Something to tell you… (Eeek!)

Clock Tower Desert Island Book ChoiceSo, I’ve got something exciting to tell you… ***drumroll please***

On the evening of Wednesday June 11, I will be taking part in the Clock Tower Desert Island Book Choice – part of the Crouch End Festival 2014.

As a former Crouch End gal, this gorgeous part of north London is still so close to my heart. I used to spend lots of time writing in The Haberdashery, where I was lucky enough to be able to hold my second book launch, and also, of course, Crouch End Library.

I’m delighted to be returning to the library for this special event. I am honoured to be joining authors Tom Campbell, Louise Millar, Matthew Baylis, and Callum Jacobs as we will discuss why we heart CE, what we’d pick as our desert island novel choices, and read extracts from our books!

I hope you can come along, it would be lovely to meet you. We will be signing copies of our books too!

Thanks!

#clocktowerdesertisland

 

 

My new ‘favourite book’. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor…

 

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

I always find the question ‘what is your favourite book?’ a difficult one.

A few titles spring to mind, and I soon find myself in a tangle. Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ is a stand-out because the story was so ‘disturbing’ I had to stop reading for a little while. Anything that makes me feel that much always prompts my admiration. David Nicholls’ beautiful ‘One Day’ pretty much inspired me to write my first novel ‘This is a Love Story’‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal’, by Jeanette Winterson had me in tears of awe on several occasions. I could list many more.

In short, I have read a number of stunning novels that all compete with each other in the ‘favourite book’ stakes, and when asked in the past, I’d rather not wanted to commit to one. Until now.

This morning I was snug as a bug in a rug, curled up in bed with several cups of coffee, finishing ‘Angel’ by Elizabeth Taylor. I discovered this novel because I’m collecting the gorgeous VMC Designer Collection, and Angel is a part of it. Its cover design (pictured) has been beautifully crafted by Celia Birtwell, (responsible for a popular range in Topshop a few years ago).

The novel was first published in the UK back in 1957, and this celebratory VMC copy has an introduction by Hilary Mantel. When I was reading Mantel’s words, I already knew that this book could be quite special… Mantel says “… what Elizabeth Taylor does is to de-romanticise the process of writing and show it to us close up, so we are aware that if ten per cent of the process is exhilaration, the rest is tedium, backache, and the fear of failure.” She discusses the vanity required to keep this going, adding that writers are ‘monstrous’. My interest was well and truly sparked!

Angel’ follows novelist Angel Deverell from her petulant teenage years living in poverty, up until the last moments of her life, surrounded by the decaying trappings of her own success. Angel is a fascinating character. She is so stunningly written by Taylor that she feels real despite the passage of time that has slipped away since this story was penned. It’s rare that novels can conjure up this much imagery. It was as if there was a feature film flickering across my eyes as I read every word. I devoured paragraph after paragraph of delicious prose, descriptions so rich I found myself blown away by Taylor’s talent.

I must include a minor ***spoiler alert*** before I discuss this book in any more detail… Although there is so much more to this novel than my review reveals (for those who would like to read on), anyone who likes to go in ‘blind’ may want to stop here and come back later.

I will go on now, (if you are still with me…) Angel, in a nutshell, is pretty obnoxious. She can be strikingly cruel, and almost impervious to her vile behaviour towards the people around her who fawn over her every whim. Yet despite all this, she is somehow loveable (a nod to the author’s expert characterisation). Angel is courageous, and bold. She speaks up for herself in a world where everyone tries to control and undermine her. She believes in herself like nothing else. That is a rare quality to admire, however clumsy her ways of showing it. The result is a lead character who made me cringe with her bolshy ways, and who I also became more and more fond of, as the book progressed.

The reader is transported with Angel as she launches to fame as a young author. She is published in her teens by a company in London, who are baffled when she turns up in their office, a strange looking young girl with a chip on her shoulder. She refuses to make the changes to her novel demanded by the publisher, and yet they still print it. This says a lot about her relationship with the world.

Angel then enjoys unprecedented success, writing novel after novel, although her works (while popular) are mocked by critics, for whom she develops a venomous hatred towards (this made me giggle at times).

I don’t want to give too much away so I should stop now…

Essentially there are several reasons why I think this book may now be the best I have ever read. The first being that Taylor’s writing is so skilled – I agree with the sentiment of this article. Elizabeth Taylor is immensely underrated, described as “one of the best English novelists born of this century” and yet so few know of her now.

