Monday, 30 December 2013

Book Review: Kontakte and Other Stories

Kontakte and Other Stories
By Jonathan Taylor
Published by Roman Books
ISBN - 9789380905648

Jonathan Taylor, author of Entertaining Strangers, has recently published an entertaining short story collection, Kontakte and Other Stories, revolving around music and the relationship it has on people's lives.

Kontakte and Other Stories is about music - creating symphonies (Must Sound Genuine), listening to music (Kontakte) but most importantly the way people live with music. Taylor explores within this collection the way that music can heal relationships but the power of music can also create divides between people (Synaesthetic Schmidt).

Taylor's writing style is confident and elegant with touches of humour throughout the collection. Many of the stories explore loss and isolation and the way music can help fill the void or even create a bigger divide. This is seen in my favourite story within the collection, A Rondo in Letters. This is a touching story, told through letters, of a son and his father who has dementia. The conflict of musical tastes and obsessions drives the family apart.

Taylor has created a collection of stories that will have the reader reconnecting to music. Either you will already know the music mentioned in the book and can enjoy the references or you will only have the basic knowledge of classical music that you learnt from school and you can go off, after reading the story, and explore the music. Taylor successfully caters for people who adore classical music with the references but he also creates interesting characters and stories for people who are not as aware of classical music.

Music lovers will love this collection along with short story fans. This is a short story collection which will not let you go even when you have finished.

You can read Jonathan's response to my Imaginary Bookshop Q&A over here and you can also read my review of Jonathan's novel, Entertaining Strangers here.

Kontakte and Other Stories can be ordered from your favourite online or offline book shop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the author. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

I'm Back From The Wilds Of Novel Writing Month


On the 30th of November I completed the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days with a few hours to spare. It was a long slog and at times I wanted to give up but I pushed through  and won – the words of my novel are now out of my head and on the page. My preparation work involved a table with a one sentence description for each chapter. The rest of the other details were in my head.

This means I now have a first draft of my novel along with the additional 25k written before the challenge. Those 25k words took me most of the year to write – that is why I needed novel writing month to kick me into action – I am part of the slow writer’s club! The files for my novel are sitting on my hard drive, fermenting, ready for the new year. I haven’t written a thing (except work-related or this blog post) since but I am already looking forward to ripping apart those 76,000-ish words until they make sense.

It was a perfect storm in November as well as wanting to complete this challenge there was a lot of day job pressure, and cleaning our house as we have decided to sell and move. Those 30 days of bashing at my keyboard, trying to race towards that holy grail of 50k taught me a lot of things. Firstly, it’s the quantity that matters and that the inner-critic needs to be locked away in a safe, bounded in chains and thrown to the back of my mind. Secondly, a writing routine is worth its weight in heavy laptops. Thirdly, these words are not for public consumption – there is no way I would send my novel off to publishers, agents or even publish it in the state that it is in. This is a first, shitty draft. My eyes only. Fourthly, deadlines are good!

I’ll be honest – there were tears, days where no words appeared on the screen (I spent every weekend, bashing out the words, panting to catch up) and there were one or two times (okay, each day!) when I nearly gave up. I ended up making myself ill as I did not get much sleep or rest. So don’t go dismissing this challenge – it is tough! I have told myself that I will not do it again especially with a full time job and real life demanding my attention but we will have to see...

This novel is definitely better than the one I had previously finished. Plus, it took me less time to write!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Doing My Words

I haven't been here for over two weeks - sorry - but I have a good excuse.

I have taken up the NANOWRIMO challenge (writing 50k in a month) to try and finish writing my the rough draft of my novel. It's going okay. Well, maybe not okay. I'm 5k behind my target so it's going to be another intense day of catching up.

I have put reviewing and reading on the back burner. I really want to have a first draft of my novel by the end of the year. NANOWRIMO has definitely given me a kick up the bum. I'm not expecting to send off my novel as soon as the challenge is over - I know that this is 'draft zero' and there's still a long way to go once this challenge is over. It's not even writing any more - I call it 'doing my words.'

