My 2015 Reading List

images (4)Last year I listed the books I read in 2014 and it was a surprise to me to learn that from the total of 43 there was a gender bias in favour of women writers with me reading only 15/43 male writers.

cf91fb2755776eb65c8bc0f392dddd42I was interested to see how 2015’s list compared.

I didn’t make a conscious effort to read more male writers and I also felt I hadn’t read as many books this year (before and after my own book launch, ma heid wis mince, and I found it hard to concentrate on reading) so haud me back, the figures were almost identical to 2014’s stats! This time the total was 13/44 male writers – women win again.

I finished all of the books on the list apart from one book, a huge best-seller which I was very late to the party in reading (what’s new? trailblazer I am not!). I might struggle to find anyone who agrees with me but I abandoned it out of boredom and not feeling engaged with the characters.

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John-John Wisdom is one of the most memorable characters I’ve met on the page.

images (2)All others on the list are well worth a read but if I had to choose my top read of 2015 (which is really hard!) then I’ve got to thank Naomi Frisby for recommending Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers. This book appeared on my radar as I expressed an interest in writing using regional dialect and it blew me away with its powerful prose.

You can read more of Naomi’s suggestions for other books using dialect and accents in her excellent article for Fiction Uncovered. Need more recommendations? I rate Isabel Costello’s suggestions featured On The Literary Sofa and I also follow A Life in Books for more ideas for 2016, as well as being swamped by book reviews on the fantastic Book Connectors group on Facebook…

On the X Factor, they announce the results “in no particular order” but here’s my list in the order I read the books.

 

  1. Us by David Nicholls
  2. Baracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
  3. The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
  4. The Fields by Kevin Maher
  5. Academy Street by Mary Costello
  6. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (abandoned)
  7. The Humans by Matt Haig
  8. Rise by Karen Campbell
  9. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  11. Mixing the Colours anthology by Glasgow Women’s Library
  12. The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
  13. Elizabeth’s Missing by Emma Healey
  14. A Book of Death and Fish by Ian Stephen
  15. We Are All Called to Rise by Laura McBride
  16. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
  17. The Last Days of Disco by David Ross
  18. The Good Son by Paul McVeigh
  19. Find Your Thing by Lucy Whittington (non-fiction)
  20. Sane New World by Ruby Wax (non-fiction)
  21. Haus Frau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
  22. Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers
  23. How To Make A Friend by Fleur Smithwick
  24. Alight Here: An Anthology of Falkirk Writing
  25. 4a.m. by Nina De La Mer
  26. Island of Wings by Karin Attenberg
  27. As Easy As A Nuclear War by Paul Cuddihy (short story collection)
  28. The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal
  29. Outline by Rachel Cusk
  30. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  31. Jellyfish by Janice Galloway
  32. Dead Babies and Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly
  33. The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  34. The Vigilante by Shelley Harris
  35. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  36. Ridley Road by Jo Bloom
  37. Truestory by Catherine Simpson
  38. The Reel of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  39. Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello (publication date TBC)
  40. The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey
  41. The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
  42. Fishnet by Kirstin Innes
  43. The Beautiful Game by Emma Mooney
  44. Stop What You’re Doing and Read This – 10 essays (non-fiction)

Did you have a favourite book in 2015? How many books did you read this year?images

 

 

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Weegie Wednesday

a.aaa-student-life (1)I’m lucky to be able to work part-time which means that now that my youngest is at Strathclyde uni I’m able to fit in a trip to Glasgow each week to take him for a meal, bring him some treats and slip him some cash (an expensive outing!). Wednesday is usually the day we meet and it dawned on me that maybe I should go along to Weegie Wedneday while I was in Glasgow anyway. (For any non–Scottish readers – Weegie (n) A slang term for a person from Glasgow).

thisoneI’d ‘liked’ the Weegie Wednesday Facebook page ages ago but I’d never got round to attending any of their monthly literacy networking events. Weegie Wednesday provides an opportunity for writers, poets, publishers, booksellers, librarians, creative writing students or anyone else with an interest to get together socially to talk about books, writing and publishing.

When I read that the April event featured Liam Murray Bell and David Ross, it seemed like the perfect chance to finally get my act in gear and get myself to the venue at the Terrace Bar of the Centre of Contemporary Arts.

last-days-of-disco_December-with-quotes-resized-275x423I was particularly intrigued to hear more about David’s debut novel,  The Last Days of Disco . Apart from my publisher, only 5 other folk on the planet have read my novel pre-publication and one of them is Isabel Costello, who recommended I read David’s book as it reminded her of my own novel. I haven’t read the book yet but after listening to David, I can see how it could be compared to mine. His book is set in 1982, mine in 1985, his book is about adolescence, family, music, emerging sexuality and set in a small Scottish town – my book has the same themes and backdrop. Reviews of David’s book also mention the use of humour which is a key element of my writing too so I can’t wait to read David’s book and see if these similarities match up. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to talk to David in person at Weegie Wednesday but if his presentation was anything to go by I’m sure I’ll love his writing.

