Monday, 11 December 2017

Book Review: The French Exchange Whale and Other Rejected Book Ideas

The French Exchange Whale & Other Rejected Book Ideas
By Cal King
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Available in paperback & ebook

Its that time of year again - buying presents for writers and readers in your life, ready for Christmas. How about ditching the usual notebook or pen and buy them something to inspire them with their ideas. The French Exchange Whale and Other Rejected Book Ideas might just be the book you never thought you needed but will now actually need...

If you're a writer then you've probably heard many people say to you (both drunk and sober) that everyone has a book inside them. Either you argue the toss with them or politely nod your head, take a large sip of a cocktail and then slowly back away. Turns out that's not true... so finally writers can politely reply with a wiggle of the finger and point them in the direction of this book.

Cal King is bursting with book ideas and thinks most of them are potential prize-winning novels. Yet, having pitched these ideas - ninja nuns, Sherlock's homes - how to make a killing on the housing market and a time travelling gran - publishers don't seem that keen.

But then Hodder & Stoughton decided to take a chance, and put all of these ideas together in one book so readers can decide for themselves if Cal was on to a good thing or that maybe the publishers have had a lucky escape. Full of strange and wacky book ideas and at some points you start convincing yourself that actually these could make a good plot for a proper book...

This is a funny book that writers and readers will love, and would make a great Christmas present and will keep you entertained through those TV repeats and post-Christmas dinner slump. Trust me, you'll be sniggering to yourself so it might be best to not read this on public transport.

You can buy The French Exchange Whale and Other Rejected Book Ideas from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

November's Reading

I'm back in the game with five books read in November - not that I'm competitive but reading only three books for the past couple of months isn't good for me.

2084 Edited by George Sandison
This fantastic anthology of stories depicts possible futures of what life could be like in 2048, one hundred years after George Orwell's 1984You can read my review here.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
This is a young adult thriller about a privileged family with their own island, and the younger generation trying to deal with the expectations of family mythology and the pull to follow their own paths in life. We Were Liars includes a brilliant twist near the end. Definitely get your hands on a copy of this.

The French Exchange Whale by Cal King
This small book includes ridiculous rejected book ideas but some of them might have you wanting them to be written into full books. This would make a fun Christmas present for a writer or reader in your life. Review will be appearing later in the week.

His Guilty Secret by Helene Fermont
Affairs, dead husbands, friends with addiction and secret children. This book is full of secrets and lies, exploring the complex tangles of modern life and love. My review will be appearing later this month.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and I can definitely see why. Women across the global realise they have an electric power within that comes alive when attacked or angry. They can inflict pain or even death. The power struggle between men and women starts to tip the other way, and men are finding they no longer have control. This is a fantastic novel - go and buy this one and read it!


In November I went to the Gollancz Festival at Foyles, celebrating science fiction writers with talks and workshops. Not only was the day a great way to hear from authors on their inspirations but it was also got me interested in writers who I've not read before - I'm definitely going to read something by Joe Hill. Here are some highlights from the day...

  • Try to tune out 'normal' life for your mind to start working and piecing together ideas
  • Write into the gap of stories
  • Write first then edit afterwards so you know the direction you're heading with the narrative
  • A deadline gives motivation and tricks you into working
  • There are no magic tricks to writing
  • you can't wait for an idea - you need to put down the 'seed' and then tease out the idea into something bigger

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Abi Curtis's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Abi Curtis to Writer's Little Helper to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series to celebrate the publication of her novel, Water & Glassdystopian tale about human nature and the animal world.


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
The Lantern

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
In a lighthouse

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Curved shelves, a reading platform right at the top

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
It would have an amazing view at the edge of the landscape

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I would have a short-fiction section, as this is under-represented. I’d have fiction, but not separated in ‘genre’ categories. I’d have a larger poetry section than you find in most bookshops.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
My display table would have sea-themed books, but from different genres – fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Because I became fascinated by depictions of the sea when writing my recent novel.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer.
I think I would have to have Shakespeare.

What sort of event would they run?
A word-inventing workshop

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
Because you can immerse yourself in it as if you were under the ocean.

