Essex Book Festival: Birth of the Book Live Blog! – Jo Unwin

Join us as we liveblog the ‘Birth of the Book’ event at Essex Book Festival featuring critically acclaimed author Kerry Hudson, Literary Agent Jo Unwin and Picador Editor Francesca Main. Continue reading “Essex Book Festival: Birth of the Book Live Blog! – Jo Unwin”

Essex Book Festival: Birth of the Book Live Blog! – Kerry Hudson

Join us as we liveblog the ‘Birth of the Book’ event at Essex Book Festival featuring critically acclaimed author Kerry Hudson, Literary Agent Jo Unwin and Picador Editor Francesca Main. Continue reading “Essex Book Festival: Birth of the Book Live Blog! – Kerry Hudson”

Podcast: The Earth Is Singing and YA War Novels

It’s the February episode of Adventures With Words Young Adult Edition, and this month Kate talks to Vanessa Curtis about her new novel The Earth Is Singing, telling the story of the Jews of Riga during World War Two. Continue reading “Podcast: The Earth Is Singing and YA War Novels”

Podcast: YA Edition – Lisa Williamson and The Art of Being Normal

The Art of Being Normal is Lisa Williamson’s debut novel. She chats to Kate at Waterstones Hampstead, just before her publication party, discussing what the book is about, her writing processes, the importance of diverse books for young people and what she’s writing next. Continue reading “Podcast: YA Edition – Lisa Williamson and The Art of Being Normal”

Marcus Sedgwick and The Ghosts of Heaven blog tour

I’m thrilled to bring you this Q&A with Marcus Sedgwick, to celebrate the release of his new book The Ghosts of Heaven, which was published on October 2nd by Indigo Books, in a stunning hardback edition. My beautiful copy arrived on Monday and I’m really looking forward to reading it, but in the meantime, here’s Marcus to tell you a bit about the book’s key themes, spirals and destiny, as well as the way it’s written, as four interlocking stories… Continue reading “Marcus Sedgwick and The Ghosts of Heaven blog tour”

Adele Parks – the preview interview, for Essex Book Festival

On Tuesday 4th March, Adele Parks will be at Rayleigh Library as part of the Essex Book Festival, talking about her fascinating new novel Spare Brides. In a huge departure for Adele, Spare Brides takes us back in time, nearly 100 years, to follow the stories of four friends in a generation where few women could hope for a husband, after the appalling destruction of World War One.

In this centenary year of the beginning of that conflict, Adele took time out to answer some questions about her first historical novel from Kate, to give us a taster of what we can expect… Continue reading “Adele Parks – the preview interview, for Essex Book Festival”

Nigel McDowell – the Tall Tales From Pitch End Q&A

We’re thrilled to bring you this Q&A with Nigel McDowell, author of Tall Tales From Pitch End, which has just been shortlisted for the Essex book Award, and which Kate loved when she reviewed it earlier in the year.  Read on to find out more about Pitch End, Nigel’s inspirations and what he thinks about the importance of storytelling.

P.S. Have you listened to the first episode of Adventures With Words Young Adult Edition yet?  There’s a competition to win a signed copy of Tall Tales From Pitch End, but you must listen to the exclusive Tall Tale featured in the podcast to be able to answer… You’ll find the podcast and competition here! Continue reading “Nigel McDowell – the Tall Tales From Pitch End Q&A”

Black Roses Blog Tour: the Q&A

Here’s the second part of the Black Roses Blog Tour here on Adventures With Words, to celebrate the fact that Jane Thynne’s insightful and unusual novel is now out in paperback.

We were really pleased to have the opportunity to put a few questions to Jane about her choice to set the story in Berlin in the years leading up to World War Two, her characters Clara and Leo and why she decided to focus on the women behind the big names of the Third Reich.

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Continue reading “Black Roses Blog Tour: the Q&A”

Joanna Rossiter chats to Adventures With Words

Yesterday we published our review of The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter, the Appetite Book Club choice for July and a Richard and Judy Summer Read 2013.

