Friday, 10 October 2014

Books Are My Bag Launch 2014

Last night, the 2014 Books Are My Bag campaign kicked off with a fantastic launch event at the new flagship Foyles Store, Charing Cross Road. Boasting a stock of over 800,000 books, the iconic building was the perfect location to host this celebration of books and bookshops.

Dame Gail Rebuck, Chair of the Penguin Random House UK board, welcomed the guests, proclaiming the evolution of BAMB from its earnest beginnings as a  ‘campaign’ last year, to a serious and significant ‘movement’, thanks to the support of booksellers, publishers, authors and readers.
Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel author, charmed the crowd with her anecdotal experiences as an author, as she reminded guests of the magic of a bookshop and its important place in a community.

Finally, Tim Walker, president of the Booksellers Association, closed the speeches with a heartfelt thank you to those who have supported the campaign, listing the numerous events going on across the country in support of BAMB this weekend. These include: a stand- up for Bookshops comedy event featuring event featuring Jenny Éclair, Sara Pascoe and Robin Ince at Foyles and 100’s of “meet the author” in-store events at chain and independent bookshops across the country.

Adding to the excitement, on Saturday 11 October, high street bookshops will be throwing Big Bookshop Parties to support the campaign and limited edition tote bags designed by award-winning British artist, Tracey Emin, will also be on sale. The iconic Books Are My Bag orange tote will also be on sale and leading children’s illustrators across the country have teamed up to help publicise this year’s campaign by re-drawing some of the UK’s best-loved children’s characters with the tote.
Pictures courtesy of Books Are My Bag

The launch also saw the release of The Bookshop Book, Jen Campbell’s sequel to Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, which features 50 UK bookshops. She will be attempting an ambitious world-record breaking most-bookshops-in-a-day tour of London on October 11.

My colleague and I are very grateful to the Books Are My Bag team for our invitation to Thursday’s launch and for putting on such a delightful celebration of what should remain at the heart of our publishing industry – books and bookshops.

For more information on events, visit www.booksaremybag.com

Monday, 6 October 2014

Leigh Russell - Race to Death Blog Tour

Today I am very excited to be hosting the first stop on the Leigh Russell Race to Death blog tour.

Leigh Russell is a prolific writer who, best known for her Geraldine Steel series, is a bestselling author in print and eBook format. Race to Death is the second title in Leigh Russell's latest series featuring newly promoted DI Ian Peterson. Rather than writing a review today, I am delighted to be able to share with you a feature post written by Leigh.

Considering that Leigh has been a published author for a number of years, and that I am very new to the publishing world, I wanted to take advantage of Leigh's experience with this feature. I am constantly being told that the industry has been completely overhauled in recent years thanks to the digital revolution. Therefore, for this blog tour stop, I asked Leigh Russell to tell me a bit about how the world of publishing has evolved in her eyes since she began writing. Here's what she had to say:


My own personal writing process has changed almost beyond recognition over the past six years. To begin with I wrote longhand, in pencil. The first draft of Cut Short was written with no plans for the future. I had no idea anyone else would ever read it, let alone publish it. Certainly it certainly never occurred to me that it would become the first in a long running bestselling series, nominated for major awards and reaching number 1 on kindle. At that stage I was writing just for myself. Nine books on, I have abandoned handwriting in favour of typing my manuscripts. It's much faster, which is just as well as I'm now delivering two manuscripts a year to my publisher. The other big change is that I now write for my readers, not for myself.

            The world of publishing has also undergone huge changes, which are ongoing. When my debut, Cut Short, first came out in paperback, in 2009 a fellow author suggested I ask my publisher to bring it out as an ebook as well. At that time, I had heard of ebooks but wasn't quite sure what they were... The ebook duly came out about six months after the paperback and that happened again in 2010 with Road Closed. By the time Dead End was published in 2011, the ebook and print book were published at the same time. Sales of my books are huge on kindle, with all of them reaching the Top 10, and one even hitting the coveted number 1 spot. Sales figures of my print books are not quite so high, and that seems to be a trend throughout the publishing industry. I do wonder where books sales will go next.

            Another change that has come about due to the internet is that it is now possible for readers to contact authors directly. A day never passes now without my receiving an email via my website, or a DM on facebook or twitter, from a fan of Geraldine Steel or Ian Peterson. It's lovely to hear from readers all around the world, and I always respond as promptly as I can. This is a bonus that simply didn't exist for authors just a few years ago.

            My life as an author has changed so much since Cut Short came out in 2009. Who knows what further changes are in store for us?

A very interesting question indeed, one that is both exciting and daunting for someone just starting out in the industry! Although the digital changes in publishing pose lots of challenges to publishers and authors, they also offer a lot of opportunities and you can read something I wrote a while back about the new author-publisher-reader relationship here.

I'm very grateful to Leigh for taking the time to share her experience as an author with me. For more about her books and upcoming events visit
leighrussell.co.uk . For more feature posts like this, visit leighrussell.blogspot.co.uk
To purchase Race To Death click here


The Blog Tour

The next stop on the Race To Death blog tour is Our Book Reviews and you can check out the rest of the blog tour schedule below:
 


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Her by Harriet Lane

Unfortunately the constant rush of the 'real-world' in which I appear to have found myself, has caused me to neglect this blog terribly over the past few weeks. I'm hoping to post a whole host of reviews and features this week to make up for it!

First up is a book that I recently read before attending my very first Elle Book Club event (thanks to my colleague, Frances, for hooking me up with a ticket!)

The book in question was Her by Harriet Lane and the Book Club took place in the very swanky indoor courtyard at The Hoxton, London. I always find it a thrill to listen to authors talk about their work as I find it so fascinating to discover what their intentions were when writing the book and how they hope for readers to respond (and then, more interestingly, whether my response actually matched their hopes!). Having found Her an extremely intriguing read, I enjoyed listening to Lane read three passages from the novel before answering questions about its conception.

First of all, let me tell you a little bit about the book. Her tells a story of two women whose paths cross many years after their first meeting. As mothers and wives, they lead distinctly different adult lives, yet they are somehow connected in a dark and sinister fate. What begins as a very simple and domestic setting is given a cutting, unsettling edge, as one of them - harbouring a deep grudge - attempts to wreak havoc on the life of the other.

The 'thrilling' aspect of this 'psychological thriller' comes from the way in which Lane builds tension through the alternating perspectives of the chapters and the reader's sense of unknown. To tell you a more detailed account of the plot would therefore be to rob you of the experience of reading it!

