Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Beach Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Okay, when looking for a beach read I generally want something unchallenging that I can lose myself into. Humour is not completely required but definitely a plus, stuff I'm very familiar with - either through rereading or as part of a series - is great.

These are in no particular order.

1. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar - I absolutely love the first few GG books, despite thinking the series went downhill fairly quickly and hating the TV adaptation. The early ones, though, are perfect beach reads - lightweight, deliciously trashy, and featuring some memorable characters.

2. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich - Another series which goes downhill as you go on, Evanovich seems to be pushing the Stephanie Plum cash cow a little too far by now. Her early stuff, though, is fantastic - brilliant humour, hilarious plots, and charming characters - notably the central romantically involved trio of bounty hunter Stephanie, cop Joe Morelli, and the mysterious Batman-like figure Ranger.

3. Eddie Would Go by Stuart Holmes Coleman - Okay, I'll ditch my "easy read" philosophy when it comes to one of my favourite ever biographies, about the heroic Hawaiian surfer Eddie Aikau. Neither the book, nor the story of Eddie's heroic sacrifice, is anywhere near well-known enough.

4. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - A new favourite of mine and another that, behind the gorgeous facade, isn't a particularly easy read, dealing with Amy's grief about her father's death as the title pairing take a road trip across America.

5. Excess Baggage by Judy Astley - I could go with just about any of Astley's as a perfect beach read, but the Caribbean setting makes this the most appropriate. Beautifully drawn characters, a fantastic plot, and a great setting make this a surefire winner.

6. Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty - Oh, okay, I just need to get a book this wonderful into every top ten I can. A great beach read, though, because of the joy of life that shines through pretty much every e-mail, diary entry, poem and essay that this superb novel is composed of.

7. For the Record by Ellie Irving - I love quirky characters and this tale of a Jersey village desperately trying to break the world record for most world records broken in a week has a bunch of them. Ultra-charming and easy to read.

8. Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles - I keep meaning to read the first in the Perfect Chemistry trilogy but this second one works very well without prior knowledge anyway. Sizzling chemistry between leads Carlos and Kiara, and some excellent adult characters, make this a book to lose yourself in - and it's such a hot romance that the beach is the perfect place to read it.

9. Star Crossed: Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill
- I love books which flick about between different styles and this is an awesome one. BHH puts new life into the genre by adding in extracts from main character Logan's Fearless Astrology book, her own writings, and the main narrative.

10. About This Village by Peter Douglas - Slim enough to fit into a suitcase easily, this is a short novel which manages to capture the spirit of an English village in the 20th century perfectly.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Monday Musings: The Unreliable Life of Harry The Valet by Duncan Hamilton

Note: This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The story of Harry the Valet may not be particularly familiar to modern readers, but he was something of a celebrity in the Victorian age. He achieved notoriety by stealing thousands of pounds worth of jewels from the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland - much to the delight of many people who disliked the lady, which appears to have been pretty much everyone who ever met her. Having pulled off this audacious theft, Harry seemed to be invincible - but he was brought down by his love for a Gaiety Girl, and ended up facing a trial which the papers fell over themselves to report on.

Author Duncan Hamilton takes an impressive list of sources - chiefly the Valet's own autobiography, which he admits is not necessarily the most accurate of documents, but also hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and another two hundred or so books about the era - and weaves a compelling tale out of this fascinating character. The Valet himself is portrayed fairly sympathetically; far more so than the Dowager Duchess, the girl he falls for, or some of the other criminals mentioned in passing. That's not to say his crimes and the effect they had on others are completely glossed over - just that it's made clear that he was something of a Robin Hood figure, robbing from the rich and giving to a rather small section of the poor (namely, himself.)

I've now read several true crime stories set in this era and on balance I think this probably stands out as the best - Harry is a really interesting central figure, and the pacing is perfect, giving us lots of information about the trial and his many crimes without ever overloading us. It's also really atmospheric, capturing the flavour of the Valet's times, in locations ranging from London clubs to country estates to the Continent.

