Booktalk


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Last weekend, I tried three things I’d never done before.

I did not regret any of them. (More of that later.)

Your challenge this weekend , should you wish to accept it, is to try something new.

It’s a risky business, choosing what to read.

So what if I were to tell you we’ve hand-picked a dozen books we think you’ll like. And to prove our confidence, you can have them for free.

All of them or pick the ones you fancy. There’s something for everyone.

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Adventure, historical fiction, short stories, drama, laughter, romance, mystery, heart-racers and heart-melters.

Strong women, passionate women, courageous women, clever women, mysterious women and smart women.
Best of all, you don’t actually have to be a woman to enjoy this opportunity.

Free Reads for Smart Women

Find out more about each exceptional book in this two-minute video:

 

As for my adventures?

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I had a go at parkour (good fun but bruising), took an exam in Italian (passed by the seat of my pantaloni) and ate a persimmon (previously put off by the name Kaki fruit).

 This weekend, I shall be reading, eating Mexican food and deciding on a title for Book 6.
Have a great weekend!

 

This week, The Guardian newspaper published this: Stop it, Sherlock! Five TV Tropes that need to die.

I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s one I wrote earlier.

(Tune in next week for chick-lit.)

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Only Dead Fish Have Open Mouths by Jed Blood

It’s Friday night in Greensville, Colorado. Apple-cheeked Melanie Mills is pretty tired after school and a volunteer shift at Kitty Corner, the homeless cat charity. But tonight is special. She has a secret. She tells her folks she’s studying with the girls and heads out for her romantic blind date.

I’m neither romantic nor blind, but I’m waiting for you, Melanie. Inside my head is a lonely place. Inside my pocket is a garlic crusher. Tonight is for Daddy.

Lauren Laphroaig (don’t try to pronounce it, honey, you’ll choke) is woken at 3am by the phone. On the other end is Detective O’Malley, wearing a shower cap on each shoe, shouting at civilians to stand back and chain-smoking cheroots. The mutilated body of an apple-cheeked teenage girl just washed up in the creek. Lauren sighs, swears and drags on a leather jacket. En route to the river, she listens to Miles Davis, snacks on a chili dog and regrets her inability to commit to relationships.

Chief Inspector Elmet Bird is at the scene when she arrives; besuited, livid and in urgent need of soundbites for the city council. Lauren rolls her eyes (because she’s feisty) and mimes ‘Bird Brain’ to O’Malley. Bird spots their sniggering and assigns one of his own to assist in the investigation. Travis C. Weed is a law-enforcement-consultant with an apricot tie and a handshake limper than wilted chard.

Pathologist Rita Ferrongut won’t hazard a wild guess as to cause of death, insisting on a full PM first. Lauren and Weed talk to Melanie’s parents (traumatic), her friends (dramatic) and the weird owner of the cat sanctuary (erratic). Weed takes everything in his stride and asks intelligent questions. Lauren notices his long eyelashes and warm smile but still hates his tie.

The morgue. Ferrongut is having lunch (sashimi, sushi and edamame beans) over Melanie’s eviscerated corpse. She offers everyone chopsticks, while demonstrating how the victim’s injuries were caused by kitchen implements, including an oyster shucker. Weed rushes out to puke. Ferrongut belches. Lauren sighs, swears and goes home for a hot shower.

Time to wash off all that death, grief and wasabi. Wraps herself in bathrobe, fills whisky glass, puts on Chet Baker, has bitter phone call with ex-husband. “Married to the job? Maybe. But I’d rather be married to something I care about.” She sighs, swears and sleeps on the sofa.

Detective O’Malley uncovers police records for Barry King, owner of Kitty Corner. The man is dangerous. So Lauren decides to investigate, at night, alone, with no phone. Oh, and it’s raining.

Stumbling blindly through the midnight-black catty-combs beneath the feline refuge, Lauren is whacked on the back of the head. When she comes around, she’s in a cage, gagged and tied with fish scales smeared on her face. Barry (call me Bar) King, with fetid tuna breath, unveils his master plan – the only restaurant in the world to serve human flesh.

Weed, worried, turns up at Lauren’s house. He finds her mobile and listens to the last message. Kitty Corner? That weird guy who smelt of Whiskas? Of course! He tracks them down and calls for back up. But waiting is not an option when Bar King  selects the Hiromoto Hacker from his knife block. Today’s Dish of the Day, with truffle oil and rocket, will be Carpaccio of Inner Thigh.

Weed mans up and bursts in, wrests the cleaver from the madman’s grasp and stabs King with a chopstick. With his last gurgling breaths, King explains he was abused as a child and only allowed to eat tofu.

Beside the corpse, Weed unties Lauren and wipes the scales from her cheek. Relieved, she holds him tight. Confused, he confesses his love.

Lauren sighs, swears and with one regretful lingering kiss, moves on to the sequel.

Emma Darwin in her wonderful blog This Itch of Writing explored the emotional connection between writer and reader. A timely piece as it’s been on my mind.

Emma speaks about distance and intellectual management of emotion by the writer to create the desired effect in the reader.

