Friday, 29 January 2016

Anna Smaill's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Anna Smaill stops by at Writer's Little Helper on her blog tour, celebrating the paperback publication of The Chimes, a dystopian novel set in London where memories are banned.


Hi Anna, congratulations on the publication of your novel, The Chimes! Thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? 

Since I imagine the bookshop to be run by a woman and her large brood of variously rebellious offspring, I’d probably go with the predictable but classic ‘X___ & Daughters’ formula. I’m not sure what the family name is, but no doubt something suitably bookish and antiquarian.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?

For purely selfish reasons, it would be located within walking distance of my home. There’s a wonderful spot at the end of my road in Wellington, where an old wide-windowed villa sits on the corner and looks out over the rather austere and wind-battered Rimutaka ranges. It’s the perfect place for a cafĂ©, an even better one for a bookshop.

Would your bookshop have any special features? 

There would be a small tea room within, with excellent tea and cake. It’s easy to find a good coffee in this country, but I think we need to focus on our tea game.

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

Hmm, well it would probably have the best view in the world, and definitely the best tea.

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

I’d keep them all. One of the nicest things about the best bookshops is the carefully haphazard way that books of different genres and habits can rub shoulders. It’s what allows you to stumble across that fascinating biography of the Mitfords when really you needed to buy a recipe book for your sister-in-law.

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

There would be the usual assorted tables of the prettiest and most talked-about books, as well as a rotating showcase of staff favourites – the current darlings of all those opinionated daughters. I think there would probably be a permanent display of poetry. They’re so awfully slim, those volumes, and tend to languish in spine-out display. They need all the help they can get, and we all need more poetry in our lives.

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?
It’s going to be Elena Ferrante, okay? Everyone will be issued with blindfolds, they’ll render up their phones and tablets and recording devices, they’ll sit mute and anonymous and, after a long delay, she’ll come in. The atmosphere will crisp and charge as she enters, which is how we’ll know we’re in the presence of genius. There will be a reading, in Italian, translated by a similarly blindfolded translator. No questions. No comments. Then everybody leaves.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Chimes and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? 
I’d be absolutely hopeless in this situation! I find the two things – ie writing something, and doing my best to sell it to readers – so different and so difficult to reconcile. I think the most honest thing I could say (which I do hope is what will let the book connect with readers) is that I loved writing it. The process was difficult, indeed hugely frustrating often, but all the time I felt propelled by this electric and unreasonable love for the world and its characters. In the end, that rationale is probably not enough to convince a sensible customer, but to me it really felt like the primary qualification for offering it to the world.

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

Chocolate. Always chocolate.


You can find out more about The Chimes and Anna at her website.

You can buy The Chimes from your favourite bookshop.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Leila Segal's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Leila Segal has popped by to be the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series. This month sees the publication of her fantastic short story collection, Breathe. Breathe is a collection of short stories all based around Cuba.


Hi Leila, congratulations on the publication of your short story collection, Breathe and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?

‘Before Night Falls’, after the memoir by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, in which he grasps at every last moment of life.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Riding House Street, in London. This was where Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave, lived and in 1789 published his autobiography The Interesting Narrative, which helped lead to the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

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

It would showcase photography and writing by women on Voice of Freedom, the anti-slavery project I lead: powerful work by women who have escaped slavery in all corners of the world – including China, Ghana, Albania, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

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

Before Night Falls would specialise in short fiction, poetry and photography. There would also be a large section on exploring and teaching creativity.

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

Books with beautiful covers – particularly Latin American and classic designs. Each month we would feature work by emerging writers and artists from a particular region of the world.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Visual art, sculpture and photography exhibitions.

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 would invite Cirilo Villaverde – author of Cecilia Valdes, a 19th Century Cuban novel about the love affair between the son of a white slave trader and a mulatta woman. Villaverde was an anti-slavery campaigner; he saw colonial Cuba and the effects of slavery at first hand. I would interview him about his activism and how he distilled his feelings into the novel.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your short story collection, Breathe and asks you to give them a reason why they should buy it. What would you say?
Because it will take you far away.

