Books · Jottings · Witterings

Readers Day III

The first time I went to newbooks magazine Readers Day – I got lost coming out of the train station and it took me ages to find out exactly where I needed to be. I don’t why as I have been coming to Winchester on the train for years?

The second time in 2013, I had eaten something that did not agree with me and certainly did not feel 100%. I was probably grumpy as well as I could not buy any books either.

So this time for their third event, I hoped that it would be ok. I had some money I wanted to spend, on the new Sara Sheridan novel and a Katie Fforde. I had got the times of the trains right, and knew it came it at 0955 giving me time to get to where I needed to be.

I set off full of high spirit, especially as the night before I had seen another author speak, Alison Weir (more of that in another post) and I was really enjoying the thought of a very ‘bookish’ and ‘literary’ weekend. I had a book to read on the train (more of that in another post – as it is a new type of reading and reviewing) and some for the book swap table.

Then five minutes from the station (I had walked in the interest of fitness) it rained. This was not a few spots of rain, this was a deluge and immediate. I was walking into this rain that I became wet, my hair was dripping, my dress was soaked and my cardigan turned from light blue to dark. When I got to the station and somehow managed to purchase a ticket I went and wrang out my dress and did some rather interesting manoeuvres with the hand dryer. Only the front of me was wet. I then wondered whether this day was doomed….

Drying out on the train and a very fast walk to the lovely setting. What greeted me was some cups of hot coffee and delicious pieces of cake. The Early Grey Tea bread has now been added to a list of things I must bake very soon and I need to seek out a recipe. But the best bit once I had settled myself with a second cup of coffee (and more cake) was the wonderful people you meet and the knowledge that they are all there because they love reading, they love books and they love talking about them.

I made my purchases early on in proceedings and then had to make sure I picked up a Katie Fforde book that I had not read (thank goodness for Goodreads) when I was stopped by Guy Pringle (who runs the event) and who had remembered me, which is also what makes this event so friendly and said he would be coming to me with questions for Sara Sheridan as I had recently blogged about her. Mild panic meant I had to quickly flick back and see what I had written. Luckily nothing controversial and I found the questions I wanted to ask her. Why the character names Vesta and Mirabelle? Churchill and Bevan? I admit to being a bit slow on the up take as although I had worked out the Churchill reference, I had not even thought of Bevan and relating it to Aneurin Bevan.

Here I will put my hand up  and say that I am now even more of a fan of Sara Sheridan. What a wonderful lady to listen to as well. We learnt about her background, Scottish author but university took her to Trinity College in Dublin.  The beauty of accents I think makes all the more for a richer voice and also can make the most innocuous sentence sound threatening “I like your baby”. (It did sound menacing)

It is her historical fiction that I know her best for and have read The Secret Mandarin and when she took a rather odd departure to ‘cosy crime’ I wondered how it would work. Sara admits to liking cosy crime and actually upon discovering the wonderful Agatha Christie and The ABC Murders when she was a young teenager curiously wondered if she had written any more? The Mirabelle Bevan books, set in the 1950s thanks to a discussion with her dad about a woman he saw on Brighton Beach, are likely to be around eleven books in total for the series. How delightful that there is more to come.

But it is always interesting to know more behind the author, the fact that Sara Sheridan has ghost written some celebrity books and did not divulge anything – but left many of us wondering? But also that some people may only recognise the name in the context of journalism. The phenomenal amount of research that she does to make sure she gets it all right had me harking back to my days as a history student and immersing myself in information from the period you are looking at. I really miss them days. Sara admits to being a swot and she made it really cool!

I could go on and wish I had a tape recorder to replay what was said. I avoided taking any notes because I just wanted to absorb so much that was being said. England Expects the third novel in the Mirabelle Bevan series is purchased, signed and waiting to be read.

Where was Guy and Mel from newbooks going to take us next? Well Guy admits it was going to be a bit of a risk. A publisher and not one from a major publishing house but Adam Freudenheim from Pushkin Press. This is the man behind the people who bring us the stories, he is the one who introduces us to some forgotten works of fiction and some new pieces as well. How does a man from America come to be in England via Berlin? Through an interesting determination to work within the literary world I think would be my answer from listening to him. No doubt his time at Penguin has influenced a lot of his choice of works now published. Plus the fact that him and his editorial team speak a vast amount of languages which can only be a bonus when discovering something that has been a phenomenal hit in Holland but never printed in English. Whilst at Penguin he is the man who brought us Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, a book I have seen but never picked up or attempted to read.

