Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Liebster Award

So, I was surprised and delighted to be nominated for the Liebster award by All That Magic - you can read the blog post here. The Liebster Award is a way to help new blogs with less than 200 followers to gain new followers. By awarding the Liebster award, we can show our followers that there are other great blogs out there to explore.
The rules are:
  • Link back the blogger that tagged you;
  • Nominate 10 others and answer the questions of the one who tagged you;
  • Ask 10 questions for the bloggers you nominate;
  • Let your nominees know of their award.

These are the 10 questions which All About Magic have asked me:

1) What is the first book that you can remember “reading”?
On my own it was probably a Famous Five book! Five Go Smuggling seems to be one of my early independent reading experiences. I loved these Enid Blyton adventures as they reminded me of summer holidays on the beach with my family and as a dog-lover I really liked the character of Timmy! I also liked the fact that George was a tomboy! I keep meaning to dig out my collection to re-read them to see if they are a little controversial in today's politically correct world.

2) Do you have a book recommendation for Halloween?
I used to read a lot of horror in my teens, but the only scary books I read nowadays are the odd ghost stories. It may seem like an obvious choice, but you can't beat The Woman In Black. It genuinely gave me goosebumps while reading it, especially the final shocking page. I purposely read it in the dark on a winter's evening with heavy rain and a strong wind blowing outside which added to the atmosphere. It took me ages to build up the courage to watch the film (which I loved and felt was incredibly sad) and I am going to book tickets to see the play soon! The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore is also suitably chilling.

3) What is your opinion on memes like “Waiting on Wednesday”? Do you like them? Do you use them?
Although I run this blog and a twitter feed and my marketing job involves a lot of social media, I am still pretty much clueless about memes! I quite like a good hashtag, if it captures my imagination. I have recently discovered #ShakespeareSunday when favourite quotes are posted on twitter, so I may join in with that one this weekend!

4) What do you like most about blogging?
When I finish a book, I usually spend a lot of time thinking about it and blogging is a way for me to collect my thoughts, both as a record for me and also to share and chat about books with other people. I also run a bookgroup for this reason and it is fascinating to see how books are translated by people in varying ways and how different points are picked up by members.

5) How do you prefer to read? Where is your favourite place to read?
I do most of my reading at home - I like a nice, quiet, comfortable space to read so that I can give a book my full attention. This is usually curled up on my bed or in an armchair. I also like reading in the garden on a summer's evening to relax after a day at work. At weekends, I quite often go to a local coffee shop to indulge in a flat white or hot chocolate and read for a solid hour or so, but sometimes it can be a little too noisy. I also like finding a quiet spot in a park to lay on a blanket with some snacks. One of my favourite such spots is the Long Walk in Windsor, in the shadow of the castle - perfect for historical fiction!

6) What is your favourite genre?
I don't tend to think of it as my favourite, but I do tend to read an awful lot of historical fiction. There is so much British history I want to learn about, and I find that reading in depth about historical figures makes me want to research and find out the real story. It is interesting to read so many different theories on what could have happened. My favourite eras to read about are the Yorks and Lancasters and the Tudors.

7) What three adjectives would you choose to describe your favourite character?
My favourite character is Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I would describe her as feisty, headstrong and independent.

8) Do you think the name of the characters in novels are important?
YES! I hate it when a love interest in a book has a weedy or boring name and I also find it a little frustrating if the same name pops up in several books. I have also hated a character in a book and then met someone with the same name and been instantly reminded of them! Names can be iconic too - think of Fitzwilliam Darcy - a name which is instantly recognisable to people whether they have read the book or not.

9) Which place would you set up as a meeting point (fact of fictional), if you got the chance to meet your favourite character?
If I got the chance to meet Elizabeth Bennet, it would have to be in a grand Georgian house for a spot of afternoon tea followed by a stroll through the beautiful grounds. Basildon Park or Chatsworth House spring to mind!