Listening to Harriet Lane talk about Her, it was clear that her intention was subtlety. In fact, she explained that the book wasn't about creating a complicated, clichéd story, but it was about playing on the ordinary person's worst fears. Lane even explains this within the text of the novel, where a certain passage of the narrative highlights the fact that over-contrived climaxes of stories can't possibly accurately reflect life.

It's in its subtlety, then, that Her succeeds in its ambition; to unease, to unsettle and to intrigue. I finished the novel feeling confused and troubled by the female relationship that had been presented to me, so I think Lane achieved her desired response from me as a reader, and, although it wasn't the most pleasant of reads, I appreciated the courage and honesty of writing something so close to potential reality. Lane explained that she considered it an act of flattery to not tie up the story into one neat, contained ending. For her, it is the reader who should choose what comes next in the book. I suppose to decide that for yourself, you'll have to read it first.



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Last Bus to Coffeeville Virtual Summer Road Trip!

Today I am delighted to host the final stop on the @noexitpress Last Bus to Coffeeville Virtual Summer Road Trip!

Throughout July and August, bloggers from all over Europe have been posting reviews, interviews and #Coffeeville inspired features as they discuss this brilliantly original debut novel by J. Paul Henderson.



The Novel
 


The subtitle of Last Bus to Coffeeville proposes it to be 'a funny story about sad things' - a description that is completely apt. Having grown up watching her grandmother and mother suffer with Alzheimer's, Nancy decides she does not want to face the same fate and calls upon her best friend and college lover, Gene, to help. She makes him promise to put an end to her suffering if and when she begins to lose her memory.  Little does Gene know that after years of living separate adult lives, he will be called upon to uphold his promise. But when Nancy is admitted to the secure unit of a nursing home, Gene's plan to fulfil her wishes by taking her to her favourite place, Coffeeville, is hindered. That's until he enlists the help of his godson Jack, and their old friend, Bob, to break Nancy out.

On a tour bus once stolen from Paul McCartney, Nancy, Gene, Bob, Jack and Eric - a young orphaned boy who the group take under their wing -  embark on an unforgettable journey through the South, from Hershey, Pennsylvania, to Coffeeville, Mississippi.  Cue an extremely funny string of events that unfold in a style that many have likened to Jonas Jonasson's The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

As the roadtrip takes the clan through the heart of the South, Henderson's impeccable research and skill at merging history with fiction stands out. This novel not only addresses the themes of euthanasia, love and friendship, but ingeniously traverses important moments in 20th century American history, from the civil rights movement, through popular culture, to Hershey chocolate. You can see more about the places that the characters visit by clicking on the map below (but you should definitely read the book first!):  



http://www.coffeeville.co/on-the-road/
Click here for the interactive map



What I loved most about Last Bus to Coffeeville, and what I think makes it unique, is the way in which Henderson offers the back stories of all of the characters one by one as they merge and culminate into this one final dysfunctional family of misfits.  Each character is given his/her moment, and thus Henderson chronicles lives that seem far more real and vivid than just pieces of a plot.

I think this attention to detail is what makes it so successful at addressing the serious subject of Alzheimer's, too. Often diseases such as this are difficult to discuss due to their sensitive nature. Art has always been a way to tackle such topics, and J Paul Henderson touches upon this serious subject with a lightness and a respect that is remarkable.
This truly is a charming, uplifting and considered read. One that you will not regret!



The Author


315

J. Paul Henderson was born and grew up in Bradford, West Yorkshire, gained a Master’s degree in American Studies and travelled to Afghanistan. He worked in a foundry, as a bus conductor, trained as an accountant and then, when the opportunity to return to academia arose, left for Mississippi, returning four years later with a doctorate in 20th Century US History and more knowledge of Darlington Hoopes than was arguably necessary. (Hoopes was a Pennsylvanian socialist and the last presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party). American History departments were either closing or contracting, so he opted for a career in academic publishing. He now lives in a house in England, drives a car and owns a television set. And that’s about it.


The Road Trip


Henderson's charm isn't unique to Last Bus to Coffeeville, either. Throughout the #Coffeeville Road Trip, this brilliant author has written features and given interviews with bloggers and, as you can see from the links below, his endearing, witty style simply permeates everything he writes.
                                   

But don't take my word for it, see what Henderson and the other #Coffeeville bloggers have to say by visiting:


1. Laura's Little Book Blog for Paul's perfect holiday
2. Cup of Coffee and a Book for Paul's top 10 favourite books
3. A Spoonful of Happy Endings to learn more about the interactive road trip map
4. Books, Biscuits and Tea for Paul's perfect road trip playlist
5. Writer's Little Helper for Paul's imaginary bookshop
6. Page to Stage Reviews for Paul's ultimate road trip
7. On My Bookshelf for a review and give-away
8. A Book and a Tea for some coffee inspired recipes - yum!
9. She Loves to Read for A Day in the Life of Paul
10. Reviewed The Book for a review
11. Laura's Little Book Blog for another review
12. Writer's Little Helper for, yes you've guess it, a review!



If these snippets of humour and humility haven't enticed you enough, the novel even has its own website over at Coffeeville.co. And when you're ready to jump on board the Last Bus to Coffeeville, you can purchase it here.



Monday, 11 August 2014

Harry's Last Stand - Harry Leslie Smith


‘As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night. I want to tell you what the world looks like through my eyes, so that you can help change it…’ 


As I sat on my sofa, TV on in the background, iPhone carefully poised at my side and opened this book, I wondered whether I was really in the right frame of mind to begin what I anticipated would be a hard-hitting read. It took all of five sentences for me to switch off every noise-emitting device and settle in; this isn't a book that you read with one eye trained on Facebook, this is a book that demands your uninterrupted focus. Harry's Last Stand demands you sit up and pay attention.

As the back cover summarises, Harry Leslie Smith "is not an historian, but at 91, [he] is history". Born into the poverty and deprivation of the post WW1 Great Depression, Smith was only 18 when he joined the RAF and fought for Britain in the Second World War. Without doubt, he has seen more in his lifetime than most of us could even imagine. This book is at once memoir and manifesto, seeking to awaken a generation who, seemingly having forgotten the history behind our current way of life, sit idle as it comes under threat.

