Today I’m delighted to chat about the wonderful debut novel from Alyson Rudd, the First Time Lauren Pailing Died. AND there is a giveaway at the end so do keep reading. 🙂
I remember a time when if fate had allowed I could have died. It was many years ago now but the details are still as clear as if it happened only yesterday. It was Mother’s Day and I was cycling over to my parents house. I fell off my bike. I can still see myself falling and feel how I seemed to tumble in slow motion as I lost control of my bike and it toppled over. It was pretty busy that day and I fell to my right, straight into the path of the cars travelling alongside me. I still realise how lucky I was that the driver of the car was not distracted at that very moment or driving too fast. If he had been then Mothers Day could have ended very differently indeed and many things that now exist in this world, including my rather wonderful son, would not be here.
The possibility leaves me with a chill every now and then when I think of it. We all have those moments when life stands at a very obvious crossroads and can veer off into different directions. Of course we may not always notice them but they are often there. I found this a very interesting aspect of The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd. It’s something that has always fascinated me. Sliding Doors, a 1998 film staring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah that looked at different choices or situations taking us on different paths leading to a very different or possibly ultimately the same outcome – questioning if our fate is set to be the same no matter what route we take. It is a question that has been explored many times on stage, screen and in the written form and always inspires pause for thought.
In The First Time Lauren Pailing Died Lauren Pailing is a girl with an ordinary childhood but there is also something quite unusual about her which we discover as we gradually get to know her. I loved the historical details weaved into the story as we watch her grow up as a much adored only child. It brought back memories from my own childhood.
Alyson explores the different realities of Lauren’s life and what happens after she dies as a thirteen year old girl. I found her technique fascinating and loved the way the story was built around the parallel timelines. She portrayed reactions to grief and loss in an incredibly touching and, at times, heartbreaking way. The only constant between each life was the disappearance of Peter Stanning and gradually as the story unfolds we begin to understand what happened to him. There are so many comparisons I could equate this story to but Alyson has created something wonderful and unique. Because although at times the story can be sad, dark and thought provoking, there is always a sense of hope and that resounding feeling that we leave our mark on this earth, no matter how short or long our stay here.
The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is published now by HQ and is available in Hardback, eBook and Audiobook, and would make a fantastic read this summer.
Now, I have a hardback copy of this beautiful book to giveaway. To be in with the chance to win please like AND comment on this post before Friday evening at 8pm UK time. Your comment could just be to say hi but you need to do both to have your name put in the hat. 🙂 I’m afraid this giveaway is just for residents in the UK.
The First Time Lauren failing Died by Alyson Rudd
Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties,
And a child of the seventies.
She is thirteen years old the first time she dies.
Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too.
But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.
And so it is that every ending is also a beginning. And so it is that, with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to being found…
Perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson and Maggie O’Farrell, The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is a book about loss, grief – and how, despite it not always feeling that way, every ending marks the start of something new.
About the author
Alyson Rudd was born in Liverpool, raised in West Lancashire and educated at the London School of Economics. She is a sports journalist at The Times and lives in South West London.
She has written two works of non-fiction. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is her first novel.
Find out more by visiting the HQ Stories website here.
Thanks so much to the lovely HQ Stories team for my review copy and for inviting me to discover more about their amazing titles at Destination HQ.
Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Seventh Train by Jackie Carreira. This is a wonderfully touching and unique novel that I heartily recommend. It will forever change the way I look at trains and their passengers. Jackie proves that they are the perfect stage to find the fascinating, raw stories being carried out both around and within us.
Moving from stage to page, The Seventh Train has taken the scenic route from Jackie Carreira’s award-winning play to a second novel that promises to be as well-received as the first (Sleeping Through War, 9781788038539) The Seventh Train is a ride – a ‘road movie’ on the railways. It’s a journey that Elizabeth invented; the only original thought she has ever had in her previously uneventful life. Unbeknown to her, she is not travelling alone. If only she’d pretended that the spare seat was taken.
Although, by turns, hilarious and life-affirming, part of the story tackles serious issues of suicide andmental health, specifically the alarmingly high incidents on public transport. As Jackie says: “This is something that’s been in the news a lot recently, especially as suicide rates on the UK rail system increased by 9.1% last year. It’s a hugely important issue. Having said that, it’s not a gloomy novel at all, but actually full of hope and a good dose of wit!”