I have been tweeting my NANOWRIMO experience over the past few weeks. You can follow me here.

I knew it would be tough and it is especially when you have other commitments but I really want to have my 50k in the bag by the 1st December.

So I might not be here again this month but I will be on Twitter.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Guest Post: Catherine McNamara's Imaginary Bookshop

Recently I read and reviewed Catherine McNamara’s Pelt and Other Stories. You can read my review here. Catherine has kindly agreed to take part in the imaginary bookshop Q&A.


Hi Catherine, congratulations on the publication of your short story collection, Pelt and Other Stories and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper. 
  • What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?

I would just call it ‘S’. For Stories.

  • Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?

In Venice, near where I live, in a crumbling Venetian palace with four or five storeys, wonky marble floors, exquisite stucco ceiling scrolls and balustrades over the water. I’d like a view of the open water and San Giorgio Maggiore on the far side of the lagoon. Oh, and big gilt-framed mirrors, decadent velvet settees, marble-topped tables. Loads of shelves and some big walnut tables for writers to spread out their work. No internet connection whatsoever. And a way off from San Marco so only aficionados would be tempted to walk.

  • Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.

I’d like a stage for some small live music events, readings and discussions. On the top floor with its splendid views. Of course there would have to be a cocktail bar up there too. I’d love to have the resources to bring over writers from faraway places, arrange a small annual festival where writers and agents/publishers might meet up. I’d love to have my own printing press and produced short runs of beautiful stories – in Venice there is an age-old papermaking tradition. I’d also run a yearly literary prize and offer the winner a long writing séjour on the island.
There would have to be excellent coffee corners on each level. Then there would be a juice bar downstairs, healthy food and access to literary magazines, in a room that has been painted with stories by wonderful writers, absolutely everywhere. I’d like there to be some writing desks on the middle floors, for people who don’t have a comfortable place to work, and I think I’d even like to provide couches in some of the rooms over the courtyard out the back (the palazzo would be a warren), where aspiring international writers might like to stay in exchange for helping out (like Shakespeare & Co in Paris).

  • What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?

Well, I’d like money not to have to matter. And to be able to run the joint on love and passion. I once ran a bar/gallery/book exchange and it’s no easy thing to deal with suppliers, employees, problems. So I’d like to be relieved of financial pressure – ha!
My bookshop would also be open all night, so that insomniacs could curl up and read, so that dawn revellers could flop on divans and talk about books as the sun bloomed in the east. I’d love a turnover of book lovers: the morning writers at desks consulting reference books or devouring writers they admire; those who love literary reviews with their cappuccino in a corner in the late morning; the lunch crowd poring over their recent purchases. Maybe some workshops upstairs in the afternoons.

  • What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?

In my bookshop there would be no textbooks, technical books or books about computers. I would have a whole floor for short story collections. I would have a classical floor. A floor of foreign novels. A floor of forgotten but brilliant books. I would pin reviews everywhere, encouraging clients to supply them too, have my employees who would of course be book lovers write personalised reviews – I love those. I’d have a weekly meet-up of readers called ‘Word of Mouth’, where people pass on book recommendations and have to explain the appeal of a book. Like Shakespeare & Co – this is starting to sound snooty – I’d probably have to ditch other languages and stick to English. Yes, that’s what I’d like – small, large and international publishers in English.

  • Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?

Short stories. Because no one is ever brave enough to place them centrally in a bookshop. And many people you speak to enjoy them immensely, but are just not given access to new and existing titles.

  • 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’m so undecided. Grace Paley or Ernest Hemingway or Ken Sara-wiwa or T.C. Boyle. I guess I’d love to have Katherine Mansfield read from her work. That’s all really. I think she would be mesmerising.

  • A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your short story collection and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?

