Desert Island Books with… Diane Chandler

Desert Island Books

Welcome to my first guest Desert Island Books feature of 2021 and I am delighted to have stranded author Diane Chandler on my remote island today. Im hoping it’s a bit warmer there than it is here at the moment!

First of all, let me congratulate you on being crowned an RNA Media Start of 2020! What a wonderful accolade. On reading your blog, I was astounded that you read nearly 200 books last year, many of them as part of your book blogging role. The blogging community provide such an incredible support in nurturing newly published books which is so appreciated. 

And thank you too for inviting me to share my five favourite books. I don’t get through half as many as you each year, Julie, but still it’s so hard to choose when you’re an avid reader, isn’t it? For a big birthday a few years back, a friend gifted me this oil painting of the spines of my favourite books. It hangs proudly in my kitchen and I often find myself gazing at it and diving back into all those fabulous reads. Now, some years on, there would be another 20 to add to these, but I’ll happily choose a few books from this painting to read over and over again on my sunny desert island.

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Book One – The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguru

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In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past . . .

A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House, of lost causes and lost love.

On arrival in the tropics (where I hope my island would be) I’d like to settle down on the sand and begin with what I call a ‘quiet’ novel. Set in the late 1930s, The Remains of the Day is about a head butler, Stevens, who proudly presides over his staff at a lavish English country house and serves his master, Lord Darlington, with an unquestioning loyalty. One might even say with a certain blindness, as war gathers on the fringes of their languid existence. When Miss Kenton arrives as the chief housekeeper, she and Stevens develop a professional friendship, which he treats with the utmost propriety. And in so doing, he misses out on love. Some twenty years later, he takes a drive to visit Miss Kenton who has moved across the country and yet still carries a torch for him, and once again he fails to seize the opportunity for love which is staring him in the face. 

The writing is sumptuous, slowly drawing readers in and moving us deeply. Very little happens, and yet everything is happening inside the hearts and minds of the characters. And, astoundingly, the author’s mother tongue is Japanese. I teach creative writing alongside my publisher, Stephanie Zia, and we stress the importance of a character’s journey; that there should be some change within them by the novel’s end. Yet Stevens is a character who does not change – and that is the very point with this novel, leaving the reader with a lingering sense of what might have been.

Book Two – The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver 

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This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

Having gazed out to sea for a while to let that novel settle, eventually I would shuffle up against a palm tree, and be ready to tackle my next choice. The Poisonwood Bible is about an American family of four daughters who move to Africa, swept along to another continent without choice by their missionary father, who is working to convert African souls to Christianity. This ignorant man is totally oblivious to the culture and values of the African villagers, and there are many entertaining moments where they exhibit their superior intelligence. The mother, meanwhile, tries her best to cushion the existence of her daughters against the harsh conditions in which they find themselves (including the odd deadly snake or two…) For me, this was a wonderfully emotional read. I used to work in overseas aid, including a stint on the Africa desk and always love to read books set in Africa. Moreover, increasingly in the publishing world I hear that, ‘the only goal for an author is to create emotion in their reader’ and boy does this book do that. It’s a little hard to get into, as one of the daughters has developed her own special language and it is she we meet first, but we soon get used to her code.

The opening line of the novel is also a gem. At our creative writing workshops we often study the opening lines of novels – that all-important first hook. The Poisonwood Bible opens with the line, ‘Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.’ A mysterious opening if ever there was one! I would definitely be reading this book again and again… and hoping there were no snakes sharing my desert island with me!

Book Three – We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

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Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of a boy named Kevin who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who had tried to befriend him.

Now, two years after her son’s horrific rampage, Eva comes to terms with her role as Kevin’s mother in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband Franklyn about their son’s upbringing. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about motherhood. How much is her fault?

In Lionel Shriver’s hands this sensational, chilling and memorable story of a woman who raised a monster becomes a metaphor for the larger tragedy – the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

I think I’d be ready then to speed up the pace and danger somewhat, and would turn to this novel about a mother and her son, Kevin, who carries out a mass murder at his American high school. We follow their journey from his birth to imprisonment. Not only is it brilliantly written – the language, the pace, the structure – but its theme of nature or nurture; whether her son Kevin was born evil or whether he became bad as he grew up, is explored in fascinating and forensic depth. I read it just after I’d had my daughter and was struggling to cope at home – and it blew me away. Well, you bring yourself to a novel, don’t you? And I brought myself to this one as a fragile new mother, wanting only the best for my baby and devoting all my days to her needs (albeit struggling with that). And I concluded that the mother in this novel was ultimately a bad mother; that she lacked empathy and, above all, generosity of spirit towards her son. 

Some years later, I came to the book again during a creative writing class, where we deconstructed it, chapter by chapter, to explore how Lionel Shriver had built this amazing novel. And once again, I found myself completely absorbed and oblivious to the author’s techniques, simply sucked in by her story-telling. As a writer, you tend to vaguely deconstruct novels as you read – what was their purpose with such and such a chapter? How did they move the plot or character forward? But I’m sure I could read this novel again and again and still be unaware of the stupendous ending I’m about to come upon. Interestingly, Lionel Shriver was not a mother herself when she penned it, which makes it a stunning feat of imagination too. At my book club, recently, we were discussing American Dirt, including the controversy of ‘cultural appropriation’ surrounding it. (American author, Jeannie Cummins’ first person protagonist is a Mexican woman escaping to the USA, and many Latinx people criticised her for audaciously believing she understood what it was to be a Mexican.) We all agreed that so many books would not be here without such incredible stretches of imagination – including We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Book Four – The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

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For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems.

Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does – Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

After a calming walk around the island, I‘d be ready to settle down again for something ‘quiet’. When I was a student of modern languages many decades ago, I spent a summer living in West Berlin. This was when the Berlin Wall was still standing – and indeed a period of tension between East and West. I absolutely loved living and working in such an exciting city and since then have been a sucker for any novel set in post-war Germany. Especially an exquisite love story. The Reader is such a love story – but with an incredible twist. Set just after the second world war, it’s about a fifteen-year old boy who is seduced by a voluptuous German woman in her thirties. They spend the summer making glorious love in her apartment, after which the boy reads to her – novels, poetry, anything beautiful – because, as it transpires, she cannot read. And then suddenly the woman disappears. One day the boy arrives at her flat to find it vacant and emptied of all her possessions. Many years later, during the infamous Nazi War Trials, the boy is a law student and taken to watch one of the criminal trials by his tutor. There, in the dock, is the woman. To say more would be too much of a spoiler – perhaps I’ve gone too far already ☺ but this is a sumptuous novel of huge depth. Translated from the German. 

Book Five – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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1910. Amiens, Northern France. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in the French city to stay with the Azaire family. He falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle and the two enter a tempestuous love affair. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters.

With his love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front and enters the unimaginable dark world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land. From award-winning writer Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong is an exceptionally moving and unforgettable portrait of the ruthlessness of war and the indestructability of love.

I first read Birdsong when I was in my twenties and caught up in the excitement of living abroad in Brussels, with the emphasis firmly on fun. By day, I worked as a political lobbyist, by night, I partied – and at the weekends we would head off to Paris, or Amsterdam for all that these cities had to offer. Such a hedonistic and carefree existence. And then I read Birdsong. The opening chapters are about an equally carefree young man, Stephen, who arrives in Amiens with his job and lodges with a well-to-do family. He begins a torrid affair with the unhappily married wife, a tale of lust and burning love which we readers experience in all its sizzling detail. And then, World War One breaks out, and Stephen finds himself recruited to the trenches, going over the top, firing and being fired at. 

