Monday, 29 October 2018

In Cyberspace No One Can Hear You Scream

This blog is usually book reviews, author interviews and bookish matters. But today sees a deviation in that pattern. I do apologise. 

As I sit here at my desk at three thirty in the afternoon and look out at the sun-cast shadows on the buildings opposite I can see the sun is already starting to go down. And I feel faintly nauseous.
On Sunday at two in the morning we endured that benighted human strategy that demands we throw our body clocks and natural rhythms upon the pyre of interference for no sound reason - the changing of the clocks. Sounds almost ceremonious, doesn’t it? It isn’t. Not for this individual anyway. With each passing year I fear and dread it more and more. I find the long hours of darkness damaging to my spirit. But why? 

Is it the harshness of the clock changing?  The changing of the seasons is a natural and inviolable rite of passage. It is necessary for the ecological and environmental good of our planet. Would I suffer less if the increasing hours of darkness were to happen more gradually? Is it that simple? I’m not sure.

I used to think it had something to do with the time of year you were born. Summer births produced summer people and winter births produced those who welcomed the ‘cosy’ nights. But I can’t substantiate that.  I wonder if it is to do with poor sleep patterns. Do those folk who sleep the moment their heads touch the pillow and don’t wake till morning ever endure the agonies of ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’? 

When I was younger it didn’t seem to bother me. I was almost unaware. So why does it get worse and worse the older I get? Shouldn’t it get easier? Time seems to pass by so much more quickly as I age so shouldn’t I worry less because in no time at all it’ll be Spring again? It just doesn’t work like that for it’s the moment I’m in that causes me the distress. The act of closing the blinds and pulling the curtains is like being incarcerated in a claustrophobic vacuum. The knowledge that come May and June I won’t need to do that doesn’t console. 

Let me say unequivocally I do not want to feel like this. I loathe it. It makes me so unhappy. And it’s not as if I just shrug my shoulders and say, well what can I do? I do try. For example this year I started to take a Vitamin D supplement. I started at the beginning of September. I figured as I’m someone who likes to be outside a lot the sudden withdrawal of Vitamin D might be a factor. I suppose there was a part of me that thought I might sail through the clock change this year. No. I started my light box therapy at the beginning of September too.  I’m walking every day to release the endorphins that they tell us must be released. Maybe, just maybe, I’d be much worse without implementing these strategies? I won’t know unless I stop them!! And I’m not risking that! People offer well intentioned platitudes that I accept with gratitude but I know, because I’ve tried them all that they make little difference, 

And then when I think of all that’s going on in the world today I berate myself and ask how do I dare, how do I fucking dare, to be so self absorbed ? And in the vortex of paradox that my mercurial self inhabits the guilt of that makes me feel even worse! 

And if anyone has read this, I thank you! And if not it doesn’t matter. For in cyberspace no one can hear you scream.

Picture is by Jojo from Flickr

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Shelf Life - Writers on Books and Readings - Alex Johnson

Well here’s another first for my blog - a book of essays. And it’s been quite intoxicating rediscovering this literary form that has sent me essay hunting way beyond the covers of this volume. So, thank you, Sir!

But specifically, this collection of essays. lovingly curated by Alex Johnson covers the subject of bookishness in a myriad of forms. From storing them, selecting them, protecting them to destroying them! 

There’s a cross section of, I do have to say only male, perspectives offered ranging from the king of essayists, Charles Lamb to Theodore Roosevelt’s reading habits, and Kipling who feels that:-

‘Books used temperately to excess become most dangerous drugs.’ 

Bring it on Rudyard!! They’re my recreational drug of choice nowadays!! 

I will say that Schopenhauer rattled my cage. 

So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devoted the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking….’  

Not me, matey!! 

I surmise that this is book that will appeal to a somewhat niche audience. It’s erudite and scholarly and offers much food for thought to bibliomaniacs and those who truly love books and reading. Interestingly there are no female contributors and there are no contemporary contributors. What to make of that I’m not sure suffice to say that it would be challenging to pen an essay on the arrangement of libraries upon an e-reader….. Heaven only knows what Schopenhauer would have made of that abomination!!

