Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Book Review: The Chimes

The Chimes
Anna Smaill
Published by Sceptre
Available in paperback, ebook and audiobook

The Chimes is an ambitious novel encompassing the power of memory, the force of music and the control of ruling bodies in a dystopian future.

In an alternative London, music has replaced the written word, and memories are carried as physical objects and in learned behaviour. Every day people wake up not knowing where they are, the people who live with them, their life before sleeping. People walk around in a confused state unless they can quickly find a purpose. People are lured to their jobs, shops, and homes by lullaby-like songs. the melody holds memories, making the body react.

Simon, a young boy, finds himself in London, in a gang who are all trying to survive along the banks of the Thames, starts to get a feeling that he has something urgent to do, and every morning he wakes up, ready to do the same routine as the day before but the memories of his past start to bleed through. Along with his friend, Lucien, they must find a way of unlocking these memories to save their futures. And maybe dislodge the Order, the governing body who rule over the population. They must find a way out of London and make their way to Oxford.

Smaill's alternative London reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere with the way that familiar landmarks take on new meanings. Like Gaiman, Smaill's world is eerie and atmospheric - you could see the details coming alive and taste some of the unpleasant smells. This book could almost be the love child of Neverwhere and His Dark Materials.

There are lots of musical references throughout the novel, and for me, Google was my friend, helping me to research terms (so as well as reading an interesting, entertaining story I was also educated). Music helps people to remember their way or how to work but Smaill also explores the way the governing body manipulate music so that is is also seen as a way of causing agony and destruction to society.

I will be honest and say that the beginning is confusing. The book is thick with detail and is very poetic and the reader is thrown head first into Smaill's world. This slight confusion to the reader reflects the characters state of mind. Think of Christopher Nolan's Memento crossed with Herman Hesse.

This is an inventive and intense novel. You'll need to be fully concentrating for this novel but you'll be glad you made the effort. I'm looking forward to reading more by Anna Smaill. The Chimes is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

January's Roundup

Hello and goodbye January - that was a quick one. I read five books over the month, ranging from a survivalist novel to some straight-talking non fiction, the glamorous world of the space race and a short story collection. Definitely a wide range of books.

All the bird wanted to do was make a nest but the books got there first

The Chimes - Anna Smaill
This debut novel tells of an alternative London where music has replaced the written word and memories are carried as physical objects. Memories are banned but there's a black market for people to store their lives. This is an inventive, rewarding book. My review will be up in the next few days. Think Christopher Nolan's film Memento crossed with Herman Hesse. Anna Smaill stopped by and took part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A.

Breathe - Leila Segal
This is a great short story collection exploring Cuba from both the insider and outsider perspective. You can read my review here. Leila also popped by and took part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A.

Our Endless Numbered Days - Claire Fuller
Claire tells the story of Peggy who lives in the woods with her father. Apparently the rest of the world no longer exists and they are the last two remaining, having to survive off the land, battling against the elements. This book is bloody fantastic. Definitely my book of the month.

The Astronaut's Wives Club - Lily Koppel
I've had this sitting on my bookshelf for a while but having seen Tim Peake blast off to the Space Station it made me pick up this book. This tells the true story about the wives of the astronauts when the Space Race was competitive and political. Reminded me of Mad Men but with space suits.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do - Sarah Knight
Basically the title sums up this book very nicely. Very straight thinking - it all boils down to having a 'fuck budget' with only things you want to care about go on the list. Turns out I've been using some of the techniques from this book in my life since September. I don't give a fudge about other people's Facebook numbers, don't care about people who are not very nice, don't care about this and that. I really care about real friends, family, work and writing plus a few other things.

And in other news...

This month I have redrafted at least two chapters (in the old days it was one chapter per 2-3 months) and I have also edited the first third of the novel for a competition (good luck little pages). A short story in first draft was written and next month I'll redraft it.

I have been really productive because, drum roll, BIGGER drum roll - I sold my iPad. I know it sounds scary but I have been using less and less. I used to stay in bed, chain-reading the news sites or playing Angry Birds, waiting for the house to wake up so we could start the weekend. I know it is a drastic move - I could have hid the iPad in a drawer or switched off the interwebs but cold turkey is the way to go. I might buy another tablet in the future but not at the moment. Saturday mornings are full of baking cookies which are meant for work but only seem to make it to my tummy, reading, writing, shopping (for food - boo) or cinema.


I saw The Big Short at the cinema - if you to know more about the financial crash then you should see this film as it will explain it in funny terms.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Anna Smaill's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Anna Smaill stops by at Writer's Little Helper on her blog tour, celebrating the paperback publication of The Chimes, a dystopian novel set in London where memories are banned.


Hi Anna, congratulations on the publication of your novel, The Chimes! Thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? 

Since I imagine the bookshop to be run by a woman and her large brood of variously rebellious offspring, I’d probably go with the predictable but classic ‘X___ & Daughters’ formula. I’m not sure what the family name is, but no doubt something suitably bookish and antiquarian.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?

For purely selfish reasons, it would be located within walking distance of my home. There’s a wonderful spot at the end of my road in Wellington, where an old wide-windowed villa sits on the corner and looks out over the rather austere and wind-battered Rimutaka ranges. It’s the perfect place for a cafĂ©, an even better one for a bookshop.

