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Book review: The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte betts

7 May

chateau on the lake1792. As a teacher at her parents’ Academy for Young Ladies in the heart of London, Madeleine Moreau has lived her life sheltered from the outside world. But on the night of a dazzling Masquerade, tragedy strikes and she is left alone in the world. Desperate to find the family she never knew, Madeleine impulsively travels to France in search of them. But with war around the corner, and fearing for Madeleine’s safety, the enigmatic Comte Etienne d’Aubery offers her protection at his home, Chateau Mirabelle.

Chateau Mirabelle enchants Madeleine with its startling beauty, but it is a place of dark and haunting secrets. As the Revolution gathers momentum and the passions of the populace are enflamed, Madeleine must take control of her own destiny and unravel events of the past in order to secure a chance of future happiness.

The Chateau by the Lake is my introduction to Charlotte Betts’ writing and I’m pleased to have discovered a ‘new’ historical fiction author. This is actually Charlotte’s fourth book and her previous novels have been nominated for and won several historical romance awards so I was eager to read it.

This novel begins in 1792 as we meet Madeleine Moreau, a teacher at her parents’ Academy For Young Ladies. The Academy is in London and I enjoyed the descriptions of Madeleine’s world. I also liked her character straight away as she takes one of her lessons outside into Soho Square to keep the girls’ interest and observes with dry humour the effect a couple of red-coated soldiers have on her charges!

Madeleine is unusual for her time in that she has been encouraged by her parents to be an independent thinker; to read and learn widely and to debate, question and challenge the world and events around her. In the words of the era she would definitely be described as ‘spirited’ but it was interesting to see that even a woman as strong and adventurous as Madeleine still had to live within a fairly constricted set of rules and social etiquette.

Betts captures these tensions well throughout the novel and we’re given a good contrast to Madeleine in her friend Sophie whose husband was chosen to further her families business interests and finds herself in an unhappy and abusive marriage. As dramatic events conspire to leave both Madeleine and Sophie needing an escape, they decide to travel to France in search of Madeleine’s long lost family.

Set against the upheaval and unrest of the French Revolution, there is plenty of drama in this novel to keep readers turning the pages and Betts captures the complexities of the Revolution well showing the subtleties of events of the time whilst playing out a number of mysteries and dramatic twists that will keep the reader guessing.

Romance and mystery combine in the handsome figure of Comte Etienne d’Aubery who offers Madeleine and Sophie the protection of his home as the Revolution escalates. From an initial dislike of Etienne, Madeleine is frequently forced to reconsider her judgement and her developing relationship with the Comte kept me guessing, particularly set against the mystery of his wife’s disappearance.

The Chateau on the Lake is a beautifully described novel with a winning combination of history, romance and mystery built around strong and interesting characters and is sure to be another hit for Charlotte Betts.

4/5

The Chateau on the Lake is released in paperback and ebook formats today.

I’d like to thank the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Charlotte Betts and her writing at: http://www.charlottebetts.com/

 

Author Interview: Cathy Woodman

2 Apr

Today I’m delighted to be hosting author Cathy Woodman on the latest stop of her  Vets on Call blog tour. Cathy began her working life as a small animal vet before turning to writing fiction. In 2002 she won the Harry Bowling First Novel Award and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She is also a sessional lecturer in Animal Management at a local college for land-based industries.

Vets on Call is the ninth novel set in the fictional market town of Talyton St George in beautiful East Devon where Cathy lived as a child. Cathy now lives with her two children, three exuberant Border Terriers and two cats in a village near Winchester, Hampshire. Welcome Cathy!

What inspired you to write Vets on Call?

I’d always planned to write vet nurse Shannon’s story and it felt right to do it now that she’s had time to grow up since she first appeared as a shy and awkward teenager in Must Be Love, the second book in the Talyton St George series. She started working at the Otter House vets as a trainee vet nurse, had her first love affair which went badly wrong, and acquired a lovely Labradoodle dog. It’s one of the hazards of the job, taking on the unwanted and abandoned animals. As a small animal vet, I took on a fair number myself over the years.

Writing Vets on Call gave me the opportunity to catch up with Maz and Emma, the Otter House vets, and send in new assistant Ross who appears to be a rather unconventional vet, riding into Talyton St George on his motorbike.