It’s been compiled with love by Alex Johnson, each essay prefaced by some  biographical details where relevant and other useful little snippets that complement the essays themselves. You can dip in and out of it. There’s nothing lost by not reading the essays in the presented order. 

My thanks to the British Library for a copy of this most enjoyable book.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Bellini Madonna - Elizabeth Lowry

*Updated Post

A year ago Elizabeth Lowry’s second novel, Dark Water, was published to critical acclaim and long listed for two awards. The book still remains for me a powerful reminder that true literature is not dead but alive, well and gently pulsing as more and more people dive into the depths of this book and immerse themselves in its wonderful prose and themes.

10 years prior to that Elizabeth’s debut novel was published. With a fine art bias and another flawed narrator it possesses some similar themes to Dark Water. After I finished Dark Water I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Reading it was every bit as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be. It didn’t read like a ten year old dated tome, rather, like a fine wine, it had matured to perfection. 

Thanks to the foresight and literary acumen of those good folk at riverrun this novel, The Bellini Madonna, is republished today. I racked my brains to recall a similar scenario and I couldn’t. It made me ponder the significance of such an event and what it might mean to an author. So I put some questions to Elizabeth concerning the nature of republication and her feelings now about the book. 

1. The Bellini Madonna was first published in 2008. riverrun are republishing which seems to me to be an astute move given the critical success of Dark Water. But it’s by no means commonplace. To be republished over ten years later is something of an accolade I would think? So, many congratulations! But how does the appearance of a new edition feel compared to the feeling you had when the book was first published, especially as it was your debut novel?

I’m delighted and immensely grateful to see the book reborn in such a handsome new edition (the cover design is by Helen Crawford-White of, who also did the paperback for Dark Water) but a little embarrassed, too, to tell the truth, as I feel The Bellini Madonna reads very much like what it is – a first novel. Back then of course I thought it was a work of genius. Now I’m not so sure. 

2. I read The Bellini Madonna after I read Dark Water. I was amazed at the ten year gap because it felt very fresh and vibrant. But did you have to do any rewriting or rethinking for the 'new' edition? And how involved were you in the republication process, if at all? 

I made just one change to the reissued text. After the novel was first published someone pointed out that there was a horticultural howler in the final paragraph. I’d written, ‘At dusk the foxgloves close their sleepy throats’, but apparently foxgloves are night-blooming flowers, so this now reads ‘At dusk the foxgloves open their sleepy throats’. A good example of the pitfalls of writing about things of which you know nothing.

3. Although The Bellini Madonna is very different from Dark Water I thought there were recurrent themes certainly in terms of identity and personality. Given the ten year gap between the novels I would guess such themes continue to absorb you? Was the experience of writing Dark Water a natural progression from writing The Bellini Madonna as you continue to delve into these ideas? And of course I'm wondering if your next book will continue to explore similar themes?

Life is a sense-making business and we all have personal themes which we revisit. Maybe people who write stories do this more consciously than most. I seem to go back to questions of identity, as you say; of power and conformity, journeys, and the puzzle of how words (or representations of things) relate to truth. The process of writing is just one of teasing out a slowly clarifying strand of thought and if we’re lucky and work hard at it, the hope is that we’ll eventually look back and see all those beads threaded on one continuous string.

4. I remember you telling me once that as a writer you have to let a book 'go'. And I imagine that's possible to do particularly as you become consumed by the next book you write. But with a republication, over ten years later, do old thoughts resurface and redefine your feelings for the book to draw it back to you?

They don’t in my case. It really is a question of following the thread to the next bead. 

5. There have been a number of art themed novels recently. I'm thinking of Barbara Bourland's Fake Like Me, Tom Rachman’s The Italian Painter, Maria Hummel’s Still Lives, Elizabeth MacNeal’s The Doll Factory with its PRB references and Paul Tudor Owen's The Weighing of the Heart'. It seems an almost perfect time to republish! Was this intentional? Or is this one of life's delightful synchronicities, strange forces at work that decided the time was right?!

