30 December, 2015

2015 Review

Most years I have plenty of news to report about my own writing. This year, I was going to say that nothing happened - as a full-time mum of two boys under two years-old, I have done much less writing than I'd like. However, looking back I see that more happens when life goes on than you realise! What's been the highlight of your year?

  • My debut novel The Art of Letting Go was selected for promotion by Amazon in February which led to sales of nearly 10 000 copies and a brief stint as the bestseller in Women's Literary Fiction.
  • Even more exciting, my novel was one of the Top 10 most-read books on Kindle in the UK in February, making me one of the 20 most-read Kindle authors too.
  • My flash fiction The Language of Fish won second-prize in a competition.
  • I decided to scrap the first draft of a novel I was working on and started again in February, finishing the new draft just a few days before my second son was born in August. It was extremely hard work, especially towards the end of the pregnancy. My first drafts are always awful, but I'm proud of just completing this one.
  • The Art of Letting Go was voted for by the public and was one of three winners in the People's Book Prize for the autumn quarter of the 2015/2016 competition. It will go forward as one of 12 finalists in May.
  • At the end of the year my novel had over 100 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4.3 stars. This was my favourite review. 

So even though I've done very little writing, my past work has kept me going throughout 2015. And of course, I've read a lot of good books. The one advantage of being up a lot of the night with a new baby - plenty of reading time! Despite this, I've not read as many books as some years. Here's a summary of my reading year...

  • I read 19 books in total.
  • Four books I gave ten out of ten: Perfect by Rachel Joyce; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler; The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.
  • Of these, my absolute favourite was The Book Thief.
  • My least favourite read of the year was Something Borrowed, Someone Dead by MC Beaton.
  • The average score I gave the books this year was exactly eight out of ten.

What was your top read of the year?

I hope all the people who have taken the time to read my blog and support in me in so many other ways this year have a blessed and happy 2016.

22 December, 2015

The Book... by Martyn Beardsley

Image from google books.
After a long hiatus I present to you the latest in my occasional series of guest blog posts. This series is where writers and readers tell us about a book which has meant something special to them. We've had books that encouraged early reading and books that have shaped faiths and books that will be passed on to the next generations. Today, my dear friend and author, Martyn Beardsley, tells us about...

The Book That Almost Came to Life

When I was young I read a book about a boy staying in a big old house. On a nocturnal exploration he stumbles on a way of going back to the house's Victorian past, and befriends a girl who lived there. It was Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce. Each time he goes back in time and plays with her she is a little older, until finally she is a young woman with a boyfriend. Tom is still a little boy, and sadly realises that the adventure is over. I won't give away the twist ending – but it always brings lump to my throat.

I re-read it as an adult, and unlike many revisits of childhood books I wasn't disappointed. I learned that the setting was the author's own childhood village on the River Cam near Cambridge - and decided to go on a literary pilgrimage and find it.

After some fruitless wandering about I spotted an elderly lady pottering in her garden, and asked for directions. I was surprised by the grilling she gave me as to the reason for my search – until she finally admitted, 'I am Philippa Pearce – I bet you thought I would be dead by now!' (I denied it – but the books were old so I had kind of assumed…)

She invited me in for a cup of tea, explaining that she had bought this cottage because it was opposite the old family mill house which had inspired her stories. We discussed her writing, and when I told her I was an aspiring but unpublished writer myself she gave me some useful advice. I went away walking on air and clutching a signed copy of another of her books. Only a year or so later I finally had my first book published, and I sent her a copy and received a very kind reply. One lasting effect of the encounter is that I've always tried help other unpublished writers in whatever small way I could.

It's only just struck me that the denouement of my story is not unlike that of the novel, which prompted me to change the title of this little piece. Apart from the birth of my daughter, meeting Philippa Pearce remains the most magical memory of my life.


Thanks, Martyn. As an once-unpublished writer who Martyn helped and encouraged, I am very grateful to Philippa Pearce as well! Tom's Midnight Garden was one of my favourite childhood classics and I'm itching to read it again now...

14 December, 2015

The 100 Greatest British Novels

The BBC Culture website have recently published a series of articles on the results of a poll to find the greatest British novels of all time. The poll was conducted among 82 non-British book critics, who were each asked to nominate ten novels by British authors.