It’s a project that has been part of Jackie’s life for years. Originally conceived as a stage play, it was her theatrical debut and went on to become one of the winners of The Kenneth Branagh 10th Anniversary Award for New Drama at the Windsor Fringe Festival. From there, it just kept chugging along until it became the novel Jackie is releasing now.
With a wonderfully eclectic cast of characters, The Seventh Train takes its passengers on a journey from the tragic to the strange, arriving finally at hope.
By turns heart-breaking, thought-provoking and hilarious, this tale is a life-affirming exploration of the human spirit via the British railway timetable!
I was intrigued by the idea of this novel. Not only has it been on quite a journey of it’s own but the premise of a ‘road movie on the railways’, a woman travelling alone and the eclectic mix of characters she meets along the way was enticing. There is an undercurrent of depression constantly beneath the surface. That sense that we are completely and utterly alone in our despair (or numbness) touched upon in a unique way as our protagonist Elizabeth believes that she is the only traveler on this particular journey.
This isn’t a dark novel though, far from it. There is a wonderful lightness of touch with the writing. Suicide and depression are heavy subjects to convey and yet in a way The Seventh Train not about these things but surviving them. We meet Elizabeth at a low point in her life, she feels numb and doesn’t really know what she wants or where she wants to be. She just knows she wants to be anywhere but here. So begins a journey of ‘the seventh train’. In her own strange way this journey is her escape. She is in control but also not having to decide where to go. As I said, she doesn’t know where to go but simply wants to be anywhere but ‘here’. There is something about Elizabeth that I found vaguely familiar. That sense of disappointment in life, of wanting to disappear and yet also wanting to be found. She is compelling company.
The Seventh Train began it’s journey as a short stage play with only two characters. It quickly travelled on eventually becoming a novel and, as Jackie states in the introduction, ‘picking up new passengers along the way’. The passengers of course are the story. Her characterisation is wonderful and she brings each one of this strange mix of individuals to life through their own voices and stories. Elizabeth craves solitude but no matter how hard she tries to camouflage herself, to disappear amongst the generally detached commuters, someone begins to take notice.
This is an incredibly uplifting, well written novel. I absolutely adored being part of the journey. Suicide is a very difficult subject but Jackie’s skill as a writer gives an edge of hope rather than despair. The story did make me think. Not only about my own life but of those around me. People today generally walk in a bubble most of the time, plugged in to some device and as far removed from each other as is possible. The Seventh Train reminds us that we’re not alone. That each and every one of us is travelling on their own journey but there are always other travellers alongside us, even if we don’t see them at first. Some with eager eyes and hope and others with heads lowered barely caring where they end up. The important thing is that we don’t have to make that journey alone. There is always someone out there to share our story with. We just need to look up long enough to see them.
I do hope the stage version pops up on my own journey before too long. I’d absolutely love to see it. Perhaps even a television adaptation???
Many, many thanks to the fabulous Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. This is a wonderful novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and I’m so pleased I can now tell people about it and send it further on it’s way.
About the author
Jackie Carreira is a writer, musician, designer, co-founder of Quirkhouse Theatre Company, and award-winning playwright. Born in Leicester, she moved to London as a baby and went to school in Hackney, but also spent part of her early childhood in Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Destiny thereby dictated that her formative years were heavily influenced by her working-class upbringing and cities beginning with the letter ‘L’, for some cosmic reason that she has not yet figured out.
Jackie now lives in the English county of Suffolk with her actor husband A J Deane, two cats and too many books. One of her favourite places to write is in railway cafes. The Seventh Train was originally born over several cappuccinos at Paddington station.
I first read Chocolatby Joanne Harris in 2001. I remember it so well because it was the book I took on my honeymoon. Back in those days there was no social media and more often then not a book would be chosen by simply browsing in a book shop or Library. Even now, that is something I still get great pleasure from. The cover is always the first thing I notice when I go into a bookshop. The displays may be there to entice me with prominent positioning and ‘Books of the Month’, but it’s the the cover image that will call out to me and prevent me from walking on by. Although I have only a very vague recollection of buying Chocolat, I know that it was purchased at the airport as I browsed amongst the shelves whilst awaiting our flight.
It was the paperback version but still had the glorious purple cover which sparkled with magic and images of golden eggs. ‘Try me…test me…’ read me… I have to admit I’m not sure of I had seen the film at this time but I feel that the book came first for me although that may simply be because I have read it so many times. As our flight took off on route to New York I began a journey to Lansquenet.