Strange forces at work, definitely.

6. And now, it's time for a horrible question for which I apologise… but only a bit! If you were writing The Bellini Madonna now is there anything you would do differently? 

I’d probably do the whole thing differently. But the novel was written by who I was then, with the tools I had available to me at the time. As a writer you’re simply trying to improve, and to make the next book a little better than the last.

I’d like to thank Elizabeth, busy at work on her third novel, for taking the time to answer these questions with her usual modesty and honesty. 


My original thoughts on reading the novel last year.

I know that riverrun books intend to reissue this first novel from Elizabeth Lowry in the wake of the success of Dark Water. I presumptuously asked their senior publicist if I could go to the top of the list for a proof copy when they became available. Reader, I couldn’t wait! So I bought a copy. And I was nervous. I have placed Ms. Lowry on a literary pedestal because I am simply bewitched by her writing and I simply couldn’t have borne it if the novel hadn’t satisfied me even half as much as Dark Water. Hard to believe that this novel is ten years old but, like the paint on some of the fine art works that feature in the story, the words remain fresh and vibrant as if the ink was still wet on the page.And I apologise now if this turns into more of an essay than a review but, hey, it’s my damn blog and I’ll do what I want!

Inevitable, because in some ways it’s subliminal, but as a reader I think you do forge comparisons between a writer’s works. And whilst Dark Water and The Bellini Madonna appear to be very different books I found some recurring themes. But I will confess that I had read some reviews of this book immediately after I read Dark Water because I was desperate to find out more about this incredible novelist and I had hoped to find an extensive body of previous work that I could devour! I suppose that within the context of how many books I have waiting to be read and reviewed it is fortunate that Ms. Lowry has only produced this one, previous novel! Her writing is substantial, this is no frivolous beach read. You read the book and let it read you too. From what I researched I knew that comparisons had been offered with Nabokov, Henry James and Donna Tartt. That’s not a road I’m keen to travel down here other than to conjecture how much such lofty comparisons help or hinder an author. It must be complimentary but does that place a writer under pressure for subsequent work? And doesn’t the writing of any reader reflect their influences in some way? For me, anyway, she has a voice and style all of her own. 

I apologise in advance if I am offering spoilers. It isn’t something I routinely do. In my defence this book is ten years old and many will have read it. The Bellini Madonna is a complex novel. On the surface it is a mystery story concerning one, rather unpleasant, middle aged man’s search for an elusive work of art. Dismissed from his position for sexual transgressions Thomas Joseph Lynch becomes obsessed with his search for a missing painting, an hitherto undiscovered painting by Bellini. A search that takes him to Italy and to an old English house, Mawle, inhabited by Anna and a child, Vicky.  But it’s not a ‘big house’ story and it’s not a conventional mystery story. Like Dark Water it’s a search. But a search that goes beyond the material. The art theme is a sustained metaphor that guides us toward considerations of perception;  ourselves and everything around us, beauty, love, and that all consuming, impenetrable business of being a human!!  If I may quote - ‘This is a world, I now believe, of shifting surfaces, behind which the human heart staggers about like a blind thing, knocking itself senseless.’ And - ‘If I have learned nothing else from all of this, it is that our intentions are not painted in lasting pigments, and that no instance of human suffering is unique.’ And I am reminded of Hiram Carver from Dark Water, If we don’t believe in the suffering of others, how can we believe in our own?’

