Category Archives: Books

Review: ‘Six Stories’ by Matt Wesolowski

If you haven’t already read Six Stories, I recommend that you rush to your nearest bookshop and purchase it now. And then read it. Most likely in one sitting.

Six Storiespublished by Orenda Books, is the book everyone is talking about and I, for one, would be happy to wax lyrical about it until… well, the end of this blog post but you know what I mean. In fact, I loved this book so much that if you meet me face-to-face, you will undoubtedly hear me refer to this book at least once during our conversation. I appeared at Pure Fiction on Thursday night and mentioned Six Stories during the Q&A. I did also mention other books too, obviously.

Anyway, Six Stories is a real stroke of genius. Following on from the success of podcasts like SerialSix Stories revisits a mysterious death that occurred on the fictional Scarclaw Fell in 1997. The official verdict was death by misadventure but, twenty years on, the podcast aims to reexamine the circumstances and relationships surrounding teenager Tom Jeffries’ death. The elusive presenter, Scott King, interviews the key players and encourages listeners to draw their own conclusions.

You can tell Wesolowski has taken a real interest in podcasts and he mimics the style of them with considerable aplomb. As with Serial, Six Stories builds up a picture each week and, just as you think you can conclude something, you’re given a new piece of information that confuses or confounds your theory.

This is a brilliant character study and an interesting take on the benefit and wisdom of hindsight. I also loved the sinister undertones (although it made walking around my house at night slightly terrifying).

Six Stories is utterly compelling and despite being entirely engrossed, I defy you not to be shocked by the ending.

An original concept with skilled execution – totally unputdownable!

Vic x

Review: ‘Robbing the Dead’ by Tana Collins

A small Scottish university town is in thrown into chaos following a grizzly murder and a targeted bombing. Rumours abound of a terrorist plot which may or may not be linked to the disappearance of a soldier and lecturer.

DCI Jim Carruthers, having recently moved back to Castletown to get over his marriage break-up, finds himself dropped into the middle of a seemingly ever-expanding investigation.

In order to stop the violence and solve the crime, Carruthers must work with DS Andrea Fletcher – who has her own problems – to catch the perpetrators. However, the appearance of Jim’s old enemy, terror expert McGhee, adds further complications to the investigation.

Robbing the Dead poses many interesting questions particularly in our ever-changing world. Recent events – Brexit, the attack on London last week and the death of Martin McGuinness – added so much depth to this story.

There are lots of narrative strands to keep the reader interested and

Tana Collins has created two really compelling characters in Carruthers and Fletcher and there is plenty of potential for them to appear in more books.

Vic x

Review: ‘High Force’ by LJ Ross

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I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I’ve encountered lots of people who are obsessed with LJ Ross’s DCI Ryan series – and the man himself. Having read ‘High Force’, I can understand why.

‘High Force’ may be the fifth DCI Ryan novel but don’t worry if you haven’t read the other books in the series, this novel can be read as a standalone.

Set in Newcastle, Northumberland and County Durham, ‘High Force’ follows DCI Ryan and his team as they track ‘The Hacker’, Ryan’s nemesis who has escaped from prison and appears intent on settling some old scores. Not content with having previously killed Ryan’s sister, ‘The Hacker’ has taken one of Ryan’s team hostage and continues to taunt him with a number of grisly murders.

I really enjoyed this compelling narrative which combined police procedural with criminal psychology. LJ Ross evokes place very well and the dynamics between the characters make this a really believable novel that I didn’t want to put down.

I will definitely be reading more LJ Ross.

Vic x

Cover Reveal: ‘Lost For Words’ by Stephanie Butland.

Today I’m thrilled to be able to take part in the cover reveal for my good friend Stephanie Butland’s latest release: ‘Lost for Words‘. 

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I think you’ll agree it’s a corker. I received my copy last week and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it! Show the cover some love by using the hashtag #LostForWords

Vic x

Review: ‘Becoming’ by Chris Ord

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‘Becoming’ is a thoughtful, unique book regarding identity, morals and the idea of “community”.

The setting of Holy Island, and Northumberland in general, made this book more enjoyable for me because, thanks to Ord’s descriptions, I could imagine the action taking place in the wild coastal and countryside settings.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn and Gaia, the main protagonist, is a brilliant representation of a teenage girl. Comparisons may be drawn between Gaia and Katniss Everdeen but for all the right reasons. Chris Ord manages to capture the juxtaposition between being a vulnerable teenager and headstrong, principled young woman well.

If you like your books fast-paced and full of moral dilemmas alongside some excellent character development and beautiful imagery, ‘Becoming’ is the book for you!

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Helen Victoria Anderson

Today on the blog, we get to know Helen Victoria Anderson.

I first met Helen when she attended one of my writing groups in September 2013. Helen had contacted me about the session and explained that she was looking for somewhere to write while her daughter Georgina was in the Royal Victoria Infirmary. Unfortunately, Georgina was seriously ill with liver cancer and passed away. 

Helen has since released ‘Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir‘ which is an honest, unflinching account of her daughter’s final months and the impact her death has had. 

