Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

 

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Salley Vickers: Grandmothers

Published by: Penguin Viking

Available from online and all good bookshops from November 7th

 

What They Say:

Grandmothers is the story of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation: fiercely independent Nan, who leads a secret life as an award-winning poet when she is not teaching her grandson Billy how to lie; glamorous Blanche, deprived of the company of her beloved granddaughter Kitty by her hostile daughter-in-law, who finds solace in rebelliously taking to drink and shop lifting; and shy, bookish Minna who in the safety of shepherd’s hut shares with her surrogate granddaughter Rose her passion for reading. The outlook of all three women subtly alters when through their encounters with each other they discover that the past is always with us and that we go on learning and changing until the very end.

 

What I Say:

There’s more than one kind of relative,’ Nan said. ‘There are kindred spirits, to my mind closer than blood ties often.’

I read Salley Vickers’ previous novel The Librarian last year, and loved the way in which you were drawn in to a world that was so far from my own, but engaged me totally and was observed with such tenderness and clarity.

When I was asked to take part in the BlogTour for Grandmothers, I was really looking forward to savouring Salley’s elegant prose and real characters once again.

Grandmothers is the story of three women; Nan, Minna and Blanche, and we are observers of their lives as women who have all loved, lived and lost and are now Grandmothers.

Nan looks after her grandson Billy, and is constantly both frustrated by how chaotic her son Alec and daughter in law Virginia are in their approach to parenting, but she also relishes the time that she has with Billy. She may seemingly be abrasive, with little or no tolerance for those who do not fit in with her view of the world, but she is also an intensely intelligent woman who is a successful poet. Her desire to be able to write in peace and channel her creativity is thwarted by the time she has to look after Billy, but her love and desire to give her grandson stability and guidance means she knows that she is doing the right thing.

We learn that Nan has never got over her first true love Hamish, and she has channelled her thoughts and desires into the poetry that consumes her dreams and provides her with a creative outlet. Nan is biding her time until she can be with Hamish again, but in the meantime, her devotion to and relationship with Billy provides her with the daily routine and connection to the world around her.

Blanche is also a devoted Grandmother to her two grandchildren, but she has a special connection with teenage Kitty. However an ill judged remark by her grandson has given her acerbic daughter in law the moral upper hand and has decided to restrict the contact Blanche has with them. As a result, even though she is comfortably off, Blanche has started to shoplift and drink more than she should. This for me raised many interesting questions about Blanche, and indeed the large number of women today who adore their Grandchildren but are prevented from spending time with them by their children, and how they deal with a situation that is seemingly irreperable.

Blanche’s sadness and bewilderment at what she is doing is increasingly evident through the chapters. It is as if she is numb within her own life, and having settled for a marriage with a man she loved, but was not in love with, and being denied time with her family, she is desperate to feel something, anything to get her through her days.

Minna is not related to Rose, having met her when she worked at her school as a teaching assistant, but is the closest thing to a granddaughter she has. Minna is slightly removed from society in that she lives alone in a Shepherd’s Hut, and leads a simple and plain life on her own. However, her relationship with Rose brings her joy, and their shared passion for Reading not only helps connect them, but also gives Rose the comfort she needs away from the family home, as her parents’ marriage is starting to crumble.

These three seemingly separate women are connected not only by the bond they have with the children, but also by the lives they have lived and the society they are part of.

Older women are often deemed invisible by the world around them, and in this novel, Salley Vickers unapologetically places them right in front of us, and makes us realise that their age does not make them less valuable, rather that these women should be respected and celebrated for the life they have led and the wisdom they have gained.

There were so many things about Grandmothers that resonated with me. As the narrative moves effortlessly backwards and forwards through Nan, Minna and Blanche’s lives, I absolutely understood their frustrations at feeling like they didn’t quite fit in any more through no fault of their own. Their worth was measured in how available they were to take on the care of their grandchildren without a thought for whether or not it stopped them from living their own lives.

It was also a clever plot device to have all the women gradually meet each other in moments where they fleetingly intersect with each other’s lives before starting to forge their friendships. I kept willing them all to get together, but it is testament to Salley’s skill as a writer that she kept them apart until just the right moment.

For me, the fact that the women were not paragons of virtue, that they had faults and were trying to get through their lives as best as they could endeared them more to me. The women are relatable because they act, feel and respond like we do, and that makes us feel closer to them and we want to see them happy too.

