Guest Post: Layers: A Collection of Short Stories by Zuzanne Belec

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Eight short stories on the power of the human spirit.

Layers is a debut collection of imaginative short stories celebrating life and the human spirit despite the ever-present spectre of melancholy in our lives today. With their distinctive blend of wit and humour, they light up any underlying darkness. From the Americas to India, from Africa to Europe, and through a range of genres, voices and styles, layers are unraveled, revealing the textures and contrasts of old and new in the environments and cultures of today’s fast-paced world. With vivid descriptions, we are drawn into enchanting worlds with characters that leap off the page, leaving the reader lingering long after the pages have been read.

  • In The Christmas Charge: Instead of enjoying their Christmas preparing eggnog cream pie and sipping sherry by the fireside, three batty grannies go on an African safari. At this stage of wisdom in their lives, nothing can go wrong. Right?
  • In Paths Taken: When her grandmother ‘kills’ a man on a busy town square, Hecate is forced to face her worst fears and use her own unsettling powers to help her. But where will these new paths take her?
  • In White Noise: All Earl needs to do is hand his work over to his successor. But is it that easy to let go? And where does one hide from one’s inner noise when things go wrong?
  • In The Old Man and the Donkey: Deep in northern Portugal, an old man and his donkey go about their lonely routine. When an unexpected visitor shows up, everyone is given a new chance of happiness. But have they all been stubbornly avoiding it for too long?
  • In The Arctic Haze: Since he was little, bad luck has stuck to George’s soles like clingy dog mess. Some of us are luckier. Or are we really?
  • In Penny’s Purple Robot: A loving father exceeds himself to make his daughter happy after her mother passes away. But can he force himself to face a brutal truth?
  • In Mothers: Deep in Africa, a desperate mother accepts her own fate, but refuses to face an even harsher reality. Mothers will do anything for their young. And things may not be as they seem.
  • In Yeehaw: Running from their regular lives, Sam and Patsy end up in an artificial town – Yeehaw Theme Park. Will they find their true selves in this synthetic world?

If you like a minimalist and dark, yet humorous look at the contrasts we face in the world today, you will enjoy this collection of mixed-genre stories. 

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, Zuzanne Belec, who has very kindly written a guest post for me on the writing process behind her debut collection of short stories, Layers.

Now, over to Zuzanne for her guest post:

My writing process by Zuzanne Belec

How I began writing

To keep a very long story short: mine is not one of wanting to write ever since I was little. I’d always thought that writing was a gift allocated only to the gods. Also, times were busy, so there was no room for any creativity whatsoever (nor even for reading, besides the obligatory academic material).

And now suddenly I am a published author of Layers: A Collection of Short Stories. How could that happen when I hardly knew what creativity was? I haven’t a clue. All I can determine is that the creative energy must’ve been accumulating somewhere within me all those years, only to let off a major creative blast once the tornado that’s life had settled down. And what a mess this blast left behind – I had the urge to delve deep into creativity of all sorts and I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how. But I took it slowly, step by step and patiently learned the craft of writing over the years. And gradually that mess transformed into what is a published book today (which is not doing too shabbily in the reviews department either). See? Anything’s possible!

What inspires me

Among the creative splotches to clean up from the ceiling after that blast was the question of ‘what to write.’ I had no clue either. This is the point, perhaps, when my upbringing in the African bush came to the fore: I used that survival instinct and put to work all the senses to really ‘see’ the details of my surroundings, I began listening to the noise outside, the noise inside of me, and also to my creative urges. That’s when all the people and places I’d visited really began to ‘speak’ to me.  They showed me their hearts – both their joys and their tribulations. That is what inspires me the most, and which forms the basis for most of my stories: the contrasts and dynamics between nature, cultures and societies today. I especially enjoy taking a minimalist and, where possible, a humorous look at some of these dark realities.

We have a lot to learn from one another still, no matter whether we’re educated/uneducated, rich/poor, male/female/other, black/white, animal/human…  So here’s a big thank you to the people and places that have inspired me, and will still inspire me!

What I write

I admit that I began writing short stories because they said it’s the quickest way to learn the craft. Specifically contemporary mixed-genre stories – the best way to learn the genres! As difficult as writing short stories has turned out to be though, I really enjoy writing them. And the upside: I can get a lot more stories written in the time I have left.

