Desert Island Children’s Books… A Dog So Small by Philippa Pearce

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This month’s pick for the children’s book I would take to my island is probably going to be a surprising one because it is not the best-loved book by this author. Philippa Pearce is most well-known as the author of Tom’s Midnight Garden but the book of hers which I have chosen is A Dog So Small.

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Young Ben Blewitt is desperate for a dog. He’s picked out the biggest and best dogs from the books in the library – and he just knows he’s going to get one for his birthday. Ben is excited when the big day arrives, but he receives a picture of a dog instead of a real one! But the imagination can be a powerful thing, and when Ben puts his to work, his adventures really begin!

This is the story of a young boy who longs for a dog to be his friend. Ben is the middle child in his family of five. With two older sisters and two younger brothers, Ben doesn’t really fit in with either group and would love a dog to alleviate his loneliness. But, living in a small house in south London with six other people, it just isn’t possible. His only contact with dogs is when he visits his grandparents in the country. However, Ben’s hopes are raised when his grandfather hints that they may give him a dog for his birthday.

On the day, he is disappointed when only a picture of a tiny dog is delivered. However, after his initial disappointment, Ben becomes intrigued by the image of the tiny dog that his great-uncle brought back from Mexico. As he learns more and more about the chihuahua embroidered in the picture, his imagination begins to imbue the dog with life until it becomes more real to him than what surrounds him in real life. As Ben is consumed by his imaginary life, things in the real world take a terrible turn, but then finds sometimes dreams come true in unexpected ways.

The story really captures the power of a child’s dreams, and the disappointment that needs to be faced when the reality which manifests doesn’t match the fantasy. This author really understands the emotions of a child and is adept at expressing them on the page. When I was young and read this book. I could relate to what Ben was feeling and all the range of emotions he went through, and the book is still powerful even now when I went back to it. The way he feels loneliness and isolation in the midst of a big family, and the comfort and love animals can bring is a universal experience that many people share. The thing children want most is to be understood, and this book can make a child feel that way, which is a real skill in an author.

A very unique story that I can still see why I loved as a child.

You can buy a copy of A Dog So Small here.

About the Author

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Philippa Pearce spent her childhood in Cambridgeshire and was the youngest of four children of a flour-miller. The village, the river, and the countryside in which she lived appear more or less plainly in Minnow on the Say and Tom’s Midnight Garden.

She later went on to study English and History at Cambridge University. She worked for the BBC as a scriptwriter and producer, and then in publishing as an editor. She wrote many books including the Modern Classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden, for which she won the Carnegie Medal. She was also awarded an OBE for services to Children’s Literature.

Sadly, Philippa died in 2006, at the age of 86.

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Louise Douglas

Awards

In this week’s instalment of my interviews with the winners of the 2021 Romantic Novel Awards, I am chatting with the winner of the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award, author Louise Douglas.

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Louise, congratulations on winning the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel The House By The Sea and thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me for the blog.

Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award was a new category for the awards in 2020. I remember hearing the new category announced at the 2019 awards and it caused much excitement. How does it feel to be one of the first winners of the award, and to be following in the footsteps of such a titan of the industry?

It feels amazing, something that I shall treasure for the rest of my life. I’m still buzzing! It’s fantastic that the RNA is helping bring the work of wonderful Jackie Collins to new generations of readers and I couldn’t be more proud. #BeMoreJackie

How did you feel on the night when you heard your name announced? You seemed to be stunned that you had won. 

I was stunned! Before the announcement, I was in a virtual ‘green room’ with the other shortlisted authors and it was such a strong line-up; wonderful authors and fabulous books. I still can’t quite believe what happened.

I loved the fact that you thanked bloggers in your acceptance speech, and name-checked a few who obviously had an impact on you. What do you feel that bloggers can bring to the table for authors?

I’m so grateful to the blogging community and have made some treasured friends. Social media is a major part of most people’s lives now and the work bloggers do to champion books, and reading, is so important for us. It’s brilliant for an author when a blogger writes a fantastic review, or, like you’re doing here, makes a bridge between writers and readers. And, as a voracious reader, bloggers often help me decide which book to pick up next. 

Your winning novel, The House By The Sea, is set in an abandoned villa in Sicily. what inspired you to set a book in that particular location? What research did you do to make the setting so authentic?

We went to the south-eastern region of Sicily to explore the World Heritage baroque towns and cities of the Val di Noto made famous in the TV adaptations of the Montalbano novels. I fell head over heels in love with the region; it is one of my top three favourite places on earth and I would recommend it to everyone. It was during this holiday that we found the villa that was the inspiration for the house in the book.

The success of the novel clearly lies in the strong relationship between setting, characters and plot. Which came first for you when you first conceived this novel? Is that the way is usually works in your writing, that one aspect of the novel draws the rest of it together or is it different every time?

That’s an interesting question. I usually start with a location. If a plot idea comes first, I never use it until I find the right location. With the House by the Sea, I’d wanted to write about people who had been badly hurt by life, and Sicily, a beautiful, deeply interesting island that has itself endured much trauma and that has its dark side, was the perfect setting. 

Your award was in the category for a ‘romantic novel with thriller, mystery, crime or suspense elements.’ Which aspect of this are you drawn to most, the romance or the thriller, or do they always have to work together for you? Can you see yourself ever being pulled in the direction of purely one or the other?

I love writing romance but all my books have a Gothic element to them so I can’t imagine writing a love story without suspense or mystery of some kind. I have written mystery/suspense stories with no traditional romance – although there is always love in some guise. 

Much as we all like to celebrate past successes, our focus soon has to turn forwards and on to the next project. What do you have in the pipeline and what influence do you see winning this award having on your writing and future career?

The biggest boost that winning this award has given me, is to my confidence. It’s made a massive difference and because I wasn’t plagued with as many of the usual insecurities, I finished my next novel in record time. It’s being published in October, is called The Room in the Attic and is set in an old Victorian asylum now used as a boarding school. The main characters are an ageing nurse, the child in her care, and two 13-year-old school pupils. I don’t want to jinx the book but these characters are probably my favourites of all those I’ve ever written. Fingers crossed that other people like them too. 

