My Review of The House With Old Furniture by Helen Lewis #FridayReads

The House With Old Furniture by [Lewis, Helen]

 

I gave The House With Old Furniture a well deserved 5*out of 5*

 Book Blurb:

The ghosts of a century’s worth of secrets and betrayals are coming home to Pengarrow…

Evie has lost her eldest son, Jesse, to gang violence. Leaving the house he grew up in is pulling apart the few strings left holding her heart together. Only the desire to be there for her younger boy, Finn, impels Evie to West Wales and the ancient house her husband is sure will heal their wounds.

Days later, Andrew is gone – rushing back to his ‘important’ job in government, abandoning his grieving wife and son. Finn finds solace in the horse his father buys by way of apology. As does his evasive and fearful new friend, Nye, the one who reminds him and Evie of Jesse… Evie loses herself in a dusty 19th century journal and glasses of home-made wine left by the mysterious housekeeper.

As Evie’s grasp on reality slides, Andrew’s parents ride to the rescue. It is clear that this is a house they know. They seem to think they own it, and begin making changes nobody wants, least of all Alys and her son, Nye, the terrified youth who looks so like Jesse.

My Review:

This book hooked me from the start: ” I don’t want to leave. I’m being ripped from the rock I cling to…” Right away i was in the protagonist’s heart and mind. The story of Evie Wolfe, her grief, her bewilderment, her sense of loss is threaded through the whole of The House With Old Furniture. Helen Lewis has a talent for writing phrases that evoke instant images, moods and sensations.This is rich,flowing prose.

Told alternately from the points of view of Evie and her young son, Finn, the contrast in tone is stark, yet the empathy, between the two is palpable.  The author relates many of the same scenes throughout the novel from their different perspectives, with their different voices, allowing each scene to come alive and enabling the reader to ‘see’ the confusion in each character’s mind. Yet also to begin to see the machinations of the other characters surrounding them.

All the characters are multi-layered and convincing in the roles they play, whether they live in the ‘real’ world or are more ephemeral. As a reader I found myself alternately empathetic, saddened, perturbed, intrigued, angry. The House With Old Furniture is not a book that lets the reader go so easily; I discovered it is quite easy to dust, to make a meal one -handed, to iron, with only occasional glances to see what I was doing. And to read.

The spoken dialogue defines each character to their part in the plot, yet it is so subtly written that it is easy, initially, to miss the manipulations that are woven throughout. Only through the internal dialogue of Finn and the gradual slipping of reality with Evie did the unease grow in me.

My review wouldn’t be complete without a word or two about the setting of the novel. The descriptive narrative brings alive the surrounding countryside of Wales; the isolation, the beauty, sometimes the danger, to give a great sense of place. I also love the title; The House With Old Furniture encompasses the descriptions of both Pengarrow and the cottage where Evie finds Nye and Alys.  Ah, Alys, an elusive character that I will leave other readers to discover for themselves, just as Evie ‘discovers’ her.

This is a story where a sense of disbelief has to be, and is, easily suspended. And it’s expertly brought about by Helen Lewis’ writing.

Love the cover by the way…and the wonderful inscriptions and patterns on the pages that divide the chapters.

As you can probably guess,I wholeheartedly recommend.The House With Old Furniture.

Links to buy:

http://www.honno.co.uk/

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2vLv9f1

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2vl4Q21

 

 

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My Series of Author #authors & Poet #poets Interviews for Narberth Book Fair #FridayReads. Today with Carol Lovekin

 

 

Titleband for Narberth Book Fair

Throughout this months I ’ll be posting interviews with the authors and poets who will be taking part in our Book Fair:  http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/.

There are forty authors, so, obviously, there are many genres for both adults and children. There will be talks an writing and books, creative writing workshops for adults  workshops & talks and fun workshops for children, activities for the children  Children’s Page and a fun book trail through Narberth, the gorgeous little market town in Pembrokeshire.  Location.

All free!!

And, of course, there will be the chance to chat with all the authors and to pick their brains on all aspects of writing. Even to buy their books and have them personally signed.

And, as usual, there will also be the writing competition: this year is a poetry competition:  competition . Submit a poem, in any form, of 20 lines or less, on the subject of : –

BOOKS AND READING.

Having outgrown our previous venue we have been lucky to hire the Queens Hall: https://www.thequeenshall.org.uk/ who have been very generous in their support of the event.