And this change in his fortunes was something of an epiphany for me and my callow self. To think that all those doddery old men, who paraded or were pushed in wheelchairs at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, were once vivacious young men, alive with lust and vigour. My respect for the whole world grew – and I too grew up. It is this juxtaposition in the novel that has always stayed with me. I’m actually not very good at re-reading novels, because I remember them well and there is no discovery second-time around, but this is one I have returned to. Perhaps, in fact, this is my favourite novel of all.  

My luxury item

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Well, my gorgeous ragdoll cat, George, is one of my special comforts in life, but I see he’s not allowed. So I’d opt for my laptop and indulge in my passion of writing. After all that heavy reading I’d need to laugh at George’s @catsdoingbooks antics on Instagram too. But I guess there’d have to be some power source to charge it, so maybe that’s a naughty choice too…?!

About Diane Chandler

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Diane Chandler’s first novel, The Road to Donetsk, draws on her experience of managing overseas aid programmes, and won the People’s Book Prize. Her second, Moondance, tackles the emotional impact of IVF fertility treatment on a loving couple. Only Human, her third novel, is about a woman struggling to find meaning in life after her husband cheats on her and her only daughter is about to fly the nest. Diane co-runs Creative Writing Workshops London with Stephanie Zia of Blackbird Digital Books, and also coaches aspiring writers. She is the host of http://www.Chiswickbuzz.net Book Club, Words with Wine in W4

Diane also co-runs Creative Writing Workshops London and they have just devised a host of new online workshops, on topics from eg. the use of colour, texture, sounds/smells/taste, to eg. voice, self-editing and getting published. They also continue with our workshops for beginners – on character, plot, dialogue and setting. Each stand-alone session costs £20. Small, safe groups of max 6 participants – and nobody has to read out unless they wish to. More details at their website.

Although Diane loves to read literary fiction, her three novels are commercial women’s fiction and the latest, Only Human, came out in September 2020 during a lucky lull in the pandemic. Published by Blackbird Books, it is set in West London and is about a middle-aged woman, Anna, who gave up her career to be a stay-at-home mum. Her daughter is now chopping at the apron strings and she’s just discovered that her husband of 20 years is having an affair. What should she do next with her life? You can buy a copy of the book here.

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The Bonds are, seemingly, a tight family unit, until one fateful summer when the temptations of lust and love come for them all…

Tiger mum Anna, who gave up her career to build the perfect home life in London’s leafy Chiswick, is shocked to the core when she discovers that her husband of 20 years is having an affair.

Her daughter meanwhile is transforming into a tricky teen chopping at the apron strings.

Then Jack walks into their lives. Sophie’s first boyfriend is a breath of fresh air for the whole family and Anna gradually discovers new purpose for herself.

But when yet more deceit creeps in, tensions soar.

Anna is propelled through a tangled web of secrets and lies towards a devastating climax.

Connect with Diane:

Website: https://www.dianechandlerauthor.com

Facebook: Diane Chandler Author

Twitter: @Dchandlerauthor

Instagram: @dianechandlerauthor

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Desert Island Children’s Books

CHILDREN'S

Last year I had such fun listing and re-reading the twelve books that I would take with me to a desert island that it spawned a whole new guest blog feature and, I have decided to do it all over again this year, but with children’s books. Yes, this is nothing more than a thinly disguised excuse to read my childhood favourites over the course of the year, and I am totally unapologetic for that. In these turbulent times, what could be more natural and comforting than to retreat to the warmth of the books that saw you safely through childhood?

The premise is the same as last year. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve children’s books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are the books that I read over and over again as a child, and why they still speak to me as an adult, and what I continue to love about them.

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, like last year, I am trailing the twelve by listing the thirteen books that almost, but didn’t quite, make the final cut. Some of my all-time favourites, that I would be loathe to leave behind but had to sacrifice to make room for the top dozen.

Let’s kick off shall we.

Pony Club Camp by Josephine Pullein-Thompson

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The last glorious swansong of the West Barsetshire Pony Club sees the Major run a camp for the Pony Club members.

Noel and Henry have now left school and have returned as instructors to deal with the loose and the runaway, and that’s just the ponies. The Pony Club members are even worse. 

As a pony-mad girl in the early eighties, the books written by the Pullein-Thompson sisters were a staple of my childhood library, and Pony Club Camp was my absolute favourite. This story of camping with ponies, doing horseback treasure hunts and gymkhanas, was aspirational and the day I finally went to Pony Club Camp myself was a dream come true, even though it wasn’t quite as chaotic as the one in the book!

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

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The Borrowers live in the secret places of quiet old houses; behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. They own nothing, borrow everything, and think that human beings were invented just to do the dirty work. Arrietty’s father, Pod, was an expert Borrower. He could scale curtains using a hatpin, and bring back a doll’s teacup without breaking it. Girls weren’t supposed to go borrowing but as Arrietty was an only child her father broke the rule, and then something happened which changed their lives. She made friends with the human boy living in the house…

Normally the idea of unseen creatures living in the corners of your house would be a plot line to scare a child rigid, but the story of Pod, Homily and little Arriety who live under the floorboards and exist by ‘borrowing’ human items to adapt for for their own use is just charming. I was fascinating by the clever way they adapt our huge items for their tiny lives. I loved all five books in the series, but the first time you meet them is always the most memorable.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

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Milly-Molly-Mandy lives in a tiny village in the heart of the countryside, where life is full of everyday adventures! Join the little girl in the candy-striped dress as she goes blackberry picking, gets ready to throw a party for her friends and goes to her village fete – whatever Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends are up to, you’re sure to have fun when they’re around.

I’m not really sure what the appeal of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories was to me as a child because, looking back, she didn’t do anything hugely exciting. Her life was fairly ordinary and simple, you wouldn’t think that they held as much appeal as stories that whisked a child away somewhere magical, but I loved them nonetheless. Maybe their appeal was their simplicity and innocence, it was like having a friend sleeping over in your bedroom every night. Plus, it was like a collection of short stories, perfect for early readers to master their reading independence.

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John

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Lucien’s teasing of Dani leads to an accident with far-reaching consequences. Annette is intent on revenge and does all she can to make life a misery for Lucien. His only friend is the old man up the mountain who recognises his skill in carving wood and gives him new hope. Set in Switzerland this story of Annett, Lucien and Dani has caught the imagination of countless children.

My sister borrowed this book from our school library and somehow it never got returned; I still have the school copy to this day (sorry, St. Mary’s School!) This was my first experience of a book taking me away to a different country with its strange customs (I know it’s only Switzerland, not Swaziland, but we never travelled abroad when I was a child, Switzerland seemed exotic!) I was particularly obsessed with the children getting gingerbread bears from the church Christmas Tree as a gift and coveted the one with the twisted nose.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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The Wild Wood seems a terrifying place to Mole, until one day he pokes his nose out of his burrow and finds it’s full of friends. He meets brave Ratty, kind old Badger and the rascally Mr Toad, and together they go adventuring . . .

But the Wild Wood doesn’t just contain friends, there are also the sinister weasels and stoats, and they capture Toad Hall when Mr Toad is in jail. How will he escape? And can the friends fight together to save Toad Hall?

