I am currently stuck with chapter thirteen. I think it starts too early in the scene so I'm hacking back and writing an alternative opening. Progress is slower than I would want as I would ideally like to be redrafting a different chapter each week but this one has been stuck on my desk for three weeks. Things like paperwork for our new house and a small thing called life are getting in the way and so they should but I think the reason why this chapter is being a pain in the backside is because it was the first chapter I wrote during last year's novel writing month. It is a bit wooly in places, vague and shapeless. I honestly can't understand people who write a novel in novel writing month who then send it off to agents once they have finished. These things need work. Lots of work.

Back to the Man Booker Prize. I bought Karen Joy Fowler's We Are Completely Beside Ourselves (which is on the list) the other week in London as a treat to read for when we finally go on holiday either in 'real life' or as a holiday from the review books I am currently making my way through. I always think its good to have a break every couple of books or the reviewing becomes stale. I have a great bunch of books to keep me occupied.

I have several reviews popping up on the blog for some great books so look out for them!