Hmm. I’m not very pushy with my work. I get rather embarrassed. Plus, surrounded by brilliant story writers I adore, I would probably start mumbling something meaningless. I might start telling one of my tales or say something silly like.. Do I look like a pregnant Ghanaian woman? Or a fat Brit on a snowboarding trip to the Dolomites?
It’s probably best that I just point to my swish cover.  

  • What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

Oh, that’s easy. Tarte au citron.


Buying links:
your friendly independent bookshop

Catherine's bio:
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia and Ghana.  Her collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’, semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize, was published in September 2013. Her stories have been published in Wasafiri, Short Fiction, ‘W

ild Cards’ a Virago Anthology, A Tale of Three Cities, Tears in the Fence, The View from Here, Pretext and Ether Books. She lives in Italy.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Book Review: Pelt And Other Stories

Pelt And Other Stories
By Catherine McNamara 
Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing
ISBN: 9781909357099

Pelt and Other Stories is a clever short story collection which will transport you across the world in eighteen stories, from Africa to Europe via Australia.

There are unspoken tensions in each story. The narrators must deal with dirty family secrets and lies, neglected childhoods, misunderstood love and isolation. Our narrators must do anything to stay ahead.

McNamara delves into the way relationships between our families and our lovers hold us together and the way tradition forbids some relationships. McNamara explores both sides - in Pelt, we see a relationship struggling to work between a western man and a local African woman but both go against tradition. Whilst there are also stories showing the way people tip toe around tradition and try to hide away their passions. In Janet and The Angry Trees, Luca takes his girlfriend to live as a carer at his parent's house. He leaves her in charge of his parent's care and drives back to his wife.

On the surface, McNamara has many protagonists who appear weak and can be pushed to the side but McNamara explores the way characters fight back. In Pelt, the opening story, the narrator is pregnant with the baby of a Western man. However, his estranged wife is in town and the pregnant girlfriend is put on the backburner while they go off to posh hotels. But our narrator will not let her partner escape that easy and she shows him that she's not for bossing around.

McNamara also explores the relationship people have with their country, particularly Africa. In some stories, we see the character return to their home country and find that they are an exile. They have lost the connection that they once had with the land. The way modern life and social mobility has pushed tradition aside is a strong and interesting theme throughout this intelligent short story collection. Displacement and the need to reattach to a new homeland drives many of the characters. McNamara makes sure that each journey is engaging.

McNamara's strong short story collection can easily be read in a few sittings or even dipped in and out.

***Catherine will be stopping by on Thursday to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A***

Pelt and Other Stories is available from your favourite book retailer. 

The author was kind enough to send me a copy. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Book Review: All Dogs Are Blue

My review of All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo De Souza Leao is now available on the The View From Here site. 

You can review the review here > All Dogs Are Blue

This book will definitely be in my top reads for 2013!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

First Drafting, Fast Drafting

I am 26k into the first draft of my novel. (I dread to think what my word count would be for personal and work emails - probably a couple of novels). That's 26k since January - for some people that is probably a low figure and to others it's a high figure. I think this number is OKAY - I don't write full time because I have to work full time and there is also a life to lead.

I haven't been planning on this novel. Not until this week. This week I sat down and write a one sentence summary of each chapter. The planning has helped - I can see the direction I want to head and my motivation is an all time high to get this novel finished. I want to put my member of the 'slow writer's club' on hold and attempt to finish this first draft.

I have been reading about 'fast drafting' and I have also been reading about NANOWRIMO (writing 50k in November). I just want these words out of my head and onto the page. They are going to be shitty sentences and I know for certain that there could be whole passages that do not make sense but hey, it's a first draft! No one is ever going to see those words!

So, deep breath, I am going to attempt to write as much as possible on my novel next month. Scary!