Overall this is a strong recommendation to fans of true crime or the Victorian era in particular, and thrilling non-fiction in general.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Snuff by Terry Pratchett

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

From Amazon UK:

According to the writer of the best-selling crime novel ever to have been published in the city of Ankh-Morpork, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.

He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, and occasionally snookered and out of his mind, but never out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment.

They say that in the end all sins are forgiven.

But not quite all…

Why I can't wait to read it:

I find Terry Pratchett's more recent work a bit hit or miss generally but there's no doubt that the Watch books are still my favourites of his. Vimes is a fantastic character and this sounds like a brilliant idea for a novel.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sunday Supplement: Review of Bang Bang You're Dead by Narinder Dhami

Mia is holding her family together. She’s never known her father, her mother is suffering from manic depression which she refuses to seek help for, and her twin brother Jamie is causing her real concern. So when the fire alarm is set off at school and rumours fly around that there’s a pupil with a gun on the loose, she starts to worry that Jamie has done the unthinkable. Ignoring all common sense, she desperately tries to see for herself whether he could be the one with the gun…

I have to be honest, I thought the plot here was a little farfetched when reading the summary on the back of the book. I thought Mia immediately suspecting Jamie of being the gunman was a little bit of a stretch – but when reading the flashback sequences, in which Mia describes the problems encountered by anyone who Jamie saw or heard causing problems for her, it becomes completely believable that she’d be afraid he’d taken matters this far.

Even though the main narrative of the book takes place while Mia is trying to find her brother to see if he’s the shooter, it’s somewhat misleading to suggest that this is actually about the shooting. If anything, the main topic is mental illness and just what a horrific effect someone’s suffering can have on the rest of their family. Dhami’s description of the problems faced by Mia and Jamie due to their mother’s problems is completely gripping and she deserves huge praise for tackling such a difficult subject so well. I also found the book to be completely unpredictable – right up until the final revelation I had no idea at all whether Jamie would turn out to be the person with the gun.

I’ve never read any of Narinder Dhami’s other books but will definitely be taking a look at them in the future; this is a massive recommendation to fans of smart, thought-provoking thrillers.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday Feature: Story Songs

Friday Feature: Story Songs

While I love reading because of the way books can transport me to another time or place, I'm also a massive music fan. The really great story songs combine the best of both worlds, capturing brilliant narratives with great melodies.

My personal favourites, in no particular order.

1. Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash

Country music has all the best story songs. This is a true comic classic, the tale of a boy given a girl's name by his absentee father, and what happens when the pair finally meet up. Genius lyricist Shel Silverstein at his finest, and a perfect performance from The Man In Black.

2. Taxi - Harry Chapin

In the first song, cab driver Harry picks up a late night fare who recognises him as her old lover. They split up, with her going to be an actress and him wanting to learn how to fly. Did they make it? Listen to find out. And then check out Sequel, the tale of the same couple a decade later.

3. Past Caring - Jackie Oates

The sad, mournful tale of a woman living in the Australian bush has finally overtaken nursery rhyme Lavender's Blue as my favourite of Jackie's songs. Her gorgeous voice and fantastic shruti box playing complement the wonderful words, by poet Henry Lawson, beautifully.

4. Miss Otis Regrets - Bryan Ferry

I'm not a massive fan of Roxy Music but really like lead singer Bryan Ferry's covers of classic 30's/40's songs. This one, about a society lady with an unusual reason for failing to make it to lunch, is a particular favourite.

5. The Red Headed Stranger - Willie Nelson

Nelson is probably the one artist I would choose if I was told I could only listen to one singer for the rest of my life. While Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain pushes this close, the tale of a grieving widower and the woman who tries to steal his wife's horse is just superb.

6. Stan - Eminem

I find Eminem hit and miss, but this is one of my favourite songs of the last 20 years or so. The cleverly written tale of a star receiving letters from an obsessive fan is great in itself, but Dido's gorgeous vocals in the chorus lift it even higher.

7. Ode To Billie Joe - Bobbie Gentry

Why did Billie Joe jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge? Nobody knows - least of all Bobbie Gentry herself, who confessed this to author Herman Rauncher. As a study of a family's reactions to a boy's death, this is great, though.