10) Which book would you like to see turned into a movie?
Hmm this is a difficult one! I have hated a lot of films which have been adapted from books. For example PS I Love You by Celia Ahern is a beautiful book, but the film was absolutely awful! Then again, I preferred the film version of The Time Traveller's Wife to the book and I love the adaptations of the Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Hunger Games. I would love to see The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern to be made into a film, although I have a very specific idea of what it should look like on screen! I also think that The Light Between Oceans by M.L Steadman would be great as a film.

So now I need to choose 10 blogs with less than 200 followers to pass the Liebster Award on to. I have decided on:

An Armchair By The Sea
I used to work with Bekah's husband and she is obsessed with books!

The Bird's Nest
Not technically a book blog, but I know that Hannah loves books as much as me and she does write the odd review.

A blog which reviews mystery fiction - I don't how many followers it has, but I like it!

The Tattoed Book
Written by a bookseller, I love the design (and content!) of this blog!

The Classics Circuit
The Perpetual Pageturner
Again I don't know how many followers, but its so pretty!

Entomology of a Bookworm

Bookish Habits

Ciska's Book Chest

I Live Literary

So these are my 10 questions, I would like the above bloggers to answer:

1) Do you belong to a book group? Which books have caused the liveliest conversations and what would you recommend for other groups?
2) Where do you stand on the digital book debate? Do you have an e-reader or do you prefer 'the real thing?'
3) Do you enjoy reading non-fiction?
4) If you went on Mastermind, which literary subject would you choose?
5) Have you ever lied about liking a book?
6) Which book have you read the most often?
7) Which 'classic' book is your favourite?
8) Do you ever read plays? Which would you recommend?
9) Why do you run a blog and what is your proudest blogging moment?
10) What is your favourite 'festive' book?

Looking forward to seeing everyone's answers!


The White Princess

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War series. Each one has told of the war between the Yorks and Lancasters from a different pivotal woman’s viewpoint – Jacquetta Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville and Margaret Beaufort. This latest book in the series sees the turn of Elizabeth Woodville’s first daughter Elizabeth of York, who becomes Queen of England when she is forced to marry Henry VII, son of Margaret Beaufort. As she will become mother to Henry VIII and grandmother to Mary I and Elizabeth I, she is one of the most important women in British history.

Elizabeth’s story begins at the point where The Red Queen novel and The White Queen BBC television series both ended, at the result of the Battle of Boswoth. Elizabeth’s uncle Richard III, who in Gregory’s series, she has been in love with and had a relationship, has been killed as a result of Henry Tudor’s invasion and quest to be king. She must now marry the man who was the cause of her Uncle’s death. Interestingly, if this version of the story is true, Elizabeth would have been Queen of England no matter who was the victor of the battle.

Elizabeth has to go through with her mother’s previous agreement with Margaret Beaufort that she will marry her son to strengthen his ties with England, as he has lived abroad in exile for most of his life. Margaret behaves worse than ever in the beginning of this book, treating Elizabeth as a breeding machine and making sure that she is pregnant with Henry’s heir before the marriage ceremony. As she lives such a pious and devout life, she uses ‘God’s will’ to her own advantage. Margaret also takes the best rooms and a higher position than the Queen with her own title of My Lady, the King’s Mother.

As Elizabeth lives a life of giving birth to the Tudor heirs, her mother Elizabeth Woodville is plotting with the remaining Yorks and when a ‘boy’ claiming to be her long-lost song Richard (the Prince she managed to get away to freedom before being locked away in the Tower of London), returns to England to make a claim on the throne, Elizabeth must choose between her duties as wife and Queen and her love of her mother and little brother.

Portraits of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII

The White Princess is full of threat and emergences of ‘the boy’ Prince Richard. It does get a little repetitive as each time Henry VII hears of the boy, he becomes frightened, leads an army out and returns when he disappears. There are not any huge events in the novel as in the previous ones in the series and although Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort feature heavily in the beginning of the novel, the second half lacks their big characters. This is not a criticism of Gregory, as she cannot change the main account of history, but it makes the book possibly the weakest in the series. Saying that, I was completely engrossed as ever and although I knew what would happen at the end, I could not put this book down.

