In this month’s book column, Getintothis’ Cath Holland looks forward to tucking into some new books and events to enjoy in 2019.
This, the final Wrapped Up in Books for 2018, has lots of literary goings on to keep you out of trouble for the next month.
The debut novel from West Camel is reviewed – thoroughly engrossing, it’s highly recommended.
The publishing phenomenon that is Paula Hawkins‘ Girl On The Train takes to the stage throughout the first months of 2019. There’s much speculation from this end at how the voyeuristic and dark themes in novel will be interpreted in front of a live audience.
World Book Night is inviting applications for givers to distribute free books in hard to reach communities in the spring.
Margaret Atwood has written a follow on from The Handmaids Tale, there’s ponderings on that too, plus January brings with it poetry from singer and songwriter Tess Parks.
And Flash Flood Journal are doing their bit to inspire new flash fiction writing via an online Advent Calendar.
Finally, Stewart Parsons from Get It Loud in Libraries chats about his childhood love of Enid Blyton mysteries, how libraries were his education as a lad, and the ways his organisation opens up libraries and museums to a wider audience.
Christmas and New Year can be a stressful time, and many people find the holiday difficult. Either way, there’s nothing quite like a bloody good book to escape the melee or grab a break from it all.
Bookworms all over can surely empathise with Ann-Margret here in the film The Swinger, where she wonderfully demonstrates what to do when you’re at a party – or family gatherings over the Christmas period or any time of year – when all you really want to do is read your book. Navigating and exiting a busy room with sass, and a paperback.
Ann Magret here showing us how to dance with a book.
(The Swinger, 1967). pic.twitter.com/zPKSN0vurN
— Anna Bleak Midwinter Mazzola (@Anna_Mazz) November 20, 2018
- BOOK REVIEW
This debut novel from West Camel is a cleverly weaved tale of three complex characters.
We meet the mysterious Deborah, who claims to be immortal and over a hundred years old. And Anne, a recovering heroin addict with a bagful of regrets and a mountain of mistakes to make up for.
Then there’s Sam.
Sam has moved to London for what reason we’re not quite sure, but he’s out on the sniff for the anonymous sex he’s grown accustomed to settling for when he bumps into the troubled Deptford bad boy Derek. As soon as he meets this man, he knows he’s in the soup, falling so hard and quickly, although his instincts warn him to pull away.
Everyone’s a sucker for a love story, and although Attend is not a romantic novel, Sam’s passion and love for Derek is the charm in Attend that got me hooked.
Derek sends him a handwritten love letter. Sam instinctively knows his beau rewrote each word multiple times, pored over it, making sure he got it exactly right. Upon reading the missive, Sam ‘felt courted….A firm kiss: there. I want you.’
It turns out the bad boy is actually very sweet, and innocent in some ways. And as lost as Sam is.
And he sure as hell knows how to pen a billet-doux.
Deborah and Anne’s stories are magical in their own right – there’s a paranormal sheen throughout the novel – sometimes it’s not clear if Deborah really exists at all, or if she lives in the other characters’ imaginations only.
We don’t know where Anne’s headed but it feels her future is now full of possibilities, enriched because of knowing Deborah and Sam. I found Anne a hugely sympathetic character. She wants to be a good person. And, though she doesn’t think it, one can’t help but think she will succeed.
Deborah, Anne and Sam are not where they want to be when we first meet them. These oddball working class characters don’t fit in their own communities or elsewhere, no matter how hard they try to reshape themselves. They are outsiders, but bond together. Set in South London, there are no diamonds in the rough stereotypes here. The trio aren’t perfect people but warm and appealing, vulnerable without being wimpy. The type one roots for.
Life’s thrown so much at each, sexism, violence, poverty, and although they each win in their own way, eventually, the book leaves us with lots of questions to salivate and wonder over once we reach the final page.
Attend is published by Orenda Books in paperback on 13 December.
- THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN ADAPTED FOR THEATRE
Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel – shifting over twenty million copies worldwide to date – is heading for the stage.
In the book, Rachel Watson is a woman struggling to get her life back on track following her divorce. Alcohol and her increasingly disturbed emotional state warp how she sees and deals with people and situations. Her only escape is the fantasy world she imagines around a couple she glimpses through the train window each day as she travels to work. They are happy and in love and have the perfect life she dreams can only dream of.
One day, the woman goes missing and Rachel is overwhelmed by the obsessive need to find out what happened to her.
