The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser +Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick

Picture the scene…..

A grim, hum-drum, run of the mill morning in the office.  The usual pleasantries have been exchanged, the debate about who’s turn it is to brew up rumbles on and the only thing I have to look forward to is my daily 3pm biscuit, or ‘threesies’ if you will.

That is until my iPhone pings with an exciting email (it didn’t actually ping, it was on silent, office rules).  So what did this ‘exciting email’ say Mand?, I hear you cry! well, sit your bottom down and lemme tell ya….

I had been asked to be on the shadow panel of The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award! I know right!? Me! Little old (fairly wet behind the ears) Book Blogger me!

After an initial hike in heart rate, the like of which my body hasn’t experienced since I attempted the 30 Day Shred, I checked, double checked and triple checked it wasn’t a hoax.  It wasn’t.  To be honest I’m still waiting for the email to arrived which either says ‘Gotcha!’ OR ‘Sorry we emailed the wrong gal!’……..but it hasn’t arrived yet so………it must be legit! I’m here now anyway and I’m staying!

So what’s it all about?  Well The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award (to give it it’s full tongue twisting title!) is awarded annually for a full-length published or self-published work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, by an author aged 18-35 years.  The winner receives a smashing £5000! There are also three prizes of £500 each for runners up.

Previous winners of this prestigious award have been Sally Rooney for Conversations With Friends (last years winner), Max Porter for Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (which I adored!) Sarah Waters, Zadie Smith and many more….what an illustrious list!

The prize had become the definitive platform for young writing.  Working with a growing network of partners including the British Council, it provides a very important support system for the very best talent at work now.  The award is sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop and created by The Sunday Times.  The award also runs in association with The University Of Warwick home to the Warwick Writing Programme who are offering a 10 week residency for whoever wins the award and a year long programme of digital support for the prize.

How fantastic does that all sound!

I will of course be in prestigious company on the panel with 4 talented bookbloggers:

Paul Cheney at Half Man Half Book

Susan Osborne at A Life In Books

Lucy Pearson at The Lit Edit 

Lizzi Risch at These Little Words

Here are our lovely little faces (well half of mine!):

I cannot wait for us to get together and bash it out over who we want our winner to be.

Of course you must now all go and follow those guys above IMMEDIATELY and check out what they’re saying too.

The official judging panel is made up of Andrew Holgate,  Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, along with authors Susan Hill (a total legend!) and Kamila Shamsie, winner of The Women’s Prize For Fiction 2018.

At the time of writing this post I cannot reveal which 4 amazing books and authors have been shortlisted. Suffice to say it’s a diverse and exciting list! However please do swing by the blog on Sunday 4th November when all will be revealed!…….Shameless tease!

I will of course be taking you all along with me for the ride and will be reviewing all four books here on the blog as well as revealing our choice of winner and the overall winner.

In all honesty I am ridiculously delighted and excited to be involved with this fabulous prize and I am naturally forever grateful to be a book blogger, spreading the book love wherever I go, like a little fairy sprinkling magic book glitter…….except fatter with a mortgage to pay.

I’ve rambled.  Please do check out all our deets here and please follow @youngwriteryear on twitter and catch up on all the latest news using the #youngwriterawardshadow hashtag.

You are duly dismissed, but I expect to see you all back here on Sunday 4th November for the big reveal! Don’t be late!

Other important dates to put in your diary are:

Blogger event held at The Groucho (fancy!) 17th November.  Bloggers are invited to this exclusive event at London’s Groucho Club, to meet the shortlisted authors and hear them read from their books. For more details and to get yourself on the list click here.

Shadow Panel Winner Announced 28th November.

Overall Winner announced 6th December.

In the meantime please do go and give me a follow on the old socials and lets have some bookish chat……(see what I did there). @Bookishchat (Twitter and IG)

Big bookish love.

See you soon! Oooohh exciting!