Joanna came along to Appetite, and chatted to us about the book, her writing process and what she’s got lined up in the future.  Afterwards, she kindly agreed to do the same for Adventures With Words, in a little more depth… Continue reading “Joanna Rossiter chats to Adventures With Words”

Lydia Netzer on Shine Shine Shine

We’re really pleased to bring you this interview with Lydia Netzer, about her wonderful book Shine Shine Shine, in which we discover how difficult it is to live up to your own expectations, and those of others, especially when you don’t see the world the same way as everyone else.  I wanted to ask Lydia about how she came to write the book in the way that she did… Continue reading “Lydia Netzer on Shine Shine Shine”

Q&A with Cathy Rentzenbrink of Quick Reads

We spoke to Cathy Rentzenbrink, Project Director at Quick Reads, about the history of Quick Reads, who they are aimed at and what she’s reading now.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Quick Reads?

Quick Reads is part of World Book Day and was founded by Dame Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House in 2006 and is supported by Galaxy chocolate. We commission short books by bestselling authors to help get lapsed readers or people lacking in confidence in their reading skills back into reading for pleasure.

Who are Quick Reads books aimed at?

They are written and edited to be full of action and emotion but with some of the barriers removed to be easier to read for the less confident. They are also really good for people who can technically read but haven’t read for pleasure for a long time. One of my favourite quotes is from a very nice lady who said, ‘I felt like a had climbed a mountain but was so proud as it was the first proper book I’d read.’

How important are bookshops to Quick Reads?

Extremely important!

Visiting and feeling comfortable in a bookshop is seen as a really important stage in the development of an emergent reader’s skills. Tutors organise trips to book shops with their learners. Quick Reads are used by English for Speakers of other Languages, often migrants arriving here needing to get up to speed in English, but they are also really great for tourists who speak English but may not be fully confident readers. I would definitely buy Quick Reads in French if I could, as I’m a bit rusty and just find it too much like hard work to pick up something long, especially if the narrative point of views are jumping around and making it difficult for me to follow. As I’m a really confident reader in English it helps me get to grips with what it feel like not to be by thinking about how I manage with French and what puts me off.

Quick Reads are also read by people who have been readers but whose circumstances have changed. These include new mums, people coping with illness including undergoing chemotherapy which plays horrible havoc with the attention span, the elderly and I had a wonderful chat with someone recently whose mother had taught herself to read again after a stroke by using Quick Reads.

Possibly the biggest thing though is that a large part of what we are trying to do is enable people to take part in a mainstream cultural experience. We get so much feedback that it is important to our readers that they are reading a ‘proper’ book. The more people that read and enjoy Quick Reads, the less stigmatised people will feel because a Quick Reads is all that they can manage at this stage on their learning journey.

How did you get involved in the project?

I’ve always been interested in this area as my Dad couldn’t read well until he was 30 years old and didn’t read for pleasure until he retired – I coached him through, step by step! Quick Reads didn’t exist then but he moved from reading the sports section of a paper, to sports biographies, to short thrillers. Now he reads everything except the most complex literary fiction. I’m very proud of him, for lots of reasons, and it means I have a lot of first hand, practical experience of the causes and effects of low literacy and also of the hugely transformative effect of reading for pleasure.

In practical terms I was enjoying working for Waterstones, where I spent 10 years, and wasn’t looking for a new job but someone who had heard me speak about literacy told me about it and said ‘this is made for you!’

Quick Reads always has popular authors writing new stories for them. If you could have any author writing one for you, dead or alive, who would it be?

What a good question!

I think I would try to encourage Victor Hugo to write me something short but along the same themes as Les Miserables, which I have always loved and sobbed through at the cinema last week. I think writing that encourages us to empathise with people who may not have had our advantages is always a good thing and I love books that make me cry and make me feel that I have walked a mile in another person’s shoes .

What are you reading at the moment?