Although, five years ago,  I started organising the book fairs on my own I was soon joined by Alex Martin: http://amzn.to/2hZCgt2  and Thorne Moore: http://bit.ly/2rc5qyA. Unfortunately Alex has moved on to pastures new  (although is still a great supporter), so Thorne and I have been joined by Elizabeth Sleight. Elizabeth is involved in the charity we are supporting through our raffle; The Harriet Davis Seaside Holiday Trust For Disabled Children: http://bit.ly/2sNyeKQ . 

Our author today is the ever ebullient and friendly fellow Honno author, Carol Lovekin.

Carol Lovekin

Let’s start by you telling us why you write, please, Carol.

Because I can’t play the piano is the glib answer. The truth is simpler: I love it. I’m me when I write. The person it took me years to become. And reading books made me want to write them. I can’t say I have huge ambitions (other than winning the Bailey’s Women’s Prize, obvs.) I write because it makes me happy.

What do you love most about the writing process?
The unfolding of the story. How it emerges as a spark, a ‘What if?’ moment and unfolds into an outline and a plot. I love the way characters make themselves known to me. It’s like meeting new friends, people I had no idea existed. And I’m addicted to editing.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I’m a lark and awake with the birds. I often handwrite in bed over a cup of tea. Random ideas, scenes and vignettes for my current story, for the next one and quite often the one I’m planning down the line. Each story has its own notebook. My aim is to be at my desk, working on my current story no later than ten o’clock. If I’m feeling particularly creative – down and deep with my story – it’s often a lot earlier. Word count is of no concern to me – showing up is what matters.

What do you think makes a good story?
Characters who endear themselves to me on the first page; perhaps shock me. So long as they make me want to find out more. A quality writing style that draws me in. I don’t mind simple stories – a sense of place is as important to me as a convoluted plot. That said, I’m a sucker for a twist that takes my breath away.

How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
Two. (The ones in the metaphorical dusty drawer don’t count.) Asking me to pick a favourite is a borderline Sophie’s Choice scenario, Judith! Ghostbird because it was the book that validated me as a writer. Snow Sisters because it proves I’m not a one-trick pony!

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I love this cover

What genre do you consider your books? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I call them ghost stories laced with magic; contemporary fiction with a trace of mystery. My mentor, the lovely Janet Thomas, says they are family stories (with magic.) Which I guess is as good a description as any since, magical edges notwithstanding, they are firmly rooted in family relationships. I feel as if I’ve found my niche as a writer and have no plans to write in any other genre.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
Snow Sisters explores what can happen when an act of kindness, enacted by a child, offers the hope of redemption to a tragic ghost with a horrific secret. It’s also a story of love, exploring the ties that bind sisters. And the tragic ones that can destroy mothers and daughters.

In three words, can you describe your latest book?
Ghostly. Quirky. Welsh.

Does your book have a lesson? Moral?
I don’t trust morality! Perhaps: Listen to your grandmother for she is wiser than Yoda?

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
Regularly. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s some kind of Literary Law. At some point characters are required to run off into the wild wordy wood and we have no choice but to follow, more often than not without our breadcrumbs.

Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
I’m a trained ballet dancer.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Although I begin at the beginning, within less time than it takes for me to say, ‘Oh look, shiny!’ I’m off to the middle (anywhere, frankly) and I can be gone some time. I write entire scenes in isolation slotting them into the narrative as I go.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I read, swim and walk. After writing and reading, swimming is the best thing ever. Each week I discuss writing with my talented friend and co-conspirator, Janey. We are the sole members of the smallest writing group in Wales.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing.
Meeting Margaret Atwood in the eighties made me smile for a week.

Give us a random fact about yourself.
I don’t like even numbers.

 Links to Carol:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Today With Jan Newton.

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Introducing Jan Newton with her debut novel to be published by Honno in March 2017. Jan grew up in Manchester and Derbyshire and spent almost twenty years in the Chilterns before moving to mid Wales in 2005. She has worked as a bilingual secretary in a German chemical company, as an accountant in a BMW garage and a GP practice and as a Teaching Assistant in the Welsh stream of a primary school, but now she has finally been able to return to her first love, writing.

She graduated from Swansea University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing in 2015 and has won the Allen Raine Short Story Competition, the WI’s Lady Denman Cup competition, the Lancashire and North West Magazine’s prize for humorous short stories and the Oriel Davies Gallery’s prize for nature writing. Remember No More  is her first novel.