Thank you so much for the interview and for inviting me onto your blog Julie, it’s lovely to be here and I really enjoyed answering the questions. 

Good luck to all the RNA 2022 entrants!

Louise, thank you so much for answering my questions today, I have loved hearing about your experiences.

The 2022 Romantic Novel Awards are now open for entry until 30 September 2021.

Louise’s award-winning book, The House By The Sea, can be purchased here in all formats. Watch out for my review of the book coming soon.

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The new chilling and captivating novel from the bestselling author of Richard & Judy pick The Secrets Between Us.

When Edie’s mother-in-law, Anna DeLuca, dies, she is relieved. Edie blames Anna for the accident that destroyed her family. So, when her will lures Edie to Sicily and the long-abandoned Villa della Madonna del Mare, she sees through Anna’s games.

Suspecting Anna is meddling from beyond the grave to try to reunite her and her ex-husband Joe, Edie is determined to leave Italy as soon as possible. But before she can, the villa starts to shed its mysterious secrets.

Who are the girls beside Anna in her childhood photos, and why has the face of one of them been scratched out? Why does someone, or something, want them to leave the past untouched? The villa is a place where old ghosts feel at home, but does their legacy need to be laid to rest before Edie and Joe can move on…

Bestselling author Louise Douglas returns with a captivating, chilling and unforgettable tale of betrayal, jealousy and the mysteries hidden in every family history.

About the Author

Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.

Connect with Louise:

Facebook: Louise Douglas Author

Twitter: @LouiseDouglas3

Instagram: @louisedouglas3

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Blog Tour: Grown Ups by Marie Aubert; Translated by Rosie Hedger #BookReview

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Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and starting to panic. She’s navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs, but forces these worries to the back of her mind as she sets off to the family cabin for her mother’s sixty-fifth birthday.

But family ties old and new begin to wear thin, out in the idyllic Norwegian countryside. Ida is fighting with her sister Marthe, flirting with Marthe’s husband and winning the favour of Marthe’s stepdaughter. Some supposedly wonderful news from her sister sets tensions simmering even further, building to an almighty clash between Ida and her sister, her mother, her whole family.

Exhilarating, funny and unexpectedly devastating, Grown Ups asks what kind of adult you are without a family of your own.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Grown Ups by Marie Aubert. My thanks to Tara McEvoy of Pushkin Press for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, provided via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This was such a melancholic book to read, I wasn’t expecting it at all. We are following the story of Ida, as she goes out to her family’s holiday cabin on the edge of a fjord to celebrate her mother’s birthday, along with her stepfather, her sister and her sister’s family. Ida’s life isn’t going to plan at all. She is forty, alone and contemplating freezing her eggs before time runs out.

Ida is quite a hard character to like, to be honest. She seems pathologically jealous of her sister, to the point where she is actively destructive. I understand where she is coming from. Her sister is hugely annoying – demanding and self-centred – and everyone seems to pander to her. At least this is how it looks to Ida, and she feels side-lined by the rest of the family. I have three sisters, and sometimes they can wind me up because we are all very different people, but I would never behave to them the way Ida does. She seems quite sly, which is hard to warm to.

In fact, most of the people in this story, and it is a small cast, are quite dysfunctional. The one person who isn’t, probably because he is so peripheral, Ida hates, probably because he observations on her behaviour are so acute and she doesn’t like having her faults mirrored back at her. In fact, I am sure the author meant Stein to act a little as Ida’s conscience, not that she takes much notice of him.

This is an excoriating treatise on family relationships, and how some people’s are so transactional. If you don’t behave a certain way, affection can be withheld. It is a diatribe against the expectations society has, with the family acting as a microcosm of society here, on women and how women feel when they can’t meet those expectations. How it undermines their own opinion of themselves. I didn’t get the impression that Ida liked herself very much, she certainly isn’t happy, but I also wasn’t convinced she wanted the things she was pursuing particularly for herself, but because that is what society expects her to do.

The book is beautifully written, with very detailed and well-developed characters who were very realistic on the page. Perhaps too realistic. I fully believed in the relationships that were playing out on the page, and they made me deeply sad. It is astounding to me that this book was written by someone young, as it has such a world-weary air. It is a sorry reflection of modern society that this is how it still makes women feel when they do not conform to an outdated stereotype.

This is a fantastically crafted novel, with some beautiful imagery, impressive characterisation and thought-provoking themes. It reminded me of how I felt after reading Sarah Moss’s exceptional Summerwater last year. Moved but profoundly sad. If you are looking for something meaningful to read, look no further.

Grown Ups is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Marie Aubert made her debut in 2016 with the short story collection Can I Come Home With You, which sold more than 10,000 copies in Norway. Grown Ups is her first novel, and won the Young People’s Critics’ Prize (Norway’s equivalent to the Goncourt des lyceens) and was nominated for the Booksellers’ Prize. Rights have already been sold in ten other countries.

Connect with Marie:

Twitter: @marieau

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Shirley Mann

Awards

Today, my series of interviews with the winners of the Romantic Novel Awards 2021 continues with Shirley Mann, winner of the Romantic Saga Award with her novel, Bobby’s War.

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Shirley, congratulations on winning the Romantic Saga Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel Bobby’s War. You appeared totally shocked to have won this award on the night. Were you really as surprised as you seemed? Has it sunk in yet?

It’s so lovely of you to ask me to appear on your blog, Julie, thank you. 

Oh dear, it showed did it? I was completely stunned. After all, this is only my second novel and I had been prepared to dine out forever on being nominated but once I checked the rest of the terrifyingly successful authors on the shortlist, I thought, oh well, I’ll just pour myself a G and T and enjoy the evening. In fact, it was only five minutes beforehand that someone suggested we should all have a list of thank yous ready, just in case, so I’d scribbled some on the edge of the newspaper next to me. I could hardly get a coherent word out, so those notes saved the day. And as far as it sinking in, nah!

Bobby’s War is only your second novel. What does it mean to you to have won this award so early on in your career? What affect do you think it will have on your future career? What reaction have you had to your win so far?

