#BookReview #SnowSisters by Carol Lovekin

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, what with one project or another on the go, book signing events to attend and generally getting my brain in gear for Christmas, and so my blog has been slightly neglected.

Today, however, I have a recommended read.

It’s a novel I read a few weeks ago and loved so much I nominated for the Hay Festival Book of the Year – Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin.

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At the launch of Snow Sisters with Carol Lovekin

 

Some novels I zip through and others I devour slowly. Snow Sisters really is a novel to savour, with its gorgeously sensual prose delivered by a very skilful author. It’s a ‘curl up on the couch in front of a log fire’ kind of novel. If you haven’t already read either of Carol Lovekin’s wonderful novels, I urge you to – you will not be disappointed. 

Here’s a slightly extended version of the review I left on the Hay Festival Book of the Year page:

“I absolutely adore ‘Snow Sisters’. It’s Lovekin’s second offering and is beautifully written – just like her first, ‘Ghostbird’. The novel is set in Wales in the 1970s and has an eerie, gothic feel. It’s the story of a bohemian family, consisting of three generations of women who live in the beautiful but ramshackle Gull House. The house has a chilling history, and teenagers Meredith and Verity become sensitive to this as their home-life is turned upside down by their self-absorbed mother, Allegra.
I read this novel slowly as I wanted to relish the magical atmosphere Lovekin effortlessly creates with her lyrical writing. She paints vivid scenes for the reader. Colours are important – red flannel hearts for a lost child, a grandmother’s mystical blue garden and sumptuous greens for the vivacious Meredith. The author explores ideas of ghosts and family ties, and the enduring love between sisters.
‘Snow Sisters’ is a haunting, spellbinding novel that has stayed with me long after I – very slowly, to savour every last word – read the final page.”

Snow Sisters is published by Honno Press and is available to buy from them, Amazon and bookshops in paperback priced at £8.99. Also available on Kindle

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Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

 

#MusicTherapyThursday #InspiralCarpets #Thisishowitfeels

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Another song from my Not Thomas playlist today and a blast from the past: ‘This is How it Feels’ by Inspiral Carpets. The video is certainly of its time, but I love the song and it’s rarely heard on the radio these days.

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

#MusicTherapyThursday #JessieWare #WildestMoments

 

I’m just starting what I hope will become my next novel, and one of the first steps for me is to build a soundtrack that creates the right emotions for the story.

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I go back to this soundtrack over and over as I write, as I find it helps me to keep the emotional feel of the story consistent.

I wrote about the playlist for my first novel, ‘Not Thomas’, in the post ‘Music to Make Me Cry’

My next playlist is quite different. This is one of the songs on the soundtrack for my latest writing project:

#JessieWare #WildestMoments #musiciwriteto

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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#WelshWordWednesday #nosdacariad

Today’s Welsh word, for ‘Not Thomas’ readers unfamiliar with the language, is in fact three words: Nos da, cariad.

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On page 355 of ‘Not Thomas’, Tomos is thinking about his new foster mother, Tess, and how she says ‘Nos da, cariad’ when she puts him to bed. I’m sure, given the context, the meaning is pretty easy to work out.

Nos = night; da = good; cariad = love.

As it happens, there’s a David Gray song with exactly the right title.

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

Getting Started on a New Writing Project #WritingTips

Getting started on a new writing project

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Well, I can procrastinate no longer – the time has come for me to sit down and begin writing what will hopefully become my second novel.

I think I can hear my editor muttering “about time too” 70 miles away in Aberystwyth, and I don’t blame her. I’m a very slow writer. I need to have the story straight in my head before I’ll consider typing even one word, and percolating a story isn’t a quick process, well, not for me anyway. 

My first novel, Not Thomas, lived in my head for ten years or more, and it was fully formed before I began typing it up. My next story has been growing for around two years – so not very long, relatively speaking. It feels a little soon to begin typing, if I’m honest. 

And it’s a long, long time since I began writing a new novel – 16 years, to be precise.

I started Not Thomas in 2001 and wrote it incredibly slowly (my About Sara page explains why it took me so excruciatingly long) so I’m just a little bit out of practise. To help remind myself of all the things that are good to think about right at the start of the creative process, I thought I’d make this the theme of my blog for the next month or two.

So, to ease me gently into writing novel #2, here’s my first tip to myself for starting a new project:

Get a new notebook or two.

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I write very little long-hand, preferring to type straight onto my laptop, but I couldn’t be without a large A4 notebook. For me, it’s the very first thing needed for a new writing project – after getting the story all sorted in my head and ready to go, that is. And honestly, it’s not just an excuse to buy beautiful stationery – although buying beautiful stationery is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a starting point, somewhere to commit ideas to paper, and get them out of my head.