The next reason is how much the themes of the book meant to me. Being an writer, I read with fascination about Angel’s bizarre vanity and self adoration, but yet I still felt her struggles. I’m sure that legions of writers would be able to relate to the pressure she put on herself to write something bigger and better, and truly know how nerve-wracking this is. I was interested in her constant struggle to fulfil the demands of her own vanity and yet not alienate ‘her public’ as her publisher so elegantly put it. And then there were those terrifying moments of self-doubt, which still got to her despite her steely exterior… I related to all of it in some way, for writers very well might be ‘monsters’ as Mantel says, constantly in a battle between their own ambitions and dreams, and the inevitable criticism that comes with their territory, whether internal or external.

Angel is really a one-off. So representative, (however much an exaggeration), of the painful and yet wonderful reality of being a writer.. I am so glad I read this novel, and I hope you will too. It’s sharp, funny, and also heartbreakingly sad and it might just be my new favourite book…

 

 

Celebrating book bloggers part three: Kevin Loh

1) Hi Kevin! Welcome to my blog. Can you tell me more about yourself? What are your three favourite things?

Salutations! I am Kevin, 19, from Malaysia! A country where I am at a crossroads. I can freely choose between UK and US editions of books. Hurrah! My top three favourite things? Gosh, this is hard. I’ll go with chocolate, books and hoodies!

2) Nice! Where can we find your blog and how long have you been reviewing? 

I started I Heart.. Chick Lit in May 2012. So I guess I’ve been blogging for a year and a half? As of October 2013, I’ve reached my 100,000th pageview (not to gloat, but I am immensely proud and absolutely chuffed!).

3) So you should be, well done! Why did you start blogging?

Hmm. Blogging. I started blogging because I read, quite a lot. OK, I read a lot. I love reading. I figured if I could pen down my thoughts on a blog, I’d share book recommendations with the ‘blogosphere’. And blogging has been an amazing experience. I get to befriend authors, publishers, fellow bloggers and readers who are just like me! All in all, I wish I could read and review books for the rest of my life. Guess I should start investing in gold?

4) What’s the best and worst thing about being a book reviewer?

Well, the best thing about being a reviewer? *looks up at ceiling and thinks* I guess it’s the camaraderie you built with “bookish nerds” – that’s a good thing! And of course, the perks of the job: being sent books for review. It’s such a privilege to be sent books for review because the publishers trust you with honest reviews. I think I love what I do because I am able to be the bridge between authors and readers. I feel that by reviewing books, I can let people know about books that are worth reading.

Everything has a dark side, yes I know. The worst thing about blogging is.. reviewing a book you didn’t really enjoy. Hand on heart, I hate being rude to an author, but I find it the hardest to write a review on books I didn’t particularly enjoy. Other than that, I really encourage readers to give blogging a go. You might love it!

5) What’s your favourite book of all time and why?

Oh my, this is harder than deciding whether I want M&M’s or Snickers for a snack. If I have to pick ONE (I have more than 20!), then it would be The Secret Dreamworld of A Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, my first chick lit book which sparked my passionate love affair with chick lit. I loved the book – I even bought two copies, both UK and US editions. I adored the plot and Sophie Kinsella’s writing style is as comforting and addictive as hot chocolate on a cold night (bad analogy, sorry..).

6) What do your family and friends think about your passion for books? Are they supportive?

Well, when I started blogging, none of my family and friends knew about it. Then when I started getting more and more books in the post they were amazed, and very supportive. I guess my parents are secretly pleased that I am not wandering around at 1AM with my friends in town, instead I’ll be reading in bed. Meep.

7) What is it about books that you love so much?

Books will always have a special place in my heart. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than reading. Oh, and lusting over gorgeous covers. When I read, I’m transported to a different places. A place where all my worries are forgotten and I am free to live vicariously through the characters. Books grant me the ability to dream and aspire and even inspire.

8) How do you feel about books being made into films. Do you think this is a good thing?

I don’t have any strong feelings against books made into films. I wouldn’t mind watching the film adaptation of books I’ve enjoyed. If you hate the film adaptation, stick to the book.

9) Do you prefer to read print books or ebooks and why?