Future career? Oh help, I have no idea. I’m so new to all this that I’m sort of muddling along but believe me, I’m loving being able to add ‘award-winning author’ to every possible communication I send out! It’s huge kudos and I had no idea how much it would propel me into the spotlight. I’d love to be able to say that I have a plan for my future career, but that might be a complete exaggeration. I wrote one book just to see whether I could and somehow, I now have a contract for four. If I think too far ahead, it leads to panic, so I try to stick with the present and leave the future to sort itself out. I was taught by my parents that to succeed, you have to learn to fail so I’ve probably gone through life not being scared to fail and that has helped because, frankly, what can possibly go wrong?

You mentioned in your acceptance speech that you didn’t start writing until you were 60 years old, which gives me hope as a still-aspiring writer at the age of 49 that I haven’t left it too late. What made you start on the road to publication at that age?

Oh, you’re a mere youngster! This is my third career and I certainly didn’t think it through but I know I couldn’t have written a novel while I was working so I don’t know you authors like you do it. I worked firstly as a journalist, mainly for the BBC and between that and bringing up a family, there was hardly enough time to read a novel, let alone write one. Then, at 46, I set up my own media company doing PR and making films for environmental organisations like Natural England and the National Heritage Lottery Fund. That was fun but then I was beginning to feel a little too old to be climbing over fences in fields lugging huge camera equipment with me so I thought, OK, let’s try that novel, but I really didn’t think it would lead to a third career. However, I think it’s really important never to feel it’s too late and certainly, the wonderful women I interview for my books make me feel like a spry youngster!

I know your parents’ love story inspired your writing. Can you expand on that a little for me and tell us how the idea for Bobby’s War came about?

The last three years of my mum’s life were a little difficult and we struggled to remember the slightly Irish woman who used to dance around the kitchen so just before she died, I asked her more and more about her time in the WAAFs and watched her eyes light up as she remembered the seismic change in the life of an ordinary 19-year-old from Manchester. These girls were expected to just take over from their mums and suddenly, they were thrust into a world where there was terror, yes, but also excitement and new experiences and they found they were more capable than they- or anyone else- expected. Unable to ask my mum any more questions, I raced around the country to talk to servicewomen already in their late 80s and 90s. They inspired me so much, I then felt a huge responsibility to tell their stories. Once I’d heard about the Air Transport Auxiliary pilots, there was no going back. I was so in awe of what they had achieved- they flew everything from Spitfires to huge bombers on their own, without radios, radar or navigation equipment. They used a ruler and a compass, for heavens sake! I couldn’t believe it when Mary Ellis invited me to her home on the Isle of Wight to interview her. It was an amazing experience and gave me the confidence to tackle ‘Bobby’s War’ but believe me, she was so competent and in control, I knew I was going to have to make my heroine have just a few more frailties than she had. I felt I was in the presence of the head girl! She died at the age of 101 just a few weeks later and I am so grateful I met her, she really was an inspiration. 

Shirley Mann with ATA pilot, Mary Ellis

Your books are all about strong, independent women stepping out of their comfort zones when it counts. What is it about these women that ignites your desire to tell their stories?

I am a product of the 70s when we ditched our bras and thought we could change the world but once I started to meet these self-effacing women from the war era, I realised we were too late; it had already been done, it was just that none of these 90-year-olds thought to mention it. We hear so much about the heroic exploits of men, but these WAAFs, ATA pilots and Land Army girls (and-plot spoiler-maybe a female police officer for book 4) didn’t just break glass ceilings, they smashed them. But they didn’t all start off strong and I particularly wanted to depict real women, so Lily is strong but a bit dizzy, Bobby is terrifyingly capable with planes but rubbish with people and Hannah is shy and has to find her own strengths while hunting rats, being knee deep in mud and coming across men who see her as an easy target. Having been privileged enough to meet so many real servicewomen from the war, I now feel a moral duty to take readers into their worlds and talk about everything from how they managed with Eau de Cologne instead of shampoo, made skirts without pleats to save material and lived on a diet of reconstituted eggs-even periods were a challenge. At a time when we’ve been complaining that we can’t go out for a meal or travel abroad on holiday, their stories have been timely reminders of how lucky our generation has been.

We spoke briefly about our mutual love of the Isle of Man and your upcoming research trip there. How much research goes in to your books, what is your research process and how long does the research for one book take?

Oh the beloved research! A source of love and hate in my life. My background as a journalist means I panic if I haven’t got a safety blanket of facts, so I go to ridiculous lengths to check things. I once spent two days trying to find out whether ginger was available to make biscuits in 1942 before I realised I could make them garibaldi biscuits! I start off by getting a feel for where I am setting the book, preferably by travelling there and just walking around or even taking a trip on Google Earth. Then I immerse myself in any personal memories, either in books or in person, that will take me into that world, then I start to write, making endless notes in the side column for things I need to check later. But the part I love the best is real people’s stories- the ones that aren’t in the history books, like the fact that they all carried round an old penny piece to use as a plug for basins because all the rubber had gone to the war effort. As soon as Lockdown eased, I raced to Salhouse in Norfolk and accosted every local I came across. From that  trip, I found out about the buses on a Sunday in 1943 to Norwich from a lovely 95 year old called Joyce then I went into the station in Norwich and asked about trains from Norwich to Manchester. The girl behind the counter told me it depended on the time. You should have seen her face when I told her – 1943.  I love the research, to be honest, sometimes, I’m in danger of forgetting to write, but it is nice when you’re not feeling very inspired to have something you can do that makes you feel you are ‘doing the book’ and research is never wasted, in fact, the problem is you need to do so much research for one single throwaway line. But I live in fear of people finding something anachronistic or just plain wrong in my books so I do everything I can to get it right. 

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I’m sure mention of your trip to the Isle of Man will have piqued your readers’ curiosity about what they can expect in your next book? Any sneaky clues as to what you have coming up?

