Saturday, 19 July 2014

Book Review: Thirst by Kerry Hudson

By Kerry Hudson
Published by Chatto and Windus
Available in Hardback / ebook.
Paperback forthcoming.

Kerry has gone from having one of the longest titles for a novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, to having the shortest title for her latest compelling novel, Thirst.

Thirst tells the unconventional love story of security guard Dave and Alena who has arrived in London from Siberia with her hopes of dreams of a new life already dashed and broken. They meet in an up-market department store where Dave is patrolling the shop and Alena is trying to slip out of the shop with a new pair of shoes.

Kerry takes the classic plot of will-they-won't-they love story and adds twists and themes that will have you laughing on one page and on the next page you want to wrap these characters in cotton wool and protect them from the nasty underbelly of London.

The beginning of relationships are meant to be about getting to know each other but for these two characters they must learn to keep the past hidden and keep each at arms length. They must battle to keep each other hidden from the others secrets.

Thirst is just as hard hitting as Tony Hogan with explorations of poverty, sexual exploitation, human trafficking whipped up with humour, love and family ties. This is a tender, heartfelt novel. Kerry has the power to write about this topics in an engaging way.

The only missing from this novel is the punchy first sentence that Tony Hogan had!

Normally second novels are flatter and flabbier than the first novel but Kerry has written a second book that fizzes and pops with a great plot and a delightful descriptions.

You can buy Thirst from your favourite online or offline bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Book Review: Remember Me to the Bees

My review of Judy Darley's short story collection, Remember Me to the Bees is now up on the View From Here website.

You can read my review here > Remember Me to the Bees

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision at National Portrait Gallery London

Virginia Stephen by George Charles Beresford, 1902.
This image can be seen at Virginia Woolf:
Art, Life and Vision
at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Today I was lucky enough to attend a preview a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London exploring the life and achievements of Virginia Woolf, one of the most important English writers of the twentieth century and the author of Mrs Dalloway, Room of One's Own, To The Lighthouse and The Waves. She also pioneered the stream of consciousness style of writing. A style equalled loved and loathed by creative writing students.

The exhibition is curated by biographer Frances Spalding who wanted to create an exhibition that caters for people who first come in to contact with Virginia Woolf by seeing pictures of her in the media or in the Internet as well as for fans of Woolf's books. The exhibition spans all of Woolf's life, starting with Woolf's early life with holiday pictures from Cornwall, where they would go for several months at a time and would take up a a whole train carriage with their trunks, as well as exploring her political interests especially with feminism and the Spanish Civil War and her literary interests with publishing and the set up of Hogarth Press, a publishing printing company with her husband, Leonard Woolf.

Woolf's diaries stretch over six volumes.
Some of the highlights include first editions of Virginia Woolf's novels and non fiction, extracts from her diaries. One of the extracts recalls how Woolf went back to her house in Tavistock Square, London to find it had been bombed and how she sets about climbing through the rubble to find her diaries.

There are portraits of Woolf by her contemporaries, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry as well as photographs by Beresford, Man Ray, Beck and MrGregor who photographed her for Vogue magazine. There are also portraits of those who were close to her during her life including Vita Sackville West and her husband, Leonard Woolf and members from their 'Bloomsbury Group.' The introduction of post-impressionism influenced Woolf's writing by looking at the textures and breaking the accepted conventions of the writing establishment.
'The Black Book'

As well having rare items from Hogarth press (including Virginia Woolf's novels and T.S Eliot's poems and Paris by Hope Mirrlees), there is also a book called the 'Black Book.' This was a list compiled by Hitler's Head of Counter-Espionage. Both Virginia and Leonard were listed along with other eminent public figures who would be arrested if the German army invaded Britain.
These are the last letters Woolf wrote before her death

The exhibition includes Woolf's walking stick, found by her husband by the river when she died. This is the first time this has been on public view in the UK. The exhibition also includes Woolf's last two letters before she committed suicide. These are normally held in the British Library's Manuscript Collection and this rare display of them in public is a must for any Woolf fans and fans of British literature.