The play features Samantha Womack as Rachel, and it will be interesting to see how the production interprets a book where the bulk of the story plays out in the protagonist’s mind and confused memories.
Girl On The Train is performed at
11 – 16 Feb Richmond Theatre, London
11 – 16 Mar Playhouse, Liverpool
15 – 20 Apr Theatre Royal, Glasgow
17 – 22 Jun Theatre Royal, Brighton
- TESS PARKS POETRY PUBLISHED IN 2019
Poetry by Canadian singer, songwriter and musician Tess Parks is to be published for the very first time in the forthcoming book When They Start To Love You As A Machine You Should Run.
The collection of established and emerging poets seeks to encapsulate a snapshot of this point in history from an array of emotional perspectives, and incorporates romance, technology, war, sex, death, and – somewhat inevitably – Brexit.
Parks, whose latest album Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe was released a few weeks ago, has her work featured alongside that by Michael Horowitz, Jeremy Reed, actor and model Greta Bellamacina, poetry editor for The Spectator Hugo Williams, and more.
The book is published by London-based New River Press in January.
- MARGARET ATWOOD ANNOUNCES THE HANDMAID’S TALE SEQUEL THE TESTAMENTS
The feminist dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, originally published in 1985 and recently given an impressive reworking for television starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred, is to get a follow up. Margaret Atwood takes us on a return journey to Gilead next autumn.
Yes indeed to those who asked: I’m writing a sequel to The #HandmaidsTale. #TheTestaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene and is narrated by three female characters. It will be published in Sept 2019. More details: https://t.co/e1umh5FwpX pic.twitter.com/pePp0zpuif
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) November 28, 2018
It’s fitting in these Trump times for the book to be revisited and reflected on and wonder if we’ve really moved on so much over the last thirty or so years. The revived interest in The Handmaid’s Tale following the TV series has had different effects, good and bad – the terms ‘handmaiden’and ‘Aunt Lydia’ – a female character in the book who carries out orders – in 2018 are now labels tossed around to criticise feminists who don’t fit the ideal or aren’t feminist enough, whatever that means. An ugly turn of events.
On the upside, the book has inspired newer works of tremendous merit – a top read of 2018, Vox by Christina Dalcher, takes Atwood’s baton and runs with it into contemporary times.
Dalcher imagines a world where women are only permitted to speak 100 words per day, and monitored constantly. They can’t write or use a computer or work outside the home. It’s a disturbing brilliant book, and one feeling at times uncomfortably close to reality.
So it’s intriguing to imagine how Margaret Atwood concludes her classic tale.
The Testaments will be published by Penguin in Sept 2019.
- FLASH FLOOD ADVENT CALENDAR
If you’d like to try your hand at writing some flash fiction this December and don’t know where to start, head to the Flash Flood Journal where their Advent Calendar offers daily prompts until New Year’s Eve. You can join in the fun over on Facebook, where a friendly community of fellow flashers encourage and share work. Participation is free.
- WORLD BOOK NIGHT BOOKS ANNOUNCED THIS WEEK PLUS APPLICATIONS OPEN
World Book Night 2019, run by The Reading Agency, is a few months away – it takes place on 23 April – but this week organisers will reveal the list of books to be distributed free around the UK.
Each year, books are given out with the intention of reaching those who don’t regularly read, and are gifted through organisations including prisons, libraries, colleges, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters, as well as by passionate individuals who give out their own books within their communities.
You can apply to be a giver from 12 Dec onward. Go to the website to find out more
- Bookworm of the month – Stewart Parsons, Director at Get It Loud In Libraries
Get It Loud In Libraries was founded by Stewart Parsons in 2005, hosting live music in libraries across the North of England. Since its inception it has put on shows by artists such as Adele and Blossoms at an early career stage and more established names including Amanda Palmer, Welsh Music Prize winners Gwenno and Meilyr Jones, Dream Wife and BC Camplight.
The organisation provides media training to young people at the gigs, both in event management and film, photography, social media and blogging. More recently, GiLiL have started to arrange gigs in Welsh museums, and in Scotland.
Getintothis: You spend a lot of time in libraries, Stuart.
Stewart Parsons: ‘I first used the library in Leyland where I grew up. I was 4 or 5… I was introduced to it by my mum…a really warm womblike building were you could sit on the floor and read books about dinosaurs. My first experience was a good one so I’ve taken that through my life really.