Bookish Chat xxx


The Museum Of Cathy By Anna Stothard – A Review

Publisher: Salt

This book was somewhat of a revelation to me and totally not what I was expecting, but in a good way!

To be honest I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I bought it other than I knew it was a Salt book (we all know I love Salt) and the cover was pretty and intriguing. I think I expected some gentle humour, maybe some light hearted quirkiness but I got neither of these things and I’m so pleased!

Cathy works as a curator in the Natural History Museum in Berlin. She lives with her fiancé Tom who also works at the museum. She spends her days painstakingly cataloguing and recording specimens of animals. Bones, skeletons, artefacts from the animal world.

But hidden in one of her cupboards in her office are various items and mementos she has collected all through her life. Some hold very dear childhood memories or links back to happy times in her relationship with Tom. Tickets, small toys, a restaurant menu fashioned into a paper airplane. But there is also a very sinister side to her own personal museum.

Cathy holds on to items which are from a very disruptive, unsettling and frightening time in her life. She feels that she has some control of the memories if she can control the objects linked to them. Hence why she shuts them away.

Although Cathy is now in a loving relationship with Tom, she is also still deeply affected by a very controlling abusive relationship with her childhood friend Jack’s older brother Daniel.

Daniel has been to prison during Cathy’s move to firstly LA and then the move to Berlin but he has never once relinquished his grip on her. Sending small artefacts to her in the post whenever she is just to make sure she remembers him.

She’d had four email accounts and three phone numbers since leaving him, just in case that was how he was finding out where she was all the time. For the fifth time since arriving in Los Angeles, she moved apartments again. It didn’t ever make a difference.

The story is set over one night in the museum where an award ceremony is being held. Cathy is due to receive an award but becomes embroiled in her past catching up with her. We also have flash backs of her childhood on the coast, living with her alcoholic father and her soon to be absent mother. Her friendship with Jack and her awkward relationship with his older brother Daniel.

The way the relationship between Cathy and Jack is written is beautiful. Both somewhat wild children who are fascinated with nature. Cathy is often referred to as ‘feral’. Revelling in exploring the coast line and the marshes. Discovering bones of dead animals and painstakingly piecing them back together.

Cathy and Jack have a bond over nature and start to collect their own treasures from the coastline. Both of them finding easy companionship with each other in the face of family adversity, a not very present father with alcohol issues and a brother who is more interested in girls than looking after his little brother.

The chapters written in the modern day on that one night in the museum are very claustrophobic. There’s an intense cat and mouse type feeling to them which I found very atmospheric. I think I stopped breathing at certain points!

Cathy is such a complex character. Shaped by her difficult childhood and desperate to escape her past despite clinging on to the bad memories in the form of her little museum of hurt and pain. She is still somewhat ‘feral’ in her current life but not to the extent she was as a child. She’s flawed and fascinating and has such strength. Her relationship with Tom is so quirky and beautiful. They recite facts to each other whilst having deep and meaningful conversations. Tom is entranced by her and this comes through in every action he takes.

By the time I’ve finished speaking this sentence the earth will have spun 1450 metres,’ she said, then tilted her head to the side. ‘Daniel used to hit me a lot. I was never in a car crash like I told you; my scars are mostly from him, although I was an accident prone kid too. I stayed far too long with him. I thought I deserved what he did to me. I didn’t know how to get away’.

I love you’ he said.

This book slowly drew me in. The writing is gorgeous and the museum itself is almost like another character. Descriptive, compelling and insidiously chilling, I really enjoyed this book. Although given the subject matter that feels wrong to say.

If you enjoy slow, atmospheric, chilling narratives then this book is for you. A fascinating female protagonist and amazing scene setting.

I’m now also intrigued by the authors earlier work and will most definitely be investing in her previous two novels.

