Hay Writers at Work 2018

I’m absolutely delighted to be among 20 writers from Wales who are taking part in the Writers at Work project at the Hay Festival this year

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Writers at Work will run for the whole 11 days of the festival and has a fantastic program of workshops and talks, with speakers ranging from authors and poets to publishing industry professionals. I’m especially looking forward to hearing the advice of Roddy Doyle, Frances Hardinge and Ian McEwan.

The object of the scheme, now in its third year, is to aid the professional development of writers from Wales. It’s funded by the Arts Council Wales and led by Hay Fellow, Tiffany Murray.

Meet the 20 writers taking part.

We’ll also have the chance to read from our work at public sessions and to discuss our new writing with members of the group.

I’m hugely grateful to be included in the class of 2018. It’s a fabulous opportunity and the start of the festival – 24th May – can’t come too soon! 

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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.

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Inside a Prison Book Club

I’ve had some interesting invitations in my short time as an author – I’ve shared my children’s stories in school assembly halls, I’ve read my poetry at Women’s Institute meetings and I’ve spoken about my writing experiences at my local Workers’ Education Association. But a few months ago, a very unusual invitation appeared in my inbox which made me do a double take.

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The email was from Neil Barclay, who introduced himself as the librarian at HMP Thameside London and invited me to discuss my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, with their book club. At first I skimmed over the ‘HMP’, not registering its meaning. Then I did that double take. Yes, I had definitely seen the letters H, M & P and, of course, I knew exactly what they stood for – Her Majesty’s Prison.

The invitation had come completely out of the blue and it took me a moment to process that a prison would even have a book club. Then I saw Neil had included a link to the Prison Reading Groups’ website, a charity that provides books to prisoners, and it was obvious from that what an important role these clubs have. The PRG encourages reading for pleasure so that long hours spent alone can be put to good use – reading fiction is, after all, a walk in someone else’s shoes and a different perspective on the world.

Education Consultant Ruth Perry, who volunteers at the prison library, had come across my novel via a book blog. Yet again I had a reason to be thankful for those wonderful book bloggers who do a marvellous job of promoting new books from small publishers. Ruth read ‘Not Thomas’ and suggested to Neil that he might invite me to speak about it.

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With Ruth Perry who led the book club session

I was delighted Ruth had spotted my novel and extremely pleased to know that it was being read in prison. The novel is about Tomos, a neglected five-year-old boy, and I suspected that it might resonate with some of the men there. Neglect is the most common reason for a child to be taken into care, and many people in prison have been brought up in the care system. A sad childhood is not unusual among prisoners.

I eagerly accepted Neil’s invitation, curious to know what the readers at Thameside would make of my novel and keen to see the innovative library. Neil has won the prestigious Butler Trust Award for his work there and is greatly appreciated by the members of the library. In 2016 a journalist for The Guardian visited and reported on the positive effects of the power of books and it makes for very interesting reading.

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In front of the wall of titles of previous visitors, with the beautiful flowers I was given

Neil certainly succeeds in getting a wide range of guests to visit the library. Actors Sir Ian McKellen and David Morrissey have held recent events there, and authors Paula Hawkins of ‘Girl on the Train’ fame, and Val McDermid have also visited. Crime writer, Martina Cole, is a regular visitor, holding creative writing workshops at the library. I felt I was following in the footsteps of very illustrious people.

The whole morning – from meeting the book club members, as well as Neil, Ruth and Laura (an immigration lawyer who’d come along for the morning) to receiving the thoughtful and often moving feedback from the men in the group – was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Some of the comments the group made were very sad, especially from readers who could identify first hand with little Tomos. Some of the men said they’d cried as they read it – and I was impressed by their open approach in such a ‘manly’ environment.

After the book group session, Neil, Ruth and Laura took me on a short tour of part of the prison. A member of the library team kindly allowed me into his cell so I could see what living in that small space was like. It certainly made me realise the importance of the work Neil and his volunteers do there. Whether convicted of a crime or not, everyone needs a chance to relax and switch off from their environment. Reading in prison gives the men a way to do that, and it gives them a legitimate escape from their sometimes difficult surroundings.

My tour included a brightly decorated room furnished with soft toys where the men can record videos of themselves reading from picture books. It’s a wonderful project provided by the charity Storybook Dads, and it means that children don’t miss out on a bedtime story from their father while he’s away from them. Recording those videos is often an emotional experience for the men but a very worthwhile one. Neil explained that most prisons have now introduced the Storybook Dads scheme although sadly there are still some where it’s not available.

When I accepted Neil’s invitation I never imagined that spending a morning in prison would be an uplifting experience, but that’s exactly what it was. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

So a very big thank you to Ruth Perry and Neil Barclay for offering me such a wonderful opportunity, but most importantly a massive thank you to the men of HMP Thameside Book Club for reading ‘Not Thomas’ – I will never forget your sometimes sad but very kind words.

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Momentos of my visit

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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Waverton Good Read Award

A huge thank you to the residents of Waverton in Cheshire who have included ‘Not Thomas’ on the longlist of their debut novel award for 2018.

The Waverton Good Read Award is a really brilliant idea for a prize, where a whole village of book lovers become involved in reading and voting for their favourites. The award has been running for 15 years and was first given to Mark Haddon for his novel ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’.