Either way though, I like to keep my stories short. And I like to keep my stories simple.

Short because life is short. Because when it’s our time to go, we won’t go remembering the entire duration of our life. We will remember the short bits.  So, in this light, that’s what I try to capture in my short stories: small, memorable bits of life lived.

And simple because when it’s our time to go, we won’t be pondering all the detailed complexities of our lives – we will remember the simple things. And so, in this light too, my short stories attempt to reflect just that: simple, wonderful bits of life lived.   

All in all, it is just as Ali Smith says, “short stories consume you faster...” I like that brevity and impact.

I am trying my hand at the long form too, but I’m pretty hopeless at that still. I’m finding it very difficult to stay focused when I reach the more ‘long-winded’ filler, sections. Maybe I have a short attention span, I don’t know. Perhaps one day I’ll manage it though.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I still have some writing to do before I reach those 10 000 hours anyway…!

My writing process:

First thing every morning, after having my cup of tea, I do my morning pages (which I started doing about a decade ago after reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). I owe a lot to them because I know that all those morning pages written over the years are what allowed me to connect with my creative side. Full stop. This ritual still yields surprises, with valuable ideas and insights still popping up every now and then. This is my favourite part of the day.

Once I have a story idea, this is how I develop it into a story: I determine the ‘why’ of the story using Jennie Nash’s excellent Author Accelerator method. Once I have this deep and solid foundation to build my story on, my next step is doing my character profiles. I use the OneStop writing tool for this. Then, with characters brought to life as deep as I can, I plot my story out using the GetPlottr visualization tool to make sure all my timelines, ages, dates, sequences, etc. correspond. Then I finally get down and write the actual story using that fabulous Scrivener.  See? Tools! Maybe one day, when I have more books behind me, I won’t need those tools to help me along my newbie path, but for now they’re a life saver!

Who are my favourite authors?

I still have many to catch up on, but a few of my favourites so far are George Saunders (mainly his excellent non-fiction), Theodor Seuss Geisel, Roald Dahl, Marina Lewycka, Niklos Kazantzakis, Terry Pratchett …. Oh, and Czech author Evzen Bocek, who is author of the hilarious Aristokratka series (unfortunately not translated into English yet).

Thank you for having me on, Julie, and giving me the opportunity to connect with your audience. And thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to check out this post. 

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On 3-5 May, 2021, Zuzanne’s highly rated collection of short stories, Layers, will be available to download for FREE on Amazon.  To get your eight short stories on the power of the human spirit during this period, please click here: https://books2read.com/u/4A77zd

To subscribe to her newsletter, get access to her members-only Zuu Zone, and receive a FREE download of her short story The UnAdorned – a warm, modern tale of ancient good, set in modern India – you can click here: https://zuzannebelec.com/books-and-signup/

About the Author

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Zuzanne is a writer, poet and translator who survived growing up with large critters in Africa.  She has two beautiful daughters, and now lives in the heart of Europe with her very patient partner.

Connect with Zuzanne:

Website: https://zuzannebelec.com

Twitter: @ZuzanneBelec  

Instagram: @zuzannebelec 

Pinterest: Zuzanne Belec

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Blog Tour: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint #BookReview

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Today, I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for allowing me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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‘My story would not be one of death and suffering and sacrifice, I would take my place in the songs that would be sung about Theseus; the princess who saved him and ended the monstrosity that blighted Crete’

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Greek myths and legends, a love which I seem to have passed on to my eldest daughter who reads every book of Greek mythology she can get her hands on and will, no doubt, pinch this now I have finished it. But most of the accounts I read when I was younger were all about the heroic feats of Greek heroes, and the temptations and misdoings of women, trying to impede the men, lead them astray, or were there simply to be rescued. How refreshing it has been to see the recent spate of books telling these stories from the female perspective, and Ariadne is the latest book to be added to this canon.

Here, Jennifer Saint has retold the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, but switching the perspective to that of the other central character in the story, Ariadne, whose contribution to the legend is essential but usually downplayed. In addition, this story goes beyond the simple story of Theseus slaying the Minotaur and takes us from Ariadne’s childhood in Crete, all the way to her marriage and motherhood, and encompasses the parallel story of her sister, Phaedra.