Where does Vets on Call fit into the Talyton St George series?

I can’t believe that Vets on Call is the ninth book in the Talyton St George series. When I started to write about the fictional market town in Devon, I planned to write a trilogy about Maz, one of the vets at Otter House, but then various other characters, including Jennie (The Sweetest Thing) and Zara (Follow Me Home) appeared in my head, begging me to write about them.

What research did you have to do before you wrote this book?Vets on Call

I’m lucky that I can write much of the vet-related books from experience, having worked in practice as a small animal vet. In Vets on Call, I hope I’ve been able to give my readers a sense of what being a vet nurse is like, the feeling that you don’t know what is going to happen next, especially when the phone rings in the middle of the night when you’re on call.

Sometimes the truth really can be stranger than fiction, and I clearly remember someone bringing me a frog they’d found on the pavement for a post-mortem when I was on duty one weekend. Needless to say, I didn’t go ahead with that one, and I’m still not sure to this day whether or not it was some kind of drunken prank.

I was happy that I could write about the veterinary aspects of Vets on Call, but I realised that having the new vet turn up at Otter House in his leathers, I needed to do a little research on motorbikes. I was a little disappointed to discover that a lot of motorcyclists wear synthetic clothing nowadays, but decided that the wearing of leathers sounded far more romantic. As with all research, it’s easy to overdo it and I have to admit my brain is now filled with useless facts about carbs, big ports and manifolds, none of which were needed for Vets on Call!

What are you working on now?

I’m loving planning the tenth book in the Talyton St George series. I’ve been researching blacksmithing and farriery which might just give you a clue as to what it’s about, but I can’t tell you any more just yet.

I had great fun researching and writing Shannon’s story. I hope you enjoy reading it too.

Thanks Cathy!

Vets on Call is released in paperback and ebook formats on 9th April.

Find out more about Cathy and her writing at: http://cathywoodmanbooks.com/

Do drop by again later today for a chance to win a copy of Vets on Call.

Book review: Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe

10 Feb

campariLife is full of terrible things. Ghosts of dead relatives, heartbreak . . . burnt toast.

In 1987, Sue Bowl’s world changes for ever. Her mother dies, leaving her feeling like she’s lost a vital part of herself. And then her father shacks up with an awful man-eater called Ivana.

But Sue’s mother always told her to make the most of what she’s got – and what she’s got is a love of writing and some eccentric relatives. So Sue moves to her Aunt Coral’s crumbling ancestral home, where she fully intends to write a book and fall in love . . . and perhaps drink Campari for breakfast.

Campari for Breakfast is such an enjoyable read and a funny and heartfelt debut from Sara Crowe. I was drawn to this book by the quirky title and eye-catching cover and I wasn’t disappointed. Fans of The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and the recently published Love, Nina will love the story of Sue Bowl and her adventures with relatives and new friends in a crumbling mansion in Egham.

Seventeen year old Sue longs to fall in love and become a writer. When her mum dies and her dad begins living with a new love, Sue can’t stand it and moves to live with her Aunt Coral and her lodgers in Green Place. The novel unfolds as a series of diary entries written by Sue punctuated by entries from Aunt Coral’s commonplace book, family letters and excerpts of Sue’s writing. Crowe has a clever way with words and Sue’s many literary mistakes made me chuckle as I read.

Sue is a character born out of time and is often traditional and naive in her views but always entertaining. The lighthearted nature of her character is balanced by the sadness of her mothers death and there are many heartfelt moments among the witty anecdotes. There are also a number of mysteries to the story and as the story jumps back and forward between Coral’s past and Sue’s story in 1987, I flew through this book eager to find out what secrets were to be revealed.

In the 1980s present there is drama aplenty as Sue finds her first job, develops a number of crushes and tries to save Aunt Coral and Green Place. The house is as much a character as its inhabitants and I enjoyed reading the background and history of it as the story played out. There’s a whole cast of wonderfully named characters – my favourites were Budlia and Cameo – and plenty of sub-plots and side stories to keep things interesting.

Campari for Breakfast will appeal to readers with a love of words and writing as aspiring author Sue forms a writing group and follows the teachings of Benjamin O’Carrol to refine her craft. The wonderfully named Egham Hirsute Group and their writing exercises never failed to make me smile and I learned many new words reading this book!