As a memoir, Harry's Last Stand has the charming rhetoric of your grandfather telling stories of his life at the kitchen table. Memories, both harrowing and happy, recur as Smith dips in and out of almost ten decades worth of experience. He uses his personal history to explain how he sees the society his generation built at risk of regressing to dark, austere times. An avid reader and established writer, it is unsurprising that Smith's prose flows seamlessly between memory, historical contextualisation, contemporary anecdote and compelling thought.
As a manifesto, Harry's Last Stand is poignant, humbling and challenging. It is so much more sincere, inspiring and provocative than any politician's speech I've heard in recent elections - speeches with which we all seem to be disillusioned. A socialist, Smith voices political concerns about the imminent collapse of the Welfare State - threats to the NHS, inadequate social housing and a benefit system which no longer protects the vulnerable. He voices his anger at the way in which the poor are demonised by politicians and the media, at the perpetuation of the notion that our current socio-economic imbalance is unavoidable, and at the bleak acceptance of this state of affairs that has become imbedded in our subconscious. Smith recounts his memories of communities pulling together and demanding change as he traces Britain’s history, proclaiming his fears of what will become of an increasingly divided, fearful and consumption-driven 21st century society.

Like the majority of voters, Smith is disillusioned with both the Right and the Left, who don't seem to offer a whole lot of difference these days. He is appalled by the unfathomable inequality in our society where "according to Oxfam five families control 20 per cent of this nation's wealth", meanwhile an increasing number of British citizens live in states of unemployment, underemployment, poverty and homelessness. While interspersing his real-life experiences with shocking yet factual statistics, Smith asks us to stop simply accepting this systemic inequality as if it is inevitable. Although there are some points where I might disagree with Smith on an ideological basis, namely his perspective on religion, there is no doubt that his position is steadfast, his arguments valid. As opposed to the wavering, lacklustre politicians of today, this war veteran writes with a resoluteness that inspires response.


But what kind of response? Firstly, read the book. I think it should be compulsory reading for everyone. Put it on the bloomin' school syllabus that has been causing (rightly so) so much uproar of late. Teach young people not only about the bravery that was demonstrated by generations gone by, but about what that bravery accomplished. If nothing else Harry’s Last Stand is a concise and accessible insight to a history that needs to be remembered in order for it not to be repeated. At a time when social media and news channels abound with touching tributes of gratitude to the fallen heroes of World War One, let us not forget that their sacrifice wasn't so that democracy could be taken for granted.
Secondly, therefore: VOTE. As Smith mentions, Russell Brand's style of revolt against the political system by encouraging a boycott of elections achieves nothing. Instead, get involved. Local elections are the place to start. Politics should be taught in schools. Young people should learn about how our democratic system works as it is integral to our daily lives. The sheer complexity of the political system is a mist through which many do not even try and see - it is far easier to plead ignorance; this has to change.
One last thing: Smith points out that despite general stereotypes of people his age in the media, he is not a nostalgic, backwards thinker resisting the modern age. He is more prolific on Twitter than most people I know, recently tweeting:

 
Harry's Last Stand isn't just some long lament about what is wrong with contemporary society - it is that - but it is a call to activism, too. At 91, Harry is defiant and hopeful. I dare you to read this and not feel the same way.

I certainly will be passing it on to my friends and relatives and thank Icon Books and Leena (@leenanorms) for my copy and of course, Harry Leslie Smith, for making me pay attention.
 

ISBN:
9781848317260
Price: GBP 12.99
Pages: 224
Publication date: 05-06-2014
    http://www.iconbooks.com/blog/title/harrys-last-stand/#sthash.MADp9jgq.dpuf
 
 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Interning at Oldcastle Books - Weeks 3 & 4

Counting weeks three and four as two weeks feels a little bit like I'm cheating. You see, I've technically only worked six days, what with having two days off for my graduation and only working a four day week ordinarily anyway! However, short as it may have been, it was jam-packed with experience.

I've been working on a couple of projects; as I mentioned in my last post, I've written tweets to promote our #WWIhistory novels which are now scheduled to post over the month - follow @Oldcastlebooks for info and interesting #Onthisday1914 facts! I've also compiled tweets promoting our #Coffeeville Virtual Summer Road Trip which kicked off last week and got to relive some of the fun of arts & crafts at school by making a map to plot the locations of our blog tour stops:
Picture courtesy of Frances Teehan
Aside from drawing pretty coloured lines, I've been doing some hard-core marketing work i.e. contacting various editors and producers for reviews of our publications, and liaising with our distributors to get the books where they need to be.

I've also got a few tasks in the pipeline such as proofreading a new book we're publishing, thinking up ideas for press releases and, of course, more blogger research (which is essentially allowing me to do what I'd be doing at home...at work!)

Tomorrow I've been invited to attend a PPC meeting with Frances which I'm really excited about - I can't wait to meet more people in the industry and hopefully learn lots! It's in London at the new Foyles which I haven't been to yet (gah!) so I'm super excited for that.

Although I'd always thought my ideal job would be in editorial, I'm really enjoying the marketing and publicity work that I've been doing here. In fact Oldcastle really is a great first step in my career path as I've been able to dip my feet into so many publishing ponds. (I feel like I've mixed up that analogy somewhere but let's just go with it!)

Anyway, the internship was supposed to be just for the month of July however Oldcastle have kindly invited me to stay on as a paid intern throughout August which I'm delighted about - I certainly feel like the longer I stay, the more I'll learn and the more I'll be able to contribute. One week or two week placements here and there are of course fantastic opportunities, but its really nice to think I'll be able to see one or two projects through to their end :)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Summer Reading Challenge 2014

This weekend the #SummerReadingChallenge kicks off in libraries nation-wide. The initiative, which has been in place for a number of years, seeks to enthuse children about reading. The challenge encourages children of all ages to read six books over the summer and chat to volunteers about what they've read, in exchange for stickers and prizes. Local libraries have been recruiting volunteers to help with the sign up and to record the childrens' reading throughout the summer and generally get them talking about the books. This year, the theme is #MythicalMaze - novels which are sure to inspire the childrens' imagination!

I went into my local library as soon as I came home from university to see about getting involved with the community in some way and when I heard about this summer-long project, I thought it was a great idea. As someone who spent her youth absorbed in Nancy Drew novels (while everyone else was reading Harry Potter), I think it's really important to allow children to develop their own reading tastes, but the most important thing is to firstly get them used to the idea that reading can be fun, enjoyable and cool! The reading challenge is open to everyone, regardless of age or reading level and with schools and parents on board, I'm sure it will be a great success!

I look forward to meeting the young readers and can't wait to hear what they have to say about the Mythical Maze books!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Interning at Oldcastle Books - Weeks 1 & 2

Everyone knows that graduating from university comes with that awful dreaded question 'what's next?'. I have to admit, I had little real idea of what kind of career I wanted until last year. Teaching was always an option right up until I spent a year doing it in France and realised it wasn't for me. But the time did give me a break from the studying routine and allowed me to reflect on where I could see myself happily working. The answer? Well, you can probably tell from this blog: publishing.

