16 August, 2016

The Book... by Catherine Edwards

A long overdue addition to my series of guest posts where people who love reading tell us about a book that means something to them.

Today a post from Catherine Edwards.

Image from Wikipedia
The Book... that opened up a whole new genre to me

As a primary school teacher I have always read (and loved) children’s literature but it wasn’t until 3 years ago, whilst attending a training course that I was really introduced to young adult fiction. I had always considered this genre as a bit advanced for the children I was teaching but at the same time not for adults and so it had often passed me by. That was until I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

A Monster Calls tells the story of a boy called Connor who is dealing with a lot of different issues at the same time; his mother has cancer, he is being bullied at school and then he starts being visited by a monster in the dead of night. The monster tells Connor three stories and in return asks Connor to tell his story. What unfolds is a truly heart-wrenching tale of a young boy struggling to cope with everything going on around him.

Part of the reason that I love this book so much is because of the story behind the way it came to be written and published. The story idea was developed by Siobhan Dowd, an author who herself had been diagnosed with cancer. Siobhan died before she was able to complete the book and it was completed by Patrick Ness. Knowing that the ideas in the story had come from O’Dowd’s own experience really enhanced the emotion I felt when reading this book.

Since reading A Monster Calls I always make a bee-line for the young adult section in bookshops and have found so many other books which tackle some really challenging topics. It has encouraged me to explore different genres and develop my opinion of them on their own merit rather than assuming that they aren’t for me. 


Thank, Catherine! Catherine is a Year Six teacher who lives with her husband, Alex, in Royal Tunbridge Wells. More importantly, we went to school together and first made friends whilst playing urchins in the school production of Oliver! 

I read A Monster Calls because Catherine recommended it when I asked people to build me a must-read books list. I loved it. I have also just read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Anybody else love young adult fiction?

12 August, 2016

Quotable Friday (48)

If you grew up in the UK, you will have read Ladybird books at some point. It's over 100 years since the first of these children's books was published, and they reached a peak in popularity around the 1970s, but all generations will recognise them. The distincitve illustrations of the tiny hardback books - that covered just about every genre for kids you could want - will be nostalgic for many of us. That's why, when a series of spoof Ladybird books for adults was published last year, people loved them.

I was recently given a copy of 'How it works' The Mum by my own mother. I thought I'd share with you two of my favourite pages...

"The mum gets lots of help from her little ones. Daisy is helping to move the laundry basket away from her mum. She has done this fourteen times in the last five minutes."

"Alice is a successful biochemist. She publishes at least one highly regarded academic paper a year and has won the Colworth Medal. At the school gate, nobody knows this. Alice does not even have a name. Everyone calls her Olivia's Mum. Olivia has not done anything yet."

And here is a picture of my oldest boy helping me with the laundry last summer.

PS: if you loved them as a kid, you might be interested to know that this November there will be a series of spoof Famous Five books published. Look out for Five Give Up the Booze, Five Go On a Strategy Away Day, Five Go Parenting, and - my personal favourite - Five Go Gluten Free.

08 August, 2016

The People's Book Prize - Video

If anybody has a burning desire to watch the exact moment when I didn't win the People's Book Prize, you now can*! The video is here!

The whole video is half an hour, but I make a cameo appearance at 17:30 standing in the fiction line-up. This is swiftly followed by looking shifty and awkward as I'm introduced and ends with a passing shot of me as the winner goes up to collect her award. So pick it up at 17:30 for a minute or so and you're done.

You can find the video on YouTube here.

*Some people have shown a burning desire to see what the bottom half of my dress looks like. Kill two birds with one stone...

04 August, 2016

To Booker or Not to Booker?

No, not the start of a bad joke. Just the old question of whether it's worth trying to read the books that win the most prestigious prizes.
It's Booker time again. The longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize was released at the end of July. I haven't read any of the books (it usually takes me a few years to catch up with current fiction). I haven't even heard of most of them. It got me wondering how many Booker Prize winners I've actually read. And, more importantly, did I enjoy them more or less than less-prestigious books?

Some people are snobby about the big literary awards. They go so far as to boast that they never read books that win the Booker as they know they'll be dreary and "too literary". I think that's a shame. It reminds me of a friend who used to say she couldn't stand classical music. What, all of it? Every piece for every instrument and group of instruments in every style ever?!

Of the 48 previous winners of the Man Booker Prize, I have read only six (12.5%): Midnight's Children, The Remains of the Day, The God of Small Things, The Blind Assassin, Life of Pi and The Sense of an Ending. Three of them I wasn't too keen on, three of them - The Remains of the Day, The Blind Assassin  and Life of Pi - I absolutely loved. (The Remains of the Day I even consider to be the best book I ever read. I adore it!) With all of them though, I admired the way they were written very much.

I think that's the key. The Booker Prize cannot pick out books which are to everyone's tastes. Indeed, if it really awards a wide variety of novels and not just the same old thing each year, it is impossible for it to please everyoneall the time. It does however pick out books that are stunningly-written. I can pick out a book from the library shelf and I might love it or hate it; with the Booker Prize I know I am at least not going to waste my time reading something badly-written.

I love a good bit of easy-reading cosy crime or comic caper, but I like to balance that with beautiful books by amazing authors. That's why I read both Agatha Christie and John Steinbeck. They are not books that are heading towards the same goal - one is great entertainment, one is great art. Both are needed!