I leant that first copy of Chocolat, purchased all that time ago at the beginning of my own exciting journey, to a friend. Unfortunately both the friend and book are now long gone but when I realised it would not be returning to me I searched online for another edition with the same cover. I found a small hardback first edition which I now treasure. Sadly the friend was not so easy to replace but like that lost paperback I will always have a place in my heart for her.
So now nearly eighteen years later I am thrilled to return to the village of Lansquenet and the characters that found their way into my heart. Of course I have returned many times before, repeatedly with Chocolat and also with The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, but there is something wonderful about a new story. The turning to the first page, not knowing where it will take you. Even so, these characters have meant so much to me over the years that I was slightly nervous as to what may now hold for them.
The Strawberry Thief
Everyone is different. Some of us are just more than others…
Vianne Rocher has settled down.
Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.
But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal all of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…
This is a very welcome return to Lansquenet and it’s inhabitants. I have missed their stories, the smell of chocolate and the whispering of the wind. This time the story focuses on Narcisse, Reynaud, Rosette and a mysterious new visitor to the town. A visitor who brings change, something that Vianne fears. What do I remember of Narcisse from the earlier books? Not a great deal. He ran the flower shop, was kind to Roux and offered him work when others turned their back and he didn’t see eye to eye with the local Curé. Yet I felt a sadness when he died, that feeling you get when you wished you had gotten to know someone better when they were alive. He was always in the background, just out of sight.
Upon his death he leaves a wood to Rosette. It is a place that is incredibly special to her in a way that only Narcisse understands. Yet that very action causes anger and mistrust amongst his surviving family. They are suspicious of his motives and eager to see the confession he left behind. But the confession is for the eyes of Reynaud only. His old adversary and someone who has more in common with him then he thinks.
Right within the very heart of the story, Vianne remains fighting to keep her family together. Constantly on guard of the wind and what it might bring… or take away. Narcisse’s death brings with it a mysterious stranger to the town of Lansquenet, a stranger not unlike Vianne herself. Yet the wind begins to blow and stirs up hidden danger, accidents and an unknown force that threatens to tear apart her carefully protected life.
As always I fall into Joanne’s story with ease, returning to Vianne’s life is like a warm hug or a soothing cup of hot chocolate. Her writing is beautiful and as I read I can hear each syllable resonating through my head. I imagine the audio books are wonderful too, like listening to an old friend.
If you have yet to discover these books then I would recommend starting at the beginning with Chocolat. Of course it’s not vital but I do think you’ll get so much more from the stories. I think it’s time I returned there too, back to the beginning and with the hope that before too long we may return there again for another new story.
Other recommended books by Joanne Harris
What if you could bottle a year of your past? Which one would it be? Which time of year? What would it smell like? How would it taste?
These are the questions which began Blackberry Wine: the second volume of my “food trilogy” and the story of Jay Mackintosh, a writer of pulp fiction with one literary success to his name and a dwindling grasp of reality. Trapped between an unresolved past and a humdrum present, suffering from writer’s block and the beginnings of alcoholism, Jay has lost his bearings.
But the accidental discovery of six bottles of home-brewed wine, a legacy from an old and vanished friend, seems to hold the key to a new beginning, a means of escape, and a final reconciliation. For there is something magical about this wine; something which brings the past to life, an agent of transformation. Under its influence, time can work backwards and the dead return to life – as Jay finds, when, on impulse, he gives up his glamorous London lifestyle and escapes to a half-derelict farmhouse in a remote village in Gascony, where two mysteries await him; a ghost from the past whom no-one else can see, and Marise, a reclusive widow with ghosts of her own…
Published in 2000, Blackberry Wineis another favourite of mine that I return to again and again.
The Little Book of Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde
Try me…test me…taste me…
Joanne Harris’s Chocolat trilogy has tantalised readers with its sensuous descriptions of chocolate since it was first published. Now, to celebrate the much-loved story of Vianne Rocher’s deliciously decadent chocolaterie, Joanne Harris and Fran Warde have created the ultimate book of chocolate lore and recipes from around the world, bringing a touch of magic to your kitchen.
This is a stunning recipe book filled with incredibly mouthwatering recipes. Now THIS would make the perfect Easter gift.
Joanne is currently busy with a book tour to coincide with the publication of The Strawberry Thief. Visit Joannes website here for more information and to see if she will be coming to an event near you. I am very much looking forward to seeing her talk at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival in May.
