Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sunday War Poet ~ Author's Choice ~ Elisabeth Gifford

Continuing my Sunday theme on the poets of the Great War

I am delighted to welcome


Sharing her choice of WW1 poem

Adlestrop ~ Edward Thomas 

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

This poem does not mention the war, but rather sums up all that is precious to those who went to fight. Edward Thomas loved the English countryside and this moment is taken from a rare stop during a train journey to stay in a cottage with his family for the summer, a fleeting glimpse of something beautiful and passing. Soon the great steam engine will grind into motion and propel them away into a future they cannot prevent. It’s a moment that is even the more precious as it is now being seen as a distant memory. The day is now gone, the place only a name, and yet it remains as something precious and enduring in the poet’s mind. It feels as though this might be part of a conversation held by soldiers waiting in their bell tents somewhere in France and reminiscing about England.

Thomas joined up late in the war and, as his wife feared, he did not survive. In this poem, he seems to both understand what will be lost to him if he dies, and also why he was willing to fight and to defend a way of life he held so dear.

One of the impulses in writing my recent novel, Return to Fourwinds, was to show the continuing damage that many returning soldiers endured as they began their lives after the Great War. Using family anecdotes, I attempted to recreate the life of a Manchester soldier who has been gassed in World War One and so is unfit for physical work, the result being that his family struggle to make ends meet. You can read the extract here.

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UK and US edition



My thanks to Elisabeth for sharing her thoughts about Adlestrop and for her insightful explanation into why Adlestrop is important to her.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review ~ The Lie by Helen Dunmore


A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.

For Daniel Branwell, newly returned to his native Cornwall, from the battlefield trenches of northern France, life is never going to be the same again. Tortured by the loss of  Frederick, his childhood friend, Daniel seeks to find some sort of resolution, and in the windswept corner of his Cornish home village, Daniel anguished and bereft, can only flounder from one set of tormented memories to another.

Beautifully written and in stark and often desolate prose, Daniel’s story intertwines with that of Felicia, Frederick’s gently grieving sister, whose own devastating loss overshadows any hope she has for the future. The story develops slowly, oh, so slowly, so that you truly get the chance to delve into Daniel’s psyche and learn to see the world through his eyes, and far too often, it’s a world that is found to be wanting.

In this commemoration year of the start of the Great War I have read quite a few books which uncover the thoughts and feelings of a lost generation of young men and women. Of lives, irrevocably changed by the momentous events of what they witnessed during the years 1914-1918. Without doubt, The Lie is up there with the best of the current crop of WW1 commemoration reads.


Friday, 21 November 2014

Review ~ The Twilight Hour by Nicci Gerrard

Penguin UK
Be with me now, at the twilight hour....

Eleanor Lee lives alone her house by the sea, but aged ninety-four and almost blind, Eleanor is a source worry for her family who try to persuade her to move into care. A whole lifetimes of possessions need to be tidied away but Eleanor needs to do this without her family being involved. When Peter Mistley, a young friend of her grandson Jonah, is enlisted to help catalogue Eleanor’s personal effects, a whole range of secrets are exposed.

What then follows is a well written account of a life encumbered by memories and as Peter starts to delve into Eleanor’s life there develops a rich closeness between them and a gradual drawing together of both the old and the young which is especially poignant. I found the book easy to read and very quickly became involved in the detritus of Eleanor’s life. I think the author really got into the minutiae of daily life and emphasised that we all have secrets and that all too often the discovery of these hidden away memories can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed.

All in all, a good light read with interesting characters and well thought out storyline.

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK and Real Readers for my copy of this book.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Book Launch and Giveaway ~ The Blood Dimmed Tide by Anthony Quinn

Anthony Quinn is an Irish writer and journalist whose first novel Disappeared was acclaimed by the Daily Mail as 'unquestionably one of the crime novels of the year, written in peerless prose.’ It was shortlisted for a Strand Literary Award by the book critics of the GuardianLA TimesWashington PostSan Francisco Chronicle and other US newspapers. It was also listed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten thrillers of 2012. His short stories have twice been shortlisted for a Hennessy/New Irish Writing award.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide is the first in a series of three historical novels set in Ireland during WWI and the War of Independence.  He lives in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.