The next book to be published will actually be ‘Hannah’s War’ about a Land Army girl and that’s out as an ebook in October with the paperback following in March next year but for Book 4, I’ve been on tenterhooks waiting to see whether the Isle of Man government would let travellers in and as I’m double-jabbed, I have just discovered I can travel, so I’m off there this week. I love writing books about areas of the war people don’t know about and as soon as I discovered the Isle of Man had internment camps where they put everyone they didn’t know what to do with, I was intrigued. The island became a melting pot of Nazis, Jews, Conscientious Objectors, Fascist Mosley supporters and prostitutes all having to learn to live together. Yep, you’re right, I couldn’t wait to write that one. The trouble was, I wanted to write about a Queen Alexandra nurse but then, after several months of working out my plot, I found out there weren’t any on the island so I went into a blind panic until I discovered there were women police officers- really unusual at the time. Phew!  

My parents spent time in the IOM when my dad retired and they are both buried there so I have a huge affection for it and having started with their wartime romance, I feel I’ve come full circle by placing my next book there. I just hope the next book and all my books to justice to my parents’ legacy and that of all those wonderful women who were kind enough to share their stories with me.

Shirley, thank you for being so generous with your time, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this interview and hearing your stories.

Shirley’s award-winning novel, Bobby’s War is available now and you can buy a copy here.

Bobby's War cover

On the ground, the crowd of men stood with their mouths agape, watching the wings soar into the air, the tail kept impressively steady and the small plane with a woman at the controls disappearing into the May sunshine

It’s 1942 and Bobby Hollis has joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in a team known as the ‘glamour girls’ – amazing women who pilot aircraft all around the country.

Bobby always wanted to escape life on the family farm and the ATA seemed like the perfect opportunity for her. But there’s always something standing in her way. Like a demanding father, who wants to marry her off to a rich man. And the family secrets that threaten to engulf everything.

As Bobby navigates her way through life, and love, she has to learn that controlling a huge, four-engined bomber might just be easier than controlling her own life . . .

About the Author

Shirley is a journalist who has spent her life juggling various careers in writing, broadcasting and lecturing, none of which had a regular contract, salary or pension. She started working as a reporter for a local newspaper in Chester, then went through a panoply of equally unknown publications until she started work for the BBC, where she moved through radio to television as a reporter, presenter and producer. She then set up her own media company with lecturing as a sideline, producing short films for environmental organisations. 

The fact that she is now, apparently, an author, has taken her by complete surprise, particularly as the first book, ‘Lily’s War’, took six years to write and would have been consigned to a drawer if it had not been for a foot operation that forced her to sit and be bored for weeks, reaching back into that drawer for something to do. Her compulsive need to talk to strangers led to a random chat with an agent at a writers’ conference and somehow, as a result of that, she got a four-book deal with Zaffre at Bonnier Books. Her first two books, ‘Lily’s War’ about a WAAF in Bomber Command and ‘Bobby’s War’ about an ATA pilot have now been published. Her third book, ‘Hannah’s War’ is about a Land Army girl is out in October as an e book and in paperback early next year and the fourth is based around the internment camp for women in the Isle of Man and will be published the year after. 

She lives with her husband in a gorgeous market town on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District, heading off regularly with her camper van and her bike. She has two grown up daughters, one of whom failed to listen to her mother and works in television and the other works in the environmental sector. 

Connect with Shirley:

Website/Blog: https://shirleymannauthor.home.blog/

Facebook: Shirley Mann Author

Twitter: @shirleymann07

Instagram: @shirleymann2600

 

Don’t forget, entries for the 2022 Romantic Novel Awards are now open and you can find details of how to enter on the Romantic Novelists’ Association website.

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Kate Hardy

Awards

I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off my series of interviews with the winners of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 2021 Romantic Novel Awards by welcoming the marvellous Kate Hardy to the blog.

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Kate, congratulations on winning the Liberta Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award in the Romantic Novel Awards 2021 with your novel A Will, A Wish and A Wedding and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

Thank you very much for having me!

You were clearly very emotional when your name was announced as the winner on the night of the awards. Have you come back down to earth yet? Just how much does winning this award mean to you?

I’m just about back down to earth now 🙂 Winning the award means everything — I think most of the writers I know doubt themselves, and I’ve had a few months recently where really I’ve doubted myself. Winning the award reassures me that I’m doing something right! 

You have been writing books for Mills and Boon for twenty years and this is your 90th novel. It is a huge achievement to have sustained a career for that length of time. Why do you love being a Mills and Boon author?

Thank you for the compliment. I love writing M&Bs because they’re the kind of books that make the world a brighter place and give people an escape and a bit of belief in happy endings — this last eighteen months in particular, I think we’ve all needed that. A letter a reader sent me some years ago was the real icing on the cake for me; she said that when she’s having a rough day, she reads one of my books because she knows she’ll end it feeling that the world is a good place again. Being able to do that for someone is just wonderful.

It is a tough discipline for a writer to fully develop a romantic story arc within the confines of the lower word count demanded by this type of novel. What draws you to the format of the shorter novel and how do you stop yourself rambling on (asking for a friend!)?

I like the challenge! Though I do moan about it sometimes (when my editor makes me kill off most of my secondary characters, cough cough). To stop yourself rambling: keep the descriptions short, keep secondary characters to a minimum, and remember that the book is all about the emotional journey of your characters — if what you’ve written doesn’t move that journey forwards, then it needs cutting! 

You are clearly a success story in this genre, one that is sometimes looked down upon by people who have never attempted to write in it, but I know those who have tried say it is not as easy as you make it look, and there are strict requirements needed for a successful Mills and Book title. Do you have any tips for anyone who would love to write for this publisher?

Quite often, the people who sneer about M&Bs haven’t actually read one, so they’re missing out on a treat! M&Bs are short novels with a strong character arc — our characters definitely learn to grow and compromise during the book — and a happy ending (that’s it as far as the strict requirements go). If you want to write one, I’d recommend that you read a few of the most recent books in each line (True Love, Medical, Modern and Historical are the main UK lines) and work out which line you enjoy reading most: that’s the type your voice is likely to fit best. You need a conflict that can be sustained for a whole book (if the hero and heroine can solve it just by talking, the conflict’s not strong enough). Start the book at a point of change and introduce the conflict; dig deeply into the characters’ motivations; give us a point where we think it’s not going to work out; and then show us the characters changing so they can resolve their conflict and reach a happy ending.  

Could you tell me a little bit about A Will, A Wish and A Wedding and how the idea for this award-winning novel came about?