I would like to read all the Booker Prize winning novels. I am sad that I haven't even heard of so many of them. I think that is going to be my next long-term reading challenge. So, where shall I start? Take a look at the full list of prize-winners below and let me know if there are any titles you particularly recommend. I love a good recommendation - the three I've loved so far were all recommended to me by friends!

Do you try to read award-winning books? Or do you avoid them? Are there awards other than the Booker that you gravitate towards when looking for good things to read?

1969 - Something to Answer For, PH Newby
1970 - Troubles, JG Farrell
1971 - In a Free State, VS Naipaul
1972 - G., John Berger
1973 - The Siege of Krishnapur, JG Farrell
1974 - The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer and Hoilday, Stanley Middleton
1975 - Heat and Dust - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1976 - Saville, David Storey
1977 - Staying On, Paul Scott
1978 - The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
1979 - Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
1980 - Rites of Passage, William Golding
1981 - Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
1982 - Schindler's Ark, Thomas Keneally
1983 - Life and Times of Michael K, JM Coetzee
1984 - Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner
1985 - The Bone People, Keri Hulme
1986 - The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis
1987 - Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively
1988 - Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
1989 - The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
1990 - Possession: A Romance, AS Byatt
1991 - The Famished Road, Ben Okri
1992 - The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje and Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth
1993 - Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle
1994 - How Late It Was, How Late, James Kelman
1995 - The Ghost Road, Pat Barker
1996 - Last Orders, Graham Swift
1997 - The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
1998 - Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
1999 - Disgrace, JM Coetzee
2000 - The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
2001 - True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey
2002 - Life of Pi, Yann Martel
2003 - Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
2004 - The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
2005 - The Sea, John Banville
2006 - The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai
2007 - The Gathering, Anne Enright
2008 - The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
2009 - Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
2010 - The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
2011 - The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
2012 - Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
2013 - The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
2014 - The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
2015 - A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

The 2016 shortlist will be announced on 13th September, with the final result on 25th October. I notice that one of the longlisted authors has won the thing twice - in 1983 and 1999. That's what I call a long and successful career!

16 July, 2016

People's Book Prize - The Result

With my agent, David.
On Tuesday I went to the award ceremony for the People's Book Prize. It was a black-tie affair at the grand Stationer's Hall in London and I was one of 12 writers shortlisted for the fiction category for my novel The Art of Letting Go.

First things first, I didn't win. My category was won by The Road to Donetsk by Diane Chandler. This however, was a minor detail. I had a fabulous time! I am not the sort of person who does black-tie or socialising and especially not networking, so it wasn't the kind of event I would've said suited me at all. It was brilliant though - a complete change from everyday life. I spend all my days looking after a two year-old and a baby and I'm usually in old clothes covered in various stains and bits of rice cake. When people talk to me it is usually about my boys. That's fine, I love them dearly, but it was indescribably wonderful to be more than Digory and Wilfred's mum for a few hours.

When we arrived at the Hall, Paul and I felt out of place and introverted. Because of the need to put my baby to bed I'd missed the rehearsal and was armed only with a copy of my book and a list of nerve-wracking instructions as to which hand I was meant to hold my novel in on stage and how long an acceptance speech was allowed to be. The TV cameras were all set up* and everyone looked so elegant and at home. Within a few minutes of arriving however, a woman came sweeping over to tell us that we looked so young and she simply had to talk to us as we were the most beautiful people in the room. After that we felt a bit more at ease - especially when we realised nobody else knew which cutlery to use or whether the flowers on the starter were edible! (The woman in question turned out to be Lois Letts - the wife of the Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts. Quentin was shortlisted for the same award as me and he won the award for debut novel.) It was fun and uplifting for me to spend an evening talking about books and publishing with other authors, agents and publishers. It was wonderful to spend more time with my agent than the few seconds it takes to read an e-mail. It was encouraging that people were interested in me as a writer.

A few people have asked me if I'm disappointed not to win. Of course I would have loved to win - not just for me but for my agent and publisher and husband and all the people who have supported and voted for me. But honestly, I enjoyed myself so much I couldn't even conjure up feelings of disappointment when I felt I ought to! I'd had the attitude that I was going there to pretend to be an author for an evening; while I was there, I finally realised something - I AM an author! I wrote a book, an agent took it on, it was published and shortlisted for a literary award. This is real. My novel was published two years ago when my first baby was four months old and I've barely had time to draw breath since then, let alone contemplate how things have panned out. Well, they haven't panned out badly. I am still learning so much. I don't even consider myself a particularly good author, but I AM an author. I am getting there.

There were so many kind people on Tuesday who wished me luck, offered me encouragement, wanted me to win, told me I looked beautiful and treated me like a proper author. It was a magical few hours and the following morning, as I cleaned dirty nappies and dodged porridge being thrown off highchairs, I was glad that it was only a few hours. Genuinely. Glamour is fun, but real life is better. For one, real life is where the writing happens. I can't wait to get back to writing.

I didn't get to do an acceptance speech, but if I had I would've thanked all of you who have bought, reviewed and voted for my book. And I would've thanked the People's Book Prize for creating an award for authors like me - authors who had great feedback from big publishing houses but who were rejected over and over again for being unknown and for writing "quiet" books. So to all you unknown authors out there, keep going. One day your quiet book might also not-quite win a literary award. Or then again, it might really win! And wouldn't that be something?

*The event was meant to be broadcast on Sky News but actually wasn't in the end, although it was being filmed as if it was!