Do you have any tips for getting the words on the page?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Guest Post: Jonathan Taylor's Imaginary Bookshop

Recently I read and reviewed Jonathan Taylor’s ‘Entertaining Strangers’. You can read my review here. Jonathan has kindly agreed to take part in the imaginary bookshop Q&A.

Jonathan has recently published his short story collection, Kontakte. Jonathan kindly sent me a copy and I’m looking forward to diving in!

Hi Jonathan, congratulations on the publication of your short story collection and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper. I thought I would give you some questions that you may not have already answered.

  • What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? 
Kafkaesque – it’s a bit of a cliché these days, but it’d at least warn possible customers what lies within.

  • Where would your imaginary bookshop be located? 
Somewhere in the fog. My father once took us to a strange, quiet, higgledy-piggledy bookshop hidden in the fog on the Isle of Man. We just happened across it one day, whilst driving around, lost. But we could never find it again. I’m not sure it existed on fog-less days. You had to be lost in fog to find it.

  • Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc. 
I’d definitely want a bar, perhaps one which served drinks from books. But also just a space where people could sit, loll, relax, reading from their chosen books. Maybe a comfy bed, for those who like reading in bed. Bookshops are beginning to understand this now – that people want to test drive books before they buy them, and that means you need space for lolling – which is how books are read – not just standing. Maybe a small team of mime-artists too, who are ready to act out to order (in costume) any scene the customer is reading.

  • What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones? 
It would be deliberately disordered, even chaotic. There would be tunnels leading nowhere, shelves on the stairs, books in the wine cellar, wine in the book cellar, passageways behind bookcases, caves with monsters in them, lost rooms with skeletons of old shop assistants. That way, the layout of the bookshop might itself enact some of the stories within. In short, bookshops should have a certain higgledy-piggledyness, and mine would be ultra-higgledy-piggledy.

  • What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch? 
I’d ditch all the sections, and just have a general A-Z (at least for the books which can be classified alphabetically) – or even just a general free-for-all-everything-mixed-up-kind-of-tombola-bookshop. Obviously, it’s not possible to get away from ‘genre,’ but – if we’re talking about an ideal bookshop – it’s a lovely dream to think of a place where all books are treated equally, where fiction, non-fiction and poetry books are all free to mingle and chat with one another, where someone who comes in for a textbook on Human Biology walks out with a nineteenth-century novel, someone looking for a ‘serious’ work of literary fiction walks out with the new Peppa Pig Annual. Hence, higgledy-Piggledy ( = bad pun).

  • Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why? 
Ah, again, I’d be tempted to get rid of a display table, because (as so many chain bookstores demonstrate) it’s such a hierarchical way of prioritising some books – often written badly by celebrities, or rather not written by them, but by their ghosts. But if I were forced to have a display table, I’d want it to be as miscellaneous and eclectic as my brain.

  • 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?
Dickens – no doubt about it. As is well-known, Dickens was a great performer of his own works. He was a mesmeric reader, by all accounts. He really wanted to be an actor – and that shows in his writing, which is full of memorable voices, booming rhetoric, comedy, pathos. That’s the kind of reading I want to hear – something of the theatre. Maybe I’d also invite his cantankerous contemporary, Thomas Carlyle, along too – not for his opinions (which were often dreadful), but for his spluttering rage. There’s not enough spluttering rage in twenty-first-century British writing – too much of it is measured, beautifully controlled, gently melancholic, slightly passionless. Perhaps Carlyle and Dickens might come back from the dead and sort that out.

  • A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your short story collection and your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? 
I don’t know. I think maybe I’d ask them what kinds of books they like first, to see if mine fit in somehow with those predispositions. If they say they like black comedy, irony, music, horror, violence, rhetoric, satire, humour, pathos, or ants – then maybe the books are for them. If they say they like American self-help psychology books which bludgeon people into compulsory optimism, maybe my books aren’t quite their cup of tea. Having said that, I can easily give good reasons more generally for buying books: as things stand, books are an incredibly cheap (too-cheap, I think) form of entertainment and pleasure which last longer than takeaways, frappes, wine, computer games, or sex – most of which are much more expensive.