This year there are some well-known titles among the 24 on the longlist, including Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, Keith Stuart’s ‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ and Graham Norton’s ‘Holding’. Rebecca F John’s wonderful novel ‘The Haunting of Henry Twist’ is included too, which means there are two of us originally from Llanelli on the list.

The shortlisting happens later this month and, of course, with such strong contenders I’d be delighted if ‘Not Thomas’ got through to the second round. But being longlisted by real readers who have no agenda other than enjoying what they read is prize enough for me.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if there were more prizes like the Waverton Good Read Award?

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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 #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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Not the Booker Final Public Vote

A huge thank you and diolch yn fawr to everyone who voted ‘Not Thomas’ onto the shortlist of the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

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The final public vote has just opened to help decide the winner. I know the original vote was fraught with problems because of the Guardian’s fiendishly difficult website, but if you’d like to vote for Not Thomas and have the energy to tackle that voting page again, this is the link.

Hopefully, having navigated the page once, second time around it won’t be quite so horrendous. 

Of course, you’re still able to vote even if you didn’t vote in the first round. Click in the box that says ‘join the discussion’ near the bottom of the voting page. 

The Guardian would like your vote to start with the word VOTE then the title and author of the book and a 50 word review. Your previous review should still be online, and if you click on your username it should take you to it.

It’s been a weird couple of months on the shortlist

and I have yet to take part in the Big Green Bookshop event, where I’ll meet some of the other authors, which I’m really looking forward to, and my scathing reviewer, Sam Jordison, which should be rather interesting. I’ll be reporting back when I get the chance!

In the meantime, thank you so much for your support of Not T and me – I appreciate it very much indeed.

Bye for now & diolch o galon,

Sara x

P.S. Here’s that voting link again

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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#WelshWordWednesday & Narberth Book Fair

For ‘Not Thomas’ readers who aren’t familiar with the Welsh language, today’s Welsh words for Wednesday come from page 81 and they’re spoken by Saint, or Dewi, as Ree prefers to calls him.

First is cariad which means ‘love’ and is a general term of endearment. Dewi says to Ree: “Nip to Spar, cariad.” Ree doesn’t like Dewi, so she’s not exactly won over by his use of cariad, but the £20 note he’s waving does get her attention.

Later on Dewi, or Saint, says to Tomos, who’s hiding behind the big black chair: “Dere ‘ma, bach.” 

Dere means ‘come’; ‘ma is short for yma, which means ‘here’; And bach means ‘small’ but in this phrase it’s a term of endearment and could be translated as ‘little one’.

So “Dere ‘ma, bach” translates as “Come here, little one.

Sounds a bit sinister maybe, but Tomos eventually realises that Saint means well – he’s the friendly face of Welsh drug dealing.

Thanks for reading!

Sara x

P.S. Don’t forget Narberth Book Fair this weekend, Saturday 23rd September at the Queen’s Hall, Narberth in beautiful Pembrokeshire. Lots of local authors, plus free entry, free talks, free children’s entertainment and free workshops (but please book for workshops in advance). All details of the day are on the Narberth Book Fair website.

Hope to see you there!

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 on Saturday from Narberth Book Fair!

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Not the Booker at the Halfway Point

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Well, here we are – mid way through the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize process.

Half of the novels on the shortlist have been reviewed by the Guardian’s Sam Jordison so far. ‘Dark Chapter’ by Winnie M Li, ‘The Ludlow Ladies’ Society’ by Ann O’Loughlin and my own, ‘Not Thomas’ have all felt the sting of Sam’s not overly-friendly reviewing skills. They’ve had their turn for comments from members of the reading public too.

As I type, Sam is uploading his review of the fourth novel, ‘The Threat Level Remains Severe’ by Rowena Macdonald, and then that too will be ready for all the comments – positive, negative or indifferent – that readers want to throw at it.

It’s been a fun and odd five weeks for my novel ‘Not Thomas’ since the Guardian’s shortlist was announced.

Although being reviewed first wasn’t the easiest of positions, it has meant that ‘Not Thomas’ has ended up being mentioned in relation to the other books too. And the more it’s mentioned, the more its title gets ‘out there’.

In his review, Sam denounced Tomos as too young to think the way I’ve portrayed him. That’s fair enough – after all, I expect everyone has their own view of what a typical five-year-old is like, and even if we don’t know any right now, we’ve all been one in the past.

Fortunately for me, a few teachers and some other people who work with children came to Tomos’s defence in the comment thread of the ‘Not Thomas’ review, pointing out that at age five children fit into a broad spectrum of abilities.

And even Sam defended ‘Not Thomas’ the other day –  in a very mild way, of course. When someone who hadn’t even read it suggested it was a ‘clunker’, Sam said it wasn’t a clunker and that “Not Tomas (sic) had some good points”. That’s about as much praise as I expect from him. (But note the misspelt title – what little he gives with one hand he takes away with the other!)

There are five more weeks to go before this year’s winner of the Not the Booker prize will be announced.

The live announcement will be made on Monday 16th October. But before that, there’ll be a week of public voting to endure, and along with some of the other finalists, I’ll be attending an event in London where there’ll be debates, readings and Q&A sessions. All good fun – nerve-wracking, nail-biting, good fun.

I’ll be over-dosing on the flower remedy again!

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Sara x

P.S. Have you read any of the books on the shortlist? Let me know what you think of the competition so far.

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher and from Amazon.

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