I work for Quick Reads for three days a week and spend the rest of my time writing about new fiction for The Bookseller so I’m always reading a few months ahead. I’m reading for my June feature and there are a lot of good thrillers out there at the moment. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty is an exceptional literary thriller – beware of pretty strangers!

Quick Reads aims to improve adult literacy skills and encourage the uptake of reading. The 2013 Galaxy Quick Reads books will be available from bookstores and online from 14 February, for more information visit http://www.quickreads.org.uk/  

Rob Chilver

Interview with Jeremy Duns

Recently I reviewed Jeremy Duns‘ Free Agent, a fantastic Cold War thriller, and Jeremy was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book and his writing process.

What drew you to writing in this particular genre? I was brought up on a diet of my father’s Fleming and occasionally Leslie Charteris novels and so naturally progressed from there. Could you see yourself writing in another genre at all?

I’d always wanted to write novels, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. Like most English boys I grew up watching the Bond films, and when I was a little older I’d read Len Deighton and John le Carre and some other spy stuff, but it was never a genre I was very much into. That changed in my twenties, when quite by chance I stumbled on some second-hand paperbacks in a bookshop in Antwerp, and I started devouring a lot of spy fiction, especially from the Cold War. Most writers had moved on since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but I thought it was such a fascinating era, and began to wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to revisit it. After all, in the Sixties a lot of thriller-writers wrote about the Second World War, and there’s a lot we know about the Cold War now that nobody did at the time. So that was the seed of the idea.

In addition, the time periods you address are quite fascinating. I’ve always been intrigued by the end of WWII when Russia was still an ally and how that emerged into the Cold War, but very little seems to address it. Likewise, I knew little of Britain’s involvement in Nigeria. When did you decide to place the story in these timeframes? Was it intentional that little had been written about it?

I wanted to write something set in the Sixties, because I tend to enjoy thrillers from that decade best, and I also thought it had the most room for reinterpretation. When we think of the Sixties, it’s often the very large events: Woodstock, JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the Beatles. I wanted to pick at the edges of it a little, at some of the things that had been forgotten. Spy novels at the time were mostly set in Eastern Europe, but I knew that the Cold War had ranged all over the world, from Asia to Africa. I had grown up in Nigeria and remembered hearing about Biafra as a child – the war finished before I was born. Reading up about it, I was fascinated to discover how extensive the superpowers’ involvement had been, and slowly the ideas started to crystallise. The flashback to the end of the Second World War came from researching the history of MI6, and also an article I wrote as a journalist in which I interviewed a few SAS veterans who had been involved in war crimes investigations in Germany just after the war’s end. I’m fascinated by how World War Two became the Cold War, and how this great new enemy of the Soviet Union emerged so soon after it had been our ally.

When I started reading, I was quite surprised by the choice of first-person narrative, as it was something I wasn’t expecting. I think now that it actually makes the story stronger, especially as we have to trust Dark on his word as he’s our narrator, though ever since reading The Turn of the Screw I’ve been suspicious of first-person narration! When did you decide to use this form and did it cause any problems? Using a fixed perspective means you can’t cut away to another narrative at any point or to another character.

Whenever I read about Kim Philby or other double agents, I always wanted to know more: what had they felt at that moment, what must it have been like? So I thought that I would use the first person to try to take readers right inside the head of someone in this position. I thought it would increase the suspense, but also make it easier for readers to empathise with him, or at least be harder to despise him outright. We’re right there with him every step of his journey. I thought it would make for a more exciting and intense reading experience.

It’s certainly an interesting era and I look forward to it being explored further. From the bibliography its clear you did a lot of research – how much did this influence the story at all? Was Dark’s story already planned out or was it a product of your reading?