8. Seasons in the Sun - Terry Jacks

Yes, I know it's mawkish, sentimental, and almost certainly without any musical value whatsoever. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a tearjerker.

9. Babies - Pulp

Lots of Pulp that I could pick, but I'll go for one of the last songs of their pre-Different Class days, just before Glastonbury changed everything. Jarvis Cocker's delivery of the tale of a boy spying on his female friend's sister is creepy yet unmissable.

10. Pancho and Lefty - Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson

While Townes Van Zandt's lyrics are superb I've never been that keen on his voice. Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson's cover is a much better version of this tragic tale of a pair of bandits, for my money.

11. You Don't Mess Around With Jim - Jim Croce

One of my favourite choruses.

"You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim"

And then someone does...

12. A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request - Steve Goodman

Fans of perennially hopeless teams in ANY sport can sympathise with the narrator of this comic gem, who plaintively asks for six bullpen pitchers to carry his coffin as he talks about how the Cubs crushed his hopes.

13. Jim, I Wore A Tie Today - The Highwaymen

Willie Nelson in a third guise, along with other outlaw superstars Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. The tale of men left in mourning for a dead friend is surprisingly touching.

14. Sam Stone - John Prine

Like Pulp, there are many Prine songs I could go for, but his best narrative is probably this tale of a Vietnam vet's struggle to fight against drug addiction. Moving and gorgeous.

15. My Old School - Steely Dan

This is pretty much the first song I can ever consciously remember listening to that wasn't a nursery rhyme. My parents had a mix tape they used to play on long car journeys which consisted of a few Randy Travis songs, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Willie Nelson, Chuck Berry, and this song. This, the narrator's tale of a drug bust and the end of a relationship, was my favourite.

16. Coward of the County - Kenny Rogers

Rogers is another artist I find hit and miss, to be honest, but this tale of a boy who promised his dying father he'd avoid fights, but eventually has to break his word to gain revenge, is truly tragic.

17. Big River - Jimmy Nail

Nail's voice is an acquired taste but is well worth acquiring. This tale of the demise of the shipbuilding industry in his native North East is poignant and given extra weight by Mark Knopfler's superb guitar playing.

18. The Galway Farmer - Show of Hands

Steve Knightley's brilliant description of an Irishman's trip to England to place a bet at Cheltenham is fantastic, and Beer and Knightley play and sing it wonderfully.

19. Four Strong Winds - Ian and Sylvia

Another wonderful tale of the end of a relationship, the plaintive "I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way" line is sung especially beautifully in the original.

20. Matt Hyland - Kate Rusby

The traditional tale of a young man who falls in love with his lord's daughter is sung especially well by Yorkshire lass Rusby.

21. Lord Bateman - Jim Moray

The story of noble Lord Bateman, captured in Turkey but released by his jailer's daughter, is given the full Jim Moray treatment. Folk at its freshest.

22. Lord Bateman's Motorbike - Chumbawamba

A very modern song despite the presence of traditional folk characters Lord Bateman and John Barleycorn. Tragic but beautiful.

23. Kevin Carter - Manic Street Preachers

Despite its brevity, the Manics' tribute to photographer Kevin Carter, forever haunted by his prize winning picture of a vulture stalking a Sudanese toddler, still hits the chord.

24. Dublin in the Rare Ould Times - Sean Wilson

Irish singer Wilson deserves to be far better known than he is, and his take on Pete St John's tale of someone leaving Dublin bidding a final farewell to the city is gorgeous.

25. The Parting Glass - The Pogues

MacGowan's voice is totally unsuited to a sweet tender song bidding the listener farewell. There's no way on earth this should work, but it does, beautifully.

25 songs and not a Dylan one in sight! Not sure how I managed that...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Top Ten Minor Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists! Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers’ answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND fill out Mr. Linky.
If you can't come up with ten, don't worry about it---post as many as you can!

This is ridiculously difficult - I've tried to keep it to PROPERLY minor characters, people who make fleeting appearances. I've then totally ignored that at least once to choose the central character of a book because she's minor from the series as a whole's point of view. Oh, and I've got a real person in there.

No order, bad enough picking them!

