The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

Butterfly Summer

My enormous thanks to Love Reading for an advanced reader copy of The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans in return for an honest review. The Butterfly Summer is published Headline Review on 19th May 2016 and is available from Love Reading, direct from the publisher, from Amazon UKWaterstones and all good bookshops.

The Butterfly Summer

What magic is this?

You follow the hidden creek towards a long-forgotten house.

They call it Keepsake, a place full of wonder … and danger. Locked inside the crumbling elegance of its walls lies the story of the Butterfly Summer, a story you’ve been waiting all your life to hear.

This house is Nina Parr’s birthright. It holds the truth about her family – and a chance to put everything right at last.

My Review of The Butterfly Summer

Butterfly Summer

When Nina Parr meets a curious old woman in the London Library, little does she realise how this meeting will reverberate through her future – and her past.

I loved The Butterfly Summer. It’s a curious book in that it seems quite straightforward initially and then it twists and turns back in time to ensnare the reader in the narrative history and the characters’ lives, almost against their will. There’s a dual story that is completely absorbing so that all the characters, even the more minor ones like Malc, are gradually uncovered and emerge rather like the butterflies from their chrysalises in an iterative image that weaves throughout. I had to concentrate to start with to keep up with all the characters and the timescales, but once I got into the rhythm of the narrative and its various layers I couldn’t tear myself away from The Butterfly Summer.

It might sound mad, but reading The Butterfly Summer made me think of a DNA strand because everything was so beautifully linked but at any point a lie, a coincidence, a choice could affect the future outcome in the same way a chromosome might affect a person.

Harriet Evans’s writing is just perfect. There’s such atmosphere that is so mesmerising. She has an eye for detail that brings alive every nuance of feeling and every image of setting in vivid relief. Her themes are universal and personal so that she lays bare sexuality, power, control, nature, happiness, selfishness, grief and, especially, family relationships, in a complex and intricately well plotted read.

All I can say is thank goodness for the epilogue, which, whilst I sobbed my way through it, made me thoroughly happy. You’ll have to read the book to find out why!

About Harriet Evans

Harriet Evans

Harriet Evans is the author of eight previous novels, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic, The Love of Her Life, I Remember You, Love Always, Happily Ever After, Not Without You and A Place for Us.

You can find out more about Harriet Evans on her web site, follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook.

There are more reviews from other Love Reading panel members here.

Author Interview with Guy Fraser-Sampson

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I’m an enormous fan of the independent publisher Urbane Publications so I’m delighted to be featuring another of their authors, Guy Fraser-Sampson, whose novel Death in Profile is published today 28th March 2016. Death in Profile is available to buy on Amazon UKAmazon US, from WaterstonesUrbane and all good book shops.

I asked Guy a few questions about his writing and career:

Hello Guy and thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed on Linda’s Book Bag.

You have quite an eclectic background Guy; lawyer, speaker, writer, teacher – if you had to define Guy Fraser-Sampson in a couple of sentences, what would you say?

I suppose you could say I’m a Renaissance man, but that would be both glib and rather pretentious. Let’s just say that I have a very low boredom threshold which means that I’m constantly in search of a new challenge. In the process, I’ve found that there are quite few things I can do reasonably well. I’m sure other people would find the same thing if they tried, but they don’t. But it’s interesting that there is this urge to classify people, to put them in a box and stick a label on it. Interestingly, the same thing happens in finance and investment, which are two of my specialist areas.

Which of your roles have you found the most challenging and which the most rewarding and why is that?

I think being a writer in the most challenging as you need a lot of both self-discipline and self-reliance. Also, at the end of the day it’s not about what you can write but what you can get published (something many writers overlook!). I find being an educator the most rewarding. I teach mostly on the MBA programme, which is being taken by people who are looking to change their lives, often in quite significant ways, and it’s exciting to be able to help them do that.

Which is most interesting or challenging to research, your non-fiction titles or your fiction?

Non-fiction is the most challenging, although I apply the same standards to my fiction as well. For example, every period detail in my Mapp & Lucia books is correct, even down to people’s names.

You write non-fiction articles for a range of European magazines and clients. How do audiences differ in different countries?

They do differ across geography. The Dutch and the Australians, for example, have very different ways of providing pensions. The most difficult article I ever wrote, though, was for ‘Your Money’ and was explaining something very complex in simple terms which hopefully anyone can understand. I wrote a book called No Fear Finance which does the same thing.

No Fear

Your debut detective work of fiction Death in Profile is out on 28th March. How did you go about changing genre?

I have always wanted to write detective fiction, but I was very nervous about writing ‘just another detective book’, especially as in my view they have all become rather similar. I didn’t see any point in writing noir or in creating yet another damaged detective with a drink / drugs / gambling problem and a broken marriage.

I spent a long time doing market research among book bloggers, book shop managers and serious readers as to what they would like to see in a crime novel. There was a surprising level of consensus, and I have tried to stay true to it. Interesting, likeable characters who have to face up to and resolve real life issues. Good police procedural background. No gratuitous sex, violence or bad language. Above all, a book which treats its readers as mature, intelligent and well-read.

Death in Profile is the first in the Hampstead Murders series. Have you planned several books already or are they emerging organically?

One could get into a very arcane discussion about what is or is not a ‘series’. In my view it should be one long narrative spread across several books. Very few detective ‘series’ would qualify under this description, though Wallender might be an obvious one which does, mixing professional and personal issues. I can see the argument for writing stand-alone books featuring the same characters because then it doesn’t matter in which order people read them but again, I wanted to be different.

All my fiction evolves organically. I just create my characters and then let them take me where they will, and it’s important that you should trust that process. It’s only by being prepared to follow them into some dark places that your writing has integrity. All I know when I begin a detective novel is who the criminal is going to be. Everything else comes to me as I write, though obviously you carry a few ideas with you about method and motive.

Why did you decide to show the more personal side of the police in the Hampstead Murders series?

I think this goes back to wanting to be different. I wanted to create a cast with whom the reader can empathise, and care about what happens to them as they go through life. In order to do this, you have to set them against a personal background. The more of the books you read, the more deeply you will understand, and hopefully like, the characters.

You’re publishing Death in Profile with an independent publisher Urbane Publications. What has it been like working with a smaller, independent outfit?

I have published over a dozen books now with various publishers, including some very big ones like Wiley and Macmillan. I really enjoy working with small, independent publishers like Urbane. First, because you know that you really are important to them. Second, because they are much better at promotion than the big boys. Third, because the person you are dealing with is usually a decision-maker rather than having to refer everything to some committee (often in America).

Given your prolific writing experience, what three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

  1. Have a very thick skin. Unless you are prepared to handle constant rejection (it helps if you’re a man, because you have probably learned all about this already!) and occasionally downright nasty criticism, then please don’t become a writer. I have known some fellow writers get deeply upset and even badly depressed about this.
  2. Be clear about why you are writing. Are you doing it for pleasure or money / recognition? If the latter, then be sensible. Work out what the big commercial publishers are looking for and then supply it, because they need to be able to tick their boxes: it’s the way they think. Get an agent, because, rather stupidly, they won’t even look at your work unless you do (if you think about it, of course, it should be the other way round). Say “gosh, what a good idea” to anything they suggest. Pretend to be blown away by other books they publish, no matter how bad you think they are. Let them re-write your book if they want to.
  3. Be persistent. Many good books get rejected, sometimes many times. Arthur Conan Doyle in his early days used to write what he called ‘homing manuscripts’ because they kept getting sent back. You must have the self-belief to keep trying. No Fear Finance was rejected by Wiley (even though I had previously written a best-seller for them) but accepted by Kogan Page. All my fiction was rejected by many publishers before being accepted. Harry Potter was rejected by several, including Macmillan. Mary Wesley and Barbara Pym were rejected not just for years but for decades Incidentally, if I could make just one change to the publishing industry it would be that every book should begin with a list of the publishers who had rejected it. After all, if they have confidence in their judgement, then why should they mind?

How do you carry out the research for your novels?

These days I use the internet a lot, though I write surrounded by books and am often jumping up to check some point or other.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Writing a book is the easiest part. Getting it published is the most difficult. For this reason, I try not to put any significant work into a book these days unless I know that a specific publisher has serious interest in it. Even then you can come unstuck. I had one publisher commission a three volume history of the Plantagenets, but go bust just as the first one was going into production. (I still have it, if anyone is interested!)

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I write in my study, which sounds rather grand but is just a spare bedroom with a desk and some books. I tend to work best early in the morning, or in the middle of the day. I’m lucky in that I never need to re-write anything. My first draft is also my final draft; I only correct for spelling, punctuation and repetition.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I grew up in a house without television, and do so again now, so I have always been a voracious reader. I reckon I’ve probably read about 10,000 books, and it’s also why I am a fanatic supporter of public libraries. Edgware library was my teen years!

I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly history. My fiction tastes are pretty catholic, my favourite novel being The Alexandria Quartet, which I have read about ten times. In contemporary crime fiction I go either for writers who are very different and quirky, such as Christopher Fowler, Chris Brookmyre or Malcolm Pryce, or just damn fine writers like Ruth Dugdall. I also read and collect a lot of Golden Age stuff, my overall favourite being Ngaio Marsh, about whom I am talking at CrimeFest this year.

(If readers would like to know more about CrimeFest, please click here.)

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

Yes, and I think if you don’t do this then your writing will probably suffer for it. For example, in Miss Christie Regrets, the second of the Hampstead Murders series which I am writing at the moment, there is already music (Schumann), Golden Age fiction (Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie), architecture (Gropius and Wells Coates), and, of course, lashings of Hampstead locations.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I enjoy both listening to and making music. I actually flirted with the idea at one stage of becoming a professional singer. My talks are also creative. I don’t use notes, I just improvise – trying doing that for an hour …

Which of your characters would you most like to be and why?

One reviewer said rather perceptively that my favourite Mapp and Lucia character appeared to be Mr Wise, and on reflection that may be right. I like to think there’s a lot of me in Simon Collison from The Hampstead Murders, but then there’s also something of myself in Peter Collins. I certainly admire his eccentricity and rather lofty disdain for mundane everyday issues!

If one of your books  became a film, which would you choose and why?

I strongly believe that The Hampstead Murders will make a terrific TV series, with Collison’s Hampstead playing the part of Morse’s Oxford or Foyle’s Hastings. Apart from a very strong sense of place, it has some wonderful characters.

How important do you think social media is to authors in today’s society?

It’s obviously hugely important, though you need to think deeply about how you use it. There is a very fine line between making people aware of something once, and in a polite manner, and making a nuisance of yourself.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that a Guy Fraser-Sampson book should be their next read, what would you say?

My books are quirky, intelligent and entertaining, and are endorsed by fellow writers.

About Guy Fraser-Sampson

Guy

Guy Fraser-Sampson has been a corporate lawyer, an investment banker and a business school academic, in which capacities he has written various books on finance, investment and economics. However, he is best known as a writer of fiction, and his three Mapp & Lucia novels have all been optioned by BBC television. His new book “Death in Profile”, published by Urbane, is the first in a series called The Hampstead Murders and harks back, sometimes explicitly, to the Golden Age. He appears regularly on radio, television and at literary festivals. He is married with two grown-up sons and divides his time between London (NW3 naturally) and East Sussex.

You can follow Guy on Twitter and visit his web site.

Talking Lad-Lit with Steven Scaffardi

Drought

When I encountered Steven Scaffardi on Book Connectors and he asked if I’d be interested in his books I have to admit to being slightly cautious. What was this genre of Lad-Lit he writes? Well, the best way to find out is to ask and so I’m delighted that Steven has agreed to provide a definition in his guest post below.

The Drought

Steven Scaffardi’s The Drought is the laugh-out-loud tale of one man’s quest to overcome the throes of a sexual drought. After the stormy break-up with his girlfriend of three years, Dan Hilles is faced with the daunting task of throwing himself back into the life of a single man. With the help of his three best pals, Dan is desperate and determined to get his leg-over with hilarious consequences!

The Drought is available on Amazon.

The Flood

Flood

The follow-up to The Drought, The Flood, is now available to pre-order for just 99p on Amazon. It will be released as an eBook on April 30 and the paperback will be available on May 19.

One bet, four girls, eight weeks, multiple dates. What could possibly go wrong?

Following his traumatic eight month dry spell, Dan Hilles is back in the driving seat and ready to put his dating disasters behind him.

But if only it were that simple.

After a drunken afternoon in the pub, fuelled by the confidence of alcohol, Dan makes a bet with his three best pals that will complicate his love-life more than ever when he brazenly declares that he could juggle multiple women all at the same time.

With just eight weeks to prove his point, Dan is about to find out how hard it is to date a flood of women without them all finding out about each other, especially when they come in the shape of an ex-girlfriend, a stalker, the office ice queen and the one that got away.

———-

What is Lad Lit…?

A Guest Post by Steven Scaffardi

Lad lit is a bit like the literary black sheep of the family. It’s made a few mistakes in the past and it is still paying for it now. It’s not like it hasn’t tried making amends, but it just seems that people don’t want to listen. If only they’d give it a second chance.

Even Wikipedia, that bastion of internet information, seems to be so upset that if you type ‘lad lit’ into their search box, it can’t even bring itself to refer to it by its rightful name in the first line of its description of the genre:

“Fratire” is a type of 21st-century fiction literature written for and marketed to young men in a politically incorrect and overtly masculine fashion.

Fratire? What the hell is fratire?! The sentence ‘a type of 21st-century fiction literature’ implies it’s not willing to attribute the fact that it is a real genre. It’s as good as calling it ‘a so-called fiction literature’ with as much contempt as you can muster. And what’s with the patronising inverted commas, used I’m sure in the same way like one of those annoying people who insist on holding their two fingers in the air and bending them down at the precise moment they utter a word that is unworthy of being part of the sentence leaving their mouth?

There is no doubt about it – Wikipedia does not like lad lit, and when the biggest encyclopedia in the world has an issue with you, what chance have you got?

Oh, you think I’m being over the top or too sensitive? Okay, let’s type ‘chick lit’ into the Wikipedia search box and see what it has to say about lad lit’s older, more respected sibling:

Chick lit or Chick literature is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.

Hmmm, no inverted commas, the correct use of their name, no disdain pouring out from every syllable, just a pleasant and respectful description that makes you want to read a bit more, which is more than we can say about that awful little oik of brother of yours.

So what did lad lit actually do? Well, it uses the word ‘lad’ for a start; a word normally found loitering around in low-brow environments such as lads mags.

But what if lad lit was given a clean slate? What if the next time you saw those two little words you decided to give it a chance rather than dismiss it out of hand immediately? You’d be pleasantly surprised.

That’s why I started #LadLitSunday; a social media initiative to highlight the great work being written by lad lit authors. When you start to compile a list of authors leading the way in the genre, it’s hugely impressive.

Tony Parsons, Mike Gayle, Nick Spalding, Matt Dunn, Danny Wallace, Jon Rance.

Nick Hornby.

 Just last month the undisputed king of lad lit was rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s elite as he was nominated for a Best Screenplay award for a second time, hot on the heels of his Bafta win just a week before.

It was another accolade for the man who brought to life the Arsenal 1989 title winning season in a more romantic way than Michael Thomas’ winning goal itself, not to mention the brilliant Rob Fleming in High Fidelity. Fleming epitomised everything you have been told to hate about lad lit characters. As Wordspy.com, lad lit is: A literary genre that features books written by men and focusing on young, male characters, particularly those who are selfish, insensitive, and afraid of commitment.

Well you know what? Fleming was selfish, insensitive, and afraid of commitment, but it was for all of those reasons that Hornby’s book became such a huge success; transformed into a big screen adaption and musical.

Lad lit might not always conform to the chick lit rule of HEA, but it pays it a huge compliment by being the prelude to the HEA. If book genres were a diet then lad lit would be the ‘before’ picture and chick lit would be the ‘after’ image.

In my Sex, Love and Dating Disasters series I love exploring the hilarious situations people can relate to before they find that perfect partner. Lad lit is that awkward first date you still tell your friends about 10 years later. It’s the boyfriend you will forever wonder what was I thinking when I got with him? It’s what puts the com in romcom!

 I recently interviewed Matt Dunn, best-selling author of The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook, and asked him to explain how male writers tackle a similar genre to our female counterparts differently. He said: “Personally, I think we just tell it how it is from our point of view. Or rather, how we see it. Which is kind of how it is, if you believe all that ‘perception is reality’ bollocks. Which I do, obviously.”

And that, in a nutshell, best sums up what lad lit is really about – a story told from a different perspective; not necessarily politically incorrect or overtly masculine fashion, and it certainly doesn’t always feature characters who are selfish, insensitive, and afraid of commitment.

So in the true fashion of those of you who love reading or are about to embark on a new book challenge, next time you happen to be sitting around one Sunday afternoon looking for that next book, promise me you’ll check out the hashtag #LadLitSunday and you might just find that alternative HEA you have been looking for.

Steve

You can follow Steven on Twitter and visit his blog.

 

Interview with Black to White author Sam Hayward

Black to white

Having had a difficult few months whilst my husband got clear of cancer at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, it is a subject close to my heart. When I discovered that Sam Hayward had written a book, Black to White, in which Susie Chester has just lost her husband to cancer, I felt I had to ask Sam about it.

Black to White

Black to white

Sam Hayward’s debut novel Black to White is a fictional portrayal of loss, hope, love and renewal. It can be ordered from all good bookshops and from Sam’s website.

Through darkness comes light, through fear comes love and through pain comes triumph.

Grieving widow Susie Chester is trying to turn her life around with a little help from Peter, her gardener, who just might be her Guardian Angel – or a product of her imagination.

When fifty-five year old Susie Chester’s husband dies, her world falls apart, and although she lives in beautiful surroundings, she doesn’t know how she’ll cope alone. Then, after a chance meeting with Peter, her life slowly starts to change. He works for her as her gardener and, although she finds him mysterious, she feels inexplicably drawn to him. Has she met him somewhere before? Why does he feel so familiar?

Soon afterwards, white feathers begin to appear around the house. At first she finds them intriguing, but then they start to bring her comfort…

An Interview with Sam Hayward

Hello Sam. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your debut novel Black to White.

Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?

I grew up in a town called Waterlooville on the outskirts of Portsmouth.  I was a very imaginative child, often making up stories about invisible animals that only I could see.  At primary school, my friends would frequently ask if they could see them too, so I said only if they were very nice to me.  Needless to say, I instantly became very popular.  My love of storytelling stayed with me and I knew that one day I would become a writer.  When I left school, I went to secretarial college.  It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a career that most women followed in the ‘70s.  I returned to full-time education in the early ‘90s to study for a degree in journalism.  A few years before this, I had met my husband.  We knew instantly that we were meant for each other so decided to live together before getting married six years later.  We moved to Somerset in 2000 where we lived in an idyllic country cottage.  Then, after seventeen wonderful years together, at the age of 55, I was widowed.  It was the most devastating experience of my life.  In 2012 I enrolled on a postgraduate course in creative writing at Bath Spa University and finally fulfilled my aim of writing a novel.

Black to White is based on your own experiences after losing your husband to cancer. How difficult or cathartic was it to write?

It was extremely cathartic.  I knew that if I could express my feelings in words, it would help me.  I obviously struggled at the beginning because that was the most painful part of the story, but from there on it got easier.  I injected a lot of myself into the protagonist, Susie Chester, who I decided would be strong and positive.  I was determined that she would find happiness again.

You’ve written in the first person. Did doing so help your own grieving process or was that just an approach that felt natural to you?

I think writing in the first person was a more powerful way to convey Susie’s emotions.  It just felt right.  It also enables the reader to get closer to her.  Yes, it helped me enormously, but I wasn’t actually conscious of this until I finished the novel.

Having had my own husband diagnosed with cancer (and now thankfully free from it) when I was 54, Black to White is a book I haven’t been able to bring myself to read yet. What would you say to encourage me to do so?

The essence of the book is summed up in the sentence on the cover: ‘Through darkness comes light, through fear comes love and through pain comes triumph.’  It’s a story about overcoming adversity.  I think you would find it uplifting.  All of my friends who’ve read it said they enjoyed it.  Some of them have experienced loss but the majority haven’t.

There’s a level of spirituality in Black to White. How much has your own attitude to spirituality changed since writing the book?

After my husband died, I gave serious thought to the possibility of an afterlife.  I wanted to know where my husband was.  Sometimes I could sense him around me.  It was as if he still existed but I couldn’t see him.  I then started finding the feathers which I felt were a gift, either from him or my guardian angel.  I now believe that there is an ultimate force for good which we are all a part of.  I think about this a lot and feel certain that there is a sublimely beautiful and peaceful place that we go to when we die.  This was my view before writing my book and I can only say that since writing it, I am more convinced.

How did you feel when you sent Black to White off for editing given that it has such personal resonances?

I didn’t give it much thought at all.  It’s a work of fiction so how it’s interpreted is up to the reader.

What advice would you give to those suffering grief and considering writing about it?

Do it!  It really is the best form of healing.  I found writing and then reading about my feelings far more beneficial than just talking about them.

It’s no secret that white feathers are integral to the story and to your own life. Are you still finding them and how do they make you feel.

I’ve moved twice since I started finding the feathers so have only found a few in recent years.  One appeared on the kitchen floor of my previous house just after I’d moved in and then on a chest of drawers in my bedroom.  I moved to my current house last August and found one about two weeks ago.  It appeared on the sofa right next to where I was sitting.  They still surprise me and bring me joy.  I take them as a sign that I’m doing the right thing.

I’m sure you are Sam. Thank you so much for being on Linda’s Book Bag and sharing what is a very personal experience with me.

You can find Sam on Twitter and on her web site.

The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons

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I’m thrilled to be part of the paperback launch celebrations for Natasha Solomons’ The Song Collector which was published by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder Books, on 24 March 2016, in paperback and ebook. It is also available in hardback. The Song Collector is available directly from the publisher, WaterstonesAmazon USAmazon UK and from all good bookshops.

I’ve only just had time to begin reading The Song Collector, but I already love it. I’m also honoured to have a guest post below from Natasha all about the cinematic means of setting scenes in which you can get a glimpse of the beauty of her writing.

About The Song Collector

Fox, as the celebrated composer Harry Fox-Talbot is known, wants to be left in peace. His beloved wife has died, he’s unable to write a note of music, and no, he does not want to take up some blasted hobby.

Then one day he discovers that his troublesome four-year-old grandson is a piano prodigy. The music returns and Fox is compelled to re-engage with life – and, ultimately, to confront an old family rift. Decades earlier, Fox and his brothers return to Hartgrove Hall after the war, determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But on the last night of 1946, the arrival of beautiful wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, which leads to a shattering betrayal.

With poignancy, lyricism and humour, Natasha Solomons tells a captivating tale of passion and music, of roots, ancient songs and nostalgia for the old ways, of the ties that bind us to family and home and the ones we are prepared to sever. Here is the story of a man who discovers joy and creative renewal in the aftermath of grief and learns that it is never too late to seek forgiveness.

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Praise for The Song Collector

‘A delightful, moving, utterly believable family saga.’ The Times

‘Takes you quietly by the hand and introduces you to such brilliantly portrayed characters, nuanced conversations and feelings, a true sense of place. Time and again I marvelled at the way Natasha Solomons unveils a quite complex plot with unerring confidence that makes it all click into place so logically.’ New Books & nudge

‘Packed with beautiful writing and marvellously conceived characters, The Song Collector moves effortlessly between the threadbare riches of England’s postwar country house society and the discordant ambitions of modern life, all bound together by a timeless love story that will break you and heal you.’

Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers

‘A tender, lyrical novel of family and fame.’ The Express

‘This novel is a profound story of love, loss and reconciliation. A captivating read that examines the power of music.’ Lady

Setting the Scene

A Guest post by Natasha Solomons

I don’t think I have a photographer’s eye – I have the dubious skill of missing out people’s heads whenever I take a snap – I think I’m probably more influenced by cinema. My first editor once commented on how I carefully light every scene. I do think in terms of scenes – I hear the characters speaking in my mind, and I see how they move – those tiny gestures that reveal emotion, the glance away, the irritable stirring of a teacup. Objects too can become infused with emotion. I’ve always loved the Philip Larkin poem ‘Home is so Sad’: ‘Home is so sad./ It stays as it was left,/Shaped to the comfort of the last to go/As if to win them back… You can see how it was: /Look at the pictures and the cutlery./ The music in the piano stool. That vase.’

I love the final line: ‘That vase’. It’s so simple, an unremarkable phrase and yet its specificity within the poem makes it oddly moving and also cinematic. I always picture ‘that vase’ left on the table in the empty house gathering dust – but as the camera in my mind lingers on it, I know that once ‘that vase’ meant something to someone. An entire narrative is implied in those two ordinary words. What was it? I imagine a different story each time I read the poem.

When I write a scene I know how much can be suggested by the inclusion of an object familiar to the reader. In ‘The Song Collector’ entire landscapes are suffused with significance for Fox: his creativity is bound up with his sense of home and the hills around Hartgrove. The description of landscape in the novel is never simple – it usually evokes Fox’s conflicting desire to write music and to care for the estate. It’s also a landscape that he lived in with Edie so that after her death the places themselves are imprinted with longing and loss: he sees his earlier shadow on the hills.

I’m fascinated by the connection between music and place. Will Hodgkinson writes that music has a regional accent and I love that idea. A folk song found in Dorset has a different feel to one sourced in Isla. Sibelius or Delius write music deliberately to evoke a specific place but in my novel the Wessex Ridgeway and the dark trees leach into Fox’s music unconsciously. Anteus like his strength comes from the earth of home. He struggles to write away from Hartgrove. He borrows the folk tunes he collects in a style similar to that of John Rutter or Vaughn Williams but the creative source of his internal music landscape is already a reflection of the Dorset landscape and hills that he’s loved through his life. This novel is about love: for a woman, for the songs of home and for the hills and copses of which they sing.

The Map of Songs from The Song Collector

Song Map

The history of Britain isn’t just written in books or notched upon the landscape in Holloways or long barrows, it’s also contained in song.

Since writing this novel, Natasha Solomons has been enchanted by the idea of song collecting. Inspired by the tradition, she has set out to create a portrait of contemporary Britain in song. Every hillside, village and city street has a song, some ancient and others new. Natasha is beginning a communal project to map as many songs as possible, put them up online freely available so that people can both listen to the music of their town, and if they like, learn their own local songs.

Natasha said:
‘It was a song about a blackbird that led me to write my new novel The Song Collector. I discovered that a song collector, alehouse keeper and mischief-maker lived in our cottage in the 1800s. The more I read about and listened to old songs from where I live in Dorset, I realised that I had to write a about a musician and song collector and his connection to the landscape – and woman — he loves.

As I wrote, I started to appreciate that songs are much like stories – one has to follow their rhythms and cadence. But, when I finished the book, I knew I wasn’t finished with song collecting. I’d been utterly caught. After all, there’s always one more song to find.
We now want to create a portrait of contemporary Britain in song. Every hillside, village and city street has a song, some ancient and others new. We want to start a communal project to map as many songs as possible, put them up online freely available so that people can both listen to the music of their town, and if they like, learn their own local songs. We’d love for you to get involved’

For more information on the Great British Song Map please contact Helene Frisby
helenefrisby@gmail.com

About Natasha Solomons

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Natasha Solomons is the author of the internationally bestselling Mr Rosenblum’s List, The Novel in the Viola, which was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club, and The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. Natasha lives in Dorset with her son and her husband with whom she also writes screenplays. Her novels have been translated into 17 languages.

You can follow Natasha on Twitter and find out more about her on her web site and with these other bloggers:

The Song Collector Blog Tour Poster

Author Interview with Martin Spice

Lynx

When I found that Martin Spice is an ex-teacher, like me, loves travel, like me, and is a passionate gardener, also like me, I had to invite him on to Linda’s Book Bag to talk about his family novel Lynx:Back to the Wild which is available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

About Lynx: Back to the Wild

A tiny lynx cub with no mother. A wise monk in an ancient monastery. A destiny to be fulfilled. A perilous journey across the Himalayas. A battle against time to save the cub’s life. A firm friendship between two boys, worlds apart, united by their love of animals.

Based on a true story and set in Tibet and Nepal, LYNX: Back to the Wild is an exciting adventure story for all the family, full of the life and colour of its exotic settings and deeply moving in its account of a desperate struggle for survival against all the odds.

Rooted in the author’s extensive travels and love for the people and cultures of the Himalayas, this short novel is a celebration of human and animal survival set against one of the world’s most beautiful but harshest environments.

Lynx

An Interview with Martin Spice

Hello, Martin. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and in particular about LYNX: Back to the Wild, your new book.

Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?

I was born in Northampton, now famous for the film and musical Kinky Boots! I spent my professional life as an English teacher in England and overseas and latterly as the principal of an international school in northern Borneo. In all we spent twenty years working abroad, over nine of which were in Kathmandu. The opportunities for travel were wonderful and Tibet was, of course, an outstanding destination. We came back to England to settle in 2009 and have lived happily near Nailsworth ever since, tending two veg patches, writing and enjoying the company of our children and grandchildren.

(My goodness – more things in common. I went to school in Northamptonshire and my Grandmother belonged to a Northampton shoe making family at the turn of the 20th Century!)

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

It is probably a truism that all English teachers want to be writers but I never really got going until I was in my late thirties. And even then I only wrote sporadically. When we worked in Malaysia my writing suddenly took off with a lot of journalism, travel writing and reviews. When we returned to England, I did a lot of work for the Times Educational Supplement and then we decided to write a tongue-in-cheek book about our vegetable growing experiences. That became Spade, Seed & Supper: an allotment year.

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(Looks like I’d better get a copy, Martin, as I have an allotment!)

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I would love to say “played saxophone” but as I am completely unmusical it was just as well writing was always my first choice.

(Are you sure we’re not related? I’m tone deaf!)

How do you carry out the research for your novels?

We lived in Nepal for a total of nine years and I travelled to Tibet twice. I suppose that would have constituted research had I actually realised that I was going to write LYNX: Back to the Wild. As it was, I was able to draw on the experiences I had already had.

Tell me about how LYNX: Back to the Wild came to be written.

The book is based on a true story. We had friends in Kathmandu who reared a lynx cub that had been brought to them by some travellers in Tibet. It had been very sick at first but when I knew Tashi, which was the cub’s name, he was a healthy survivor. We saw him frequently and were fascinated. One evening they told me the whole story of his rescue and rearing and I knew then that it was a story that had to be told.

How much did you need to add to that basic storyline?

A great deal. There are two strands to the book, the survival of the lynx cub and the story of the Tibetan boy that finds and protects it. He is called Sonam and the book hints that there is something very special about him. He is not like the other nomad children. He is quieter, more reflective, more thoughtful. When he has parted with the cub he feels destitute. He accompanies his mother to a monastery where he gets lost. There he meets a monk to whom he spills out all his woes. The monk tells him that he has a destiny to fulfil and that it is somehow connected with the cub. So Sonam sets off on a perilous journey overland to Kathmandu… From then on his story is intertwined with that of the lynx cub.

Is LYNX: Back to the Wild an adult book or a children’s book?

Emphatically both. It has been used very successfully in the classroom but it has also been read by a lot of adults who have become engrossed in the story. My wife has tales of her classroom assistant in tears! I feel above all that this is a family book. So much can be gained from books being shared. LYNX: Back to the Wild raises lots of issues to do with endangered species and survival, as well as being an out-and-out adventure story set in a fascinating culture.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Getting down to it is the hardest part! I am capable of working very hard but I also think of myself as a natural prevaricator. I enjoy most of the writing process once I get down to it.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I read a lot of modern fiction, much of which I review for The Star in Malaysia. It’s the biggest English language paper in the country and they have a Books section that is taken very seriously.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

Growing vegetables. That obsession led to the writing of Spade, Seed and Supper, a very tongue-in-cheek account of our attempts to grow our own food. Many of our experiences were very funny and the book reflects that with some lovely cartoon illustrations. Travelling, running a school and the family also provide ideas. They are everywhere once you start looking!

Which of your characters would you most like to be and why?

I rather envy the monk who advises and teaches Sonam; there is a certainty and wisdom there that I find very attractive.

If one of your books became a film, which would you choose and why?  

LYNX: Back to the Wild, unhesitatingly. It would make a wonderful film because the scenery is breath-taking and the lynx is such a beautiful animal. It is also, I think, a very moving story.

How important do you think social media is to authors in today’s society?

Clearly very, and even more so if you self-publish because it is the only shop window we have. I wish I felt more comfortable about it because Twitter seems almost obligatory and I haven’t yet summoned the courage to open an account. I do have a website though which readers can reach by clicking here.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that LYNX: Back to the Wild should be their next read, what would you say?

You will be captivated by the cub, fascinated by the cultures and thrilled by the adventure. I hope!

Martin, thank you so much for your time in answering my questions. I think LYNX: Back to the Wild sounds great.

It’s me who should be thanking you for this opportunity. I am very grateful.

You’re most welcome.

Readers can find out more about Martin and his writing on his website where there is more about the story behind LYNX: Back to the Wild, including some wonderful photos.

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In the Shadows by Tara Lyons

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I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Tara Lyon’s debut novel In the Shadows which was published on 17th March 2016. Not only do I have a guest post from Tara, all about the power of the mind, but you also have the opportunity to enter to win a copy of In the Shadows at the bottom of this post.

Tara has her own blog and you’ll find her on Facebook and Twitter.

In the Shadows

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In the Shadows is the debut crime/psychological thriller novel from Tara Lyons.

Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton is tasked with apprehending a brutal murderer stalking the streets of London – and leaving not a shred of DNA evidence. As the suspect list mounts, his frustration and pressure from his superiors intensify.

Grace Murphy, who is dealing with the recent loss of her beloved grandfather, falls deeper into despair when her friends’ bodies are discovered. Fearing she might be the killer’s next target, she begins to question if her horrifying nightmares are the key to unravelling the murderer’s identity.

How far would you go to uncover the truth? Would you venture into the shadows to unmask a killer?

An Intricate Mind

A Guest Post from Tara Lyons

Tara Lyons

The mind is a curious thing, never resting, even when our bodies do. Imagine what you could uncover were you to delve into the minds of some. To find out why a person reacts the way they do, why they choose certain paths during their lives and their reasons for interacting with certain people causing a variety of different relationships.

The unconscious mind is just as fascinating, more so even. Most people have created a technique for pushing certain thoughts, feelings and memories to a place in our mind we don’t tap into on a daily basis. But are they really forced away, or are we just clouding our thoughts only to be faced with them, or a representation of them at least, in our dreams?

Dreams will be viewed differently from person to person. Some may believe that these visions are purely figments of an overactive imagination. While you’re in a deep slumber, your mind conjures up a variety of things you have seen and heard in your waking state and fuses them together, almost like telling you a fictional story. Others will look into their dreams in great detail, trusting that they carry with them answers to the questions they seek about their lives, their personal choices and their futures.

An old colleague I used to work with, let’s call him John, got in touch with me a few weeks ago via Facebook Messenger. We haven’t seen, or probably spoken, to each other for at least two years. I had posted a memorial poem on Facebook to mark the anniversary of my grandfather’s death and John got in touch after seeing it. He explained that the poem had touched deeply because his mum had passed away just a few days before. Sadly, John’s mother had lost her battle with cancer, just as my grandfather had the year before. We exchanged condolences and promised to meet up soon.

That brief interaction stayed with me however because a few nights later I dreamt of John. When I woke up the details faded, as they seem to do the morning after – it’s as though your mind doesn’t want you to recall what it shared with you while you were asleep. But what my waking-self did hang on to was an image of John and I holding hands while roaming round a derelict building.

Again I’m sure people will interpret this dream in many different ways. John was on my mind and therefore I’ve assumed the man in my dream is him (I can never actually see faces clearly in my dreams – is that a personal thing, or does it happen to you too?). Some may say the hand holding is a supressed love interest, be it towards John or men in general. It could be that I’m feeling alone as well as lonely and the deserted atmosphere represents that. And all those assumptions could be correct. But that’s the beauty of the mind.

Your mind, and the dreams it conjures, almost plays a trick on you. Because now it has you questioning yourself and probing what your subconscious is telling you. Forcing you to make sense of images that may mean nothing more than a chance meeting with an old friend, a conversation with a stranger on the bus, or an old favourite song that sparks a memory you’d long forgotten.

Personally, looking into the meanings of dreams is something I enjoy. I regularly use the online search engines to find out what it means if I’ve dreamt of a cat in my house (I don’t have any animals) or if I’m boarding a plane (something I haven’t done for two years). I’m fascinated about what my mind is trying to convey while my body is rest mode. However, with this dream I didn’t feel the need to research, I interrupted it myself.

Two people, wrapped in grief, came together and wandered around their empty homes together, looking for strength to move forward. When it comes to grieving – and I’m awake – I am not a hand-holding, touchy-feely person. So perhaps this was my way of telling myself it’s okay not to be strong all the time, even when it’s been years since you’ve lost a loved one, because there are people out there facing the same heartache every day.

Amazing what the mind will have you believing. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take some advice from the great Professor Dumbledore: “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

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If international readers would like to enter to win an ecopy of In the Shadows, please click here. UK readers also have the opportunity to enter to win a signed paperback copy. The draw is open until UK midnight on 31st March 2016.

You can find out more about Tara and In the Shadows with these other bloggers:

IN THE SHADOWS_Blog tour March 2016