I don’t think I need to explain why I loved this charming story of animals acting like people; nervous Mole, adventurous Rat, sensible Badger and the bumptious Mr. Toad. I think I strongly related to Mole as a child, which is why I particularly relished his growing bravery and friendships.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar And Six More by Roald Dahl

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WHAT if you stumbled upon a boy who could talk to animals?

WHY is a hitchhiker both a saviour and a threat?

HOW can a man see without using his eyes?

SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY TALES OF MAGIC, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE.

I remember us studying The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar in English at junior school, and I fell in love with Dahl’s more adult, dark storytelling and was eager to read the rest of the short stories in this volume. My first exploration of stories that were slightly less wholesome and cartoonish than what I read at home, a stepping stone to the world of grown up literature.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

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‘If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle – certain to be’

When Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen are forced to spend their entire summer at school they don’t imagine they will have a particularly interesting time. But that’s before they stumble upon a mysterious castle set in beautiful, abandoned gardens. Could this really be an enchanted castle? Don’t be a duffer, there’s no such thing. But with the air thick with magic, the sun blazing down, and a maze hiding a sleeping girl at its centre, the holidays might just be looking up…

This is probably the least well-known of this author’s books but it was my absolute favourite. Absolute pure magic for a child to read, a proper childhood fairytale that you really wish you could be in yourself as a reader.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

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A trustee of the John Grier orphanage has offered to send Judy Abbott to college. The only requirements are that she must write to him every month and that she can never know who he is.

Judy’s life at college is a whirlwind of friends, classes, parties and a growing friendship with the handsome Jervis Pendleton. With so much happening in her life, Judy can scarcely stop writing to ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’, or wondering who her mysterious benefactor is…

I was given this book by my mum, for whom it was a childhood favourite, and I think this is why I have such fond memories of it, it was something I shared with her and we could discuss together, rather than books I read which she never had. One of my first experiences of the joy of books being enhanced by sharing your love of them with other people. I’ve experienced that the other way since with my own children, and it is a joy that can’t be over-stated.

The Tree That Sat Down/The Stream That Stood Still/The Mountain of Magic by Beverley Nicholls

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Deep in the enchanted forest Judy helps her granny run The Shop Under the Willow Tree. They sell all sorts of wonderful things, such as boxes of beautiful dreams carefully tied up with green ribbon.

But then Sam and the charming Miss Smith, a witch in disguise, open a rival business. The newcomers are not only cheating their customers, but also plotting to destroy Granny’s shop.

Can Judy save the wood from their wickedness?

I was actually introduced to this series via the third book, which I received as a Sunday School prize when I was nine, but as soon as I finished it I pestered my parents to get me books one and two. This series still has the most terrifyingly evil pair of villains ever written in children’s literature. When I was a pre-teen, they scared me silly.

Trebizon by Anne Digby

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New girl Rebecca Mason arrives at Trebizon, the famous boarding school, after everyone else has already made friends. Lonely and anxious to prove herself, Rebecca writes something for the school magazine that unexpectedly triggers a row and half the school turns against her. Luckily, she discovers she has friends after all, the best friends any new girl could hope for.

I was introduced to the Trebizon books by my friend, Lisa, and soon fell in love with this school series. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and Anne Digby’s Trebizon series were a more mature version. Set in a Cornish boarding school, they dealt with slightly more adult topics across the fourteen books and they were a firm favourite.

Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks

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Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention…

Such as the fact that the kingdom is falling into ruin. The barons refuse to recognize a king and taxes haven’t been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, is laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, is plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren’t enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learns that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, has challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death – a duel no mere mortal can hope to win.

But Ben Holiday has one human trait that even magic can’t overcome. Ben Holiday is stubborn.

Terry Brooks is much better known for his Shannara series of fantasy books, but I fell completely in love with the Landover series, of which Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold is the first book, when I first read them. The story of a man disillusioned with the modern world who buys a magic kingdom, believing it to be an elaborate hoax, only to find it is real but very far from a magical fantasy realm, is just bewitching. I’ve just discovered there is a sixth book in the series which I’ve never read, so I guess I’ll be revisiting these from the beginning at some point this year.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

The only reason this book is on the runner-up list and not top of the master list, is that this was one of the books on my main Desert Island Books list last year. One of my favourite books of all time, you can read my review of this book from last year here.

The Ship of Adventure by Enid Blyton

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An amazing voyage around the beautiful Greek islands becomes an exciting quest to find the lost treasure of the Andra!

Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann, Jack and Kiki the parrot are plunged into a search for hidden riches – with some ruthless villains hot on their trail! Will they find the treasure before it’s too late?

Really, this is just representative of all of Enid Blyton’s books. I grew up with her, and her books guided me through all of my early reading experiences. Starting off with her collections of fairy stories and Mr Pinkwhistle (how was this ever allowed?), through the Faraway Tree books and the Magic Wishing Chair to The Secret Seven and the Mystery series, I loved them all and devoured every one. The Famous Five were my absolute favourites, and they will be making an appearance in the final twelve, but a special mention has to go to the Adventure series, and this book in particular, which I think was the best. I know she is problematic and very unfashionable, but she is the cornerstone of my love of reading and I still have all of my Enid Blyton books, because they hold huge sentimental value for me.

So, those are the thirteen childhood favourites that are close to my heart but didn’t quite make the final twelve. Join me on 31st January to see the first one that forms part of the twelve childhood favourites that I would take to my desert island.

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Desert Island Books: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Desert Island Books

Following on from my earlier post, I now have my twelfth and final, personal Desert Island Book. If I am ever pressed to nominate my favourite book of all time, this is my choice. The book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Why do I love this book so much? Oh, for so many reasons. Firstly, its protagonist is one of my two favourite heroines in English Literature (the other, in case you are wondering, is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing) and the one to whom I most closely relate. In fact, if those who know me had to pick out a character from literature that I most resemble, it would be Flora Poste. Flora hates messes, as I do, and she loves to organise people, as I do. Bossy, you say? I don’t think so, just sure in her own rightness, and there is nothing wrong with that! Sadly, I don’t think I am as chic, crafty or quick-witted as Flora turns out to be in this book, but one can dream.

Secondly, the cast of characters in this book are perfectly drawn, and every one is delightful, in their own peculiar way. Morose cousin Judith, over-sexed Seth, faux-hippy Elfine, fire-and-brimstone preacher Amos, Flora’s sensible friend Mrs Smiling who collects brassieres as a hobby, fecund maid Miriam; every one of them is pitch-perfect. Best of all is Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a tiny tot, and has used the trauma as an excuse to rule the family with an iron fist ever since. After all, ‘there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm,’ and nothing can ever be allowed to change that, especially not Robert Poste’s child. The standoff between young but wily Flora and stubborn Great Aunt Ada is one of the greatest battle of wills ever written, and it is a joy to read.

The book is just beautifully pitched and executed in every single respect. Apart from the characterisations, the pastiche of romantic but doom-laden writing of other authors of the time is a wicked delight to read – I defy you to read her deliberately purple prose and not giggle – and the way she leaves some of the biggest mysteries of the book unanswered, to be speculated over and debated down the years, is just brilliant. There are a million tiny and subtle comments, asides, observations and conversations to delight over. The part where Flora is explaining the process and merits of the use of birth control to the randy serving girl, who then repeats it to her mother, is a perfect example, and one of my favourites. Over and above all else, this book is hilarious, sharply witty and oh-so-clever. I delight in every reading anew, and this is why it would accompany me to my desert island. It is a book that never fails to cheer my soul.