It was refreshing to learn more about Lady Katherine Huntley who marries ‘Prince Richard’ and in this version of events, becomes the object of Henry VII’s affections. I had not heard of her in history before (I would love a Gregory book from her viewpoint!) and as usual when reading historical novels, I have been researching all of the main characters and family trees.  It was also fascinating to read of Henry VIII as a baby and young child. I had never thought of him as an innocent toddler before!

Reading the books in the Cousin’s War series has given me a huge interest in the York and Lancaster families and I am now reading historical accounts, other novels and watching films and documentaries on the subject. This is a fascinating and dangerous part of history, when families in power could not trust life-long friends and allies or even family members with their own husbands, wives, parents or siblings ‘turning coats’, making life-changing or life-ending decisions and betraying those closest to them. Thanks to Philippa Gregory for igniting my interest in this era of history!

There is lots of further information at
I also found some great related articles at 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Greenway - Agatha Christie's Devon home

Back in May I visited Agatha Christie's Devon holiday home which is now managed by the National Trust. Although Agatha lived in Torquay, her relaxing summer house is based just along the coastline and up the River Dart in a remote setting. There are several ways to arrive, from walking or catching a steam train or vintage bus. We chose a beautiful 20 minute boat ride on the Christie Belle from Dartmouth which rewards you with a glimpse of the stunning house on the high up on the hill-top. There is a very small car park for visitors unable to climb the steep hill to the house, although this must be booked in advance.
The vintage bus

Greenway was bought by Agatha Christie for £6,000 which also included 30 acres of land. The house is one the most welcoming National Trust properties I have visited as visitors are invited to explore, opening drawers and relaxing on sofas to read about the house and its most famous inhabitant. There are plenty of ‘scrapbooks’ around, full of newspaper clippings, letters, excerpts from books, quotes and photos. The first room we enter is the drawing room which features a beautiful piano. We learn that Agatha loved music and in a confessional said that she would have loved to have been an Opera singer.

The house features many of Agatha’s collections, from china and fans to books and ornaments. There are cupboards lit up with her possessions and a closet in her bedroom is full of ‘dress-up’ clothes for games and parties. It is clear that Greenway was a house for relaxing and entertaining. The dining room was used extensively for family meals and events and a menu for her 80th birthday celebrations is displayed here.
The boathouse in the grounds which
inspired the murder in Dead Man's Folly

Agatha used the cost of things that she desired as a motivation for writing. Although Agatha did not write any of her books at Greenway, she made revisions and read her latest stories aloud to her family during the evenings. Greenway inspired the murder in Dead Man’s Folly, which sees the extensive grounds used for a summer fair and a body found in the boathouse.

Books on sale in the gift shop
We enjoyed a slice of cake and some coffee in the tea-rooms based near to the house and I loved the shop which stocked an array of Christie books and memorabilia. I purchased a copy of Dead Man’s Folly, which was stamped with the Greenway mark at the till. There are beautiful views over the River Dart on the steep walk down to the battery and boat house. We took our dogs with us for the day who loved the walks around the grounds and the boat rides!

View across the River Dart from the house
Since visiting Greenway, I have been inspired to read more of Agatha Christie’s books and I am really enjoying them. It is pretty much impossible to guess the result of any of the mysteries and the huge casts of eccentric characters are great fun to read about.

Find out more about visiting Greenway at is also a great website for information all about the author and her huge collection of books and plays.

Calling Me Home

This is a quick, easy book to read. Described on the cover 'for fans of The Help', Calling Me Home tells the story of sixteen year old Isabelle, who falls in love with her black housekeeper's son Robert. This is an impossible relationship in 1939 Kentucky and they must fight against the hate and violence from the surrounding town and Isabelle's own family. Seventy years later, Isabelle is heading back to a mystery funeral, travelling with her hairdresser and friend Dorrie. As they drive across the country, Isabelle finally tells the story of her past.

This was a book group choice and as we discussed it over a cup of tea, we realised that there are lots of holes in the plot and it didn't quite make sense why everything would all be okay after seventy years of hurt. At the funeral, everyone is suddenly happy to reveal secrets which have lasted a lifetime and it didn't make sense that this had not happened before with the changing times and results of the Civil Rights Movement. Dorrie's present day story is uninteresting and although the author is trying to get across that our problems today are nothing compared to the unjustness of Isabelle's history.