Book Launch

 20th November 2014

No Alibis Bookstore Belfast at 7pm

Free entry – No tickets needed

More information here 

No Exit Press
Oldcastle Books


London at the dawn of 1918 and Ireland’s most famous literary figure, WB Yeats, is immersed in supernatural investigations at his Bloomsbury rooms.
Haunted by the restless spirit of an Irish girl whose body is mysteriously washed ashore in a coffin, Yeats undertakes a perilous journey back to Ireland with his apprentice ghost-catcher Charles Adams to piece together the killer’s identity.
Surrounded by spies, occultists and Irish rebels, the two are led on a gripping journey along Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast, through the ruins of its abandoned estates, and into its darkest, most haunted corners.
Falling under the spell of dark forces, Yeats and his ghost-catcher come dangerously close to crossing the invisible line that divides the living from the dead.

Anthony will be back on the blog on the 29th November answering questions about his book but in the meantime here's your chance to win your own copy


The Blood Dimmed Tide.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Review ~ The Widow Makers by Jean Mead


Nineteenth century Wales is brought to vivid life in this family saga which takes the reader from the coal mines of Lancashire, to the slate quarries of North Wales. Following a devastating tragedy Joe Standish, his wife, Emily and their small son, Tommy, leave behind friends and family in Lancashire to start a new, and hopefully, better life in Wales.

Following the fortunes of this family makes for an enjoyable read, one which is made all the more interesting by the author’s fine eye for detail and interesting use of dialect, particularly in the Lancashire sections. All too often vernacular can be overdone, but as a Lancastrian, I found the colloquialisms realistic and appropriate. It was interesting to see the progression this family made during their time in Wales and the direct contrast between the working classes and the upper class quarry owners is done well and demonstrates the difference in social status.

There is no doubt that the author has a keen eye for social observation and combines this with an obvious love of history and a well thought out storyline. The Widow Makers is a good start to a trilogy which I am sure will only go from strength to strength as the story progresses.

The Trilogy

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  More about the author can be found here


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Review ~ The Thursday Night Club by Steven Manchester

The Story Plant
18 November 2014

A Tale of Christmas Spirit

The Thursday Night Club are a group of five college friends who meet every Thursday on Izzy and Ava’s front porch to share in good food and the joy of close and happy friendship. They are comfortable and familiar in each other’s company and the light hearted banter shared between them reiterates just how important they are to each other. When tragedy strikes the group, they decide to honour the spirit of their friendship and show just how simple acts of kindness can have a profound effect, not just on their own behaviour, but it also demonstrates just how the gift of hope can be transferred to others.

I have now read several stories written by this author and thoroughly enjoy the way he is able to get right into the minutiae of daily life and is able, in just a few words, to tug away at your heart strings. I found much to enjoy within the story, the homely atmosphere of being seated at the old wooden table on the front porch conjures such a lovely an image of warmth that I felt like I wanted to curl up near the steamer trunk, cover myself with one of grandmother’s colourful crocheted Afghans, and settle into my own Thursday Night Club.

The overall theme of friendship, love, life and helping others is written in perfect detail and whilst the novella is, in many ways, a quick read, it is not light on content and as the story draws you in, you begin to understand the need we all have for simple human kindness and shows how compassion for others is something to be cherished.


Steven Manchester

Coming in January 2015

My thanks to the author for my review copy of The Thursday Night Club


Monday, 17 November 2014

Happy Publication Day ~ Hush Hush by Gabrielle Mullarkey

I am delighted to introduce

Gabrielle Mullarkey

Author of

17th November 2014
Corazon Books

Hush Hush by Gabrielle Mullarkey

Widowed a year ago, thirtysomething Angela has retreated into her shell, reluctant to dip a toe back in the job market – let alone the dating game. Between them, her bossy mum and her best friend gently nudge Angela back to life, persuading her to find a job and even try a solo holiday – which ends with a luggage mix-up and an encounter with a rugged Irishman called Conor.

Back home, Angela resolves to take her new romance slowly, particularly as Conor’s (non-holiday) baggage includes the original ‘child from hell’ and a temperamental ex-wife with Pre-Raphaelite hair. Since Angela’s never liked winging it, is a future with Conor too uncertain to contemplate?

But as she’s about to discover, her old life was far less secure than she thought. And the past won’t let go until she confronts its long-buried secret.

Gabrielle ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo.....

What makes you want to write stories?

There’s an impulse that comes from deep within, and I’ve often heard other people say the same about their own great passion, whether it’s baking, walking, gardening, raising a child … we’re engaging all the time in these fulfilling creative acts. I’ve understood that impulse a little better while studying for my MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes. The course showed how creative writing can release one’s inner voice, whether it’s refugees telling stories that no one has wanted to listen to before, or people who pick up a pen for the first time since leaving school and discover they can write a poem or a story! 

Do you write for yourself or other people?