I had the ideas early on that the protagonist would be a double agent, that it would be first person and that it would be set in the 60s and hopefully shed new light on the Cold War. And, in fact, the basic premise of the first chapter. Then I started thinking about location, and narrowed it down to Africa, then Nigeria and the civil war there. Then I researched, for about a year, not writing any of the book but taking tons of notes. I spent quite a bit of time working on a plot with all these elements that took place in 1967, near the start of the war, but it didn’t work. I read about Harold Wilson’s trip to Nigeria in 1969 and something clicked, so I started to pursue that, and from then on the plot slowly worked itself out and I researched to shape it.

I particularly enjoyed the style and tone of the book and a lot of readers mention how it reminds them of Deighton and le Carre. Obviously it’s a compliment but do you think they influenced your own style or was it deliberate?

Yes, both Deighton and le Carre were influences on me, especially the former. I love the sharpness and sardonic humour of Deighton’s early novels and wanted to reflect a little of that. London Dossier, a guidebook Deighton put together in 1967, was also a great source of information on the time for me, and very evocative. The biggest influence of me, though, was another British spy novelist, Elleston Trevor, who is sadly not as well known today. Under the name Adam Hall he wrote a series of first-person spy novels about a British agent called Quiller, which I love. I wanted to revive that sort of thriller.

The book moves at a breakneck speed, with a jaw-dropping first chapter and the pace doesn’t really stop. Did you always know it was going to be a trilogy and did this affect your writing at all? Any hints or clues readers should look out for that may signal what lies ahead for Dark?

Regarding the pace, as mentioned I’m a fan of the Quiller novels, and also the recent Jason Bourne films with Matt Damon. I wanted to write something that was very suspenseful and taut, and which would get readers really sweating. I had the idea for a trilogy fairly early. I was finding the research on Biafra fascinating, but I thought that Paul Dark had more of a journey in him than one book, and I was also discovering other episodes in the Cold War that were attracting me, and which I could imagine him being involved in. But because of Dark’s situation, I didn’t think it could be a traditional series, like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Ian Fleming’s James Bond, in which each book is generally a free-standing adventure. You couldn’t really have 12 novels with Dark continually evading exposure a a double agent. Len Deighton wrote a brilliant series of trilogies – so I thought I’d start with one of those! As far as the writing went, I plotted a rough arc of the trilogy beforehand, and have kept reasonably close to that. And I’ve tried to seed a few clues in Free Agent as to what will happen in Free Country and Free World. Look out for locations mentioned that Dark has been in before, and characters who are discussed but do not appear.

Free Agent by Jeremy Duns is out now and published by Simon and Schuster.

Interview with Kate Pullinger

This was originally published 22 July 2009.

Recently I reviewed Kate Pullinger’s The Mistress of Nothing, a story tinged with excitement, mystery and the heat of Egypt. I was fortunate enough to be a part of Kate’s Virtual Book Tour and so I asked her a few questions about her novel, what she’s working on next and also some advice for budding authors.

In the press release, it states that you took over ten years to write the novel. Did you ever feel like giving up? Very little is known about Sally, there is no photograph of her that we know of, so was telling her story and what it illuminated of the time what drew you to it? Was it always going to be her account and her narration from the beginning?

Despite the myriad problems I had with this novel, and the fact that I abandoned it a number of times, I never did consider abandoning it completely.  Throughout all that time the true story of Sally and that moment in the boat on the Nile on Christmas Eve stuck with me.  But you are right – there is nothing known about Sally and what happened to her after she left, and this was what opened up the story as a fiction (as opposed to biography or history) for me.  I always feel like she drew the short straw, to put it mildly, and I wanted to know what happened to her, so I had to make it up!  So her story was always my focus but it took me years to figure out the best way to tell that story.  I really struggled to find the right point of view or narrative voice – of course, with hindsight, it seems completely obvious that the story had to be told in the first person from Sally’s point of view – but this was not clear to me for a long time!  Another factor that kept me going was Egypt and that period of history – so interesting, such a beautiful and complicated country, and Luxor itself is a place of great magic and mystery.

I enjoyed how you really felt that you were there in Egypt and got a sense of the time and place. How much research was needed and how did you ensure the balance between setting the scene and focussing on the story?