Grandmothers is one of those novels that when you start it, you don’t want it to end. Salley Vickers has written a book that deserves to be read slowly and savoured, filled with evocative descriptions and characters you really care about. You might not always understand the choices they make, but you only want them all to finally find what makes them truly happy.

This is not simply a trite story about three women who are Grandmothers, but instead is a passionate and vital read about women who have forged their own paths and eventually learn to have confidence in themselves and the creative, emotional and personal paths they have taken.

I loved it.

 

Thank you so much to Hannah at Viking Books UK for my gifted copy, and please do have a look to see what these other brilliant bloggers are saying about Grandmothers too.

The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award – 2019 Shortlist Revealed.

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I am hoping that you have all been excited as I have to find out which authors have been shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award 2019!

It is an amazing and intriguing shortlist, featuring authors who will entertain and educate you, challenge your perceptions and preconceptions and draw you completely into their worlds.

Are you ready?

Sure?

Want to go and make a cup of coffee first?

Is the suspense killing you?

 

It is my privilege and honour to reveal the four shortlisted authors:

 

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I am incredibly excited to read and review these books, and to discuss them with you and my fellow Shadow Judges.

So, the works are:

Testament by Kim Sherwood – Published By riverrun

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus – Published By Penned In The Margins

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues-Fowler – Published By Fleet/Little, Brown

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield – Published By Picador

Here is a little more about each book.

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Testament by Kim Sherwood from riverrun tells the story of Eva and her relationship with her Grandfather.

She is making a film about his life, and when he passes away, Eva discovers a letter from The Jewish Museum in Berlin asking if they can use his testament of Holocaust experiences.  Eva realises her Grandfather Silk endured many things during the Holocaust, and in uncovering his unspoken history, she is forced to confront her own. By exploring the past, Eva will change the future of her family forever.

I haven’t read this one, and am so looking forward to losing myself in this novel. It ticks all my historical fiction boxes, and am always interested in learning about the lives of those whose unheard voices form such an important part of the world around us.

I will of course, be blogging about Testament and all the books on the Shortlist, and hope you join in the discussion too.

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The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus from Penned in the Margins, is a book of poetry which is also his debut work.

It is a collection of Raymond’s life experiences about language, history and identity, and also is a profoundly personal work which details the reality of being a deaf person and all the judgement that brings. The Perseverance is about Raymond’s relationship with his family, the importance of communication and the things that are not said as much as those that are.

I have to admit, that I was slightly nervous about the idea of reading and reviewing a collection of poetry, although I love reading it. Suffice to say, that I have started dipping in as I couldn’t wait, and I know it is going to be an awe inspiring book that will create lots of discussion.

I can already see the immense power that Raymond’s words have on the page and am ready to educate myself about a world I currently know nothing of.

 

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Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler from Fleet/Little, Brown is the only book on the Shortlist that I have prior knowlege of.

I was lucky enough to see Yara in conversation with Zeba Talkhani and Daniel Hahn at the Henley Literary Festival earlier this year.  The passion and emotion with which she spoke about her life experiences and the search for identity when you don’t apparently fit in to the culture you live in was intensely moving.

The Stubborn Archivist is a novel that uses other people’s perceptions and conversations to form a picture of the protagonist. At the same time she is attempting to find her own identity in a world trying to find a way to be seen, and she is also dealing with the knowledge her body has been traumatised. It is told in fragments and challenges the preconceptions we have about a traditional novel.

I know it is going to be a unique and thought provoking insight into the meaning of identity, culture, self and belonging.

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Salt Slow by Julia Armfield from Picador, is a new title to me.

It is a collection of short stories, which uses the body in all its forms as its inspiration. I am being completely honest when I tell you that short stories are not something that I would usually pick up, however, as part of being on the Shadow Panel, this is as much a chance for me to put aside my own preconceptions, and to challenge myself to read more widely.

I have to say that the whole premise of Julia’s book just make me wants to start reading it now! The notion that the everyday world is mixed with the mystical and gothic one is just the sort of genre I love – the sense of unease and tension is an interesting and unsettling one.

I will be sharing my thoughts with you on my blog and Twitter and Instagram, along with the rest of the Shadow Panel Judges.