However, this is a moving story which you will be willing to end in a different way.

The Austen Project - Sense and Sensibility

Joanna Trollope's modern re-telling of Sense and Sensibility is part of the Austen Project which will see all of the Jane Austen's six novels re-written in contemporary style by six well-known authors. Sense and Sensibility is one of my favourite novels of all-time and I was interested to see what changes could be made.

I felt that Trollope had a good understanding of the characters and the story, with the dialogue updated to today's style - expect plenty of 'What evs' and 'hilairs'. The three sisters are also contemporised to good effect - Elinor has hopes to be an architect and is the breadwinner of the family, taking on the strain seen in different ways in the original novel. Marianne suffers from asthma, which makes her breakdowns through the novel more plausible and Margaret is an I-pod loving, spoilt younger sister, mortified by being dropped off at her new school in Elinor's old car.

The society that Elinor and Marianne end up in during their time in London now seems to be full of Chelsea it-girls, and Marianne's reaction to seeing Willoughby becomes public knowledge for different reasons. I enjoyed reading this updates and thinking about what would be coming next.

There are a few parts of the story which do seem a bit odd in today's world - for example the Dashwood's being thrown out of the family home in favour of a male heir - but Trollope does her best to explain and without these parts of the story, it would not be Sense and Sensibility. It also felt a bit odd to read Edward Ferrars being referred to as Ed and John Willoughby as Wills throughout the novel, but then I guess that is the romantic Janite in me! Colonel Brandon is described as dreamy as always!

Fans of Jane Austen will find this amusing as they compare to the original novel. Good fun and I'm looking forward to the other five novels being told in this way!

Find out more about The Austen Project at

Join in the conversation on Twitter with #austenproject

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Q and A with Rachel Hore

After reading The Silent Tide, I was lucky enough to be offered a Q and A with author Rachel Hore. I really enjoyed Rachel's writing style throughout the novel and will be looking forward to reading more of her work. The Silent Tide tells the story of two women working in publishing. Isabel moves to post-war London to make a new life for herself, while the present day story of Emily is linked as she becomes involved in Isabel's past as she starts to discover why Isabel seems to have been erased from history. Both women become involved in relationships with authors which don't turn out quite as they had hoped and I enjoyed the parallels between their lives and relationships.

I was particularly interested in the story of Isabel and Hugh. Isabel was using the post Second World War ideas to her advantage, moving away from home at a young age and finding her own job and home. Hugh seems to admire this in her at first, but when she becomes a mother, he expects her to become the traditional 'stay-at-home' wife figure, which she cannot adjust too. I also wondered why Isabel and Emily both became attracted to the romantic, creative authors who they admire and ultimately become disappointed in as they realise that they are not the men they had hoped them to be. I was really excited to ask Rachel about these two themes in particular...
A quote at the start of the book is taken from Only Halfway to Paradise: Women in Postwar Britain by Elizabeth Wilson – ‘Women were wanting to escape the net just as men were climbing back into it.’ How did you want to explore this in the relationship of Isabel and Hugh? Do you think their relationship was very typical of the era?
Following the Second World War there was a tendency, enacted in government policy and expressed by the popular media, to assume that women would withdraw from paid employment and get back to the kitchen once their menfolk were demobbed and wanting 'their' jobs back. At the same time,  more women were actually becoming better educated and wishing for greater independence.   Whilst it was considered socially and economically acceptable for girls to take on certain kinds of 'female' employment -  teaching, secretarial, nursing - marriage and children were still presented as the ideal, and once married, or certainly after having children, they were definitely expected to retreat to the home.  However, in some more liberal-minded areas of the workplace, publishing being a notable one, educated women were able more strongly to make their mark, and Isabel in The Silent Tide is an example.
I've portrayed Hugh, her husband-to-be, in some respects as forward looking.  He admires Isabel's talents as an editor and intellectually he's very much aware of the dilemmas that young women face.  At the same time, he's a product of his environment, and deeply conservative underneath it all.  Although they love each other deeply, he and Isabel have false expectations of each other in their marriage, and it's these that they need to overcome. Diary evidence suggests that many couples must have had versions of Hugh and Isabel's experience at the time, even if they broadly accepted the social norm. 