I am a person who does not often watch TV or movie adaptations of my favourite books, because I have too often been disappointed. I haven’t watched recent adaptations of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for this reason. This being said, the version of Cold Comfort Farm starring Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Joanna Lumley as Mrs Smiling and Rufus Sewell as Seth is absolutely brilliant. It really portrays the story and the characters exactly as I imagine them, and it maybe the only adaptation of one of my favourite books that I love as much as the novel itself, so if you don’t have time to read it, maybe give it a watch instead. I am sure you will end up loving it as much as I do.

Cold Comfort Farm is available to buy in all formats here.

About the Authors

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Stella Gibbons is best known for her comic masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm. A witty parody of the pastoral fiction written by authors such as D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, it won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Anglais in 1933 and established her literary reputation. Gibbons also wrote 22 other novels, including Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (1940) and Starlight (1967), as well as three volumes of short stories and four poetry collections. She died in 1989, aged 87.

Desert Island Books with… Nicola Pryce

Desert Island Books

For my last guest edition of Desert Island Books for 2020, I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author Nicola Pryce. Let’s see what literary choices she has made to accompany her.

Judging by lockdown, Julie, I’m not going to be any good on this desert island of yours, so I’m going for four books with uplifting characters who would be good company if I start to wobble. The fifth is a fascinating 1950’s classic which I think would benefit from repeated readings. Interestingly, three of the books are ones I’ve recently read – not the books I first thought I would choose. Maybe that has something to do with 2020 ending and the importance of embracing the new.    

Book One – The World of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne

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Meet the best bear in all the world for the first time in Winnie-the-Pooh, where he gets into a tight place, nearly catches a Woozle and heads off on an ‘expotition’ to the North Pole with the other animals. The adventures continue in The House at Pooh Corner, where Pooh meets the irrepressible Tigger for the first time, learns to play Poohsticks and sets a trap for a Heffalump.

This all-time favourite classic, the go-to, warm, uplifting, laugh out-loud, sad, poignant, comforting book from my childhood has to take first place. Akin to my security blanket, it will remind me of my childhood, my children, and my grandchildren. I almost know it by heart and can still quite easily become tearful reading it. Uplifting and caring, it will definitely keep me buoyant.

Book Two – The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

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In affairs of the heart the race is not necessarily won by the swift or the fair.

Imogen, the beautiful and much younger wife of distinguished barrister Evelyn Gresham, is facing the greatest challenge of her married life. Their neighbour Blanche Silcox, competent, middle-aged and ungainly – the very opposite of Imogen – seems to be vying for Evelyn’s attention. And to Imogen’s increasing disbelief, she may be succeeding.

I’ve chosen this beautifully written novel, published in 1954, because it evokes such complex emotions. Set in the country houses of the privileged upper-class, it is the story of how a dispirited young wife, Imogen – a once glamorous, almost trophy wife – watches her older barrister husband, Evelyn Gresham, fall under the spell of a middle-aged, rather masculine, country neighbour, Blanche Silcox. Downtrodden, sensitive, and lacking in confidence, Imogen slowly watches her marriage unravel, yet by the end of the book we are left wondering who of the two women is the tortoise, and who the hare.

I loved this book and believe it will stand the test of being re-read… and re-read …

Book Three – The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

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Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

This inspirational memoir will be just what I need if I’m missing home comforts. It’s a humbling read of a worst-case scenario – financial ruin and the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Gaynor and her husband, Moth, face homelessness. Penniless, they buy inadequate camping gear and begin their long-distance walk along the South West Coast Path, facing what the sea and sky throws at them. Their courage and inner strength see them stumble through each day until an unexpected door opens and they find their hardship has helped to heal them. Definitely one to read for courage and endurance.

Book Four – The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

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The greatest love story is the one you least expect . . .

Alice Wright doesn’t love her new American husband.

Nor her domineering father-in-law or the judgmental townsfolk of Baileyville, Kentucky.

Stifled and misunderstood, she yearns for escape and finds it in defiant Margery O’Hare and the sisterhood bringing books to the isolated and vulnerable.

But when her father-in-law and the town turn against them, Alice fears the freedom, friendship and the new love she’s found will be lost . . .

Here’s another book full of endurance and fighting spirit for my stay on the island. If I think I have it hard, then reading this book will remind me others have had it just as bad. I loved this book. Based in the 1930’s on the true horseback library, it tells the story of a group of resilient women in Kentucky who start a library and deliver books on horseback to the isolated women living in the wilderness. The freezing mountains, appalling conditions, and treacherous paths they take are brilliantly evoked, and the undercurrents running through this book make it multi-layered and hard to put down. Definitely a book about endurance and resilience.

Book Five – Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

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Some say the river drowned her…Some say it brought her back to life

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?

My book of 2020 – a cracker of a read. Set on the River Thames in late 1800’s it is full of the stories weaved by the communities living along the water’s edge. Packed with menace, it has a sinister mystery at its heart, but also a wonderfully warm and touching love story. I’ve chosen to take this with me because of the rhythm of the story telling. It’s beautifully written, evocative, and packed with lovely characters – especially Robert Armstrong whose warmth and humanity is just the inspiration I will need to keep me going on this desert island.

My luxury item

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A solar- powered laptop, please Julie, so I can write. It would be terrible to have ideas for a novel and not be able to get the book down!

About Nicola Pryce

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Nicola Pryce trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. She loves literature and history and has an Open University degree in Humanities. She is a qualified adult literacy support volunteer and lives with her husband in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. She and her husband love sailing and together they sail the south coast of Cornwall in search of adventure. If she isn’t writing or gardening, you’ll find her scrubbing decks somewhere.

Pengelly’s Daughter is her first novel, then The Captain’s Girl, The Cornish Dressmaker, and The Cornish Lady. A Cornish Betrothal was published in November.

Nicola is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Historical Writers’ Association.

Nicola’s latest book, A Cornish Betrothal, is the fifth book in her series set in eighteenth-century Cornwall, and you can buy a copy here.

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Cornwall, 1798.

Eighteen months have passed since Midshipman Edmund Melville was declared missing, presumed dead, and Amelia Carew has mended her heart and fallen in love with a young physician, Luke Bohenna. But, on her twenty-fifth birthday, Amelia suddenly receives a letter from Edmund announcing his imminent return. In a state of shock, devastated that she now loves Luke so passionately, she is torn between the two.

When Edmund returns, it is clear that his time away has changed him – he wears scars both mental and physical. Amelia, however, is determined to nurse him back to health and honour his heroic actions in the Navy by renouncing Luke.

But soon, Amelia begins to question what really happened to Edmund while he was missing. As the threads of truth slip through her fingers, she doesn’t know who to turn to: Edmund, or Luke?

Connect with Nicola:

Website: http://nicolapryce.co.uk

Facebook: Nicola Pryce Author

Twitter: @NPryce_Author

Pinterest: Nicola Pryce Author

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Desert Island Books with … Brenda from Traveling Sisters Book Reviews

Desert Island Books

Welcome to another visit to my literary desert island, and this week I have stranded my fellow blogger, Brenda, from Traveling Sisters Book Reviews. Let’s see what bookish companions she has brought with her to keep her company.

Thank you for stranding me on your desert island! I look forward to spending some time with some books that I have wanted to read for a while. The books I chose to take with me are books that I have had a hard time committing to due to their length or the time it would take to focus on them. I don’t think I would have that problem if I were stranded on a desert island.

