Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hello!

Don’t worry I haven’t got all ‘bah humbug’ about the blog – I am still here.

Things have been a bit hectic as of late. Back in August we finally moved out of our house (having had it on the market since November and had three buyers) but our new house was delayed as the road wasn't finished so we had to move into a hotel for two months.

I thought leaving in a hotel was going to be very jolly and Jazz-age but it wasn’t. We had to move rooms three times because the lock broke the first time, and then the electrics kept blowing every time we had a shower and the third room smelled like stale smoke… maybe our time in the hotel may make it into a story one day.

We’re finally in our new house and most of the unpacking has been done. I was thought I was a minimalist but it seems I'm not… we've had lots of boxes to unpack but I can’t be blamed for everything - I think it’s 50% books and 50% car parts!

The best part of my desk is the view – I can see over the local school farm at the chubby pigs. I have named them Mr and Mrs Jumper (as they have a pattern across their back which looks like they’re wearing a jumper which has shrunk in the wash) and Spotty Doom (because he was covered in spots). I was on the verge of setting them up on Tumblr and blogging about their adventures but it looks like they’re no longer living in the field. I’m guessing that they have either been taken inside for the winter or they have become Christmas Bacon…I’m hoping for the first option. Oh well, no blog for them so you’ll never know about the love triangle and Spotty Doom’s attempts to win the heart of Mrs Jumper by weeing in her face.


Things are starting to get back to normal – I’ll have some book reviews up soon and I’m getting back into redrafting my novel.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Book Review: Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members
Julie Schumacher
Published by The Friday Project
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Dear Reader

This letter recommends Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members a very funny and insightful look into the world of academia told in letters.

But first things first – lets talk about the front cover. I know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover (or you might have your teacher breathing down your neck) but I’m afraid you will with Dear Committee Members. As you can see from the enclosed picture this one is very striking.

Jason Fitger is an English academic, who we learn through the numerous letters of recommendations he writes for past and present students, is disgruntled by the politics of the education system and with the whole process of writing recommendation letters. However, this doesn’t stop him from writing a recommendation for anyone that knocks on his office door. The frustrations he has with his teaching, writing and love life come out in his letters and at times his opinions get him in trouble.

Schumacher explores the intimacy of letter writing and the way we share and let down our guard more than we would if it was a face to face. Fitger’s letters are full of frustrations on the limited funding for the English department, and at times his words verge on the passive aggressive but his letters also full of passion for his department plus the odd bit of gossip about his colleagues. Fitger is a man who can’t help but write down and broadcast his true feelings on the page. Dear Committee Members reminded me of lecturers when I was at university and the way they used to moan about the facilities and other members of staff.

Through the passive aggressive letters, a narrative starts to form with Fitger advocating a student, Darren Bowles, a brilliant writer who has become a victim of the writing program’s funding being cut. He needs money and time to finish off his novel which Fitger thinks will be a game changer.

Dear Committee Members reminded me of The Wonder Boys, which is also a book about a disillusioned lecturer who thinks the ‘system’ is against him. Dear Committee Members is just as funny, cringe-worthy and insightful as The Wonder Boys.

Fitger doesn’t know when to keep his mouth, which is good for the reader. This book will have you laughing out loud and also rolling your eyes within a couple of pages.

This book is available from your favourite online or offline bookshops.

I hope to hear from you soon,
Jessica

x


P.P.S Thank you to the Friday Project for sending me a copy

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Book Review: Six Stories & An Essay - Andrea Levy

Six Stories & An Essay

By Andrea Levy
Published by Tinder Press
Available in hardback and ebook
Forthcoming in paperback

As the title suggests this collection includes six shorts from Andrea Levy, the author of Small Island plus an essay on how her heritage has influenced her writing. Let me point out that the only downside to this collection is the rather drab title because inside there are some fantastic stories on the immigrant experience, soldiers fighting in WW1, and life in London council estates.

This absorbing and compelling collection is just over one hundred pages long so it will only take a matter of hours to read. I loved this collection so much that I have already gone back to read several of the stories in particular The Empty Pram which tells of a woman who has recently moved from Jamaica to England and is mistakenly accused of stealing a baby. Levy explores the ignorance of the other women and the way communication breaks down if a situation falls out of your comfort zone. I really wanted to grab the shoulders of the mothers who were accusing the Jamaican woman and shake them as I shouted 'listen to her!'

I really enjoyed the small introductions and also the full essay at the beginning of the collection. I found these interesting as Levy tells the reader the inspiration for each story as well as her decision to become a writer. These stories and Levy's writing journey shows the reader the need to embrace the culture we come from even though it may not be the norm (but then what is the norm nowadays). These are the things that make us interesting. We may try to rid ourselves of history but it will find a way of finding us again.

Six Stories & An Essay is about people and history. Levy's characters give voices to people who may not normally be represented in literature - we have the soldiers from Jamaica who serve the British Army in WW1 but then are dismissed for their heroic actions and are treated like second class citizens. There are the young children from working class backgrounds living on council estates where there is nothing to do other than punish and play with each other. The Immigration experience is explored on both sides - from the people who move to England and in Loose Change, Levy explores the behaviour of  the offspring of immigrants and way they see immigrants. Levy writes with lots of honesty and humour.