It started with a trip to Norwich Castle Museum when I was very small. Margaret Fontaine was a Victorian lepidopterist and her collection used to be showcased in the museum – I particularly loved the blue butterflies. Originally the book was going to be a bit of a ghost story, but my editor said no; we compromised with the idea of matchmaking from beyond the grave, and I got to write about my butterflies! So my lepidopterist heroine Alice is left a house that she could make into an education centre and butterfly house. (I had a lot of fun doing the research — locally in Norfolk, in exactly the places I mention in the book, and then talking my best friend into a research trip to the Horniman Butterfly House is London.) I wanted the hero to be able to bring something to the project as well (hence being an architect), but I also wanted him to be very suspicious of the heroine. When Hugo and Alice start to work together, they realise that they’ve got completely the wrong idea about each other. Hence the will, a wish… and you’ll have to read it to find out how the wedding fits in! (The proposal is definitely a bit different…)

I have seen this book referred to in some reviews as ‘eco-romance.’ Is this a new genre we will be seeing more of? Is it something you deliberately set out to write? Are you blazing a trail here and will we see more of it from you?

The book’s primarily about love, though there is an eco background with the rewilding project. I’m not sure it’s a new genre; it’s maybe more likely that, over the last few months of lockdown, we’ve all become a bit more aware of our surroundings and maybe we’re seeing that in what we read. 

What is coming up from you next in your writing? Do you have a new book coming out soon?

I have a duet out in August: Second Chance with her Guarded GP and Baby Miracle for the ER Doc. It’s about twin brothers; one of them needs a kidney transplant, and the other gives his brother a kidney. It means the end of an engagement for the GP, and the daredevil emergency doctor is forced to do the one thing that’s a real four-letter word for him: rest. But while they recuperate from the operation they meet a nurse practitioner and an emergency doctor who change everything. 

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Kate, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Kate’s award-winning book, A Will, A Wish and a Wedding is available now and you can buy a copy here.

Watch out for my reviews of all the 2021 RONA award-winning novels coming later in the summer.

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Will an unexpected legacy…

…lead to wedding bells?

When Hugo Grey’s aunt leaves her house to Alice Walters – a complete stranger! — he is baffled. Especially as the will states Hugo must help Alice convert it into a butterfly centre! He and Alice clash over everything, except his attraction to the captivatingly feisty butterfly expert which is hard to ignore…

About the Author

Kate Hardy is an award-winning author of more than 90 books for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She’s won the RNA Liberta Books Shorter Fiction Awards three times (formerly Romance Prize and RoNA Rose): for ‘A Will, a Wish and a Wedding’ (2021), ‘Bound By a Baby’ (2014) and ‘Breakfast at Giovanni’s’ (2008).

She lives in Norwich in the east of England with her husband, two children, two springer spaniels (Archie and Dexter), and too many books to count. She’s a bit of a nerd who loves music, the theatre, ballet, history and cooking, and adores anything Italian. She loves doing research, particularly if it’s hands-on and means experimenting with cooking. Reviewers say that her books are full of warmth, heart and charm – and also that you’ll learn something new and interesting from them! 

Connect with Kate:

Website –https://www.katehardy.com

Facebook: Kate Hardy Author

Twitter: @katehardyauthor

Instagram: @katehardyauthor

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Introducing The Romantic Novel Awards Interview Series

Awards

For fans of romantic novels and industry insiders, The Romantic Novel Awards are the highlight of the year, where the best writing in the genre is celebrated and rewarded. The entry period for the 2022 awards is now open, closing on 30 September 2021.

To celebrate the awards, and in anticipation of next year’s ceremony, I am delighted to be bringing you a series of interviews with the winners of The Romantic Novel Awards 2021, where we will be discussing their writing, their careers, their views on what makes for an award-winning romance novel, and what winning this award meant to them.

The interviews will be running weekly every Thursday, beginning Thursday, 8 July and going right through until the beginning of September. The interviewees are:

The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award Winner – Clare Pooley for The Authenticity ProjectBantam Press

The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award – Kate Hardy for A Will, a Wish and a Wedding, Mills & Boon True Love

The Romantic Saga Award – Shirley Mann for Bobby’s War, Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK

The Romantic Comedy Novel Award – Carole Matthews for Sunny Days and Sea Breezes, Sphere, Little, Brown

The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award – Louise Douglas forThe House by the Sea, Boldwood Books

The Fantasy Romantic Novel Award – Christina Courtenay for Echoes of the Runes, Headline Review

The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award – Milly Johnson for My One True North, Simon & Schuster

The Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award – Catherine Tinley for Rags-to-Riches Wife, Mills & Boon Historical

The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award – Julie Houston for Sing Me a Secret, Aria, Head of Zeus

I’m really excited to share these interviews with you, I know you will enjoy reading them as much I have enjoyed doing them, so I hope you will join me and my guests over the coming weeks in this celebration of romantic fiction.

For more information about the awards, please visit the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards page.

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede; Narrated by Ray Porter #Audiobook

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When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

As the passengers stepped from the airplanes, exhausted, hungry and distraught after being held on board for nearly 24 hours while security checked all of the baggage, they were greeted with a feast prepared by the townspeople. Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches. Linens and toiletries were bought and donated. A middle school provided showers, as well as access to computers, email, and televisions, allowing the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

Over the course of those four days, many of the passengers developed friendships with Gander residents that they expect to last a lifetime. As a show of thanks, scholarship funds for the children of Gander have been formed and donations have been made to provide new computers for the schools. This book recounts the inspiring story of the residents of Gander, Canada, whose acts of kindness have touched the lives of thousands of people and been an example of humanity and goodwill.

Category 10 in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book with a vehicle on the cover,’ so I chose this non-fiction book from my TBR pile, bearing the image of a plane. I have been meaning to read The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede for a long while, and this provided the perfect opportunity, although I actually ended up listening to this as an audiobook.