Central to the narrative is the discovery in the old house, Mawle, of a diary that Thomas Lynch believes will guide him to the missing Bellini Madonna. The diary of James Roper last known owner of the picture.  But let us consider Thomas Lynch. And whilst for the majority of the novel the reader is almost invited to despise him for, not least, his lascivious intent towards Anna, the redemption comes as a shock toward the end of the book when we realise that Lynch is doing the unthinkable and acknowledging his flaws and dysfunctions. ‘I stood at the edge of myself, looking into the cloven heart, not of Thomas Joseph Lynch, connoisseur and aesthete, but of a repulsive stranger. ….. I was a selfish, badly ageing man….’. But he’s a complicated man and as his history unfolds alongside the diary entries  of James Roper we get the sense of history repeating itself, it’s as if Roper and Lynch are the same person. In the notes he makes whilst reading the diary at one point he refers to Roper as ‘I’ shocking himself even  ‘did I really write I? `It’s as if in both cases ultimately predator becomes victim. It’s as if the two men’s stories unfold in parallel allowing Lynch to head towards his enlightenment. And if Dorian Gray has a deteriorating portrait in his attic James Roper’s portrait seems to have changed when Lynch takes another look in the latter stages of the book as if he were looking at a mirror and seeing the real person before him. And once done he seems to reject art. He ponders whether his encounter with emotion has destroyed his sense of the aesthetic. 

I saw a pattern - Lynch’s relations with his mother who quotes Browning and wears attar of roses, dying when he was eighteen. He seeks an elusive picture of a Madonna, only a Madonna without Jesus, without her son, a mother without a son, he, a son without a mother. And Roper, owning the Madonna painting, time spent in the company of Browning, designing a rose garden for his wife who has a son and that son becomes a son without a mother. It’s all so skilfully woven together. Is Lynch’s search for the Madonna a subconscious search for his own mother? His search for the only real love he ever knew? Is art a substitute for real life? But we are told, ‘Art records only the accidents of life never the process.’

If you revere Robert Browning prepare yourself because Ms. Lowry’s depiction of him here is not always complimentary, although it is Lynch’s opinion we are hearing ‘ a sly boots practised in ambiguous  flatteries.’ , ’socially promiscuous prick’ had me chuckling because I have never thought of Browning that way. It gets worse! ‘Language! What piss! A book is just a book. A flower is just a flower. I am so weary of words.’ I loved it! The book is also wickedly funny elsewhere and on several occasions I was laughing out loud! I hope I was meant to! - ‘Indeed Edie. But few derive as much comfort from a cornice as you do.’ 

Cementing it all together is the sublime prose of Elizabeth Lowry. She is a sorceress of words and the spell she weaves has me reading huge chunks aloud for the immense pleasure of hearing the words and ideas resonate around me. It’s elegant, rich language. And she is so quotable! It’s a long while since I stopped so often whilst reading a book to marvel at the aphorisms twinkling throughout the pages of this story. These for example.

‘It’s the historian’s job to dream something real into being.’

‘The elegiac is constantly being scuppered by the absurd.’

‘Love doesn’t have to be perfect to be real you know.’

i’m seriously erring on the side of fangirl here so I’ll try and level things up with a touch of objectivity. For there were times when I felt confused between times frames and locations. But then again I wonder whether the uneven pacing mirrored the narrator’s uneven state of mind?

Some novelists tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. They tell them very well. We read them, enjoy them, revere them. Tell our friends about them. But some novelists do more. They go beyond ‘mere’ story telling and offer insights and philosophies, demand their reader think and ponder the metaphysical. When I reviewed Dark Water I suggested that it wasn’t just a book, it was literature. I’ll say the same here……

And from the sublime to the absurdly ridiculous I found myself thinking of that sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo’ and Officer Crabtree finding his ‘bust’ clue about The Fallen Madonna with the ’Bog Beebies’ !! And if you haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about, it is maybe because I am old and you are not!

And now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to plan a trip the National Gallery to see some Bellinis………

(And I did go to that wonderful exhibition!)

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Distortion - Victor Dixen

Okay now. I want you to form two queues. The first - all of you who HAVEN’T read  Ascension, the first volume in the Phobos series.  And in the second queue - all of you who HAVE. I shall address queue number 1 first. So, you haven’t read Ascension? WHY THE HELL NOT? Now, please, go away and read it and then you can come back and read about Distortion. It’s for your own good, I promise you. 