As Sue finds her place in the world I thoroughly enjoyed her story and could happily have continued reading about her and her new found friends and family. I look forward to reading more from Sara Crowe soon.

5/5

Campari for Breakfast is available in paperback and ebook formats now.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

 

Book review: You Had Me At Merlot by Lisa Dickenson

31 Jul

Merlot-covers-4x1-1024x395

Elle and Laurie are the last ones standing: they’re single, they’re not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren’t filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine – she likes her independent life, she loves her job, and she has no desire to walk down the aisle anytime soon. But Laurie wants love and she wants it now.

So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant. You Had Me at Merlot Holidays promises crisp sunshine, fun and a chance to stir up some sizzling romance. Elle has no intention of swapping her perfectly lovely life for someone else’s idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be?

A couple of weeks ago I featured part 1 of You Had Me At Merlot in my Serial Spotlight. Since then I’ve been happily working my way through parts 2, 3 and 4 and I’m delighted to be back on Lisa’s epic blog tour today with a full review of the book.

As you will have seen from my review of part 1, I loved this book from the start and I’m very pleased to say that the rest of the story lived up to expectations making this one of my favourite reads of the summer so far! Lisa’s writing is bright, bouncy and laugh out loud funny but she’s also not afraid to make a serious point and I thought the messages in this story were spot on. Lisa tackles, love, friendship, glass ceilings, independence and happiness in a fresh and honest way and although You Had Me At Merlot is a lighthearted rom-com on the surface, it’s a pretty inspirational read too!

I already thought best friends Elle and Laurie were fab but as I read on I discovered a new favourite character; Elle’s colleague Donna. I love it when characters take me by surprise and Donna did just that. Her story is very much focused on her life and job and I was shocked to find out the reason she’d chosen to go on a You Had Me At Merlot holiday. As the story progressed I found myself smiling at Donna’s revelations and I’d love to read what happens next to her (hint, hint Lisa!)

There were plenty of surprises from the other guests too and Lisa cleverly kept me guessing as to what would happen to them all next and where the romances would spring up. Despite her best efforts, Elle finds herself more than a little drawn to the owner’s handsome son Jaime. He starts off as a bit of a Mr Darcy figure but we soon get to see the softer side of him and as he whisks Elle off for a day in Florence in part two of the story, the scene is set for romance!

The descriptions of Italy and food in this book are just brilliant – it will make you want to pack your bags and run away to a sun-drenched vineyard. But it was Lisa’s cliffhanger endings that had me dying to read the next part of the story and I thoroughly enjoyed the surprises and twists to the tale.

Whether you are holidaying or not this summer, You Had Me At Merlot will provide the perfect escape and I can’t wait to read more from Lisa Dickenson.

5/5

Parts 1-3 of You Had Me At Merlot are out in ebook formats now.

Part 4 will be released on 4th August.

Find out more about Lisa and her books at: http://www.lisadickenson.com/

Romance Festival 2014: Ten Tips for Working with Book Bloggers

7 Jun

I’m very excited to be taking part in Romance Festival today and to be asked to give my tips for authors looking to build a relationship with book bloggers. Here are my tips based on my personal experience over the last four years as a book blogger.

1.  Do your research

Blogs attract niche audiences so my top tip is to choose the ones you approach carefully. You’re much more likely to get a positive response to a feature if the blog you approach regularly posts about books in your genre. It also helps to …

2. Get personal

Maybe I’m being harsh, but emails to ‘Dear Blogger’ don’t get much time from me. It’s nice to get emails that are addressed to me or my blog personally :-)  It’s also lovely when authors take the time to read my blog and mention something they’ve seen or something that we have in common when they get in touch. At very least, please do …

3. Read the review policy

Bloggers use review policies to outline what genres they review, the formats of books that they accept and if they are willing to participate in blog tours, giveaways etc. Review policies can differ widely from one blog to another so please do check them out. And even if you have an established relationship with a blogger, it’s always worth checking the review policy regularly as some of us include quite specific information about availability and you will need to …

3. Plan ahead

Many bloggers get sent books months in advance to plan into their review schedules. Blog tours are often organised 6-8 weeks in advance. Please do give bloggers as much notice as possible if you’d like them to feature your book – the majority of us blog as a hobby and have to fit in reading and blogging around children, jobs and other commitments so planning ahead is much appreciated as is an author who can …

