Category Archives: Events

My Waterstone’s Eleven Picks

The three hour return train journey from visiting family in Newcastle, in addition to providing scenic views, always feels like such a peaceful stretch of precious time in which to read, muse, and to pen my thoughts about what I have been reading.


Today I have with me a copy of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, but before immersing myself in her magical world I wanted to share my thoughts on the Waterstone’s Eleven list, announce Thursday before last at their now annual event at the flagship Picadilly branch. The Eleven books chosen, all debut authors tipped to shine this year were;

The Panopticon – Jenny Fagan
Absolution – Patrick Flanery
Shelter – Frances Greenslade
The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey
The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
The Land of Decoration – Grace McCleen
Signs of Life – Anna Raverat
The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker
Care of Wooden Floors – Will Wiles

It was a pleasure to read the extract book and to dip into such a variety of ideas and styles of writing. I’m being quite strict and narrowing my favourites to the following three books:

In Absolution by Patrick Flanery, biographer Sam Leroux is researching world renowned author Clare Wald who is writing a new book, set to confront her experiences in Apartheid-era South Africa. What immediately struck me in the extract that I read was the intense and uncomfortable feeling of intimacy between the author and her biographer. Wald is evasive and it seems as if she has something unpleasant to conceal, yet I felt that her ego would potentially lead to her letting something slip to the tactful but determined Leroux. I’m intrigued by both the headstrong personality of Clare and her mysterious past.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan opens with a flashback into the memory of Grace Sachs a woman on trial. Trapped on a Lifeboat leaving a sinking ship each of the passengers respond in their own way to the set of circumstances they are confronted with, but the safety of the whole group relies on life or death decisions which are often cruelly pragmatic. I was left wanting to know why Grace was on trial and was she culpable, while suspecting that the answer to the question might be in shades of grey.

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen stood out to me because it instantly struck me as original. McCleen’s subject is a little girl completely absorbed in her own world. Her father is a strict Christian and her mother absent because she has passed away. Judith has created an entire landscape in her bedroom made out of boxes and yoghurt pots and endless bric-a-brac where she escapes to when she is safe inside her own home. We meet her as she is readying herself with an encounter with the school bully and McCleen brilliantly communicates the anxieties and particular perspective of this child as she prepares herself.

Other titles were very promising too – I was on tenterhooks reading the first chapter of The Snow Child as a woman makes her way across a deadly ice-covered ravine, and I was drawn in by the authors engaging voice in Care of Wooden Floors, which leads me to wonder how much you can really tell just from a first chapter of a book. I expect to see some of these titles popping up in blogs and reviews so I’ll be looking forward to seeing what people make of the full novels.

Do any of the above books appeal to you? Do you find that you read many debut authors?

Bookmarked with Val McDermid & M.J. McGrath

Last night I had the pleasure of being able to go along to the second Bookmarked Literary Salon. Hosted once a month at Waterstone’s Deansgate in the centre of Manchester by Simon of Savidge Reads and Adam Lowe, Bookmarked has already seen the likes of successful debut authors S.J. Watson (writer of the fantastic Before I Go To Sleep) and Sarah Winman (When God Was a Rabbit) aptly, at it’s er… debut event in August.

Adam and M.J. McGrath (left) and Simon and Val McDermid (right)

I was very happy to have been able to co-ordinate my trip up North for work with a stop-in to September’s event featuring two crime-writers (readers of Novel Insights will know that I love a good crime novel). Val McDermid, now amazingly on her 25th book, was a writer I had heard such good things about so I swotted up before the event by reading The Mermaid’s Singing, which is one of her very early novels. A review will be on it’s way but I will say now that I’ve been completely gripped by my first Val, and would definitely recommend to other lovers of crime fiction. She’s not for the faint hearted though! Val was also an excellent guest with a refreshingly open and down to earth way of speaking about writing. I really enjoyed hearing about her approach to crime-writing and in particular an entertaining discussion between the hosts and authors about changes in modern technology and the dangers of making the latest trend too central to a story.

Val McDermid reading from Retribution

M.J. McGrath is a journalist-turned author who first book is a murder mystery in the unusual setting of the Canadian Arctic. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of her before the event, (for a book-blogger I’m unfortunately not always on the cutting-edge of things!) however sitting and listening to her reading of White Heat and her subsequent fascinating stories of her own experiences travelling and meeting people in icy landscapes, I was compelled to buy a copy of her novel. Simon’s review here, makes me glad that I did. I also picked up a copy of Val McDermid’s Wire in the Blood and was given the latest in her Tony Hill series – a signed copy of Retribution, by my dear bookish friend and host.

At the end of the night Simon and I even got caught up in our own little mystery helping Val hunt for her car, although I’m not sure how helpful we were trying to turn it into a sleuthing moment :).

I had an absolutely brilliant time and am hoping I can make it to future Bookmarked events. If you’re in the area and fancy popping along, keep an eye out on the site for the next date and line-up here.

Bookmarked literary salon debuts tonight!

Tonight is the debut night of new literary salon Bookmarked, hosted by Savidge Reads at Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester – 6.30pm. If you’re in the area, why not pop in?

For the price of a mocha-choca whatsit from Starbucks (tickets are £3 on the door), you could having a lovely literary evening and rubbing shoulders with talented new authors Sarah Winman who’s novel When God Was a Rabbit has been getting glowing reviews, and S.J. Watson who wrote Before I go to Sleep, which kept me up way after my bedtime!

For more details, visit the Bookmarked website.

Why don’t men read books by women?

I’m off to lovely Cambridge this Sunday to see a certain Mr Savidge Reads discuss the potentially contentious question…

Why don’t men read books by women? (and does it matter that they don’t?)

