Showing posts from 2012


Dear readers,
please accept my most sincere apologies for the lack of content over the past few months.
Personal circumstances have made it so that I had to neglect my blogging duties but I hope that I will be able to resume them very soon.
In the meantime, happy reading to all of you!

Book review: The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill Published by Profile Books

Since reading The Small Hand by Susan Hill last year, her more famous ghost story, The Woman in Black, shot to the top of my reading list. Now that I’ve read it, ghost story sounds so diminishing that I’d rather describe it as a supernatural masterpiece.

Before starting the book, I made the mistake of watching the trailer of the film of the same name starring Daniel Radcliffe that came out this year. I call it a mistake because that one minute and forty-one seconds scared me beyond imagination. So much, in fact, that I refused to do any reading after dusk – just in case!

The Woman in Black opens in the winter of 1920. Arthur Kipps is sitting around the fireplace with his family when he is prompted to tell them a ghost story. Upset, he leaves the room. Ghost stories are not a laughing matter so he later sets out to write a memoir narrating the dreadful events that marked his life forever.

That’s how we step back in time and we travel with Arthur to C…

Books through my lens #22

Virginia Woolf's country retreat at Monk's House, Rodmell, Sussex

In conversation with... Charlotte Rogan

Hello Charlotte! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Lifeboat. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: The Lifeboat tells the story of Grace Winter, a 22-year-old woman who survives a shipwreck only to be put on trial for her life. You find out in the first chapter that Grace’s attorneys suggest she write her story down as part of her defence, and the result is a day-by-day, first person account. As the days pass and the weather deteriorates, it becomes increasingly apparent that for any to live some must die. Grace watches and waits as the other passengers choose sides in a brewing power struggle, but eventually, she too must declare herself. It is because of her actions in the boat that she ends up in a courtroom, but is she telling the truth at her trial or is she merely saving herself again?

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page and did somethi…

Books through my lens #21

Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum, Amsterdam, December 2011

In conversation with... Vanessa Gebbie

Hello Vanessa! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Coward’s Tale, out in paperback at the end of March. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you very much! The book is the story of a small town in south Wales, where Laddy Merridew, a boy of ten, has been sent to stay with his grandmother while his parents sort out their failing marriage. He befriends an old man called Ianto Jenkins - a beggar who lives in the chapel porch. In exchange for a coffee or some sweets, Ianto will tell stories - funny, sad, poignant and strange - about the people of the town, and why some of them do eccentric things. The stories all go back to a coal-mining accident on a September day several generations ago. But for all the storytelling, Ianto has bever told anyone the story of what happened to him that day. He seems to recognise someone in the young boy - and begins to reveal his own story for the first time.

You now live in Lewes, East Sussex, but you’re ori…

Terri Giuliano Long on Writing & Motherhood

I grew up in a big traditional Italian family. Being a mom has always been part of my story, an expectation as well as a dream, an essential part of who I am. It’s only natural that being a mother would shape my life as a writer and it has - both practically and philosophically.

My husband and I have four daughters. We were very young when our eldest was born; in that sense, I’ve lived my life backward. We had children, and then I attended college and graduate school. While our children were growing up, I worked part-time. Although all my jobs involved writing, I didn’t have the luxury then of an apprenticeship in creative writing. Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. I loved my life – and my jobs. I wrote news and feature articles for the town paper, a column for a regional paper. I edited a newsletter, and wrote copy for marketing, advertising and public relations. This was all great practice.

I attended my first creative writing class in my mid-thirties. Once I did, I was …

Kimberly Menozzi: Writer, Interrupted

Did you miss Kimberly's monthly feature in April? I know I did. Here, all the way from the States, is a new piece by one of our favourite writers, who's remembered about us even when she has more important matters to think about! Please join me in thanking her and wishing her mother well.


For many writers, one of the hardest things to manage is time. Finding the time to write is one of the first obstacles presented to anyone who fancies the notion of being a working writer. Different writers go about this in different ways - some write during any free moment they find throughout the day, others write early in the morning before their families wake up, still others wait and write late at night. A handful of writers like myself are very fortunate and are able to write throughout the day. I work part time for a language school and have an office in my flat in my home in Italy. The computer is primarily for my use - my husband has his own laptop for his computer needs - and in th…

In conversation with... Gill Paul

Hello Gill! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the recent publication of your latest book, Women and Children First. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: It begins on the Titanic, where I describe events through the eyes of Reg, a steward in the first-class dining saloon, Juliette, an English lady, and Annie, an Irishwoman in third class who is travelling to New York with her four children. They each have very traumatic experiences as the ship sinks and I then follow the ones who survive through the next three months as they try to come to terms with all that’s happened to them. The sinking of the Titanic is, of course, a well-known story but I’ve tried to explore some less well-known angles, such as the experiences of the crew and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress that many survivors suffered.