This realisation led to me undertaking a month-long internship at Atlantic Books in August 2013 which confirmed that this was the industry in which I want to work. However, final year beckoned and with it the fear of what would come when the comfort of returning to Uni in the autumn was no longer there...

Enter Oldcastle Books: An independent (possibly the smallest UK) publisher based in Harpenden and founded by Ion Mills, Oldcastle Books has several imprints including No Exit Press (crime), Kamera books/Creative Essentials (non-fiction film/tv) and Pulp! The Classics (marvellous re-vamps of Wilde/Shelley and the like). I can't tell you how happy I was when my interview resulted in an invitation to intern with them and we set July as the date - one week after I would complete my degree, perfect!

That means that I've just completed my second week there and I thought it would be a good idea to post a little summary of what I've been up to...

My responsibilities at Oldcastle have been hugely varied. I've done a lot of admin and editorial things - ranging from updating the daily sales figures report & festival database, to sending parcels & proofreading bookmarks. However, I've mainly been working on PR and marketing with the wonderfully bubbly Frances Teehan (one half of Franny & Perks: http://frannyandperks.wordpress.com/). These tasks have included doing publicity research for our new titles, e.g. contacting fellow bloggers to organise our virtual blog tours (check out #Coffeeville next month!). I've also worked on our #IntCrimeMonth twitter campaign - an initiative launched by 4 independent publishing houses in the UK celebrating international crime fiction. The launch of this campaign took place at Waterstones Piccadilly on Weds 9th July and you can see my published write up of it on Book2Book here : ow.ly/yZUTT  (exciting!) And I've been working on next month's WWI related tweets to promote two of our new titles - WWI at Sea (Carolan) and Short History of the First World War (Gerr), as well as contacting editors and authors to ask if they'd like to review our books.

I feel I've been given lots of responsibility from the outset which is fantastic because it means I'm learning so much and so far its been a really invaluable experience.
Next week is a very short week as I'm away for my graduation on Thursday and Friday - ahh! But I can't wait to learn more, do more, and work my way towards that fully paid role!
 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

GQ Eats: The Cookbook for men of seriously good taste - Paul Henderson

A while ago I wrote about how Twitter has revolutionised the customer-supplier relationship, and how the publishing industry is no exception to this change.  In order to get people talking about new publications, publishing houses directly address readers through twitter take-overs, games and competitions. I've often tried to win books through a simple 're-tweet' or 'favourite' but when Octopus Books announced its Father's Day competition in which they offered copies of the GQ Eats cookbook as prizes for the best explanations of why 'your dad is the best chef', I just had to give it a go.

This wasn't just a random shot in the dark, my dad honestly is the best cook I know! (I dare you to find someone who makes better gravy than him).

The tweet went something like this:

'because every time I eat out I say "it's nice, but it's not as good as dad's" #GravyKing'

Granted, the word limited restricted me somewhat, but I think it made the point and, lo and behold, I won!

A few days after direct messaging my address, the GQ Eats cookbook (signed by Paul Henderson!) arrived to the thrill of myself and my dad. Although I could go on forever about his cooking, this is a literature blog, not a food one, therefore I turn instead to my first review of a non-fiction text on The Reading Thing:


When I took the GQ Eats book out of the package the first adjectives that came to find were sleek, sexy, sophisticated. With a classic black, matt finish and striking red and gold font making an asymmetric shape, the outside cover matches every bit with its tag line: 'the cookbook for men of seriously good taste'. Taste, is exactly what it exudes.

The classy look is continued throughout the book as the content ranges from 'brilliant breakfasts to 'cocktail hour', with recipes for all occasions in between. The images of the dishes err on the side of art rather than food - most of them look good enough to eat, while just a few look too darn pretty to touch! The composition of the images and the simple, refined look of the dishes are perfectly in keeping with the overall tone of the cookbook.

The pictures are accompanied by concise, clear recipes of delicious, healthy dishes contributed by a collection of top chefs including Heston Blumenthal, Michel Roux Jr, Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc.

As this is a GQ publication, it is ultimately aimed at men, however a sneaky line on the back page declares that 'this is the best of British food for men who want to cook and for women who want to know what to feed them' - fat chance of the latter in my house!

I was certainly impressed by the cookbook which, I must confess, I may never have come across had I not seen the Twitter competition. It really is a perfect gift for a dad, brother or boyfriend who loves to cook!

On looks and content the GQ Eats cookbook seems to tick all the boxes - I suppose all that's left to do is taste!



The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden - Jonas Jonasson

As a literature lover, its unsurprising that the first thing I did after weeks of reading, writing and revising for exams was to go book shopping - what else?!

I bought We Were Liars and you can find my review of it just below. I was looking for something fun and interesting to take on holiday and decided to give the Waterstones 'Book of the Month' a go; that is, Jonas Jonasson's The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.

Having yet to read Jonasson's debut novel the 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, despite hearing good things about it, I wasn't at all sure what to expect from this orange and black book with an unusual title.

Unusual I think is a fitting word for the novel. Unique, funny, smart - The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is unlike anything I'd read before. Cute and unashamedly contrived, the novel traces the life of Nobemko who, having grown up in the slums of South Africa and worked in the sanitation department as a lavatory emptier, somehow gets caught up with South Africa's atomic weapons plans while living in the world's most neutral, war-free country - Sweden. Everything goes wrong in a funny, comical - almost slapstick - manner, yet the novel retains a clear underlying political current. Drawing upon real life circumstances, people and events, Jonasson uses history to create fiction, or does he use fiction to tell history? Either way the clever, obvious intermingling of fact and fiction makes The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden a really interesting read - I can see why Waterstones are backing it!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

We Were Liars - Emily Lockhart

The publicity campaign for Emily Lockhart's latest novel was so impressive and covered my twitter feed for days that it just had to be next on my reading list.

We Were Liars presents the Sinclair family who spend their summer holidays on their private island, Beechwood, gorging on delicious food in houses decorated floor to ceiling in opulence, taking boats out to sea and relaxing on private beaches - living beautiful, rich existences. Despite their seemingly perfect summers, however, the Sinclair family is rotting from within and it is only the three eldest grandchildren Johnny, Mirren and Cadence, and the fourth member of their clan, Gat, who seem to notice.