A bit of both. That urge to spill characters, their voices and dilemmas onto paper is partially cathartic. Equally, a story is something the teller wants to share, as opposed to confiding innermost thoughts to a journal. That means I take the reader into consideration, which in turn affects how I shape the writing. You want to be entertaining, clear, and you want the reader to turn to the next page!

Where did the idea for Hush Hush come from?

In the book, thirtysomething widow Angela meets Conor on a holiday flight from Morocco, buttonholing him about a contact lens she might have lost in his in-flight meal. It was loosely inspired by my own encounter an Irishman with a hint of russet, three years earlier. I met my swain in a crowded pub in Co Kildare one hot August night when he approached me with the classic line, ‘is this your jumper? I found it on the seat next to me.’ Twenty-two years later, ‘our song’ isn’t People Will Say We’re In Love or Because You’re Mine. It’s the Sultan of Pings FC classic, Where’s Me Jumper? He also went about for a decade harbouring the misconception that I’d deliberately chucked my jumper onto an adjoining seat, a variation on the coyly dropped hanky. Which got me wondering – how much do we know about each other, and how readily do we find evidence to endorse our own preconceptions and first impressions?

According to John Lennon, life happens when you’re busy making other plans – or in Angela’s case, when you’re deciding not to make too many at all. But who knows what impact a forgotten jumper or missing contact lens can have on someone’s destiny?

What was the most difficult aspect of writing the story? How did you overcome it?

I underestimated the cathartic elements of the story, which became more obvious as I was writing it. My own background, growing up in suburban Kent in an Irish family, seeped unwittingly into my writing, if only through comedic asides – such as the time I printed hundreds of clock cards upside down in a factory job I did after my A-levels! I realised I was using humour to deal with memories that were actually quite raw, but that was no bad thing – it allowed me to distance myself from painful episodes, while also ensuring I wrote for the reader. On a practical note, I was living beside noisy neighbours as I drafted the book, and evolved a routine where I had to make the most of hours they were out. It was beyond frustrating at the time, but probably helped me just get on with it! 

Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors influence you?

I think I have to write the sort of book I’d read myself or I’d quickly get bored and risk my voice coming across as inauthentic. I devour a couple of novels a week, time permitting, and my tastes are quite catholic, although as soon as I discover someone who makes me think, ‘wow!’, I try to read everything in their canon. At the moment, I’m very taken with Laurie Graham for her characters’ dry prose, F G Cottam’s supernatural mysteries – which treat the reader as an intelligent, deductive being – and Douglas Kennedy for his evocative dialogue. This week, I’ve read Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light, in which an ageing Irish actress looks back on her love affair with the playwright Synge. The language is wonderful, almost Joycean. 

What's next?

My second novel, A Tale of Two Sisters, is due out in spring, and recounts the fallout from an ongoing feud between two siblings with nothing in common – except an overlapping taste in men! I’ve also nearly finished a novel about a man whose life is thrown into turmoil when he finds a letter that his birth mother wrote to his adoptive mother years earlier, telling the story of why she ‘abandoned’ him. I love inhabiting different characters – and I hope that love comes across in my writing! 


Praise for Hush Hush:

"A gentle, funny romance." Sarah Caden, Sunday Independent

"A witty and irreverent insight into the nitty gritty of life." Helen Murray, The Irish News

Praise for Gabrielle Mullarkey:

"Readers love Gabrielle’s fiction for its range – whether atmospheric mood pieces or contemporary slices of life, all revolve around imaginatively twisty plots packed with sassy dialogue, characters you feel you know and ‘I didn’t see that coming!’ moments." best 

Gabrielle - thank you so much for spending time with us . It's been a pleasure to host this interview. Jaffa and I wish you much success with Hush, Hush and look forward to seeing what you do next.


My thoughts about Hush Hush

There is much to enjoy in this gentle, romantic story, which looks at the unpredictability of love and life, and focuses on the overshadowing effect of long buried secrets. 

Told with wit and humour and fine attention to detail, Hush, Hush, takes a very ordinary character and imbues in Angela all those characteristics we find in ourselves. Recently widowed, and long out of, both the dating game, and the adult job market, Angela is reluctant to open up her life to the scrutiny of others but bossed around by her mother and her best friend, Angela is encouraged to take charge of her life again. However, from the offset this is not going to be easy, as Angela has lots of obstacles to overcome and panic is never far from the surface. Over the space of the novel, I enjoyed getting to know Angela, sometimes she irritated me, but overall, I  wished her well.

I read the story over the space of a couple of afternoons. It’s a light read, easy to pick up and put down and filled with nice observations about life in general. I enjoyed it.

 My thanks to  Ian Skillicorn at Corazon Books for my e-copy of this book.