Be Brave 

Today I met Jo Cannon. We’d never physically met but we’ve been friends for a few years now. She’s one of those beautiful souls I’m glad to have in my life. 

Jo very kindly snuck me in behind the scenes of a literary festival in Guildford so I could meet her, with the added bonus of being able to hear and see her in action. Such an inspirational morning. (And massive thank you to her and Hayley from Harper Collins for being so lovely and letting me tag along.) All I can say is Jo is as every bit as lovely as I thought and today  was one of those kaleidoscope moments where the world shifts a little and you see things differently. In a good way. Being with published authors, listening to the thought process behind their books, it’s inspiring. And motivational.

Jo’s book, if you haven’t already, is worth reading. Such a gentle but deep story written with rich, fluid prose. She really sees and understands people. How they tick. And that gives her characters real depth. 

“I have sat at a lot of death beds in my life and no-one has regretted trying.” (Dr) Jo Cannon. 

Kissing Frankenstein And Other Stories


May saw the launch of the first International Flash Fiction Day. In the run up to the celebrations, Rachel Carter set up a blog to gather a collection of flash from writers based in the South West.  After selecting the best, ‘Kissing Frankenstein and Other Stories’ was published on the day as part of the celebrations – forty writers, one book, with stories varying in length from six words to a thousand.

I was excited to get my hands on this book as I’ve always loved flash fiction. To my mind they are concentrated, highly polished gems to dip into. With limited space, each word has to count. A skilled flash should be arranged in such an effortless way that the words look like pebbles falling into randomly pleasing positions.

The stories cover a wide range of subjects from aliens to fruit to love. There should be something in there for everyone! You can sit down and plough through them in one sitting or, as I did, read them one or two at a time to fit into my hectic life… A ten minute wait to pick up a child? Five minutes of peace as they all play nicely? Waiting for the water to boil as you cook dinner? A reward for finishing your work? There is a story to slip into and deliciously savour. One of my favourite lines/images is from ‘Ripening’ by Martha Williams “I lower, like a breast after a sigh.”

Of course I have other favourites but I’ll let you pick your own.

Midwinterblood – Marcus Sedgewick

Spanning ten centuries, this is an epic tale of love and sacrifice. The book starts in 2073 when Eric Seven sets off on a plane ride to investigate the island of Blessed where the rumour is that the inhabitants never age and no children are born.  Unknown to Eric, this is the final leg that started centuries before, when he and his true love Merle, were brutally sacrificed.  With his dying breath, Eric makes a pledge to Merle – “I will live seven times and I will look for you and love you in each life. Will you follow?”

The book is divided into seven sections, ending with an epilogue. Each segment is named after the different cycles of the moon and is a complete, haunting, stand-alone, short story in its own right.  All lives are subtly linked together and set on this beautiful but sinister island.  Typical of Sedgewick in that nothing is as it seems, where there are no rules and no-one is safe.  Everything in the story comes full cycle; like the moon and the seasons there is a beginning and an inevitable end.

The painting itself started life inspired by the mythological story of the Swedish Viking King Domalde, who Sedgewick also uses as Eric’s first incarnation and, like the painting, all the pieces come together in an ornate crescendo of colour and character finishing in a grand finale.  I love the little subtle touches the author puts into his writing, such as putting the artist who created the painting, Carl Larsson, into the story as Eric Carlsson, along with  the rejection letter he received at the time for the painting.

Marcus Sedgewick is a master craftsman, carefully building up the layers of tension like the layers of oil paint on the painting that inspired him, until you are captivated by this gripping story. Each section has its own unique voice, be it futuristic, spy thriller or Gothic vampire, chilling you to the bone and giving you goosebumps.  Fans of Sedgewick will not be disappointed and this will certainly win over new followers.

Published by Indigo, the YA section of Orion publishing, and out on the 6th October 2011.

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

This week has been all about catching up with friends.  We’ve moved around a lot over the years, which has meant that some friendships have slipped down the cracks of the sofa, so any chance I get, I do try to make an effort to see friends.   Exhausting as it can be, when you are trundling up and down the motorway, carsick children in tow, it is the understanding and love you get from these people that makes it worth the effort.  These are people who have been through the difficult periods of your life.  People you don’t have to explain yourself to, or be on best behaviour for.  They are tried and tested and you know even though you may go years without seeing each other, you can still pick-up where you left off.