In 'summer fifteen' everything changes and as Cadence Sinclair attempts to piece together the truth about her accident, which is being kept secret from her, the suspense of the novel builds. The first person narrative of Cadence draws the reader into her amnesic, confused state, as the palpable tension in the prose makes it clear that something sinister has happened.

Drawing on various literary tropes and genres, including that of the star-crossed lovers and the fairy tale, Lockhart demonstrates an exquisitely refined art of story telling. With prose which is both sparse and succinct yet simultaneously lyrical and beautiful - poetic, even - Lockhart lures the reader in all sorts of directions before presenting one final plot twist.

We Were Liars is intriguing from beginning to end, even the front cover evokes a certain mystery; the dazzling sunlight that partially obscures the image and the movement of the water which is appropriated into the font design perfectly evoke the relationship between the blissful setting and the ominous confusion that epitomises the novel. It is often so tempting to just buy e-book versions of publications these days, but I think We Were Liars is a perfect example of the value print copies add to the reading experience and it is a shame for the creation of such cover work to be overlooked in favour of practicality and cost.



 


We Were Liars is the kind of novel that you read in one sitting and then immediately turn to the beginning to start again - perfect in length, yet over far too soon.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

English and French at Warwick - The Literature Highlights

Having now completed my English and French degree, I thought it would be fitting for my next post to be a list of the Top 10 most memorable reads from my time at Warwick. So, without further ado, here they are:

1. City Gates by Elias Khoury is a post-modern novel depicting the civil war in Beirut. As the 'stranger' protagonist re-adjusts to the city after a bombardment, Khoury contorts and manipulates language to evoke the confusion and disorientation caused by a bomb blast, where the city becomes unrecognisable. City Gates is a fairly short novel but is nevertheless challenging as the reader is thrust into the state of bewilderment felt by the character. I felt great satisfaction in decoding Khoury's poetic use of symbolism - the novel really is a strikingly written piece of prose.

2. The Baghdad Blog by Salam Pax (pseudonym of Salam Abdulmunem) is a collection of blog posts by the once anonymous Iraqi blogger. Blogging about the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the West, Pax bluntly and unforgivingly wrote almost daily accounts of the lead up to and experience of the invasion from an Iraqi perspective, contesting the Western rhetoric of the war. The Guardian eventually located the blogger and Atlantic Books published a collection of his posts in a book format. This text has certainly added a new dimension to my perspective on literature, blog writing, and politics and I would recommend everybody to read it. (He still publishes online too!)

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë needs no introduction. The tragic love story of Heathcliff and Catherine is the book that sparked my love of English literature and I needed no convincing to re-read it for my degree.

4. La Peste by Albert Camus is a twentieth century classic. The city of Oran, swept by the plague, is closed off from the rest of Algeria as its inhabitants are left to fend for themselves. Set in the 1940s, La Peste metaphorically represents the French resistance to the Nazis and is an allegorical depiction of the human condition; an exploration of human relationships, dependency, corruption and ultimately, strength. There is a profound depth to the way in which Camus writes which makes him without doubt my favourite French author and alongside La Peste I'd recommend anyone to read L'Etranger.

5. Lignes de Faille by Nancy Huston opens with the narrative of Sol, an egocentric, sexually perverse six year old child who is aroused by images from the Iraq war of dismembered limbs and abused children. The shocking opening part makes for uncomfortable reading but the narrative perspective is somehow endearing. The next three parts are narrated from the childhood perspectives of Sol's father, grandmother, great grandmother respectively. As the novel progresses we learn more about the traumas the family has suffered, and how such traumas are inherited by the next generation, culminating in Sol's perspective. This novel is a truly innovative and original depiction of the enduring consequences of the loss of identity caused by war.

6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is a must-read. Telling the story of the Buendia family who live in the village of Macondo, Marquez writes a politically engaged novel in the magic realist style for which he is renowned. Time is suspended, human life is extended, reality is contorted and the fantastic is ordinary. There are so many layers to this novel that each time you read it you discover something new.

7. The Story of Zahra by Hanan al-Shaykh depicts the social, political and personal landscape of a Lebanese family in the midst of civil war. Zahra is beaten as a child by her father because of her mother's infidelity, causing her to withdraw into her shell and become self-destructive as she grows up. When she falls in love with the lone rooftop sniper this self destruction reaches its climax as al-Shaykh provides a social commentary on the futility of civil war and the way in which the political and personal are so fully enmeshed. The 'Scars of Peace' that mark Zahra's body are the result of not just political violence, but the violence suffered in the familial sphere; the novel shows that even in times of 'peace', wounds are made.

8. Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson imagines the flooding of Washington DC as the seemingly indestructible superpower that is the United States of America is forced to acknowledge the consequences of climate change. The first part of a trilogy, this novel engages with the way in which climate change has been absorbed into political rhetoric and has become a part of our perception of normality. Perhaps the most important aspect of this novel is that it narrates a story that is entirely plausible.

9. La Possibilité d'une île by Michel Houellebecq is a controversial text envisaging the decline of civilisation caused by the narcissistic, selfish, promiscuous modern day citizens who donate their DNA to the Elohimite religion in the hope of attaining immortality. Through a dual narrative which alternates between the diary of the modern-day Daniel and his neo-human clone, Houellebecq depicts the direct evolutionary consequences of a hedonist, immoral way of life. Echoing the post-apocalyptic state of Atwood's Oryx and the Crake but in a more overtly critical presentation of contemporary French society, Houellebecq is explicit in every detail of his presentation of the human condition, sometimes uncomfortably so.

10. NW by Zadie Smith is a story about growing up in a council estate in north west London. Drawing on topical issues of knife crime, university education and the challenges of adulthood in twenty-first century society, Smith composes four formally innovative parts in the novel which narrate the lives of her four protagonists. The prose is fractured and disjointed as the syntax evokes the disjuncture the characters feel in their adult lives. At times the dialogue between the characters is so cold and empty that it is somehow overwhelmingly abounding with feeling. NW is a challenging novel that isn't an easy bed-time read but its originality is what makes it so compelling.

From Zola to Beigbeder, Austen to Atwood, the list could go on and on, but those ten texts are certainly the ones that have shaped my literary tastes over the past four years.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

April Wish List

You might have noticed a little lack of activity on my blog at the moment. For the time being I've had to sacrifice it in favour of revision and finals! From the 23rd of June I will be as free as a bird to write and read everything that I've had on hold for the past few months...

For now, here's my April Wish List; a collection of books that I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing as soon as I can!