Well, there we are! What do you think? Have you read any? Are you like me when I see a Shortlist and want to get hold of copies of them right away and follow it (I do it all the time!)

I am really excited to start reading all these titles – they may be outside my comfort zone, but that makes it even more interesting as a reader and Shadow Judge as I will be learning about myself and challenging my ideas about fiction and form. I have to say when I found out which books were on the Shortlist, it made me want to stop and read them all at once!

Over the coming weeks, I will be posting my reviews on my blog, and keeping you all updated as to how I am getting on. I would love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to see what Anne, David, Linda and Phoebe are saying too.

If you want to get involved, please do use #youngwriterawardshadow to chat to us, if there is anything you want to know, or even so you can read along with us all too!

You can also read more about the Award and the Shortlist in more detail here

I will be posting my very first review soon – now my only problem is deciding which one to start first..!

Lots of love,

Clare

xxxshadow-judge-wob-2019

 

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award

 

I am, as always, going to be completely honest with you all about what news I have to tell you.

When I first received an email asking if I would be interested in being a Shadow Panel Judge for the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, I thought it was an elaborate phishing email!

Someone had obviously watched my social media, clocked my love of reading and talking about books, and I was sure they would tell me that in return for me depositing a sum of money into account offshore somewhere, I would of course be a Shadow Judge on one of the most well known literary awards.

The thing is, after replying, the email was totally legitimate!

I am very honoured, a little bit flustered, and quite a bit speechless, to tell you all that I am going to be a Shadow Judge for the 2019 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award!

It has been so difficult not to say anything to you all, but at last I don’t have to worry about saying something I shouldn’t!

Just in case you don’t know much about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, here’s what you need to know..

It’s an annual award of £5,000 for the best book – fiction, poetry, non-fiction or anything else published in the last year by a writer under 35 and there are three prizes of £500 each for the runners-up. The previous winners include Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter in recent years, and Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters and Robert MacFarlane have also been recipients of this Award. The prize also signed up The British Council as its international partner in 2017.

The University Of Warwick also offers each year’s winner a not only a ten week residency at the University,  but also year round digital support as well.

I am going to be joined on the Shadow Panel by these amazing bookbloggers too:

Anne Cater who is at Random Things Through My Letterbox

David Harris who is at Bluebookballoon

Linda Hill who is at Linda’s Book Bag

Phoebe Williams who is at The Brixton Bookworm

It’s going to be a fabulous experience, and am so looking forward to us all getting together to decide our Winner in November!

We will be using the hashtag #YoungWriterAwardShadow to keep you all updated.. please do follow us and our hashtag, and if you want to ask any questions, read along with the list, or want to know something, let us know. After all, who doesn’t love to talk about books?

We are acting as the Shadow Panel, but of course there are the 2019 Official Judges too.

They are authors Kate Clanchy, and Victoria Hislop and the panel is completed by the Literary Editor of The Sunday Times Andrew Holgate

In case you are interested, and want to know what we are doing and when, here are some key dates for you:

The Shortlist will be revealed on Sunday 3rd November.

The Shadow Panel Winner will be announced on Thursday 28th November.

The Prize Giving Ceremony and Winner Announcement will be on Thursday 5th December at London Library.

Over the next month, I hope you will join me as I read, review and talk about not only the four shortlisted books, but also show you behind the scenes as to what it is like to be a Shadow Judge for this Award!

So there you have it!  Am still having to pinch myself that it’s really happening, and that this is not all a bookish dream..!

I am so excited not only to read, review and judge the shortlist, but also to be part of such a prestigious award and to work with brilliant and passionate book lovers too!

Here’s hoping you all follow along and do please tell us what you think about the shortlist and I’ll be talking a lot about this on Twitter and Instagram- it’s really important to me that you all feel part of this too!

Now, am off to have a lie down and perhaps pinch myself again as I wait to get ready for the Shortlist, and to find out which authors I will be reading over the next few weeks….

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

 

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

Sonia Velton – Blackberry and Wild Rose

Published By – Quercus Books

Available Online and From All Good Bookshops.

 

What The Blurb Says:

WHEN ESTHER THOREL, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

INSIDE THE THORELS’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

IT IS SILK that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household and set the scene for a devastating day of reckoning between her and Sara.

THE PRICE OF a piece of silk may prove more than either is able to pay.