I’m really honoured to have Helen on the blog today. Thank you for taking part, Helen.

Vic x

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Helen, your memoir ‘Piece by Piece is about your daughter Georgina’s diagnosis with an aggressive form of liver cancer. Although much of the book is transcripts from diaries written during this period, how did it feel going back and reliving those times?

As I typed up the entries from my diaries, I kept thinking “Wow – did that really happen to us?” Georgina’s illness progressed and became terminal so rapidly (just four months from her diagnosis to her death) that it almost seemed like a bad dream. Going back over my diaries from that time brought it home to me that our lives have actually been changed forever. That period was such a mad whirlwind, I am now very glad that I have a record of it.

I thought the book was a really honest portrayal of depression, too, have you found people have been receptive to that element of it?

A lot of people who have experienced depression themselves have picked up on my references to my own mental health. I didn’t want the book to be ‘about’ my past (and sometimes current) depression, but I’m not ashamed of it either, so I was determined not to gloss over its effect on me and our family. Georgina was very worried that I might go on a downward spiral after her death, so it was natural for me to write about my efforts to maintain my recovery.

What’s been the most surprising reaction you’ve had regarding your memoir?

I have had many moving messages from other bereaved parents, including a lady in the US who has become a ‘penfriend’. It’s obviously meant a lot to me to have helped other people in this situation, in some small way. Also, the comments I have had about Georgina’s bravery and her music have made this project worthwhile. But probably the most surprising reaction has been the surprise of readers themselves to find that, overall, ‘Piece by Piece’ is an uplifting – rather than depressing – read.

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You are very open regarding other familial relationships in your life, how have the subjects coped with that?

I was careful to ask everyone who is mentioned in the book for their permission to publish the relevant passages, because no book is worth falling out over. My husband was very happy for me to write about him – even if his perspective of events (such as our arguments) was not always the same as mine! Georgina’s brother understood that it was important for me to tell my story, but so far he prefers not to read the book (which I totally understand).  On a side note, Georgina’s consultant was generous enough to let me include some slightly less-than-complimentary entries about our experience of her treatment, and said that the book would be useful in training future doctors about the patient/carer perspective of cancer.

Do you see writing as a cathartic experience?

Definitely, there is that element of relief when ‘spilling’ onto the page, but writing also helps me with ordering thoughts and feelings – hopefully to form a meaningful piece for the people who might get to read it.

I see you were recently able to make a donation to the Make-a-Wish foundation. How did that feel?

I recently donated £800 – the profits of the sale of the book to date – to Make-A-Wish UK, and it felt excellent to be able to give something back. Lots of charities helped Georgina, and we have tried to ‘repay’ them in various ways. In the book, I describe how Georgina’s story and her music became known around the world: Make-A-Wish was instrumental in getting Georgina’s music heard (which was her ‘wish’) via her YouTube video and single ‘Two Thirds of A Piece’. So, donating the proceeds of my book to grant other seriously ill children’s wishes seemed like something Georgina would approve of.

Have you any advice for someone considering writing a memoir?

It’s important to make careful decisions about how honest you are going to be – to think how you will feel once you have opened up your heart to your parents/neighbours/people you don’t know. Also, you need to be mindful and acknowledge that your version of events is just that – rather than objective ‘fact’.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently writing my second full-length piece of fiction ‘All Hushed’, while hunting for an agent for my first novel, which I’d just completed before Georgina got ill. Both of these books began with autobiographical seeds, but are very much crafted and fictionalised stories. I also have my first chapbook of poetry coming out with the Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017.

What’s the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve received? Who was it from?

I received a wealth of useful advice from my tutors on the MA Creative Writing course at Teesside University about reading widely, writing a lot, and being persistent. I also love Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, in which he reminds writers that “stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it”. I often need to remind myself of that. But most of all, for me, writing is, as Stephen King also says, about “getting up, getting well and staying well. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

 

Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir’ (Slipway Press, 2015) is available from Amazon as an e-book (£1.99) and paperback (£7.99). It is also stocked by Saltburn Book Corner, Marske Post Office, Guisborough Book Shop, and Drake – The Book Shop, Stockton.

Helen blogs about writing at https://www.helenvictoriaanderson.co.uk

Follow Helen on www.facebook.com/helenvictoriaanderson

 To read more about Georgina Anderson’s story and legacy, see www.facebook.com/rememberinggeorgina

Review: ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’ by Shelley Moon

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Shelley Day’s debut novel, The Confession of Stella Moon, pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go, even after the final page has been turned.

Stella Moon confessed to killing her mother on her eighteenth birthday. Now she’s served her time and is determined to start over but some things need to be put to rest before Stella can begin to think about her future.

A sense of claustrophobia pervades this novel, cloying and at times unbearable. I rushed through this story, partly because I couldn’t bear the tension! Day conjures up a strong sense of Stella’s rattled state of mind. The juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery of Northumberland and the hideous acts that occur is very well developed.

I was completely immersed in the story which is no mean feat. No wonder The Confession of Stella Moon was on the longlist for Not the Man Booker prize. I can’t wait to read what Shelley Day produces next.

Vic x