Yes.

Yes, and one more yes.

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So much work I read these days lacks that essential skill.

Distance is obviously essential in journalism or reportage, but it is more important than we think in fiction or creative non-fiction.

Theatre practitioners Stanislavski and Meyerhold went to opposite ends of the extreme. Both worked hard at their philosophies. Both studied their respective crafts.

Stanislavski and the subsequent Actors Studio in New York believed in emotional engagement, empathising, being, feeling and becoming the character. It gave rise to some exceptional performances and a certain amount of indulgence.

Meyerhold was about the physicality, the mechanics of performance to trigger emotion and reaction. Actor as part of the machine, actor as manipulator of tools and audience, as in pantomime, commedia dell’arte and puppetry.

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As artists they honed their art; as directors they affected their audiences.

Whichever end of the spectrum they lay, neither would simply go through the (e)motions.

Worse still, going through recycled emotions is about as fascinating as a drunken friend retelling you how s/he met him/her. Again. Thinly disguised diaries or wish fulfilment is not literature. Why should we care?

Memoir, creative non-fiction and stories-based-on-ourselves all require a skill almost unheard of in these times of social media mirrors and echo chambers. How is one to be authentic via media that sprinkles moondust in your hair and makes dreams look real? How does one suppress the ego and use the material in the most effective way to entertain and enthrall the reader?

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Recent books I’ve read underline Emma’s point so here are three more points to add:

  • Have a story to tell – otherwise get a therapist/write a diary
  • Talk to the reader, not yourself
  • Even if you are the central actor, when writing, take the role of director

7 books that work:

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris

The White Goddess: An Encounter, Simon Gough

The Hare with the Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal

Paralian, by Liam Klenk

And my childhood favourite, My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell

 

All images courtesy of  Vien Hoang via Creative Commons

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My fabulous colleagues at Triskele make me sound rather nice.

Thanks, gang!

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This is the third in our series – what each brings to Triskele Books.

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tales-of-the-cityWeeks of grey skies, freezing fog and a bout of flu – it should have been the ideal time to tackle my TBR pile. Instead, I picked up Tales of the City and didn’t stop until I’d finished Sure of You, the sixth in Armistead Maupin’s series set in San Francisco. Why?

Because I love these books. They’re perfectly structured, terrific fun, filled with wonderful characters and sharp dialogue. Best of all, they are familiar. They comfort me.

Just as I reach for pyjamas, Heinz Tomato Soup or a hot toddy for solace and soothing, there’s a whole section of my bookshelf I’ve labelled as ‘comfort reads’. It’s an eclectic selection.

heinz-tomato-soupJane Austen beside David Baddiel, Bill Bryson next to Nancy Mitford, and Stella Gibbons is sandwiched between Iain Banks and Kate Atkinson. If I’m poorly, sad, tired or run down, it’s to these pages I run for a hug. So what is it about these books that make me feel better? What exactly is a comfort read?

Book bloggers, readers and writers were kind enough to share their old faithfuls and the variety was surprising. Childhood favourites, classics, chick lit, escapism or crime seem to be our reliable pick-me-ups.

Here’s a selection of choices and I now have a new list – To Be Re-Read.

Children’s Books

secret-gardenPerhaps it’s an emotional echo of when someone else looked after us, but Winnie the Pooh, Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Dr Seuss, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak are solid favourites amongst the reading community.

Yes indeed. I buy copies of Where The Wild Things Are for all my favourite small people.

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book for me. Its subject is incredibly bleak (a little girl whose mother has died spends the summer with her father and her grandmother, who is preparing for her own death) but it’s so beautiful and homely that it cheers me up every time. It’s the darker cousin of her Moomin books and it breaks my heart and heals it all at once – Cassandra Jane Parkin

Classics

Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Le Grand Meaulnes, Grapes of Wrath and Under Milk Wood all seemed popular in my unscientific study. Is it because we know what’s going to happen and relax in the knowledge of certainty? Or it is because we know and love the rhythm of the words in the case of Lee, Shakespeare and Thomas?

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I turn to the classics – Bleak House or if I’m really in need of it A Christmas Carol. I love them because they are so brilliantly written, they take you completely away from all the things going on in life – and things turn out right in the end – Peter Taylor-Gooby

Light, Laughter and Romance

Comfort reading for me must transport me elsewhere, hold my attention there, have strong characters and include resolution of a problem/situation and a happy ending. I don’t want to be harrowed and can’t stand misery literature of any variety – Catherine Kullmann

Writers who make my respondees and me laugh include Jeeves and Wooster, James Herriot, Terry Pratchett, Mil Millington, Marian Keyes, David Baddiel, Flann O’Brien, Sophie Kinsella, Stephen Fry and Bill Bryson.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, it’s a magically-weird world where I can hide from whatever’s bugging me in this one – Catherine Hokin

Darkness and Drama

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Sometimes, even while feeling grey, we have the urge to go darker. Maybe reading how bad things could be acts as a cathartic purge. Apparently there are dog-eared copies of books by Kate Morton, Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Thomas Harris, Val McDermid and Frank McCourt on many a bedside table.

Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman is a book I’ve kept beside my bed for years and I often reread passages. Kaufman describes a woman full of anxieties and unfulfilled in her marriage so vividly. It may seem strange that I find this comforting, but I do – Alison Baillie-Taylor

I’m also grateful to Harriet Springbett for alerting me to The Novel Cure by Susan Elderkin & Ella Berthoud. It advises which book to read according to your ailment. Brilliant idea!

And you? On the days you retreat beneath the duvet with a hot-water bottle and a mince pie, which kind of book do you reach for, in the sure knowledge it will make everything all right?

In a month when bad news came in threes (and I’m not talking about presidential debates), I realised three things.

  • The support of female friends is invaluable. I love the guys too but the girls rock. Especially after losing a loved one, each in their own way reminds me they care.
  • No relationship is without conflict. All my closest friends and I have had occasional disagreements: politics, ethics, behaviour, or which dishcloth to use for wiping up red wine. Just like any couple, it’s how you deal with these flash points that defines your respect for one another.
  • Friendships can survive long periods of neglect, much like my garden, and burst into bloom once more.  Memories, photos and Facebook act as great fertiliser.
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Colours for Cooty – The celebration of my Mum and her exceptional life

A fellow writer recently discussed the awkwardness of ‘unfriending’ a person. Not on social media, but in person. I get that. On three occasions, I have ‘consciously uncoupled’ from people whose influence became more negative than positive. On each occasion, I felt lighter, happier and couldn’t understand why it had taken so long. But true friends I will treasure forever.

Seeking comfort in books, as is my wont in times of trouble, I went back to female friendships. I re-read many and sought out certain passages which touched me the first time. Here’s a brief list of my favourites for you to curl up with. Ideally with a comfy blanket and a bowl of tomato soup.

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford

A fictionalised account of the Mitford sisters, this insight into upper-class British family life in Downton Abbey through a child’s eyes. Fanny’s love and friendship with Linda and her sisters is a joy.

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Temples of Delight, By Barbara Trapido

Everyone should have a Jem. A bright, lively rulebreaker who enters Alice’s life like a firework. For an all-too-brief but thrilling period in her young life, Jem opens all kinds of doors, then disappears through one.

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Accabadora, by Michela Murgia

An ageing seamstress who operates as the opposite of a midwife (she helps souls leave rather than arrive) has no children. She adopts Maria, whose family can no longer afford to feed her. The two women learn much from each other, and learn how to manage life as a single woman in rural Sicily.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

Two women of different generations and even class, Renée is the concierge of a Paris apartment block, who outwardly conforms to what her residents expect. On the 5th floor, Paloma is planning her own suicide before her thirteenth birthday. Two women with a shared curiosity for the meaning of life.

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My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Also set in Sicily, this book offers an exceptional insight into the world of blood feuds and family roles but the theme is closer to The Pursuit of Love. An apparently unequal friendship turns out to be more balanced than it seems. A painfully accurate rendition of what a good friendship really is.

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Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill

Both bleak and comforting, this vision of the future where women compete on every level is uncomfortably close to reality. The warmth of female friendship, the love and loss of a true friend is resonant throughout. It’s pitched as YA, which is a good thing. All young women, and men, should read this. It has a message for us all.

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The blog is going on holiday! For the next two weeks, your Sunday evening irritant will be as silent as a squashed mosquito.

Not all the following statements are true:

  • I am going undercover with Interpol
  • I am sailing round the Med in a bikini
  • I am switching off the Internet to write the book

However, I couldn’t bear to leave you with nothing to read.

So I have been rooting around in the undergrowth for precious treasures. I’m not just chucking any old fungus at your feet. I’ve chosen carefully and catered for all tastes. Think of me as your friendly truffle-sow.

Tailored to your mood, destination and fancy, here’s what you should read this summer:

 

You’re heading to the park, with sunglasses and umbrella for some me-time:

Hampstead Fever, by Carol Cooper

 

You’re in a camper van, exploring Ireland. Nothing’s gone to plan and you couldn’t care less:

The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney (audiobook adds layers of joy)

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You’re backpacking in South East Asia and curious as to recent history:

When Broken Glass Floats, by Chanrithy Him

 

You’re taking the family on an educational Grand Tour:

Us, by David Nicholls

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You’re heading to the British seaside with a bucket, spade and some Polaroids:

Her Turn To Cry, by Chris Curran

 

You’re on a road trip through the American MidWest, watching, listening and learning:

Mailbox, by Nancy Freund

 

You and the gang are partying on the beach:

Viral, by Helen Fitzgerald

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You’re staying home to do some thoughtful gardening:

The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton

 

You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time with the right words:

Easy Motion Tourist, by Leye Adenle

 

You’re still mourning Brexit and plan a cycle trip round Europe to say goodbye:

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, by Liz Jensen

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What are you reading?

See you in August!

Thanks to JD Lewis for all these beautiful images. Check out more of her work here.

 

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