Archive | December, 2014

Guest post: Inspirations for Ridley Road by Jo Bloom

11 Dec

Jo Bloom’s fascinating debut novel Ridley Road is out today and to celebrate Jo is visiting One More Page today to share a blog post on her inspirations for the book. Jo has worked in the media in Prague and New York, and was a book reviewer for Time Out for several years. She currently works as a freelancer in arts marketing and press roles, as well as in the e-learning sector. Jo lives in Brighton with her husband and young son. Welcome and happy publication day Jo!

Jo Bloom by Matthew Andrews

Jo Bloom by Matthew Andrews

When I’m asked where the idea for Ridley Road came from, it’s easy for me to locate the inspiration. Even now, years later, I can clearly recall the funeral of my mum’s old friend Gloria where my father and I met an elderly man called Monty and ended up giving him a lift to the nearest station.

During the journey they talked about being brought up in post-war East London and it was the first time I’d heard of the 62 Group  – the Jewish anti-fascist organisation which formed in 1962 to confront the fascist revival in London. In fact, I didn’t even know there had been a resurgence in British fascism during that time. I can still see myself rushing home excitedly, dumping my bag on the sofa and turning on my laptop to search out more information on this relatively unknown chapter of London history. A couple of hours later, after I’d learnt how the 62 Group fought the fascists on the streets of London throughout the sixties and beyond, I went to bed certain that I would set a love story against this political backdrop in a novel.

And yet, I don’t recall a particular moment when it struck me that my lead character Vivien should be a hairdresser who makes her way from Manchester to work in a Soho salon. I don’t remember deliberating about it for very long or with any difficulty, which can often happen when building up a character’s life. She was never going to work in a factory or a shop or be a typist. She was always Vivien, always a hairdresser.

But then, there are lots of personal links between Ridley Road and the world of hair. My mum was a hairdresser for years. A cousin is a top London hairdresser. Three of my mum’s closest friends were hairdressers, including the wonderful, talented Gloria, whose funeral precipitated my chance meeting with Monty. In my research folder there is a photo of Gloria and my mum posing and laughing on a London street in their light blue work overalls in 1964; my mum with her stiff black beehive, Gloria’s curls framing her sweet, pretty face.

However, unlike Vivien, neither Gloria nor my mum actually worked in Soho. Back then, it was still considered a little seedy. If you wanted LOVE ON THE TUBEglamour you looked for work in Kensington, Chelsea or Mayfair salons where the clientele was a little wealthier, a little classier.

But I was never interested in that strand of London life. What excited me was exploring a young hairdresser’s transition from a back street salon to the grubby chic of Soho’s clubs and coffee bars. I could imagine Vivien walking down the busy market streets, enamoured by the bustle and colour, and for her clients to be actresses or show girls or girls from the local clip joints.  In my mind’s eye, I could also quickly visualise the cast of other hairdressers in the salon – girls who would support Vivien and help her settle into London life as she grieved for her father and carried out her search for Jack Fox, the man she had fallen in love with.

My mum proved invaluable when it came to research. She told me what happened if the wrong bleach was used or how hair should be backcombed and introduced me to the work of the legendary hairdresser, Raymond Bessone (Mr. Teasy-Weasy), one of the first hairdressers to have a show on TV. And when we discovered quite early on that the celebrated hairdresser, Vidal Sassoon, was an active member of the 43 Group – a prominent post WW2 anti-fascist organisation which also fought the fascists on the street like the 62 Group – it just confirmed my suspicion that hairdressing was always meant to be part of Ridley Road’s story.

Ridley Road is published today by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in hardback and ebook formats.

Please do check out the other stops on Jo’s blog tour:

Ridley Road blog tour

 

Author interview: Essie Fox

3 Dec

Today I’m delighted to welcome Essie Fox to one more page to talk about her latest novel, The Goddess and the Thief. Essie divides her time between Windsor and Bow in the East End of London. Her debut novel, The Somnambulist, was selected for the Channel 4 Book Club and was shortlisted in the New Writer of the Year category of the 2012 National Book Awards. She is the author of The Virtual Victorian blog :www.virtualvictorian.blogspot.com Welcome Essie!

1468621_10152038720118698_101613988_n (1)Your third novel, The Goddess and the Thief has just been released in paperback; please could you tell us a little about it and the inspiration behind it?