Levy says in one of her introductions, "Short stories can be as consuming as any novel," which as a writer I can agree and I can also agree with this statement from the readers point of view especially with Levy's short stories. She packs so much detail into these stories that it makes them feel like mini novels. The characters are so vivid that each one could easily have a novel told about them and in fact one of the stories eventually turned into Small Island.

It was interesting to read That Polite Way That English People Have which was written in the early stages of Levy's fantastic novel Small Island and includes the same characters. Levy explores the immigration experience in the eyes of a young woman as she moves from a hot country to a cold country, full of optimism while the people around her are jaded. The themes of the novel are being formed in this short story and I can see why Levy decided to expand this into a novel as the short story is rich with details.

You should go and buy this book today, find your favourite reading chair and settle down to some great stories.

You can buy a copy of Six Stories & an Essay from your favourite bookshop from today.

Thank you to Bookbridgr.com for the review copy.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Book Review: Stay Up With Me - Tom Barbash

Stay Up With Me
By Tom Barbash
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback forthcoming



Tom Barbash’s compelling stories within Stay Up With Me explore the struggles of characters in everyday situations and they way we tell lies to cope with the world and its expectations.

Stay Up With Me is a short story collection that will refuse to allow you to put the book down after one story. I found myself promising to read just one more but I kept going and I was able to finish this book in no time at all. Barbash has a way of capturing the reader and refusing to let them take a break.

Many stories reminded of Richard Yates and Raymond Carver with seemingly ordinary characters, who have resentments building underneath their public fa├žade. Jealousy and dysfunction lurk under the surface of these normal characters. There is a mother who is jealous of her son’s sexual conquest in The Break while in How to Fall a woman goes on a singles skiing trip to help get over her ex-boyfriend but finds herself more isolated than she would have been if she had stayed in the city.

Barbash creates characters that the reader only sees only after a major event has happened to them, usual off the page before the story begins. There are deaths of family members and friends, break ups, isolation of living in a new area like the narrator in Somebody’s Son. These characters are trying to forge a new identity, deal with the grief and move forwards with their lives. These characters are on the brink of change and their resistance to change makes an engaging and fascinating story.

My particular favourite story was Balloon Night where Timkin’s wife, Amy has left him but he continues with the party they were planning. Through out the night he pretends to his guests that his wife is away on business to save face not only for himself but also her friends. This allows him another day where he would not have to face the reality of his wife leaving him. I liked the way Barbash created a character that has had a change in fortune but is refusing to accept this and move on with his life. He is trapped in a bubble and this does not bother him.

Stay Up With Me is a short story collection that I would seriously recommend to any one who loves short stories either reading them or writing them. Even novel lovers will enjoy this collection as the characters linger just as much as a novel does after the last page.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Book Review: All The Days And Nights - Niven Govinden

All The Days And Nights
By Niven Govinden
Published by The Friday Project
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming


All the Days and Nights, Niven Govinden's fourth novel, and second novel reviewed on Writer's Little Helper is a magnificent novel which explores the way creativity shapes and controls the life we lead.

The narrator of All the Days and Nights, Anna Brown, is a dying acclaimed artist. She is currently working on her final portrait of her muse and husband, John Brown but she can not bring herself to finish the details on John's face. The portrait must be perfect and be her final statement to the world, however, John has walked out of their home and has decided to trek across America, hunting down Anna's previous portraits that she painted of him. He has the need to move away from being the observed and become the observer - maybe some emotion captured in his younger face will help him face up the future.

Govinden's lyrical novel paints a picture of an intense relationship between muse and artist, husband and wife, agent and artist. Anna narrators the novel as if she's talking to John in a letter and maybe this is her final portrait, not of John but of both of them and their relationship over the years. Anna's narration is very personal and revealing about their relationship - tension simmers as they push and pull against the creativity that rules both of their lives. Anna is a claustrophobic, remote and recluse character while John is a character who opens up when he is around other people and is willing to be part of the community. They are both opposites and yet, their love keeps them together.

Both Anna and John are stuck in a circle and are unable to break the bonds - the art controls Anna, Anna controls John, John controls the art. There are subtle shifts of power with Anna making John sit for a portrait soon after losing the battle to save his friend's son from drowning. John's disappearance, as he tries to escape the fact that Anna is dying and therefore his role as muse is over. His journey pushes Anna further into the clutches of her creativity and away from reality. John has the power to bring her back from being consumed.

Govinden beautifully captures the sense of knowing that death is coming and the way people react, knowing that they must face the loss that is about to descend on them. John sets off to find previous portraits to find meaning in his younger face while Anna becomes more recluse and locks herself away in her studio with her final portrait sitting on the sidelines taunting her

All the Days and Nights has recently been long-listed for the Green Carnation Prize and I really hope it wins. You can buy All the Days and Nights from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.