Month: November 2016

‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’ by Rumer Godden #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

five-for-sorrow

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

The Sisters of Béthanie, a French order of Dominican nuns, dedicate themselves to caring for the outcasts of society – criminals, prostitutes and drug addicts. Lise, an English girl who after the liberation of Paris was employed in one of the city’s smartest brothels and rose to become a successful madame, finds herself joining the Sisters. Master storyteller Rumer Godden weaves a deeply moving tale of Lise’s prison sentence, her conversion and the agonising work among women whose traumatic experiences often outstrip even her own.

I’ve always loved Virago – when I was younger and discovering lots of women writers, the Virago stand in my local bookshop was the go-to place for me on a Saturday morning (what a nerd I was), but I have never read anything by Rumer Godden. So when this was recommended to me, I was very curious. I have to admit though, that the subject matter really didn’t appeal. I’m an atheist and I have little time at all for religion. I’d far rather sit down and read some Christopher Hitchens than a book about nuns, but I decided to give this one a try.

I’m very glad I did, although I did have some difficulty with the subject matter. Lise is a Sister of Bethanie, dedicated to caring for the outcasts, for prisoners, drug addicts, prostitutes, the lowest of the low. Through extremely clever structuring, we move back and forth through her life and learn how she became a nun, her past as a prostitute,  and why that happened to her.

We also learn a great deal about the life of a nun, of the daily, weekly and monthly routines. This was very interesting and insightful and not at all dull to read, because Godden’s prose is absolutely stunning. And this is why I can set aside any misgivings about the subject matter – the book is a joy to read because of the sheer beauty of the writing. I felt as though I truly knew Lise. The portrayals of other characters, particularly Vivi, are striking and compelling to read. There is no judgement here, and no judgement from the nuns either and this felt more like a book about people, than about religion.

This is one of those books that you can’t wait to get back to. I’ll definitely be reading more by this author.

5 stars

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Review Wednesday -Blackwater by Alison Williams

Lovely review of ‘Blackwater’ from @WendyUnsworth

Wendy Unsworth

img_1898I hadn’t realised this book was a prequel when I began to read it but, no matter, it is a very interesting introduction to the characters of the novel, The Black Hours and now I am glad I have read it first.

Maggie and her daughter, Lizzie live in England back in the time when superstition and belief in witches was rife. ‘Healers’ or ‘cunning women’ were  relied on in their villages for herbal cures and for assistance in the very dangerous process of childbirth, but at the same time they were looked upon with suspicion. If some illness misfortune occurs amongst the people of the community it is all too easy to point a finger at these most vulnerable of citizens.

The story opens with three women about to pay the ultimate price for their perceived wrongdoing. Maggie, accompanied by a reluctant Lizzie, go along to attend the hanging…

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The Joy of Taking it Slow! Or why I’ll never do NaNoWriMo #AmWriting #WWWBlogs

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Every November, Twitter, Facebook and blogs are full of tales from the front line of NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month. The aim is to write 50,000 words during November and it does seem to galvanize writers everywhere into action.

But while I agree that it is good to sometimes have deadlines and targets, the thought of NaNoWriMo makes me shudder. Can it be good to put so much pressure on yourself?

Writers are terribly insecure beings on the whole. And we’re also our own worst critics. We set ourselves up, a lot of the time, for failure by putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves when we don’t really need to. And I can’t help feeling that for me, and possibly for a lot of other writers, NaNoWriMo could pile on that pressure and add to writers’ guilt.

You know what that is – berating yourself because you haven’t met an artificially imposed target; stressing out because you didn’t manage to write enough this week, or today, or in the last half hour; feeling terrible because you spent half an hour reading the comments on a Guardian article instead of writing (I just can’t help torturing myself at the moment). We all do it. We all think everyone else is writing for three hours before breakfast and then doing a full day’s work (I’m talking here about those of us who have other paid work in addition to our writing). We all secretly suspect that everyone else is up until the small hours, pounding away at the laptop while we, lazy losers that we are, are terrible enough to sleep.

We’ve all read those articles in the back pages of writing magazines – ‘My Writing Day’ or ‘My Bloody Perfect Life’. You know the ones. ‘I get up at seven and drink lemon juice and water. Then I write for three hours solid before taking the dogs for a long, refreshing walk in the acres of woodland just outside my cottage, before coming home to a healthy salad for lunch and an afternoon of editing.’