Isabel and Emily both work in publishing and both have relationships with authors they are representing. Did you base either of their stories on your own experiences in publishing or did you think about the opposite of what could have happened in your own life?
I met my husband (the writer D.J. Taylor) after I published the paperback of his first novel when I worked at HarperCollins.  As we know, very many people meet their partners in the workplace.  However, I was never his editor in the sense of being involved in the creative process - that was the prerogative of his hardback publisher.  In The Silent Tide I became fascinated by the idea that the professional, the personal and the gender-political could become mixed up to the extent that Isabel, Hugh's editor then wife, unwittingly becomes his muse for a book that's basically about their marriage!  One does hear about writers who fictionalize their own marriages (Hanif Kureschi being one, Philip Roth another), but I assure you that I haven't done such a thing and nor has my husband (yet)!   

Did you decide Isabel’s fate when you first began writing the book, or did it proceed or change as her life went on?
Before starting the novel, I knew that Isabel had been swept away in the great floods of 1953 and it was towards this plot point that my past narrative was working.  The issue of interest for me as a writer, however, was not her demise, but why her story had been suppressed by Hugh's second wife.  Some might see variants of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca in this, though this wasn't in my mind as I wrote.  

We occasionally get to read parts of Isabel’s memoir in her own words. Why did you decide not to tell her whole story in that way?
Isabel is a girl carried along by the tides of her time.  She's not a person who's naturally very self-aware, nor does she consciously stand with or against the social norm. She's a person of feeling who acts intuitively.  I wanted the past story to be a little more knowing than the way she would have told it herself - hence the third person narrative.
If you could write the biography of any author, who would you choose? What questions would you want answered?

Oh dear, everyone's been written about.  I'd be interested to ask Harper Lee why she wrote no more books after To Kill a Mockingbird.  Surely she had some more things to say. 
The covers of your books are always so beautiful and intriguing; I am always drawn to them in book shops. How much input do you have in these?

Thank you.  It was the cover of A Place of Secrets that instigated the concept of looking through a gate or doorway to a lovely secret world beyond.  After the novel became a bestseller, my publishers suggested that the backlist should be rejacketed in a similar way and that the design of future books should build on the idea, too, and this seemed sensible. I fully understand that my books have to have the branded look that we're told retailers and many readers need. However, my publisher has always asked my opinion of different versions of covers within the general style, and my response has been largely heeded.
What is your usual process for writing a novel? What kind of research do you find most valuable?
 I tend to develop a general feeling for the setting and atmosphere of a novel and develop everything from there.  I read a great many books about all aspects of my subject, and after a while characters and situations start to grow in my mind.  After that I write a two page synopsis, whilst continuing to read and think and work out details in a notebook.  I always know where the book is going to go before I start to write it, but not always how it's going to get there. Sometimes, as with The Silent Tide, the unexpected happens!
Which authors do you enjoy reading? If you could recommend a list of ‘must-read’ books to a book group, what would they be?
I belong to a book club myself and some of our most successful discussions have been around books that have polarized the group.  We Need to Talk about Kevin is the classic example.  Thinking about it, an issue that often crops up is whether or not the group 'likes' the central character or finds them 'sympathetic', and Eve in that novel is exactly the kind of narrator who flies in the face of that requirement. There's something satisfying about concluding that one might not particularly like a book but might still recognize that it's fascinating, gripping and intellectually challenging, and that it has maybe changed the way one looks at the world.  Other recent books that come into this category include The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Dinner by Herman Koch. My personal perfect list of recent titles? And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled, Hosseini, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Kill by Richard House, The Summer House by Santa Montefiore, The Great Silence by Juliet Nicolson (non-fiction about the aftermath of WWI), and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (memoir).

A huge thank you to Rachel Hore for taking the time to answer these questions and for Dawn Burnett at Simon & Schuster for arranging this.

You can follow Rachel on Twitter @rachelhore and find out more about her books at