The Goddess and the Thief is the story of Alice Willoughby who was born and then raised as a child with her widowed father in India. There, her beloved ayah – or nanny – fills her mind with tales of Hindu gods, and when Alice is taken to England to live with her spiritualist medium aunt those stories continue to haunt her.

Matters take a more sinister turn when Alice is introduced to the mysterious Lucian Tilsbury – who has also spent years in India. He has only returned to England to try and steal a sacred stone that was ransomed as a spoil of war at the end of the second Anglo Sikh war. His reasons are political, having befriended the boy maharajah who was deposed from his golden throne. But he also has a personal dream relating to a prophecy about some of the Hindu gods. It is in Lucian Tilsbury’s world of deception, seduction and ‘mystical magic’ that Alice finds herself immersed – with her future and freedom bound up in the fate of the diamond that he hopes to steal.

 

How did you go about your research and was there anything that surprised you?

I actually live in Windsor, so the settings and history of that place are ‘around’ me all the time, even going so far as to use my own house for B17qwVLIUAASKBn.jpg-largemany of the novel’s scenes – as well as the church that stands opposite, with its looming black spire and the bells that toll every hour through the day and night. They can sound very eerie and ominous.

When if comes to the Indian parts of my story, I admit I have never been to the Punjab which is where many early scenes are set.  However, the Victorians provided so many records for us to see – with photographs, letters and diaries, not to mention the novels written by those authors with Indian connections.

What I learned could be quite harrowing. The Empire’s ambition for trade and expansion saw many thousands dead in wars, and many Indian artistocrats deposed when their kingdoms were then claimed in the name of Queen Victoria. In my novel I feature on the fate of the boy Maharajah Duleep Singh who was brought to England as a child where he lived in great wealth and privilege, but really he was nothing more than a glamorous bird in a golden cage – never free to travel home again or reclaim the kingdom that he’d lost.

I was also sorry to read about the memories of those children who’d been born or raised in India, where Indian nannies cared for them before they were sent back to England. More often than not they never saw or heard from those dear friends again, and what the poor ayahs must have felt is heartbreaking to contemplate.

 

UnknownDid you have a favourite character to write?

My favourite character is Lucian Tilsbury; the anti-hero, or villain if you will. His character is complex. His motives are influenced by his past, especially events in India – whether they occurred during his time with the British East India Company army, or later, when he’s taken in by an extreme sect of Hindu sadhus, or priests. Those devotees or Shiva inhabit the sacred burning ghats where they drink human blood from human skulls, not to mention other depravities. By the time he arrives back in England, when he meets with Alice Willoughby, he has become a man obsessed with religious beliefs that may be real or may be the result of insanity.

I had great fun when looking back on his Indian exploits, which were loosely based on certain events in the life of the Victorian adventurer and historian, Sir Richard Burton. I also managed to incorporate some Indian folktales that Burton translated, with the stories of Vikram and the Vampire which are heard by my narrator when she is a child in India.

But, I also very much enjoyed writing about Alice’s Aunt: Mercy, the fake spirit medium who holds séances in her Windsor home. All the aspects of her spiritualist trade were fascinating to research. And then, as a character, she is so bitter, jealous and angry due to events in her own past that – quite unlike her name – she has no compassion at all for the niece who soon becomes a rival for the affections of Lucian Tilsbury.

 

You write the excellent Virtual Victorian blog and The Goddess and The Thief and your two previous novels are both set in the era; what drew you to this period in particular?

The novels came before the blog.

I have always loved reading stories set in the Victorian era  – whether they be written now, or in the actual era. But then, one night when I had been on a visit to Wilton’s music hall, which is in the East End of London, I woke the next morning with a such a vivid idea for a novel of my own that I simply couldn’t stop myself from starting to write it there and then.

That novel required a great deal of research, but I came across so many facts, and could only include so many in the pages of my book. So, I set up The Virtual Victorian to write articles about the rest… and the blog has been running ever since.

 

What are your top three blogging tips and what do you enjoy most about blogging?Dalip_singh_winterhalter

Be inspired.

I think that’s the most important tip. If you love your subject and are inspired that passion will, hopefully, then be passed on to your readers. Blogging can require a lot of work – especially if it’s a factual record as The Virtual Victorian is. There is no payment – unless you ‘monetarise’ your site and allow your host to advertise. I don’t do that. But I do consider the interaction that I have with readers and fellow enthusiasts as being a sort of reward. And then, the blog also provides a permanent diary for my research. I often refer back to posts that I’ve written over the past few years when working on a new novel idea.