  • What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop? 
Chocolate cake, with chocolate icing on top, and chocolate sprinkles, and then another layer of chocolate cake. A bit like the one in Matilda – which, personally, I always thought sounded delicious. I’d have tried eating all of that too.


Jonathan Taylor is author of the novel Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), the memoir Take Me Home (Granta Books, 2007), and the short-story collection Kontakte and Other Stories (Roman Books, 2013). He is editor of the anthology Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt, 2012). He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University, and co-director of arts organisation and small publisher Crystal Clear Creators. Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Book Review: The Deep Whatsis

The Deep Whatsis
By Peter Mattei
Published by The Friday Project
pbook and ebook available 

What do you get if you combine Partick Bateman from American Psycho with the film Up In The Air?

You get Eric from Pater Mattei's debut novel, The Deep Whatsis.

The Deep Whatsis is a marmite book - It's a book that people will love for its irony or people will hate. I don't like Marmite but I enjoyed this book.

Eric is a self-centered, anti-hero who thinks his cool because he works in Manhattan and works for a creative agency. He has been employed by a creative agency to head the creative department but his main job is to sack most of the staff. Most of his days are spent thinking of excuses to sack people, drinking expensive alcohol, taking drugs and trying to dodge New York hipsters.

His perfect life starts to crumble when an intern starts...

It's refreshing to have a main character who is not likable. He is an engrossing character who will dig his claws into you and won't let you go until the last page. By the end you might even start feeling sorry for him. Maybe.

On the surface, The Deep Whatsis could be seen as another book about a guy stuck in a corporate world who has to deal with the consequences of board decisions. Eric has to be the grim reaper while the Directors get to see their share price and profiles increase. But The Deep Whatsis explores the desperation people feel when they want to be acknowledged by their peers, spiraling mental health and the absurdity of modern human behaviour. And there is humour. Lots of humour. WARNING - You might find yourself having a chuckle out loud.

Pucker up because you're in a for a journey with the most unlikable character to be published this year. He might just become likable by the end!

You can buy a copy of The Deep Whatsis from your favourite online or offline bookseller. 

The Friday Project kindly sent me a copy. Thanks, guys! 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Against The Clock

I have been writing against the clock.
Deadlines for competitions have got me back to my laptop and violently hitting the keys, trying to get those stories written and edited.
Leaving it to the last minute isn't ideal but its because I can't make up my mind - enter or not enter - on repeat in my head from the day I have read about the competition until the final few days before the deadline.
It's a race.
Typing, typing.
Editing, editing.
Redrafting, redrafting.
Freaking out because the deadline is literally knocking on the door.
More re-jigging of sentences.
I am either waiting to a few days before deadline for posting entries and praying for Royal Mail to deliver on time or waiting until the last second to press the 'submit' button.

Anyway, back to reviewing, emailing and writing more of my novel.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Book Review: Finches of Mars

Finches of Mars
By Brian Aldiss
Published by The Friday Project
Hardback/ebook (paperback forthcoming)

I wasn't aware of Brian Aldiss until The Friday Project started to publish his extensive back list of novels and stories. I thought I might as well start at the end! The Finches of Mars is apparently going to be Aldiss's last science fiction novel. I hope to be still writing at 88!

The Finches of Mars is a thoughtful science fiction novel and it starts off with a great premise. A few select humans are able to escape the confides of Earth as it slowly destroys itself with war, by being sent to Mars to build a colony. Their mission is to set up an utopia on the barren, dusty planet, consisting of six towers, each representing the major powers. The colonists must promise to abandon religion, take new names and no pets are allowed! The ensemble of characters in this novel must create themselves new identities and lives. Through out the novel, each character must contemplate their self-imposed exile and what it means to be human. At the beginning of the novel this trip to Mars is seen as a great opportunity but as the novel develops the characters start to see this as isolation and exile.