This exhibition is an insightful and interesting look into Virginia Woolf's life - the portraits are fantastic as well as the diary extracts.

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision runs from 10th July 2014 until 26th October 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Connecting Writers: The Writing Process

Thank you Teresa Stenson for nominating me to be part of this blog tour where writers talk about their writing process. 

What am I working on?
  • I am currently redrafting my novel. It's a slow process but I have set myself a challenge to try and finish a chapter each week. I am currently working on chapter thirteen.
  • I am also preparing a few short stories for submission but nowadays most of my writing time is spent on redrafting my novel or writing book reviews.
  • I am also getting back into the habit of writing flash fiction as they are great for creating stories with small word counts and for honing those important editing skills.
  • I have retired from writing poetry.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  • I don't really think of genre when I'm writing my novel or even short stories. I write stories that I am interested in. I don't intentionally write for a specific genre.

Why do I write what I do?
  • I like writing and I like the challenge of trying to achieve a great story. Sometimes a story doesn't work but that's all part of the fun. Sometimes its great and the story will be published. It's a great feeling know that the story isn't just on your hard drive but is being read but other people who may or not be enjoying it!

How does my writing process work?
  • I tend to write the first draft without going back and making edits. I firmly believe in 'shitty first drafts'. If I do have a change of heart about a chapter, or plot then I write it down, ready to change in the next round of redrafting.
  • I normally tackle the redrafting process chapter by chapter and then once I have reached the end I will go back round until I know that its ready for someone to read. Each chapter needs to be printed off and editing by hand before I make the changes on my computer.
  • My last novel took four years and had a couple of near misses with agents. I'm hoping this current novel doesn't take as long but you never know.

I’m nominating Sara Crowley to take the baton! If you do, you need to answer the same questions I have and then pass it on to another blogging writer. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

Book Review: Vulgar Things by Lee Rourke

Vulgar Things
By Lee Rourke
Published by 4th Estate
Available in Trade paperback / ebook

Lee Rourke's latest novel, Vulgar Things is full of secrets, lies and the things we do to create a reality of truth.

Jon Michael is divorced, sacked from his publishing job and disillusioned with London life when he gets a phone call to say that his uncle Rey has been found dead in his caravan on Canvey Island. Jon agrees to clear out the caravan and sort out his uncle's belongings. Maybe this could be the thing he needs to get him out of a black hole...

A disorientating week in Southend sets Jon on a mission to solve the mystery about his disappearing Mother, find out the truth about his Uncle and his collection of home movies and an unfinished novel and a mystery woman who he meets at the end of a pier. The trip doesn't seem to be setting his life back on track but rather knocking Jon completely into a downward spiral of chaos and confusion.

Rourke creates characters that at many moments are not likable. Jon is a character that the reader likes and hates in equal measures and usual both at the same time. Does this make the novel unappealing if the character is not likable? No, the plot and the intrigue keeps the reader going. There are times when Jon needs someone in his life to support him. That person is the reader.

Vulgar Things reads like a Richard Yates novel mixed with Zach Braff's Garden State with touches of Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies but set in Southend, Essex. Jon suffers from disillusionment, meandering through life, trying to escape the pull of everyday commitments and routines but he is unable to pull himself out of the banality of his life. Jon must untangle the secrets and lies built up around his life by his family to find out who he really is. In this process he must learn not to build up his own unreal reality to deal with past.

Rourke creates a great sense of place within Vulgar Things ranging from the expansive sea full of shipping containers which are just out of reach as well as the claustrophobic space of the caravan, trapping Jon within the mess of his uncle's life and the thin walls. Canvey island, adrift from the mainland is a bit like how Jon is adrift from the expected path that his life should be taking.

Vulgar Things is an intriguing novel and I am definitely going to add Lee's previous novel, The Canal to my wish list. This book has the potential to become a cult classic.

Vulgar Things will be published later this week and will be available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.