No one who was alive and of sufficient maturity to understand what was happening on 9/11 will ever forget where they were when the planes struck the World Trade Centre. A day on which the evil that man was capable of wreaking on their fellow man was terribly evidenced to the eyes of the world. Well, this book displays the other side of that coin and demonstrates the love, generosity and selflessness that humans can lavish on one another at times of great need. Whilst the world reeled in the face of absolute, unbelievable horror, the airline passengers who found themselves stranded in Gander, Newfoundland on that terrible day saw the antithesis of this is the welcoming people of this tiny place.

I had never really thought about what happened to all the hundreds of planes that were in the air, bound for the USA, when the terrorist attacks caused the closing of US airspace until I came across this book but the story of what happened to those planes, or a small proportion of them anyway, is unbelievable and fascinating as laid out in the pages of this book. How the hundreds of stranded flights were handled by the air traffic controllers, then at the over-whelmed airports, then by the places they ended up, is all laid out here as shining examples of what can be achieved by good-hearted people rallying to the cause and performing amazingly under pressure. Everyone was united in the horror at what had been done in New York and determined to support people affected by showing them that goodness still existed in a world gone mad.

I have to tell you that I spent nearly the whole of this book on the verge of tears (not great when you are listening as you drive!), because all the stories are so moving. I have visited the WTC site and 9/11 museum since that awful day and seen the aftermath of the horror. It is something that will never leave me – and rightly so because it is only by remembering these things and understanding (as far as it is possible to understand such evil and madness) why they happened that we can take steps to ensure we personally act in a way that tries to ensure they don’t happen again. So, to read stories of the opposite side of the coin, that reassure you that good still exists in the world, that most people are basically decent and loving – well, it restores your faith in humanity. Given some of what is going on now and the rhetoric we see, we need reminding of this from time to time.

I really loved this book, it moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting and that doesn’t come often in non-fiction and I will definitely come back to it again when my soul needs a lift. It is strange to say that any book dealing with the events surrounding 9/11 can be uplifting, but it is definitely true of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you are feeling jaded and need reminding that good people exist in the world.

The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland is available in paperback and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in TalkThe New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.

Connect with Jim:

Facebook: Jim DeFede

Twitter: @DeFede

Instagram: @jim_defede

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Book Review: The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin #BookReview

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An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here.

Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.

Every so often a book comes along that affects you so powerfully that you can’t stop thinking about it, and it lives on in your mind and your heart long after you have turned the last page. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one such book. It’s a really surprising thing to say about a book that deals with terminal illness in a young person, but this book is warm, uplifting, powerful and even joyous in places and it is definitely going to be one of my books of the year.

Lenni is an absolutely extraordinary character. Seventeen-years-old and living in hospital, in the end stages of a terminal disease, you would think she would be a person for whom your main emotion would be pity. However, Lenni is not someone who allows that. She doesn’t feel any for herself, and she is so fierce, forthright, determined, sparky, generous and full of life, that you simply can’t feel it either. I absolutely adored her right from the beginning of the book, until the end; fell so deeply in love with her that the book broke me apart as her story unfolded. But pity, no, that was not one of the things I was left feeling. She is probably now one of my favourite ever characters from a novel.

Add then to this scenario, Margot, a fellow hospital resident. Margot is 83 and has lived a full, rich, long and surprising life. Her friendship with Lenni may seem odd at first but, as the story develops, you realise these two have a lot in common and have come into each others’ lives at a time when it is just what the other person needs most. The relationship between them is so honest and genuine and absolutely beautiful that even thinking back on it now it makes my heart swell with love and joy. For these two people to have found each other at this moment… I completely believed it and revelled in the pure truthfulness of it.

As well as Lenni and Margot, there are a host of other wonderful characters in the book that aid the two of them, who are also full of life and personality and fantastic to read. Lenni’s relationship in particular with the hospital chaplain who is close to retirement is a highlight of the book and gorgeously developed. This author has a sharp eye for personality and a real skill in getting it on to the page and I have real admiration for her writing.

As well as Lenni and Margot’s relationship in the present, the book also revisits events from the pasts of both characters, so we really get to know them and understand why they have ended up where they are, needing to make friends in each other. Obviously Margot’s past is longer and more detailed that Lenni’s, and it is really wonderful thing to follow, exploring a genuinely believable life, and full of human emotion – all the pain, joy, grief, loss, excitement and confusion that pepper every life. I thought the concept of the paintings was a unique and clever way to explore these aspects of the book, the whole thing hung together perfectly.

If I had a small niggle about the book, it would be in the behaviour of Lenni’s parents. As a mother, I can honestly say that, of either if my children were in the same position, there is not a cat in hell’s chance that I would do as they do, and I don’t know anyone who would. I understand the motivations that the author gave them for behaving the way they do, but I just could not buy into it. Maybe there are people who would behave this way, but I think it is outside the norm and took a greater suspension of disbelief to accept than I am capable of. However, this did not detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the book and no one should let it put them off because it is fairly insignificant to the course of the story.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is an absolute gem of a book that I think everyone should read. It delighted my soul, I’m sure it will do the same for you. Uplifting, moving and full of hope, I absolutely adored it.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lenni and Margot took me seven years to write and I’m very excited that their story is now reaching readers here on Amazon.

Before I started working on writing fiction full-time, I spent my days in academia, writing things that nobody wanted to read (not even my mum!). I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics but I don’t use the title ‘Dr’ on official documents because I’m scared of being asked to help in a medical emergency and having only a thesis on linguistics to help.

I like to write at night and I like to be alone when I do. When I’m not writing, I can be found trying to be funny in various improv groups or watching my recently-adopted cat sleeping under my desk.

Connect with Marianne:

Twitter: @itsmcronin

Instagram: itsmariannecronin

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Blog Tour: The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh #BookReview

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It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.

When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…

Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?

It is my turn on the blog tour today for The Dig Street Festival, the debut novel by Chris Walsh. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for giving me a place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Let’s get this out in the open right from the off. This book is bonkers. Totally off the wall, a crazy ride, bizarre characters and a series of increasingly unlikely and out of control events might make you think this book is not the one for you. Do not be fooled. In the midst of all the mayhem and madness, at the very heart of this book, is a core of charm and delight that runs through it like words through a stick of Blackpool Rock and it makes this book one of the warmest, funniest and sweetest reads I have picked up this year so far.