Would your bookshop have any special features? 

There would be a small tea room within, with excellent tea and cake. It’s easy to find a good coffee in this country, but I think we need to focus on our tea game.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?

Hmm, well it would probably have the best view in the world, and definitely the best tea.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?

I’d keep them all. One of the nicest things about the best bookshops is the carefully haphazard way that books of different genres and habits can rub shoulders. It’s what allows you to stumble across that fascinating biography of the Mitfords when really you needed to buy a recipe book for your sister-in-law.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?

There would be the usual assorted tables of the prettiest and most talked-about books, as well as a rotating showcase of staff favourites – the current darlings of all those opinionated daughters. I think there would probably be a permanent display of poetry. They’re so awfully slim, those volumes, and tend to languish in spine-out display. They need all the help they can get, and we all need more poetry in our lives.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
It’s going to be Elena Ferrante, okay? Everyone will be issued with blindfolds, they’ll render up their phones and tablets and recording devices, they’ll sit mute and anonymous and, after a long delay, she’ll come in. The atmosphere will crisp and charge as she enters, which is how we’ll know we’re in the presence of genius. There will be a reading, in Italian, translated by a similarly blindfolded translator. No questions. No comments. Then everybody leaves.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Chimes and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? 
I’d be absolutely hopeless in this situation! I find the two things – ie writing something, and doing my best to sell it to readers – so different and so difficult to reconcile. I think the most honest thing I could say (which I do hope is what will let the book connect with readers) is that I loved writing it. The process was difficult, indeed hugely frustrating often, but all the time I felt propelled by this electric and unreasonable love for the world and its characters. In the end, that rationale is probably not enough to convince a sensible customer, but to me it really felt like the primary qualification for offering it to the world.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

Chocolate. Always chocolate.


You can find out more about The Chimes and Anna at her website.

You can buy The Chimes from your favourite bookshop.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Leila Segal's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Leila Segal has popped by to be the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series. This month sees the publication of her fantastic short story collection, Breathe. Breathe is a collection of short stories all based around Cuba.


Hi Leila, congratulations on the publication of your short story collection, Breathe and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?

‘Before Night Falls’, after the memoir by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, in which he grasps at every last moment of life.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Riding House Street, in London. This was where Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave, lived and in 1789 published his autobiography The Interesting Narrative, which helped lead to the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?

It would showcase photography and writing by women on Voice of Freedom, the anti-slavery project I lead: powerful work by women who have escaped slavery in all corners of the world – including China, Ghana, Albania, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?

Before Night Falls would specialise in short fiction, poetry and photography. There would also be a large section on exploring and teaching creativity.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?

Books with beautiful covers – particularly Latin American and classic designs. Each month we would feature work by emerging writers and artists from a particular region of the world.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Visual art, sculpture and photography exhibitions.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?

I would invite Cirilo Villaverde – author of Cecilia Valdes, a 19th Century Cuban novel about the love affair between the son of a white slave trader and a mulatta woman. Villaverde was an anti-slavery campaigner; he saw colonial Cuba and the effects of slavery at first hand. I would interview him about his activism and how he distilled his feelings into the novel.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your short story collection, Breathe and asks you to give them a reason why they should buy it. What would you say?
Because it will take you far away.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching Breathe in your bookshop?

Cuban tres leches cake and turrones (made from ground almonds and honey)


Leila Segal was born in London, of Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian descent. When she was little, she started to write. In 2000 she visited Cuba – as soon as she arrived she knew that she wanted to stay. She lived first in Havana, then the rural far West. Breathe – Stories from Cuba is her debut collection, written during this time. Find out more at

Twitter: @leilasegal

You can order Breathe from your favourite bookshop.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Book Review: Breathe

By Leila Segal
Published by Flipped Eye
Available in paperback

Leila Segal's collection of stories, Breathe, explores the culture of Cuba ranging from stories about outsiders who want the full 'experience' beyond the usual tourist traps like the protagonist in Sabbatical who lives in the house of a local while on holiday to stories of locals who want to escape like Pavel in Leaving Cuba.

There are a wide range of characters in these stories - There is a business man from Italy looking for a lover in his hotel, a student living in a home of a local woman and a man looking to leave Cuba and travel to his girlfriend in France. Everyone wants to escape - either out of the country or escape into the heat and passion of the country.

Relationships between friends, family, neighbours, and lovers are on the brink in Breathe. Assumptions based on cliched ideas about each other's beliefs and cultures are causing trouble.Yet the sense of community and belonging run strong through these stories.

Segal successfully creates a juxtaposition of the affluent tourists in their high-end hotels against the hardships of life for Cubans. Tucked away, hidden from tourists are the prefabs and poverty yet people are still friendly. Segal makes sure that this other side of Cuba is exposed to the reader. The protagonist in Taxi is a doctor who makes more money being a taxi driver, and must decide if he should save the life of a tourist and risk his livelihood as locals and tourists are not allowed to mix.

Breathe is quite short in length so you'll only need a few reading sessions or an afternoon to polish this off but these stories will stay with you days after finishing them.

You can buy Breathe from your favourite bookshop.

Leila will be stopping by on her blog tour and taking part of the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A on Monday.

I was kindly sent a copy by Midas PR.