Sometimes you discover an author and there is an instant connection. You soak up their words and disappear into their worlds. Whenever you hear there is a new offering on the horizon your ears prick up, damn it your whole damn head up – somewhat like a meerkat – and wait eagerly for it to arrive. It’s a truly wonderful feeling. One such author that holds that magic over me is Louise Beech. Her writing never fails to leave me entranced. Her novels are all so different and yet all so wonderful. I can’t tell you how happy I was to receive a proof copy of her latest novel, Call Me Star Girl.
There were three things that sold this novel to me.
The author. The publisher. The synopsis.
Although the fact that it was quoted as being ‘reminiscent of Play Misty For Me, surely one of Clint Eastwood finest and most chilling of films, did catch my attention too. I watched the film again not too long ago and there is still so much I love about it, not least the 70’s music, style and cinematography, but it gives you the feeling that you’re watching a series of events spiralling helplessly out of control. All these factors put together had me feeling this novel was going to be GOOOOD. And Oh my, I wasn’t wrong.
Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech
Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show.
The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers. Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father…
What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station, who says he knows who killed the pregnant Victoria Valbon, found brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago.
Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything.
In her writing Louise delves deep into the mind. She looks at cause and effect, how events and trauma shape our personalities and actions. We can never really know what goes on in another’s mind and she shows the dark maze winding deep within each of us; holding endlessfears, desires, doubts and secrets. It is truly powerful. Call Me Star Girl also looks at the darker side of love. The all-consuming love that can rarely end well. The story is dark, creepy and utterly engrossing as Stella’s past and present collide with shattering consequences.
Louise’s characters have this wonderful ability to get inside your head, leading you on with the story, sharing their story, so you are standing right beside them in that dark, god forsaken alley. Atmospheric to say the least, the setting of a radio station through the night provides the perfect backdrop for events to unfold.
Her plotting is superb, the twists and turns leaving you fearful for the outcome but unable to tear yourself away. This is one story that will stay with you; like a whisper it will creep into your thoughts long after you turn the final page.
Absolutely brilliant and thoroughly recommended.
Here is a wee snippet taken from the first few pages…
‘The lights buzzed and flickered. I held my breath. Exhaled when they settled. I would not be spooked by a trickster.
Stella, this will tell you everything.
How did they know what I wanted to know?
What was everything?
I opened the main door, book held tight to my hammering chest. The car park was empty, a weed-logged expanse edged with dying trees. It’s always quiet at this hour of the night. I waited, not sure what I expected to happen – maybe some stranger loitering, hunched over and menacing. They would not scare me.
“I’m not afraid,’ I said it aloud.
Who was I trying to convince?
I set off for home. I usually walk, enjoying the night air after a stuffy studio. I’m not sure why – though now it seems profound – but I paused at the alley that separates the allotment from the Fortune Bingo hall. Bramble bushes tangle there like sweet barbed wire. It’s a long but narrow cut-through that kids ride their bikes too fast along and drunks stagger down when the pub shuts. I rarely walk down there, even though it would make my journey home quicker. The place disturbs me, so I always hurry past, take the long way around, without glancing into the shadows.
I did that night too.
But I looked back. Just once, the strange book pressed against my chest.
It was two weeks before they found the girl there.
Two weeks before I started getting phone calls.
I didn’t know any of that then. If I had, I might have walked a little faster.’
About the Author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. the follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed and critically acclaimed. All four have been #1 kindle bestsellers. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetics Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.
You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter and visit her website here.
Call Me Star Girl is published by Orenda Books on April 18th 2019 which still gives you plenty of time to discover Louise’s previous work if you haven’t yet done so.
Thank you so much to the lovely team at Orenda Books for sending me the proof copy to read and review for an honest opinion.
EVERYONE’S GOING TO REMEMBER WHERE THEY WERE WHEN THE TAPS RAN DRY
The drought – or the tap-out, as everyone calls it – has been going on for a while. Life has become an endless list of don’t: don’t water the lawn, don’t take long showers, don’t panic. But now there is no water left at all.
Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation and violence. When her parents go missing, she and her younger brother must team up with an unlikely group in search of water. Each of them will need to make impossible choices to survive.
The kitchen faucet makes the most bizarre sounds.
It coughs and wheezes like it’s gone asthmatic. It gurgles like someone drowning. It spits once, and then goes silent.