4. Be flexible!

My favourite query emails are the ones that say they’d love a review but if I can’t manage that how about a guest post, giveaway or other feature. With a limited number of hours in the day, there are only so many books bloggers can read but blogs aren’t just about the reviews! Author Q&As, guest posts, giveaways, cover reveals, exclusives etc can be just as effective as reviews at getting the word out about your book and I’m always very grateful to the lovely authors who contribute to One More Page! It’s even more lovely when authors …

5. Return the favour

If you’re an author with a blog or website it’s lovely to build the blogging relationship further by cross linking to blogs that you are hosted on or even hosting and featuring bloggers on your blog in return. It all adds to feeling part of a community and even if you don’t have a blog or website it takes very little these days to …

6. Be social

Chat on Twitter or Facebook, use Pinterest, Goodreads or whatever forum suits you best but take the time to build a relationship with bloggers and the rewards will be huge! I buy more books from recommendations that I see on Twitter than anywhere else these days so even if a blogger can’t feature you on their blog, there may be other ways that they can help you get the message out about your book. Just remember to …

7. Say ‘thank you’

Obvious really but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stayed up late getting a blog post to look just right and ready to go only to publish it and get no feedback at all from the author. To carry on building that buzz it’s lovely if you can …

8. Comment!

Pop back during the week your post goes up on the blog and leave a comment. There might be questions or comments from fans and it all adds to building up a lovely sense of community. Speaking of which, why not …

9. Support a new blogger

We’ve all been new to something at one time or another and it can be quite a leap to start a blog and put your thoughts and feelings out there. I’m eternally grateful to the authors and fellow bloggers who supported me when I started blogging so please do support new bloggers and above all …

10. Have fun!

Offer an exclusive, come up with a unique topic for a Twitter chat, make a really funny promo video using Lego … bloggers love nothing more than to join in the fun :-)

I’d love to hear from authors and bloggers who have more tips and am happy to answer questions in the comments box below or by email at: onemorepageamanda@gmail.com

Book news: Book Break Episode 5 out today!

6 Jun

The fifth episode of Pan Macmillan’s fab book-based YouTube show, BookBreak goes live at 12.30 today. Perfect timing for a little Friday lunchtime bookish goodness!

This month Alexandra Heminsley is joined by musician, J B Morrisson, two-time Man Booker Prize nominee Tim Winton, and Louise Millar, who has had a career spanning 20 years as a well-respected journalist.

JB, Tim and Louise talk about their journeys into their successful writing careers and the trials and tribulations they experienced along the way. You can watch the trailer below and the full episode will be available at 12.30 at the bottom of this post!

J B Morrisson spent over ten years as a singer with punk-pop band Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, where he had 14 top 40 singles and a number one album. In this episode of Book Break, Jim Bob will be talking about how an ex Glastonbury headliner like himself came to write his third book, a quirky, life-affirming story: The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81.

Tim Winton began his writing career whilst at university, penning An Open Swimmer- which would go on to win the Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1981- amidst his academic commitments. This early acclaim has been steadily substantiated throughout Tim’s career, being nominated for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1995 and 2002 and winning the Miles Franklin Award four times. His latest novel, Eyrie, deals with disappointment, disillusionment and self-reflection.

Joining them is Louise Millar, whose book The Hidden Girl has just been published to critical acclaim.  Louise started her career as a music journalist before diversifying into women’s magazines. She has been a full time thriller writer ever since; her style is described as quietly creepy, chilling and riddled with suspense.

This month, in two special interview clips we’ll also hear from International bestselling author David Baldacci, author of recently released The Target, award winning author Emma Donoghue, author of The Room and most recently Frog Music and Professor Tanya Byron, who has just released her first novel The Skeleton Cupboard.

Follow #bookbreak on Twitter, subscribe to the Pan Macmillan YouTube channel or watch the broadcast right here at 12:30pm

Author interview: Rachael English

30 May

Rachael English is visiting One More Page today on the final stop of her Going Back blog tour. Rachael is a presenter on Ireland’s most popular radio show, Morning Ireland. During more than twenty years as a journalist, she has worked on most of RTE Radio’s
leading current affairs programmes, covering a huge range  of national and international stories. Going Back is her first novel and was inspired by her own experiences of visiting Boston as a student in 1988. Welcome Rachael!

rachael englishThe paperback of your debut novel, Going Back has just been released. Please could you tell us a little about it?