Aldiss tackles many ideas and themes through out the novel - evolution, philosophy, religion, time, psychological effects on humans, the world of business and academia and science. Some of the ideas could have been separate novels and some of the ideas are not resolved but left for the reader to draw their own conclusions. Sometimes the philosophical ideas start to meander and take over the novel, pushing the plot into the background.

There is a lot of cynicism through out the novel - humans are doomed on earth. They are also doomed on Mars too. Fertility is a major problem for the settlers. Babies are either stillborn or die shortly after birth. The colonists release that they can not fix this problem - they must wait for evolution to create a 'fix'. Aldiss explores the evolutionary debate through out the novel and how humans are at the hands of evolution. But don't worry, there is hope at the end of the novel. The plot starts to drift away at the end but overall this is a solid book with giant ideas.

I am looking to exploring the rest of Brian Aldiss's backlist.

You can buy Finches of Mars from your preferred online or offline bookshop. 

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy from The Friday Project. Thank you!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

I'm Back And I Need Book Recommendations

I'm back from holiday, sadly. I had to be dragged away from these lovely scenes. Things have been stressful over the past months but being near the sea and walking along clifftops seem to have magical powers. Instant relaxation!

I even feel motivated to start working on my novel, again. I have been struggling with one of the chapters since June but once we were back from holiday I was able to finish it. The next chapter is now being a pain! I am trying to find ways to write more. If you have the answer, let me know!

While I was away I did spent most of my Waterstones voucher (this was the prize for this competition). The books standing up are books for my family and the rest are for me! This reading pile is going to keep me busy for a while. But don't worry I did read some review books on holiday and those reviews will be appearing over the next few weeks.

I have some money left over. Do you have any book recommendations? 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Book Review: Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
Published by Atlantic Books
ebook / paperback 

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a dangerous book. A very dangerous book indeed.

The reason why this book is dangerous because it makes me want to quit my job and go back to bookselling. But not any old bookshop but Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

The other reason - the bookshop has a ladder to the to shelves. I now want a ladder for my bookshelves...

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a charming story that combines the dust world of bookselling with cutting edge technology to tell a story of intrigue, mystery and code breaking.

Mr Penumbra runs a secondhand bookshop in a seedy part of town. His clients are only interested in the books which are full of code, are available for 'loan' and are tucked away in the back. The bookshop and its unusual clientele are doing fine until Clay Jannon, a redundant web designer gets a job working the night shift. Clay starts to wonder what the code means and find out more about Mr Penumbra. Along with his girlfriend, who works for Goggle, Clay sets out to break the code and work out what sort of secret society Mr Penumbra has become entangled with. There are twists, turns and cliff hangers ready to pounce out and pull you into the story.

Sloan is a writer that loves books in a big way and it shines through. Books can lead you to new worlds and in Clay's story he becomes involved with a secret society who are obsessed typography.

Tech geeks, book lovers, people who love Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere will love this book. This is an enjoyable and engrossing book. Go read it!

You can buy Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore from your favourite online or offline bookseller. 

Thank you to Atlantic Books for sending me a copy. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Writing competitions and opportunities

Writing competitions and opportunities are like buses - no deadlines for ages and then all of a sudden there are several that you want to enter. Here are a few great ones coming up over the next few months:

Summer competition with Authonomy
Authonomy, the writing community run by Harpercollins are offering the chance to for one lucky author to win a set of prizes to help them self-publish their book with a bit razzle and dazzle! You can win an editorial review, a professional book cover, a book trailer and an ePressKit. All you have to do is post the opening lines of your book on this blog post. You can also find out more details on the Authonomy website.

Mslexia Novel Competition
Win £5000 with Mslexia. If you're a woman and have a novel waiting in the wings then send it off to Mslexia. 