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

Cuban tres leches cake and turrones (made from ground almonds and honey)


Leila Segal was born in London, of Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian descent. When she was little, she started to write. In 2000 she visited Cuba – as soon as she arrived she knew that she wanted to stay. She lived first in Havana, then the rural far West. Breathe – Stories from Cuba is her debut collection, written during this time. Find out more at

Twitter: @leilasegal

You can order Breathe from your favourite bookshop.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Book Review: Breathe

By Leila Segal
Published by Flipped Eye
Available in paperback

Leila Segal's collection of stories, Breathe, explores the culture of Cuba ranging from stories about outsiders who want the full 'experience' beyond the usual tourist traps like the protagonist in Sabbatical who lives in the house of a local while on holiday to stories of locals who want to escape like Pavel in Leaving Cuba.

There are a wide range of characters in these stories - There is a business man from Italy looking for a lover in his hotel, a student living in a home of a local woman and a man looking to leave Cuba and travel to his girlfriend in France. Everyone wants to escape - either out of the country or escape into the heat and passion of the country.

Relationships between friends, family, neighbours, and lovers are on the brink in Breathe. Assumptions based on cliched ideas about each other's beliefs and cultures are causing trouble.Yet the sense of community and belonging run strong through these stories.

Segal successfully creates a juxtaposition of the affluent tourists in their high-end hotels against the hardships of life for Cubans. Tucked away, hidden from tourists are the prefabs and poverty yet people are still friendly. Segal makes sure that this other side of Cuba is exposed to the reader. The protagonist in Taxi is a doctor who makes more money being a taxi driver, and must decide if he should save the life of a tourist and risk his livelihood as locals and tourists are not allowed to mix.

Breathe is quite short in length so you'll only need a few reading sessions or an afternoon to polish this off but these stories will stay with you days after finishing them.

You can buy Breathe from your favourite bookshop.

Leila will be stopping by on her blog tour and taking part of the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A on Monday.

I was kindly sent a copy by Midas PR.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

I've Come So Far...

... with redrafting (I originally typed 'refarting') the novel from being a complete wreck to now only being a half wreck.

I'm just over half way through redrafting and each chapter is either shrinking or growing depending on its original state. Most of the novel was written during Novel Writing Month back in 2013 so the basic details are there but mostly the red pen has been out cutting away those extra words I used to boost the word count.

I thought I would print out the rest of the chapters which need my attention.

I know what you're thinking - that doesn't look like a big pile of papers - what is she moaning about?! Well folks, it is all in single spaced layout. There are 18 chapters left to whip into I'm going to be busy for a while. I'm not one of those people who gives up on projects so it will get done and I'm hoping that this will be the year especially as this time last year I was thinking of packing away all of my writing stuff and hiding it in the attic.

As well as working on the last half of the novel I am also reworking the first three chapters and also I'm doing something I really dread...writing a synopsis...uh...I hate writing them. I would rather do anything else to avoid writing them but I need to suck it up and get it done!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Book Review: American Housewife

American Housewife
By Helen Ellis
Published by Scribner
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Right folks, it is time to stop that old excuse of 'I don't read short stories,' because if you carry on like that then you're going to miss out on fantastic and funny short story collections like American Housewife. Helen Ellis has written a sharp set of twelve stories exploring the underbelly of being a housewife and you're going to laugh your pants off.

We all know the cliched view of a housewife: perfect hair, smiles and manners, making sure the husband can get away with just enough emotional abuse that nobody notices maybe a glass of something before the kids come home from school. Well, Helen Ellis takes this idea and twists these ideas making sure she packs each story with lots of dark wit and humour. Think Desperate Housewives meets Danny Elfman.