You previously published Titanic Love Stories, a non-fiction book focusing on thirteen couples aboard the doomed passenger liner. Where did your interest in the sinking …

Green Books: Book-Art

What do you do with your books when they're obsolete? I don't mean just that you've read them and no longer want them – in that case you give them to a friend or a charity shop, a hospital or a B&B. No I mean the books that you know no-one will want – out of date textbooks for example.

One answer is to make them into art!

Altered Books are quite popular and there's a good introduction to them on the Karen's Whimsy website. The idea is to use old books and to paint over them, make collages, cut pages and hide items in them. There are all kinds of creative things you can do and blogs devoted to how to do it!

The French Canadian artist Guy Laramee goes a stage further and makes amazingly complex 3D sculptures out of old vintage books. I first came across his work via this article on Treehugger.
Book art recently hit the headlines in Edinburgh, where I live, when an unknown artist left a series of intricate book carvings at literary venues across the city. You can read…

Books through my lens #20

The ARK BOOKTOWER designed by Rintala Eggertsson Architects for the V&A Summer Exhibition 2010, called 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces. You can imagine how fast I started to walk when I glimpsed the wooden structure through one of the museum's arches!

Erinna Mettler: Tales from Brighton

A Bit of Spoon Throwing On a Chilly Spring Night

A few weeks ago I went to a Victorian Séance Experience at Brighton’s Preston Manor. For those of you who don’t know, Preston Manor is a gloriously mismatched manor house on the edge of Preston Park, right in the heart of the city. The original house dates from the early 1700 but there was a religious small-holding there in Saxon times and the Manor is mentioned in the Doomsday Book as belonging to the Bishops of Chichester. The foundations are still visible in the basement, and this is where you first get that spine tingle that comes with knowing a place has such a long history. The temperature suddenly drops and you fancy you hear footsteps on the stairs along the corridor or feel the brush of a breeze, though there are no windows at hand and no-one else has joined the tour.

The rest of the house was added by degrees and refurbishments over the centuries, the house was substantially renovated in 1905 by the last private owners the Stanf…

Event review: Book Slam

The people behind Book Slam describe it as “London’s first/ best/ only literary nightclub”. Luckily for Brightonians, this event moved to the seaside for one night only. Luckily for me, I was among the audience, who enjoyed two and a half hours of top literature and fine music seated at round tables dotted with candles and glasses of wine.

The hostess for the evening was Malaysia-born poet Francesca Beard, whose bubbly enthusiasm put everybody at ease within minutes and who read one of her poems, The Poem That Was Really a List, setting the bar high for the guests of the night.

Funny and thought-provoking, you can watch her recite the same poem at the Norwich Arts Centre in June 2009.

The three guests of Book Slam, courtesy of Brighton Festival 2012, were Jackie Kay, Jon McGregor and Sapphire, who made two appearances each: a format that worked very well to keep the evening interesting and varied.

First up on stage was Jackie Kay. The Scottish poet and novelist was there to promote her l…

In conversation with... Madeline Miller

Hello Madeline! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Song of Achilles. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you! And thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog.

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the myths surrounding the Greek hero Achilles, from the point of view of his best friend and lover, Patroclus. It follows the two men from boyhood all the way to the Trojan War taking Homer’s Iliad as its inspiration.

Where did your interest in Greek history and mythology stem from? What made you choose Achilles as your protagonist?

A: I have loved Greek myths since I was a little girl. My mother used to read them to me at bedtime, and as soon as I could read myself, I devoured every book on the subject that I could find. There was something about the world that was, and is, incredibly compelling to me. I think some of it is the alluring darkness of the world—the gods are terrifying and unfair, the heroes are flawed and the monsters vicious. E…

Books through my lens #19

I am partial to some tidy lines... and books! Blackwell's Bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford. March 2012.

In conversation with... Jane Rusbridge

Hello Jane! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your latest novel, The Devil’s Music. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you, Silvia, and hello!

The Devil’s Music explores what happens to a family faced with the dilemma of what to do when the youngest child, Elaine, is born in the late 50s with severe disabilities, which means she is destined to remain mute and as helpless as a baby. For me, the novel is about family secrets, the way they influence the dynamics of family life and the psychological development of a child. It’s also about post traumatic stress disorder, the shifting unreliability of memory, mothers who leave their children...

The book opens with a glossary of knots and these – together with the antics of Harry Houdini – are a focal point of the novel. Are you an expert of knot tying? What did you want them to represent?

A: I’m definitely not an expert. A Reef Knot is about my limit, but I do have a copy of The Clifford Ashley …

Book review: Revenge of the Tide

By Elizabeth Haynes
Published by Myriad Editions

It was there when I opened my eyes, that vague feeling of discomfort, the rocking of the boat signalling the receding tide and the wind from the south, blowing upriver, straight into the side of the Revenge of the Tide.