He’s in fabulous bookish company too with Persephone Books founder Nicola Beauman on the panel. Other speakers at the Women’s Word event also include Jil Paton Walsh and P.D. James, and one my favourite crime writers, Sophie Hannah will be there too.

Man Reading, by John Singer Sargent (Image borrowed from

If you’re interested in the event and would like to come along it would be great to see you. You can find details of Women’s Word here and see the panel members for the discussion of Why don’t men read books by women? here (you do need a ticket btw).

I’ve recently been pondering the fact that as a women I do like to read books by men, precisely because I enjoy the different perspective (favourite authors include Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Fydor Dostoyevsky and Ian McEwan). If we assume that there is truth in the question posed, why wouldn’t men be interested in understanding the female brain better? Of course, that’s if you assume that there is truth in the question!

You could postulate for example that behaviour depends on the category of reader. When it comes to very popular fiction you could generalise that many women prefer chick-lit (mainly a female domain) and men prefer thrillers (where there is quite alot of female representation) and sci-fi / fantasy novels. These are very broad statements of course and I’m interested to find out what the assumptions are based on being someone who likes my arguments nicely backed up with evidence!

I’m also curious to see how many men there will be at this event to grill the panel as I’m anticipating that  participation at this event would naturally be biased towards the fairer sex.

In the meantime I’ll have to think up some interesting questions to pose to the panel.   Anyone have any good ideas?


For Book's Sake QuizLast night I indulged my competitive side at the For Books’ Sake pub quiz. Needless to say our team performed woefully badly, but had a brilliant time. I blame the pints on both counts. The fact that some of the questions were almost as tough as the ones on University Challenge didn’t help either. Actually, that’s a lie – University Challenge is easier!

Thanks to Paperback Reader for the impromptu invite (I should state that Claire’s team were really quite good), and to everyone else (Chasing Bawa, Reading Matters, Laura Loves Daydreaming, Teadevotee and Love To Hate London) for what turned out to be a very entertaining night out.

Is anyone else terrible at pub quizzes? Why are they so randomly difficult – or is that just me!?

An Evening at Picador

Tonight I had the rather lovely pleasure of being invited along to the new Pan Macmillan offices for Picador’s New Voices event. Savidge Reads and I were treated to a sneak preview of writing, read by the authors themselves no less.

I managed to snaffle a couple of copies of books that stood out as being ones to watch.

Sunjeev Sahota’s reading of Ours are the streets, was charming and funny. The snapshot captured a quirkily romantic moment on a camping trip, however the synopsis hints at tragedy which intrigues me.

My response to a passage read from Ten Stories about Smoking, a book of short stories by Stuart Evers was initially sceptical but I found myself drawn into a rendezvous of two ex-lovers, and engrossed in the bittersweet interplay between the characters.

On another note, I quite wanted to steal a Mr Darcy-a-like who happened to be there, for our friend and budding romance writer Rose Roberts but refrained from making a scene…

Savidge Reads and I had a lovely time thanks to the lovely people at Picador, their New Voices and a couple of glasses of wine! What a good way to spend a rainy Monday.

Hi Ian, how are you today?

Yesterday, Savidge Reads took an excited Novel Insights along to see Ian McEwan talking with composer Michael Berkeley about their collaboration on the opera For You, and discuss the relationship between music and the written word and how they work harmoniously together (excuse the pun).

A not-very-good picture of Ian McEwan and Michael Berkeley speaking at the event

Admittedly, the real draw with this event was to see Ian McEwan talk as he’s a bit of a hero for me. I’ve loved all five of the novels I’ve read by him (Atonement, The Cement Garden, The Innocent, Enduring Love, On Chesil Beach).

He’s one of those rare authors that writes books that offer a wide variety of plot, and that I trust will be excellent – which is why when I went to get my signed copy of Solar I came over a bit silly and all I could think of to say was ‘Hi Ian, how are you today’ as if I bump into him every day!

Savidge Reads made the point that as readers we so sometimes feel as if we know an author a bit because we’ve read their books and I guess writing does invite a strange sort of intimacy.

Posing in front of the fabulous book display at the South Bank

I was interested by a comment that Ian McEwan made about how he and Michael felt that they wanted to take a realistic approach to opera, in contrast to the traditional dramatic style which often contains elements of magic. I’ve been to one opera (Turandot), which I loved because of the emotional style, so it made me smile a bit to hear that McEwan, through the process of collaborating with Berkeley was converted to enjoying the over-the-top slightly less-real elements of opera. I can see how For You ( which explores the relationship between a mature, boasting artist and his youthful self, and a deluded, murderous woman) would contain elements that marry well with the big emotional style of Opera.

We both had a great night as you can see from the cheesy smiles. I will be reading my cherished signed-copy of Ian McEwan’s latest book Solar very soon and posting my thoughts of course.

Some related links:

Do you like going to author events? What do you think music adds to the written word? Are you an Ian McEwan fan too?

Wimbledon Book Fest 2009

Wimbledon book fest 2009Yesterday lunchtime I was out on the hunt for Soseki Natsume’s I am a Cat (Tuttle classics) which Claire (Paperback Reader) suggested to me as a possible choice for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge. I popped into Waterstones and while I was at the counter checking the price of the copy they had I spotted a leaflet for the Wimbledon book fest 2009 which I got quite excited about!

Take a look at their calendar of events which includes talks from authors like Chris Cleave (The Other Hand), Penny Vincenzi (An Absolute Scandal), Tom Rob Smith (Child 44) and June Whitfield who is bringing out her autobiography.

It’s local to me, so I’m sure I’ll pop down to at least one of these events. Has anyone been to previous Wimbledon book fests? I’d love to hear what you thought if you have…