Only sinister favours will get you membership of a high-end bookclub or a beauty pageant girl fleeing her demanding family or a novelist who is writing a novel sponsored by Tampax and becomes a prisoner to their demands. The desperation of domestic life and paranoia of perfection brings out anxiety and trust issues in these characters. They must escape form society's clutches of being a cliche but its proving to be very hard.

Each story shows the complex mechanics of female relationships. On the surface it looks great but underneath friends are ready to snap, snarl and manipulate as the pressures of society become too much. These women must decide if they will compromise their lives for the appearance of perfection. If getting to the top means trampling on others then so be it - these are characters with determination.

No matter your martial status you will love and relate to these characters. American Housewife is an addictive read so cancel all of your plans, get comfortable in your favourite reading spot and get sucked into the lives of these women.

American Housewife comes out on the 14th January so pre-order today!

I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Book Review: What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind
By Robin Talley
Published by Mira Ink
Available in paperback and ebook

What We Left Behind, Robin Talley's second novel is a great YA novel looking at the gender and sexuality issues. Not only is it an informative book but it is riveting too.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied at high school. They never fight, they are there for each other when their families are being difficult over their sexuality and they are deeply in love with each other. Nothing can shake their relationship.

But college is just around the corner and this will be the first time in their relationship that they will be separated with Toni heading to Harvard and Gretchen heading to NYU. They make a promise to say together and prove to their friends that a long distance relationship can last the distance.

But being at college is life changing for both Toni and Gretchen and it is not just the pressure of studying and dancing. Toni, who identities as genderqueer, starts to hang out with a group of transgender students and immediately feels at home with people who understand the struggles. Gretchen on the surface is all smiles and happy for Toni but in reality isn't sure what this means for their relationship and what it means for her identity. Their relationship is in the balance. Tissues will be needed once you start to reach the end of the novel - trust me!

This is more than a complex teenage romance. Yes, this book looks at love, relationships, sex and identity as both Toni and Gretchen move into adulthood but What We Left Behind looks at how young people struggle to find a space in a society that likes to put binary labels on people and their gender.

This is a fascinating read on topics which we don't talk about enough. So go out beg, borrow or buy this book because trust me, you won't be able to put it down.

You can buy this book from your favourite bookshop.

Thank you for Midas PR for sending me a copy.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Best Reads for 2015

I have been wanting 2015 to end since February so I'm glad we've officially made it. So yeah, it was my fault that this year went quickly.

So writing wise, I didn't finish redrafting my novel but real life got in the way but this year will be the year I finish redrafting and think about what to do next with my novel. I have an idea for a another new novel so I will researching and maybe even writing so of that but firstly I really need to finish redrafting. Only another twenty chapters to go...

So reading wise, I managed to write reviews for every book I read in 2015 either with a small review in my monthly roundup or with a full review. I'm hoping to keep up this habit in 2016.

Here are my top reads from 2015

The best books of 2015

All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews
A book about suicide and sisters but trust me it isn't as depressing as you think. You can read my mini review here.

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert
If you looking to be more creative in 2016 or even start to explore your creative side then this book is for you. You can read my review here.

Adult Onset - Ann-Marie MacDonald
This tells of an intense week for the narrator, Mary Rose as she looks after her two children while her wife is away with work. The cracks are starting to show as the past start to seep into the present. This is fantastic book and you can read my review here.

Animals - Emma Jane Unsworth
I saw Emma perform at a Faber Social evening in the summer and immediately went to the bookshop at the train station and bought her novel. I love the voice of the characters. You can read my mini review here.

Dept of Speculation - Jenny Offill
It is very rare for me to finish a book in one sitting and then turn back to the first page and started again. This book tells the story of a relationship between a man and woman in fragments - the highs and the lows and the lower lows. I'm planning on re-reading it for the third time very soon as its bloody brilliant. You can read my quick review here.

2016 will definitely be better than 2015.