The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year in association with The University Of Warwick – Shadow Panel Winner Reveal

I cannot tell you all how thrilled I am that the 2018 Shadow Panel winner is Imogen Hermes Gowar with the fabulous The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock (Published by Harvill Secker)

I have made no secret of the fact that I adored this book. I knew when I saw it on the shortlist that it would take a stonker of a book to knock her off the top spot for me but I was very open minded.

In fact the whole judging process was much tougher than I anticipated because up against Imogen were 3 other superb authors, each with amazing books. And I’m really not just saying that! The award has enabled me to broaden my reading horizons and read genres and topics I wouldn’t have naturally picked up. I will be forever grateful for that.

As a panel, choosing the winner was not an easy ride! We all had strong opinions, we all had positives and negatives to discuss. Ultimately we chose The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock for its stunning Georgian detail, its vivid imagery, it’s larger than life, strong female characters and Imogen’s evocative writing.

I have recommended The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock to many people since reading it in 2017 and I will continue to do so. It’s a book that I know will stay with me forever.

The other authors were very deserving of their places on the shortlist and getting the chance to hear them speak at the event at The Groucho was an experience I’ll treasure.

The authors Susan Hill and Kamila Shamsie, along with Andrew Holgate will be getting together to decide their overall winner.  The big reveal will be on Thursday 6th December.  It will be very interesting indeed to see who their favorite is and I wonder if they had as tough a time as we did in coming to their decision!

Check out the thoughts of the other shadow panel members over on their blogs and be sure to keep your eye on the @youngwriteraward twitter account for news on the overall winner!

Paul Cheney – Half Man Half Book 

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit 

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

See you soon for my final post on the award after the overall winner has been announced.

Bookish Chat xx

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The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – Kings Of The Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey – By Adam Weymouth

I have to be very honest from the outset.  I’m not a huge non-fiction reader as a rule.  Neither am I a reader of travel books or books surrounding nature or the natural world.  Therefore when I saw The Kings Of The Yukon on the shortlist I was very apprehensive.

This is an account of Adam Weymouth’s journey along the Yukon river in Alaska, largely alone in a canoe.  This is also an account of how the King Salmon (or Chinook as they are known) numbers are quickly dwindling and the socio-economic impact of this.

When I read the reviews of this book on Goodreads prior to starting it, I was hopeful that despite my trepidation this could be a book that I could actually enjoy.  One of the reviews had said that the book reads like a fictional novel and at times I can definitely agree with this. In fact I think that Adam’s writing style would lend itself very well to fiction.

We follow Adam along the Yukon river, experiencing the trials and tribulations of his often isolated journey.  He stops to speak to the people who live in the surrounding areas. Gleaning facts and stories of their own experiences of the salmon fishing trade and how the changes have affected them and their families and lives.

This book is a very clever mix of human interest, personal experience and facts. I never thought I’d find myself so fascinated by the lives of salmon!

They swim through silt, eyes wide, unblinking. Thirty, forty, fifty pounds of flesh, many thousands of them. Their backs freckled like frogspawn, the blush of their bellies, where the silver of their flanks fades into a deep and meaty rose. Jaws gawping, lips beginning to curve in upon themselves like pliers, propping their mouths ajar so that the river flows right through them, and yet for the rest of their lives these salmon will not eat, they will not drink…

Adams writing style is very engaging, he doesn’t bombard you with facts and figures, he gives you just enough for you to understand the situation and get a feel for his experiences and the experiences of others.

I think the length and readability of this book is perfect. I was honestly so surprised to enjoy it as much as I did.

I do have to say that my favourite parts were the human interest elements. Adams accounts of his meeting of the locals along the way, staying with them, eating with them, fishing with them. Their stories were very interesting and Adam’s interaction with them too.

I wasn’t so keen on the geography element and the history of the rivers and tributaries. It’s just not something I have an interest in, so found it more difficult to engage with these sections.

All in all I found this a surprising read and I’m grateful once again that the award has widened my reading and allowed me to sample Adam’s writing.

My next post will be announcing our winner! Exciting!

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite – by Laura Freeman

When I read the synopsis for Laura Freeman’s book, I must admit I was intrigued.  The idea that literature, reading and a love of books could help someone recover from anorexia fascinated me.  As a person who enjoys food and loves to read about depictions of eating, mealtimes, and food in general I was eager to see how my simple, almost casual enjoyment of such details could be compared to being a catalyst for someone to change their lives.

