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We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

Set some time in the future, the main character, Offred, has been designated a Handmaid, and her function is to endure mating rituals in order to bear a child for the couple she belongs too.  The Gilead society is cruel and swift to exact punishment on those who disobey its rules. But Offred remembers a life before this, where she had a husband and daughter. Unable to forget the freedom she has known, she makes dangerous choices, and is slowly drawn towards disaster.

This book is right at the top of my all-time favourites, and just writing about it makes me want to go and find it again. I haven’t read it for years, but I can still hear those names called out in the darkness at the end of the first chapter, the brave reassertion of identity under a monstrously repressive regime. Atwood’s writing is mesmerising, and the dystopian world that she has built, where women have no rights and have become classified according to their purpose in relation to men, is both terrifying and heartbreaking. I could contemplate many of the sentences in this book for hours. I was so disappointed when I saw the film – but I think it’s just because there’s no way to translate Atwood’s writing, you need to read this story in its purest form.

 

 

 

I really enjoyed being interviewed by Aimee Burton last week, and you can check out our chat here. (Make sure you’ve clicked through to this story by clicking on the headline first in order to access the link).

It doesn’t seem like a very good time to be part of the book publishing business. The industry is in a parlous state of flux – publishers and agents appear stressed and depressed, and many bookshops are struggling. In my local area I have watched two lovely independent bookshops open, flounder, and close in the past couple of years. And as of today, industry knowledge has become public knowledge: Borders and Angus & Robertson are in big trouble too.

E-books are on the up, and they have risen so quickly that when we were negotiating my first publishing deal the e-book portion of it proved a little bit tricky, because we were all still getting to grips with the ramifications of the format. Traditional book formats are expensive at RRP – and many of my readers are happy to tell me they got my book out of the library. I don’t mind this at all (I get some books out of the library too), and writers do earn a little bit from library borrowings. Nevertheless, I made more in my final year of editing than I have done in my last three years of writing combined, and soon I will probably need to supplement my writing with another source of income. 

It seems that for everyone in the book business it’s time to adapt in order to survive. I hope as many as possible make it through to the other side, and that diverse, original, independent booksellers can tough it out against the big discounters. And I hope that all writers, published and those to be published, can ignore this horrible blip in the business and pursue their ideas wholeheartedly, because surely, at some stage, things will settle down, and earning a living this way might get a little easier. In the meantime it’s a pleasure to be part of the book-business community, because I’ve met (or cyber-met) so many superb, supportive people in the last couple of years: booksellers, authors, readers, agents, journalists, salespeople, librarians, editors and publishers. Good luck to every one of you, and here’s to a brighter day tomorrow.

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Welcome to my online book store! Please have a look a the selections available.

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Book Group Questions for Come Back to Me

1. Explore the different ways that the title theme of ‘Come Back to Me’ resonates throughout the book.

2. What do you think of Alex’s dilemma and choices? Can a person be truly in love with two people at the same time?

3. The changing nature of relationships between parents and children features prominently in the book. Discuss the nature and complexities of adult children’s relationships with their parents.

4. Each character goes on some kind of figurative journey within the novel. By the end, what do you think they each have learned, and how might it change them?

5. Different types of loss feature heavily in the novel. Which types of loss stand out most for you? How have these losses shaped the characters’ lives?

6. Each character in the book has personality traits that appear to be holding them back in life. Can you identify them? Do they change during the course of the story? If so, how?

7. Explore Alex’s motivations and experiences in the story. How much is he a victim of circumstance, and how much does he bring on himself through his decisions?

8. Where did your sympathies lie during the course of the novel, and why?

9. **NEW** At one point, Chloe asks: ‘What had she done to cause everything that was happening to her?’ This may be a harsh question to direct at herself, but it is an understandable one. Discuss how the notion of responsibility plays out in the novel, and the extent to which the characters are responsible for themselves or each others’ actions or reactions.

10. **NEW** Chloe, Alex and Julia/Amy have all pushed memories away or suppressed them in order to get on with their lives. Explore why they have done this, and what it means for them.

11. **NEW** Towards the end of the book, Margaret suggests to Chloe, ‘…maybe Alex is trying to protect you…’ Do you agree with this statement? Is that what Alex was trying to do?

12. **NEW** Throughout the book, there are lots of references to opportunities for connection between the characters, opportunities that might not come round again, or moments when they have to choose whether to speak or to withhold information. Can you identify these, and what do you think of the choices each character makes?