There may be some tiny spoilers but shouldn't be anything major.

1. Aunt Ada Doom from Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - Confined to her room after seeing "something nasty in the woodshed", what happens to Ada at the end of the novel is incredibly unexpected but works perfectly.

2. Mia's Grandpa from If I Stay by Gayle Forman - A tiny appearance but an important one, with a really heartbreaking speech to Mia.

3. Chris Spitler from The Last Amateurs by John Feinstein - Despite not being fictional, sticking him in there. Almost certainly the basketball player with the most heart in this entire wonderful book.

4. Bronwyn from Amy and Roger's Epic Detour - Just read and loved this; Bronwyn was brilliant because she played a huge part in helping Amy start to come to terms with her father's death.

5. Barbara Chester from The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer - One of my favourite Chalet girls despite getting one book focusing on her and then basically disappearing into the background. Clever, sensible, and deserved to be much more in the forefront of things.

6. Garfield from Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka - Named after one cricketer and forever overshadowed by his father's obsession with another, the errant son of narrator Karunasena is an especially memorable character in a book full of great ones.

7. The owl-eyed man from The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - Like Mia's grandpa, just for a short speech right at the end which is perfect.

8. Julia Ingledew from the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo - The Charlie Bone series has so many amazing characters that it's practically impossible to pick a favourite, but I'll go for one of the more minor, yet still important one's - Emma Tolly's Aunt Julia, who despite being caught up in a strange world of magic without any power of her own always manages to help Charlie and his friends.

9. Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling - Just a lovely, wonderful, sweet character. I love the way she helps Harry right at the very end of the book as well.

10. Phyllis from Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher - More than just a servant to Judith Dunbar and her family, she's a true and loyal friend.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Friday Five: Girls' Own Classics

As much as I love current YA fiction, growing up in the 80's I read a lot more 'classic' children's tales than contemporary authors. The below five were my very favourite Girls Own authors - let me know if you've ever read any, and what you thought!

Note: I would ALWAYS recommend starting from the first book in each series but have provided my favourite for each one just out of interest.

See my accompanying Boys Own post here.

5. Trebizon by Anne Digby

These are by far the most modern books in the list, being published between 1978 and 1994. They follow Rebecca Mason from her time as a new girl at Cornish boarding school Trebizon until the Fifth Form, with various sporting successes, mysteries, and romance along the way. They're fairly short, quick reads, with wonderful descriptions of hockey and tennis matches in particular and interesting characters.

First book: First Term at Trebizon

Favourite book: The Tennis Term at Trebizon
- It's a really hard call as I love all of them, but it's the final term for the older girl Rebecca admires, Pippa Fellowes Walker, who's one of my favourite characters so this gets the nod.

4. Sadler's Wells by Lorna Hill

I've only ever tracked down the first 10 of these 14 but have reread them time and time again. Unusually for a children's series the main characters change frequently - books 1 and 2 follow Veronica as she moves to Northumberland after her father's death to live with her cousins, and tries to find her way to Sadler's Wells ballet school. While Veronica comes into many of the other books, they focus on various others, including her cousin Caroline and her daughter. Gorgeous descriptions of the countryside and well-rounded characters make this a brilliant series.

First book: A Dream Of Sadler's Wells

Favourite book: No Castanets at the Wells
- Caroline is perhaps my favourite character and the story of how she ends up at the Wells but struggles to fit in is beautifully told.

3. Chalet School by Elinor M Brent-Dyer

Many years ago, this would have been my absolute favourite series, but a tiny bit of the magic has worn off ever so slightly. The first books which see Madge Bettany move to the Austrian Tyrol to set up a school with sister Joey as her first pupil are absolutely fantastic, but some of the later ones with Joey grown up and as a mother of many children seem to have knocked the more interesting parts out of her character, while a few plots tend to be too similar to earlier books for my taste. In fairness to EBD, the length of the series (roughly 60 books, depending which editions you're reading as a few were split up after being published) probably made this inevitable.