In her early teens whilst struggling with life at secondary school, Laura Freemen first exhibited signs of the anorexia that was to later take a hold on her life.  Making her teenage years unbearable, isolated and anxiety ridden.  What initially started out as a decision to not visit the tuck shop like the other girls, not eating lunch, not drinking tea or milk, gradually cutting out things from and paring back her diet until she was existing on very little. Laura’s mother took her starving daughter to their GP and a diagnosis of anorexia was made.  What followed was, long periods of bed rest, isolation and a slow and painstaking journey towards recovery.

Anorexia. It is a difficult word. It does not come easily. Anorexia Nervosa. You cannot mumble it under your breath and hope no one has heard. I do not like the length or the unfamiliarity of the word, nor it’s harsh X, like a pair of crossed femur bones. You think of x-rays and skeletons.

Even though Laura, with the support of her family and friends was able to eat again, she was eating to merely exist.  Her mother told her she must eat enough ‘to keep body and soul together’. This is what she did for many years until her voracious love of reading eventually sparked her appetite and her determination to live a healthier life and strive to get better.

From the descriptions of food and mealtimes in the classics of Dickens, through the war poets, travel writers and food writers and the diaries and letters of Virginia Woolfe Laura found inspiration to try new foods.  Foods she had an innate fear of.  Fear of what they would do to her mind and body. Bolstered up by the fictional characters enjoyment of food and their almost casual pleasure of eating, Laura wonders whether she can be more like them.

I did not – yet – have any great desire to eat a whole ‘haystack of buttered toast’, such as the one prepared by the Aged Parent in Great Expectations, nor Mr Crummles’s hot beef-steak pudding and potatoes. But I liked the thought of them, and took vicarious pleasure in others’ enjoyment of fried sole, shrimp sauce, watercress and young radishes.

That was all I wanted for the time being, to taste, to sample, to dip just a tea-spoon in the milk pot of Dickens’s meals.

Bit by bit she overcomes some of her eating demons which is such a long and painful process.  Not something that happens overnight but a slow and gruelling recovery beset by relapses and pitfalls.  A painful recovery for not only Laura but her family and friends who have to watch her struggle.

Laura’s writing is searingly honest.  The book doesn’t dwell too much on the details of Laura’s illness, as Laura herself mentions at the start of the book that there are plenty of books out there documenting the actual illness.  Whilst this book is heartbreaking and highly emotive there is a thread of absolute determination and bravery running right through it’s heart.

Its a tough read at times and at one point I found myself putting the book down and absorbing what I had just read, I had such a sudden swell of emotion.  These feelings I felt most keenly when Laura describes the love, care and support of her mother, who sounds like such a strong woman.  The things she did for Laura in the hope of making her life better, helping her through the tough times and ultimately seeing her live a good,  healthy, happy life.  When Laura describes a photograph she sent to her mother of her eating a single scoop of gelato on a trip abroad, which her mother now has framed at home, my heart nearly broke.

In Mantua, in the sun, it was possible. It would have to substitute for both lunch and dinner and I wasn’t sure I could ever manage it again, but I had my gelato in the sunshine with a photograph to prove it. From an Internet cafe I sent the picture home. It is framed on Mum’s desk.

Laura freely admits that even now she struggles with food, and the voice of the ‘Jabberwock’ in her head.  But she holds dear the likes of Dickens, Sassoon, Virginia Woolfe and credits them in her recovery.  Were it not for them and her huge appetite for reading she would perhaps not have felt brave enough to try those boiled eggs, milky tea, yorkshire puddings, saffron buns and icecream in the sunshine.

It is interestingly not just the descriptions of actual food that helped Laura’s recovery, but the emotions, feelings and celebration behind the act of eating.  Getting together with family and friends and simply enjoying the food and the company. Be that in rich and lavish situations and surroundings, or pared back settings where the food isn’t the focus, just the experience of eating it.

There are vast numbers of literary references in this book, not all of which I had knowledge of but this did not detract from my reading experience. If anything it made me curious about these literary work.

This book was a very enjoyable read and it feels almost wrong to phrase it that way. I found it fascinating, heart warming, unerringly real and raw.

I am so glad that the award meant that this book came into my reading life.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – Author and blogger event and shadow panel meeting

So Saturday morning had me hot footing it to London to attend the blogger event for the award.  It was held at The Groucho club in London’s Soho and was an opportunity for bloggers to get together and hear the shortlisted authors read excerpts from their books.

I for one was beyond excited! I had spoken with bloggers online and was really looking forward to meeting them in the flesh.  It was also nice to meet Susan from A Life In Books and Lucy from The Lit Edit, who are of course my fellow shadow panel judges.

It was so lovely to talk to the authors in such an intimate setting and have the chance to hear them read from their books.  The Sunday Times Literary Editor, Andrew Holgate kicked off proceedings by giving everyone some background to the award then inviting each author to read a passage of their choosing from their book.