The author has placed herself firmly into the shoes of the two women featured in this book and imagined their lives in a way that translates quite startlingly on to the page in a way that will drag you back to the era and the palace of Knossos, to become totally immersed in what was happening. Imagine being brought up in the court of a stern and ruthless king, granddaughter of a god, sister to a monster, waiting to be used as a bargaining chip in the endless struggle for power. This is where this book takes us, and it doesn’t take much of a leap for the reader to feel what these girls must have been going through.

For this is a book that examines and laments the lot of women in Ancient Greece. Devoid of power, useful only insofar as men wanted them for their beauty and graces, at the mercy of those same virtues when some capricious god’s eye landed on them and decided to use them for their sport, and then to bear the brunt of the fallout of that sport. This is the underlying theme of the novel, how the women suffered and were punished for the misbehaviour and misdeeds, ambition and cruelty of the men – be they mortal or immortal – and what little ability they had to protect themselves.

Ariadne is a woman brought up under the shadow of a curse brought upon her family because of the behaviour of men – her father Minos and the god, Poseidon – but laid upon her mother who ended up birthing the monstrous Minotaur. She is aware from a young age how vulnerable women are, and how little agency they have, but she internally rails against this powerlessness, becoming slightly obsessed with Medusa, how she was treated, and the way she refused to take her punishment calmly. It ends up being no surprise when she rebels against the tyranny of her father and helps Theseus, only to be betrayed by Theseus soon after. Ariadne tries throughout her life to look out for herself, ever aware, ever reminding herself that all men, whether god or mortal, are the same and cannot be trusted.

The writing here is stunning, beautiful, rich, evocative and immersive. The book really brings Ancient Greece to life and gives us the characters we know from the myths as 3D, fully rounded people to whom it is very easy to relate. Such is the power of the writing that the book left me distraught and enraged on behalf of these women, so abused and mistreated and so unable to do anything about it, despite the internal strength they have, their intelligence and their awareness of their fragile situations. If this book doesn’t stir your internal feminist to roar, nothing will. A fabulous piece of work.

Ariadne is out now in hardback and ebook formats and will be out as an audiobook on 10 May and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour by visiting the blogs detailed below:

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About the Author

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Due to a lifelong fascination with Ancient Greek mythology, Jennifer Saint read Classical Studies at King’s College, London. She spent the next thirteen years as an English teacher, sharing a love of literature and creative writing with her students. ARIADNE is her first novel and she is working on another retelling of ancient myth for her second.

Connect with Jennifer:

Website: https://www.jennifersaint.com/

Facebook: Jennifer Saint Author

Twitter: @jennysaint

Instagram: @jennifer.saint.author

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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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Book Review: Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde #BookReview

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CAN YOU FIND THE FAMOUS PERSON HIDDEN IN EVERY STORY?

Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves, they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?

It’s publication day for Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde, a unique and novel collection of stories that are a mysterious peep inside the lives of some people you might think you know. But can you work out who they are? Happy publication day, Simon, and thank you for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

When Simon approached me about reviewing this book, I can say I was intrigued. It is a concept I haven’t come across before – a collection of stories about the early lives of famous or infamous people, revealing clues about who they are, and little known facts about their early lives, but leaving the reader to try and guess who the author might be talking about. A curious but fascinating mix of fact and fiction, it was definitely something I needed to take a look at.

The book comprises fourteen short stories, giving us a snapshot in time in the lives of well known or notorious characters who will be familiar to most of us, but maybe not in the ways portrayed here. An interesting mix of fact woven into fiction, the author writes as if he is telling a story, and it is for the reader to dig beneath the prose to find out who is hiding behind the mask, and possibly find out things about popular figures we never knew before. This was certainly true for me. Whilst I am sure I worked out who each story was talking about, there were certainly some facts in there that I hadn’t known before, and sent me scuttling to the internet in search of confirmation that the author hadn’t made the basic facts up. The story, Banjo Boy, in particular had me saying, ‘Well, I never knew that about him before!’ From this perspective alone, it is a fascinating book to pick up.