Hands down, print books. I believe you can never get the same experience from reading an actual book when you read from an e-reader. I’m sorry to e-reader owners, but I’m sticking to print books. Here’s the reason why: you can NEVER take a delicious whiff of the book in between chapters. I do that ALL the time and I don’t plan to stop. And, it’s bad for your eyes to face the screen for too long, right? Print books, healthy and more real. Keep it real, lovelies!

10) Do you prefer a particular genre? If so, why?

Definitely chick lit. Hands down. The BEST genre there is. Chick lit is such a wide, versatile genre and the themes are often varied. You have the funny girl-about-town books, the weepy romantic comedies, and the darker side of chick lit, which is often more emotional. Let’s face it, there isn’t one genre which is as diverse as chick lit.

Celebrating book bloggers…

Google definitionOver the next couple of weeks I’m putting the spotlight on independent book bloggers.

I’m planning to publish some interviews with reviewers here. This time it will be me asking all the questions!

Have you ever wondered how many books reviewers read in a week?

What do they do when they don’t like a book very much?

Or perhaps you’d like to know which book they rate as their all-time favourite when they have so many to choose from?

With the internet being a huge part of our lives, and new social media outlets popping up everywhere, we can be whoever we want to be. Twitter and Facebook have turned us into poets, stylists, photographers and comedians… We can have what we want in seconds, and everything’s so fast and instantly gratifying. But there’s something really quite special about people who are keeping books in focus while technology flourishes around us and everything picks up speed. Book bloggers are taking the traditional medium of books into the future.

Book bloggers know how technology and books can complement each other – novels, reading and how we consume fiction has to move with the times, but we must also treasure the heart of it all, and where it came from. Simply being lost between the pages of a good book when there is so much to tempt our concentration elsewhere.

A lot of the book reviewers I speak to are so passionate about what they do it’s inspiring.

Most of them have a lot happening outside reviewing, and it can be tough going when they’ve set themselves a schedule of books to read around the twists and turns of their own lives. But most of them just do it for the sheer love of reading.

I would have loved to have asked all the reviewers I’ve got to know to over the last few years, but I could only pick a small selection of people to speak to.

Ultimately I want to say a big thank you to all of them.

Without independent book reviewers and bloggers I don’t think we’d have such a fantastic the sense of community that we have in the book world. That’s a difficult thing to achieve. I’m grateful to them for encouraging reading in the general chaos of our lives, where our attention spans are under more demand than they ever have been before. I’m also grateful to them for all the support they give to writers, and for opening up debate and conversation about books between people all over the globe who may never meet face-to-face.

The first interview will be published on my blog at midday on Monday December 9.

But who will it be?

Exciting!

What’s with all the squirrels?

*SPOILER ALERT. Avoid this post if you haven’t read This is a Love Story*

When Sienna meets Nick it's not the way it happens in love stories. It's because of a squirrel on water skis...

When Sienna meets Nick it’s not the way it happens in love stories. It’s because of a squirrel on water skis…

I had a lovely conversation with a reader this week about the hidden surprises in my first book This is a Love Story.

If you’ve read This is a Love Story you may or may not have noticed them… There seems to be a 50/50 split between readers who pick up on it and those who don’t.

For those who are curious, *whispers* here comes the ‘spoiler’…. there are quite a lot of SQUIRRELS in the story…

They appear randomly throughout the book, never really playing much of a key role, but just running on the top of fences, looking cute with their fluffy tails and generally being awesome.

There have been several different reactions to these little surprises, ranging from mild irritation to sheer delight. But this week was really nice because a reader not only asked me directly what the squirrels meant, but also came up with her own pretty detailed (and very clever) theory.

I responded by saying that the squirrels mean whatever they mean to each individual reader. Now I know we are just talking about fictional squirrels here (let’s not take this too seriously!) and I know this is a little cheesy, but this got me thinking about reading and its wider context. It reminded me of something I have taken for granted for a while…

It struck me once more, that one of the most beautiful things about books, art and anything you really absorb in a similar way, is that it means something very special to you and that is often quite unique.

My own view is that people naturally react differently to fiction depending on their own personalities and life experiences, so ultimately the valid truth behind symbolism in a book is entirely subjective and belongs solely to the reader…

A writer could put one book out into the world and get a thousand different reactions to it. How do we ever know that a book we read makes someone else feel exactly how we did, even though as humans we share so many feelings in common? How do we know that the imagery the words conjure would be the same as it would for a person sitting next to us on the bus, reading the same chapter through different eyes?