The Blurb for Remember No More 

Newly promoted DS Julie Kite is at a crossroads. Her husband’s new job takes her away from urban Manchester and its inner city problems to a new life in tranquil mid-Wales. It is to be a new start for them both. On her first day at Builth Wells police station, Julie is thrust unexpectedly into the centre of a murder investigation in a remote farming community. At the same time, Stephen Collins is set free from HMP Strangeways. He immediately makes his way back to mid-Wales, the scene of his heinous crime, in order to confront those who had a hand in his incarceration.

The twists and turns of the investigation into the death of solicitor Gareth Watkin force DS Kite to confront her own demons alongside those of her new community and the lengths to which we’ll go to protect our families.

 Hi Jan, I’m really pleased to be chatting with you today. These must be exciting times for you?.

 Hi Judith, Lovely to be here. And yes, I’m thrilled to be having my novel published with.Honno.

 Tell us, Jam, how did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

Having moved around the country I’m interested in the theme of ‘fitting in’, and the fact that there are different cultures and groupings in new places, but there are also other ways in which we can move into new, untested territory.  Remember No More investigates some of these – Julie Kite moves to Wales, but she is also entering a new phase in her marriage and in her work relationships.  Other characters have new situations to deal with in their lives.  This theme of being somewhere new and different intrigues me.

So why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I have always loved crime fiction and its adaption for television.  The best tv series, for me, combine fabulous production values and a sense of place – this is what I’m attempting to do in Remember No More.  I love the fact that writing crime fiction allows an author to comment on contemporary life – it’s all about life and death, the human condition.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

The story goes that it was much easier to teach me to read than to walk.  I could read before I went to primary school.  The Headmaster interviewed each child before they started in the infants, and when he ran out of reading cards, apparently, he asked me to read a story from The Telegraph.  I have always been a voracious reader.  I read every Enid Blyton and adored Swallows and Amazons, Black Beauty, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Bobbsey Twins – anything I could get my hands on.

How long have you been writing?

I was at primary school when I wrote my first novel, at the age of seven.  It was all about a little one-legged spaceman who crash-landed his spaceship (fortuitously for me) in my own suburb of north Manchester.  My teacher, Mrs Richmond, was very encouraging.  She baulked only slightly as she handed me my fourteenth Lancashire Education Committee exercise book in as many days.  Then, with the arrival of a Welsh Mountain Pony by the name of Pixie the following year, my passion turned to horses.  It was a very long time before I took up writing again, in 2008, with an Open University creative writing module.  Once I’d finished the OU degree I was lucky enough to go to Swansea University to do a Masters in Creative Writing, graduating in 2015.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

I’ve always felt that storytelling brings people together – whether on a family level, where parents read to their children, or on a much larger scale.  Charles Dickens, for instance, had the nation gripped with his serialisations, and JK Rowling (a good old-fashioned storyteller herself) captivated a generation of children with her Harry Potter novels.  In the age of the computer game and the soundbite it’s heartening to see that children can still escape into a good book and spend time there, using their imaginations.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?

I’m at my happiest in the great outdoors.  I grew up on the edge of the Peak District and spent every spare hour on a horse.  Remember No More is set in the same sort of vast, landscape, in mid Wales.  People are important in areas like this.  They may be few in number, but they are a real community and I have tried to depict that closeness which is, sadly, so rare in our frenetic world.

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What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

My main aim was to introduce my little part of mid Wales and to give a flavour of what it’s like to be an incomer.  I wanted to show the differences and similarities, the wonderful people and the scenery – as well as solving the crime, of course.  I hope people may want to come and see it for themselves.

What do you think most characterises your writing?

People.  I’m an inveterate people-watcher.  I love the way people interact, their relationships, strengths and weaknesses.  Place is very important too.  Certain places have had a huge influence on me, particularly Manchester and the Derbyshire where I grew up, but also mid Wales where we have lived for almost 12 years.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Starting it.  I didn’t know if I would be able to write a full-length novel.  I was writing short stories and nature writing – essay length pieces – so sustaining it, not paring down to basics was interesting.   I also found editing a challenge.  When I write short stories, they tend to arrive fully-formed and it’s just a case of writing them down, but to edit over and over requires a certain amount of patience and fortitude.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I really enjoyed staying with my characters for such a long time.  I’ve always felt with short stories, that you go to so much trouble with your characters, to get to know them, to understand them, and then a mere few thousand words later they’re gone.  It was a treat to be able to allow them room to grow.

Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers?  

I’ve used a smattering of Welsh words in the book.  This area of Wales doesn’t have a high percentage of Welsh speakers, but I worked as a teaching assistant in the Welsh unit of the primary school in Builth Wells and can confirm that the language is very much alive and well.  I wanted to give a flavour of the language, to show that it is still very important.

What inspires you?

All sorts of things inspire me.  The scenery in mid Wales is stunning.  It’s hard not to be inspired by the hills and valleys of Powys or the Ceredigion coast.  People too are a great source of inspiration; they’re capable of so many amazing things.  I’m also an inveterate people-watcher and eavesdropper, which can lead to tricky situations, but can also result in stories and even novels, with a little imagination and a huge amount of poetic licence.

How did you get to be where you are in your life today?

I’ve been very lucky.  Until I was eleven, we lived in Manchester, which I still think is the best city in the world.  Then my father, who was a television cameraman, decided he wanted to take on a run-down farm on the Cheshire/Derbyshire border.  We found ourselves in 30 acres and with half a dozen horses.  I was never indoors.  Fortunately, life has come full circle and we live on a smallholding in the Welsh hills, with an aged horse and a small but very bossy goat.

Who are some of your favourite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

I have always loved Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen –  Hardy for his ability to paint a scene, to put the reader into Casterbridge or on Egdon Heath and Austen for her wit and her deep understanding of what it is to be human.  Alan Bennett is an absolute genius, as was Victoria Wood, both of whom manage to tread the extremely fine line between humour and pathos so brilliantly.  I suppose these two, along with Ann Cleeves and Ian Rankin, are the writers who have influenced me the most – Bennett and Wood for their absolute attention to detail and Cleeves and Rankin for their ability to tell a gripping tale.

What did you find most useful in learning to write?  

I think my love of reading has been incredibly useful.  For me, nothing beats that feeling when I have to stop and re-read something which has been said so brilliantly it takes my breath away.  Then I have to work out how it’s done, which words have been chosen and why.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

I would love to be a full-time writer.  I need much more discipline to do that, and to get over the feeling that it’s not a ‘proper’ job.  I find that because people assume it’s a hobby, there are so many demands on my time.  I’m hoping that 2017 is the year that I can persuade myself I’m a writer.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

I’ve had a variety of jobs.  I qualified initially as a bilingual secretary and worked for a German chemical company.  I’ve also worked as accounts manager in a BMW garage, fund-holding manager in a GP practice and teaching assistant in the Welsh unit of a primary school.

I’ve been married to Mervyn for over thirty years.  He has supported everything I’ve ever wanted to do – from playing flugel in a brass band to studying (two degrees with the Open University and a masters with Swansea University) to becoming a writer.  I think he hopes I might have stopped wanting to learn now, but I’m not sure I know how to stop.

For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?

I would be so pleased if people wanted to explore mid Wales as a result of reading the book.

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I still prefer to read print books.  There’s nothing quite like the smell and feel of a new book, or the sound of turning the pages.  I do read ebooks, but for me it’s much harder to escape into them, with e-mail notifications pinging up every couple of minutes.  Having said that, if more people read because of ebooks then that can only be a good thing.

What do you think is the future of reading/writing?

I think people will always read.  I do wonder whether we’ll go back to reading in instalments, as we did in Dickens’ day, waiting for the next chapter to be published.  People seem so short of time this may be an option in the future.  I worry that we are becoming so celebrity-obsessed that the quality of what makes it to publication may suffer, but I just can’t imagine a world without books or without writers and readers.

What process did you go through to get your book published?

I was very fortunate.  I was on a course at Ty Newydd in Llanystumdwy in 2013 and one of the tutors, Janet Thomas, told me that Honno were interested in crime fiction.  I sent them the first few hundred words and then the first few chapters and they offered me a contract.  They have been absolutely brilliant, helping me with every aspect of publication.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

As far as I know there isn’t much crime fiction based in mid Wales.  I hope the location will help it to be memorable.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?  Summarize your writing process.

When I write, it’s as though I’m there, in the story with the characters, so in that respect it’s intuitive.  Later, when I edit and make sure it makes sense, the logic kicks in.  I do think this balance might be different for different types of writing though.  I’ve found that writing a crime novel requires more up-front logic than writing short stories, for example.