The collection of characters that Simon chooses to explore is a curious one. Some I can understand why he wanted to discuss, a couple were less obvious, and a couple of them made me incredibly uncomfortable. Simon really gets under the skin and into the minds of the people he is talking about, and this is disturbing in the case of a couple of the less savoury characters. Being able to stir an emotion in the reader is the sign of a good writer; this is no less true when the emotion stirred is disquiet. I’m not sure I want to be in the skin of some of these people.

This is a book that is good for dipping in and out of, rather than reading through in one go, and would make a great topic of discussion between friends. I have already seen a fellow blogger saying she can’t work out who one of the subjects is and, since I think I know, I will reach out and see if she agrees with my theory later. Some of them are more obvious than others and, I think some of them will be easier to suss out for people of my generation than younger folk. It is a concept that played out well against my expectations and I applaud the author for achieving something new and interesting.

Backstories is available in all formats from today and you can buy a copy here.

And, if you need any additional reason to buy the book, beyond my review above, Simon is donating 30% of all profits from Backstories to Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

About the Author

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Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction)

in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short- story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.

Connect with Simon:

Website: https://www.simonvandervelde.com/

Facebook: Simon Van Der Velde

Twitter: @SimonVdWriter

Instagram: @simonvdvwriter

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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.

Blog Tour: In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton #BookReview

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This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is only a short novella, that took me a scant eighty minutes to read, but what a lot the author managed to pack in to the pages. Pretty much all of human life is here, as we explore the life of Ted and Rene over the course of half a century. From the dance halls of post-war Morecambe to the modern day, the book explores the nuts and bolts of the marriage of two ordinary people living in the confines of an isolated, seaside town.

The book does not run in a linear format, but dodges about through the relationship, between the perspectives of Ted and Rene and other important figures in their lives and the life of the town of Morecambe. Despite this, the book is not at all confusing, but works perfectly to illustrate the changing relationship and feelings that Ted and Rene have for one another over the course of fifty years.

This book is all about relationships, their complexities and mercurial nature, ever-changing over the course of a lifetime, as both internal and external factors but different pressures on them at different times. The feelings of the couple ebb and flow like the tides in Morecambe Bay, which provides the constant backdrop to their evolving lives, and the changing seasons and moods and fortunes of the town echoing the shifts in the moods of their marriage, the sadness coming from the fact that the times the two of them seem to be in synch are rare and fleeting.

The book felt so honest to me, so truly reflective of so many people’s lives, full of disappointment and compromise, with small moments of joy and shared triumph, but all the same looked back on through rose-tinted spectacles when it is over and viewed very differently by outsiders than those living within it. Right from the beginning, we see through the individual thoughts of Ted and Rene that they have not entered this marriage on the back of a grand passion, and this somewhat sets the tone. Their life is not filled with terrible disasters, but small sorrows, the like of which we all suffer, made sadder by their inability to address them from the same page. Overall, the feeling for me is one of melancholy, and I wonder how many people go through their lives in this way – probably many more than we realise.

This was a really beautiful story, told with understanding, tenderness and a deep empathy. I found the writing really moving, and I came away from the book feeling like I had read something profoundly truthful and illuminating. Triumphal.

The Sweep Of The Bay is out now and I can recommend highly enough that you buy it here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella. 

Website: https://cathbarton.com/

Facebook: Cath Barton

Twitter: @CathBarton1

Publisher Website: https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/cath-barton

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Book Review: 337 by M. Jonathan Lee

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337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

I’m delighted to be one of the bloggers chosen to review the new book by M. Jonathan Lee in advance of its publication on 30 November. 337 is a tightly wound family drama, and I want to thank the publisher, Hideaway Falls, for providing me with an advance copy of the hardback for review.

Curiously, this book has a unique, double-ended, upside down format, so you can choose to begin reading from the front or the back. How and why this works, well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out. But, be warned, the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only!

337 follows the story of, and is narrated by, Samuel Darte. Samuel is a lonely man who lives by himself in his old family home, works a job from home with minimal interaction with the outside world and doesn’t seem to have any friends. Why he ended up in this place is revealed as the book goes on, but it all stems back to the day his mother disappeared when he was a teenager. This is a story of how a single event can cause the lives of a family to completely unravel, and what can bring them back together again.