First book: The School at the Chalet

Favourite book: The Chalet School in Exile
. Simply breathtaking. Exciting, thrilling, romantic, and fun, this is a phenomenal tale of the school's move from Austria to the Channel Islands as war brews on the continent. Featuring some brilliant characters, including a conflicted Nazi schoolgirl, this really does stand out as one of my favourite ever school stories.

2. Abbey Girls by Elsie J Oxenham

The Abbey Girls series is dated, features some incredible snobbery, and some of the attitudes on display from 'nice' characters can be staggering. None of those things matter too much because in a series spanning 38 titles (plus various tie-ins) Oxenham consistently creates wonderful plots, fantastic characters and beautiful friendships. I also love folk dancing, which is a major part in some books and features at least slightly in pretty much all of them. Warning: Possibly the most confusing reading order ever seen outside of the world of comic books.

First book: Girls of the Hamlet Club

Favourite book: The Abbey Girls Again
- The debut of bored London secretary Mary-Dorothy, who goes on to be a fairly major character, and her spoilt little sister Biddy (who reappears at times but was woefully underused in my opinion.) Wonderful character development as established character Jenny Wren takes the pair under her wing.

1. Drina by Jean Estoril

I love the other four series mentioned but this is the one which I can go back to time and time again, picking up any book at random and enjoying it just as much as the first time around. The characters are amazing and very realistic, especially orphan Drina - who over the course of 11 books goes from first learning to dance despite her grandmother's opposition to the idea to rising through the Dominick ballet school, her childhood friend Jenny - whose life follows a very different course, and her grandparents.

First book: Ballet For Drina

Favourite book: Drina Ballerina
- Almost impossible to split all 11, but this wraps up the series so beautifully that I'll go with it.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"Her sudden and unexpected appearance, bouncing in like a jack in the box, the reason for it, and the fact that, for the first time, they were alone together, with no other person to intrude, caused Judith to be overcome by a painful and maddening shyness. From that moment in Medways, when she had first set eyes on the Carey-Lewis mother and daughter, she had thought Loveday quite fascinating, and longed to get to know her."

Product Description from Amazon UK:

Born in Colombo, Judith Dunbar spends her teenage years at boarding school, while her beloved mother and younger sister live abroad with her father.

When her new friend Loveday Carey-Lewis invites Judith home for the weekend to Nancherrow, the Carey-Lewises’ beautiful estate on the Cornish coast, it is love at first sight.

She falls in love too with the generous Carey-Lewises themselves. With their generosity and kindness, Judith grows from naive girl to confident young woman, basking in the warm affection of a surrogate family whose flame burns brightly. But it is a flame soon to be extinguished in the gathering storm of war. And Judith herself has far to travel before at last ... coming home.

This is one of my very favourite books of all time, I'm currently rereading it for about the eighth time. It's a gorgeous coming of age tale of epic length and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday Musings: Review of House of Windjammer by VA Richardson

After the loss of the Windjammer family's trading fleet and the deaths of young Adam's uncle and father, he becomes the new leader of the great house. Can he save their fortunes or will enemies like the calculating banker Hugo Van Helsen and the preacher Abner Heems win out? And where does van Helsen's daughter Jade fit into things?

Set in the tulip mania of 1600's Amsterdam, this is a wonderfully evocative book which captures the time period perfectly. It's also got incredibly well-developed characters, particularly Adam, van Helsen, and Jade, with motivations being revealed gradually and it's genuinely hard to tell who's a hero and who's a villain for much of the book. Even now I've finished it, I'm unsure as to where some allegiances will end up lying by the close of the trilogy.

If anything, my only complaint about House of Windjammer is that it's a fantastic start to a trilogy but perhaps slightly less successful as a book in its own right. The ending is a serious cliffhanger which definitely makes me want to read part two but there's nothing much of a sense of resolution to the story.

That's a small complaint for such an excellent book, though, and this is a high recommendation.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunday Supplement: Interview with Hilary Freeman

What a way to hit 100 posts - I'm hugely excited to present another author interview, this time with Hilary Freeman, whose Don't Ask was one of the best books I've read so far this year, and whose new Camden Town Tales looks absolutely superb.