Give it a whirl.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Lonely Witness By William Boyle – A Review

Publisher: No Exit Press

Publication Date: 25th October 2018

When I was approached to be involved in the blog tour for this book I read the premise and immediately thought, yes! Sign me up! I’ve also recently read Bellevue Square which is published by No Exit Press and really enjoyed it, so I assumed I would be in for a treat.

I believe this is a loose spin off from the authors novel Gravesend, which I haven’t read. However you don’t need to have read this book first. One of the characters from Gravesend goes on to become the protagonist in The Lonely Witness. That character is Amy Falconetti.

Amy lives in the neighbourhood of Gravesend in Brooklyn. She keeps herself to herself and does a lot of work for the local parish. Namely providing communion to elderly parishioners who are to old and infirm to get to church to take communion for themselves.

We know that Amy has lead quite a hedonistic life in the lead up to becoming heavily involved in the church, once a party girl, bar hopper and somewhat of a wild child she is now much more subdued and doing her bit for the local community.

It is during one of these visits to an elderly lady, Mrs Epifanio that Amy hears that there has been a young man coming around to visit who has started to unnerve poor old Mrs E and Amy wants to know why. Vincent the son of one of Mrs Epifanio’s friend Diane has been making somewhat of a nuisance of himself and discomfiting Mrs E to the point where she believes he may have done something to harm Diane.

When Amy follows Vincent she chances upon an encounter he has with another local man. Vincent ends up dead (not a spoiler) and Amy is a witness to the whole bloody scene.

But does Amy do the right god fearing thing and report the murder and her witnessing of it? No, she decides to keep schtum. I know right!

What follows after this is Amy trying to come to terms with what she’s done whilst becoming deeper and deeper embroiled with the various characters in the neighbourhood.

This is all set against a backdrop of personal issues in Amy’s private life that she is trying to deal with. The sudden reappearance of her once absent father, the breakdown of her relationship with her girlfriend and various internal demons Amy is battling regarding her disappointment with how her life has turned out.

What I enjoyed about this book was the fact that it wasn’t just a fast paced, action packed thriller surrounding the murder and the events leading up to and following it. It was also as much to do with Amy’s character and her struggles with life too.

Amy is such a fascinating character, a strong willed young woman with lots of guts and bravery. She doesn’t always know the difference between right and wrong but she trusts her gut instinct and knows what she needs to do.

Another element of this book I enjoyed was in regards to the construction of the dialogue between characters. It was never stilted or over written. It flowed just as normal conversations would in the real world, and I felt as if I was witnessing an actual normal conversation that hadn’t been ‘constructed’ for want of a better word. Some of the names in this book are just fab! I felt like I wanted to know these people more!

The one thing I could have done without in this book were all the street names and directions. Maybe it’s because I’m based in the UK and have never visited the US. Maybe the various street directions would mean more to someone from the US? Who knows.

If you’re after a thriller with a crackin strong female character at its heart then this is a book you need to head to.

Thank you so much as always to No Exit Press and Anne Cater for my review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Little By Edward Carey – A Review

Publisher: Gallic Books

Published: 4th October 2018

This book was such an absolute treat!

I knew it was going to be my kinda thing when I read the blurb. As you may know, I’m bang into historical fiction these days, especially if it has a dark edge and this book fitted the bill perfectly.

Little is the tale of young Anne Marie Grosholtz – who later goes on to become the Madame Toussauds that we all know for her waxwork fame.

Told right from Marie’s birth in 1761 in Alsace, through to her being orphaned at a young age and being taken under the wing of ex physician and wax model enthusiast Dr Curtius. We hear of Marie’s involvement with the first tentative steps into taking wax models of first body parts and then heads of the rich and noble.

Marie is dubbed ‘Little’ by those around her due to her diminutive stature, however her personality is anything but.  We follow Marie during her tutelage with Dr Curtious as she learns the various techniques used to create a waxwork model of someones head. Left with only her mother’s nose and her fathers chin (and quite literally her fathers jaw…’ll see) Marie cleaves herself to Dr Curtious and makes him her only family.