 

What I Say:

But the world turns on a sixpence and our lives shifted the moment she walked through the door. She was like a cat sidling in uninvited and looking about.”

I am always completely honest with you all about my reading and blogging, and I am not going to hide the fact that recently, my reading had been a bit of a lost cause!

When Ella from Quercus kindly offered to send me a copy of Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton  – honestly – I wasn’t holding out much hope, and was already worrying about what I was going to tell Ella about why I couldn’t review it!

The thing is, the minute I started, I knew it was just what I needed to help me want to start reading again, and to finally feel more like a reader than a machine!

Blackberry and Wild Rose is a clever and intelligent novel, filled with evocative writing, and two female protagonists who may come from two entirely different worlds, but are  more alike than they would ever admit.

Sara Kemp is a young woman who after arriving in Spitalfields in 1768, is met by a woman called Mrs Swann who offers her a place to stay and rest.  Unfortunately, The Wig and Feathers turns out to be a brothel, and Sara is effectively kept prisoner by Mrs Swann who tells Sara she has to pay back the money she has accrued on her bed and board.  Sara has to keep working to attempt to pay off her debt, which of course is impossible.

Sara quickly realises she is at the mercy of Mrs Swann and the men who use her, and little by little, Sara seems to disassociate from her body and feel nothing. That is until one day a client treats her so badly she knows she needs to find a way to escape her existence, because simply existing is all she is doing.

Esther Thorel is seemingly the answer to Sara’s prayers. The wife of a respected Huguenot Silk Trader, a woman who is keen to be seen as charitable and kind to those less fortunate, dispensing bibles and food to those who need it, Esther is the sort of woman that Sara believes can help her escape her damaged world.

When Sara goes to Esther’s house to ask her to help, Esther’s curiosity and desire to be seen to be a benefactress of Spitalfields that she decides to employ Sara and welcome her as a servant in her household.

This seemingly selfless action by Esther is the start of her whole world turning upside down.

Esther’s silk trader husband Elias is determined to make as much money as possible, and as well as having many men weaving for him in houses all round London, he hires Bisby Lambert, a talented journeyman silk weaver to use the loom in the garret of his house to produce his master piece. Apparently in exchange for the chance for Bisby to be admitted to the Weaver’s Company, and Thorel to get the chance to sell a figured silk for a large amount of money.

Already, there is an unsettling shift in the Thorel Household. A new maid and a journeyman in their house means that the lives of the Thorels will never be the same again.  Although Esther may have believed that Sara’s gratitude to her would mean that she had a supportive and hard working maid, she completely underestimates Sara’s determination to not settle for what she has been given, and instead she wants to be brought futher into Esther’s world as her lady’s maid, so she can become indispensible to her.

Esther may seem that she is living a blessed life, with a rich husband and a beautiful home, but right from the start, we are very aware that all is not as it seems in the Esther Thorel’s world.  A keen artist, who loves to paint, but is also fascinated by the world her husband works in, and wants to design her own silk. He dismisses her entirely and tells her to be satisfied with her world and that is all as a woman she can handle.

Frustrated by the limits that other people put on her, dissatisfied with her marriage, and aware that her husband is more interested in the maid Moll than he really should be, Esther decides she wants to turn her painting of Blackberry and Wild Rose into a sumptuous silk and needs Bisby’s help to do so. Their relationship is beautifully played out, in an understated and controlled way, that serves to add to the intensity and frustration Esther feels about how she has to behave appropriately when faced with feeling genuine passion for the first time in a long time.

Similarly Sara is easing her way into Esther’s life, becoming the one person who is a constant and seemingly unwavering support. However, we as the reader are aware how although Sara may have left behind her life in a brothel, she is still controlled by others, without a voice of her own. Interestingly, Sara is fully aware of it too – and she is determined to change it.

This is an interesting theme that is deftly woven through the pages of this novel – that women are a commodity to be traded and owned, irrespective of class and age, and that a woman’s body is judged not only on appearance, but also by the ability to have children. Esther is unable to conceive and is judged by society for it, Sara falls pregnant but due to her social standing and unmarried status, she is judged by others who decide that she is not fit to keep her baby.

