Monday, 22 February 2016

Book Review: Melissa by Jonathan Taylor

Melissa
By Jonathan Taylor
Published by Salt Publishing
Available in paperback


Moments after the death of a young girl, Melissa, all of her neighbours from a small street in Stoke-on-Trent, experience the same musical hallucination, drawing this fragmented community together for a brief moment in time. A high pitched, almost unbearable sound turns into a sweet, delightful sound that no one can replicate. People come out of their houses, full of joy, embracing each other. In exactly the same moment as a family grieves there are people hugging, and appreciating each other just below the window, on the street.

Based on true events, Jonathan Taylor's latest novel, Melissa, weaves together fiction, fact, newspaper reports and witness statements as the impact of Melissa's death and the hallucination spark tremors through the community. There were moments when I felt like I was reading a documentary - layers of stories are built up to create an amazing novel exploring the psychology behind the power of music, maths and science all wrapped up in the grieving process as relationships form and crumble.

A media frenzy ensues, trampling over Melissa's grieving family. The aftermath of this event is captured by Taylor as the reader sees the characters struggle to deal with the loss of a loved one, deal with the pressure of media and the pressure of expectation from society. Communication and the opposite, silence play a pivotal role in the aftermath.

Melissa's family struggle to deal with the death of their daughter as well as the event which followed her death. Relationships disintegrate but it is not all doom and gloom - there is comedy - dark and witty which runs through this novel.

Not only does this novel explore the death of Melissa but also the death of the spirit of neighbours and communities - people no longer know who is living next door and they treat each other with suspicion. There is also the death of decent media. Taylor looks at the way the media can manipulate stories and people to gain attention grabbing headlines. A single event is turned into a media circus with Melissa's family are denied privacy while rumours rip apart families and communities.

This is an impressive novel, which successfully captures a wide range of themes and ideas. To me, while reading Melissa, I imagined the central story of the hallucination as the trunk of a tree while the aftermath on individual characters were like branches, heading off in different directions but always coming back to the central idea.

One of the reviews from the back cover of the book calls Melissa 'an intricate kaleidoscope of a novel' and I totally agree. This really is a must read, and deserves lots of readers.

You can read more about Jonathan's research into Melissa by following this link.

You can buy a copy from your favourite bookshop.


The author kindly sent me a copy.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

New Published Piece at Murder and Glut

Today my story, A Love Letter to my Slow Cooker has been published at Murder & Glut, a new online magazine publishing some great stories plus they are local, just up the road

You can read my story here by clicking on the name of my story:

A Love Letter to my Slow Cooker

The editors have found a great picture for my story!

This story might be more non-fiction than fiction as I really do love food when it has been slow cooked especially if they involve dumplings.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Rosie Nixon's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Rosie Nixon stops by on her blog tour, promoting her novel, The Stylist, to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A... so over to Rosie who has a great idea to combine fashion and fiction. I'm totally walking around in a ballgown browsing the bookshop if Rosie's shop ever happens!

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Hi Rosie, congratulations on the publication of your novel, The Stylist! 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?
The little shop of haute literature.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Five minutes’ walk from my house. My imaginary house on the coast in Santa Monica, California, that is.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
A rail of beautiful clothes and a changing room.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
You can play dress up as you browse - fashion and fiction go so well together. 

What sections would you have in your bookshop? Are there any traditional sections you’d do away with?
I’d have all sections but tailored to a fashion-conscious clientele – travel, cuisine, interiors, photography – they all lend themselves to a fashion spin.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I’m a sucker for a pretty hardback book jacket and couldn’t be happier with the glam, glittery cover of The Stylist. I would choose my display books by their cover.

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?
Jackie Collins. I was lucky enough to do one of her last ever interviews at her Beverly Hills home last year. She lived up to the hype in every way. I’d love her to give a masterclass in writing a blockbuster.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Stylist and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
It will make you laugh and take you out of the hum-drum of daily life.


What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
My mum’s carrot cake, because it’s the best in the world. And I make a mean banana loaf.

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You can buy The Stylist from your favourite bookshop.


Rosie can be found online here.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Book Review: The Chimes

The Chimes
Anna Smaill
Published by Sceptre
Available in paperback, ebook and audiobook

The Chimes is an ambitious novel encompassing the power of memory, the force of music and the control of ruling bodies in a dystopian future.