It begins in 1988 when five friends from Ireland go to Boston on temporary student visas. Ireland is mired in recession, and the United States promises money and opportunity. Four of them are in search of adventure, but as is often the way, it’s the quietest of the group – Elizabeth – who finds it. Back at home she has a steady boyfriend who everybody thinks is a great catch. On a night out, she meets a young carpenter called Danny. He’s a bit of a charmer, and Elizabeth surprises everybody by falling for him. Not all of her friends approve, and Danny’s cantankerous brother, Vincent, most certainly doesn’t.

More than twenty years later, we catch up with all of them again. They’re at a stage where they’re starting to question what they’ve done with their lives, and for several of them this means finally having to face the consequences of decisions they made back in 1988.

 

How does it feel to see your first novel in print and have your experiences as an author changed you as a reader?

This might sound strange but, to begin with, the sight of it on the shelves made me feel slightly unwell! When I was writing, I never really considered what anyone else would think about it; the book was my hobby, something I enjoyed playing around with. Seeing it out in the world was kind of scary. Gradually, I’ve got over this. In fact, I was signing copies in Dublin today and I didn’t feel even vaguely queasy! Apart from the writing itself the best part of the experience is meeting readers who want to talk about the book. Often, they make observations about the characters or the story that give me pause for thought, and that’s brilliant.

I think the entire process changes you as a reader. Since I’ve started writing regularly, I’m a more observant reader. I tend to be better at spotting little clues in the plot or noticing subtle changes in a character. Of course, it can also be pretty dispiriting when you’re reading a wonderful book and you worry that you will never be able to reach those heights.

 

The novel was inspired by your own experiences of visiting Boston as a student in 1988; what is your favourite memory from your time there?

It’s actually a very small memory that for some reason still resonates with me. It was mid-summer, a scorchingly hot day, and for once I was on my own in our apartment. I remember having a shower, then putting on a Fleetwood Mac cassette (this was the 1980s!) and drying my hair with the help of an electric fan. Afterwards, I went out for a walk, saw a ‘staff wanted’ ad in a café window, and got a second job – like Elizabeth my ‘day job’ was in an electrical store. Something about the light, the heat, the music and the sense of opportunity has remained with me long after other memories have flown.

 

Boston is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit; please could you describe your ideal day there?

I really hope you get there someday; it’s such a gorgeous city. Like Elizabeth, there was a gap of more than twenty years between my student experience of Boston and my next visit, so I’m by no means an expert, but I think I’d start with the Freedom Trail. It begins on Boston Common and brings you around some of the city’s most historic – and beautiful – sites. You can walk as much or as little of it as you like, but that’s one of the great things about Boston: it’s a very walkable city.

Something else that’s really enjoyable is taking the ‘T’ (the local train) up to Harvard Square and just hanging out. We went for coffee in a bookshop across the street from the main campus and had fun watching all the geeky guys come and go. There’s every chance we saw the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg!  From there, you can do what Elizabeth and Danny do on the night of her twenty-first birthday, and take a walk down to the Charles River. It’s a great spot to sit and think.

Speaking of Danny, at the start of the book he lives with his mother in an old clapboard house. Like a lot of Europeans, I just love those houses. If you have similar taste and want to walk down a street that feels completely American, it’s worth visiting one of the city’s suburbs for a couple of hours. Honestly, you’ll feel like you’re in a movie.

 

Going Back examines the changes in one woman’s life as she revisits a life she once lived. If you could give yourgoing back twenty year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

In the book, Elizabeth and her college friends have a reunion dinner during which they discuss this very subject, so I’m going to quote from that:

‘Wouldn’t you love to be young again?’ said Donal. ‘Twenty-one, say? With a bit of sense, but not too much.’

‘I would not,’ replied Peter. ‘Well, only if I knew that all the nonsense I was worried about wouldn’t matter in a few years’ time.’

‘What else would you say to yourself?’

‘Get a proper haircut.’

‘Orla, what would you say to your twenty-one-year-old self?’

‘Be as wild as you like. And then some.’