I don’t know about you, but my reality consists of squeezing in some writing amongst the paid work, and sorting out the kids and the dogs and the house and the cooking and the shopping and the hundred other things that have to take priority. Sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to write. That often makes me feel really bad. I don’t need NaNoWriMo to make me feel worse.

And you know, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time over your writing. Sometimes the reasons we don’t write are genuine reasons and not excuses. If you have family or a mortgage to pay or an elderly relative dependant on you, or the washing machine packs up, or the dog needs taking to the vet, then writing, rightly, takes a back seat. And you shouldn’t beat yourself up about that.

And there’s also more to writing than the actual writing. Sometimes you need time to think about your work. This can be just as important as getting the words down themselves. Sometimes you need some time away to sort out your ideas or to work through a tricky plot point. Deadlines that really don’t matter aren’t going to help with that.

I’ve worked as an editor with a lot of authors who get themselves in a pickle because they have become obsessed with a self-imposed deadline that they just have to meet. Their work suffers. I know the idea of NaNoWriMo is to get your writing going, and I know that for some writers it might well help. But, knowing as many writers as I do, and knowing how they punish themselves when they miss deadlines or aren’t as productive as they feel they should be, then I personally think that NaNoWriMo isn’t helpful.

Modern life is horribly stressful. It’s busy and demanding. Shouldn’t your writing be the opposite of that? When I have a whole afternoon free to write, with no pressure, no stress, no word count in mind, it feels wonderful. I don’t want to turn that into a chore, another task to tick off a list. And I don’t want to feel like a failure if I don’t write enough. So if it works for you, then go for it. But I won’t be joining in.

 

Christmas Gifts for the Person who has Everything   

Some lovely ideas here for special Christmas gifts

Heritage Calling

We’ve got Christmas covered this year with a selection of gift ideas to help you surprise someone special and support the work of heritage organisations.

1. Pick a place they love

151148_038-range-of-products-1 Mugs and Jigsaws from the Historic England Gift Shop

Create a unique, personal gift and support our work. Our dedicated online gift shop has a huge range of beautiful images – from striking landscapes and historical architecture, to animals in the wild, trains, planes and automobiles; sports stadiums and famous works of art. There’s something for every interest, with speedy delivery available in the UK, Europe, USA and Australia.

2. A heritage gift that will last all year

eh-castles English Heritage Castles Calendar 2017

Our friends over at English Heritage have a great range of calendars, featuring beautiful imagery and space in each month to record important dates and events. There’s a whole range of calendars to choose from, and you’ll be…

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The #RBRT 2016 Book Award Nominations Are Now Open For Voting #MondayBlogs

It’s time for the #RBRT Awards. Find out how to cast your votes here.

Rosie Amber

2016-book-awards

To Vote go direct to this link http://wp.me/P2Eu3u-9xb

The books ~ how they were chosen
The books are taken only from those that have been submitted to the Rosie Amber book reviewing team #RBRT for reviewing, so it is not a far reaching selection, though we still had a few hundred to choose from.  I divided all the books that have been submitted up to the cut off point in 2016 into four general categories, and the review team members (around 30 members) each nominated up to three out of each category.  There are six in each category ~ these are the books that you, the reading public, may vote for

Please only vote for a book that you believe deserves an award.  We value everyone’s contribution and you are not required to vote in each category; it may be that you will vote for just one book if there is only…

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‘Fallow’ by Daniel Shand #fridayreads #BookReview @danshand @SandstonePress

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Daniel Shand’s debut novel ‘Fallow’.

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***Now only 99p!***

At the heart of this tense and at times times darkly comic novel is the relationship between two brothers bound by a terrible crime. Paul and Mikey are on the run, apparently from the press surrounding their house after Mikey’s release from prison. His crime child murder, committed when he was a boy. As they travel, they move from one disturbing scenario to the next, eventually involving themselves with a bizarre religious cult. The power between the brothers begins to shift, and we realise there is more to their history than Paul has allowed us to know.

Dark, disturbing but difficult to put down, Fallow tells the story of Paul and Mikey, two brothers who are on the run from someone or something.

We first meet them both camping out in woods. As the narrative unfolds, we follow them as they travel around Scotland, from one disturbing incident to another, working on an archaeology site, travelling with a tramp in a camper van, visiting the island of Arran with two American tourists and finally ending up staying on a campsite with a strange mix of activists and a religious cult.

Throughout their journey, we learn more about their past, and discover that Mikey has just been released from prison after being convicted of the murder of a child. Paul was with him that day, and the past is revealed from his point of view. In fact, everything that has happened in the past and everything that happens on their journey together is only shown from Paul’s perspective so we only see the truth when Paul allows us to; everything we know is distorted and manipulated by Paul, to fit his idea of the world. Paul’s influence on Mikey also raises questions about their relationship – is Paul really protecting Mikey from the press who are harassing him, or is there more to it?