I write my synopsis in one notebook, chosen especially for the project, usually spring-bound, so it’ll stay open all by itself on my kitchen table. I also use this notebook to jot down sentences that come to me in random fashion, character sketches and anything else that occurs to me when I’m cooking, washing up or writing something else. As I don’t tend to type up in order, I can just flick through the notebook to find inspiration and a section of the story to write about. 

And the little notebook stays in my handbag, so when I’m out and about I always have somewhere to jot down my thoughts.  

So that’s my starting point. I’d be really interested to hear what preparations you have for starting to write a new novel. What are your must-haves? Are you a procrastinator like me, or do you just dive right in? Drop me a line and let me know.

Diolch yn fawr and thanks for reading,

Sara x

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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#MusicTherapyThursday #NinaSimone #IThinkitsGoingtoRainToday #musiciwriteto

There have been so many versions of this Randy Newman song but my favourite is by Nina Simone.

It was used as the title track recently for ‘Broken’ a TV series where Sean Bean plays a good but struggling priest.

I find it’s an ideal song to summon up a heavy heart when I’m writing sad sections, and Nina Simone’s voice and delivery add new levels of sorrow. Very evocative. Beautiful too.

#musiciwriteto  

 

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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#WelshWordWednesday #NotThomas ‘Oh diawl!’

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Today’s Welsh word, for readers of Not Thomas who are unfamiliar with the language, is:

‘diawl’

On page 212, Tomos calls round to the lady next door. He doesn’t know where his mother is, so he asks the lady to ring the police. She says ‘Oh diawl, there’s no need for that.’ 

‘Diawl’ – which, when you say it fast, sounds like ‘jawl’ – means ‘devil’

(And call the police is exactly what the lady next door should have done.)

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

 

#BookReview #JudithBarrow #AHundredTinyThreads #Honno

Over the last few months, I’ve been along to three book launches by fellow Honno authors.

But since I’ve had a busy summer and early autumn, I haven’t had the chance to review any of those novels. Now life is a little calmer, and so I’m going to start putting that right.

My first review is of  ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ by Judith Barrow.

Judith grew up in the Pennines but has lived in Pembrokeshire for nearly forty years.

Here’s my review… 

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow

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I so look forward to losing myself in an engrossing read at the end of a hectic day, and Judith Barrow’s ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ fits the bill beautifully.

Judith has skillfully crafted a wonderful set of characters – some I love (Winifred, her grandmother & Honora) while some I loathe (Winifred’s husband and mother) but all are well rounded and believable. One of Judith’s many strengths is that she writes with a warmth for her characters that emanates from the pages, and she somehow manages to be fair to them all, too, even the ne’er-do-wells. Subtly, she helps us see how they’ve become the people they are, and the source of their strengths and failings. The dialogue is always natural, descriptions are vivid and flow easily, and I was very quickly drawn into Winifred’s world.

Winifred is one half of the couple that ‘a hundred tiny threads’ holds together.

We follow her as she grows from a young girl to a married woman with a family, and I felt I had a vested interest in her happiness. She’s a young, single woman at the start of the novel, working in her parents’ grocery shop with little time off. When she meets Irish artist Honora, who has an independent lifestyle, Winifred’s attitude to her own life begins to change. Honora encourages her to join the Suffrage Movement, against her domineering mother’s wishes. And it’s when she’s protesting with the Suffragettes that Winifred begins to fall for Honora’s brother, Conal – a love affair that changes the course of her life forever.

But never far away is Bill, who’s a very troubled character.

Bill’s actions are sometimes unforgivable. However, we’re shown why he has come to behave the way he does – not only is he damaged by a childhood devoid of love, but like so many men of his generation Bill has had horrific war experiences.

Judith doesn’t shy away from describing the sheer brutality of WW1. The scenes in the trenches feel very authentic, stomach-churningly so at times, but that all adds to the atmosphere of the novel. The atrocities Bill witnessed and perpetrated in Ireland with the Black and Tans are also unflinchingly portrayed.

The setting of this novel has clearly been researched very thoroughly indeed, but the reader never gets the sense that historical detail is there for anything other than the flow of the story and development of the characters – a real skill in this genre.

While ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ is the prequel to Judith’s Howarth Family Trilogy and tells the story of the parents of Mary, the main protagonist in the three other books, it also works very well as a stand-alone novel. It makes a wonderful starting point for those who’ve never read the others, and I’m sure Judith’s many fans won’t need any encouragement to delve into this new novel and lose themselves for hours in Winifred and Bill’s back story.