Motherhood is for me a recurring issue which runs all through Blackberry and Wild Rose, as does the notion of what being a good mother means. Esther has had an uneasy relationship with her mother, and is now denied the chance to be one, while Sara falls pregnant and when she has her baby daughter, she fully understands what it means to be a mother, and that how from now on her daughter has to be at the heart of every choice she makes.

As the novel weaves its way between the narratives of the women, as a reader we start to understand their decisions more clearly. There is an uneasy and at times strained relationship between the Esther and Sara, but they are united in the knowledge that both have seen each other at their most vulnerable and raw. Slowly they edge towards a common understanding and shared empathy and the novel gains an additional layer because of it. It is interesting to see how they are also the main characters, and that the men are secondary to them in terms of plot and character.

In Blackberry and Wild Rose, Sonia has written a beautifully pitched and elegant debut novel, filled with language and descriptions that are evocative and considered. It is also fascinating to see how relevant Esther and Sara’s stories are for women in the present day, and how far we still have to go to achieve the same rights and recognition as men.

I think that Blackberry and Wild Rose is the perfect novel to lose yourself in as the nights draw in. It is in Sonia’s skill as a writer that you are absolutely absorbed into a world that may have been part of Britain’s history centuries ago, but that feels so contemporary and necessary today. It is Esther and Sara’s story, and quite rightly so.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Ella Patel at Quercus Books a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Do You Ever Wonder?

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This is a bit of a random post, because it’s not a review, but more something I have been thinking about, and when I want to blog, I’m going to blog!

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about why I love book blogging – I know that I’ve talked about that before here , but then my youngest asked me recently – what do you think makes a good book blogger?

Well, that got me thinking…

What Makes A Good Book Blogger?

Do you have to have a huge number of followers – and does that in turn mean you have a responsibility to be authentic and post regular book reviews for those people who listen to you and value your opinions and recommendations?

Is it that you must read at a rapid rate, and because you read so many books and blog about them regularly that your opinions count more than someone who publishes four blog posts a year?

Do you have to read and review every single book you have or are lucky enough to get sent?

Perhaps we should be measure the success of a book blogger as to how long your blog posts are?  Are pages and pages more worthy than a few paragraphs?

Does it make you any lesser of a blogger if you don’t use a site to blog, but instead choose videos, a tweet, an instagram post or a YouTube channel as a means to share the Booklove?

Perhaps you are lucky enough to get all the most anticipated proofs, so that must mean the people in the publishing industry believe that you are a good book blogger and have the engagement and reach that they want for their books – if you are talking about it, then everyone on this planet will need this book too.

To be a good book blogger, do you have to follow and do all the hashtags and challenges and readathons and all the other bookish events that pepper the calendar throughout the year?

Maybe to be you have to be brilliant at social media and know how to use all the filters and editing techniques on Instagram, so your bookish pictures and reviews always look like they would fit into a magazine.

Obviously the more you tweet and retweet and repost and add to your Instagram stories with all the bookish things means that you must be a top notch book blogger too right?

Or can you only possibly be a good book blogger if you spend all day on social media, interact with all your favourite authors, and what their favourite flavour of crisps are?

Well, you can’t be a very good book blogger if you aren’t reading the latest releases everyone is shouting about can you?

It’s confusing isn’t it?

What does make a good book blogger? 

I don’t have the definitive answer, but all I will say is that if you are not enjoying what you are doing, and that you feel like a joyless reading machine, then stop and take a step back.

Having the confidence to do whatever bookish things YOU want to do, when YOU want to do it helps to make you a better blogger.

A wise woman (who is also an author) told me recently that one of the best things in the world for her is when a reader contacts her to say how much they enjoyed reading her book.

Perhaps that is all this book blogging malarkey is – sharing the booklove in a way that works for you. I know how hard it is to just be content with what you are doing without comparing yourself, but trust me, life’s too short to worry as to whether you have spent enough time today being Bookish Enough.

If posting every day is what works for you, do it. If once a year is fine, then do that too.

Only want to talk about the latest releases, go for it. If you relish the joy in talking about a book that’s been on your shelves for a while, or a book from a library you chose, do that too.

Can’t be bothered faffing around with filters and special effects on your pics, then don’t – who cares?

Have an account on every social media channel and tweet or post or create witty stories to your heart’s content, or have one way that you love of communicating with people – it’s up to you!

Read what you want, when you want, talk about it, don’t talk about it – you choose to do whatever you want – you love reading and that’s all that matters!