You could only take 4 books out a time so it precipitated increased visits you’d go home with your books, completely maximize the use of them and then you’d be going back quite soon afterwards. So your visits to the library were quite regular really. Dinosaur books, planets, facts, old fashioned encyclopedias…
The first storybooks I read were all Enid Blyton.’
Getintothis: Enid Blyton’s books are seen as dated now, because they are – there’s gender stereotypes and racism in there. And she wasn’t a very likeable person, we’re told. But those stories are so magical.
SP: ‘…Famous Five, Secret Seven, I went through them like a dose of salts… she might not be the best writer in the world but she absolutely fired your imagination. I re read and re read them….we live in different times now, don’t we…. I never thought at any time, ‘Enid steady on there’, you just read them… reading back now, some of the dialogue is a bit crap but….I think what snooty library watchers and literary leaders sometimes miss out on…a pure love of storytelling, and mysteries.
I was a fast reader then, I’m not now. I pore over things with a bit too much deliberation. I was a promising cricketer when I was a young lad I was obsessed with a How To Be A Cricketer book…How To Be A Great Bowler…I’d look at all the grips for bowl inswingers and all sorts. I learnt everything from books from Leyland library. Then… biographies, then I started to get into James Herbert, didn’t read Stephen King as such – he’s a bit more renowned isn’t he – but James Herbert at the time, books like Rats, The Fog. They’re pot boiling horror stories but great to read.
I’ve always been a fan of books no more than 250 or 300 pages. It might be my attention span but massive blockbusters like doorstoppers even now are not my go to kind of thing. I avoid them really. I prefer something more digestible.
I had no focus for academia but the library was my education. At 6th form I was very isolated, I had terrible skin, I withdrew into myself but the library was there as a constant. I’d take all these books out how to have clear skin…that’s what you did…there was no internet. It hadn’t been invented so if you wanted to find out anything you had to go.
It must have skewed my generation’s use of books and libraries…. you had to work a bit harder and take time whereas now you’re flying about with your mouse clicking on stuff. I can lose hours dropping down that rabbit hole…your real world can get ignored if you’re not careful. It’s so dangerous really.’
Getintothis: What books tickle your fancy now?
SP:’I got a job in a library when I was twenty, there was so much crime, romance, and old fashioned library I was sniffy about crime. I was a right twat. But now…some of the best page turners are crime novels.’
Getintothis: Crime fiction reflects societal and political issues very astutely. It’s often not given credit for that.
SP: ‘And just great stories, dialogue, setting of scene. Sometimes I’ll browse in Waterstones or in the library and there’s something about a crime novel that will suck you in. A misty street light, a dark shadowy figure… being curled up in bed all snug but reading about some Glaswegian psycho killer appeals on some really base level.
Lawrence Block, Harlan Coben when he first started but he got rather samey….John Sandford, his books are very clean, beautifully written, set in Minneapolis, always snow bound, it’s freezing and there’s a killer on the loose. As humans we’ve always been interested in life and death and not dying if you possibly can.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed Patricia Highsmith, Susan Hill…’
Getintothis: Between 10 and 20 per cent of men won’t read books if a woman’s name is on the cover. Happily you are not one of them!
SP: ‘That’s ridiculous. I don’t understand why anyone would think like that. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t look at a name and think, ‘female author, I don’t think so’. It’s a bit like about women in bands, it’s either good or it’s bad isn’t it. I wouldn’t read a woman author just because she’s a woman. If the novel wasn’t good I’d still throw it across the room if it was crap.
SP:It’s never been put on female fronted artists at GiLiL on because it’s the done thing and it’s become quite a hot potato…’
Getintothis: What is Get it Loud in Libraries greatest achievement, do you think?
SP: ‘We’ve been going 13 years…when we first started we didn’t get grief but ….it was, ‘let him have a play with live music in libraries and when it all goes tits up we’ll put the tin lid on it’…but I was so purposeful about the whole project I saw it as a main resource….in libraries where you could borrow CDs, music scores, cassettes…. and for me, Get it Loud was going to be an aural resource, just as important and valuable.
We’ve made arts and cultural events in libraries normal, after hours events normal, people don’t now raise their eyebrows or think it’s odd. This is all part of libraries’ delivery now.’
Pip Blom, who last month signed to Heavenly Recordings, play an afternoon show at Birkenhead Central Library on 3 Feb for GiLiL, as part of Independent Venue Week.