And so it begins…
There are certain things in modern life that are a given. We go to the supermarket, we buy food. We go home and then cook and eat that food. Our neighbours are often there for us in a crisis. Help is always on hand. We have fresh water to drink and wash with. We only have to turn on the tap. So imagine if one day the water ran out. Imagine the worst possible drought. Not in some far off country that you see in commercials asking for aid but in the country you live. A country where swimming pools are common place and everything is taken for granted.
Dry is a great novel. Through the eyes of a regular, American, suburban family we see the breakdown of society. Every aspect of human nature is shown within this story. The heroes, the cowards and the villains. Those who find their calling, those who find their strength and also those who will take and do anything, at whatever cost, to profit from the suffering of others.
After the taps run dry, Alyssa and her brother Garrett watch their parents head off towards a promised supply of fresh water.
‘See you in a bit’ Alyssa says as they go but she’s uneasy. Supplies are dwindling fast and people are turning on each other as the panic begins to spread. When their parents don’t return, the youngsters embark on a dangerous journey to find them and the water. With danger around every corner and not knowing who they can trust, things begin to spiral out of control and it’s not long before Alyssa and Garrett are fighting for their lives.
They form an unlikely fellowship with some other kids, kids they wouldn’t normally have anything to do with, but there is nothing normal about their situation and it doesn’t take them long to work out that if they’re going to survive this, they’re going to have to work together.
An absolutely electrifying story that looks at the many sides of human nature and the lengths that people will go to to survive in a world that suddenly turns upside down.
There is a line where mist becomes fog and during the early days of December it is crossed. But it’s not during fog that what has been growing in the river breaks the surface and takes a look around. It’s on a clear night after a frosty day where sheer cold has made resilient leaves surrender and quiver to the ground.
Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the first fictional offering from writer, Tom Cox. I’ve been a follower of Tom on social media on both Facebook and Twitter for some time now and have very much enjoyed his cat related musings and following his highs and lows over the years. I am very much a cat (and general animal) lover and so have been drawn to the sensitivity and connection that he quite clearly has towards them. He is a person who appears to feel things deeply; sensitive, enquiring and what I would call an ‘old soul’. Therefore I was incredibly excited to hear about his latest project of a selection of short stories. Ghost stories. So I am delighted to have been invited to take part in this blog tour celebrating this fantastic book and also to be able to put some questions to the author.
Help the Witchis a beautifully presented selection of short stories with a ghostly, other worldly theme. Storytelling has been prevalent since before man could read and write. Tales told orally would be passed down from generation to generation as a means to educate, inspire and entertain. Of course now there are many means of telling a story. Tom has delighted us for years with his writing through a variety of mediums including books, journalism and his website ,where he states ‘since 2015 I’ve written many many thousands of words about about nature, folklore, music, books, landscape, family, social history, films and more’. I love reading his work and he has a wonderful gift of putting words together to create something rather magical. Help the Witchis his first book of fictional stories and I asked him what inspired him to write this particular selection of short stories.
‘Walking and what I find while I do it has always been a big inspiration for me – particularly during my latest non-fiction book, 21st Century Yokel, and – in a more wintry, haunting sense – ‘Help The Witch’. Derelict buildings. Old clothes left on fence posts, creating an inadvertent figure who, upon being approached from the other side might potentially have a gnashing nightmare face. Copses and spinneys that retain and trap events from the distant past. What you have in ‘Help The Witch’ are some remnant echoes of the folk horror novels I tried and failed to write in my late 20s and early 30s –hopefully in more coherent, less overreaching form. It’s all really the result of aburning ambition to write spooky stories that I’ve had since I was seven yearsold, but tempered with scepticism, questions, a reverence for nature as the truemagic and religion, and executed in a manner more minimalist than it might oncehave been, allowing some spaces for the reader to choose their own adventure.’
So now I ask you reader, do you believe in ghosts? Some people are sceptical, after all we now live in a world where our thirst for knowledge can’t be quenched. In the past 100 years science has moved on in an alarming rate and yet there are still so many questions that remain unanswered. To some, if we can’t explain it then it simply can’t be real. Yet constantly we seem drawn to tales that go straight to the heart of these unanswerable questions, perhaps because they spark curiosity and fear. It is natural to fear the unexplained. Tom has a wise voice, an old soul, who, although a self-confessed ‘near sceptic’, questions the world around him and looks beneath the layers of what surrounds us. I asked him what it is that fascinates him about ghost stories.