1. Everyday Sexism - Laura Bates, (Simon & Schuster) an extension of the blog where women are invited to share their all too common experiences of everyday sexism and harassment.

2. The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt (Little Brown): winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014

3. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing - Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber), featured on the Baileys Women's Prize shortlist, this caught my eye due to its Irish setting and a raving review by Anne Enright writing for The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/20/girl-half-formed-thing-review

3. Margaret Atwood - The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam (Doubleday) - I thoroughly enjoyed reading Oryx and Crake for my Global Novel seminar and am keen to finish the triology!


I am also on the look out for a really fun and girly summer read for my holiday in June - any suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan

Atlantic Books have just tweeted that Kevin Kwan's bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians is now available as an e-book for just 99p and, although writing my dissertation is tantalisingly gripping... I just had to pull myself away for a moment to write a quick review!

Crazy Rich Asians is a story about the absurdly extravagant lives of a host of hot, young and flashy Asian socialites. Kwan offers a playful fictionalisation of a cultural aspect that has hardly been portrayed in writing/film/theatre: the clash of old and new money amongst the filthy-rich Asian elite.

Rachel Chu is whisked away to meet her potential future in-laws for what she imagines will be an ordinary affair, only to discover that her partner, Nicholas Young, is the most sought-after heir in Singapore.

Private jets, exotic islands and palaces galore, the novel is outrageously opulent and hilariously witty as Rachel meets Nick's family, friends and the many women who would do anything to be in her place...Let the chaos commence!

This is a fantastic piece of cheeky chick-lit. I devoured it last summer and would definitely agree with Atlantic that it is the perfect Easter weekend treat! For only 99p, what's stopping you?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

London Book Fair - Tues 8th 2014

This week the London Book Fair is taking place at Earls Court where thousands of publishing professionals from around the world unite under one roof in what I can only describe as Santa’s grotto for the industry. Agents, editors, authors, rights, sales and marketing reps – you name it, they are all there meeting, doing deals, and of course the mandatory bit of schmoozing.

You can imagine how exciting this was for a publishing newbie like me yesterday!
Earls court 1 & 2 were divided into aisles and rows (although that didn’t prevent me from getting a bit lost in the labyrinth of stalls!). The big names such as Penguin, Harper Collins and OUP had huge spaces which looked like pop-up offices, meanwhile some of the smaller businesses let their signage and book displays do all the talking; I particularly liked Choc Lit’s eye-catching bright pink exhibition of their women’s romantic fiction and enjoyed chatting to their rep about their e-book/print packages (I’ve said it before and will say it again: chocolate+books = winning combo!)

Alongside the abundance of exhibitions, the LBF put on a range of seminars and talks throughout the day. I went to the “Introduction to publishing” talk in the morning at the Author HQ – although targeted primarily at authors, this was a great way for me to learn more about the ‘agent to bookseller’ process.
The “encouraging children to read” seminar was presented by the editorial director of Booked – a magazine aimed at enthusing teenagers to read by associating books with the things that usually grab their attention (e.g. celebrity), and by offering various competitions and prizes. I’m hugely motivated by the idea that we need to engage children in reading by making books relevant to their world, so projects like these seem so worthwhile.  On that note, I also stopped at an exhibition offering samples of a new educational magazine: Amazing! which incorporates cross-subject aspects of the curriculum to attract students’ interest in a way that normal textbooks may not achieve.
In the afternoon I attended the SYP’s “How to get ahead in publishing” talk. Here, Stephanie Milner, James Long, Matt Haslum, Oli Munson and Miriam Robinson talked about how they got ahead in their various roles. They were all incredibly humble about their success, yet it was clear that none of them would be in the position they are now without working extremely hard and taking opportunities with open arms. Many of them had also seen their careers move away from publishing-specific roles, which only proved to give them a greater awareness of what the industry needs when re-entering it. Demonstrating this flexibility and scope seems essential.
The most resonant piece of advice from the talk was to "be nice" and to think beyond your desk - publishing is such a reputation & contact-based industry, it is essential to have a generous attitude and to never let the limitations of the job define what you are willing to contribute.
In terms of creating contacts, it really struck me that it is through SYP that I’ll meet the editors, agents and publicists of the future, so I’m really looking forward to being able to attend their events on a much more regular basis once I graduate and move back closer to London!
I ended my day by speaking to some delightful students and tutors from Oxford Brookes University about their publishing masters course. This is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while, but for which I seem unable to justify the cost. I am going to persevere with the intern-route for now and see where it leads me, i.e. hopefully to a job!

To sum up my LBF day in three words: enlightening, thrilling and motivating. I only hope that one day I will be on the other side of the exhibition stand!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

How do you make a reader so utterly hooked on the outcome of a character that the book becomes impossible to put down?

Keep killing the character off.

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life had me hooked after the first few pages. This English author, who won the Costa Book Award 2013 with this captivating novel, asks the question: what would happen if you were to die...and then could start your life all over again?

Born in 1910 and living through two World Wars via multiple life-lines, Atkinson's protagonist, Ursula, experiences life on both sides of the Second World War. As such, the novel captures both the German and British perspective - Ursula finds herself in one instance working as a secretary for the Home Office, and in the next, being in close acquaintance with Hitler's mistress, and with the Fuhrer himself.

From dying in her cot, to dying on the streets of London in a bombing, Atkinson makes us wonder every time: will the outcome be any different for Ursula? Are we not all going to die in the end? And if so, does it really matter when or how?

Every time that "darkness falls",  the narrative loops back and starts again (from different stages in her life - the moment which marks where it all went wrong). Each time, Ursula has some kind of intuitive feeling that she should live her life differently. When she comes to realise that she has lived before, she decides to do this with a purpose - with not just her own life at stake.

Atkinson's novel is provocative and dazzling, and one that I will definitely be recommending - a stunning example of a UK author with awesome talent for storytelling.

Monday, 31 March 2014

March Wish List

Ooosh! I'm cutting it close with this one, leaving it 'til the last day of the month to post my wish list...but as they say, better (very nearly) late, than never!
Here are some of the books that have caught my eye over the past four weeks, and that I hope to be able to read soon (dissertation-permitting!)

March Wish List:

 1. Americanah - Chimamanda Adichie (Fourth Estate): following her wonderful chat with Zadie Smith. If you haven't seen it, you can check it out here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lSPMsV-23U#t=3318
2. A Hundred Pieces of Me - Lucy Dillon (Hodder)
3. Her - Harriet Lane (W&N). I'm a huge fan of book recommendations so my monthly wish list usually includes The Bookseller's 'Book of the Month'. Her is a psychological thriller I'm told not to miss it...so I won't!