I was intrigued by Winifred’s friend, Honora and her brother Conal’s story too. They were very interesting and lively characters. I wonder if, sometime in the future, Judith could be persuaded to let us in on their secrets too! 

‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ is another excellent novel from a wonderful writer & storyteller and I thoroughly recommend the whole series.

Other books in the Howarth Family Saga series:

‘Pattern of Shadows’, ‘Changing Patterns’ & ‘Living in the Shadows’.

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Judith Barrow, Christoph Fischer and me at the launch for ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ at Waterstones, Carmarthen

Buy Judith’s new novel from Honno

Buy from Amazon

Follow Judith’s blog

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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#NotThomas #BookSigning Events

I’ll be taking Tomos along to bookshop & library events in the months before Christmas

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Here are the details of all my Not Thomas book signings

If you’re in the area, come along & say hello

Waterstones Carmarthen

Friday 3rd November

11 – 3 p.m.

Llanelli Library

Saturday 4th November

11 – 1 p.m.

Waterstones Swansea

Saturday 18th November

12 – 2 p.m.

WHSmith Cwmbran

Saturday 25th November

11 – 3 p.m.

WHSmith Llanelli

Saturday 2nd December

12 – 4 p.m.

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Not Thomas Not the Booker Not to be…

So it’s over

The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize drew to a close this morning with a very happy outcome for one of the authors on the shortlist.

Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li is Not the Booker winner 2017

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Huge congratulations to Winnie. Her book is moving and brave and a worthy winner. The public vote was a closely fought battle, with Winnie’s novel achieving 130 votes, 24 ahead of Harriet Paige’s Man with a Seagull on his Head.

The public vote wasn’t the end of it, though. The judges’ verdict came next, chaired by Sam Jordison, head judge (think Len Goodman or Shirley Ballas) and organiser of the Not the Booker prize for the last 9 years.

The judges’ comments were really interesting, and listening to and watching them live online as each book was reviewed was a rather surreal experience.

And there was a little surprise for me.

One of the judges – book blogger and avid reader, Jackie Law – made some lovely comments about Not Thomas, saying it was her second choice behind Man with a Seagull on his Head. She called Not T poignant, never mawkish and a very engaging story which raised important issues without preaching. I’m very grateful to Jackie for her positive remarks.

Next the judges’ points were awarded. Yvain Poncet, along with Jackie, voted for Man with a Seagull, while third judge, Hannah Macdonald, gave her vote to Dark Chapter which, when added to the public vote, made this novel the winner.

Sam commented that Dark Chapter was ‘possibly controversial but that’s what winners are meant to be.’ He decided not to use his casting vote, saying: ‘We can feel that we made a strong choice.’

And that was the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize done and dusted for another year

IMG_20171012_193740997Not the Booker shortlisted authors at the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green, London, from left to right: Rowena Macdonald, Harriet Paige – chair, Sam Jordison – Winnie M Li & me

 

I feel as if I’ve woken up from a very strange dream. This prize contest began back in July and seems to have dominated the last two and a half months of my writing life. It’s been a completely bizarre episode but one, as I’ve said many times since the summer, I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

So what have I learned from my Not the Booker experience?

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Well…

#1 Sometimes opportunities come along that are too good to waste and you have to be brave and just throw yourself at them – even if, like me, you’re not terribly brave at all.

#2 Public voting is a mixed blessing – some people don’t mind you letting them know they can vote for your book if they wish, while some people do.

But…

#3 The vast majority of people are helpful, kind and supportive.

#4 Social media is a godsend – but you knew that already, it’s just me that needed convincing.

#5 Social media is not a godsend when you’re on it for eight hours or more, seven days in a row.

And finally…

#6 Being shortlisted, when you’ve not got a snowball’s chance in hell of going any further (I’m thinking judges’ voting here) is almost as good as winning – I am just so grateful I had a place on that shortlist.

As I was dropping off to sleep last night, I began wondering what advice I’d give anyone who finds their book nominated for the NTB next year

I’d say go for it 100%, obviously, but what else? What tips would I share?

And then I started thinking of a whole new blog post, one titled ‘So you’ve been nominated for the Not the Booker Prize 2018…’

But I think I’ll put that on hold until next year, by which time the last few months will be a happy, distant memory and I won’t remember a single tip to share.

Thank you for reading and keeping me company on this often weird and wonderful experience. And to everyone who voted for Not Thomas and cheered me on – I am so grateful. You are all magnificent!

Diolch o galon,

Sara x

P.S. I’m planning on starting what I hope will become my new novel soon, and so my next series of blog posts will have some writing tips about points to remember when beginning a fresh WiP. I need reminding – I began writing Not T back in 2001!

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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