Book One – The Outsider by Stephen King

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A horrifying crime.

Water-tight evidence points to a single suspect.

Except he was seventy miles away, with an iron-clad alibi.

Detective Anderson sets out to investigate the impossible: how can the suspect have been both at the scene of the crime and in another town?

Stephen King’s books intimidate by their length, and I am always putting them off. I do have a couple of books by Stephen King. This one is not the longest book I have by him, but it is the latest one I bought. I am not sure if a horror novel is the best choice to read alone on a desert Island, but I do love dark books.

Book Two – The Warmth Of Other Sums by Isabel Wilkerson

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From 1915 to 1970, an exodus of almost six million people would change the face of America. With stunning historical detail, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson gives us this definitive, vividly dramatic account of how these journeys unfolded.

Based on interviews with more than 1,000 people and access to new data and official records, The Warmth of Other Suns tells the story of America’s Great Migration through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, becoming the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country journeys, as well as how they changed their new homes forever.

This one will definitely require my full attention while reading it and will take me a while to get through. So I feel like I would need to be on a desert island to get to it and through it finally.

Book Three – Dune by Frank Herbert

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Melange, or ‘spice’, is the most valuable – and rarest – element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person’s life-span to making intersteller travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the noble House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens fight back, murdering Duke Leto Atreides. Paul, his son, and Lady Jessica, his concubine, flee into the desert. On the point of death, they are rescued by a band for Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who control Arrakis’ second great resource: the giant worms that burrow beneath the burning desert sands.

In order to avenge his father and retake Arrakis from the Harkonnens, Paul must earn the trust of the Fremen and lead a tiny army against the innumerable forces aligned against them.

And his journey will change the universe.

I have commitment issues when it comes to long books, and this is one long book I feel like I won’t be able to commit to unless I had plenty of time. So I think one would be another perfect choice for a desert island.

Book Four – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford her assigned name, Offred, means of Fred . She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.

I have tried to start this one a few times, but I just never take the time I need to focus on it, so I find myself putting it off. I would like to take the time and analyze it as I read it. I have watched the TV show and loved it. I think I would also spend some time thinking about the book and the TV show and comparing the two of them.

Book Five – Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Jane Austen’s subtle and witty novel of secrets and suppression, lies and seduction, brilliantly portrays a world where rigid social convention clashes with the impulses of the heart.

It tells the story of two very different sisters who find themselves thrown into an unkind world when their father dies. Marianne, wild and impulsive, falls dangerously in love, while Elinor suffers her own private heartbreak but conceals her true feelings, even from those closest to her.

This is another one I would like to take my time reading and analyze it as I read it.

My luxury item

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The essential item I would like to bring with me would be a permanent pen and an endless amount of paper to make notes. I am hoping that counts as one, but if not, a pen so I could underline the things I want to remember.

About Brenda

Through Goodreads, I started doing buddy reads, and that is how I met Lindsay. We started a reading group and called ourselves the Traveling Sisters. After a few group reads, Lindsay joined our blog. We have been reading and reviewing together for over 3 years on our blog Traveling Sisters Book Reviews.

Connect with Brenda:

Blog: https://travelingsistersbookreviews.com/

Twitter: @TSbookreviews

Desert Island Books with…. Sandra Forder

Desert Island Books

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog my good friend and member of my writing tribe, Sandra Forder, who has agreed to be whisked off to my desert island (and let’s face it, this is becoming a more and more appealing proposition!) with only five books and one luxury item to keep her company. Let’s see what she is taking with her.

Book One – Famine by Graham Masterson

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What happens when the richest nation on God’s Earth is driven to the outer limits of starvation?

When the grain crop failed in Kansas it seemed like an isolated incident and no one took much notice. Except Ed Hardesty. Then the blight spread to California’s fruit harvest, and from there, like wildfire, throughout the nation.

Suddenly America woke up to the fact that her food supplies were almost wiped out. Her grain reserves lethally polluted. And Botulism was multiplying at a horrifying rate.

This was a book I read around 20 years ago and really wish I kept a copy. Based in the US, what happens when all the crops fail and food is in short supply how does society act.  At the time I thought it could never happen, but with the pandemic, the chaos shown is true to how people acted and reacted. The story follows Ed Hardesty when he realises the failing crops are not just a local thing. The climax of the book surprised me, but I won’t spoil it. Read it for yourselves to discover the truth.

Book Two – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

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On a remote jungle island, genetic engineers have created a dinosaur game park.

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now one of mankind’s most thrilling fantasies has come true and the first dinosaurs that the Earth has seen in the time of man emerge.

But, as always, there is a dark side to the fantasy and after a catastrophe destroys the park’s defence systems, the scientists and tourists are left fighting for survival…

This book was so unexpected, as was its follow up, The Lost World.  The books came alive, and I devoured each page with relish.  As a child I had, as most children have, a fascination with dinosaurs. This was a leap into a world where they had been brought back from extinction and how they interacted with their human captors.  I loved the first film too, but the books offered so much more. As with most of Michael Crichton’s books, I felt I was there, experiencing things with the characters.

Book Three – A Boy And His Dog At The End Of The World by C. A. Fletcher  

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My name’s Griz.

I’ve never been to school, I’ve never had friends, in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, before all the people went away, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

He told stories of the deserted towns and cities beyond our horizons. I liked him – until I woke to find he had stolen my dog. So I chased him out into the ruins of the world.

I just want to get my dog back, but I found more than I ever imagined was possible. More about how the world ended. More about what my family’s real story is. More about what really matters.

I saw you had reviewed this book and I was intrigued. I love dystopian and disaster novels amongst my romance and although we were heading into the current pandemic, I could resist grabbing this book. I actually read it on a train from Helsinki to Turku on my way to visit my son. It was such a good book I didn’t pay attention to the scenery changing as we travelled across Finland.

Book Four – The Charm Bracelet by Melissa Hill

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Every charm tells a story… And Holly O’Neill knows this better than most. Many years ago she was sent a bracelet with just a single charm attached. The charms have been appearing ever since, often at challenging times, as if her mysterious benefactor knows exactly when she needs a little magic in her life.

As a result, Holly’s bracelet is her most prized possession. So when she finds someone else’s charm bracelet, she feels she has to try to reunite it with its owner. Even if the only clues she has to follow are the charms themselves.

On a search that will take her all over New York City at Christmas, Holly becomes ever more determined to piece together the details of this other charmed life. But what she doesn’t know is that her quest may also lead her somewhere she never expected …

I found this on a book swap shelf while on holiday in Sharm El Sheikh. The cover lured me to pick it up but, as soon as I started reading it, I was hooked.  This is the story of Holly who finds a charm bracelet and sets out to discover its rightful owner. Enjoy her travels through New York at Christmas as she follows each charm to reveal the story of the bracelet. On doing so he not only finds its owner but also a whole lot more.

Book Five – The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade – a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there – or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything – even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horror that patrol its corridors, to try and find out.

Again my love of dystopian fiction led me to pick this book up. I like the way Thomas changed from being scared and unsure, to being the leader of the resistance. I loved the imagery in this book and have read the trilogy to see how the story was completed. I love the mixture of characters but also the compassion Thomas shows to those less able than himself.