I think all of this sounds like good advice, except I would add, don’t worry so much about work.

 

If there was one time and place that you could go back to, where and when would you go?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one. Corny as it is to say this, I think I’ll pick my wedding day. It wasn’t a very big wedding which might explain why I was so relaxed both beforehand and on the day. I enjoyed every last minute of it, something that can be seen from the photos. Normally, I’m reluctant to display too many teeth when I smile (I don’t like my teeth), but in our wedding photos, I’m beaming like something let loose. Of course, if I went back to that day, I’d also be nine years younger which would be pretty good too.

 

 And finally … what can we expect next from Rachael English?

I’ve just finished the main edits on my next book which is called Each and Every One. It’s set in present-day Dublin, and tells the story of a wealthy family and how they all cope when life turns sour. Fingers crossed, it will be out in September.

 

Thank you for answering my questions Rachael – I’m already looking forward to your new book!

Going Back is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Rachael and her writing at: https://www.facebook.com/rachaelenglishwriter

 

Author interview: Isabel Wolff

11 Apr

I’m very excited to welcome Isabel Wolff as my guest on One More Page today. I’ve been a fan of Isabel’s books for many years, so was delighted when she agreed to answer my questions about her latest novel, Ghostwritten. 

Isabel was born in Warwickshire and read English at Cambridge. She worked for the BBC world service and wrote feature articles for many newspapers and magazines including The Spectator, The Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph. Ghostwritten is her tenth novel. She lives in London with her family.

Isabel, your tenth novel, Ghostwritten has just been published.  Could you tell us a bit about it?

Ghostwritten is about a young ghost writer, Jenni, and an elderly Dutchwoman, Klara.  Klara lives on a coastal farm in Cornwall, but grew up in Java, on a rubber plantation.  Her idyllic childhood ended abruptly when the Japanese invaded Java in 1942.  Interned in a brutal prison camp with her mother and little brother, Klara has never talked about what she went through, but now, at 80, she feels that the time has come to revisit her past. So she approaches Jenni to ‘ghost’ her memoirs.  Jenni is at first excited about this, but when she learns that Klara lives in Polvarth, near the very beach that holds devastating memories for her of a childhood tragedy, she panics and nearly pulls out.  But Jenni decides to face down her fears and go, not just to tell Klara’s extraordinary story of survival, but to lay to rest the ghosts of her own past.  Ghostwritten is a story of love and forgiveness, of memory and hope.

Ghostwritten focuses on the experiences of women and children interned in a camp on Java during the Second World War.  What drew you to this particular period and place?

I was drawn to the idea of a main character who was shy and self-concealing, hiding in the shadows:  being a ghost writer seemed to go with this.  I then had to determine what the story that she ghost writes was going to be. I decided that it would be wartime memoir – not of the war in Europe which has been written about so much, but of the War in the East instead.  As a teenager I’d read A Town Like Alice, about a group of women struggling to survive in Japan-occupied Malaya; it’s a novel that has stayed with me all my life.  In the early 80s I used to watch, avidly, the popular TV series, Tenko, about a group of women imprisoned in a camp on Sumatra, struggling with starvation, cruelty and neglect.  I remember being fascinated by their grit and strength.  With these influences in mind I decided that Klara’s memoir would be a memoir of civilian internment in the Far East.

How did you go about doing the research needed for the book?

The main part of the research was historical and involved reading books and memoirs, translated from the Dutch, about this largely unknown part of World War 2.  I also interviewed two women who had been interned as children, and whose memories were still strong, seventy years on. I visited websites that are devoted to the camps in the East Indies and read the very moving posts left there by survivors.  I also went to Java, to see the beautiful landscape that Klara saw, and to see the rubber trees being tapped, and to hear the sounds of the tropics.  The most moving thing I did was to go to the military cemetery – Evereld Pandu.  This contains the Dutch ‘Field of Honour’ where all the Dutch people who died on Java during World War 2 are buried.  Standing there brought home the scale of the atrocities committed against them.   Thousands of white crosses, in perfectly straight rows, stretch as far as the eye can see.  Many simply said ‘Onbekend’ – unknown.

The novel focuses on ghost writer Jenni, and Klara, who as a child was interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation. Their life experiences are so different – did you have a favourite character, and how did your approach to creating and writing them differ?