‘Apart from the basic thing that makes so many people fascinated by ghosts– a slightly inward looking question about what we are and where all our energy goes when we’re no longer alive – I’m interested in the idea of buildings, and other spaces,that absorb events and seem to hold them. I am interested in the intangible magic that age gradually begins to add to some objects. What is also interesting when you’re writing ghost stories and tell people that is that nearly everyone has a story to share from their life, even if they are a total sceptic: an incident, often nocturnal, with no rational scientific explanation. I’m not a total sceptic, and I’ve got a few of these incidents too, although I don’t think I can honestly state that I have seen a ghost in any traditionally recognised sense. Most of all, I think, as I get older, I am more and more fascinated – happy to get totally lost in – history, and I think if you’re fascinated by that, it’s hard not to be fascinated by ghosts in some form.’
Personally I do believe in ghosts. I believe that we each carry an energy and that events and situations leave an imprint on the places we have been. I too have never knowingly seen a ghost but I often sense something that has been left behind. This is one of the things I found interesting about the stories in Help the Witch, they aren’t simply your traditional creaking doorways and things seen out of the corner of your eye. The stories are almost subtle, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.
I enjoyed the sheer variety of stories that fill the book. No two where the same and I found each and every one enticing. It feels like a collection of tales developed over time, handed down through generations. I can imagine them being read aloud around a camp fire as the sounds of nature surround you, along with the deep, silent dark.
My favourite story is from where the title of the collection is taken, ‘Help the Witch‘. It was to my mind the spookiest, or perhaps just a little more obviously spooky than the others. It’s tone and style of narration put me in mind of Emily Bronte as I read. Tom creates atmosphere and a sense of place wonderfully. He entwines history through the tale, gradually bringing the ghosts alive. I have recently read an article by Tom called ‘the ghosts of the mountain house’ which talks about his (rather brave) plan of method-writing when working on the book, ‘to retreat to a spooky place to put it together.’ I must say it certainly worked, and reading about his stay at a desolate farmhouse in the Peak District makes the story even more spine-tingling.
Each writer is as unique as their stories and I always find the writing process fascinating. I asked Tom to tell me a little of his methods such as if he keeps a writer’s notebook or journal.
‘I wish I’d kept journals when I was younger. I try not to have regrets in life, but that might be one. I started keeping them in earnest about a decade ago, when I was already 32. It would be interesting, just for my own entertainment, to look back on an earlier period in my life in print. Far more interesting than reading record reviews I wrote for newspapers in my early 20s, I’m sure. I had my bag stolen in August, containing a year’s worth of thoughts towards future books. It still hurts, although I don’t think it was my best or fullest journal. I write down weird things that have happened to me or people I’ve met: sometimes incredibly mundane, but weird. Sometimes the very act of writing them helps you remember them and you don’t even need to refer back to them.’
So what happens when the time comes to sit down and write? How does your first draft come? Handwritten or typed?
‘Typed. I’ve becoming better at pushing through and writing a load of text in longhand but ultimately I’m part of the first generation of people whose customary way to write is using a computer: I’m accustomed to the luxury it gives you of fiddling with text as you go along.’
Do you have a writing routine or do you just write as and when?
‘My ideal routine is to start between six and seven am, and write all the way through to late lunchtime. Then maybe go for a walk in the afternoon, or do some editing or admin. These best laid plans happen too seldom though, and in reality my schedule is far more chaotic. One thing that stays a stone fact is that I never write anything very great between 1pm and 4pm. If someone tells you they wrote something great between 1pm and 4pm, they’re lying.’
One of the things that initially drew me to Tom was his love for cats and his ability to look at the world through their eyes with humour, love and compassion. My own cat, Mr Perry, features heavily on my personal instagram account and I am always fascinated how these creatures who share our lives become such an important part of them. There is a feline presence in the title story ‘Help The Witch’ and so I was curious how much of an influence Tom’s cats had on his fictional stories too.
‘I was writing non-fiction and journalism for years without cats being a known theme of my writing life, but they bullied their way into my writing quite often. So I relented and gave them the floor for four books, while also using that as a way to write about lots of other themes. They were like Trojan cats. People saw them on book covers, and didn’t realise they were a way to smuggle in stories about family, the countryside, landscape, other animals, plus a bit of light DIY philosophy. I think they’ll always be popping in, whatever I write, although they’re probably not as dominant as people who haven’t read my books often assume. I’m a creatively stubborn person, but hopefully not needlessly stubborn, and this book has a strong witchy undercurrent. Not letting a few cats have cameo roles to add to that undercurrent would have been needlessly stubborn.’