In some ways this is a small book. The action takes place in only two locations, inside Samuel’s childhood home, and the nursing home half a mile away where his estranged grandmother is dying. However, despite its limited location, this book ranges far and wide in its exploration of human emotion and the finite setting only serves to throw into relief the vast scope of feeling that Samuel experiences over the course of the novel, accentuating how he has chosen to limit his external environment in an effort to control his unbounded inner turmoil.

In addition to having a limited setting, the book also features very little actual action, as you would expect in a book that moves between only two locations and has a very small number of characters. However, rather than restricting the scope of the novel, this again serves to allow the reader to become deeply involved in the lives and psychological development of the characters, Samuel in particular. The author delves deep into the effect that the loss of his mother, and the events that followed on from her disappearance have had on Samuel, so that the reader feels that they are living this experience with him. I went through every emotion whilst reading this book, there is sorrow, humour, anger, love, pain, it is quite the rollercoaster. The author has really poured his heart onto the page, and you can feel every beat through his flowing, easy prose.

This is a book where perception is all, and it changes throughout the book. Perception of Samuel and his brother as to what is happening in their family, of their father and grandmother and their reactions to their mother’s disappearance, and of their grandmother as she lays dying. The perception of outsiders of their family in the aftermath of their mother’s vanishing, including friends, neighbours, police and society at large. The perception of the reader as we travel through the book and more and more facts are revealed – a perception that continues to change until the very last line of the novel. It is a lesson in how things are not always what they seem, how judgements based on limited facts are unwise and often wrong, and how we can never really know what goes on inside the hearts and minds of other people, even those who are closest to us. It is a book that will make the reader think about how we jump to conclusions about people, and how hard it is to change those once we have settled on them, unfair as that may be. But there are circumstances in which our minds can be changed, as Samuel finds out when confronted with his grandmother on her deathbed.

This is a very clever and unique book. It will not fit easily into any genre or niche you may be looking for, but it is a book that is definitely worth picking up and giving some time to. It really explores what it means to be a human, and the complex feelings and emotions we are confronted by day to day, simply by virtue of living in this world amongst other people, and how impossible it is to cut ourselves off from those emotions and connections, however hard we might try. And why, regardless of how hard it is, we shouldn’t want to.

I thought this book was really beautiful and surprising, although perhaps not in the way I expected. Vey different to anything else I have read this year. An intelligent novel.

337 is out on Monday and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

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Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born Yorkshire where he still lives today with his two children.

His debut novel, The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012. He has spoken in schools, colleges, prisons and universities about creative writing and storytelling and appeared at various literary festivals including Sheffield’s Off the Shelf and Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival.

His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015.

His much anticipated third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear was released in September 2015 and tells the story of a character struggling with mental illness. All profits from this novel are donated to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. This was accompanied by the short film, Hidden which was directed by Simon Gamble and can be seen here.

In 2016, he signed for boutique publishers, Hideaway Fall and his fourth novel Broken Branches was released in July 2017, winning book of the month in Candis magazine for September.

He is a tireless campaigner for mental health awareness and writes his own column regularly for the Huffington Post. He has recently written for the Big Issue and spoken at length about his own personal struggle on the BBC and Radio Talk Europe. His fifth book, the critically acclaimed Drift Stumble Fall was released in Spring 2018.

Connect with Jonathan:

Website: https://www.mjonathanlee.com/

Facebook: M Jonathan Lee Author

Twitter: @MJonathanLee

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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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Tempted By… Rea Book Reviews: If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

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Audrey’s family has fallen apart. Her two grown-up daughters, Jess and Lily, are estranged, and her two teenage granddaughters have never been allowed to meet. A secret that echoes back thirty years has splintered the family in two, but is also the one thing keeping them connected.

As tensions reach breaking point, the irrevocable choice that one of them made all those years ago is about to surface. After years of secrets and silence, how can one broken family find their way back to each other?

I’ve had to sneak in an extra Tempted By this week, because I missed one while I was in Wales last week and, I am such a sucker for buying brilliant books recommended by my blogger friends that I don’t have any spare weeks to slot in missed posts!

So, my surprise Tempted By feature this week is for If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, as recommended by Rea in her review here on her marvellous blog, Rea Book Reviews. This is another one that has been a good while in getting to the top of the pile for this feature but, as I said, I am absolute sucker for buying books on blogger recommendation and the waiting list is substantial!