My luxury item

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The other essential I would take with me was a bowie knife.  I could use it to cut branches to make shelter, cut palm fronts for a roof and bedding. Make holes in coconuts and also make tools to catch fish or other animals.

About Sandra Forder

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Growing up in Lowestoft, the most easterly point in the UK, Sandra always found pleasure in losing herself in books.  She used to read Mills & Boon by the hundreds, and at one point had a collection of over 4000. She still loves them to this day, especially those by Kate Hardy. This fuelled her love of writing. She even tried her hand at writing Mills & Boon and had some great feedback in the past.  She then took a break from writing due to ill health and then starting a family.

Sandra joined the RNA around 12 years ago and met some wonderful authors who she now call friends, but then work took over and she stopped writing for several years. She recently re-joined the RNA and met her tribe who are supporting her with her journey to publication.

She writes YA, often with a twist. She is yet to be published by a mainstream publisher, but she did write two children’s books as Sandra Joanne Forder, which are available on Amazon. They are Woolly Pig’s Woolly Jumper and How The Giraffe got his Spots.

Connect with Sandra:

Twitter: @sahndree

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Desert Island Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Desert Island Books

My penultimate Desert Island book is one of my absolute favourite childhood novels. I used to take The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster out of Askern Library every single week, so my apologies to all the other children of this particular area of South Yorkshire who never got to read this marvellous book because it was perpetually out on loan to me! One wonders why my parents never bought me my very own copy as a present, given how often I read it, but they didn’t and I never owned it until I bought my own copy aged 24!

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

This is the story of Milo, a young boy who finds life very boring and can’t see the point in anything, until one day he comes home from school and finds someone has left him a mysterious package containing a toy tollbooth. With nothing better to do with his afternoon, Milo decides to play with it, and finds himself transported to another land, where he goes on a fantastical odyssey, meeting many strange creatures and carrying out feats of derring do along the way. When he finally comes home, his life is changed, as is the conclusion of all good children’s adventure stories. So far, so obvious.

What made this book so attractive to me as a child was the same thing that made me love C.S Lewis’s Narnia stories and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. The story is transportive, whisking the reader away from every day life and into the magical world of the Lands Beyond, which is inhabited by characters never to be met in the real world. Juster has built a believable, 3D world within the pages of this book, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences that a child can live and breathe through the power of his words. There are characters here to fall in love with and whom they will not want to leave behind. It was many years before I could read the part where Milo has to return to the real world, leaving behind Tock, the Humbug and all his new friends, without shedding a tear, and I think this was why I took the book from the library week after week, so I could reunite the gang again and again in my pre-bedtime hours. This is what great children’s books do, they create a world that becomes very real to a child, and one they want to return to repeatedly.

But, there is so much more to this book than a great story and beloved characters, and it is this extra quality that makes me want to have the book with me on my desert island. This book is very, very clever. While transporting the reader on the journey through the kingdom of Wisdom with Milo, it is teaching and exploring ideas about our world, the importance of knowledge, the excitement of learning and why we should try to look at everything around us a little differently. As you get older, the book can be appreciated on a whole different level, and the ideas that Juster explores in the book become clearer and gain more meaning as you mature and have more understanding of the world. Coming back to the book as an adult, the book makes my heart sing with the joy at the word play throughout the book. The author twists and twirls common words like a majorette twirls a baton, throwing them in the air and making them perform delightful and entertaining contortions in mid-air. Anyone who loves language and the exploration of ideas will chuckle in glee at the author’s allegorical story-telling, and marvel at the imagination which produced this masterpiece. I think I enjoy and appreciate the book now perhaps even more than I did as a child. It appeals to the word nerd inside me, and I never fail to come away from the story without a huge smile on my face and a gladdened heart.

So, the joy of this book for me, and the reason I would want it on my desert island is two-fold. Firstly, it reminds me of the immense pleasure I took in reading as a child, how I lost myself in faraway worlds and fantastical characters, all the while anchored to my own, normal life. The pleasure instilled in you as a child in reading is something that never leaves you and will see you through tough times throughout your life, as recent events have proven. I have never lost the joy I felt as a youngster in discovering a new world through words, and I hope I never will. Alongside this, the pleasure in revelling in what is just a very intelligent and brilliantly constructed novel that offers me something new each time I read it is something to be treasured. There are many ideas within this book to take away and apply to your life, including my favourite line:

So many things are possible, just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

I just want to say a word about the illustrations that accompany this book. I had never come across anything quite like Jules Feiffer’s scratchy, black-and-white interpretations of Juster’s world before, and I found them really intriguing. An interesting mix of showing the story, but also leaving something open to interpretation by the reader. I must have spent hours pouring over the double-page illustration in Chapter 19 showing all of the various demons chasing Milo and his friends and trying to make out the individual characters. These drawings appeal equally to adults and children, and fans of Quentin Blake’s illustrations will find them particularly attractive I think.

Over the years I have tried to interest my children in the books I loved passionately as a child, but very few of them have had the same appeal for them as they did to me. Often they now seem so dated that modern children can’t relate, and I am sure all bookworm parents will recognise the disappointment when your child rejects one of your beloved classics out of hand. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of only a few titles that are equally beloved by me and both of my daughters, who each now have their own copy. The book needs no further testament to its timeless appeal than that.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a wonderful book for any child, or any adult who wants to remember what it was like to be a child, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the Great Depression. There are still a number of people who attribute that catastrophic event directly to his birth.

He grew up in Brooklyn, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent a year in Liverpool, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship, doing graduate work in urban planning and learning to ride a motorcycle.

After spending three years in the U.S. Navy (1954-1957), he began working as an architect in New York. He opened his own firm and within a few years moved to Western Massachusetts and expanded his practice as Juster-Pope-Frazier. Their projects included the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, educational and cultural projects throughout New England, and a number of buildings for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He taught architecture and planning at Pratt Institute in New York and was Professor of Design at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970-1992.

He began writing seriously while in the Navy. His first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, was published in 1961. Winner of the George C. Stone Centre for Children’s Books Award, it is recognised as a classic and continues to be treasured by children and adults throughout the world. It was made into a feature film by MGM in 1969 and, more recently, into a musical. In 2007, it was produced at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. The nationwide tour will start in 2008

Other books he has written include The Dot and the Line, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by MGM and famed animator Chuck Jones; Alberic the WiseOtter NonsenseAs: A Surfeit of Similes; and the Caldecott Medal winner The Hello Goodbye Window. His latest book, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, is the sequel to The Hello Goodbye Window.

Mr. Juster is retired from the practice of architecture and from teaching but continues to write. He is currently adapting a short story he wrote into ballet and is working on several new books.

Norton Juster is lives in Western Massachusetts. He has a daughter and a granddaughter.

Connect with Norton:

Twitter: @NortonJuster1

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Desert Island Books with… Julie Stock

Desert Island Books

Today, on my remote islet, I have abandoned author Julie Stock, with only five excellent books and one luxury item to aid her survival. That’s all a person needs, right? Let’s see what she has with her shall we? Welcome to my island, Julie.

Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Desert Island Books feature, Julie. I think I would be useless on a desert island with no-one else to talk to, but having plenty of good books would certainly help to keep me sane! As I write romance myself, I have chosen some classic romances to take with me of course, but I’ve also chosen some other classics from different genres because I just love a great story.

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read this book, I always find a new detail every time. I just love the romance and the humour in the story, and all the characters so much. It’s the book I regularly read again, and I think that says it all. It’s also incredible that, for a book published at the beginning of the 19th century, it still resonates as much today.