That’s it – no shattering revelations, no clever or witty snappy remarks, just a plain and simple fact.

This is only my opinion, you might agree or disagree, you might think I have got it absolutely wrong or completely spot on, but now it’s over to you!

So, Bookish People, what do you think makes a good book blogger?

Lots of love,

Clare

Xx

 

Bringing on the BookLove Again!

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Antonia Honeywell was kind enough to let me loose on her radio programme Booktime Brunch on Chiltern Voice this Monday, and I had an absolute blast!

This time, we talked all about small independent presses, and the amazing passionate people behind them who, like us, love books and reading and want to shout about great books!

You can listen to Booktime Brunch here…

 

As promised, are the links to everyone and everything Antonia and I talked about.

Look them up, read what they do, follow them, read their blogs, buy a book (or ten) from them, and here’s to us all of us for sharing the book love!

 

The Books We Talked About

This Mortal Boy by Dame Fiona Kidman from @BelgraviaB

Little by @EdwardCarey70  also from @BelgraviaB

How To Be Autistic by @smallreprieves  from @MyriadEditions

It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother by  @lisablowerwrite from @MyriadEditions

The Mating Habits of Stags by Ray Robinson from @EyeAndLightning

The Caravaners by Elizabeth Von Arnim from @KateHandheld

Witches Sail In Eggshells by  @TurnerPen2Paper from @reflexfiction

The Offing by @BenMyers1 from @BloomsburyBooks

Bone China by @spookypurcell from @BloomsburyRaven

Hungry Paul by @MumblinDeafRo from @Ofmooseandmen

Brian Flynn Mysteries and the Furrowed Middlebrow Series by @DeanStPress

Self and I by @MDeAbaitua from @EyeAndLightning

 

The Fabulous Book Loving Bloggers We Talked About

@BookishChat

Amanda is a brilliant book blogger, who not only consistently fabulous reviews, but also is always supporting and promoting other people too. If you don’t follow her already, you really should..

@EleanorFranzen

Eleanor sells books, also writes a fantastic blog, and is also going to be a guest on Booktime Brunch with Antonia very soon too.

 

The Amazingly Supportive Publishing People and Their Publishing Houses

Isabelle @BelgraviaB

@EmmaDowson1  from @MyriadEditions

@EmmaDowson1  from @saltpublishing

Kate Macdonald and @JudithWiseBooks from  @KateHandheld

Simon and @meandmybigmouth from @EyeAndLightning

@d_bdale from @reflexfiction

@PhilippaCotton from @BloomsburyBooks

Victoria from @DeanStPress

The @ngaiomarshaward

 

The Literary Festivals You Would Be Mad To Miss

The Henley Literary Festival

You can find out all about it here – Henley Literary Festival

Or follow them on Twitter here – @HenleyLitFest

Or on Instagram here  –  @henleylitfest

I am going to be Live Tweeting:

Families In Fiction with @HarrietEvans  @hannahbeckerman  @missjanetellis

Debuts on The Thames with @ZebaTalk  and @yazzarf

How To Write A Thriller with  @alisonbarrow  @LesleyKara and @figbarton

With Many Thanks to Sara, for all her help and support too!

 

The Tring Book Festival

You can find out all about it here – Tring Book Festival

Or follow them on Twitter here – @tringbookfest

Or on Instagram here – @tringbookfest

With Many Thanks to @BenDMoorhouse and @AliCyster for their help and time in telling us all about The Tring Book Festival too!

 

Finally, a HUGE Thank you so much to the always Fabulous Antonia Honeywell for having me as a guest on her show #BooktimeBrunch on @ChilternVoice

I’m going to be back on Antonia’s show on December 9th, dispensing Book Doctor Advice, so if you have any bookish dilemmas, we may be able to help!

Keep watching our Twitter feeds to see how you can be involved, and more importantly, keep reading and sharing the Book Love!

Love,

Clare xx

The Offing by Benjamin Myers

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The Offing by Benjamin Myers

Published By Bloomsbury

Available online and from all good bookshops.

 

What’s it all about?

One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric, worldly, older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing out to sea.

Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come from different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.

What I Say:

“And that is what matters.  I was living the life I wanted to live, and still am, despite this thing that eats away inside of me: a disease called time.”