I didn’t have a favourite – I liked Klara and Jenni equally and felt for them, because both have been prisoners, but in different ways. Klara was imprisoned by the Japanese; but Jenni is a captive of her own conscience, unable to break free from her unending remorse.  Of the two women, Klara was easier to write because her story was a clear and vivid one of growing up in an ‘earthly paradise’ that became a living hell.  But Jenni’s story is shrouded in mystery: she is reticent, and hard to know.  So I had to make her sympathetic in other ways, notably in the sense the reader gets that she does love children but feels that she doesn’t deserve them because of what happened on the beach that fateful August day.

The friendship between the two women is key to both of them moving on in the story; what do you think the three elements of good friendship are.

You have to have a lot in common, and you have to be loyal to each other.  Also, a truly good friend is not just sympathetic when times are bad: they are thrilled when things are going well.   I also think that good friendships survive with a watering of tact.

You’ve written three novels with an historical element (A Vintage Affair, The Very Picture of You and Ghostwritten).  If you could travel to any time and place, where and when would you go?

I’d like to go to Lahore, in the 1930s, where my mother was born and brought up – her father was on the North West railways.   I grew up on her stories of life in India – the mango and lychee trees in their garden, her much loved ayah, the Gymkhana club and their journey up to Simla when the weather was hot.  I would love to be able to see my mother as a little girl, in that world.

And finally, what can we expect next from Isabel Wolff?

Well, funnily enough, I’m thinking that my next novel will be set in India, in the 1930s…

Thank you Isabel.

Ghostwritten is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Isabel and her writing at: http://www.isabelwolff.com/

Guest Post: Reading Inspirations by Kathleen MacMahon

12 Jun

Today I’m very honoured to welcome author Kathleen MacMahon to One More Page with a wonderful guest post about the books and words that have inspired her. Kathleen is a former radio and television journalist with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE. The grand-daughter of the distinguished short story writer Mary Lavin, Kathleen lives in Dublin with her husband and twin daughters. This is How it Ends is her first novel and was a No.1 bestseller in Ireland for five consecutive weeks  when it was released in hardback and has been chosen as a Richard and Judy Summer 2013 Book Club title. Welcome Kathleen!

Since I became a writer, one of the questions I’ve often been asked is to name my favourite book. This can be a hard question to answer, not because I don’t have a favourite, but because I have dozens of them. To be forced to single one out is a bit like being forced to choose between your children. I could say A Prayer For Owen Meany, but then what about The English Patient ? I could choose The Human Stain over A Prayer For Lucy Gault.  But then I’d be leaving out Jane Eyre and Love in the Time of Cholera? And what about The Age of Innocence?

The list is never ending. Constantly changing. And what I find is that, when I start to think about my favourite books, I get to thinking about my favourite bits of books. Sometimes the book itself might not even be one of my absolute  favourites, but there might be a bit in it that I have never been able to forget. A description perhaps, or an image, that has stayed with me ever since.

I’m thinking of The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx and the meal in The Sea Gull Inn. ‘In Quoyle’s soup, a stringy neck vein floated.’ Much as I might like to, I’ve never been able to forget that turkey vein floating in poor Quoyle’s soup. I’m thinking of ‘The Accidental Tourist’ by Ann Tyler. The way Macon sat on a plane and wondered ‘why stewardesses accented such unlikely words.’ Now, every time I’m on a flight, I notice that the stewardesses accent the most unlikely words. I’m thinking of Kevin Barry’s darkly comic short story, Fjord of Killary, about a hotel in the west of Ireland that has been bought on a romantic whim by a poet who finds himself stranded behind the bar, prey to the ‘magnificent mood swings’ of the locals. I’m thinking of ‘Ancient Light,’ by John Banville, a book that I read recently, and loved, but there was one scene in particular, a scene on a train, that I didn’t want to turn the page on.

I love everything about Jane Eyre, but I especially love the bit when Jane instructs her pupil to “remember, the shadows are just as important as the light.” I love the way Owen Meany’s ‘wrecked voice’ is written in block capitals throughout the novel that bears his name. I love the scene in ‘This Book Will Save Your Life,’ by A.M. Homes when the central character mistakes Bob Dylan for a Latino cleaning lady.