With such dark subject matter, and with some very disturbing moments, it would have been easy for the author to rely on shocking the reader with graphic detail, but there is a good, strong story here and the things that happen have a horrible inevitability to them; that is the reality of what would happen if these two brothers were actually in the situations depicted.

Characterisation is excellent – Paul’s true nature is revealed slowly and carefully, and the reader feels manipulated too. The relationship between the brothers is skilfully drawn and believable and the little details added about the trials of their everyday existence add an authenticity to the narrative.

Clever and compelling, there are shades of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory here, but Shand restrains himself somewhat, avoiding some of the more gratuitous detail of Banks’ novel. There is also more motivation here – unsettling as it is, there is a warped reasoning behind what happens.

A gripping read, and recommended.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy.

5 stars

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‘The Devil You Know’ by Terry Tyler @TerryTyler4 #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com

* * * * * ‘The Devil You Know’ is on offer until 21st November – it’s just 99p/99c. Even more of an incentive to get yourself a copy! * * * * * 

Every serial killer is someone’s friend, spouse, lover or child….
Young women are being murdered in the Lincolnshire town of Lyndford, where five people fear someone close to them might be the monster the police are searching for.
One of them is right.
Juliet sees an expert’s profile of the average serial killer and realises that her abusive husband, Paul, ticks all the boxes.
Maisie thinks her mum’s new boyfriend seems too good to be true. Is she the only person who can see through Gary’s friendly, sensitive façade?
Tamsin is besotted with her office crush, Jake. Then love turns to suspicion…
Steve is used to his childhood friend, Dan, being a loud mouthed Lothario with little respect for the truth. But is a new influence in his life leading him down a more sinister path?
Dorothy’s beloved son, Orlando, is keeping a secret from her—a chilling discovery forces her to confront her worst fears.
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is a character-driven psychological drama that will keep you guessing until the very end.

One of the intriguing things about serial killers is that they all have families somewhere, or at least friends, acquaintances or colleagues who know them. And it’s natural to wonder why these people didn’t notice something, and didn’t say anything.

This novel explores that idea in a storyline that keeps you guessing until the very end. Told from the point of view of five different people, all of whom have suspicions about someone they know, or even love, it makes you realise that things aren’t always that simple and that our prejudices, our emotions and even our selfishness can get in the way, and prevent a murderer from being stopped.

This novel is so much more than a whodunit. Character-driven and page-turning, it pulls you along. Believable situations, circumstances and settings add a reality that makes you realise this could happen to anyone, and makes you wonder what you would do in the same position.

Each of the five main characters is skilfully drawn and three—dimensional – the author avoids clichés and stereotypes that would be so easy to fall into.  Motives and emotions are easy to understand and to empathise with. There are reasons for everything the characters do. Nothing happens just for the sake of the plot – the characters motivations and influences, their circumstances and actions, drive the narrative along.

Technically excellent, beautifully written, entertaining and enjoyable (if a little unsettling!) to read, Terry Tyler has ticked all the boxes with this one. Definitely recommended.

5 stars

 

Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT THE FAMILY LINE by Laura Wilkinson @ScorpioScribble

My review of Laura Wilkinson’s ‘The Family Line’ for #RBRT

Rosie Amber

Today’s Team Review is from Alison, she blogs at https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading The Family Line by Laura Wilkinson

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‘The Family Line’ by Laura Wilkinson #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Megan is a former foreign correspondent whose life is thrown into turmoil when her son is diagnosed with a terminal illness: a degenerative disease passed down the mother’s line. In order to save him, Megan will have to unearth the truth about her origins and about a catastrophic event from the past. She must confront the strained relationship she has with her mother, make sense of the family history that has been hidden from her all her life, and embark on a journey of self-discovery that stretches halfway around the world. Set in a much-changed Britain in the mid-twenty-first century, The Family Line is the debut novel from acclaimed writer Laura Wilkinson, now revised and proudly reissued by Accent Press.

This…

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‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark #DBowieBooks #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ as part of the David Bowie reading challenge that I first heard of on Jade Scatterbooker’s blog.

brodie

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Muriel Spark’s most significant and celebrated novel, and remains as dazzling as when it was first published in 1961.