This is my first official blog post since my self imposed Summer Break.  I have done video reviews a plenty, but I knew at some point, that I needed to start writing again, to leave some trace of my reading journey on my tiny piece of the Internet.

I realised that it would have to be a genuinely special novel that would spark my need to tell you all about it in a post, to reinvigorate my mission to continue to document my reading and tell you all about books I love.

The Offing is that novel.

Set in the years after the Second World War, Robert Appleyard decides that he needs to spend some time away from his life in Durham, before he inevitably follows the path his family has set, and becomes a miner.  As he wends his way through the countryside, relishing in the peace of a world that constantly engages and surprises him, we follow his journey through the natural world that seems so far removed from the world he has left behind and the uncertainty of a world still recovering from the noise and chaos of a war.

Robert’s journey through the countryside is slow and measured, taking in and appreciating the sights and sounds of nature, as he grudgingly realises that this might be the last chance he has to appreciate the world around him before he is resigned to a life of hard work and familial duty.

As he approaches Robin Hood’s Bay, he stumbles upon a ferocious looking dog, a tired and dilpapdated cottage, and a force of nature called Dulcie Piper.  Dulcie is a woman who has retreated from society and spends her days in her cottage making the best of what she has in the post war era.  The thing is, Dulcie has an amazing array of food and drink that she seems to have ‘acquired’ in a number of rather unorthodox ways.

It is clear from the very first time they meet that Dulcie is a woman who lives by her rules and is not deterred by anyone’s opinions of her or how she has chosen to live her life.  Her passion for life and never ending anecdotes are just what Robert needs, and little by little, their friendship starts to form, as each realises that they now have a real chance to live the life they want rather than the one that has been forced upon them.

Dulcie recognises that within Robert there lies a young man who does not want to follow the path his family wants him to, that he is an intelligent and thoughtful boy who has to hide his dreams of gaining an education so that he does not disappoint them or impact on his ability to earn them money in a time where wages and prospects are uncertain.

Robert also sees that in Dulcie, she has lived a life that is full and passionate, but that she is hiding something that is so deeply ingrained that she is unable to articulate the pain she feels in holding onto the past, and more especially about the love of her life.

Little by little, Robert and Dulcie start to open up to each other, and the summer is spent with the two characters easing into their friendship. Dulcie provides the food, wine and hair raising stories, Robert works the land and carries out the never ending house repairs to help Dulcie regain control of her cottage and the studio where Robert is staying.

Dulcie opens Robert’s eyes to the worlds of possibility and learning that are waiting for him, if only he is brave enough to have the confidence in himself to stand up for what he truly wants.

Benjamin Myers has created a time and place where two seemingly unconnected people find a bond that will endure forever.  He portrays a tender and caring relationship between Dulcie and Robert, always believable and perfectly paced, as we see both characters develop through the novel, becoming more at ease with each other, and without realising it, holding the key to each other’s happiness.

The prose and language is languid and beguiling, you feel the warmth of the sun, the changing seasons, the seemingly never ending battle against nature, but you are also aware that we are constantly at the mercy of it.  I loved the way in which we, like Robert, become totally immersed in Dulcie’s world, that this little bubble becomes our safe haven away from the grim realities of a time which was shattered by the loss of a way of life many had taken for granted.

The Offing is a meaningful title for a number of reasons – it is at its most basic definition, the place where the sea meets the sky,  but it is also the title of a work of a German poet called Romy Landau – the woman who stayed with Dulcie before Robert, and who it transpires was Dulcie’s lover.  For me, The Offing was also the tantalising notion of possibility, that we may believe our destinies are set in stone, but that by meeting the right person at the right time, our lives can be changed for the better – however scary it may seem.

This is the first novel by Benjamin Myers that I have read, and I now want to read his other work too. In The Offing, he has written a tender and thoughtful novel, one that completely absorbed me and made me think about the path I had chosen in life too. I wonder if I had been lucky enough to meet a woman like Dulcie, where would I be now?

The Offing is not a lengthy novel, but it has a massive heart. Following Robert’s example of realising that life is too short, it gave me the confidence to put myself forward for something I really wanted to do. It might not happen, but at least I tried, and won’t wonder what if?

A book has to be a pretty special novel to provoke that kind of reaction – and The Offing really is.

I loved it.

Thank you to Philippa Cotton at Bloomsbury for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.