You can see the full list, here. Here are the Top 25:

25. White Teeth (Zadie Smith, 2000)
24. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing, 1962)
23. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy, 1895)
22. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Henry Fielding, 1749)
21. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)
20. Persuasion (Jane Austen, 1817)
19. Emma (Jane Austen, 1815)
18. Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989)

17. Howards End (EM Forster, 1910)
16. The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931)
15. Atonement (Ian McEwan, 2001)
14. Clarissa (Samuel Richardson,1748)
13. The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford, 1915)
12. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
11. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)

10. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)
9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)
7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)
6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)
5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)
4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)

3. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)
2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)
1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)

Of these 25 I have read the 11 ones highlighted in red. I have also seen the film adaptation of Atonement. Having spent a decade working my way through the BBC Big Read Top 100, I am daunted by the thought of starting a new list of novels, but I'm also a little bit tempted. Anybody tempted to give it a go with me? I've read 25 in total so that leaves me with a whole lot of reading to do! On the list my three favourites so far are probably, Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro), Emma (Jane Austen) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell). Which are your favourites?

If you are looking for some interesting reading material I recommend having a browse of the related articles on the BBC website. Among other things, you can read about why Middlemarch is the greatest of the great (something that, I have to say, baffles me - I wasn't that keen on it myself. In fact, I noted it as being the least memorable of all the books in the Big Read!), what makes a British novel great in the first place, and why women are far better-represented in this list than you might expect.

What do you think of the list? Are there any glaring omissions? If you spot any, please let me know so I can add them to my Must-Read list of books!

My special thanks to my dear friend, Joe, for pointing me in the direction of these articles.

04 December, 2015

Christmas Gifts for Writers 2015

Do you have a special writer in your life? Don't know what to get them for Christmas? Let me help!

As in previous years, I've picked out a few gifts for writers and readers. This year, due mostly to not having time to browse the whole internet, I've taken them all from the marvellous shop The Literary Gift Company. They haven't paid me to write this and I don't know them, but I love pretty much all of their stuff! Other literary gift retailers are available! Here are just a few of the things they have on offer this year, that have caught my eye...

1. Depressed pencils (£5) featuring slogans such as, "In time, I'll be pointless". For the grumpy writer in your life.

2. Library t-shirt (£19.95) for those who love libraries (who doesn't?!).

3. I'm still in love with these book handbags (£54-62) and still have no reason to spend that much money on one. Sigh. I'm not even a handbag sort of person but there's something so charming about carrying around your stuff in an old book.

4. These bookends (£15.95) sum it up for me, although I confess I rarely have a shelf of books that isn't so rammed it needs bookends!

5. I love a good literary necklace, and this Alice in Wonderland one (£32) is my current favourite.

6. This quirky pillowcase (£14.95) is designed for you to jot down those late-night moments of inspirations. Comes with washable pens!

7. These posters (£24) contain the entire (legible!) text of a novel. I already own The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I am very struck by the brooding image for this poster of A Picture of Dorian Grey. (See here for the other novel posters currently stocked).

8. I couldn't leave something Shakespearian off the list as my novel-in-progress is about a huge Shakespeare fan. My choice of Bard products is this handy insult generator (£8.99) - a flipbook which uses words from Shakespeare himself to help you create inventive insults for every occasion. Brilliant.

And that, my sneaping pale-hearted rampallians, is all you are getting from me. Happy shopping!

02 December, 2015


In September I was happy to tell you that my novel, The Art of Letting Go, was nominated for the 2015 Autumn Quarter of The People's Book Prize. I am even more excited to tell you that out of the dozens (maybe hundreds?) of entries, it is one of three books selected as a finalist in the fiction category! (See here for proof.)

I'm so thrilled to have reached this point and it's thanks to you. The Prize is awarded entirely by public vote, so to all those of you who voted for me, thank-you so much! For now you can of course continue to poke your friends with a big stick until they read my book, but voting is over until May. In May 2016 I shall need you all to vote again as I join the other 11 finalists for the annual award ceremony where an overall winner (also decided entirely by public vote) will be announced. Last year the award ceremony - a terrifying-looking black tie kind of do - was broadcast live on Sky! As well as categories for fiction, non-fiction and children's books, awards will also be given for Best Achievement and for First-Time Author, which I could also be in the running for.

I will, of course, be spamming you with every update about the Prize, and pleading for votes closer to the time, but for now I can only say thank-you again. Please do sign up for my newsletter (see sidebar) if you haven't already and do keep telling people about The Art of Letting Go - if you'd like a signed copy to give as a Christmas present, let me know and I'm sure we can sort something out!