Book Two – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I can still remember when I first read this book, and the moment when I understood what was coming. It is the only book I remember reading through buckets of tears, but despite that, I still pressed on. The love story in it is one of the most uplifting, yet also one of the saddest I’ve ever read. I do really like a good cry when I’m reading a book – I find it very cathartic – and this book achieved its aim so very well.

Book Three – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

I can still remember the sense of outrage I felt when I first read this book in my teens. I’d never read anything like it before that, and I felt so naïve as I read it, and began to understand that injustice like that does exist. I love Atticus of course, and above all, I love the sense of hope that threads through the story, even in the worst of times.

Book Four – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.

My daughter bought me this book a few years ago, and I struggled to read it for a while, but then gave up without finishing it, which is very unusual for me. So, if I’m going to be on a desert island, it would be good to have a very long book to read to pass the endless days while I wait to be rescued! I know the story of course, so I’m sure I would be able to finish it eventually…

Book Five – The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

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A story spanning centuries. A long awaited revenge.

In London, journalist Jo Clifford plans to debunk the belief in past-lives in a hard-hitting magazine piece. But her scepticism is shaken when a hypnotist forces her to relive the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, a noblewoman during the reign of King John.

She learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare, and the brutal death threats handed out by King John, before it becomes clear that Jo’s past and present are inevitably entwined. She realises that eight hundred years on, Matilda’s story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to repeat itself…

I had had this book on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally got round to reading it last year. I’d had a major operation and so I was devouring books even more than usual, and once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. It combines my love of history with a great thriller, and would bear re-reading for sure.

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I don’t think I could manage without an endless supply of hand cream, especially if I was going to have to be in and out of water to catch my food every day! I’m hoping this is going to be allowed…

About Julie Stock

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Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace is her latest book, and the second in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.

Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.

Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

She is married and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.

Julie’s latest book is Starting Over in the Vineyard in Alsace and you can buy a copy here.

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace

She’s proud, independent and about to be a single mum. Since his wife died, he’s become fiercely protective. Can they take another chance on love?

After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace determined to raise her child and to provide for them both without having to depend on anyone else.

Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier. He needs to move on from the tragedy of his past and to accept the truth of what happened.

When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together and their attraction deepens, they both find it hard to compromise – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.

Can Lottie and Thierry move on from their pasts, find a new beginning together and start over?

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julie-stock.co.uk/

Facebook: Julie Stock Author

Twitter: @wood_beez48

Instagram: @julie.stockauthor.

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Desert Island Books with… Helen Matthews

Desert Island Books

Today I have marooned author Helen Matthews on my isolated atoll with only five novels and one luxury item standing between her and madness. Let’s see what literary companions she has chosen, shall we?

Thanks for inviting me, Julie. I’ll be happy on the desert island for a while but please send a helicopter drop of more books after I’ve been there a couple of months.

I’m drawn to the darker side in my own writing and in my reading choices: flawed characters, unreliable narrators, unexplained deaths and hidden secrets. As well as psychological thrillers, I also read what I’d call ‘state of the nation’ novels by the likes of John Lanchester and Jonathan Coe, plus I try to keep up with literary fiction and books shortlisted for major prizes. When it came to choosing my desert island books, I was surprised to find I was drawn to thought-provoking books and some classics.

Book One – The Siege by Helen Dunmore

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Leningrad, September 1941.

Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

I discovered Helen Dunmore in the early 2000s, initially through her psychological suspense novels. Long before Gone Girl made the genre as popular as it now is, Dunmore was writing atmospheric twisty novels that stripped away layers from the characters to expose the darkness of their hearts. In her novels the bad guys don’t necessarily win: Your Blue-Eyed Boy; Zennor by Darkness; Mourning Ruby and With Your Crooked Heart are all dark reads, but they’re Iiterary in style with breath-taking imagery that gives a visceral satisfaction to the reading experience. Dunmore was a poet and writer of short stories before she turned to longer form but, later, she focused on historical novels. For my desert island book, I’ve chosen The Siege, set in Leningrad in September 1941 when Hitler’s troops surround the city and put it into lockdown. The novel is meticulously researched and depicts a level of human suffering we can scarcely imagine – boiling up shoe leather to make soup and, the ultimate sacrilege, using books to make a fire. The characters, a young couple, Anna and Andrei, and Anna’s father, are so psychologically real you feel as if you are with them, experiencing their suffering and terror along with their will to survive. The book has mini-epic qualities so there’s plenty to reflect on when I’m on the desert island.

Helen Dunmore died, aged 64, on the same day as my mother in June 2017 and I read her moving final poem ‘Hold Out Your Arms’, in which she reflected on her own death, at Mum’s funeral.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/06/helen-dunmores-family-reveal-poem-written-in-the-authors-last-days.

Book Two – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 

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From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship.

Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a city and a country undergoing momentous change.

When My Brilliant Friend was published a few years ago the author’s identity was a closely guarded secret. There are four books in Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels including Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; The Story of a New Name, and The Lost Child. The novels became word of mouth best sellers and have since been broadcast and filmed but I’ve not felt the need to watch the film because the books were so vivid. The novels are deceptively simple and tell the story of best friends, Lena and Lila, growing up in poverty in a working-class district of Naples in the 1950s. Both girls are extremely bright and must battle to get an education. Against a background of violence, prejudice in post-War, politically turbulent Italy, their lives pan out quite differently. The friendship between the women spans decades, yet we know from the opening of the first book that Lila has disappeared and read through the quartet of novels, desperate to unpick what happened to her. In putting the spotlight on her ‘brilliant friend’, Lila, the narrator, Lena, draws us in while her own story, equally transformative, emerges more slowly. Reading this novel was an immersive experience and I can only compare it with the joy I felt as a child when I first discovered the thrill of reading.

Book Three – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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The heroine of Tolstoy’s epic of love and self-destruction, Anna Karenina has beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son, but feels that her life is empty until she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake.

Contrasting with this is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

A long time ago, when I was reading English at Liverpool University, I remember a professor telling us that Anna Karenina was the perfect novel. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his reasons why! He also thought, in his opinionated way, that War and Peace was flawed. On the desert island I’ll need some massive epics to keep me engaged so I’ll pick up the challenge and decide for myself if this is the perfect novel. Choosing a nineteenth century classic rather than a serious contemporary novel is interesting. Why didn’t I go for Hilary Mantel? I’ve enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and have yet to tackle The Mirror and the Light but I can’t explain why that didn’t attract me.

Anna Karenina is superficially a love story that turns sour and ends in tragedy but it’s a universal story that still has resonance today. In many countries and cultures, twenty-first century Anna would be treated equally cruelly for leaving her husband and abandoning her son (thought that wasn’t her intention) to be with her lover, Vronsky. The world Tolstoy depicts is teeming with the vanished world and culture of pre-revolutionary Russia – a world that can only be explored in the pages of a novel and in the imagination.

Book Four – Beloved by Toni Morrison

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It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a harrowing story because it reflects the reality of a black woman’s experience in slavery. Even after escaping to Ohio, Sethe, the main character, still isn’t free. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, and by guilt, and her life is still unbelievably hard. The book made a profound impression on me when I first read it many years ago so I think it will be interesting to reread with a new perspective on the legacy of slavery from, for example,  the Black Lives Matter movement. In Britain, we used to smugly pretend to occupy some kind of moral high ground due to leading the movement to abolish slavery, but we can no longer turn a blind eye to how the likes of Bristol’s Edward Colston masqueraded as a philanthropist, while making his fortune as a slave trader. Novels like Beloved challenge us to be more empathetic and to better understand the legacy of slavery and how it still has an impact today.