When they travel to Paris and join forces with a tailors widow and her son, life for Marie takes an altogether different turn. Widow Picot and her son Edmund help the wax business take off inside the walls of The Monkey House on the Boulevard.

When the lust and curiosity for seeing the cast heads of noblemen wanes, the business branches out into murder. The wax heads of murderers who have been sentenced to death.

Little eventually catches the eye of Princess Elisabeth who has Marie sent to the palace of Versailles to become her drawing tutor. Here, Marie uses her skills to model the heads of the royal family (and lives in a cupboard!).

This novel is so brimming and vibrant with life. Each and every character is bold and bursting with personality. Set against a back drop of the French Revolution this story is grim, gruesome and utterly gory. But in a fabulous way! (Although it’s worth mentioning that if you’ve not got a strong constitution there are certain parts you may struggle with!). I of course have the constitution of an ox and loved every minute of it, the gorier the better!

Marie has lived about 5 lives by the time we say goodbye to her at the end of the book! She is such a determined child, a tenacious learner and has buckets full of bravery. She lives through various heartbreaks allowing each of them to make her stronger still. She experiences great loss and great loves in her lifetime and is such a fascinating determined little thing.

She is treated terribly by the Widow Picot who does not appreciate her talents or her close bond with Dr Curtious. But she forges on and remains a loyal servant and assistant.

It was such a privilege to share Little’s journey, her fates and fortunes and of course her failures.

Such a quirky tale, the like of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered. This fictionalised account of Madame Toussauds life has made me want to find out more about who she actually was and what she had to live through to become the Toussauds we know.

Now of course it is usually just the writing I would be reviewing (with occasional fawning over a beautiful cover!) but this book has an abundance of stunning illustrations punctuating the story. The author Edward Carey is the illustrator and he has an amazing talent. Such a lovely (if occasionally gory!) touch. His illustrations really bring the characters to life and you can see them easily in your minds eye.  Of course the cover itself is a stunner (and the disembodied boob gave my children no end of mirth!).

A striking, imagination bending romp through the French Revolution via the world of wax, gently and macabrely humorous, Little is someone who will remain in your heart forever.

This stunner of a book should be gracing your bookshelves this autumn. You know it makes sense.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Eggshells By Caitriona Lally – A Review

Publisher: Borough Press

Publication Date: 20th September 2018

This book is one of the reasons I absolutely adore the bookblogging/booktube/bookstagram community. If I hadn’t have seen the haul video that Simon over at Savidge Reads had done in which this book was featured, I doubt it would have crossed my path.

I hate it when people say ‘if you loved such and such then you’ll love this’ – BUT if you loved Eleanor Olliphant as a character, I can almost guarantee you’ll love the protagonist in Eggshells, Vivian Lawlor. She’s an absolute joy to read.

In fact I’d go as far as to say that she’s one of THE most interesting characters I’ve ever encountered in a book.

Unemployed Vivian lives alone in her late Aunt Maud’s house. She has a sister (also called Vivian!) who she doesn’t see very much of. She doesn’t have any friends and finds it very difficult to interact with people.

She constructs conversations with people she meets by using stock phrases and reactions she’s seen on TV. She is extremely socially awkward and lives a lot of the time in her own head.

After breakfast, I go up to my bedroom and climb inside the wardrobe. I tap the wood at the back, but the door to Narnia hasn’t opened today so I close my eyes, feel around for a jumper and a pair of jeans and climb out.

Vivian believes she needs to find the portal to another world, a fairy world, where she belongs, having been told by her parents as a child that she was found by them, a changeling.

She spends her days travelling around the city of Dublin searching for this illusive portal to take her ‘home’ where she hopes she will feel like she belongs.

But that’s not all that Vivian does…..

She also, advertises for a friend called Penelope to see if her name rhymes with ‘antelope’.