Help the Witch is a great collection of stories and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing about. It’s also visually stunning and the illustrations sit perfectly alongside the stories. Even those have left a ghostly shadow on the opposite page, something that only adds to the overall ethereal feeling that accompanies the book. It is only right that I hand the last few words of this piece over to Tom to answer the question, will you be writing more fictional tales?
‘Absolutely. That has always been part of the plan. I’d always assumed that when I finally published some fiction I’d do nothing but that forever. But I don’t quite feel like that now. I get a lot of pleasure out of fiction and non-fiction. I hope to write much more of both. That said, since finishing Help The Witch, so many more eerie stories have been knocking on the door – often in the early hours – and I can only oblige and let them in.’
Help the Witch is published on the 18th of October 2018 by Unbound and is available to order from all good bookshops (find your local independent here), Amazon ,Watersones to name but a few,
Tom has a completely fabulous and fascinating website so do pop along for a look here.
Thank you to Anne Carter of Random Things Tours and Tom for sending me this wonderful book.
Today I would like to share with you a memoir by C.E.A. Forster. The author is a foster carer and she has decided to share her stories within the pages of her book, You’re Being Ridiculous!
A new authorial voice relaying true stories that are likely to both horrify you and make you laugh out loud. Events and conversations are told with pace, humour and humanity as the author shares with you her memories of the situations she has lovingly endured while at the mercy of her numerous foster boys. It is heart warming, heart breaking and heartfelt in equal measures. It is a memoir of sorts but it is definitely not a misery memoir.
C.E.A. Forster is youngish, conceivably pushing middle age, although she would argue as to where that line is drawn, and she is just wanting to share with you the trials, tribulations and sheer joy of her time as a foster carer.
She writes of the sounds of bystanders that she can still to this day hear ringing in her ears, tutting at her apparent inability to control the children in her care and of the mayhem that follows theme everywhere, along with her repeated admonition to them of “you’re being ridiculous!”.
Claire has experienced this awful questions in the most public of places concerning the differences between boys and girls and has been informed by a six year old on the habits of mating Turtles. Have you ever heard of pee wars? Have you ever crash landed in a World War II plane and lived to tell the tale? Not to mention some of the topics discussed at the dinner table that would make even the most bold of us blush.
Claire won’t mind you laughing at her or with her and she will leave you knowing, in no uncertain terms, just how much she grew to love these boys and how they will always have a special place in her heart. She hopes that maybe one day they will come back into her life to remind her of their own memories.
You can feel the love and compassion Claire has felt for each and every one of the children that have shared her home. It is not a light undertaking being a foster carer, to provide a safe haven for these troubled young souls who for whatever reason have found themselves in need of temporary shelter.
Each child that she talks about within the book has obviously had a massive impact on her life and we can hope the their stories each have happy endings but one thing we can be sure of is that for a brief time they were able to be with someone who shared with them her zest for life, sense of humour and who was willing to love and care for them unconditionally, providing them with a brief respite before they moved on to whatever the future has in store for them.
Claire decided to share her life and her home with children who were in need of care, love and an escape from the difficulties they faced. She is very considerate and discrete in her narration. This isn’t about the horrors and heartbreak that the children may have come from. It’s not about the effect their young experiences have had on them but it’s about nurturing and helping those fragile beings so they leave a little brighter and a little happier than when they arrived. This book is a celebration of her decision to become a foster carer and the kindness and love she has been able to provide these children during the time they are with her. The children may have only been with Claire for a short time but I can tell she will always carry a little of them with her and I imagine that they will carry something of her too.
A light-hearted, funny and yet at times sad book, this was a pleasure to read. As a parent I can understand some of Claire’s more cringe-worthy encounters but she seems to have addressed some tricky (and at times very embarrassing moments) with a cool, calm head. Any parent will tell you that you learn on the job and no two children are ever the same. For a foster carer this can be even more of a challenge as they have such little knowledge of the small but powerful personalities presented before them and are left to constantly think on their feet.
I feel that it is wonderful to know that there are people such as Claire out there ready to be there for these children, whatever circumstances they may be coming from.
Thank you Claire for inviting me to read and review You’re Being Ridiculous!
You can discover more about Claire by visiting her website here or follow her on Twitter @cea_forster