Also: I'm so intrigued by James Patterson's children's series - of which the fourth instalment has recently hit the UK Bestseller Chart. I'm going to try and get my hands on Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar to see just how an author with whom I associate gritty, hard-hitting thrillers adapts his style for children!

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

"My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations"

It's been a while since I've found a book that I devoured in a matter of hours purely for the pleasure of reading. I could not put The Fault in Our Stars down, and would recommend it to anybody looking for a novel that is raw, insightful, funny and memorable. (Warning: Tears may ensue)

The Fault in Our Stars reminds me of Picoult's My Sister's Keeper - Isaac, Hazel Grace, and Augustus (Gus) Waters meet at cancer support group. Each one of them suffer from cancer in a different way, but the novel isn't a sob story about dying of cancer, rather, its a story of love and friendship - of teenagers who refuse to be defined by their disease. From playing Gus's video games, to venturing to Amsterdam (under adult supervision) to meet Hazel's favourite author, the two share an undeniable bond that creates mesmerising reading . Through the simple, unembellished yet profound prose, through the quick, witty, smart dialogue, and through the hard-hitting honesty with which the characters express themselves, this novel captures the very best of living.

In 300 poignant, romantic, heart-breaking pages, what Hazel and Augustus give each other is something beyond their human lives - an infinity.

People sometimes criticise novels of such themes as being perverse - where fictional stories fall into the trap of romanticising serious, tragic issues. In my mind, The Fault in Our Stars certainly deserves the top spot it's held in various bestseller charts since its publication in 2012. If anything, Green writes with respect. The prose self-consciously questions the very notion of why having cancerous cells should make one any different. He even draws attention to the fictional nature of the work in his author's note. And what is he to do, as a writer, other than tell you a story and make you feel something for it?


Monday, 24 March 2014

Making it Big - Lyndsay Russell

I may be a bit late to the party when it comes to this novel, which was published in 2011 by Oldcastle Books. A huge holiday success, the rights for a Hollywood film production of Lyndsay Russell's Making It Big have already been sold - its popularity unsurprising considering its plot and style:

Making it Big is a wonderful, funny, smart satire of the very topical social issue of body consciousness; haunted by the notion of "size zero", young girls and grown women alike are comparing themselves to the unreasonable body expectations perpetuated by the fashion, modelling and media industries.

In Making It Big, Russell gives her 21 year old, size 16, body-conscious protagonist, Sharon, the chance to 'change her life' with Dr Marvel's magic pill. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, this pill literally turns Sharon's world upside down/inside out/back to front. In an ulterior universe, Russell wittily captures the falsity of mass-media celebrity culture where worth is determined by looks rather than personality - an outward trend that has been internalised into body-anxiety and self-loathing by Sharon.

Hilarious, frivolous and girly, Making it Big asks serious questions in a light-hearted way about the retouched, elongated, image-obsessed world we're living in. Three years post-publication, it feels like it could've been written yesterday!

Friday, 21 March 2014

A Day at the Office - Matt Dunn

When someone offers you the combination of a bar of smooth, luxurious chocolate, and a new e-book, just how can you say no?

Galaxy chocolate are offering exactly that - a marketing strategy that is right up my street.

So, as I indulged in my Galaxy Smooth and downloaded A Day at the Office by Matt Dunn, I really was in heaven (I'll leave you to guess which one took me longer to get through!)

It's been a while since I've been able to read some really cheeky commercial fiction. A Day at the Office, telling the tale of the love lives of colleagues in one office, on one day - Valentine's day - did not let me down. A typical romantic comedy, Dunn's novel was fun and witty, with just the right amount of predictability - a perfect bedtime read, especially after the intensity of Wave!

Dunn taps into the all-too-common Valentine's Day hysteria which, for the happily in love, means all things sweet and sexy, whereas for the single, means a huge slap-in-the-face reminder of being just that. Office flirtations, gifts and secret romances create a muddled web of anxious feelings, as you as a reader find yourself hoping for the characters to succeed in their various V-Day quests.

To find out more, I suppose you'll have to read it!

P.S The ease with which Amazon were able to catch my attention and offer me something to read instantly shows why they are posing such a huge threat to traditional booksellers and publishers - watch out for a post soon with my thoughts on this!


Wave - Sonali Deraniyagala

As a student of literature, I've been trained to analyse and critique everything I come across - an occupational hazard that can be difficult to turn off. So when I came to read Wave, a memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, I was thrown from the outset.

Knowing from the blurb that this memoir was written by a woman who lost all of her family when the wave hit the coast of Sri Lanka, and having been told in my previous seminar that I would be "crying by page 17", I opened the book cautiously, actively making an attempt to do away with the analytic tendencies I've become so accustomed to.

The intensity of the memoir begins from the outset, as the wave surges over the land, a moment which is brutal in its telling. Yet the rawest, most poignant passages in the memoir are in the chapters that follow, spanning numerous years, as Deraniyagala describes haunting memories of her boys playing in the playroom in their London flat, or her husband's cooking, or visits to her family home in Colombo...memories of what was once her ordinary life.

Wave was certainly one of the most powerful books I've ever read - for the very reason that when I got carried away with what was actually incredibly beautifully written prose, I had to stop myself to realise that this a real-life account, this isn't someone's imagination anymore. The narrative is unfathomable, and where fiction would offer some distance, this memoir does not.

Last Tuesday, I sat in a class where we discussed the portrayal of ghosts, post-apocalypse and survival in Wave. It's what we're there for, and we have our reasons, but a certain respect for the situation meant no one was really prepared to talk about language or syntax or imagery. How can you, when the author lays bare her grief in such a raw, uncloaked way?

As she writes, Deraniyagala seems to comprehend, if not necessarily come to terms with, what has happened to her family, as she moves through stages of grief - her anger and sorrow palpable. Indeed, this narrative seems like it was one that needed to be written, more than it needed to be read.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

February Wish List

It's that time again, my monthly wish list! Here's a short collection of the books that I want to read this month:

1. The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer (The Borough Press)
2. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson (Black Swan) *this weeks #1 Bestseller
3. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green (Penguin)
4. *Reread* The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (Black Swan) - a necessary pre-cinema trip re-read!
5. The One Plus One - Jojo Moyes (Penguin) - promises to be a beautiful love story!

Meanwhile, I am really looking forward to reading my next course text: Wave - A memoir of life after the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala (Virago Press). Deraniyagala writes about her experience of the 2004 tsunami on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. I doubt it will be an 'enjoyable' read, but it certainly promises to be powerful.

