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? 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Staying Creative

There are lots of people who want to encourage creativity and those are the people who inspire others. Those are the sorts of people who you want to bottle up and release their wisdom when your ideas and motivation is stuck in the gutter.

But, there are people who don't want other people to be creative, have an imagination. They see it as dangerous, unproductive, time consuming, distracting. These people find it (I'm guessing) frightening, strange, threatening. Thinking outside of the box isn't encouraged much in schools nowadays. We must pass tests and not look at the wider picture. I found doing a creative writing degree meant I had to 'undo' some of my learning to start rethinking and imagining stories.

In Season five of Mad Men (a TV series based in a 1960s advertising agency in New York) one of the employees enjoys writing short stories in his spare time - many are published. One day the boss calls him into the office and tells him to decide - work or writing. Not both. It wasn't fair. Does that sound old fashioned?

This actually happens in real life too. Trust me.

As well as needing a thick skin for rejections you also need a thick skin against these people. The critics and the inner critic are working towards one goal - stop you from writing.

It's easy to listen and give in.
But you shouldn't give up that easy.

Some writers like to have quotes of encouragement stuck in their notebooks, on their desks and saved on their hard drives.

I prefer my beloved Pig-Dog who is getting a bit worn around the edges (he is over 20 years old and has been involved in several house moves). He sits near my desk and reminds me that I should listen to people who tell you that what you're doing is a waste of time or even if I say it to myself.

When I was at school (I must have been either 5 or 6. Definitely not 7 as I was still at my first school, before we moved) we were given some clay and told to create an animal. I pulled, moulded, stretched and kneaded an animal from a lump of clay. Until I came up with this creature. I was really happy with Pig-Dog. 

 "What is this?" The teacher said, turning it around in her hands, lipped curled.
What this teacher serious, I thought.
"It's a Pig-Dog!"
Wasn't it obvious?
"It's not a real animal."
I nodded.
"Don't you want to create a real animal? We may not be able to use this."
"I like Pig-Dog."
The teacher gave me a if-you-insist-look.
She placed it with the other animals.
"See, the others have made proper animals. Not made up ones."
"I don't want to make a real animal."
"It would be better."
I didn't want to spend my breaktime recreating an animal.
"I just remembered - it's more of a pig than a dog."
"That's good." She carved 'pig' into its belly.
It was the only way to shut up the teacher.
She wasn't impressed when I told the rest of the class that it was Pig-Dog.

I am currently stuck with my novel. bloody chapter ten doesn't want to play. But I'm not going to give up that easily! Maybe it's time to put Pig-Dog into the novel.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Guest Post: Kerry Hudson's Imaginary Bookshop

Today is the paperback publication date for Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Last year I reviewed her fabulous book. You can read my review here. Kerry has kindly agreed to take the Imaginary Bookshop challenge and to also let you know about a competition to win a signed copy....


Hi Kerry, congratulations on the paperback publication of your debut novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma 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 in previous Q&As!

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? As a childhood devotee to Dirty Dancing, who spent much of her time in playgrounds 'doing the lift' with pals I don't hesitate for a moment in calling my bookshop 'Hungry Eyes'. 
Where would your imaginary bookshop be located? Just off a beach somewhere. I know sea air is probably awful for books but it's imaginary after all. I'd keep the windows open so you could hear the seagulls and waves. 
Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc. The most iconic bookshops I have ever been in (Shakespeare and Co., Booksworm in Hanoi, City Lights in San Francisco) invite people to sit and enjoy books, to stay to talk about them with passionate staff and encourage writers to make a base there. I'd have sofas and armchairs, with lambswool blankets for when it got a little cooler, lots of little signs asking people to relax, read and stay awhile. We'd have a great coffee machine and a projector to show films in the evenings. 
What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
One word: food. That's right, Hungry Eyes would be thus named because it would also be serving up delicious nosh. I've yet to meet a book lover who isn't passionate about food (I've no idea why this connection exists) and for me, there is something so comforting about filling your belly while you're feeding you mind and heart too. And we'd have a 'suspended' system where better off customers could order an extra coffee or meal on hold for someone who needed one but couldn't afford it. 
What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch? I think the joy of reading is that it is so personal and individual – so I would probably try and keep all the sections as they would normally be. But I'd include a library area where customers could donate books so people who weren't able to afford to buy books would be able to loan them from the shop. And I'd have a 'personal shopper' experience where people come and talk for an hour about their life, what they want, what they struggle with and what brings them joy and then the staff would put together a reading list; I'm a true believer that books can do incredible things for a person if they find their way to the right ones. 
Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I think Foyles do some of the most imaginative display tables around – recently l've seen 'Writer's on Holiday', and the 'Also Rans' (books that almost won awards but didn't). I like the idea of curating display tables: The best council estates in books (The Killing Jar, Barry Town Trilogy, The Death of Bees) books to give teenagers so they make it to adulthood (The Bell Jar, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird) or Food in books (I actually did a list of 10 of these sorts of books here:
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 have Roddy Doyle and the band who tour as The commitments. Roddy, if I may be so informal and in this instance I can because it's my imagination so he'd be my best friend, would run writing workshops and the band would do music workshops over a weekend and at the end there'd be a huge reading/gig/party till the wee hours. 
A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? You might laugh and you might cry. You might end up wanting to pass it onto your sister/mother/daughter. You will definitely never look at an ice-cream float, National Express coach in the same way again. 
What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Probably this ten-tonne double chocolate, strawberry buttercream frosted beast that I baked for Random House staff last year...I didn't know how else thank them than with a cake the size of house covered in swearwords.

Thanks Kerry! 

Kerry is also running a competition: 

'Want to win a signed copy of Tony Hogan? I'm  trying to put together a Tony Hogan soundtrack. Simply submit your song suggestion to me @kerryswindow on Twitter with the hashtag #tonyhogantune by Monday 8th of July. If your song is one of the ten selected for the soundtrack (and you were the first to suggest it!) I'll send you a signed copy of Tony Hogan.' 

You can buy Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma from your favourite online or offline book retailer.

Kerry's next stop on her blog tour is

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Book Review: The Nearest Thing to Crazy

My review of Elizabeth Forbes's The Nearest Thing to Crazy is up on The View From Here website.

You can read it here > The Nearest Thing to Crazy.

Preview: It's brilliant!