Readers bring words to life in their own special way and as a writer it’s lovely to think about this, about all the different experiences and feelings your work might conjure in people, from passivity to joy, or even real sadness. You do some of the work, but readers take it somewhere else and I’m so grateful to the people who get in touch to tell me what their experience was like, and those who write reviews.

I want to thank the reader who took the time to share with me her own theory. I also spoke to someone who told me that he saw the squirrels as a symbol of experience. He highlighted (in a tongue-in-cheek way, of course) that in life you collect experiences – these are the ‘nuts’ – and then like a squirrel, you stash them away until some time in the future, when you might want to go back to those experiences again, and do something better (or differently).

I thought that was lovely too.

In truth, the squirrels in This is a Love Story came about accidentally.

My editor mentioned to me that a few were popping up and I didn’t even realise I was doing it… It was totally subconscious. We decided to keep them in because we liked them, and I’m really glad I did because today they reminded me of something wonderful about literature. Something that had, shamefully, passed me by recently.

If you want to go on a This is a Love Story squirrel hunt, or you know someone who likes squirrels too… the Kindle ebook is available through Amazon at the moment for just 99p.

This offer ends early next week.

The best sites for procrastinating

Sometimes, when I’m nervous about an impending task (e.g. cleaning the flat/final book edits/difficult university essay) I become worryingly proficient in the art of procrastinating.

I can’t be the only one who has this problem, what with the invention of special software to block sites that draw people away from their focus. There seems to already be a fair demand for this anti-faffing ‘rehab’, so I’m glad I’m not alone.

In addition to this, Facebook seems to have swung from the usual attention-seeking statuses such as “well at least I know who my real friends are now” to timelines plastered with links of cats posing like male models and pigs in teacups. I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not…

Even the wonderful Zadie Smith has been talking about this, and she’s basically a genius. See point 7 in this article.

I know I shouldn’t encourage anyone… but here are some of my favourite sites for moments of procrastination…

1) The Procatinator

A friend introduced me to this site. Please be warned that he also now has to use software that keeps him focused and not looking at cats DJing. I sincerely hope he ‘recovers’ soon.

Do you like cats? (Probably.) Do you like eighties music? (I hope so.)

Well there you have it. Tons of GIFs showing cats doing all sorts of things from giving their humans a high five to cuddling up to a dog – all set to music.

Very odd. I don’t really understand it and probably never truly will. But you have to see it. (Requires flash.)

2) Hyperbole and a half.

I’ve written about this site before in more detail. In a nutshell, Allie Brosh creates cartoon-style stories on her blog that are seriously funny. 

She has one particular post about depression that I found moving as well. I think anything that enables society to talk about mental health with empathy and positivity is always going to be a good thing. That particular post is one of the best things I’ve seen on the subject recently.

It’s a real skill to mix humour and sadness in the way Allie does so successfully.

3) Cake Wrecks

Cooking/baking is sadly not my forte.

Those who follow me on Twitter will have recently seen a picture I posted of a chicken and leek pie I tried to make recently. It exploded in the oven. The result was bad enough that one of my friends felt moved to post the lyrics to the Ghostbusters theme tune below the picture on Facebook. Enough said.

So, it brings me great pleasure to see that I’m not the only one who is useless at this stuff, and also there is the added pleasure of spotting spelling mistakes immortalised in brightly coloured icing. Doh!

4) Anything to do with space on Youtube.

I’m a little bit obsessed with space. I’m not going to lie.

I spend way too much time watching videos about the International Space Station and have seen in-depth pieces on how astronauts wash their hair to how a great burrito is crafted in zero gravity… I’ve probably acquired a large amount of useless information through this given that I’ll never go to space EVER, but it’s so much fun…

5) Rathergood.com

This one’s been around for ages.

In fact I think I first discovered this site when I was in sixth form. I remember crying with laughter while playing ‘We Like The Moon’ over and over again with a group of equally hysterical friends (simple things).

That particular video doesn’t have quite the same effect on me now, but I still love it. I’ve not watched many of the videos on this site, so can’t speak for all of them, but some of them are hilarious if you’re in the right mood. (Avoid watching when you are grumpy/cold/hungry/generally angry with the world).

Looking for my Leopard is also very cute. There’s singing chinchillas on pogo sticks… What more could you ask for?

So there we have it. Some of my favourite websites for doing nothing when I should be doing something. What are yours?

Right then… I better get back to work… *ahem*

London gems that inspire my writing…

In my three years of living in this gorgeous city I’m glad to say I’ve discovered some inspiring places to write books*. Not only that, but some parts of the city have ended up in my books, either directly, or as the inspiration behind some fictional places.

While I’m usually holed up inside, squinting at my laptop, it’s nice to get out sometimes for a change of scenery. It’s even better when one of those wanders forms the basis of a scene.

Here are some of my favourite spots to write when I do tear myself away from the house, and some of the places that inspired chapters in This is a Love Story and Three Little Words. I’d love to know yours too, so do please get in touch and let me know.

The Haberdashery, N8

The Haberdashery in Crouch End

The Haberdashery in Crouch End

I must admit I’m a little bit in love with this cafe. I discovered it when I lived in Crouch End and I kind of knew I would adore it before I even went in. I don’t know if it was the fairy lights (all year round), the pretty bunting that hung outside, or the chalked sign by the door that said ‘Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten’ (I know, I don’t get it either). It just kind of seeps shabby chic from several metres away and you can usually hear laughter and the chinking of crockery whenever you walk past it because it’s really popular.

When you step inside it only gets more sweet. There are homemade goodies on sale ranging from distressed teddies to quirky paintings, your drinks arrive in mismatching tea sets that look adorable and there’s a real local feel to it.

I spent a lot of time in there with my laptop and a latte, working away on Three Little Words. It really was a very happy time for me. I loved The Haberdashery so much that I held the launch of Three Little Words there and it was a fabulous venue that I would highly recommend. It was great to celebrate the book in the exact spot where some of it was written.

The launch party for Three Little Words at The Haberdashery

The launch party for Three Little Words at The Haberdashery

Rokit, Covent Garden.

While I’ve never walked into this shop, fired up my laptop and started writing (which would be weird), it’s a wonderful hangout if you’re looking to ‘get to know’ your characters. It’s great to see some wild and wacky clothes, imagine them on your heroes and heroines, and think about how they look and dress. Whilst your character’s imaginary wardrobe is certainly not the basis for a well rounded pretend person, I find it really helps to picture them clearly in my mind.

One of the first bits of golden advice from my agent was to walk around shops and just look at things, feel fabrics and textures, and imagine exactly what your character would wear. In addition to being a great excuse to hit the high street, it’s also genuinely a brilliant way to decide whether you want your lead gal wearing leopard print platform brogues and a tracksuit or whether she’s a smart shirt and jeans kind of lady.

It’s thanks to Rokit that a character in my third book, which comes out next year, has such an unusual and enviable dress sense…

Alexandra Palace Park, N8

A picture taken by Pip in Alexandra Palace Park

A picture taken by Pip in Alexandra Palace Park

This is a thinking space for me, a great way to escape and consider plots and characters (also lovely for running, if you’re into that).

If you’ve never been here I would suggest starting at the bottom. Jump on a bus from Finsbury Park and get close as you can to the bottom of the park and then walk all the way up to the top. Don’t peep, however tempting it is, until you are right in front of the palace itself. And then turn around.

The view is stunning. You can pretty much see the whole of London spread out before you and it’s a nice to sit there and think about deep and meaningful stuff. I was so touched by Alexandra Palace that it inspired a scene in This is a Love Story, where Nick and Sienna go to the park. I always remember that when I return and that’s why for me, it’s one of my favourite parks in London.

– Balham.

Balham was a big part of This is a Love Story, although the venues/office I wrote about were made up. It’s the general feel of Balham that I love, even the train station is quaint and somehow rather pretty.

One of my favourite real-life venues in the area is The Balham Bowls Club. It’s got a really old fashioned feel to it and so much personality. I also sang at The Bedford in Balham when I was in a band last year and it was a fantastic music venue.

I haven’t been to Balham for a little while actually, but I hope a visit is on the cards very soon…

Hornsey Library, N8

Hornsey Library is modest and tucked away from the High Street. I spent many hours writing Three Little Words there. I don’t know what it was about this library, but I found it a great place to really be able to concentrate.

One of the loveliest things about this library is the gallery space upstairs. They always choose really cool exhibitions to show. Next to the gallery is a lovely little cafe that was (and I hope still is) run by a wonderful guy who wears pirate inspired attire.

What are you favourite places to write in London? Has anywhere made it into one of your books, short stories or poems? I’d love to hear from you…

(*or sit and think about writing books.)