The other guest speaker was Liam Murray Bell. I attended the launch of Liam’s last book, The Busker, and it was interesting to hear him talk again, this time about how he juggles his day job as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stirling uni (where I did my MLitt) with his own writing.

After inputs from the guest speakers, the idea of Weegie Wednesday is to meet new folk. I’d arrived early for the event and immediately struck up a conversation with a friendly looking face, Catherine Hokin, whose debut historical novel, Blood and Roses, will be published in June. I was joined by two of my MLitt classmates, Angela and Paul, and we soon got chatting to others. I also crossed paths for the second time with Katie White, a screenwriter from Falkirk who has written an award winning film, Middle Man.

To be in the company of interesting friends, old and new, in a pub in Glasgow full of creative types isn’t a bad way to spend a Wednesday night is it?

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A Rant and A Rave Review

68676_10151793379311901_1498363292_nDon’t ever invite me to play Candy Crush on Facebook or ask me to write a book review! I like to read reviews but I’ve no desire to write one – it feels too much like an assignment for English homework.

What I do enjoy is going to lots of writer events and blogging about the writer’s work and how it impacted on my own writing. I mention books a lot in this blog (as a writer it would be weird if I didn’t!) but I don’t write extensive book reviews on this blog for a few reasons. The main one is that I know how hard it is to write a novel so I’m reluctant to criticise anyone who has gone the distance and managed to have their writing traditionally published – something I can’t brag about! I’m also wary of making negative comments because I know how hurt I’d feel to read a bad review if I ever did get my novel published (take note book bloggers, if the dream ever comes true I’m more sensitive than I look).images

Of course, no book will please everyone and if I come across a novel I didn’t enjoy (‘enjoy’ being an unsophisticated term I was encouraged not to use during my MLitt course but that’s mainly why I read) I deal with it by not airing my opinion on social media (or make it as tame as possible) and I don’t pass the book on to my pals to read.

opinionI also don’t review books because there are hunners of great blogs specifically for book reviews (Isabel Costello’s On the Literary Sofa is excellent) so why bother trying to compete with an already saturated market? And my blog is not a big hitter (I can only rely on my best pal to read it) so it wouldn’t generate huge book sales for writers anyway. It’s a skill to write a comprehensive balanced review and my ‘Reading Journal’ was the part of the MLitt course I least enjoyed. I do like to reflect on books; privately and with friends but having to analyse a novel in detail and comment on how I engaged with it isn’t something I want to take the time to write about.

images (2)On Fridays, if I remember, I join in with the hashtag #FridayReads on Twitter which is a great way to engage in a bit of chat between chapters with like-minded folk who tweet about what they’re reading on that particular Friday. I’ve picked up a few good recommendations (although my 2014 New Years Resolution apart from the annual ‘lose weight’ plan was to stop buying books until I’ve already read the ones on my To Be Read pile – I’m in denial with that goal as much as my weight problem).

I must’ve been a good girl, or got away with it as Santa was good to me and added another four titles to add to my mountainous TBR pile. One of the books made a big impression on me so I made an exception and went to the very rare effort of writing a brief review on Amazon.

download (1)downloadThe book is Maggie and Me by Damian Barr and it wowed me – a genuine 5/5 stars! I was wary of reading it because it covers the same time period as my own WIP (mid 1980’s) in a very similar setting (small working class Scottish town). I was worried that the subject matter would be too close to the same issues I’m trying to highlight and it might impact on my own style unconsciously. The theme of sectarianism is in my novel too but that’s where the similarity ends (no spoilers here!).  The one thing I do hope to achieve is the authenticity of the narration. Damian’s voice is honest and ultimately inspiring. It was inevitable that the next book I read was never going to beat Maggie and Me no matter how good it was (I won’t name and shame its poor use of stereotypes). I think I’ll struggle to read something else in 2104 as moving, the book captures the gritty reality of growing up in an abusive environment without being a misery memoir and still manages to feature humour from start to finish.

P.S. Unlike some writers who don’t respond on Twitter to a positive tweet about their book or deign to follow a mere reader back, Damian acknowledged my praise and is up for a bit of banter – what’s not to like about the man and his writing? @Damian_Barr

Aye Write!

download (1)The name of Glasgow’s book festival, Aye Write!, is a clever play on words and derives from the Glaswegian phrase, “Aye, right,” a double positive which actually means a negative as in me saying,

‘I’m gonna run a marathon.’

‘Aye right!’

With one glance at my shape and size, that would be a Glaswegian’s automatic reply.

I’ve been a fan since Aye Write! started in 2005 and although it may not have the same international status (not yet anyway) as its big sister in Edinburgh, you’d find it hard to beat Aye Write! for bringing a better range of quality world-class writers to Glasgow or indeed Scotland. It also has the added bonus of being held in the landmark venue of the Mitchell Library ( I was lucky to go on a Behind the Scenes tour recently) so there’s no need to worry about your high heels sinking in a quagmire of muddy grass at outside venues.