The Bath Novel Award
This competition for novels offers a cash prize and a top notch literary agent as the shortlist judge. There is still six months left to enter this competition

I would love to enter all of these competitions but I am a member of the slow novel writing club - I only have 22k of words. The another novel buried on my hard drive isn't coming out for these competitions. 

Maybe it's time to pull my finger out and set one of these as my target for finishing my book... 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Book Review: Black Bread White Beer

Black Bread White Beer
By Niven Govinden
Published by The Friday Project
Available as paperback and ebook

Even though Black Bread White Bread is a compact novel and covers a short time span it still packs the punches.

This book, short enough to be gobbled up in one reading session,  looks at the immediate fallout after a miscarriage and digs into the inner lives of a modern marriage, peeling away the veneer, watching the wobbles of marriage still in its early stages.

Amal and Claud have spent months preparing themselves for the pregnancy - going on diets, having a strict fitness and eating regime. They have even bought the family home. Their wish for a baby finally comes too but is shattered soon after their announcement. Through the eyes of Amal, the reader watches as their grief isolates the couple from each other and brings their marriage to the brink.

The reader follows them over 24 hours, as they head straight from the hospital, still numb with the news, to her parents house. On the way Claud decides that they will pretend that they are still having a baby. Govinden successfully captures the numbness, resentment and the slow realization of reality between the couple. At times the novel is raw. Amal is confused and hurt by his wife's coldness and distance. In a world where communication is everywhere this couple are unable to connect with each other. At the start this is physical isolation - Claud is in hospital and Amal has been sent home by the doctors but as the novel progresses the isolation becomes emotional and self inflicted.

The importance of family expectations and its guilt plays a big part in Black Bread White Beer as well as culture clashes. Amal comes from an Indian family who live in the North of England while Claud's family live in a chocolate-box type of village. All the villagers know Claud's and Amal's news. There is no escape. Her parents have even splashed out on expensive invites for a baby shower. Using humour to break up the tension and the reader's fear of an ugly ending for our couple, Govinden explores the conflict of generations between Amal and Claud against her parents with their out dated mannerisms and ideas.

There are not many characters in this novel - which is a good thing as the novel is short - I think this would make it a good candidate for transforming into a play.

Black Bread White Beer is an engaging read. Don't be fooled by its shortness - there is lots packed into those pages! I shall definitely be on the look out for Govinden's other books.

You can buy Black Bread White Beer from your favourite online or offline book retailer. 

The Friday Project kindly sent me a copy. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Swimming In Book Vouchers

I have some good news!

Last month Waterstones (UK bookseller) ran a competition alongside their 'The Book That Made Me' promotion. They asked bloggers to talk about the book that made them. I picked Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes.

My little blog post only went and won it! Here's the announcement > Click Me

The prize is a big tasty book voucher so I'm looking forward to spending it and trying to find homes for all of the new books! I already have a little list but I'm open to suggestions. So, if you have read a great book recently then please let me know!

I will be back soon with a book review or two. I am currently struggling to get back into write as I have not written any 'creative' words for over three weeks. Chapter ten is being a complete bitch - it won't play nicely. I might need to scrap the idea for chapter ten.

I am definitely a member of the slow-writers club. How do people bash out a novel in six months? How do you do keep going with the writing when you've had a long break? Or more importantly, find time to write when you have a full time job? Answers on a postcard.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Book Review: Driving Jarvis Ham

Driving Jarvis Ham
By Jim Bob
Published by The Friday Project
Paperback / ebook

Jim Bob's Driving Jarvis Ham is a dark comic novel about fame, loyalty and friendship.

We all know someone who needs to be famous but unfortunately doesn't have the talent. The belief is so strong that they actually start thinking they ARE famous and they start to behave as if they are an A-list celebrity. The main character, Jarvis Ham is a big fish in a small pond. He is obsessed with Princess Diana, slightly creepy, an alcoholic and desperate to be famous. He wants to escape his job of working in his parent's tea room in Devon and wants to do anything to be famous.