This magpie approach of mine is not limited to books. There are movies I treasure for just one sequence. Like the scene in The Deerhunter when Robert de Niro arrives home a war hero, only to instruct his taxi to drive on past the homecoming party that his friends have laid on for him. I love the bit at the beginning of Serpico, when the movie cuts between the older, wounded Serpico being carried through a hospital corridor on a stretcher and the young Serpico, so clean-shaven and idealistic at his graduation ceremony. I never fail to laugh when I think of the moment in Pedro Almodovar’s Volver, when Penelope Cruz opens the door to a neighbour after stabbing her husband to death, only to explain her blood spattered appearance as ‘women’s problems.’ I love the interlude in Martin Scorsese’s movie version of The Age of Innocence, when a street scene is overlaid with the sound of Enya singing ‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.’ I have never managed to successfully analyse the alchemy involved. All I know is that the effect is sublime.

That’s the thing that you’re aiming for, whether you’re writing books, or movies or for that matter, songs. You are always reaching for that one line, that one construction of words, that rises above the mechanics of the thing and achieves an integrity all of its own. Maybe it was Paul McCartney who did it best, with ‘Blackbird singing in the dead of night.’ One line, that is simply perfect.

This is How it Ends is out now in paperback and ebook formats. 

Find out more about Kathleen and her writing at: http://www.kathleenmacmahon.com/

Please stop by again later today when I’ll be launching a giveaway to win one of three copies of This is How it Ends.

Book review: The Case of the Missing Boyfriend by Nick Alexander

11 Feb

CC is nearly forty, and apart from her real name (which she hates with a passion usually reserved for men with beards), everything in her life seems wonderful. She’s got a high-powered job in advertising, a beautiful flat in Primrose Hill and a wild bunch of gay friends to spend the weekends with. And yet she feels like the Titanic – slowly, inexorably, and against all expectation, sinking. The truth is, CC would rather be digging turnips on a remote farm than convincing the masses to buy a life-changing pair of double-zippered jeans – rather be snuggling at home with the Missing Boyfriend than playing star fag-hag in London’s latest coke-spots. But sightings of straight men that don’t have weird fetishes or secret wives are rarer than an original metaphor, and CC fears that pursuing the Good Life alone will just leave her feeling even more isolated. Could her best friend’s pop-psychology be right? Are the horrors of CC’s past preventing her from moving on? And if CC finally does confront her demons, will she find the Missing Boyfriend? Or is it already too late?

On the surface, The Case of The Missing Boyfriend appears to be a classic ‘chick lit’ tale of a thirty-something woman looking for love but it’s actually an in depth look at lead character CC’s life over the course of a year as she copes with the ups and downs thrown at her. As the novel started, CC reminded me very much of a cross between Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw; she lives and parties in London, has a successful and glamorous career in advertising, owns her own flat and has a fabulous gang of gay male friends to keep her entertained and a couple of close female friends to put things in perspective.

On paper her life is perfect but in her heart she’s not happy; her dream is a farm in the country complete with partner and child. At the age of 39 and with some bad relationships behind her, she’s beginning to question if she’ll ever find the right man or have her dream. It’s a question most of us have asked at one time or another and I found it quite refreshing that CC was entirely honest with herself about her desire to find a partner and have children. What surprised me though as I read was that this isn’t really a novel about CC finding her ideal man but actually about her taking an in-depth look at herself and trying to figure out what will make her happy.

I liked the layout of the book and with snappy titles, each chapter was like a little short story of its own which built up in the first part of the book to give a  detailed picture of CC and her life. There are some very funny moments, particularly in part one as CC finds herself in Nice with an rich and intriguing business man and tries her hand at speed dating but despite the comedy there is little real romance for poor CC and the second part of the novel is altogether darker as recession hits and we find out more about CC’s family and her previous relationships. This is a novel that isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics head on including depression, loneliness and suicide.

CC goes on quite  a journey through the course of this novel and her story certainly made me think about what makes us happy and the terms in which we view success. With a surprise twist at the end, this is a story that will keep you guessing right until the very last page and I found it an original and ultimately uplifting take on the search for a happy ending.

4/5

The Case of The Missing Boyfriend is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

I’d like to thank Alison at Corvus for sending me a review copy of this novel.

Find out more about Nick Alexander and his books at: http://www.nick-alexander.com/