And now to business. This second instalment of the Phobos series continues where the first book left off. And if my opening paragraph seemed a little flippant it is because I think you really do need to have read the first book to truly engage with the second. The characters defined in the first are developed in the second, developed very well I might add, but if I hadn’t read Ascension I might not appreciate all the nuances and they are worth appreciating.

Excellent translation, again, by Daniel Hahn from the original French, this YA series continues to entertain this OA. Our twelve ‘contestants’  continue their pioneering journey towards Mars in Cupido developing their relationships and also themselves, growing and maturing before our very eyes. They need to if they are to stay one step ahead of the Cruella Deville of the cosmos, Ms. Serena McBee. Something that did strike me was whether teens universally would speak, react and interact in the same manner the world over. Because I did feel sometimes that the exchanges were not always typical of the teens I know. Something may be lost in translation. And indeed in geographical location!

There’s plenty of tension, emotional and physical, and plenty of action. Disclosures aplenty-  some that shock, some that we may already have deduced but it all keeps the reader on their toes, just like our intrepid heroes who cannot risk the luxury of relaxation. 

The science is well covered, explanations supported  by a series of diagrams. I’m still not sure if I understand all of it but it comes across as plausible and convincing. Crucial in a Sci-fi story. 

It continues very much in the mould of The Hunger Games and Maze Runner series although this seems somehow ‘spacier’ than Ascension. I can see the huge appeal and potential it has to delight the YA readership. There’s a kind of subtle morality running through which I think is important when you’re aiming at a younger audience. And Mr. Dixen doesn’t forget us oldies who might be reading, with a few tongue in cheek lines. This for example when Serena McBee is questioned about why a certain character has done a certain thing -  ‘Only novelists need to worry about credible motivations for their characters!’. Had me chuckling anyway.

If you can engage your audience thoroughly  the concluding cliffhanger is a sure fire guarantee to whet a desire for the next volume. And I will look forward to it not least because I am a completist and I need to know how it all ends!! 

Thanks to Readers First for a copy of this book. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Interview with Ana Sampson McLaughlin

An Interview with Ana Sampson McLaughlin

Ana Sampson McLaughlin is a lady with several hats. Fellow bloggers may well know her as Deputy Publicity Director at Quercus books, sending out books, arranging blog tours and facilitating author interviews. She’s a Mum and those who follow her on Twitter will have smiled at her ‘What are you eating, Mummy?’ series, and her anecdotes featuring errant mermaid pens, fox poo, and lost car keys will have had you chuckling and commiserating in the same breath. But today on my blog she wears yet another  hat, that of poetry enthusiast and anthologist.

Her recently published anthologyy She is Fierce, is a comprehensive compilation of poetry by women. 
Reviewed on my blog last month the volume continues to delight me. Given how busy she is I was thrilled that Ana agreed to let me interview her. So without further ado……. an interview with Ana Sampson McLaughlin.

 Firstly, thank you for She Is Fierce. It sits by my bedside to dip into, especially when I can’t sleep!  It has flicked my poetry switch to ‘on’ again which has been unexpected but quite delightful! I’ve been thumbing through my poetry collection and even started scribbling away again myself. And so my first question is to ask if you write poetry yourself, now or ever?

I am SO HAPPY to hear this! It took a long time for my poetry switch to flick back to ‘on’ again after studying English Literature to be honest – I had lost sight of the pleasure of poetry. And on the bedside table is a position of honour for any book, so I’m thrilled to hear it’s there. The more poetry I read, the more in awe I am of the people who can write it. One of the greatest thrills of putting this book together has been having the opportunity to meet some of the women whose work is included – I consider them to be actual magicians and am embarrassingly fan-girly! I wrote terrible poetry in my teens (didn’t we all?) but now I think it’s best left to the professionals.

 It always seems to me that a poetry anthology is one of the best ways to make poetry accessible to a wider audience. People will possibly pick up an anthology rather than a volume by a single poet. Especially a themed anthology like She is Fierce. You’ve produced several anthologies already.  And I’m wondering where the initial idea to compile one begins? Is it a clear decision? Or does it evolve in another way, from reading poems incidentally that maybe that suggest a theme?  