I'll let you know what I think!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Publishing Career Speed Dating with the SYP

Last night, Ella - my university friend - and I made our way to the swanky Phoenix Artist Club in London for the Society of Young Publishers' Career Speed Dating event.

We were intrigued (and a little anxious, it has to be said) to find out exactly what the night would entail - not knowing how true to the "speed dating" concept it would be. In fact, the organisation was excellent; each individual was given a colour group on entry, and then asked to move from table to table with that group. The tables were separated according to the various publishing departments - editorial, publicity, marketing, sales, and digital - and this is where we met the professionals who were so full of advice and easy to talk to; it really was a fabulous experience.

As someone who wants to work in editorial, it was actually really insightful to be able to speak to professionals across the fields in the industry. There were not only reps from within publishing houses, but also from within the book industry as a whole, including a rep from the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction social media team, as well as the careers sector rep from The Bookseller magazine. All of the professionals were so equally passionate about the value of their role in the publishing process - they all made their own departments seem like the place to be!

The popularity of the night amongst aspiring publishers meant that the event could have done with a bigger venue to allow people to move about more easily. That said, whether standing, sitting or thigh-toning(ly) squatting, it didn't detract from the excitement that seemed to permeate the room.

Until recently, I've always seen networking events as a kind of daunting experience. There's so much pressure to get contacts and ask the right questions, it sometimes seems easier to want to stand in a corner and hide! What was great about last night, was that the atmosphere was so convivial and relaxed and the publishing reps seemed so happy to tell us about their experiences - I felt like I got a real understanding of why they love their job, as much as what they do.

In fact, every time I meet someone in the profession, whether they are a writer, agent, or publisher, I feel more and more assured that this is the industry in which I want to work. The enthusiasm that the professionals have for their jobs was palpable and I hope I demonstrated the same kind of excitement for wanting to break into the industry.

The one piece of advice that was reiterated across all the sectors was to persevere. Not many had an easy entrance into the sector, and it may have taken them several years (and a stroke of luck) to get to the point where they are today. Yet they proved that as long as you're flexible, dedicated and willing, it is possible. I certainly feel like I'm those things, so persevere I will!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Arts vs. Science: the age-old battle

The Arts vs. Science debate seems to be cropping up everywhere around me these days. Of course, this is understandable; at a university which is leading the field in many areas of scientific research, its hardly surprising that there's constant "banter" between arts and science students anywhere you look.

From the Lit.Soc debate at which my friend made a very valid point about art, in a certain way, actually being science (or visa versa), to my seminar tutor today who contextualised Margaret Atwood's representation of the debate in Oryx and Crake (2003) by asking: what is the function of art? Or indeed, what is the functionality of a student of the arts?

Before university, I was told that a languages and literature degree would open up doors to countless opportunities, for the very fact that it encourages a creative, open-minded, yet analytic approach to almost everything. Certainly at Warwick, this has held true; the English faculty in particular has made studying literature feel so relevant to society.

Sure, we've read the classics from Zola to Austen, Camus to Nabakov which all have their role to play in our understanding of history - literary, cultural, and social. In my opinion, they give an unparalleled insight into the way of living of past centuries. But it's the more modern literature that cements my love for my course. Ranging from Cities of Salt - Elias Khoury's novel about loss of identity in the Lebanese civil war, to The Baghdad Blog - a collection of posts by an anonymous blogger of the Iraq war. From Mahasweta Devi's Chotti Munda & His Arrow, written in almost-tribal song, to science fiction - the likes of Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson - what I love most about my course (or at least about the modules that I've chosen), is that the literature is unsettling.

The kind of literature we are reading has made it in to the academic canon because it intentionally defies you as a reader, subverting your expectations and forcing you to question your preconceived ideas. I'm currently reading disaster literature - novels which are forcing me to think about our social order, our manner of living and the violent impact it is (often invisibly) having on the planet.

What makes studying a humanities subject just as relevant and indispensable as the studies of science is how it encourages new modes of thinking, probing, inquiring, and of discerning what things actually mean. Fiction offers the imaginative scope through which we are forced to re-consider our reality. In the arts, there is an innate concern with morality that demands the reader to doubt and question on a human level, in contrast to a statistic which, though telling you the answer, doesn't always ask why.

That's one defence of a humanities degree at least...Oh and, no, we don't all want to be teachers!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Graeme Simsion - The Rosie Project

If any of you read my January Wish List post, you'll notice that one of the books I mentioned was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Today, I was lucky enough to be able to listen to the former data modeller and now award-winning author as he spoke at Warwick University to aspiring writers and publishers.

Graeme was charming and witty as he explained his career progression. Starting out in database design, he went on to establish his own IT consultancy business. Already boasting a talent for effective writing, Graeme published the textbook Data Modelling Essentials in 2004 which is now in its third edition.

In a rather abrupt career change, he then tried his hand at screen-play writing and had minor successes with a few short productions. Meanwhile, he was constantly evolving the concept of what would become The Rosie Project. He describes the pinnacle of his career as being shortlisted for Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award (2012) which he won, leading to him becoming a published author with Penguin Books in the UK (and now also a screen-writer for the Sony adaptation of his novel).  

From listening to Graeme speak, it's no surprise that The Rosie Project is hailed for its hilarious and exuberant entertainment value as it captures human interaction:

The plot follows geneticist Don Tilman who has Asperger's syndrome and who, at thirty nine years old, has never had a second date . He thus devises The Wife Project, a scientific test designed to find him the perfect partner. What follows is a charming, funny tale of romance as Rosie enters Don's world.

Graeme explained the relationship between the initial plot concept written as a screen-play, and the consequent book form of The Rosie Project as he advised writers to consider the different medium through which their ideas might best be portrayed.

For me, as an aspiring editor it was interesting to understand the process of writing - one that is meticulous and progressive - from an author's perspective (The Rosie Project took five years to reach the print form it’s in now.)

Asked how much of an effect the editing and publishing process had on the final product that is The Rosie Project, Graeme explained that it was a matter of tweaking length and emphasis on particular plot sections rather than totally altering the shape of the novel. It seems that the editor-author relationship was one of perfecting the novel without stealing its integrity.

As a writer, Graeme represents the epitome of perseverance. He advocates the necessity of accepting criticism and advice from others while also demanding more from yourself.

Look out for the sequel to The Rosie Project, which Graeme says he's just submitted and which promises to be just as much of a success!