Laura Freeman reading from her book The Reading Cure

Each author read very well and had us all engaged with their words. Its such a treat to hear the words you’ve read in a book spoken how the author intended them to sound. After the readings Andrew asked the authors some questions and opened the floor to us as an audience to ask any questions we had.

Imogen Hermes Gowar reading from The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock

It was interesting to hear the thoughts of the authors on what the impetus had been for each of their books, their writing processes and their reactions to the promotion of their books after publication.

Fiona Mozley reading from Elmet
Adam Weymouth reading from Kings Of The Yukon

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours, a glass or two of wine and some interesting chat with likeminded people.  Oh and a chance to get my books signed by the authors!  I really have appreciated this whole process and experience so much.  It has boosted my confidence and allowed me to attend events such as this and meet the fantastic little people on my Twitter timeline (I’m looking at you Years Of Reading Selfishly).

On Monday morning I attended the shadow panel meeting to discuss who we wanted to be our winner. It was a very interesting discussion and our winner was not decided on easily! It was also lovely to meet Lizzi from These Little Words.

We will be announcing the shadow panel winner at the end of November. Watch this space!

See you all soon!

Bookish Chat. Xx

Book Shopping In London

As a lot of you already know, I’m shadow judging The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick.

This weekend saw me high tailing it pendalino style down to our capital from good old Stockport. Saturday afternoon was spent at The Groucho listening to the shortlisted authors reading excerpts from their books. More in this soon in a separated blog post. On Monday morning I am getting together with my fellow shadow judges to deliberate on our winner. Exciting! I think it’s going to be a very interesting morning!

So the plan for Sunday was to hit up some of London’s famous bookshops and in preparation I put out a little ‘help!’ tweet and the lovely bookish folk of Twitter gave me some excellent book shop suggestions.

We (my husband and I, just for reference he’s not a huge reading/book fan but he’s a diamond geezer and happy to chaperone me around London whilst I gaze adoringly at books) started out with brunch at The Drury on Drury Lane funnily enough. I was immediately drawn to the stacks of books, in the windows, on the tables and on various shelves around the place. The food was bloody delicious too so it was a win win situ.

Bolstered up by our hearty brunch we set off for our first official book shop stop, Foyles on Charing Cross Road. Unfortunately we got there a bit too early and had to wait for it to open but it was well worth the wait. (Which was only really 5 minutes or so in the biting cold wind).

I was a little dubious going in as I had been told by a couple of people that Foyles has no character and is a bit too big and soulless but I thought it was heaven. Which booklover wouldn’t enjoy a mooch through floor after floor of awesome books and gifts I ask ya?!

In here I bought 3 books, I actually had in my sweaty hands around 6 books but I exercised a little restraint as I knew there were more book shops ahead of us and I didn’t want to peak too soon!

The 3 books I plumped for were:

I’ve heard lots about Such Small Hands by Andres Barba and it sounds like a book I’d enjoy. I have Little Eve by Catriona Ward but have yet to read it, I’d seen Rawblood on Simon from Savidge Reads channel and thought it sounded amazing. Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval I have to admit was a pure impulse purchase. I’ve not heard of the book or the author before but I was drawn to the book so I bought it. It happens right?! We all do it.

Next up was Any Amount Of Books also on Charing Cross Road. I enjoyed having a rummage through the £1 books outside and was amazed at the newly released hardbacks inside selling for around £6 each.

In here I came away with just the one book (reserved right?!). I’ve heard lots about An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato and have read and really enjoyed her book The Necessary Marriage, so I thought why the devil not?

From here we went to Hatchards (after a little stop off at Sipsmith for a cheeky little hot gingerbread gin, gorgeous!).

A couple of people had recommended Hatchards and I’m so glad we made the stop there. Such a charming, chilled out space in which to browse and the staff were lovely. One of the girls took a shine to my leopard print skirt and made me feel all fancy. I chose one book here but could have walked away with far more.

This was a cover purchase. How bloody stunning is it?! I can’t stop looking at it! It will be a beautiful addition to my short story collections and I’ve never read any Joyce Carol Oates.

From here we hot footed it to Kings Cross and headed to Word On The Water. I was really looking forward to seeing this boat full of books. It was a little busy and cramped but I still got the chance to have a good browse.

In a bit of a panic about time constraints we made our last trip Persephone Books. I’ve heard so many good things about this shop and it’s beautiful books that I knew I had to make it before it closed.

We got there just as the sun was setting which made it all the more beautiful. (I’ll gloss over the fact that I nearly keeled over walking up the 175 steps out of Russell Square tube station!).

