Meet My Main Character: Helen from The Summer of Secrets

Yay, another blog tour! I think I’m subverting its course, actually, because it started off as a chain created by historical fiction authors. Most of the story in The Summer of Secrets takes place in the early Eighties, though, and as Eighties clothes are now officially vintage, I think I’ll get away with it…   What is the name of your main character? She’s called Helen. We meet her as a teenager in the summer of 1983, and also as an adult looking back at the events of that summer. (As an aside: I was on a writing week during the early stages of the novel, and we were given an exercise which involved writing a letter to ourselves from our main character. One of the other characters, Victoria, kept pushing her way into my letter,...

A Kill in the Morning, HHhH, and the glorious intertextuality of books

I’m going to complicate matters today by comparing two books at once: HHhH by Laurent Binet and A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin. The two books have a unifying character: Reynard Heydrich. Known by his nickname, the Blond Beast, Heydrich was Himmler’s ‘very dangerous right-hand man’, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, and Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (and about as protective as a can opener). I’d never even heard of Heydrich before reading Graeme’s book. In A Kill in the Morning, Heydrich is the antagonist, an evil manipulator who ties together the main threads of the story and instigates the magnificent twist towards the end of the novel. In contrast, HHhH centres on Heydrich.  In HHhH (the Hs stand for ‘Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich’, or...

A Song for Issy Bradley: Review

Don’t read Issy Bradley on the bus. Or the tube, or on any form of transport that means you have to notice when to get off. That’s before you even take into consideration the fact that you will cry at some point during the time of reading. Fact. (N.B. Issy dies right at the beginning. This isn’t a spoiler, but I realise that I take it for granted that you will know for the rest of the review, and there’s a chance you might not. So I thought I’d better say). I, luckily, read it at home. Not quite in one huge swallow, but almost. It arrived in its massively gorgeous orange bubbled envelope during a particularly busy week when I had, amongst many other spinning plates, pressing edits on my own manuscript to do. I worked late then went to bed,...

Anna Wharton: How to pitch an article the short and snappy way

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Anna Wharton aboard. I first met Anna when she emailed to ask if I could answer a few questions about living on a boat, for an article about dream homes. Of course I said yes – I’ll talk for hours to anyone about boat life – but warned, in exchange, that I might send a few questions her way as well. As a journalist, features editor and now freelance writer, she seemed like the perfect person to give us freelance-article-writing-wannabes the inside track. And I was right.   Anna, could you give us a brief outline of your career path, and tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now? I started out, like many journalists, on my local newspaper. Back then it was a pretty big operation, with 14...

Cuckoo in the Nest

I met Emma Yates-Badley in the first year of my MA, and got to know her better during a run of writing retreats, first at Lumb Bank and then Moniack Mhor. A week of sharing workshops, writing time and readings-aloud at an Arvon centre is a bonding process, and I’m massively excited to see Emma taking the bold step which she talks about here in  Not the Guardian Family Section: “If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book   When I was a little girl, my image of life was pretty simplistic:  school was something to be endured and Adulthood would be the prize for surviving adolescence (I have just reread my teenage diaries and, yes, I really was that dramatic).  One day I’d be all...

David Hartley and his fellow Merry Gentlemen

  Gloomy by teatime? Check. Streets filled with wooden stalls claiming some Germanic origin? Check. Saxophone guy playing carols? Well, let’s just say we won’t need to be guessing how Last Christmas goes come December 25th… So it’s a merry scene in Manchester. Some would say a time of good cheer, awaft with aroma of pine needles and cinnamon, and the heated scent of money sliding out of the cash machines. But it’s never as simple as that in Manchester, is it? In the city that brought us the industrial revolution, a place with a plain-speaking background of non-conformism and Engels, it would never do to let yourself be carried away by all the seductive wrappings of surface frivolity. If you are in need of a corrective,...

Does a review need to be mean to be admissible?

I’d not come across the Sydney Review of Books before a pingback landed in my inbox this week. If you’re not quite sure what a pingback is, here is Wikipedia on the subject: A pingback is one of three types of linkback methods for Web authors to request notification when somebody links to one of their documents. This enables authors to keep track of who is linking to, or referring to their articles. Sounds good, huh? I clicked on the link to see what it was all about, and started to read what initially seemed to be a thoughtful piece, by academic Dr Ben Etherington of the University of Western Sydney, about the means by which a novel becomes a Big Book in publishing terms. Except it turned out to be not so much a thoughtful discussion as a personal attack on the...