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher unlike any other, proud and cultured, enigmatic and freethinking; a romantic, with progressive, sometimes shocking ideas and aspirations for the girls in her charge. At the Marcia Blaine Academy she takes a select group of girls under her wing. Spellbound by Miss Brodie’s unconventional teaching, these devoted pupils form the Brodie set. But as the girls enter their teenage years and they become increasingly drawn in by Miss Brodie’s personal life, her ambitions for them take a startling and dark turn with devastating consequences.

This book has been on my radar for years, but for some reason I’ve never got round to it or seen the iconic film version. I have read Spark’s ‘The Driver’s Seat’ which was brilliant and strange and shocking, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this.

It’s also brilliant and strange and shocking. Spark is a writer who refuses to be bound by convention. She writes in the way she wants to write and this book is wonderful because of that. Miss Jean Brodie is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read about, and the way she speaks and behaves are skilfully portrayed. The narrative moves back and forth, showing the teacher and her girls at various stages from when they are ten right through to when they are adults.

The way Brodie manipulates and influences the girls is shocking at times, as is the behaviour of the girls themselves (and some of the other teachers). And the casual cruelties, particularly directed at poor, unfortunate Mary, reveal so much about human relationships. The interactions between the characters also reveal a lot about the conventions and social issues of the time, in the years leading up to the Second World War.

The book is short but it packs so much in. The economy of the writing shows real skill. Spark manages to say a great deal in a few words – a lesson that many writers could do with learning. Her use of language is the epitome of every word having meaning. There are no whimsical meanderings here.

Intelligent, dark, subtle and skillful – genuinely a classic.

5 stars

 

Improving the reputation of indies #wwwblogs #self-publishing #indieauthors

enoch press self-publishing about us page

I was rather overwhelmed by the reaction to last week’s post regarding self-publishing and the snobbery that some have towards it. You can read the post here. The many comments made showed that, despite many stories of self-publishing success, some writers are still treated as if what they do isn’t ‘proper’ writing. Self-publishing obviously hasn’t shrugged off its reputation for poor writing and editing. Which is a shame, because there are some fabulous self-published books out there.

However, while I support self-published authors and do encourage readers everywhere not to have pre-conceived ideas, I will concede that there are self-published books out there that aren’t up to standard – as well as poorly written and poorly edited traditional and independently published books. The difference seems to be that if you are published by a publisher, however great or however bad, there is still kudos attached to that, whereas indie writers still have to fight for respect.

So what can indie writers do to improve the reputation of independent publishing?

Master your craft

Yes, you need an imagination. Yes, you need to have stories to tell. But you need to learn how to convey those stories to your audience. How can you do this?

  • Read – and read lots and lots and lots. Reading other people’s writing is a key way to improve your own writing.
  • Get advice – you need to be brave and show your work to other people. And not just friends and family. You need people who will be honest with you. Look on sites such as Goodreads for beta readers or join a writing group.
  • Redraft, redraft, redraft – your first draft won’t be good enough, however good a writer you are. Don’t just write a book and then upload it onto Amazon. That’s the sort of writing that gives indies a bad name. Write that first draft, put it away for a little while and then go back with fresh eyes. Then do it again. And again. Writing is a slow process. It is a craft.

Get the professionals in

OK, I’m an editor. So of course I’m going to tell you to hire an editor. But this honestly isn’t a sales pitch. You need someone who knows what they’re doing to look at your work. A good editor shouldn’t be afraid to be honest with you. They won’t be wearing rose-tinted glasses. They should tell you how to improve your work. And it’s no good trusting this job to your wife who likes reading, or your neighbour who did an English degree twenty years ago.

Once the editing is done, get a proofreader. And again, not your wife or colleague or neighbour.

Consider paying for a decent cover design. It is possible to do this yourself, and some readers will overlook amateur-looking covers, but I think a good, professional cover is crucial. Shop around, get lots of quotes and make sure you’re happy with what you get.

Be professional

If you’re taking your writing seriously, then you need to behave seriously and professionally. Don’t put down other writers. Be supportive and helpful and you’ll get support and help back in spades. Don’t get involved in bitchy arguments online. Don’t become part of cliques. Behave as you would in any other career.

Self-publishing doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. If you’re a reader who doesn’t think that indie writers are ‘proper’ writers, then I urge you to take a look at some of the reviews posted through Rosie’s Book Review Team – look out on Twitter for #RBRT. Many of these books are self-published and they are definitely worth reading. And if you are a writer, then treat your own writing with respect. Put out your best work, and only your best work, and help to give indie authors the kudos they deserve.

self-publishing

The Writers’ Workshop