When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

I see teenage girls with very good taste - although people from 10 - 93 (my gran and her friends in sheltered housing) have said they've enjoyed my books. I hope my readers can't put my books down. I'd like to think they find my books interesting and engaging, and that they make them think and laugh - and possibly even cry - occasionally too. I'd like to see a few more male readers. The covers put them off, but I think there's lots in them that boys would like too, if they'd give them a chance...

I love the trailer and the website for the Camden Town tales! How important do you think it is these days for a YA book to have supplementary content on the internet?

Thank you. I've done two trailers now, one for Lifted and one for the Camden Town Tales series. They're a great way of generating anticipation and suspense in the run up to publication. I think ignoring the internet as a marketing tool would be foolish nowadays. My target audience spend their lives on the web, so it's the best way to reach them. It's also a good way of reaching potential readers who might not see reviews. Unless you have a huge marketing spend on your book, publicity is hard to get, so things like trailers help a lot. It would be my dream for one of my books to be made into a film one day... having a trailer makes it feel a little like that.

Have you ever thought about collaborating with another author on a novel? If so, who would be your dream writing partner? (Alive or dead, I'm feeling generous!)

There are lots of authors who I rate very highly - Lucy Christopher and Anthony McGowan, to name just two in my market, but if I'm honest, I'm not sure I'd be very good at collaborating with anyone. I'd end up chatting and laughing all day instead of working - I'm easily distracted - and, I'll admit it, I'm also not very good at working with other people. I'm not the most patient person and I work best in total solitude and silence, so I can totally absorb myself in my work. I'm also not very self confident and I'd feel very vulnerable having another author read and criticise my work as I wrote it. I'd be happier contributing alternate chapters to a novel with another author - for instance, if a story was told from two points of view - or just having a story in an anthology with other authors. Of course, if Ian McEwan said he'd like to collaborate, I'd jump at the chance.

I first became aware of your books when I read Don't Ask, the story of a girl creating a fake social network profile to find out about her boyfriend, which I loved. Are you a fan of social networking sites?

Yes, I'm a facebookholic. I'm on it all day, chatting to friends, playing Scrabble and generally avoiding doing what I should be doing. I've joined Twitter too, but I don't get on with it - I prefer the interactive nature of Facebook. I've found Facebook a great way of hooking up with other authors.
Did you know that Topfriendz, the site in Don't Ask, is a real social networking site, where you can chat to other readers and some of the characters? It's at www.topfriendz.com

I know you're a big karaoke fan - which of your characters would you most like to do a duet with, and what would you sing?

That's easy. Danny from Loving Danny - he definitely has the best voice of all my characters and, if I'm honest, I rather fancy him myself! We'd probably have to sing one of his songs - he's a bit serious about his art to do covers. But if I got him drunk enough, I might persuade him to sing the Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue duet, Where the Wild Roses Grow. It's one of my favourite Karaoke tracks.

I'm hoping to get down to London over the summer and, shamefully, have never made it to Camden before! If I can change that, where's the best place to go to see awesome music?

You've got to visit Camden! As far as music goes, it depends what you're into. Practically every pub in the area puts on music most nights, so you're bound to find a gem if you trawl around. The Dublin Castle is a great venue where everyone from Blur to Amy Winehouse, to indie bands you've never heard of, has played. The Roundhouse is a good place to see higher profile acts - the Electric Proms came from there. KoKo is good too. The Jazz Cafe is great for jazz, blues and soul. If you like classical music, check out Bartok on Chalk Farm Road.

Do you listen to music when writing? If so what was the soundtrack to The Celeb Next Door?

I don't. As I said earlier, I need silence when I'm writing. If I listened to music I'd just end up singing along! I need to give my poor neighbours a break sometimes. But if The Celeb Next Door had a soundtrack it would be full of the sort of indie anthems I imagine Fieldstar would play - plenty of Muse and Coldplay and Blur, that type of thing.

What's your favourite ever purchase from Camden markets?

I bought a fantastic old trunk, which now has pride of place in my living room, and a gorgeous wind up carousel toy, from the 1950s. I always regret not buying a vintage 1970s top for £30. It was by designer Ossie Clarke and it fitted perfectly. Two days after I decided not to buy it (in a moment of concern about my overdraft), Ossie Clarke died. Within weeks his clothes were being sold for thousands at auction!