In an alternative London, music has replaced the written word, and memories are carried as physical objects and in learned behaviour. Every day people wake up not knowing where they are, the people who live with them, their life before sleeping. People walk around in a confused state unless they can quickly find a purpose. People are lured to their jobs, shops, and homes by lullaby-like songs. the melody holds memories, making the body react.

Simon, a young boy, finds himself in London, in a gang who are all trying to survive along the banks of the Thames, starts to get a feeling that he has something urgent to do, and every morning he wakes up, ready to do the same routine as the day before but the memories of his past start to bleed through. Along with his friend, Lucien, they must find a way of unlocking these memories to save their futures. And maybe dislodge the Order, the governing body who rule over the population. They must find a way out of London and make their way to Oxford.

Smaill's alternative London reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere with the way that familiar landmarks take on new meanings. Like Gaiman, Smaill's world is eerie and atmospheric - you could see the details coming alive and taste some of the unpleasant smells. This book could almost be the love child of Neverwhere and His Dark Materials.

There are lots of musical references throughout the novel, and for me, Google was my friend, helping me to research terms (so as well as reading an interesting, entertaining story I was also educated). Music helps people to remember their way or how to work but Smaill also explores the way the governing body manipulate music so that is is also seen as a way of causing agony and destruction to society.

I will be honest and say that the beginning is confusing. The book is thick with detail and is very poetic and the reader is thrown head first into Smaill's world. This slight confusion to the reader reflects the characters state of mind. Think of Christopher Nolan's Memento crossed with Herman Hesse.

This is an inventive and intense novel. You'll need to be fully concentrating for this novel but you'll be glad you made the effort. I'm looking forward to reading more by Anna Smaill. The Chimes is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

January's Roundup

Hello and goodbye January - that was a quick one. I read five books over the month, ranging from a survivalist novel to some straight-talking non fiction, the glamorous world of the space race and a short story collection. Definitely a wide range of books.

All the bird wanted to do was make a nest but the books got there first

The Chimes - Anna Smaill
This debut novel tells of an alternative London where music has replaced the written word and memories are carried as physical objects. Memories are banned but there's a black market for people to store their lives. This is an inventive, rewarding book. My review will be up in the next few days. Think Christopher Nolan's film Memento crossed with Herman Hesse. Anna Smaill stopped by and took part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A.

Breathe - Leila Segal
This is a great short story collection exploring Cuba from both the insider and outsider perspective. You can read my review here. Leila also popped by and took part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A.

Our Endless Numbered Days - Claire Fuller
Claire tells the story of Peggy who lives in the woods with her father. Apparently the rest of the world no longer exists and they are the last two remaining, having to survive off the land, battling against the elements. This book is bloody fantastic. Definitely my book of the month.

The Astronaut's Wives Club - Lily Koppel
I've had this sitting on my bookshelf for a while but having seen Tim Peake blast off to the Space Station it made me pick up this book. This tells the true story about the wives of the astronauts when the Space Race was competitive and political. Reminded me of Mad Men but with space suits.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do - Sarah Knight
Basically the title sums up this book very nicely. Very straight thinking - it all boils down to having a 'fuck budget' with only things you want to care about go on the list. Turns out I've been using some of the techniques from this book in my life since September. I don't give a fudge about other people's Facebook numbers, don't care about people who are not very nice, don't care about this and that. I really care about real friends, family, work and writing plus a few other things.

And in other news...

This month I have redrafted at least two chapters (in the old days it was one chapter per 2-3 months) and I have also edited the first third of the novel for a competition (good luck little pages). A short story in first draft was written and next month I'll redraft it.

I have been really productive because, drum roll, BIGGER drum roll - I sold my iPad. I know it sounds scary but I have been using less and less. I used to stay in bed, chain-reading the news sites or playing Angry Birds, waiting for the house to wake up so we could start the weekend. I know it is a drastic move - I could have hid the iPad in a drawer or switched off the interwebs but cold turkey is the way to go. I might buy another tablet in the future but not at the moment. Saturday mornings are full of baking cookies which are meant for work but only seem to make it to my tummy, reading, writing, shopping (for food - boo) or cinema.

Plus...

I saw The Big Short at the cinema - if you to know more about the financial crash then you should see this film as it will explain it in funny terms.