I had enough time for a decent browse and plumped for There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult (no 59). I chose this one purely because I liked the synopsis. The story of an old woman during The Blitz who is slowly losing her mind. The end papers and matching bookmark are gorgeous. When I went to pay, the lovely lady on the till said she had been slowly making her way through all the books and this book was her next choice.

Those signature grey covers are a dream.

So that there was my day of book shopping in London. It was tiring, interesting and exciting. I’m sure there are loads more places to see but I also had to remember I have a husband who also wanted to go places……rude.

I’m off now to have a drink and some Minstrels because I’ve earned it. Hope I can fit all these books in my suitcase…….

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – Elemet by Fiona Mozley

I’ve always had an eye on Elmet since it was shortlisted for the Manbooker Prize in 2017. It’s one of those books that I tend to push to the bottom of the TBR because it was discussed and ruminated on so much that I felt myself backing away from it.  When a book is so popular and is talked of often, this tends to happen to me.  I like to wait until the buzz has died down a little and discover what the book is about at my own pace.  I’m so delighted that Fiona Mozley was shortlisted for this award and that I got to discover this book and her writing sooner than I thought I would.

Elmet is the story of Daniel, Cathy and Daddy. Told from the perspective of Daniel we learn of their close knit family life living on the outskirts of rural Yorkshire.

Their house has been built by Daddy from scratch and is situated just close enough to civilisation for them to get to know the passing of the trains on the tracks but far enough away from any discernible neighbours. They are living literally and figuratively on the periphery of society.

They live off the land and are self-sufficient. Taught by Daddy to kill and cook animals, mainly birds and keep their own chickens. Daddy makes his living by bare knuckle boxing. Matches which are gloveless, off the grid, brutal with no clearly defined rounds. Just two men fighting it out until there is a clear winner.

By all accounts Daddy is quite adept at this violent way of life and it proves sometimes to be very lucrative. He has a reputation of being the victor and men from far and wide want to test their boxing prowess against him.

When the safety and security of the home Daddy has built for his two teenage children comes under threat, he has to take drastic action to ensure he keeps his family away from harm, and cement their future.

Character wise you really can’t get more intriguing than Daniel, Cathy and Daddy. Although the story is told from 14 year old Daniels’ perspective I found myself hankering to discover more about both Cathy and Daddy and would maybe have liked alternate chapters telling the story from their perspectives. Daniel is the exact opposite of his sibling and indeed his father (in both stature and temperament). He is the homemaker, the peacemaker and comes across as a gentle sensitive soul.

‘Daddy told us what he had done next. He recounted how he had put up his arm to catch the club. How he had bent it in half with his two bare hands. How Mr Coxswain had ended up sprawled and choking on the tarmac, beaten so badly he should have been unconscious. But Daddy was expert in the consequences of time. He knew how to lengthen an engagement. He knew how to make a man suffer. He detailed it all. Told us everything. Until it seemed like tears were coming to my eyes.

Then he stopped. Stopped suddenly. He rose from his chair and wrapped me in his arms, said he was sorry and that he should not have told us anything.’

There were actually times where I had to remind myself who’s perspective I was reading from as Daniel’s narrative felt quite feminine.

Conversely, Cathy is cut from the same cloth as Daddy. Secretive, brooding, introspective and harbouring anger and violence. Daniel’s relationship with older sister Cathy is one of being protected, looked after, a strong sibling bond formed.

The story has a dual timeline narrative, the present day (shown in italic chapters) and the recent past. Daniel is alone, on the road. I must admit that I didn’t find myself as invested in the chapters based in the present.

The writing is rich and lyrical. Beautiful in some parts and captivating. The landscape is described in enough detail for you to feel part of it. There is also a somewhat ‘timeless’ feel to this story. There are points where the narrative and backdrop feel almost historical. Were it not for the modern day references it could almost feel like you are experiencing a different age. Having said that there are also moments where it feels like you’re reading about a dystopian, lawless world.

I feel like it took me a little while to become fully invested in the story, however the final third of this book is where it really grabbed me by the throat. I was reading it on my lunch break at work and had to just set the book down for a moment during a particularly poignant moment between Daniel and Cathy. Real visceral, emotive writing.

It is also during this final third that the full horror of consequences are revealed. It is brutal, unflinching and difficult to look away from despite the horror. It is not for the faint of heart.

This is real gritty and raw writing, interspersed with some beautiful prose.  A story of close familial bonds, life lived on the outskirts of society, of trusts made and broken.

I am glad I had the opportunity to read Mozley’s writing.

I will be back soon with my next review which will be The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.

Please do remember to check out the views of the other panel members and  the @youngwriteryear twitter account for more news. #youngwriterawardshadow

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xx