When you visit the review that inspired me to buy this book, you will soon see why it drew me in. Rea’s review is so detailed, giving you a lot of information on which to base your buying decision, but at the same time not giving away any spoilers which, as a blogger, I know is a very valuable skill. She has obviously fallen in love with the story and is trying to convey exactly what it is that she found so appealing about it, identifying all its strongest attributes, and it is extremely effective. I came away from this review knowing exactly what this book was going to deliver and, being sure that I was not going to be disappointed if I did buy it.

This is the great strength of Rea’s blogging style and the reason I always read her reviews with interest and excitement. You can see she puts a huge amount of thought and effort into her reviews, they are obviously not dashed off without any thought, and they are always balanced and honest. I always know that I am going to get exactly what I am expecting when I’ve based a purchased on Rea’s reviews, she is 100% reliable and always seems to hit the heart of the book in her review. Make sure you head over to her blog and take a look for yourself, you can find it at https://reabookreview.blogspot.com.

And if you now need to get hold of a copy of If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, you can find it here.

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Desert Island Books: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

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Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The eighth book on my Desert Island Books list is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is one of my favourite love stories. And I am not just talking about the romance between the young English girl, Jean Paget, and the heroic Australian, Joe Harman, but the underlying, unrequited love that the narrator, Noel, feels for Jean, and which informs the whole way he tells her story.

This is a book of two halves. The story starts with the reader being introduced to a lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is employed by an infirm Scottish gentleman to draw up his will, some time in the early 1930s. The war then intervenes, and after the war, the gentleman dies and Noel has to track down his niece, and inform her that she has come into an inheritance, of which he is the trustee. So Noel’s involvement in Jean’s life begins. 

During the course of administering the trust, Noel hears Jean’s story of being taken prisoner in Malaya during the war and being marched across the country with a party of other women because the Japanese don’t know what to do with them. A terrible incident occurs during this time which deeply affects Jean and stops her fully recovering after the war. She tells the whole horrifying story of her wartime experiences to Noel, so we hear them as he does, firsthand. Before I read this book for the first time as a teenager, I knew very little of what had occurred during the war in the Far East, as my school studies of the period concentrated on the action in Europe, so this story really piqued my interest and encouraged to to expand my reading on the subject to the wider content of the war beyond the repercussions in Europe to the actions of the Japanese and the involvement of our Commonwealth allies. This is what good fiction can do, encourage further reading into the actual events upon which they are based, even if the fiction is written with a little poetic licence.

In the second half of the book, the action moves to Australia and Jean’s attempts to find Joe Harman after the war, and how together they work to expand a community in the Australian outback. I know some people find the second half of the book less exciting, given the horror and high drama of the first half, but they are missing the point. For a young, ambitious girl on the brink of adulthood with big plans for her future, this story of a woman alive in a time of burgeoning opportunity for females, who defies convention and strikes out into the unknown on her own, following her heart but using her head as well, was revelatory. Whilst it is hard to recognise the kind of attitudes that prevailed in that day when reading from a modern day position, I defy anyone not to be inspired by Jean Paget and be cheering her on from the sidelines

If you are coming to A Town Like Alice for the first time in 2020, it is going to make you very uncomfortable in parts. The attitudes to gender, colour and a lot more besides are going to be jarring when you look at them with a twenty-first century eye, and I know people will find this off-putting. This is a book of its time, it reflects society as it was in the early 1950s and needs to be read with that firmly in mind. If nothing else, it gives a clear picture of how far attitudes have moved on since then, even if we have a long way still to go. But setting these acknowledged issues with the novel aside, this is a uplifting and tender love story of triumphs in the face of adversity, powerful love overcoming severe obstacles, and how love can take many forms, and how wonderful it it when reciprocated. For anyone who is a true romantic, this is a beautiful story.

I have read this book many times over the last 30+ years. Inbetween readings, I sometimes wonder whether it will continue to age well, or if one day I will come back to it and find it no longer speaks to me. Although there are aspects of it which are unpalatable in our, hopefully, more enlightened times, the core story of a brave, resourceful and determined young woman setting out to find the man she loves and build a good life for them both is still moving and inspiring and I would definitely like to have it with me on my desert island to remind me what people can achieve if they set their minds to it.

A Town Like Alice is available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on 12 January 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

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