She makes endless lists in her notebook of her favourite things and favourite words…..

She traces the route she has walked during the day onto greaseproof paper and then tries to fathom the shape she has made…..

She tries to use all of the chairs in her Aunt’s house equally so that none of them feel left out…….

She chooses to only eat blue food…..

She tries to cultivate her own smell, which basically involves her not washing…..

She never looks in mirrors……

And most importantly of all, she continues with her relentless search for the portal, for the chance to fit in.

Written entirely from Vivian’s perspective, this story has a stream of consciousness feel to it. You are basically living inside Vivian’s world and experiencing her ‘odd’ (yet at times scarily logical!) thoughts. Her day to day struggles with communication, the prying pitiful eyes of her neighbours and her sisters apparent abject disappointment in her.

The writing in this book is so rhythmic, lyrical and beautiful. Probably due in part to Vivian’s deep interest in language and words. Their construction, their derivation, their meaning and pronunciation.

‘Which word do you prefer: mortuary or morgue?’

‘Couldn’t tell you love’.

‘ I prefer morgue because it’s softer, but the G doesn’t smack of slabs and gurneys and fluorescent lighting the way that the harsh ‘T’ in mortuary does’

There is so much humour in Vivian’s story but also a very deeply hidden history of abuse at the hands of her parents. It is only briefly mentioned once or twice with no real detail or fleshing out. But this I think is absolutely perfect and testament to a very gifted writer, that the abuse didn’t need to be explicit or overt. You just know in your heart that something isn’t right with Vivian, right from the off, and you can hazard a guess that she’s not had the best of lives.

I tweeted whilst reading this book that I could find something to quote on each and every page. Some of the lines I’ve been back and re-read since finishing the book.

I get up and dust biscuit crumbs off my lap. I don’t know any suitable departing sentences so I think about how characters in Coronation Street leave. ‘Ta-ra chuck,’ I say, but it comes out flat and wrong, it lacks accent and punctuation and a Manchester upbringing

The touching way that Vivian tries to form a friendship is so heartwarming. She is always ridiculously pleased if she manages to hold a conversation that lasts longer than 3 or 4 back and forth sentences.

All Vivian really wants is to belong, feel accepted and find a kindred spirit who understands her thoughts and ideas. She’s a fully formed character who jumps right off the page and burrows deep into your heart.

She is certainly someone I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

I loved this book and I loved Vivian and I’ll be keeping it on my forever shelf so that I can go back and visit her again one day.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Help The Witch By Tom Cox – A Review

Publisher: Unbound

Publication Date: 18th October 2018

I’ll level with you. I bloody loved this book. If there was ever a review where I desperately want to just say READ THIS BOOK! (In big shouty capitals no less) it’s this one.

BUT as I’m a book blogger I better put a bit more effort in guys. So here goes….

I was sold this book instantly when I read that it was a must for fans of Daisy Johnson’s short story collection Fen. I have a penchant for the strange, the disconcerting, the insidiously unsettling. All the better if this source of unease comes in an entirely innocuous everyday reality.

This collection of stories are probably best described as modern day folktales. History and the present intersecting to form chilling, spine tingling tales to get your mind whirring and the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

How perfect does that sound?! I have just finished reading this collection on a cold, dark, grim Sunday afternoon and I can’t think of a more fitting setting.

The title story, Help The Witch, ticked every ghost story box I have. An old cottage in an isolated village with a grim history. TICK. Disembodied voices and strange noises. TICK. objects appearing to move of their own free will. TICK. A creepy landlord with secrets of his own. TICK. A lonely, troubled protagonist who wants to solve a mystery. TICK TICK TICK. JACKPOT. I read this opening story with the book tingles well and truly flowing throughout my body. I was entranced.

I’ve been hearing the female voice – the one I heard when I thought I felt Chloe beside me in bed – again. I don’t understand everything it says. The words are thick, very North Derbyshire, but also more than just very North Derbyshire. A lot of what the voice says is a mixture of the banal and the incomprehensible. It has asked a couple of times if I am ok. It was only today that I replied for the first time to something it said….