If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?

Do you want me to be totally honest? Or give you a worthy, more thoughtful answer? OK, I'll be honest: I'd ask JK Rowling for some of her money so I can give up work and concentrate on writing novels instead!

What's next for Hilary Freeman?

I'm working on Camden Town Tales 2: Stuck on Me, which follows Sky, who develops an obsession with her nose and tries to track down her absent Dad, with the help of her friends. I'm late with delivering it (something that I hate, as a journalist), so I must motor! In fact, I should be writing it right now! Procrastination is one of my greatest talents.

Thanks so much for asking!

Thank you, Hilary, for an absolutely fascinating interview!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Saturday Sample: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Again, my new feature where I post the opening few lines of one of my favourite books. I'd love it if you want to join in, do the same on your blog, and leave me a comment here with a link!


This is where the dragons went.
They lie...
Not dead, not asleep. Not waiting, because waiting implies expectation. Possibly the word we're looking for here is...
And although the space they occupy isn't normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. Not a cubic inch there but is filled by a claw, a talon, a scale, the tip of a tail, so the effect is like one of those trick drawings and your eyeballs eventually realize that the space between each dragon is, in fact, another dragon.
They could put you in mind of a can of sardines, if you thought sardines were huge and scaly and proud and arrogant.
And presumably, somewhere, there's the key.

Why I love it:

I find Terry Pratchett rather hit and miss, if I'm honest, but there's no doubt that on form, Sir Terry is one of the most entertaining writers around. The Watch books are some of his best work, and Guards! Guards! introduces one of my favourite characters, Carrot - brought up by dwarves and about to be brought further up by the Watch. Very funny and a good starting point for people to jump into Discworld.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

From Gae Polinser's website:

While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, the Scoot, is dying from a freak disease. Enter Jaycee Amato, a quirky girl with Siberian-husky eyes and an odd affinity for Of Mice and Men. She’s made a seemingly-impossible promise to the Scoot, and wants Nick’s help to keep it.

Armed only with the wisdom of Yoda, the beauty of Steinbeck, and the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off on a secret, whirlwind journey to find the father the Scoot has never known. When everything goes awry, will the pull of gravity be enough to keep them together?

The Pull of Gravity is a coming-of-age story about friendship, first love, and the true nature of family.

Why I can't wait to read it:

Coming of age, first love, dying friend, road trip, classic novel... I don't think this could tick more boxes if it was written especially for me! Looks fantastic.

Interview: Amy Fellner Dominy

Very excited to present an interview with debut author Amy Fellner Dominy, whose OyMG is out in a week or so! For more about her you can check out her website, her Facebook page or Twitter, while to see the brilliant trailer for OyMG just click here.

For those of you who aren't aware of OyMG, the Amazon description makes it sound wonderful:

Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she's sure that if she wins the final tournament, it'll be her ticket to a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot-literally. His name is Devon and, whether she likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she's confident enough to take on the challenge-until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship's benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity and heritage be worth a shot at her dream?Debut author Amy Fellner Dominy mixes sweet romance, surprising secrets, and even some matzo ball soup to cook up a funny yet heartfelt story about an outspoken girl who must learn to speak out for herself.

And onto the interview...

When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

I see a thirteen-year-old girl with thick glasses, crooked teeth and frizzy hair. In other words: me. I don’t know if a psychoanalyst would say that means I’m writing this for the girl I once was—or for all the girls out there who are like me. Mostly, I think it means I’m writing for other kids who love books and who love getting lost in a good one.

You're active on Twitter and you have a fantastic website including an amazingly interesting blog - how important do you think it is for authors today to interact with their readers over the internet?

Thanks for the compliment—and believe me none of it comes easy for me. I do think a website is important for authors—it gives people a place to learn about my books, find answers or ask questions. I really want to interact with my readers but I’m not sure if they’re flocking to author blogs or if they’re following on Twitter and Facebook. I really wish I knew, because then I could narrow my efforts. Right now, trying to be everywhere takes away from the time I can spend writing books. And that’s the only reason anyone wants to talk to me in the first place.