 What are some ways in which you promote your work?  Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?

I’ve still a lot to learn about the promotional side of things.  I’m not a life and soul of the party sort of person and find it quite difficult to promote myself.  I have to say though, that it does make me think about my writing in a different way.  It’s lovely to sit on my own in splendid isolation and write, but it’s even nicer to think that people may want to read what I’ve written.

What do you like to read in your free time?

I do like to read crime fiction – Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin, Phil Rickman, Val McDermid, for example, but I also love good non-fiction.  Kathleen Jamie is a favourite, as, of course is Alan Bennett.  His diaries are sheer escapism for me – a social history of Britain seen through the eyes of a remarkable writer.

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’m working on two novels.  One is based in the north of England and the other is the second Kite novel, a sequel to Remember No More.  I’m also working on a collection of nature writing essays, mostly based here in mid Wales, which I’m hoping to publish eventually.

What do your plans for future projects include?

I would love to write a sit com or a really good radio play.  There’s such skill involved in plays for radio.  I may be some time

 I’m sure one day we’ll be listening to a Jan Newton play on Radio Four. Good luck with all your writing and thank you for being here today, Jan. 

Thank you for for inviting me, Judith,it’s been fun.

That’s all for today, everyone.  Please see below all the links to find Jan and her book, Remember No More. 

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2k1kGJx

 Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2jqC7CB

Honno: http://bit.ly/2jqDilL

 Connect with Jan at:

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jan.newton.3

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janmaesygroes

I’ve Decided To Go Wandering For A While… At Least In My Head #amwriting

So many things have happened over the last year (and some are still ongoing) that have stopped me from writing. So now I’m giving myself a break and I’m going a wandering. I need to finish/tidy-up/sort out the prequel to my trilogy

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Its working title is Foreshadowing.

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And it’s been languishing on the PC for far too long.

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 I’ll be popping back every now and then to post one of the eight reviews of books that have toppled off my TBR pile- and that, I am ashamed to say, have been neglected.

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I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has been such a support over the last few months – friends both in the ‘real’ world and friends who I might never meet but who I appreciate.So, before I get too maudlin… cheerio for now.

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As someone once said…”I’ll be back.”

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http://bit.ly/1p0UA8H

http://bit.ly/1RZ6njq

http://bit.ly/1QAQL6r

http://honno.co.uk/

Tenby Arts Festival 2016: Day One: Saturday 24th

 Events

Events to be held at the 2016 Tenby Book Fair, 24th September

Revised
Some talks, readings, Q&A sessions will be held in an adjoining room at the fair. Numbers will be limited, so it is advisable to reserve a place in advance. There is no charge.
  1. 11:00    Cambria Publishing Co-operative will be giving a talk and taking questions about the services and assistance they offer to independent authors.
  2. 11:30    Poet Kathy Miles will be giving a reading of some of her work.
  3. 12:00    Firefly Press will be talking about publishing children’s books and what they look for in submissions.
  4. 12:30    Prizes for the short story competitions will be presented in the main hall – no booking necessary.
  5. 1:30      Colin Parsons, children’s writer, talks about his popular work
  6. 2:00      Honno Welsh Women’s Press will be talking about their work, publishing contemporary novelists, anthologies and classics, and discussing what they look for in submissions.
  7. 2:30      Matt Johnson, thriller writer and ex-policeman, talks about his work and experiences.
  8. 2:55      Main hall (no booking required): raffle prizes.

 

 

c392a-tenby2bheaderTenby Book Fair is approaching 24th September (this next Saturday!) and there are six events you can attend.
All three publishers will be giving talks and taking questions —

Honno, which has been publishing Welsh women, classics and contemporary, for thirty years (Happy birthday Honno!)

Firefly, founded in 2013, and already winning prizes, is the only publisher in Wales devoted to children and young adults

Cambria Publishing Co-operative provides all manner of help – editing, graphic design, printing etc – for indie authors.

There will also be talks by three authors.
Colin R Parsons writes very popular fantasy and science fiction for young people and has given many talks and presentations at schools.

Kathy Miles is a prize-winning poet who will be reading some of her work.

Matt Johnson, ex-soldier and police officer, will be talking about how he came to write his thriller, Wicked Game.

Places are limited, so if you would like to reserve a place at any of these talks, email judithbarrow77@gmail.com