Be Disciplined. Blog Regularly

I don’t think you need to post every week – although when you first start up your blog that might be a good idea – to build up your content archive, as well as your readership; to let them know you are serious and around for the long haul as it were. But, once your blog is established, once or twice a month might be enough. Any less than that and your audience may soon forget that you exist.

Be Generous. Share blogs by fellow Writers

If there are other blogs that cover similar interests to your own, don’t see them as rivals. When posting on social media sites why not share those blogs that you enjoy. You will not be diluting your own readership – if anything you may well find that you gain new followers from those readers who then link back to your own site. You may also find new friends in the authors of those blogs, with whom you can share your own passions and interests.

 

If you could visit a time and place in history, where and to what era would you go?GATT low rescopy

I would love to travel back in time to visit London’s Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The size, scope and ambition of the show was absolutely enormous. It encapsulated so much about the developments in industry, science, medicine and art going on in the nineteenth century. It also happens to be the setting for an early scene in my novel, when Alice is a little girl attending the show with her father; when she looks into a golden cage and sees the Koh-i-noor diamond. The sacred stone was then displayed as a spoil of the Anglo Sikh wars. It was absolutely enormous and considered to be priceless. Even so, many visitors complained that the diamond lacked ‘sparkle’ and glamour – even when lots of gas lights were set up around it to try and make it glitter with light. But Alice sees its inner glow, and something else that will affect her future in the coming years – when just like the diamond she will be trapped within another sort of cage.

 

And finally what can we expect next from Essie Fox?

I’m working on a new novel, but this time it’s not Victorian. Silence Electric will be based in the Edwardian era, and also the 1970’s. It’s the story of a young man – a journalist – who goes into a Brighton junk shop and sees the photograph of a girl who once starred in Edwardian silent films. He manages to track her down, and finds an old woman now in her eighties who is living as a recluse…and the reasons for that lonely life she gradually relates to him.

Thank you Essie.

The Goddess and the Thief is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

 

Book review: The Snow Globe by Sheila Roberts

2 Dec

snow globeWhen Kiley Gray discovers an enchanting snow globe in an antique shop, she has no idea how much her life is about to change. For years, the snow globe has passed from generation to generation, somehow always landing in the hands of a person in special need of a Christmas miracle. Kiley could use a miracle herself. This year, all she wants for Christmas is someone to love. A hopeful shake leads her on an adventure that makes a believer out of her. At Christmastime, sometimes the impossible becomes possible and miracles really do come true.

A few weeks ago the lovely people at Piatkus sent me a wonderful parcel with their new releases of three of Sheila Roberts’ Christmas stories inside. I was spoiled for choice as to which to read first but the lovely red cover of The Snow Globe caught my eye and as a big fan of magical realism, I couldn’t resist the story of a very special snow globe that changes the lives of those who give it a home.

Fans of Debbie Macomber and Susan Wiggs will love this novel which is set in Seattle and follows the lives of three friends in the build up to Christmas. Kiley, Allison and Suzanne are great friends but very different in character and situation. Kiley has recently lost her job and her fiance dumped her for her sister; she’s down on her luck and in serious need of a Christmas boost!

In contrast, Suzanne has it all; a very successful job, a wonderful husband and daughter and a beautiful house but as we meet her, her workaholic tendencies and her drive to have the perfect house are causing her to overlook the people that matter most. Finally, Allison is the middle ground; happy with her jobs and boyfriend but missing the closeness she shared with her grandmother as the festive season approaches.

Kiley and Suzanne came across as the stronger characters in this short novel with Allison in more of a supporting role. I loved Kiley’s story right from the start as she discovers the magical snow globe in an antiques shop and learns of its history of helping those who need it. I liked the way the magic of the snow globe was worked into the story and how skeptical Suzanne was – this made the novel all the more believable to me.

Although written as one continuous story, as the snow globe passes to each of the friends in turn, there are three distinct stories in the novel. Kiley’s takes precedence and was my favourite but I enjoyed finding out how the globe would influence Allison and Suzanne’s lives too. With wonderful descriptions of delicious food and fab locations, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’m now looking forward to reading Sheila’s other Christmas stories; The Nine Lives of Christmas and On Strike for Christmas.