Most of my other anthologies have been quite general – ‘greatest hits’ volumes, if you like – apart from Poems to Learn By Heart which had a specific aim to gather poetry I felt would be useful in your mental armoury. In the case of She Is Fierce, the idea came because I wanted to read an anthology of women’s poetry and I couldn’t find anything broad and accessible that covered many centuries. That seemed an incredible omission, so I decided to fix it!

 Compiling an anthology has the potential to be an underrated achievement, much like the curating of an art exhibition. People don't always consider the work that has gone into, not only selection of poems but also how to arrange them in the best possible configuration. Could you tell us a little about how you go about both aspects? 

I read and read and read and read! I think I read a couple of thousand poems, and I post-it noted everything that moved or intrigued me. From those marked poems I created a (very) longlist, and divided this into themes – not always an easy job as one of the great pleasures of poetry is that it can talk about many things at once. I also discovered recently that a poem I had read in one way – as an adolescent, spreading her wings – had actually been written at the end of a grown-up relationship – so is perhaps in the wrong section, though would speak to people in both circumstances, evidently! The skeleton of the book changed a few times, with themes merging or disappearing altogether. Then I had to cut down that longlist – which was agonising. When I had a final list of poems in each chapter, I printed them out and read them both to myself and out loud, shuffling them until the sections felt right. Some chapters suggested their own order – ‘Roots and Growing Up’ moves from childhood through to grandmotherhood, for example – but in others the rhythm was something I had to carefully consider.

 I would imagine, but correct me if I’m wrong, that for all the poems that made it into the anthology there were hundreds that didn’t? Was it difficult deciding which can go and which can stay? Did you have any kind of criteria which helped you make the decisions?

It was awful! I lost some real favourites and cut enough poems from the longlist to fill another whole anthology. I didn’t want to include too many poems on the same theme, or by the same writers, or that expressed the same feelings, and wanted a good range of voices from different eras and walks of life. There were a couple of poems I originally wanted to include that we couldn’t clear permissions for, and one that had to be expelled for swearing, as we wanted the book to be suitable for secondary school readers and didn’t want to shock the school librarians! 

 Following on from that I guess, poetry is such a subjective art form, I think so anyway. Did you allow your own subjectivity to influence your choices. Or were you able to objectively select a poem that didn’t speak to you as much as others. I suppose what I’m asking is do you have to love every poem that you decide to place in a themed anthology? 

Poetry is personal. I think it is very subjective, and I love everything that’s in here – so I’m extremely relieved to see that readers seem to be enjoying the selection too so far! Some of the poems speak to me more than others of course – the ones about motherhood particularly moved me as I have young children (and actually my editor had to stop me from putting in double the number of poems in this section!). I know from experience that my tastes and what strikes a chord with me will change as my life does. I so hope there is a wide enough selection of themes and styles here to offer something everyone will love.

I thought you struck a fine balance between deep, metaphysical poems at one end of the scale and the more light hearted poems at the other?  Was that difficult to do? 

Thank you! That was definitely my aim, and hopefully there will be something to suit whatever mood you’re in when you pick up the book. It wasn’t too difficult to do because – even though they’ve been rather ignored in traditional anthologies – women have written such an enormous wealth of amazing poems, so there was so much material to choose from. I just had to go looking for it, as it has been rather sidelined especially in earlier centuries.

When I read poetry I find that instinctively I start to read it aloud. I won’t say that never happens with prose but it’s rarer. When you are making selections do you read the poems aloud? Does the spoken word aspect play a part in your choices?

Reading poetry aloud is one of life’s great pleasures – as is hearing poets read their own work. You really get to feel the beauty of the language and the rhythm that way and I always hear something in it I didn’t get from the written word on the page. There is an audiobook of She Is Fierce and I bought it myself to hear the poems read by the supremely talented Adjoa Andoh – I loved listening to it on my walk to work, it felt like a really mindful and relaxing way to start the day – and it really brought the poems to life. When you read poetry out loud yourself, it makes you slow down and properly chew over both the feeling the poem gives you and its meaning. 