In Planet Helen, I have unlimited time and money to attend every Aye Write! event that I fancy but unfortunately, in the real world where I’m forced to live, I have to be selective. This year, I was sneaky and guaranteed the company of my best friend Veronica by buying her tickets for her birthday.

images (1)download (4)I chose one of the events for personal reasons as my good friend, writer Karen Campbell was officially launching her latest book, This is Where I Am. This is Karen’s fifth book and as I’ve been at every other launch, there was no way I was missing this one. This new book is an exciting and brave departure from Karen’s previous series of novels and I’d recommend reading the review by Isabel Costello to find out more. I haven’t finished my copy but on what I’ve read so far, I promise that you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for a poignant account of the awkward relationship between Abdi, a Somali refugee and his mentor, newly widowed Debs when they meet once a month in a different part of Glasgow. But don’t worry that it might sound heavy on social issues, there’s plenty of the legendary Glasgow banter to make you smile too.

download (6)download (5)Karen was appearing alongside Kerry Hudson who was talking about her book, Tony Hogan Bought Me and Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. I blogged about Kerry’s event last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Needless to say, Kerry was just as interesting and entertaining this time too and I’d highly recommend her debut novel which tells the story of a traumatic childhood but in a funny and heart-warming read. And I’m looking forward to reading her next novel, Thirst which will be published early in 2014.

imagesdownloadWe also went to see Louise Welsh and Maggie O’Farrell to hear about their new books. I’m a massive Maggie O’Farrell fan and can’t wait to get stuck into her new book, Instructions for a Heatwave which is a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the heatwave of 1976. Maggie specialises in writing about dysfunctional families, and from the snippet she read, the Riordans sound as if they have their fair share of troubles. During the Q and A session, Maggie was witty and very inspiring about the writing process, especially when she quoted Samuel Beckett, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With two novels written and neither of them published, this certainly struck a chord with me!

download (2)download (3)Louise’s latest, a psychological crime thriller, The Girl on the Stairs also interests me as it is set in Berlin, a city I visited a couple of years ago and found it a fascinating place. The taster she read out gave us a glimpse of the main character, Jane, a Scot living in Berlin who decides to turn detective and this has devastating results when her own past collides with the past of the building and its inhabitants.

Aye Write! was as good as ever this year with three interesting events, four top authors and two great meals out with my best pal (my love of eating out might help explain why I’m unable to run a marathon or even just run at all!).  The book festival is on until April 20th so maybe I could squeeze in another event or two…

What’s your favourite book festival? Which writers have inspired you at book events?

Happy 1st Birthday Blog

I can’t believe that it’s October already and it made me realise that it’s over a year ago since I started my blog. I set myself a personal challenge to blog once a week or so and I’m chuffed that I’ve achieved my goal and reached a milestone.

Since starting the blog, I’ve racked up 51 posts and 27k words! I’ve often questioned whether it’s worth the time and effort but I’ve had lots of positive feedback from family and friends and I enjoy writing the posts, regardless of the number of hits.

Before I began blogging, I wasn’t even on Facebook, never mind Twitter. What a difference a year makes! I’ve really got to grips with social media now and despite my initial fear of the unknown, I feel part of a small group of like-minded aspiring writers who’ve offered me support and advice during the ups and downs of my writing journey and life in general. I’ve gained a great group of virtual friends through blogging and Twitter and I’ve even met up with the lovely Anne Glennie in person.

There are hunners and hunners and hunners of blogs out there written by writers all trying to break through but I’ve found a few gems worth following.  One of my favourite blogs, On the Literary Sofa is written by Isabel Costello’s and she also celebrated the first birthday of her blog recently.

Zadie’s latest novel is described as depicting the modern urban zone.

Isabel ran an anniversary competition with the first prize of a literary lunch with her in London. I didn’t win this prize but I hope to one day meet up with Isabel to talk books and put the world to rights.I never win anything except an argument so I was delighted to win one of the runner-up prizes of a copy of Zadie Smith’s new novel, NW.  Sandy the postie delivered it this morning and I can’t wait to see if it lives up to Isabel’s review as being, “definitely worth reading for the realistic depiction of London in all its aspects, not just of place but situation and dialogue, which Smith does brilliantly from pretentious dinner parties to confrontations between strangers in kids’ playgrounds.

If you’re an avid reader or looking to share your writing aspirations and have a laugh along the way, as Dermot would say in the X Factor finals, “In no particular order…”, up there with Anne and Isabel, the others who make up my top ten writing bloggers  are Wendy Storer, Cath Bore, Louise Walters, Teresa Stenson, Kristin Celms, Anne Stormont, Anita Chapman and Josephine Corcoran. Enjoy checking out these interesting and entertaining blogs- you won’t be disappointed and you don’t need to be a writer to enjoy the book chat etc! Do you know any great blogs for writers that I’m missing out on? What would be in your top ten?

P.S. I’ve just noticed that all of my favourite bloggers are women. I’ve not got a conscious gender bias but maybe it’s simply that I can relate more to these ladies who’re busy juggling family and work commitments alongside their writing aspirations. But if anyone knows of a male blogger who’s worth following, please let me know.