I did a huge amount of research and then had to forget it all in order to tell a good story (as opposed to writing a very bad historical account!).  But I love research, so that was pure pleasure.  For me the Nile and Egypt and Luxor are a huge part of the story so finding the balance between that and the story wasn’t difficult – the country is almost like an extra character in the story.

Staying with the depiction of Egypt, you show us the majority of the Egyptian people as kind and welcoming, happy to accept Sally and Lady Gordon for who they are and the British as being judgemental and critical, exposing themselves to be backward and fixed in their thinking. This is in combination with the unrest in Egypt and the friction that occurs between the two cultures. How did you go about dealing with these issues and the culture clashes, while acknowledging the attitudes of the time in comparison to our own today?

This is difficult and I won’t really know whether or not I’ve succeeded until I have more Egyptian readers.  Of course we always tend to project our own values backwards into other times, and I’m sure I’m as guilty of that as the next writer.  Culture clashes are a theme I’ve explored in a lot of my writing; it is something that fascinates me (perhaps because I’m a foreigner in the UK, coming originally from Canada).  One thing I took very seriously was trying to get the elements of Islam present in the book correct, and to get that right in terms of my Egyptian characters.  I also spent a number of months with an Egyptian tutor trying to learn Arabic, which turns out to be extraordinarily difficult!!!  There are many contemporary resonances in this story and even the power relationship at the heart of the book – Lady and maid – is not obsolete in the 21st century!  Lady Duff Gordon was a true radical in terms of her attitudes toward Imperialism and having her as a prism through which to view Egyptian politics of the time was immensely helpful.

In my review I touched upon the sense of ‘blame’, how to an extent I expected Sally to despise Lady Gordon for treating her in such a way, yet you are left with very mixed feelings. In moving away from Europe to a difficult culture the two women become freer, almost becoming equals and there is a sense of duty and respect between the two women. Yet sadly, neither can escape their upbringings and the situation Sally finds herself in is a product of the times. As the novel concludes though, Sally seems to have a brighter future ahead of her in one way, with options that she never had before. Would you consider exploring Sally’s story further at all in the future? Perhaps looking at the new place she finds herself in within society?

I wouldn’t rule out revisiting Sally in Egypt at some point!  Egyptian history in the 19th and 20th century is really very interesting and to set a story at a slightly later date would be fun. However, I can’t imagine doing that anytime in the near future.  This book took me so long to write, finishing it was most peculiar – I was so accustomed to having it nag at me at all times.  I miss it, but it is also a great relief to have finished it, and now to see it in the world in the lovely edition that Serpent’s Tail have published.  Let’s wait and see how it does, how it makes it’s way in the world, and what readers think of it!

And just touching on the writing process itself, what are you working on next? With your writing, do you have a set routine or structure when working on a project? And what advice would you have for other writers or would-be writers?

At the moment I have three main projects, all very different.  I’ve been commissioned to write a libretto for an opera based on ‘Dorian Gray’ – my first ever libretto, so that’s a steep learning curve but very exciting.  I’m also co-creating nine multimedia short stories aimed at secondary school kids, with my digital collaborator Chris Joseph, for educational publishing Rising Stars.  And I’m collaborating with an artist called James Coupe on a project that creates films using facial recognition software – the first stage of this is taking place in Ulverston over the summer.  These last two projects reflect the other side of my writing life, which is working on digital projects.

I try to carve out as much writing time as possible and I seem to be getting a bit better at that currently – the demands of e-mail, twitter, blogs, and all the other online communication sometimes feel overwhelming to me, but I do seem to be getting better at shutting all that off when I need to.  Famous last words.  I also have a half-time post at a university where I teach creative writing and new media – I mostly teach online, so that’s another time management challenge.

My main advice for would-be writers is:  find a good story and stick with it and remember that, with writing fiction, speed is not a virtue.

The Mistress of Nothing is published by Serpent’s Tail and is out now. For more information, see katepullinger.com