Tuesday we returned to the area two of my children spent their early years.  Driving through I’d point out where they had played, where they first learnt to ride a bike and restaurants we would go to for special occasions.

Over there is where I imagined my children, (when older) would be hanging out with their friends.  This is the route I’d pictured them making their first trips to the shops by themselves.  Now it’s all changed, but the same.  People we knew have also moved on, chasing jobs or wanting better schools.  Maybe some are still here, but you can’t knock on doors on the off chance.

It made me sad, much to my husband’s confusion.  “Aren’t you happy were we are now and the friends you now have?”  The answer is a big yes.  I love my life.  What makes me sad, is that this part of my life is over and there isn’t much to show for it.  Is there?  Shouldn’t I be looking to the future?

I recently read a book called An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons (thank you Nina Douglas for letting me have the chance to review it).  It’s reminded me that friendship is important, especially the bonds we have as children.  These are the friends who see us for who we really are.  Cherish these friendships.

Also, although it’s good to look to the future, look and learn from the past as well, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

An Act of Love was released yesterday by Orion Books.

An Act Of Love By Alan Gibbons

Waiting to collect his medal at a high profile military ceremony, Chris receives a text message from his childhood best friend. A bomb is about to go off. The only problem is that the last time Chris saw Imran, Imran told him he was a kuffar, pressed his fingers to his head and pretended to shoot him. They chose very different paths in life, Chris joined the army and returned injured from Afghanistan; Imran, having lost his best friend and older brother, drifted angrily through life until he found what he thought was his cause, a radical Islamic group, wanting to bring war to infidels. The type of group who spawned the 7/7 bombers.  Chris has to decide if he can really trust his old blood brother, or have ten years and life choices driven them too far apart?  Using flashbacks and changing viewpoints between the two main protagonists, Gibbons creates a pressure cooker of tension.

Having grown up in the Middle East, I was interested to see how this delicate subject would be broached, and I can’t fault the research that has obviously been put into this book. Gibbons captures the anger, frustration and sense of isolation that a teenager of any faith or colour feels. “You think you’re in control of your life but you’re not. Not really. It’s like you stumble through the years with a hood over your head.  Nobody knows where they’re going.”  We all make mistakes growing up, sometimes we choose the wrong path but, with knowledge, sometimes you can get back on track.

An Act of Love is about friendship, growing up in a multi-racial country and looking at everyday people as well as the extremists. I remember the riots and unrest of the 1980’s, and had to double check the dates in the book, with the depressing conclusion that history is repeating itself. All these events happened in the last ten years, not thirty years ago, which is a sobering thought about society. Maybe if more people read this book, understanding differences can help break cycles.

This is an enormous and heavy topic to cover, but An Act of Love is not just boy meets girl, Muslims vs the West, it’s about a love that fights and conquers hate. A sometimes uncomfortable, but intuitively written and compelling read.  Gibbons gives the invisible a voice.

If you are interested in seeing the review and the questions that the author very kindly answered for me: 

Eminent Gurdjieffians Lord Pentland by James Moore

I would like to wave a flag of vested interest.  James Moore was a neighbour for a several years and I would often bump into him in the street, his tall, straight stance belying his age, head closeted in a Russian furry hat, as he cut a dashing figure in the grey, London street.

So it was with great excitement I finally got my hands on this book and it hasn’t disappointed.  Moore’s turn of phrase, his sharp wit is refreshing.  We start with Captain John Sinclair, father to Henry John (later to become Lord Pentland), as Moore shows us the upbringing that shaped and influenced his early years.  It’s an interesting book in that it misses out as much as it includes.  We know that as a boy he would have carefully removed his spearmint gum after the school run before going in for food, but the veil is drawn over his possible dalliances in later life.  Moore carefully pulls all the strands of Lord Portland’s life, weaving them together to produce a three-dimensional man; flick enticing ears and all.

As a writer, this is master-class in the craft and we can see why Moore is successful.  As an autobiography, with strong influences from Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, Lord Pentland comes across as a man who managed, to Moore’s obvious bewilderment, to rise through the Gurdjieff hierarchy.  If you are reading this book, in the hope of an in-depth, voyeuristic look into the world of Gurdjieff, you will be disappointed.  Like looking down a kaleidoscope, Moore, twists the lens to show dazzling images, each arresting in themselves, but hiding as much as they show.

I highly recommend reading this book, not only for the history lesson, or for the deft touches of humour, but for the brilliant, observational imagery.

You also get to see a master at work.