This is how Revenge of the Tide, Elizabeth Haynes’s second novel, begins. I don’t normally take too much notice of the opening sentence of a novel – I’m not one of those people who won’t read a book if they’re not intrigued from the very beginning – but in this case it was different. When I reached that first full stop, I knew that I would love this book.

Revenge of the Tide is the name of the houseboat that London sales executive Genevieve Shipley buys in Kent with the intention of renovating it and taking some time away from a hectic life that’s become too stressful. Not to mention dangerous, after her second job as a dancer in a private club has become more serious than she’d expected. She just wanted to make some easy mo…

Books through my lens #18

Oh, to be able to sit at that desk! Virginia Woolf's country retreat at Monk's House, Rodmell, Sussex.

Green Books: E-reader vs Books – which are greener?

Welcome to the fourth post in my series about green books!

It's one of the hot topics for many people who love reading – to buy an e-reader or not. In this post I'll attempt to pull together some information on the environmental aspect of this debate.

I admit - I love books. Real books with paper pages. Plus I'm not a gadget person, to the extent that I don't even have a mobile phone. I can't imagine using an e-reader but I do want to find out whether my old fashioned attitude is environmentally damaging or not!

Comparing the environmental impact of e-readers and books is a tricky business. Most companies aren't exactly transparent about the environmental impact of their e-readers for a start!

Measuring the carbon footprint at the consumer end is relatively easy, though statistics I've read vary from 10 – 100 books being the number you need to read on an e-reader to reduce its carbon footprint to below that of new paperback books. So, if you read a lot it you …

In conversation with... Sara Sheridan

Hello Sara! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your latest novel, Brighton Belle. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you! Brighton Belle is the story of an ex-Secret Service agent, Mirabelle Bevan. At the end of the war Mirabelle feels her useful life is over – her skills are no longer required. Her boyfriend is dead and she moves down to Brighton to retire. Then she gets a job working for a debt collection agency run by the charismatic Big Ben McGuigan and before she knows it she finds her skills are useful because a mysterious case comes in….

Brighton Belle is set in Brighton in 1951. Why did you choose this particular time and place and how much research did you have to carry out?

A: The book had its genesis in a boozy lunch with my parents. My father was brought up in Brighton and London during the 1950s and he has some great stories of what that was like. It prompted me to look at setting a story there – I had a couple of months on my hands …

Book review: Smut

By Alan Bennett
Published by Profile Books

I first came across Alan Bennett’s writing a few years ago, when The Uncommon Reader was published. I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to repeat such a pleasant experience but I’m so glad to have come across Smut on its recent release in paperback.

First published in April 2011, Smut is composed of two stories: The Greening of Mrs Donaldson and The Shielding of Mrs Forbes.

In the former, Mrs Donaldson has a complete change of lifestyle when her husband dies, thus bringing a dull marriage to an end. To make ends meet, she starts working at the hospital as a patient simulator, participating in medical training scenarios. She also takes in lodgers: a couple who, despite not playing loud music, are not perfect and are often in arrears with the rent. But who said that a non-monetary arrangement cannot be worked out? Mrs Donaldson soon finds out that acting, for her, is not limited to the hospital environment. And she likes it!

The Mrs Forbes of the s…

Books through my lens #17

I hate flying but some airports are not that bad! Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, July 2011

Book review: Portrait of the Mother As a Young Woman

By Friedrich Christian Delius
Translated by Jamie Bulloch
Published by Peirene Press

From its first page to its last, Portrait of the Mother As a Young Woman is just one long sentence. Yes, one sentence. Divided into manageable paragraphs, true, but still one sentence. If you don’t let this put you off, you’ll be rewarded.

The novella opens with a young German woman who, pregnant with her first son, sets off from her temporary home in Rome to go to a Bach concert at the Lutheran church. We follow her along the streets and across the squares of the city, which we see through her foreign eyes, and we are permitted to share her thoughts.

Walking, reminiscing and thinking are her only actions and she doesn’t interact with anyone on her way to church. This, however, doesn’t make for a boring book, as you might fear. By the time we reach our destination, we know everything there is to know about this young woman - her upbringing, how she met her husband, the life she imagines by his side once he…

In conversation with... Natasha Farrant

Hello Natasha! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your latest novel, The Things We Did for Love. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Hello Silvia and thank you! THE THINGS WE DID FOR LOVE is essentially a love story set in France in World War 2 during the last months of the German occupation. I don’t want to give too much away but it is based on true events and, given the context, it is as much about heroism, sacrifice, betrayal and redemption as it is about true love.

The novel is set during World War II. What kind of research did you have to carry out? Did you complete all of it in advance so that you could then dive into the writing process undisturbed or was it more a research-as-you-go sort of process?

A: I had already done a lot of research into the Occupation for my first novel, Diving Into Light, which entailed interviewing people who had lived in France during that period, as well as reading a tremendous amount around the subject. For THE THING…