Driving Jarvis Ham is part Adrian Mole, part This Is Your Life as we watch Jarvis audition for boy bands, pantomimes and adverts through his diaries. He goes from one disaster to the next with the belief that her deserves to be famous and totally unaware of the people around him. Each audition ends in disappointment yet his ego balloons and pushes his relationships with the narrator and the people around him to the limit. He is a leech, sucking his friends and family for all he can get.

The narrator, Jarvis's best friend from childhood, has stolen Jarvis's diaries and is reading back over them, adding his version of events. Their relationship is one of loyalty from childhood and as this book progresses the friendship is tested until the narrator can not take anymore of Jarvis's antics. At times the narrator is left questioning the friendship and wondering if he would be friends if they had met as adults rather than children.

This book will make you laugh out loud and make you cringe on the next page. This book is a great summer read - easy to get into the story, full of characters who you can easily relate to and there's a twist at the end too.

Jarvis Ham is available from your favourite online or offline book retailer.

Thanks to the Publisher for sending me a copy. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Book That Made Me

Waterstones have recently started a campaign called ‘The Book That Made Me’ to find out what books made the deepest impression. It got me thinking - What book has been a game changer in my life?

Definitely The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I talked about my love of Plath over here.
Even House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski was an eye opener especially on my writing as it made me realise that stories didn't have to be linear.

But there is a book that came before way before those two great books.

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes is the book that has had the most impact on my life. Dahl rewrote six fairy tales by twisting and turning the plots. These were not the fluffy, Disney version. These fairy tales included a wolf eating a granny, guns and gambling jockeys. Quentin Blake created fantastic illustrations to go along with the words.

Revolting Rhymes helped me fall in love with reading and words. 

Before Revolting Rhymes, I was on a strict diet of Biff, Chip and Kipper books. They were boring and dry but they did the job of learning to read. (A few years later the Fuzz Buzz books were introduced, which my sister learnt to read with and they were a bit more fun).

The rhymes galloped along the tongue and made you snort with laugher. I came to realise three things:

Reading can be fun!
Reading was funny!
Reading was addictive!

Books didn’t have to be serious. They could be enjoyable too.

My favourite rhyme was Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf. The wolf eats Riding Hood’s grandmother and plans on eating the little girl as well. But Riding Hood is not going to let that happens and shots him with her gun – Bang, Bang, Bang. Riding Hood has a new wolf skin coat. Dahl had created a strong female character who had taken on the baddies and won. Little Red Riding Hood also has the best line in Literature:

She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

It was such a fantastic line and at the time I thought it was very saucy – she actually keeps a gun in her knickers – wow, that’s brilliant!

Roald Dahl was my favourite childhood author – Matilda, The BFG and Charlie’s Chocolate Factory were also my favourites alongside Revolting Rhymes. I read the books I was prescribed by the school but I branched out and read books from the library and books I got for my birthday. I gobbled them all up.
I was glad that I found reading enjoyable and I had branched out from the school’s curriculum.

There was an incident in year 4 (8-9 years) which could have had the potential to knock my reading confidence and put me off reading. My teacher had decided that she would split the class into four groups depending on reading ability. We would be given a book suited to our reading ability and we would take turns in reading out loud to the group. I was put into the second from bottom group. I questioned this and I was told to be quiet. We were given a book about an otter – a snooze inducing book. I was curious to see what books the two higher groups were reading so I peered over to their groups, expecting to see them tackling something huge and demanding. I can’t remember the exact titles but I knew that I read both of them and independently without needing help. I said this to my teacher but she didn’t listen. She said I was a liar. I was very upset and angry and sulked for the rest of the day. I knew that I had read the books. I could have proved it with my library records. In the end my mum went up to the school and had ‘words.’

I became more of a determined reader.

What book has been the biggest influence on you?