Surprise, Surprise…

Surprises are not my thing – my husband will vouch for that.

He normally sticks to selecting Christmas and birthday presents from a string of handy suggestions I give him, usually a long list of book titles. That way we avoid surprises and I get a stack of new books to read. Perfect.

As I say, that’s what he normally does but this year he bravely decided to go off-list.

He bought me something a little different. The present nestling under the tree from him to me was almost book-shaped, but not quite. It turned out to be –

a kindle. And yes, I was surprised.

I’ve occasionally attempted to read novels I’ve downloaded to my phone and not enjoyed them very much at all. I’ll concede, though, that reading on my phone has been fine for train journeys, when I’d rather not weigh down my bag with a novel. There’s also the added bonus of leaving space in my handbag for the new novel I inevitably buy while I’m out.

But reading electronically is nothing like that cosy, multi-sensory experience you get from actually holding a book in your hands and turning the pages. And I know I’m not the only person who adores the smell of a new book.

I think I might have mentioned these points just once or twice (if not a hundred times) to the aforementioned husband. And still, here it was, a kindle.

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It took me a while to even get it out of the box – after all, I’d been given real, actual books by my children for Christmas who’d sensibly stuck to the tried and tested formula. They both gasped when I unwrapped the interloper, unsure whether Dad had pulled off something extremely daring or had just got it oh so very wrong.

Well, it took us all a little while to find out.

After I’d devoured those brand new gorgeous novels, I turned to the kindle and got quite a surprise – of the pleasant kind. It was simple to use and extremely light, the text was large and I could read it while filing my nails or eating my breakfast (two activities that have always caused, in my opinion, wasted reading time).

I began by downloading a few titles I’d heard good things about on book blogs but hadn’t got around to buying. Some were even on 99p offer, which made me feel rather guilty – all the work that’s gone into a book is worth so, so much more than a mere 99p. But I soon remembered that my own book is sometimes on that special offer too, and I get quite excited if it creates a spike in sales.

So conscience eased slightly, I downloaded away and began sampling authors I’d never tried before. It was addictive. I found I was even reading as I stirred the pasta sauce for dinner. I was whizzing through titles. As a bonus, I could now also use my kindle to read the novels I’d had unread on my phone for so long, and at last I was enjoying those too.

I’ll admit I’m a convert.

What could have been a nasty surprise turned out to be anything but and I’ve probably read twice as many books as I would normally have since Christmas. I still love real pick-me-up-and-read-me books best of all and I can’t see that changing any time soon, but I certainly won’t be returning my kindle.

And extra brownie points to Simon for successfully going off-list!

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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 on kindle, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Recommended Reads of 2017 – Thank You Anne Williams!

A huge thank you & diolch yn fawr to book blogger Anne Williams of Being Anne for including ‘Not Thomas’ in her list of recommended reads for damppebbles #R3COMM3ND3D2017. Here’s the link for the blog post.

And in a happy coincidence, ‘Not Thomas’ is on special offer on Kindle at the moment – just 99p.

Thank you to Emma of damppebbles for featuring Anne’s choices. Emma and Anne each have a wonderful book blog – definitely worth following if you don’t already:

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Being Anne   

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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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#BookReview #DaysWithoutEnd #SebastianBarry

I love a novel with a striking and unique voice.

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I’ve just finished ‘Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry and it’s a novel with a very unusual voice. It was my read for the few days I was in Dublin and I couldn’t put it down.

The book’s narrator is Thomas McNulty, a man who fled Ireland as a teenager after his family died in the famine. He has endured the most terrible ordeals and witnessed the worst one human being can do to another. As an American soldier he is brave, loyal and a fearless fighter, and he loves unconditionally his fellow soldier, Handsome John Cole.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read any of Barry’s novels before, but he has a great back catalogue which I’ll be delving into. And I’m adding his name to my list of favourite Irish authors without delay!

‘Days Without End’ is a brilliant book and I thoroughly recommend it.

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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#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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A Trio of Book Launches

 

It’s been an exciting summer and early autumn for Honno, the Welsh women’s press.

I’ve been to three Honno book launches – four, if I count my own launch for Not Thomas back in June.

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Helen with Judith Barrow

The first was in July for Helen Lewis’s The House with Old Furniture

It’s a contemporary ghost story set in Pembrokeshire, where Helen and her family live. As well as being a very atmospheric otherworldly story, it’s also a very perceptive novel about grief and what it can do to families, especially children. It’s Helen’s debut novel and I thoroughly recommend it.

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Judith with Christoph Fischer of Llandeilo – and me too

The second book launch, the following month, was for Judith Barrow’s fourth in her family saga series. It’s called A Hundred Tiny Threads .