The Snow Globe is a heartwarming festive read about friendship, family and love and at just over 160 pages is just perfect for curling up with by the Christmas tree!

4/5

The Snow Globe, The Nine Lives of Christmas and On Strike for Christmas  are all released in paperback and ebook formats today!

You can find out more about Sheila Roberts and her novels at: http://www.sheilasplace.com/

I’d like to thank Clara at Little, Brown Book Group for sending me a review copy of this book.

 

Short Story Spotlight: Christmas 2014 part 1

1 Dec

Christmas short stories are a brilliant way to add a little festive flavour to your day and there are loads of fab quick Christmas reads out this year. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my mini reviews of as many stories as possible to help you make the most of those breaks between parties and preparations – happy reading!

Christmas-at-the-Cove-by-Victoria-Connelly-300Christmas at the Cove by Victoria Connelly (Out now in ebook formats)

When Millie Venning escapes to her aunt’s cottage on the windswept Devon coast for Christmas, she isn’t looking for romance. So, when she finds a handsome stranger already at the cottage, she’s baffled. Has her aunt double-booked the cottage by mistake or is she up to her match-making tricks once again?

I can’t resist a story set by the sea whatever the time of year and this lovely story set at a cottage on the Devon coast is a heartwarming read. As Millie finds herself thrown together with handsome doctor Niall Eastwood for Christmas she isn’t sure if her aunt is trying to play fairy godmother or if she’s just made a genuine mistake. It was fun to find out the answer along with Millie and if you haven’t read any of Victoria’s books yet, this story will give you a great introduction to her lovely romantic reads.

Find out more about Victoria and her writing at: http://victoriaconnelly.com/

The Reluctant Elf by Michelle Gorman (out now in ebook formats)Reluctant Elf Kindle single, The - Michele Gorman

Meet Britain’s Worst Innkeeper Single mother and extremely undomestic goddess, Lottie, has five days to become the ultimate B&B hostess to save her beloved Aunt Kate’s livelihood. When Aunt Kate ends up in the hospital, Lottie and her seven-year-old daughter are called to rural Wales to stand in at the B&B. Without the faintest idea how to run a hotel (she can barely run her own life), Lottie must impress the picky hotel reviewer and his dysfunctional family who are coming to stay over Christmas. Without the rating only he can bestow, Aunt Kate will lose her livelihood. But will Danny, the local taxi driver who she hires to help her, really be Santa’s little helper, or the Grinch who stole Christmas?

This novella (slightly longer than a short story but still a quick read!) made me smile a lot. Despite the sad circumstances that bring Lottie and her daughter Mabel to Wales this is a fun and lighthearted Christmas read and Michele Gorman has dreamed up a fab cast of characters from reluctant hero and taxi driver, Danny to the mysterious review and his eccentric and demanding family.

As Lottie tries to make the B&B pass muster she has a mammoth task on her hands and I thought this was a really original read with lots of comic moments that wouldn’t have been amiss in a Christmas episode of Fawlty Towers but also plenty of  warmth and cheer.

Find out more about Michele and her writing at: http://www.michelegorman.co.uk/

With thanks to Notting Hill Press for providing a review copy of this novella.

inlaws wrecked christmasHow the In-Laws Wrecked Christmas by Fiona Gibson (out now in ebook formats)

Christmas in the country. What could be better? All you need is one country house, one gorgeous boyfriend and a liberal dusting of snow. Right?

That’s what Anna thinks and she can’t wait for the festivities to start. But then she meets her gorgeous boyfriend’s awful parents. And their drunk friends. And she starts to hear all about a certain ex-wife. Suddenly this doesn’t look like a very merry Christmas after all…

Short stories are a great way to discover new authors and this sixty page story has definitely made me want to read more from Fiona Gibson. As we meet Anna and her boyfriend and travel with them to his parents’ stately home in the country, the scene is set for a romantic Christmas escape but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth and Anna’s potential in-laws really aren’t very welcoming.

This is a bittersweet Christmas story all about what really matters at Christmas time with a surprising but fitting ending that will probably make you think that your own in-laws aren’t so bad after all  ;-)

Find out more about Fiona and her writing at: http://fionagibson.com/

 

Check out my Christmas Reads page for more ideas for festive books!