Book Five – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

Profuse with her inimitable wit and charm, Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most beloved novels, and stands among literature’s greatest love stories.

With so many books and so little time, I’m not normally a big re-reader but I make an exception for Jane Austen. I’ve read all her novels at least four times but, if I have to choose one, it will be Pride and Prejudice. The superb characters and calm predictability of the plot with so many setbacks along the way to the happy ending, will soothe me when I’m alone on the island.

I live in Hampshire not far from the village of Chawton, where Austen spent her last years and wrote her greatest novels. Her mother and sister, Cassandra, are buried in the local churchyard but Jane’s grave is in Winchester Cathedral. We think of the Austens as a well to do, middle class family but, in fact, they were downwardly mobile. Jane was born in the rectory at Steventon, where her father was the vicar. After his retirement, the family moved to Bath and lived in rented apartments that were far from grand. After the father’s death, the Austen women became increasingly impoverished and moved to Southampton where one of Jane’s brothers supported them. At last their fortunes changed. Another brother,  Edward Austen, had been adopted when he was a young boy by wealthy relatives, who had no children of their own (that was a thing back then). Part of the deal was that Edward changed his name from Austen to Knight. He inherited two vast country estates, one in Kent and another in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, described by Jane as ‘the Great House’. When Edward came into his inheritance, he offered his mother and sisters a substantial house in Chawton where they settled for the rest of their lives. During her lifetime, Jane actually received two marriage proposals and turned both of them down. She and her sister, Cassandra, were incredibly close and I’m guessing that Jane understood perfectly well that, if she got married and had children, her time wouldn’t be her own – she’d never be able to write. Cassandra took on Jane’s share of household tasks so her sister could devote herself to her writing. Isn’t that amazing? Every author needs a Cassandra in her life.

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I’m a keen cyclist so would love a bike to ride around the island.

About Helen Matthews

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Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was  published by Darkstroke Books in September 2020.

Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.

She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.

Helen’s latest novel Façade is psychological suspense and was published on 17 September this year by Darkstroke Books. It’s dark and twisty family noir and  reviewers have said they couldn’t put it down. You can buy the book here.

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A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.

Silence echoes louder than truth.

When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.

Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.

Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.

The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.

As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.

Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com/

Facebook: Helen Matthews

Twitter: @HelenMK7

Instagram: @helen.matthews7

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Desert Island Books: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Desert Island Books

For my tenth, personal Desert Island Books, I have chosen Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night is the twelfth book in Sayers’ detective series featuring her aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, and is, in my opinion, her best novel. I first discovered the book via a recommendation from my school librarian as a teenager. It was the first novel by this author that I encountered and, despite the fact that I have subsequently read all the Wimsey books and enjoyed them, this remains my runaway favourite. I have reread it numerous times during the past 34 years and have taken something different from it on each occasion. Because this is no normal detective novel, and I will explain why.

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Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury College for the ‘Gaudy’ celebrations.

But soon, Harriet realises that she is not the only target of this murderous malice – and asks Lord Peter Wimsey to help.

There is so much going on in this novel, so many different layers and attractions to the story, that it rewards the reader with a new experience every time you pick it up, regardless of the number of times you have read it before. The first time I read it as a teenager, there was no possible way that I could have understood and appreciated all the themes and nuances of this novel, but that did not stop me falling in love with it immediately, and my affection and appreciation for the book has only deepened over the intervening decades.

This is no straightforward detective novel, although it works extremely well purely on that level. The mystery involves a vicious campaign of terror in a women’s college at Oxford University. The ‘terror’ is rather genteel by the standards of today’s crime novels, but the setting for this book is the Oxford of a bygone era. It is set in the inter-war years, where women were just finding emancipation and being admitted to such hallowed institutions as universities, where certain levels of behaviour were expected from women still, and the divisions between the sexes were more firmly delineated. Against this polite backdrop, the acts of the person with a grudge against the college seem almost deranged and dangerous and there is a high level of tension and fear running through the novel. The fact the author manages to make the plot so menacing without having resort to murder is the first evidence of her skill.

Aside from the detective aspect of the novel, this is also a passionate love story. Fans of Wimsey, particularly those who read the novels in order, will be aware that Harriet Vane was first introduced into the world of Wimsey in the novel Strong Poisonwhere she finds herself on trial for murder. She becomes the subject of Wimsey’s romantic affections, but resists his advances for five years. Gaudy Night is the book in which Harriet finally begins to realise that her feelings for Wimsey may not be as platonic as she has always believed, and she begins to explore them more deeply and honestly, and to see him in a new light. It becomes clear that her fears about entering into marriage, particularly to a wealthy, intelligent, successful and powerful man, will require her to give up her own independence and career may be unfounded, and that maybe Wimsey, despite his family’s ancient heritage and traditional background, maybe be a new breed of man who wants a wife who is an equal. Again, the romance and passion in the book are, due to the time at which this was written, are written coyly and through suggestion and innuendo, but this has the effect of somehow making them more intense, not less so. Another nod to the skill and genius of Sayers’ writing.

This leads neatly on to the main subject matter of the book, which is the exploration of female emancipation and what this means for the balance of power and responsibilities between the sexes. This is a world which is having to build relationships and expectations between the genders anew, where women are making choices between old gender stereotypes and fresh opportunities and men are having to adjust their attitudes to match, and there is resistance in some quarters, and from both sides. It is a fascinating window for those of us born into the modern era when these things are taken for granted onto what the struggle was like for those women who paved the way for our modern freedoms, and it is clear that this is something the author is passionate about herself. It has been suggested that Harriet Vane is an autobiographical character, through whom Sayers explored some of her own feelings about her place in the world. Sayers was one of the first women ever to receive a degree from Oxford, when females were admitted to these honours, and also admitted to a level of sexual freedom that was unusual amongst women at the time. Reading Gaudy Night, it is impossible not to conclude that the book is largely a treatise on Sayers’ view of women’s roles in the society in which she lived, how they were changing and the struggles they faced, both external and internal, and it is absolutely fascinating when read as such.

This is a hefty book, and densely written. The language is rich and descriptive and peppered with poetry, Latin and Greek quotations and musical and literary references. This is a scholarly work, written clearly by an academic mind and exceeds any expectations one might have of works of detective fiction. This is no pulpy crime novel, this is a book that is worthy of sitting alongside any classic novel on then bookshelves of the well-read, and I truly wish that it had a wider modern audience. Whilst the works of Agatha Christie are still widely read and celebrated, the works of Sayers seem more likely to slip into obscurity, and I think this is a crying shame because they are just as good in every way, and her skill may exceed Christie in some areas. Gaudy Night is the pinnacle of her work, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys detective novels set in this period, and enjoys some mental stimulation.

If you have never read any Sayers, I would advise either starting at the beginning with Whose Body?, the first book in the Wimsey series, or Strong Poison, the book which introduces Harriet Vane, and save Gaudy Night until you have eased your way into the world of Wimsey and fallen in love with him, then watch Harriet do the same in this truly astonishing achievement in detective fiction. I promise you will love it. Come back and call me out if you don’t.

Gaudy Night is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency.

In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world’s most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

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