I have always found translated fiction a little bit scary. I have read one Jo Nesbo but that is all. Adam made it all seem very accessible and more so when he introduced The Letter for The King that his children had enjoyed as much as Adam did as each chunk of translation was sent through. I think if your kids enjoy something and are enthusiastic about it then it must be a winner. I am certainly going to look for this book and give it a go. The morning ended with Adam signing books that Pushkin had published which must be a first and I hope he enjoyed the experience and questions from readers as much as I did listening and learning.

What has always worked is good food and good company. We were not let down again, the sandwiches were delicious, the Quiche melted in your mouth and the chocolate brownies were slabs of deliciousness which I devoured along with as much fruit as I could in the vain hope one would cancel out the other? (Don’t worry I know it does not).

The rain held off for lunch, I had dried out although my cardigan was still a wet soggy mess under my chair but I did not care as we were introduced to our next author.

Jake Wallis Simons, is not a name I know as an author. A quick look at the books available to buy showed he was writing some eclectic genres. Both books I saw Jam and The English German Girl looked interesting but I think I wanted to know a bit more if I was going to invest money and time.

Learn I did, not just about the M25 which features in Jam – the story when you are stuck in an overnight traffic jam and the whole colour of society is surrounding you. Based on an experience of Jake’s that he filed for some use at some point. Apparently there is not a neat ending but then life is not like that is it?

Jake also writes for The Telegraph. Another journalist and also a Winchester resident. Now things were slotting into place. I sort of recognised the name but was not sure why. Newspaper articles of course. I am generally not aware of who is writing the pieces I read in the Telegraph which considering I do when I am reading books, this is rather rude. (Note to self – pay more attention) Upon getting home I ‘googled’ and could see that I had indeed read many pieces by him and certainly liked his style and tone of writing. His humour was fun too. Upon being asked to comment on the Coulson/Wade/News International/Phone Hacking he told us all that all Telegraph journalists had received an email saying do not speak of this. Jake did not.

And to be honest, I would have rather baulked about listening to it. However interesting though were his experiences of Creative Writing and the purpose of it being an undergraduate course. This leads on from the earlier remarks in the year by Hanif Kureishi about such courses. The skill and the talent. Which led nicely onto his other novel The English German Girl which was about the kindertransport which was the book that came out of Jake’s PHD course and one that he is following up with a new novel. I look forward to reading both books.

And finally, Katie Fforde. You could say, saving the best to last or that she was the cherry on a very well made cake. However, it was great to interact with someone in the flesh rather than the media of twitter and learn about her experiences with Mills and Boon and how she seemed to have a nemesis who is a friend but has somewhat been in the shadow of her career.

Katie Fforde & Guy Pringle

Yes she does watch television all in the name of research, how on earth would she ever keep up to date on the language which is an ever-moving and changing musical voice of not just the young but the old as well. Ideas come from some many random places, even it seems choir practice threw up a scenario which she just needed to fill in the gaps and the love scene and a book was to be born (Highland Fling).

Her role as President of the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) is one of head patter and ‘it will be alright dear’ but Katie no doubt does it in a way where it means the most. Of course someone has been there doing it all through her twenty books and no doubt will go beyond – her sisters rather strict guidelines for finding the right home feature in her latest novel The Perfect Match.

Katie is an author I have only recently discovered and whilst I am fairly up to date with her recent work thanks to the publisher, I am so enjoying immensely escaping back with some early stuff. I love the fact that she embraces women as women really are, not flawless, not drop dead gorgeous, not stick thin. Real women, like me. That is why I love her books and now I have met her in person, and she of course has met me I feel even more honoured to read her work. Although seemingly keen to get her signature, I was also conscious of the time and heading back to get the train. Which is why I was first in the queue!

How do you wrap up a thoroughly enjoyable day? I learnt so much, I do miss my days as a student when I was learning from lectures and information would come my way that would set me off on another path.

I also met some lovely people. Guy referred to my blog and I had a couple of people ask me for the address of it. I hope you have found me and I say hello and hope you had a good day as well. I chatted to a lady I sat next to last year, she was on the same train too. Though she probably did not recognise me on the outward journey as I was rather sodden and dishelleved. I can’t recall your name, I do apologise. Hello to Sue who was sat by me and informed me that she subscribed to my blog. I can see you enjoyed immensely Katie Fforde and was just excited as me to see her. It is all rather flattering to get attention from something that started out as a hobby and a way for me to just write about what I have read (and other such nonsense). You never think when you start out on these endeavours there is anyone out there.