The novel tells the background to some of the characters in Judith’s other books, so is an ideal introduction to the series, as well as a revelationary read for those who have read the first three. I’m reading A Hundred Tiny Threads at the moment, and I’m thoroughly enjoying losing myself in Judith’s wonderful storytelling. I just know I’ll have to re-read Pattern of Shadows when I’ve finished to remind myself what happened next; and then Changing Patterns and Living in the Shadows

So many books, so little time!

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Carol and me

And the final launch in this Honno trio was one I attended just last week. It was for Carol Lovekin’s second novel, Snow Sisters.

It was held in Lampeter, at the Old Hall of the university. Carol read a spellbinding chapter from her new novel, which has all the hallmarks of being as brillaint as her debut, Ghostbird. I’m really looking forward to reading the magically beautiful Snow Sisters –  preferably in front of a log fire on a snowy evening, although I very much doubt I’ll be able to hold out until the weather turns that cold!

So that’s my Honno book launch round-up.

To all authors everywhere about to launch a new book, may your launch be full of friends, family and smiling faces (and maybe some cupcakes – I’m thinking of you, Dyane Harwood!).

Most of all, relax and enjoy!

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 all good bookshops.

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Not the Booker SHOCK Announcement

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Wow! What a week for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

Everything was going along swimmingly – albeit with some pretty choppy waves for a couple of us on the shortlist – and then crash! Out of the blue, Ann O’Loughlin, author of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, gave Sam Jordison quite a shock.

Ann has withdrawn her novel from the shortlist.

In a statement published by the Guardian, she said:

“I feel a great sense of relief to be moving away from a competition that caused so much stress in my life and that of my family.”

Read her full statement here

Ann already has a very large, faithful following of readers, and as she points out in her statement to the Guardian, her novels have been translated into eight languages and are published in the US. As she says, she didn’t ask to be nominated, and she was worried from the start about what she refers to as the “unjustifiable criticism” that appeared in the comments section from people who hadn’t even read the book.

And she’s quite right.

There are a few people on the Guardian page who clearly don’t read the nominated books but still enjoy leaving a barbed comment or two. All that is par for the course, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’d followed this prize for a few years and knew exactly what to expect. Had I been going into this without a clue what it could be like, then I might feel, like Ann, that it wasn’t worth the stress.

And yes, it is stressful at times – and I imagine it will be even more so, now that mine is the only novel left on the shortlist that Sam has been particularly scathing of. 

But for me it’s worth that bit of stress. 

Unlike Ann, who’s been writing novels for a number of years and has a few under her belt, Not Thomas is my first novel for adults. I don’t have a ready-made fan base – although I’m incredibly grateful to my wonderful readers who have championed Not Thomas and brought it to the attention of others, and who nominated it for the Not the Booker prize and voted it onto the shortlist.

I always said that being part of this prize was like building a platform for Tomos – giving him a headstart in a world jam-packed with new books.

Not Thomas is a debut novel, published by a tiny publisher, and Not the Booker has brought it to a wider audience than would otherwise have been possible so soon after its publication. 

I’m really sorry Ann has decided to leave the competition, but I know her novel will do very well, with or without the publicity of Not the Booker.

The other week I went into Easons, the huge bookstore on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Ann’s novel The Ludlow Ladies’ Society was very prominently positioned on a table near the main door. It had a similar position in many of the other Dublin bookstores I visited too. I have no doubt it’s going to fly off the shelves in Ireland and beyond.

So, au revoir and all the very best to Ann.

While the five of us left on the shortlist will be squirming for a while yet – and me in particular – I know The Ludlow Ladies’ Society will be doing just fine. 

Thanks for reading – please let me know your thoughts!

Sara x

P.S. Don’t forget the Narberth Book Fair in Pembrokeshire tomorrow, 23rd September. At 11am I’ll be chatting to Jan Baynham about writing ‘Not Thomas’ and my experience of being on the Not the Booker prize shortlist. It’s free so come along! 

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 all good bookshops.

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#MusicTherapyThursday & Narberth Book Fair

To celebrate Narberth Book Fair this Saturday, 23rd September, today’s Music Therapy Thursday song has a Pembrokeshire theme – it’s by Cerys Matthews, who’s originally from that beautiful part of Wales.

‘Orenau i Florida’

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 all good bookshops – and this Saturday is available from Narberth Book Fair too.

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Publication Day for Carol Lovekin’s Snow Sisters

Today is publication day for Carol Lovekin’s second novel, Snow Sisters.

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I loved Carol’s first novel, Ghostbird, and so I’m really looking forward to reading her new offering. It’s received a fabulous review on Being Anne today – read it here. And follow Carol Lovekin’s own blog, Making it Up as I Go Along, to read about her unique take on writing.

Alongside a whole host of other local authors, Carol will be at Narberth Book Fair on Saturday, 23rd September, and she’ll have copies of Snow Sisters for sale, as well as her first novel, Ghostbird.

It’s going to be a great day – hope to see you there! 

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 all good bookshops – and this Saturday, from Narberth Book Fair too.cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg