To coincide with Nikki Owen's interview with Stroud based author Caroline Jaine in our latest issue, we've managed to get a hold of an excerpt from her astounding book A Better Basra...
Pick up our September issue (out now) to read the interview...
To coincide with Nikki Owen's interview with Stroud based author Caroline Jaine in our latest issue, we've managed to get a hold of an excerpt from her astounding book A Better Basra...
Pick up our September issue (out now) to read the interview...
I phoned a friend of mine the other day because I needed to be excited at them, the conversation went something like this:
Me: Hello! Have you got a few minutes for me to be excited at you?
Him: (Pauses for a millisecond possibly in order to take a breath and actually say something)
Me: Blah blah *excited* blah…
The slightly embarrassing thing is the person I was squawking at is actually involved in the thing I’m excited about, he knew about all the details I was gushing over in excessive detail. He’s a good friend but I suspect he had actually put me on mute before the connection was “lost”.
So what was it that had set me off on such my whirlwind of glee? Stroud Book Festival.
That may not have instilled the same nauseating level of cheerfulness in you as it did me, so let me give a bit more information, trust me - we’ll get there.
For 10 days in November (11th to the 20th to be precise) Stroud is hosting over 60 local authors, illustrators and story-tellers across 40 events. Oh, I see you think “local” probably means that it’ll be a list of the same old (lovely) faces trotting out the same old (brilliant!) stuff, right?
Well yes and no, I mean if you count some of the country’s (world’s?) most influential and exciting literary geniuses as being a bit boring then well perhaps Ian McEwan, Jamila Gavin, Michael Horovitz, Kate Riordan, Murray Lachlan Young, Katie Fforde, Bel Mooney, Sue Limb, Rachel Joyce, Nikki Owen, Jacki Kabler, Alice Jolly, Adam Horovitz, Crispin Thomas, Hassan Akkad, Hannah Shaw, John Dougherty, Tom Percival, Cindy Jefferies, Eugene Lambert, and so many more just isn’t for you…
Oh and “same old stuff”? We’ve got people talking about books and anarchy and genres of fiction and fleeing across Europe to escape oppressive regimes and well, pretty much everything else.
Think it’s going to be expensive? WRONG, the event is supported by some wonderful organisations like Stroud Arts Festival, Stroud Town Council and the District Council too, so ticket prices can be kept super reasonable (they start from as little as £2?!).
So yes, all of this is very very exciting, but what makes it even more perfect is that this is another festival run by a committed group of extraordinarily well-connected experts who are working hard to keep arts and culture alive in this town come what may. And that, is what has made me have the broadest grin.
Oh, so now you’re grumbling that tickets are going to sell out super-fast and you won’t get a chance to see anyone?! Well, potentially yes that could happen, because even though this is months before tickets are selling out fast - its not just me that’s thrilled you see.
The best thing to do is to follow Stroud Book Festival on Facebook facebook.com/stroudbookfestival and Twitter twitter.com/BookStroud and keep an eye on local press. You can also book tickets here subscriptionrooms.org.uk/whatson (more events are being announced over the next few weeks too).
And yes, you are right - that is more than enough festivals in Stroud now.
No one knows what Sarah Phaedre Watson really does, she spends time gallivanting off to Africa to make films, writing for various publications, or passionately supporting community arts and events. She certainly gets about a bit
If you’re looking for a good read this summer, then look no further than Claire King’s new novel, Everything Love Is. Not only is it a wonderfully evocative book, but this Saturday Claire King herself will be appearing at our very own Stroud Bookshop to sign copies of her enchanting second novel.
I caught up with Claire to ask her a few poignant questions…
So, Claire, what’s the latest book about?
Ultimately it’s a story about happiness – what we think it is and the choices we make to try and find it. Baptiste, one of the central characters, lives on a houseboat on the Canal de Midi outside Toulouse, and spends his life helping other people find happiness. He narrates much of the book, which begins with his birth on a train during the spring of May 1968, a time of revolution in France. He is orphaned at birth, and one of the things that guides him growing up and into adulthood is a sense of unfinished business around his birth mother, who is never identified. The story then switches to modern day, and his growing obsession with an enigmatic new client, Amandine Rousseau, who, uniquely, he appears to be unable to quite decipher. Meanwhile, we have a second narrator, whose identity is left for the reader to work out. This means that the first few chapters will necessarily be somewhat puzzling, until you have figured out what is going on and why. This is a very grown up love story, wrapped up in a mystery…
Why did you write it?
The themes I wanted to explore in this novel are all very contemporary: the search for happiness, the quest for love and the way many people believe that these two things are inextricably linked. After all, that’s what we’re told in fairy tales, right? The third thread I followed is the way our personal histories – or how we remember them - shape us. Why happiness? These days, particularly in the western world, it seems like a widespread preoccupation, and we are bombarded by opinions about how to achieve it– very often from interested parties like consumer companies and the media. We end up caught up in what they are selling us, satisfying their agendas rather than learning about ourselves and what we really need.
So where should we be looking? There are two conflicting ideas about happiness: the first that suggests it’s a personal journey, that we can only find happiness within ourselves. The second accepts that our happiness is continually influenced by our past, our present situation, and our expectations of the future. It is from that second view that our expectations come of other people – our parents, our partners, our children - to ‘make us happy’. I wanted to explore that.
Everything Love Is Is is an undeniably poignant book, but I’m a firm believer in the tenacity of the human spirit, and so as with The Night Rainbow, my first novel, the dark elements of this story have to exist in order for the light, hopeful ones to shine through.
How does Stroud influence you? How does it differ to where you've lived before?
I spent the last 14 years living in southern France, and of all the places to move back to in the UK, I think Stroud has to be the most perfect fit. The differences with France are really the things that brought us here, to give us the change we needed at this time in our lives: we needed to move out of the deepest, rural backwaters to somewhere that could offer us both the countryside we all need but also a thriving town with lively schools and a enriching culture, for all our sakes.
We’ve all found Stroud to be the most wonderfully welcoming place. Our neighbours are all lovely, we adore the Saturday farmers’ market (we were regular market goers in France too) for the amazing local produce and the buzz it has, and the area is gorgeous. There’s so much to do right on our doorstep and a real sense of community.
Whereas before we were in a hamlet in the foothills of the mountains, we now live on the edge of the town now, very close to the canal. The specific location was never intentional, but it is a lovely co-incidence given the timing. The canal, the towpath and the local wildlife, - particularly the kingfisher - all feature heavily in Everything Love Is. Now it’s as though I conjured them up in real life. I saw a Kingfisher near Ebley Mill here in my first week!
I’m working on my third book at the moment and it’s very interesting to see how living in Stroud will influence my writing. Being in contact with a more diverse group of people, and also having other authors to talk to, is a definite boon. And whenever you move to a new location I think you wear ‘fresh eyes’ – that is, you notice the tiny details more. I have a view of Selsley Common from my writing garret window, so I still get the green open space I crave too, to let the inspiration flow.
What does the local bookstore means to you?
I am SO HAPPY to have a local bookshop after so long without. Although I do speak French I don’t read in French for pleasure, so when I was in France it was either order online or shop during rare visits to the UK. Now I can browse, pick books up, have a chat about books with the people in the store, get some word of mouth recommendations…it’s lovely. Getting a new book was always a treat to me as a child and being able to pick it yourself even better. My daughters are both mad on books too, so we usually visit Stroud Bookshop as a family, often on a Saturday during the farmers’ market. In fact the first person I really knew in Stroud was Anna, who works there!
Claire will be at Stroud Bookshop, 23 High Street from 11am on Saturday 23rd July, visit the facebook event page here for further info. Her second novel, Everything Love Is is published by Bloomsbury and is available to pre-order now.
To coincide with the release of Stroud's favourite stand-up poet and sustainable nihilist Jonny Fluffypunk's latest collection of poems Poundland Rimbaud we've managed to get a hold of a selection from the book which you can read by clicking the link below...
Poundland Rimbaud will be published by Burning Eye Books and available late July. Pick up our latest issue (out now) for an interview with Jonny by Kate Montgomery.
To coincide with the release of local author (and GOP writer) Nikki Owen's second book in the Project Trilogy the Killing Files we've managed to get a hold of an excerpt from the first chapter!
Images by Tim and Cheryl Byford
Shortly before 10pm on Sunday 24th April, a rapt audience at Stroud Valleys Artspace collectively gasped; hands flew to faces, strangers turned to one another in surprise. Then, just as quickly, shock became laughter, frowns became smiles and the awkwardness that had filled the room suddenly evaporated. This extreme reaction was prompted by Ken Popple’s short story, A Very Special Day, a tale that was as clever and vivid as it was disturbing.
If you have never been to a story-reading event before (as I hadn't until this particular evening), then you’ll be unaware of the journey you’re embarking on when you sit down; unaware, perhaps, that you’re about to enter a handful of different worlds with a group of people you have never met before; unaware that when it’s over, you’ll be united in a shared experience, one that will never be repeated in exactly the same way again.
The Stroud Short Stories event, organised by local author John Holland and held biannually at SVA, gives writers with a link to Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire the opportunity to read their stories aloud to an audience. On Sunday, ten selected writers – Rommy Collingwood, Tim Byford, Jan Petrie, Jane Gordon-Cumming, Rick Vick, Ali Bacon, Sarah Hitchcock, Mel Golding, Ken Popple and Mark Rutterford – bravely took to the stage with narratives that were not only entertaining, but highly original. From Tim Byford’s surreal tale of ‘workers’ inside a child’s intestines to Mel Golding’s heart-breaking account of a young boy with autism, each author brought to their reading something that was quite unique – their own performance.
Jan Petrie’s Half a Chance and Ali Bacon’s Silver Harvest became all the more touching for the women’s measured recitals; Jane Gordon-Cumming’s Settling In and Sarah Hitchcock’s New Glasses prompted additional smiles thanks to the pair’s perfect embodiment of their characters; and Dia De Los Muertos by Rommy Collingwood, Mayfly by Mark Rutterford and The Execution by Rick Vick, though entertaining stories in their own right, became even more engaging, even more gripping, (and in Rick’s case, even more gruesome) for the authors’ confident, assured deliveries.
Though reading is often a solitary activity, listening doesn’t isolate us in quite the same way; in fact, sitting together and absorbing the tales that are performed in front of us doesn’t just connect an audience to each other, but, in listening to an author’s own interpretation of their work, we are given the opportunity to discover nuances and subtleties that we might otherwise have missed. For an author, reading their stories aloud must (I say ‘must’ because I’ve never actually done this myself!) instil a new sense of confidence, a sureness in their ability not only to write an entertaining tale, but to tell that tale in an entertaining way, fuelling their courage and inspiring even more original, engaging writing.
In Stroud Short Stories, Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire writers have been given a platform for their endeavours that doesn’t just promote the importance of oral storytelling for author and audience, but one that promises to push our community’s growing creative talents to new and exciting levels for years to come.
To celebrate Stroud Short Stories fifth birthday a special event will be held at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival! The next SSS event at the SVA will be held on Sunday 20th November. Submissions will open at the beginning of September.
Leah Grant is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in art and literature. On her blog, Bellyful of Art, you can find reviews of exhibitions, installations, dance performances and literary events as well as her own lovingly created pieces of short fiction artbellyful.wordpress.com
A couple of days after sending our latest issue to the printers (finished on a day of broken boilers, school and playgroup runs, a restless dog and other deadlines), we realised that we could really do with a new literature feature on our website. So with a few hours to go before the May issue hit the streets we decided to ask our contributing writer's for a list of their five favourite books...
1984, George Orwell A book that not only changed the world, but predicted it. Love Orwell’s easy but intelligent writing style. Which leads me to…
Animal Farm, George Orwell As above. A writer way, way ahead of his time and yet always, even now, so relevant and modern.
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee A story that, when I read it as a teenager, broke my heart and fired my will to write about the wrongs in the world. A legend.
Thumbelina, Hans Christian Andersen Ok, more a story than a book, but I have to include it here, as it’s the first story, at the age of five, I recall inspiring me. I re-wrote the whole thing with paint and scribbles.
All The Light We Can See, Anthony Doer Love this one. The poetic prose, the ease of the read, yet the eruditeness of it all. He fully deserved the Pulitzer Prize he won for it in 2015
Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes A wonderfully written book about London in the 50's and a great evocation of the race riots at the end.
I'm Not Really Here, Tim Allen Great book by the voice of Buzz Lightyear which finishes with a comparison of particle physics and Buddhism.
Kipps, H G Wells One of my favourite writers and the book that inspired Half A Sixpence is a great slice of Victorian life.
Puckoon, Spike Milligan Spike was always a hero and this is probably his best book.
Adventures in the Screen Trade, William Goldman Wonderful Hollywood anecdotes from the writer of Marathon Man and The Sting amongst many others and an ideal guide for anyone who wants to write scripts.
Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl Utterly enchanting for a boy growing up in the country. The gypsy caravan, the garage, the derring-do plot to get all the pheasants... just fantastical. I read it to my daughters last year and was utterly engrossed all over again.
What a Carve Up, Jonathon Coe A brilliantly funny and observational author. Although probably not his best known work, What a Carve Up is a satirical masterpiece, it's hilariously over the top and will make you nearly wet yourself in several places... within the book that is, rather than upon yourself. I can't say more as it would be a crime to give any of the plot away, so just read it instead.
Fatherland, Robert Harris This is edge of your pants stuff, never mind your seat, from an author who, in my opinion, has failed to match the dizzy heights since. It's not a literary classic but it's the definition of a un-put-a-down-able book. I read it in 24 hours, forgetting to sleep.
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver Just a brilliantly written and highly original novel. The story, as well as the narrative, is engaging and, having lived in Africa for a couple of years, the grim idealism shown by the missionary family is spot on. It's a brilliant portrayal of family dynamics in an unusual setting, and a testament to Kingsolver's ability to research her novels meticulously.
The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins I have to put this book on the list, as it is the one that probably had the biggest influence on me. I basically chose my university degree on the back of this book. Forget that Dawkins can often come across as a pompous academic, The Selfish Gene - from start to end - is mind-blowingly simple in its argument, and yet it challenges your perspective on, well, everything.
Oryx & Crake, Margaret Atwood Diverse author flexing science fiction muscle with believable and fallible characters.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou A book which sits in my heart and began my love affair with Angelou and her work.
All the Light We Cannot See, Antony Doerr Beautifully written, thought provoking look at the Second World War.
Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes I will always remember as the first book of poetry I bought myself. I read it all the time. It's beautiful and haunting.
The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger Showed me another side to literature when I was at an age of pure Bronte and Austen. Opened my eyes to the entire American Beat Generation which I devoured - and still do.
Getting the Joke, Oliver Double As your comedy correspondent I thought I’d start off with a couple of books about stand-up. This is the definitive guide to the history and inner workings of stand-up from an academic who has got out there and done it.
How I Escaped My Certain Fate (The Lives and Deaths of a Stand-up Comedian), Stewart Lee The best book on stand-up by a stand-up. The entire transcript of a stand-up show exhaustively analysed and examined. Superb insights into writing and performing comedy.
A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggars Sticking with the comic theme this is my novel pick. I loved this book for its post-modern, meta, self-referential clowning around and it’s got a moving story at its heart. Got to admire the cheek of the title too.
It’s Here Now (Are You), Bhagavan Das On a different front, this is the memoir of an American counter-cultural icon about his time as a wandering sadhu in India. A fantastic evocation of sacred India with a plethora of saints and yogis. He introduced the wider world to guru Neem Karoli Baba who has recently been named as an inspiration for Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
Help! I am a Prisoner in a Toothpaste Factory, John Antrobus Back to the comedic, by a collaborator of Spike Milligan, this is my favourite childhood book and one that definitely influenced by own comic endeavours. Would love to read it again to see what I think of it as an adult. I see Amazon (genuinely) has a second hand copy for £0.01 and a new copy for £999.11. Which seems fitting for such a bonkers book.
Look out for pt.2 (coming soon) as we ask the remaining pool of Good On Paper writer's!
Celebrating ten years of recording essential classic, modern and emerging poetry, The Poetry Archive is a website that aims to bring the widest possible audience to the fullest possible range of English-language poetry published around the world.
As part of my recent interview with joint founder (and Minchinhampton resident) Richard Carrington, I asked him to list five of his favourite poetry recordings from the archive...
1 - Eden Rock by Charles Causley
"When I made this recording in the last year of the poet’s life, it was clear to both of us that he was reading his poems for the last time. You can hear the emotion in his voice as he reaches the last line." www.poetryarchive.org/poem/eden-rock
2 - Earthed by U A Fanthorpe
"This was the first ever recording we made for the Poetry Archive. In her house in Wotton-under-Edge in May 2000, U. A. reads this love poem to some of the places where she had lived in England." www.poetryarchive.org/poem/earthed
3 - The Loch Ness Monster’s Song by Edwin Morgan
"Try reading this poem before you listen to the recording. Baffling, isn’t it! This is a great example of what’s added to your experience by hearing a poet reading his or her work for you." www.poetryarchive.org/poem/loch-ness-monsters-song
4 - Memorial by Alice Oswald
"The opening section of Alice Oswald’s magnificent re-telling of Homer’s Iliad, mesmerizingly performed from memory in the recording studio."www.poetryarchive.org/poem/memorial
5 - They Should Have Asked My Husband by Pam Ayres
"Another great Gloucestershire favourite." www.poetryarchive.org/poem/they-should-have-asked-my-husband
Pick up issue #13 April 2016 (out now!) to read more about The Poetry Archive and Nikki's interview with Richard Carrington
I was recently asked to read and review The Spider in the Corner of the Room (now known as Subject 375) by local author Nikki Owen. This was an enjoyable task for me as I enjoy reading and from what I could see of the book it looked like a style I might enjoy, a thriller, I thought.
So, I started to read the book, the first thing that struck me and will you, is the main character; the protagonist, Maria. She’s not your ordinary everyday heroine. She’s not charming, witty and confident. But don’t underestimate her. Maria is intelligent, she is strong willed and does very much want to be in control of her own life and has strived throughout her life to do this. Maria has had to overcome extreme prejudice and every day misunderstandings from others and herself.
Maria is from a Spanish family, well off and well respected, she also has Aspergers; High functioning Autism, which means she finds it hard to understand social normalities, communication and subtleties that others take for granted. She finds others emotions hard to read and has to maintain strict control over her own emotions. She does this through ritual and routine, which help her control her life and understand the world.
The book unveils all of this when Maria is suddenly thrown into jail for a crime she thinks she hasn't committed. But she’s having trouble with her memory, she’s remembering some things that haven’t happened and forgetting other things that others tell her have happened. Who can she trust, how does she know who she should trust, why would they lie and why would they want to help or hinder her? How is she meant to know the truth?
Along with this, Maria starts discovering new talents she didn't know she had. How did she learn these skills, who taught them to her and why doesn't she remember?
The book delves into Maria’s character, a hard task as she is not immediately likeable. She’s unstable, afraid and confused and there’s no easy way to unfurl any truth to help her. The author cunningly adds other characters that we can more easily identify through, but we still don’t know who to trust, as we become one with Maria, the book being written completely from her perspective. All this whilst racing through a who-done-it storyline.
Subject 375 is set through two timelines, the present day and a couple of weeks before the present day, the two colliding towards the crescendo of the book and leaving us on a cliffhanger where we pleadingly need to know what happens next.
This is a well written and accomplished first novel, with two follow ups in the making. Nikki adds style and substance to an original character, making us feel at once helpless and enthralled, giving us a very realistic glimpse into the mind of a well thought out and researched character. I’d very much recommend picking up a copy yourself, I warn you to put aside a few hours to read, as you won’t want to put it down until you've read every page, too!
I was lucky enough to be able to ask Nikki a few questions about her début novel and life in Stroud, here’s what she had to say:
Spider in the Corner of the Room seems to have a different title, Subject 375 - can you tell me is this a new version, or a different international title?
Subject 375 is the new title for The Spider in the Corner of the Room. Same book, different name for the UK & Commonwealth market. The reason the change came about was that last November, I was on a library tour and the response to Spider as a story was amazing – the reaction to the cover was different. Everyone loved it, but as one reader put it, ‘The cover confused as to the genre.’ The same message was coming across from more & more readers and so, the publisher and I, we sat down and discussed it. At the same time, the French title for the novel is Sujet 375, and boy is it doing well over there. So, along with reader feedback in the UK, we decided to change it and, hey presto, Subject 375 was born. The French publishers, Super 8, took the cover in a new direction and readers have really reacted well to it, so it was just fantastic that my lovely UK publishers looked, listened and thought, ‘Hey! Great idea!’ And it was. The novel is coming out in the USA and Canada this summer and over there, it’ll be under the title of Subject 375.
The book contains a really interesting and original main character, where did you get your inspiration?
I'm a huge crime fiction fan. Book, TV, film – you name it, if it’s a cracking story, I'm in. But here’s the odd thing: until recently, I never noticed just how male dominated that world is. It was only when Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy came out that I really began to question what makes a strong crime protagonist. Yes, mercifully, there have been some huge female icons – DCI Jane Tennison in Lynda La Plante’s stunning Prime Suspect novel immediately comes to mind, but the Tennison’s of this world are few and far between. And why? Because society is scared, I believe, to imagine women as strong or violent, even.
I actually began writing The Spider in the Corner of the Room with a male protagonist. My trained-by-society brain went into automatic pilot and created a bloke as the main character, but eight chapters in, and something wasn't working. And so, that night, I went to the cinema to see the James Bond film, Skyfall. There’s a character in the film a female spy, who, at the beginning, is strong, decisive, but, by the final scene of the movie, is, instead, portrayed as weak, having been relegated to a PA because she couldn't, ‘cut it in the field.’ I was watching the film with my daughter and it made me so cross; here was a woman – and to a greater extent, women in general - being, basically, depicted as feeble. So, film over, I charged home, immediately changed my protagonist’s voice to a strong, complex woman and Dr Maria Martinez was born.
And it worked, creating Maria. It made sense not only on the page (the words just flew out), but in my head as well. Because I now had a character who was real, flawed, intelligent, strong – and she had Asperger’s. Not only did it feel right, developing Maria – it felt empowering.
What research did you use to get insight into Maria?
As well as observing and speaking, I did a lot of research on forums and blogs. There are some amazing people out there on the spectrum who share with us what their lives are really like. It’s the little things - like I didn't realise how hard airports often are for those with Asperger’s – the sights, sounds, smells. It’s all an assault on their hypersensitive systems and can trigger a sensory overload, which can lead to what is wrongly perceived as ‘erratic’ behaviour to cope with it all (rocking, leg bouncing etc.).
Reading the blogs- so many, over and over – helped me to really get a gauge on how their lives are actually lead. And it made me see that women with Asperger’s can be different to males, which is, for my protagonist, crucial. For example, adult females can be more prone to both temper tantrums and crying meltdowns, even in public, yet on the other hand, they can also be better at socializing in small doses, but they tend not to have many girl friends nor do ‘girly’ things. When writing Spider, I constantly went back to my research - the blogs, forums - to remind myself how life for those with Asperger’s really is, what they really think, so that way I could, in the wider context of a fiction novel, at least try and paint some small semblance of real life.
Did you use any of your own life experience within the book?
When I was a kid and a teenager, I was a bit of a geek, lanky, skinny, odd hair, big milk bottle glasses – naturally, that did not go down well. I was vaguely different from the mainstream, as it was then, and I got some stick for it. All water off a duck’s back now, but what is sad is that it’s the norm to take a jab at someone different – it’s seen as acceptable. And with social media, the whole situation, I believe, has got way worse.
I think my experience of being bizarrely seen as different helped me write the book, because I know what it feels like to be on the outside sometimes, to live in one’s head, to feel lonely even – we all do from time to time. Also, I am Irish and, while that’s accepted in the UK now, when we first moved here to the UK in the seventies/eighties it wasn't so easy. Other kids used to taunt me and my siblings’ accents, saying we were ‘Paddy scum’, told us to go back to Ireland, all because we were ‘different’ and people perceived we shouldn't be in the UK. It’s crazy now when I think of it, but, sadly, nothing has changed. Sure, the Irish are pretty much the accepted immigrants in the UK, but the taunting of other nationalities who live here continues – Polish, Romanians – everyone. And it’s plain wrong.
I guess, all in all, the biggest thing in the book that relates to my life is the belief – through direct experience - that we should judge each other less. We are all so quick to assess people and it creates such conflict, sadness, loneliness. If only we took each other for what we are, life would be a better place. Less wars etc. Also, I have strong opinions on how governments and those in power often say one thing and yet mean the other (which is the opposite of what it is to have Asperger’s). I don’t want governments to lie and deceive; be up front, politicians. People appreciate that more.
You left us on a cliffhanger at the end of the book, will there be more and if so, can we have a quick preview?
There’s definitely more! Subject 375 is part of a trilogy, with the second book due to hit the shelves in the UK this June. I can’t at this stage reveal too much, but what I can tell you is that it shines a light much more on Maria Martinez’s family and the full background to just what has been happening and who is really involved.
There are rumours of Hollywood interest in making a film of the book, is this true and if so how will you be involved?
In 2014, the trilogy was optioned by NBC Universal to create a one-hour returnable international TV series. With book two now due out, and with film agents showing interest so far, the potential for a film deal is definitely one my literary agency are gunning for!
You're now a Stroud local, so will you be writing about your home town in any of your books, as we'd love to be mentioned, I'm sure?
I am lucky enough to live in an area surrounded by inspiration. Now we have moved to Stroud, I just have to stare out of my window in the study to be inspired: the sway of the trees, the rainforest sound on the leaves in a down pour. Even walking into town, discovering new areas influences what I do, as does travelling to different Cotswolds villages – I love to have a nosey at different people’s lives. Sorry if I stare… But as for specific books, yep, I have a tonne of ideas that may well involve Stroud. Where we live is amazing!
What will you be writing about next and how can we follow your writing?
The next book in the trilogy is out in June and we’re working on revealing the true title and cover, so watch this space. Readers can follow me on twitter (@nikkiwriter), on Facebook (nikkiowenauthor) for reveals and competitions. As well as writing a series of Talking Heads style monologues, (and writing for Good On Paper, naturally) I’ll be appearing at Hawkesbury Literary Festival on the 23rd April and at Chipping Campden Literary Festival on the 5th May. And if you have a book you fancy getting published, but are unsure what to do next, I'm running a ‘How To Get Published’ course at Hawkwood College, Stroud on the 26th July. So, yeah, pretty busy! Just the way we like it.
Helen Elliott-Boult is a Stroud newbie, but long time admirer. She is an art enthusiast, short story dabbler, music and dance admirer and survivor of Media and Art school
If you love books and you've got a bit of time between work or have the afternoon to nip out, then do, because best-selling writer, Claire Fuller will be appearing at Stroud Bookshop on Monday 29th February at 2.30pm.
And I tell you what, it will be worth the visit, because not only is Claire an amazing author, but her début novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won multiple accolades in 2015, with the book being selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and also becoming the winner of the coveted Desmond Elliot Prize for Debut Fiction.
Our Endless Numbered Days is the story of Peggy Hillcoat, who when she is eight in 1976, spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano. After a family crisis, which Peggy doesn’t fully understand until later, her survivalist father James, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared. And so her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival and a tiny wooden hut that is Everything. But Peggy isn’t seen again for another nine years.
It’s a chilling novel, not only in its premise, but in the beauty and sheer flowing style of prose in which she writes. But what of Claire and her writing background? For Claire, the journey to becoming an author wasn't a straight forward line, in fact she came to writing only later on in life “For my first degree I studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving. I began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency.”
Claire, among her accolades, also has a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Winchester, and you can see just how this has shaped her wonderful work. So what next for Clare? Well, with more book deals under her belt, she has another novel on the way entitled Swimming Lessons due to be published by Penguin in 2017, and sure to be a big hit, if her poetic prose is anything to go by.
So, with once again Stroud Bookshop showcasing not only another author for us all to meet, but one which The Sunday Times describes, of Fullers’ writing, as 'a singing simplicity that finds beauty amid the terror', never before has there been a time like it to stock up on our reading, meet an author, and all at the same time as supporting our local book store. Work or no work on Monday, the book love is definitely in the air.
JACK'S AMAZING SHADOW
A HOME FOR MR TIPPS
The first two books in Tom's Little Legends series are available now from book stores nationwide and Stroud Bookshop. Pick up our latest issue to find out more!
Friday the 12th of February 2016 saw a gathering at the SVA for Unlucky In Love: Pre-Valentine's Night of Woe. Depressing poetry was herded towards the stage and carefuly chaperoned by Bill Jones (aka Miserable Malcolm, the miserable poet.) The first such of these had been caused a year previously by a Friday the 13th preceding Valentine’s Day. Gathered under the banner of ‘get the disappointment over early’ we exposed our bleeding hearts in public and swayed without optimism to the tunes Uta Baldauf played.
Why on earth would a person voluntarily subject themselves to an evening of miserable poems? And not just miserable poems, but the worst excesses of teenage diaries, and all that self-indulgent angst can offer. I don’t think Bill had any idea, when he started this last year, of just how excited people would be about misery. Of course sometimes, misery is funny. When Bill Jones takes to the stage, or Jonny Fluffypunk puts in an appearance, giggling is a probability.
But it’s not just that.
Having been to the Miserable Poets Cafe every time it’s popped up over the last year, I feel I should know the names of the most frequent participants/offenders, but I don’t. I realise as I come to write about it, that the event itself has the feel of a support group. Things spoken of at Miserable Poets Cafe should perhaps stay there as safely guarded secrets. Confessions of murderous intent, and the tale of the young man who dumped her via her work email, not even her personal gmail address. The ex girlfriend who smelled terrible. Secret, personal things, shared intimately with fifty or more other people via a microphone and a stage, which really shouldn't see the light of day.
Most of the time in our normal lives we’re all trying to put a good face on things. It’s fascinating what happens when you’re competing for prizes like broken crockery and second hand handkerchiefs, and there is permission to be your worst. A collective relishing of our most stupid, futile, regrettable, humiliating moments, with or without rhyming couplets. A safe space in which exposing your innate crapness will get you a round of applause, not social ostracism. It’s cheaper than therapy and considerably more fun.
Did Bill Jones intend to create a space that does for failure what Death Cafe does for that other big social taboo? Did he plan to cheer people up by letting them see that they’re just as rubbish as everyone else really? I don’t know, but I'm glad he did. After a year of misery, I'm a slightly more cheerful person than I was.
Nimue Brown lives in Stroud, writes fiction and non-fiction, has a compulsive blogging habit and can be found online at www.druidlife.wordpress.com
If historical, extraordinary telling fiction is your thing, then this weekend is your chance to meet one of the genre’s most talented authors, as Saturday 27th February will see local writer Kate Riordan appearing at Stroud Bookshop between 11am and 12.30pm.
There to sign copies of her latest book, The Shadow Hour (Penguin £7.99), Kate is no stranger to historical fiction. Her first novel, The Girl in the Photograph was published in January last year to critical acclaim, with the Sunday Express describing the story as 'a prickly story full of tension'. In fact, so sweeping and haunting is Kate’s writing that her books have been labelled as perfect for fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.
So what of Kate? Well, a writer and journalist, Kate started out as an editorial assistant at the Guardian, no less, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of Time Out. She now works as a freelance writer, as well of course creating amazing, best selling novels. So, I asked Kate just what her new novel, The Shadow Hour is all about. Said Kate, “The book is a dual narrative, Gothic mystery, set in a big crumbling house on the outskirts of Cheltenham. The two strands of the story are told by Harriet and her granddaughter Grace. We first meet Harriet in 1878, when she’s in her early twenties and just about to become governess to the daughters of the Pembridge family. Nearly half a century later, Harriet’s granddaughter Grace finds herself about to take up the same position for the same family. There are lies and secrets a-plenty!”
In fact, it’s this mystery the era in which Kate writes so beautifully that forms such an interesting plot premise. When asked why, amid the modernity of today’s lifestyle, she wrote her new book, Kate said, “I still lived in Cheltenham when I started the book and I wanted to set a book in a house hidden away on Leckhampton Hill. I also wanted to write a story about governesses. Although they crop up in literature occasionally – most famously in Jane Eyre, of course, which I reference in my story – they were almost invisible in Victorian society.”
Indeed, it’s this Victorian society and beyond which forms the backdrop of her story-lines. “Most of the governesses came from good, respectable families that didn't have much money, and this meant that they fell between two stools – higher than the servants and lower than the family. In a story with some Gothic elements, they’re the perfect heroine because they’re so isolated and vulnerable, as Harriet – the book’s heroine - in particular turns out to be.”
It’s the influences, not only of time, but of location and, of course, our glorious Gloucestershire county, that have had a significant creative impact on Kate. “It’s more the wider county of Gloucestershire that influences me,” she said. “My first novel for Penguin, The Girl in the Photograph, was set in a fictionalised version of Owlpen Manor, near Uley, and this second novel is obviously set near Cheltenham. I love the landscape in this part of the world – the hills and valleys, the greens and golds – I’ve lived in quite a few places and this is easily the most beautiful. I love the industrial history of the place too, and find it fascinating that we have the rapid decline of the cloth trade to thank (in part) for such gorgeous villages – because there wasn't enough money around for people to rebuild in later fashions.”
Talking to her, it’s clear just why where we live influences Kate so much, and not only that, but how it shapes just how she shops – including at our local book stores. Indeed that, for Kate, is something, not only very dear to her heart, but calming, too. “I've always found bookshops such restful places to be, especially independent ones. You can almost feel your blood pressure going down as soon as you step inside! It’s lovely to build up a relationship with your local bookshop and as a reasonably new arrival to this area – I live in Chalford – I'm looking forward to getting to know Stroud Bookshop even better.”
So, if you fancy a step back in time this weekend – and a calm one at that – then Saturday 27th February at Stroud Bookshop is the place to be, and Kate will be ready to meet you. Kate and, of course, her haunting historical characters. Governess stern-like stares optional.
The literary and artist credentials of Stroud are on the rise again as we see another talented writer celebrating the launch of her brand new book. This Saturday between 10am -12pm, Hannah Shaw, local children's author and illustrator will be signing her new picture book Bear on a Bike at Stroud Bookshop. And not only is this the chance for your children to come meet her, but it’s also a unique opportunity to watch Hannah draw on the day, as well as purchase a signed copy of the book.
Written for 0-5 year olds, Bear on a Bike is the story of a bear who likes bikes and cake and making you giggle. Bear has made Mouse a cake for his birthday but Mouse has gone off on his moped to buy things on his birthday list. What follows is a chase on lots of different modes of transport where Bear is trying desperately to catch up with mouse and keep his cake in one piece. It’s an enchanting story and, speaking to Hannah, it’s easy to see just why this illustrator has turned to writing after a long and successful career drawing fun and beautiful picture books for children. “I wrote and illustrated Bear on a Bike because I really wanted to do a younger picture book for my children. Usually I don't write with anyone in particular in mind, I create the kind of stories and animal characters that are funny and make me laugh. Luckily, they make other people laugh too!”
Of course, having children for me, for sure, and I know for so many others can be a pivotal turning point in our lives, and for Hannah and her creativity, such a stage of her life has been no exception. “Since having my own children I thought for once it would be nice to write and illustrate something special for them. Recently, I had been focusing on writing older children’s fiction (with my Stan Stinky sewer rat stories) which I enjoy working on in a different way. I felt like I needed to do something fresh and illustrative with my own text, I illustrate picture books for other authors (such as Gareth Edwards' The Disgusting Sandwich). They have been great fun to do and are successful books but are more restrictive creatively.”
And so was born, for Hannah, not just her beautiful children, but also her delightful picture book Bear on a Bike, which Scholastic Book Clubs have called ‘perfect for any child who likes bears, cakes and vehicles’, with the renowned book club saying of Hannah, ‘her funny writing and charming pictures are a real delight.’
“Bear on a Bike tells a story in simple rhyming text but the illustrations have a fun sub-plot for children to enjoy visually,” says Hannah. “I think it is a really good picture book for toddlers as well as early readers, with speech bubbles and repetitive rhyme. I hope it does win over some little people!”
And of course, always the big question on people’s lips when it comes to authors and their stories, is where the inspiration comes from, and for Hannah, illustrating for kids’ books, it couldn’t come from a better place. “The inspiration for the characters and story came one day last year, when I was drawing with my then two year old and her friend who is very keen on buses and transport. I drew them a bear sitting on top of a bus (a page that appears in the book) and I kept thinking about the bear character in /on different vehicles and the final book idea developed from there.”
So there you go – one bear, one bike and one very talented author and illustrator, all of which proves that Stroud not only is an inspiring place to live, but one that deserves it’s own book shop. And Hannah wholeheartedly agrees. “I’m excited about doing a signing in Stroud Bookshop, local bookshops are very important and we are so lucky to have so many lovely ones in Gloucestershire,” says Hannah. “It's vital we try and support them, they are great at organising signings, talks and school events. Sadly even big bookshops like Waterstones are increasingly under threat today, with Amazon having such a monopoly.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself. So, what nicer way to spend a Saturday morning this weekend than at Stroud Bookshop with your children, getting the chance not only to meet an author and see her at work (and get a signed copy!) but to help keep alive our local book shop not just now, but for generations to come.
Visit the facebook event page here . Bear on a Bike is on sale now.
Do you want to read your stories in front of an audience of 70 people? Do you love listening to short stories – especially when read by their authors? If so then Stroud Short Stories is for you...
Stroud Short Stories is now accepting short story submissions for its eleventh event, which will be held on Sunday 24th April 2016. The deadline for submissions is the end of Saturday 19th March. Ten stories will be selected from those submitted to be read by their authors at Stroud Valleys Artspace (SVA), John Street at 8pm. It is part of Stroud's celebrated SITE Festival.
The last four events have sold out, and this one is expected to do so too! The authors selected will read their stories to an audience of 70 people and they will also be offered a place in the next SSS anthology - due 2018 (download issue 8 of Good On Paper for a review of the first anthology by Leah Grant ->www.goodonpaper.info/archived-issues)
This time it's an open theme, so use any subject as the basis of your story. And write in any genre. Or none at all.
As always, submissions are free. Unpublished and previously published work is accepted. And once more stories are sought from writers with connections to Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire.
Check out the website where all is revealed – www.stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk
Tickets for the event will be available on-line only in advance from the SVA/Site Festival.
Follow Stroud Short Stories on twitter for further updates and news: www.twitter.com/StroudStories
I think for pretty much most of us Stroudies, Katie Fforde needs no introduction, but if you are in need of a reminder, here you go. Katie is a Sunday Times Best-selling author with a whopping roster of romantic genre novels that the Independent newspaper described as, “Witty and generous – Jilly Cooper for the grown-ups.” Since her career as an author began more than two decades ago, Katie has not only gained a legion of devoted fans, but has won multiple awards (including the Romantic Novelist Association’s Contemporary Romantic Fiction Award) and has founded a bursary designed to help other writers make their author mark.
Katie – and I can vouch for this personally – is not only an amazing novelist, but one of the warmest, most kindest people you’ll meet. And if you don’t get a chance to see her on Saturday 13th, then don’t worry because Katie is also holding a book launch at The Prince Albert on Rodborough Hill the following Saturday 20th February from 2pm, and we’re all invited. And here’s an interesting fact: Lotte, the landlady of the Albert, actually features in Katie’s latest novel! When quizzed about this, Katie said, “As I was writing about a community I knew it had to have a pub. As The Prince Albert is at the heart of our village I used that. Lotte is a great character and the pub has so much character. It has a starring role.”
In fact, since Katie moved to Stroud more than thirty years ago, being part of the local community has been at the centre of everything she does, including supporting the local bookshops. “I love doing signings at Stroud Bookshop,” Katie said. “It's my 'local' and lots of people come back year after year.”
And I think this is just one of the many reasons why, not only is Katy seen as a bit of a writing legend among residents here (and among us writers, too!), but is seen as a huge supporter of Stroud, highlighting why it is so rich and cultural and downright great. Because, of course, life – well, it happens right here, and that, with Katie’s latest book is just why she has drawn inspiration from the area so heavily. “'I really wanted to do something at The Prince Albert because it features heavily in A Vintage Wedding,” said Katie. “It's a thank you really. It's such a great pub.”
So there you go. Two chances to meet Katie Fforde, and with all her multiple best-selling novels, even more chances to sit curled up away from this winter weather and get suck into a wonderful read.
Katie will be signing books at Stroud Bookshop, 23 High Street from 10am this Saturday 13th February.The celebration launch at The Prince Albert, Rodborough Hill starts at 2pm on Saturday 20th February.
This February budding young bards gather at Hawkwood College to decide who will be the county finalist of Poetry By Heart, a national poetry recitation contest started by former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion.
Leading up to the event on Wednesday 10th February we thought that we would put up last year's county winner Sophia Smout's chosen poems...
To His Love by Ivor Gurney (1917)
He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswold
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.
His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.
You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.
Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers –
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.
The Witch By Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1893)
I have walked a great while over the snow,
And I am not tall nor strong.
My clothes are wet, and my teeth are set,
And the way was hard and long.
I have wandered over the fruitful earth,
But I never came here before.
Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!
The cutting wind is a cruel foe.
I dare not stand in the blast.
My hands are stone, and my voice a groan,
And the worst of death is past.
I am but a little maiden still,
My little white feet are sore.
Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!
Her voice was the voice that women have,
Who plead for their heart’s desire.
She came—she came—and the quivering flame
Sunk and died in the fire.
It never was lit again on my hearth
Since I hurried across the floor,
To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door.
Lights Out By Edward Thomas (1917)
I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn’s first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.
Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.
There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter and leave, alone,
I know not how.
The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
The County finals take place at Hawkwood College, on Wednesday, 10th February at 1:30pm. There is a limited number of public tickets which can be acquired by contacting the Hawkwood office on 01453 760 900
Pick up issue #11 Feb 2016 for our feature on Poetry By Heart by Kevan Manwaring
The Hall of Misery, and Growing Victorians In Your Garden. Tiny, wonderful strange books from Bill Jones. Although, just to confuse people, The Hall of Misery claims to have poems written in it by Miserable Malcolm. Anyone who has ventured to a spoken word event in Stroud probably knows that Miserable Malcolm is Bill Jones’ secret alter ego. No capes or face masks, just an overwhelming sense of doom and futility, which somehow turns out to be very funny to watch. I’m not sure quite what it says about a person when they invent a character and then invent things the character has written, but it seemed to work for David Bowie, and so many interesting things happen on the borders between madness and genius.
I’m a huge fan of Bill Jones. To the point of self-identifying as his stalker. He’s been incredibly tolerant of this, which is just as well because the only way to get copies of his books reliably is to chase him down the high street, brandishing used notes. It’s so much easier when he doesn’t deliberately run away.
The Hall of Misery is a tiny book combining things from www.hawkerspot.com and Miserable Malcolm poems and new things in that vein. Black ink illustrations bring neither joy nor dramatic action to these scenes of misery and despair. This is clearly deliberate. Gloom, doom, despondency, disillusionment, tiny impersonal figures in vast, oppressive landscapes under dark skies. Graveyards, mortality... it is absolutely a book of misery. How it manages to be so relentlessly funny at the same time I cannot say, but it does. Laugh out-loud funny.
Growing Victorians In Your Garden is, as the title suggests, a guide to growing Victorians in your garden. Little historical people with period problems and issues with God. They apparently need plenty of manure. It is a strange thing, offered with such sincerity that you will find it easy enough to suspend all disbelief. Whimsical, poignant, and rather lovely. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. I’ve heard rumours of a second edition of Growing Victorians – copies being scarce at time of reviewing.
I recommend chasing Bill through the streets of Stroud to get a copy of The Hall of Misery. It’s worth it for the slightly alarmed look on his face. One warning, though. These are small books, they very easily hide themselves, or find their way into other people’s pockets. My Growing Victorians have made several, frankly suspicious bids for freedom already.
Nimue Brown lives in Stroud, writes fiction and non-fiction, has a compulsive blogging habit and can be found online at www.druidlife.wordpress.com
Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis are probably best known locally as story tellers, and you can find them most months at Stroud Out Loud, run in Mr Twitchett’s Cafe at the Subcription Rooms.They’ve both been selected to read at Stroud Short Stories evenings (but not on the same night!) and last year Anthony published his first novel Deep Time with Hawthorn Press.
That’s a very short introduction to a very creative pair of people. Kirsty and Anthony have also brought their skills to local folk stories, breathing life and coherence into a range of Gloucestershire tales, and enlivening them with illustrations (that one is all Kirsty).
Gloucestershire Folk Tales was published back in 2012, and put together by Anthony Nanson, (although I have been told that Kirsty had considerable influence on one of the stories!). Gloucestershire Ghost Tales came out last year and was written jointly. Those of us who follow them on facebook have enjoyed, vicariously, some months of ghost hunting as they toured the area looking at locations and probable settings for the stories they had collected. Enigmatic photos were shared.
One of the things to be said for both books is the care and attention that has gone into placing stories physically in the landscape. It’s also clear that they’ve paid a lot of attention to historical detail where that’s known and relevant.
The tales in both books are fairly short, each one delivered with a story teller’s flare. It’s not a complete set of tales for the area, but a selection of the most engaging, most tellable stories. They have also favoured the more imaginative tales and stayed out of stories that are more history than legend. Both books are a great expression of just how rich and interesting local mythic history is, and how much story we have in our immediate landscape. While both books cover Gloucestershire as a whole, there’s plenty of Stroud-specific material.
I have greatly enjoyed reading both books – I got through them in about an evening each, and many of the tales have stayed with me. I’ve since been moved to go and look for Woeful Dane’s Bottom, (how could anyone resist?) and it was good to be reminded that in terms of myth and history alike, Gloucestershire has always had a lot going on.
Kirsty is also responsible for a Suffolk folk tales collection, and a Wiltshire set, while other authors have covered the rest of the UK. If you’re interested in tales that are ‘not from around here’ then there’s plenty on offer. Although arguably anything The History Press does counts as local, given they’re based at Brimscombe Port.
Nimue Brown lives in Stroud, writes fiction and non-fiction, has a compulsive blogging habit and can be found online at www.druidlife.wordpress.com
Excerpt from Ada Kaleh by Freddie Mason with illustrations by Alice-Andrea Ewing released in February 2016 via Little Island Press:
and in the bare cream implied by gardens
she lay implied by shadows and denture
The night in gladness a world of dog and
incubation wanted to be useful
day in secreted expanses passes over her and
pity like metallic squeezes of juddering nothing
flowed into the garden like myristyl myristate
made of rivers made closer because never
pissing alone makes my agelessness
indigenous in awkward fundament
lazy in the moonlight whipping
till thickened matter settles
and how are the ways
in hype this mathematical and held in guzzling
pastoral tumescence sinking into the careful
impressive on TV in horror and golf the men at Avondale
fell from a seven storey window heaving with
protein and themselves the syndicalism in wanting
to be heard out loud in La Cana before the ground
hits you harder than you can hit it back
inducing deepest thought stop
like an oath to a silent land
we compose ourselves imperfectly
for this serene in-coming in
hi-definition and repeated
as many times as you need
through varying syncopations
Feel the road surface break
under the softened thumbs smooth
as they press and injure themselves
but succeed in breaking the road surface up