At the centre of the book is John Torrington, a man who has found himself on the fringes of life, largely ignored by almost everyone and scratching away an existence on the margins of society. By day he collects trolleys and mops floors at his local DIY superstore, at night he lives in a rundown building full of sad bedsits, inhabited by other lonely, forgotten men, mooning after the bright, young barmaid in his local pub, reading secondhand stories about Scott of the Antarctic and scratching away at his poetry (mainly haikus) and his unfinished novel. A less prepossessing character to carry a book it would be hard to imagine, but John has hidden depths, or so he likes to believe. Almost everyone, except his equally strange friends, Gabby and Glyn, disagree.

I absolutely adored every single character in this book. This author had created some of the most memorable people you will every meet in a novel, and then placed them in equally memorable situations and watched what they do. (I say watched, because it is very clear to me from reading this that each of the people in this book have very individual minds of their own and have done their own, quite bizarre things on the page which I am sure the author had little if any control over in the end.) There are some really memorable scenes in the novel – the one involving the journey to the DIY store on Gabby’s first day at work is a particular standout (parts of which made my slightly gyp to be honest) – and many real laugh-out-loud moments. You can’t imagine a group of people who get into so many mad scrapes as this trio, but in the context of this novel you can completely believe they are happening, and it is quite a ride to take with them.

At the same time, there is so much tenderness within this book. The relationship between the three men is oddly touching. They all look out for each other and clearly care for one another in a way that most of us would be lucky to find in this life. This care extends from their small trio to the other hopeless residents of Clements Markham House, despite the fact they are largely unpleasant, ungrateful and undeserving. John Torrington has a big, soft heart, and lavishes his care around, even to his bullying, sadistic boss, OCD-impaired supervisor and any other waif and stray he comes across in life. But his own vulnerability is really thrown into sharp relief in his relationship with Lois, much younger than him and way out of his league both in terms of social status and intellect. Despite this fact, we long for her to see the qualities he has lurking beneath us outwardly awkward facade and give him a chance.

This book is a really different read, but all the more appealing for that. My favourite thing about blogging is coming across these hidden gems of books that are outside the mainstream and outside your reading comfort zone. It is within these novels that we find something new and exciting, that speaks to us of things we may never have considered before and takes us places we have never been. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Funny and moving.

The Dig Street Festival is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the tour:

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About the Author

Chris Walsh

Chris Walsh grew up in Middlesbrough and now lives in Kent. He writes both fiction and non-fiction, an example of which you can read here in May 2020’s Moxy Magazine.

​Chris’s debut novel The Dig Street Festival will be published by Louise Walters Books in April 2021.

​Chris’s favourite novel is Stoner by John Williams and his favourite novella is The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy. His top poet is Philip Larkin. He is also a fan of Spike Milligan.

Connect with Chris:

Twitter: @WalshWrites

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Guest Post: Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams #GuestPost #Extract

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“Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her.

In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War—and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life.

With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.  

Today I am delighted to be sharing on the blog, not only a guest post by L. Bordetsky-Williams on the story behind her book, Forget Russia, but also an excerpt from the book as well. Without further ado, I will hand over to Lisa.

A Story of Love, Murder, Betrayal, and Revolution by L. Bordetsky-Williams

Forget Russia tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews, journeying back and forth from America to Russia, during the course of the twentieth century. From before the 1917 Revolution to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, this is a tale of unlikely heroes and the loss of innocence.  A significant portion of the novel focuses on an American Russian-Jewish family that returns to Leningrad in 1931, in a type of reverse migration, to build the Bolshevik Revolution. Forget Russia is a story of revolution, betrayal, murder, and love.

In 1980, at the height of the cold war, and the Iran hostage crisis, I had the opportunity to study Russian language for a semester at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. This experience not only changed my life but it influenced the course of my life. I met many of the religious and dissident-type Jews of the Soviet Union.  Some of them were Refuseniks, people whose exit visas had been denied, and others said they could never leave because one of their parents had a “secret job,” which would prevent them from ever getting an exit visa.  Those Refuseniks had lost their jobs and were having a very difficult time just surviving.  Many of those young Soviet Jews were the grandchildren of the Bolsheviks.  Their ancestors had believed in the ideals of the 1917 Revolution and had flourished until Stalin had them put to death or exiled to labor camps during the height of the purges of 1936-1938. They had inherited a legacy of terror and fear. I have never forgotten them and the time we spent together.

About a year before I went to the Soviet Union, I was having lunch at my grandmother’s apartment, and she told me her mother died on a boat in Russia.  She was a woman who did not speak much, but when she did speak her words always contained great meaning. I probed more into her story with my family and discovered from my uncle that my great-grandmother had been raped and murdered. This information simply stunned me. I didn’t understand why no one had ever told me this. My grandmother had suffered from depression, and I then knew why.  As an old woman, when she was ill, I once heard her cry for her mother and that absolutely broke my heart.

When I studied Russian language, she began to sing me songs of her girlhood—songs of unrequited love that made me feel she must be trying to tell me something about her own life experiences. I wanted to grasp how such a horrific act of violence would affect the subsequent lives of women in a family.  This is a very large question, but it was one of the questions that prompted me to write Forget Russia.

I also was aware that my grandparents, both Russian Jewish immigrants, had returned to the Soviet Union in 1931, during the height of the Depression.  My grandfather was a carpenter, who longed to return and build the revolution.  He sold everything and borrowed money for the ship so his two small children, my mother and aunt, ages five and three, and my grandmother, could take an arduous journey back to Leningrad. They only stayed nine months.  If they had stayed any longer, they would have lost their American citizenship and never could have gotten out. 

On some level, my book looks at the nature of destiny—as I met these young Soviet Jews, I saw what my own life might have been if my ancestors had made other decisions.  I began to see how interdependent our lives were despite our apparent differences. I also wanted to understand how this initial trauma affected the subsequent generations of women in the family.