How long have you been writing for, and did you find it difficult getting published?

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. I started with children’s books, moved to romances in my 20s, then plays in my 30s, and back to children’s books in my 40s. Along the way I sold some short stories and had plays produced, but I’m certainly not an overnight success. Most writers aren’t. Yes, it was difficult getting published because it meant continuing on in the face of rejections without any guarantee that I would ever succeed. But nothing worth doing is easy. (Or so I tell myself.)

Plays or novels – what’s easier to write?

For me, plays are easier. Not because they’re easy, but because plays are nearly all dialogue. I love writing dialogue. I often don’t “see” a scene but I “hear” it through conversation. So I really like that aspect of playwriting. Novels force me to write descriptive passages and narrative blocks. Those things are difficult for me. In fact, when I write my rough drafts, the pages are peppered with notes to myself that simply say: (Describe). I go back on my second pass and add those in.

Have you ever thought about collaborating with another author on a novel? If so, who would be your dream writing partner? (Alive or dead, I'm feeling generous!)

It’s an interesting idea. I’ve never tried it before, but it would be fun to work with a partner. Maybe I could stop talking to myself all the time. My dream partner would be my son. He’s fifteen now and would be horrified at the thought. But he’s got a talent for it and
down the road I could see it happening.

Love the reader's guide for OyMG! (Check it out here as a PDF) It looks like something that could be really interesting in schools - are you hoping they'll use it in lessons?

Absolutely! It seems like school reading programs cover the same books year after year. Some of it is because the curriculum is set, but I also wonder if it’s easier for teachers to choose a book when there’s a program of questions and activities available. Teachers are so busy (and underpaid) that I hoped this might make it easier to bring OyMG into the classroom. I think the book would create a lot of good conversation about diversity and acceptance. Never a bad thing!

I know you're a former advertising copywriter - do you think that's helped you when it comes to marketing your book at all?

Advertising taught me how to always consider my audience, know what they want and communicate clearly and quickly. When I wrote TV commercials, I had to tell a complete story in 30 seconds. So, that helps now as I’m crafting letters to reporters and potential readers. But I really should have gone into public relations or publicity!

Do you listen to music when writing? If so what was the soundtrack to OyMG?

I’m one of those people who writes either in complete quiet or with muzac going in the background of the coffee shop. It sounds so cool to say you have a playlist, but sadly, I don’t.

If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?

I would ask Shakespeare—did you really write all those plays yourself? And can you teach me how to make up new words the way you did? LOVE that!

What's next for Amy Fellner Dominy?

I’m excited to have a new book coming out next year! Audition and Subtraction will be out fall 2012, again from Walker & Company. It’s about fourteen-year-old Tatum who could lose her spot in District Honor Band—and her best friend—when a new guy transfers to her school. Friendships shift and romance sparks in unexpected places.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog!


Many, many thanks to Amy for such a fantastic interview - I hope OyMG is a massive success.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Sunday Summary 1st May

First and foremost for me today is an entire new website, Girls Heart Books. Phenomenal line-up of authors contributing to this one including a few of my very favourites, Hilary Freeman, Cathy Hopkins and Karen McCombie. Not much there yet but that will definitely change in the weeks and months to come!

Given the royal wedding on Friday it was particularly interesting to read an excellent piece by Richard Denning on weddings in Anglo-Saxon times. Painstakingly researched as always from one of my favourite historical writers!

Fiction Folio has got a review of Dream Smashers by Angela Carlie along with an e-book giveaway. Great review and I'm desperate to read it now so fingers crossed for the competition! (It may have been smarter NOT to plug it here and attract extra entrants, but I couldn't do that to my readers...)

Katie Dale's thoughtful post about Happy Endings on the Edge Authors blog is another fantastic one. I'm a firm believer in a good tearjerker, personally... ever since Romeo and Juliet!

Raych at books i done read reviewing one of my favourite ever 80's YA books, Remember Me To Harold Square? Somehow, this is BETTER than I was expecting, and I was expecting it to be incredible. Eleven caterpillars!