I notice that on Twitter sometimes someone will post a poem and potentially many people may read it, on their commute maybe. Do you think that Social Media and maybe the Internet as a whole has offered a broader platform for people to access poetry? 

Definitely. I love that poems are going viral now – it just goes to prove how eloquently poetry can communicate. Short poems lend themselves well to being shared on social media and I discovered both Nikita Gill and Yrsa Daley Ward through their Instagram feeds. Hera Lindsay Bird’s poem about Monica from Friends was everywhere online and led me to read her brilliant books and Hollie McNish’s poem Embarrassed makes a serious point about breastfeeding in a way that really caught the imagination of everyone who posted and shared it.

I usually ask writers if they can remember the first book that moved them to tears but in your case I’m going to ask if you can remember the first time a poem moved you to tears?

I don’t think I can remember the first time but I definitely cried a lot editing this anthology. I had whole days of reading poetry which was the most wonderful job in the world but occasionally a little emotionally exhausting! It turns out I am a real poetry crybaby and – actually – I hope some of the readers of the book have a little cry at one of the poems too.

 And finally having been inspired by this anthology so much I’d like to ask if you have another in the pipeline? Or if you answered ‘Yes’ to the first question, a book of your own poems?!

Definitely no book of my own poems I’m afraid! But I am thinking about ideas for the next anthology though nothing is set in stone as yet. Watch this space!

I certainly will!. Many thanks to Ana for this fascinating and insightful interview. 

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Turn of Midnight - Minette Walters

  I was fortunate enough last year to receive an ARC of The Last Hours which I found vey exciting. A long time fan of Minette Walter’s psychological crime thrillers I was fascinated to see how a writer deals with a genre change. Very well in fact! After I finished it I was aghast to see how long it would be before the next book in the series and I jokingly asked for an advance advance copy!!

A link to my review of The Last Hours for those who may be interested -

Unfortunately the older you get the quicker time passes and here I am with the next book on the cusp of publication. Where did that time go? But for once I’m glad because I was so excited to read this second book. Another aspect of getting older is memory!! And how elusive it can be. I struggled momentarily to remember the details of The Last Hours. But I needn't have worried because this writer cleverly offered a character rundown which was effectively a synopsis of the previous book. This served two purposes in that it was a good reminder to readers of the previous book and it renders the book perfectly accessible to those who missed The Last Hours.

It took barely a page or two to transport me back to the Middle Ages and the scourge of the Black Death. And I quickly reacquainted myself with the key players, mostly Thaddeus Thurkell and Lady Anne. The interesting thing with reading a sequel is to see how a writer sustains the characters introduced in the first book but also how they go on to develop them in the next. Thaddeus is already a large man but he seems to grow in this second book. As do those who were boys at the end of The Last Hours but have become men by the end of The Turn of Midnight. Lady Anne contains to shower the demesne with her wisdom and sagacity. Almost too good to be true, is her Achilles Heel Thaddeus himself? The volatile Lady Eleanor has her part to play in this compelling narrative.

The historical research is authentic and convincing and the writing so tight that it is easy to imagine all the action that ensues down to the last detail. It’s all so well described. Ms. Walters is a master of her craft and the reader is drawn in carried along with the narrative flow. It’s story telling at its very best. Whilst it’s not exactly action packed, in fact this book is more cerebral than the last with the protracted inquiry towards the conclusion of the book where the indomitable Lady Anne ties her inquisitors in knots, but there should be enough to satisfy those who enjoy a conflict or two. But I will say that I found the concluding chapters overlong to a degree although there was a need to tie up ends. That being said I found the ending inconclusive in terms of there being a continuation of the story. It’s quite opened ended. The story of Develish surviving the Black Death and all its ramifications is concluded satisfactorily. But the story of Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thurkell? Well, that could be another story……

My thanks to Readers First for the opportunity to read this absorbing novel.