Posts

When Mike and Gally Martin move to a cottage in Somerset, it’s to make a new start. But the relationship comes under strain when Gally forms an increasingly close attachment to an old countryman, Ferney, who seems to know everything about her. What is it that draws them together? Reluctantly at first, then with more urgency as he feels time slipping away, Ferney compels Gally to understand their connection – and to face an inexplicable truth about their shared past.

It is great to see Ferney being re-released in the UK. HarperCollins published this book not long before I began working there back in 2000, and I know the publisher felt that it should have had more attention than it got. I read it over ten years ago, and the ending is still particularly vivid. The love story is absolutely original – a forerunner to The Time Traveller’s Wife – with a beautiful English countryside setting. I won’t give any more away, but if you can find it, read it!

NB: There’s also a sequel, called The Lives She Left Behind, which I’ll be looking out for. Check out details for both books, and Sarah Broadhurst’s review, on the lovereading website.

 

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu. 
And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

I read Jasper Jones last year, and it instantly became one of my all-time favourite books. It has everything. The central dilemma is brilliant and the characters spring immediately to life – Jeffrey Lu and his family’s stoic endurance of terrible (superbly understated) prejudice have remained incredibly vivid to me twelve months down the line. Furthermore, the dialogue and description are so incisive that I want to take one page at a time and try to break down exactly how Silvey does it. His writing runs like water – racing and eddying and bubbling and dancing, while Silvey masterfully manipulates its flow and charts its course. If you haven’t read Jasper Jones, and you only have time to read one book for the rest of the year, I strongly suggest that you make it this one.

It’s safe to say I am a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan. Her writing style appears effortless, but that is the trick of a master: to move a plot at entertaining speed while still capturing those compelling intricacies found in small moments. What’s more, her subject choices are always gritty and compelling, and her characters complex and real. So it was a real thrill to be in the audience last night when Jodi and her daughter Samantha visited Perth to talk about their new book.

Between the Lines was conceived by Samantha, who had the idea of a fairytale character with a life beyond the book’s pages, and a lonesome teenage girl who wishes this prince was real. Both Jodi and Samantha read excerpts from the book, and talked about what a great time they had writing it together – spending eight hours a day working on it line by line, speaking the story out loud to one another, and aiming for a certain number of pages a session.

In the Q&A afterwards, Jodi named Second Glance as the favourite of her books (because she had a great time researching it, and felt she nailed its complexity). Samantha spoke of her disconcertion as she watched readers devour their book in a few days, after she and Jodi had spent three years working on it. (I remember a similar feeling when Come Back to Me came out – I couldn’t believe people could move on so fast when I’d been absorbed in the story for such a long time!) And Jodi gave her verdict on writer’s block as a writer having too much time on their hands. Just write, she urged. You can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page.

I love this photo! It looks like I just ran in with a cheesy grin while Jodi and Samantha were having their picture taken.

Afterwards it was well worth waiting in the very long line to get my battered old copy of My Sister’s Keeper signed by Jodi, and my brand-new copy of Between the Lines signed by Samantha. Most of all, it was a real buzz to be able to say to Jodi directly, in the few brief moments I was in front of her, that she has been a true inspiration to me. Reading a Picoult book always re-energises me, and makes me aim higher in my own work.

NB: The first book I read by Jodi Picoult was, like many others, My Sister’s Keeper. It was fascinating to find out what she thought of the film, particularly the different ending. I found a blog link where Jodi answers a similar question, and you can read it here: http://filmvsbook.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/jodi-picoult-on-my-sisters-keeper.html

An incredible book. Set in 1873, an African-American mother, Sethe, has killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery. Now, the house – 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati – is haunted, ‘full of a baby’s venom’. Paul D, one of the former slaves who worked with Sethe, comes and tries to help the family move forward, but in doing so he forces out the ghost of Beloved, who returns to the house as a young woman with baby-like features. Beloved ousts Paul D from the house, and Sethe becomes a slave again, this time trying to do the impossible – to achieve forgiveness from the girl she sacrificed, because, in her own words, she was ‘trying to put my babies somewhere they would be safe.’

On reading this book I felt sickened and strange – but moreover that I was reading something extremely important. Toni Morrison put it like this:

There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to.

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.

 

 

 

The forces of nature and the strength of the human spirit inspire the poems in Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth. Alice Walker opens us to feeling and understanding, with poems that cover a broad spectrum of emotions. With profound artistry, Walker searches for, discovers, and declares the fundamental beauty of existence, as she explores what it means to experience life fully, to learn from it, and to grow both as an individual and as part of a greater spiritual community. (www.randomhouse.com)

My love for Alice Walker’s writing began back in 1995 when I wrote about The Colour Purple as part of my dissertation. It remains one of my favourite books of all time. I came across this 2004 publication more recently. I was in the library, supposedly working on my own book, but instead I spent the morning devouring these poems.

I loved the whole book, but would particularly recommend: ‘Coming Back from Seeing Your People’; ‘What Will Save Us’; ‘Thanksgiving’; ‘(Yours and Mine) Is Obsolete’; and ‘You Too Can Look, Smell, Dress, Act This Way’.

I’m in awe of the way Alice Walker can convey panoramic landscapes of emotion within just a few words. She shines an unerring light on the subtle corners of living, revealing that what we consider unimportant might be far more significant than it first appears. Most of all, I love the fact that despite her unflinching consideration of pain and suffering, I always walk away from her writing feeling uplifted.

NB: To read an extract from this book, click here.

I’m absolutely thrilled that Beneath the Shadows is released in the US and Canada today! Its journey began over ten years ago now, when I sketched out the first chapter in a small room in our little rented flat in Kent, south England. My central character Grace was with me for a long time, and after many years (and another novel!), the final chapter was written in our house on the west coast of Australia. Since then it has been a privilege to share the story with readers, and I’m delighted that from today it has spread its wings even further and reached such distant shores. Storytelling is the best job in the world for exactly this reason: it knows no boundaries, a story can be shared between people who are half a world apart as though they were sitting in the same room. So hello to everybody in North America who picks up Beneath the Shadows – I really hope you enjoy getting to know Grace and the colourful cast of characters in the little village of Roseby.

My final word of thanks must go to the fabulous team at St Martin’s Press and Minotaur, who have done such a fabulous job putting Beneath the Shadows together, and getting the word out. In particular, thank you to Anne Bensson, for showing such faith in a new writer, who lives so far away in the most isolated city on earth!

I am a glutton when it comes to books. My desires are larger than my reading time – which is why I have two crates full of books sitting in my bedroom right now, all of which I want to read, and yet I keep getting more – because there’s just so much temptation around! Sometimes, during the periods when my writing gets intense, I have to put my reading pleasures aside for a while, and boy do I miss it. I emerge from isolation like a racehorse from a starting gate, and the pile of books at my bed begins a period of rapid turnover (or at least it did before I had a child, I’ve had to slow down a bit). During these times, I try to blog about the books I love. You’ll find these recommendations listed on my facebook page, and full reviews on my website and on goodreads.com. I read a wide variety of genres, but I think you’ll quickly determine that I’m attracted to strong psychological dramas – which probably won’t come as much surprise if you’ve read my books. I hope you enjoy my selections, and wish us all many hours of happy reading!

I’m well into novel number 3 now, and looking forward to having a first draft ready early next year. I just spent ten days in Japan where I did a little bit of research as well as taking some family holiday time, but that’s all I’ll say for the moment. I hope to be able to put the synopsis/teaser for book 3 up on site early next year, so watch this space.