This first story is such a great opener. It pulled me right in from the start and if I’m honest I think I could have read an entire novel based just on this one story alone. I love it when isolated villages have a dark past and this one was plague based brilliance.

The next story entitled ‘Listings’ is such a clever idea. A story of a so called cave dwelling bog creature told in the form of property listings and newspaper articles, local interest stories and newspaper ads. I’ve never read anything like it. Such an innovative idea.

Nine Tiny Stories About Houses, is exactly that, nine tiny vignettes around various homes and people’s memories of them. Vanished House, Moor House, Party House. Pictures of the devil on walls, a house with concealed masks of the face of the previous owner and the ghostly Moor House….

We didn’t talk about it until years later. By that time she had left the house. She said it had been creeping her out; her boyfriend particularly didn’t like the ghost of the old woman, dragging her leg along the upstairs corridor at night……

This book takes a different turn in the latter third and the chapter entitled Folk Tales Of The Twenty Third Century had me chuckling to myself in the bath. Particularly the story called ‘Little Goth Twat’. I didn’t envisage this book having so much humour when I first started it but I loved it and the way it took me unawares was so refreshing.

‘It was foretold, and you have arrived exactly on time,’ replied the head Witch, although she was really just the witch who was best at public speaking, rather than the head witch in any official capacity, since the witches tended to think of themselves as a democracy….

From ghostly abodes to creatures of the river. From internet dating to seances. This quirky collection of tales have a piece of my heart.

Tom Cox is an amazing writer who can take you on a strange and mesmerising journey in just a few short pages. From ghost stories with a classic feel to snapshots of a contemporary world this mix of oddities flow perfectly together.

What I love the most about these stories is when the ordinary becomes extraordinary and the final story An Oral History Of Margaret And The Village is the perfect example of this.

I wouldn’t ordinarily read a short story collection all in one sitting.  For me short stories are for dipping in and out of, however, with these I just couldn’t stop reading. I devoured this marvellous collection in one breathtaking sitting.

If you’re in the mood for an eclectic read to make your autumn reading more interesting then I suggest you snap this book up. Not only is the cover beautiful and would make any bookshelf proud, the writing is stunning, the ideas fresh and inventive with the power to wake up your brain and get you thinking.

I believe that this is the authors first dip into fiction. This taster of his work has me hankering for more and I’m so excited by his voice.

A must for any autumn TBR. Simply brilliant.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater and Unbound for the beautiful advanced copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xx

Bookshop – A Poem By Me

Pick me! Pick me! she heard them cry as she walked in through the door
A short walk up a flight of stairs to fiction, second floor.

Their voices seemed much louder here, unique in their own way
But she had to make a hurried choice, she hadn’t got all day.

Pick me! said the clothbound classic, I’m old and wise and strong
Her hand hovered nervously over the shelf, she couldn’t get it wrong

Pick me! cried the gripping thriller, I’m fresh and new, compelling!
But would this choice be a wise one? There was no way of telling….

What about me?! Shrieked the latest horror, midst a wave of bloodcurdling screams
Maybe she will, maybe she won’t, is it worth all the terrible dreams?…

You need a laugh! Called the latest rom-com, and I’m just the gal to do it
But her mood didn’t fit with the mushy stuff and unfortunately rom-com knew it

Up stepped naked hardback, all bold, stripped back and bare
She had to admit he was handsome, but she really mustn’t stare….

Amongst these myriad voices, there was one with perfect diction
Thou should choosest me my dear, your beloved historical fiction

And just like that a deal was struck, she would whisk this one away
The others? well, they could just pipe down, she’d be back another day.

Bookishchat xxx

*The beaut bookshops in this post are Toppings in Bath and Mr B’s Emporium also in Bath.