I did a tremendous amount of research for the novel over a number of years. I read accounts of American Russian Jews, who, just like my grandparents, went to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. They were heartbreaking accounts of Americans who couldn’t leave the Soviet Union once the purges reached a peak in 1936-38. Many were imprisoned and exiled to labor camps. Many did not survive. I had the opportunity to interview a few American Jews from Russia who went to the Soviet Union with their parents in the 1930’s and managed to return to this country. I also read accounts of other Americans who went to the Soviet Union in hopes of getting work since there was very little work in America at the height of the Depression. I also researched a great deal about the Ukraine during the Civil War following the Russian Revolution.

I was surprised to find out that the Americans were originally very welcome in the Soviet Union.  Ford Motor Company even had a plant in Nizhni Novgorod, which encouraged many unemployed Americans to settle in the Soviet Union.  In the beginning, it sounded like it could have been quite exciting for a young person to be there. There was even a baseball team set up!  However, that all changed drastically when Stalin’s purges swept the country in 1936-38. The dream turned into a nightmare. These stranded Americans got no support from the American government as well. They were truly alone.

I also discovered that the Ukraine was very unstable during the Civil War that occurred after the Revolution.  Anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalists controlled the Ukraine, and at other times the White army retained controlled, but once the Red army re-established rule, the retreating and defeated armies went into Jewish shtetls and massacred many Jews.  My poor grandmother was just a teenager when her mother was raped and murdered in one of these pogroms. 

In Forget Russia, when Anna, the granddaughter, comes back to the Soviet Union in 1980, she falls in love with a young Soviet Jew, who helps her make sense of her grandparents’ return to the country fifty years earlier.  Both characters must contend with the violence and enduring loss passed down to them from their ancestors. 

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Extract from Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

A week later, on a day in late October when most leaves had fallen to the ground, Iosif took me to the zagorod. The land rested in brown, golden and yellow colors, and the homes were the way I imagined them to be, with white paint embroidering the outside of delicately carved windows. A short distance from the train station, we found a cement path leading us into a darkening forest.

“These are real Russian woods,” Iosif said and placed his arm through mine as we stepped through thickets of light layered trees; shadows receded and cobwebbed mists opened onto the path leading us to his grandfather’s old apartment.

“Anichka, I have to say your Russian has gotten much better.”

“It’s still pretty bad.” Dried mud clung to my brown leather boots. I gazed up at him, at his thin and lanky body, at his face that seemed young and old simultaneously.

“No, it’s better.” His praise meant more to me than I could say. Iosif was definitely the smartest person I had ever met.

“In Russian class, we’re learning when to raise our voices higher, like at the end of a question. But when else do you do it?”

I didn’t expect Iosif to start laughing. “I don’t know. I never thought about any of this.”

“Depending on what you want to say, you’re supposed to raise your voice a little or a lot.”

“Really?” He stopped for just a moment, wrapped his arm around me. I leaned my head onto his shoulder.

“Now you tell me something. What do Americans talk about when they get together? Is it only about business?”

“No.” I was the one laughing this time.

“Well, then, what is it?”

“I don’t know. Movies, music, TV, maybe a book. The usual stuff, the election, the world.”

“Do you ever tell any jokes?”

“Of course, we do.”

“I see.” We walked in silence for a while. As we got deeper into the forest, Iosif’s mood changed.

“In the countryside, there’s hardly any food. Only bread and grains. Some sausage maybe and cabbage,” he whispered. Iosif pushed away the strands of wind-blown hair from his face. “Tell me, do you know what a propiska is?”

I didn’t have a clue.

“You must understand this if you’re going to know anything about our country,” he said, slightly impatient or impassioned. I wasn’t sure. “Propiska is a pass. We’re actually supposed to carry it around with us at all times, but most don’t. But if I want to go any great distance outside of Moscow, I must report where I’m going and get permission. Понимаешь?

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t. I only knew there was a humming in my arm linked through his.

“Can you imagine? If I want to go to Leningrad, I can’t just pick up and go. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I understand,” I said in my limited Russian, then switched to English.

“Well, now I have a question for you.” The rows of trees obscured my view of the sky, the afternoon light slipping away.

“Okay, then. Go ahead.”

“When your parents separated, did they fight a lot about money?”

“Money?” Iosif paused. “Why money? They didn’t have any to fight about. Why do you ask?”

“Because money was all my parents fought about.”

“What can I say. America is a sick place,” he said as he stepped into the moist dirt covered with yellow leaves. The soil smelled of rain from yesterday—the thin boughs of trees opened into a path of green and brown for us to follow. All of my life I had been waiting to be here. I leaned once more into Iosif’s arm, felt his cotton jacket against my face.

He led us out of the woods, away from the scent of pine and nettle everywhere. We found another cement path taking us to a brown brick apartment building that stood all by itself, surrounded only by grass.

“Years ago, my grandfather used to come here a lot—to think, to work. But that was all before he lost his memory.”

“When did that happen?”

“The last ten years, I would say. It was gradual. But it’s probably better he forgets the past as far as I’m concerned.” I remembered the soft and feathery feel of his grandfather’s hand when I saw him at Iosif’s apartment, his thick furry eyebrows, that dreamy, faraway look to his face.

We walked up several flights of dingy stairs until we came out into a dark corridor. I followed alongside Iosif, seeking the evening light. Inside the apartment, volumes and volumes of Tolstoy’s books filled up most of the shelves lining the walls.

“How did your grandfather get all these books? I’ve never seen anything like this”

“I can’t tell you that. But this is everything Tolstoy ever wrote.”

More secrets. I was growing used to it, little by little. So much could not be said or shared.I wanted to know but would not ask again.

Thank you, Lisa, for preparing the guest post for us and allowing me to share the extract. If the above has whetted your appetite for the book, Forget Russia is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

L Bordetsky-Williams

L. BORDETSKY-WILLIAMS is the author of Forget Russia, published by Tailwinds Press, December 2020. She has also published the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf (Hamilton Books, 2005, http://www.letterstovirginiawoolf.com); The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf (Greenwood Press, 2000); and three poetry chapbooks (The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press 2014), Sky Studies (Finishing Line Press 2014), and In the Early Morning Calling (Finishing Line Press, 2018)). She was a student in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute in 1980. Presently, she is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.

Connect with Lisa:

Website: https://www.forgetrussia.com/

Facebook: Forget Russia, A Novel

Twitter: @BordetskyL

Instagram: @forgetrussia

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