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


Abi Curtis is Professor of Creative Writing at York St. John University and is an award-winning poet. In 2004, she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. Her first poetry collection, Unexpected Weatherwas published after winning the Crashaw Poetry Prize in 2008. In 2013 Curtis won the Somerset Maugham Award for her second poetry collection, The Glass Delusion, which allowed her to travel to Istanbul, where inspiration for Water & Glass began to flourish. Water & Glass is her first novel.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Book Review: 2048

Edited by George Sandison
Published by Unsung Stories
Available in paperback

Short story anthologies can be a mixed bag and I know that I have found myself in the past skipping over stories to get to the good stuff. Well, 2048 isn't one of those anthologies - ever story is a gem.

This anthology of stories depicts possible futures of what life could be like in 2048, one hundred years after George Orwell's 1984. These are warnings - is this the future we want to head towards?

I was expecting all of these stories to explore variations of big brother and the surveillance world but I was wrong. This anthology is more than just being influenced by Orwell's 1984. The stories springboard from that initial idea and each author has created a powerful, enjoyable and mostly unsettling possible future.

Within these pages are stories about walls wrapped around Europe stopping people from fleeing war-torn countries, social media choking real life and warping the minds of millions and leaving people isolated, the extinction of animals and the way people barter for fur and animal body parts, fashion has turned into a religion. Each story pulls the reader into this compact world and clings on even after reading the story. I've already gone back and read some of these stories again.

Babylon by Dave Hutchinson is a strong opening story with its depiction of an oppressive Europe with its immigration policy allowing only the rich into Europe. This small story packs the punches with the mistreatment of people, the ways people will do to survive and the extremes they will take for a better life. The protagonist in this story changes his DNA to be accepted in Europe.

Malcolm Devlin's March, April, May tells the story of the paranoid world of social media and the way it controls our worldviews and social circles. This sinister story shows a group of friends and the way they interact with a friend who wants to play devil's advocate and try to break the social network's algorithm but it seems to backfire as her account disappears. Users only care about the information presented to them rather than questioning the world through their computers. In a world where fake news and post-truths seem to spread very quickly through social media this possible future feels like it's already starting to take shape.

The anthology finishes with a unsettling story, Shooting an Episode by Christopher Priest, telling the story of reality TV moderator who has become jaded with his job and wants to leave. However, his employer has one more job for him, putting him in the clutches of the 'super' fans who watch the show and want to interact with the actors. Priest explores the foggy area between reality and TV and they way people perceive these truths. 

Within this fantastic collection are stories from Christopher Priest, James Smythe, Jeff Noon, Aliya Whiteley to name just a few. Trust me on this, buy this book even if you don't really like reading short stories. 2048 is an excellent collection which leave you thinking for days about your own version of 2048You can buy 2048 from your favourite book retailer.

List of stories contained in 2048:

Babylon - Dave Hutchinson
Here Comes the Flood - Desirina Boskovich
Fly Away, Peter - Ian Hocking
A Good Citizen - Anne Charnock
The Endling Market - E. J. Swift
Glitterati - Oliver Langmead
Room 149 - Jeff Noon
Percepi - Courttia Newland
Degrees of Ellision - Cassandra Khaw
The Infinite Eye - JP Smythe
Saudade Minus One (S-1=) - Irenosen Okojie
March, April, May - Malcolm Devlin
2084 Satoshi AD - Lavie Tidhar
Uniquo - Aliya Whiteley
Shooting an Episode - Christopher Priest

The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

October's Reading

Just three books read in October - I really am slacking... 

But I've been enjoying theatre trips, going to the Royal Albert Hall to see Jaws with an orchestra accompaniment, and basically being a slower reader.

So, here are the books I read this month. I'm aiming to read more than three in November!

Western Fringes - Amer Anwar
Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger award, Western Fringes is a gritty, hard-hitting crime thriller full of violence, family feuds and revenge. Twisty turns in this gritty crime thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat. You can read my review here.

How to be Champion - Sarah Millican
Part autobiography, part self-help, part confession, Sarah Millican, that comedian off the telly, shares her normal life with laugh out loud stories and snippets on how to deal with those crap times in your life. Sarah comes up with a fool-proof way to come up top after a divorce (why wasn't this chapter available when I needed advice like this), how to deal with crap jobs and those embarrassing IBS moments. This book is really funny and will definitely cheer you up with the colder nights.

Men Explain Things To Me - Rebecca Solnit
This important set of essays looks at the way women have to still struggle in society to have their voices and actions heard. This book will make you think about your position in society and is thought-provoking. Even though this is a serious book it is still entertaining!

What did you read in October?