So with signed books in hand, I dashed off to get the train…….and guess what…. it was raining……

(Apologies if I have made any faux-pas, this is all done by memory and no notes. So my errors are mine and mine alone!) 
Books · Witterings

Reader’s Day – newbooks Magazine 2013

They did it again. Guy, Alison and Madeline plus many others at newbooks magazine decided to do it again and do it better for their second Reader’s Day. You can read all about the first one here.

And they did it again with aplomb!

Having learnt from last year, it was different venue, more spacious, more light. Refreshments were included and this time so was lunch!   Which I must say far exceeded the lunch I had at Guildford Book Festival Readers Day. Thank you Jane. They even managed to somehow sway the weather so it was dry enough to make use of the outside space once lunch came. My only observation that perhaps time allocated for lunch could have been a little bit shorter – say 45 minutes, as many were drifting back and there was a little bit too much hanging around.

However minor this may be the authors were certainly not. They were now in the major category. First up was Sadie Jones, author of The Outcast, Small Wars and The Uninvited Guests who have seen speak before (Guildford Book Festival) all books I have read and enjoyed and all books which were something so completely different from the one before. Sadie is lovely to listen to and I look forward to her new book.

Next up, in a rather female dominated first half (Guy was certainly outnumbered any way during the whole day!) was Jennie Rooney who was there to talk about her book Red Joan, but also about her life. I had started The Opposite of Falling and was around half way through so I took that with me to be signed. She kindly did and wrote that I needed to finish it too! I have obeyed these instructions and did. What fascinated me about Jennie was she was much younger than me and had done so much with her life, and in fact being an author was not her full time role, this was merely a sideline or perhaps her main job as a lawyer at the FA is really the sideline?

Red Joan sounds like a novel that I would enjoy and I have added it to my list of ‘to reads’. Popular as it was on the day, where they were selling books they had run out of all of them. I actually did not buy any books whilst there – finances dictated as such, which was a shame as I could quite easily have bought many and had them all signed.

Still outnumbered Guy introduced us to two male authors, for the afternoon session – one I had heard of Ben Aaronvitch, who has apparently a cult following and one I had not Fergus McNeill, a debut author and a local at that. I had no idea what I was expecting and I was certainly surprised.

First up on stage Ben Aaronvitch was witty, wise. Why does he base his books in London – that is what he knows and where he lives – why make hard work for yourself? He has that edge of cynical humour that made me wonder – ‘why have I not read any of this man’s books?’. The reason was probably summed up by another lady in the audience – that because they are pitched as fantasy and science fiction they are alienating many a new reader. So say I too. Two categories which I get no enjoyment from at all, with the probable exception of Harry Potter. I aim to rectify this and spread the word. I have dug out an old copy of newbooks where he has been featured and I am starting to be introduced to Peter Grant. It had some reminiscences of the Bryant and May stories by Christopher Fowler and I enjoy them so I should see no reason why I should not enjoy these.

Now you could say Fergus McNeill had a lot to live up to. He did but he did it so well, that actually referring back to Ben’s point of being annoyed about being asked the question – why write about London? Fergus actually went through many journeys, train and walking to get the experience of some of his characters. Even featuring a house that ends up being the place in a the book that someone gets murdered – and then meeting said owner of the house. To the point where actually it became it bit too real and then when real life events suddenly took over one Christmas, it seemed his debut novel was about to never reach the book shop shelf. It did and I think if you are a fan of crime, you are going to enjoy these, more so for me as some of the places are fairly local there is always that recognition bit which brings that element of reality to it all.

And as I said at the beginning Guy, et al have done it again! They successfully combined four very different authors with a room full of very different readers who have come from far and not so far to experience a very full and educating Saturday. I wish I had the money to have bought books, I wish I was not feeling so ill that I was debating about whether I was going to make it or not, I am glad I did, but it probably set me back a few days recovery. I wish that I could attend such events as these more often.

I loved listening in to conversations on books and I recognised a few people from last years event. I would have been more communicative if I had been a bit brighter. I was not quite sure about the relevance of the name badges, was it needed or not? Although mine did cover up where I dropped toothpaste down my top, so it did have a use. I also did something which has perhaps given a gilded view on my day as I write this days after I went. I did not make any notes, simply I forgot, but actually spotting someone who was making copious notes I wondered if I picked up more than I would have done, as I was so intent on listening. Pausing to write you can sometimes lose the next thing that is said. You want to savor the day as much as you can and it is always difficult to get it right.

I look forward to see who they get next year, and I will be there without any doubt, especially when I know what I am getting and it is a mere train journey away for me.