Wednesday 31 May 2017

Review ~ Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee

Hideaway Fall
July 2017

What's it all about ..

'Family curses don't exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don't think so.'

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

What did I think about it...

When Ian Perkins moves back into Cobweb Cottage which was once his family home, it opens up festering scars which have been hidden for years. Ian is a deeply troubled young man, obsessed by the idea that a family curse is destroying his peace of mind, and he is determined to delve into his complicated family history in order to discover more about the blight which seems to affect his family.

The author writes well and has infused into the narrative a real sense of sadness which seems to last throughout the whole of the story. I’m struggling to say more as I’m conscious of not giving the plot away which would ruin everything. But the story opens up the debate about the deeply troubling effect of mental health issues within a family, of the difficulties within a marriage which sometimes go far beyond the ordinary, and when the possibilities of saving someone seems an, almost, impossible task.

There's a real element of disquiet about the story, which looks at the disintegration of a family, about the cruelty of living with profound grief, and of how sorrow can manifest itself in unusual behaviour. I had great sympathy for the Perkins' family who seem to be struggling with issues far beyond their control.

All I can say is the dรฉnouement when it comes is profoundly sad, and left me considering the outcome of the story for quite a while afterwards.

Best Read With...a mug of strong, dark coffee...

More about the author can be found on his website

Follow on Twitter @MJonathanLee #BrokenBranches @HideawayFall

My thanks to Sarah at Hideway Fall for my review copy of Broken Branches and also for  the opportunity to be involved in the launch of a new and exciting publishing house.


Tuesday 30 May 2017

Review ~ Little Bones by Sam Blake

February 2017

What's it all about it...

Twenty-four-year-old Garda Cathy Connolly might be a fearless kick-boxing champion but when she discovers a baby's bones concealed in the hem of a wedding dress, the case becomes personal.

For artist Zoe Grant, the bones are another mysterious twist in her mother's disappearance. Then her grandmother, head of the Grant Valentine department store empire is found dead, and a trail of secrets is uncovered that threatens to shake a dynasty.

In a story that moves from London's East End to the Las Vegas mafia, one thing is certain - for Cat, life will never be the same again.

What did I think about it...

This is the start of a new psychological crime series which introduces us to the world of Garda Cathy Connolly and, in this first novel, to the discovery of a set of baby's bones which opens up a complicated police investigation, not just into the reason why the bones had been hidden in the hemof a wedding dress, but also of the repercussions which affect those who are drawn into the investigation.

From the start I really liked Cathy Connolly, she's tough and feisty and yet, the predicament in which she finds herself in adds a very human edge to her involvement in the story. There is much to take in as the police investigation is complex and flits between people and places. However, the overall effect is that of a tightly knitted psychological drama with lots of twists and turns and, by the conclusion, all the pieces of the puzzle come together in a really exciting way.

As with any new series there is an element of getting to know the major characters and I am sure that as the series progresses we will come to know more about their individual personalities and discover their quirky traits.

Best Read With...Salty chips and a can of diet coke...

About the Author

Sam  Blake
Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin,the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the hugely popular national writing resource website She is Ireland's leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. 

Find out more about the author on her website by clicking here 

Follow on Twitter @samblakebooks  #LittleBones

Thanks to Emma at Twenty7 (Bonnier Zaffre) for my copy of this book


Monday 29 May 2017

Today my guest author is... Wendy Unsworth

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo 

The Berriwood Series by Wendy Unsworth follows the lives of ordinary people in a pretty little backwater of the Cornish countryside. This is a place of tranquility, where everyone knows everyone and nothing much ever seems to happen. But behind closed doors the quiet idyll of rural life can harbour a darker side, one that involves deceit and lies and sometimes murder.

Dirty Work is the third title in the series; here is a little bit about it:-

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
June 2017

Appearances can be deceptive.

Take the Duke twins. Pete lost his IT job almost two years ago; he is best known in his native village of Berriwood for his tendency to be found propped up against a bar somewhere… or under it. It has been a tough time for Caroline, Pete’s wife, but at last, it seems, he is turning his life around. 

Nathan is the success story of the family, the darling of the local amateur dramatic society who gave it all up for his high flying directorship based in London. But his wife, Marcie hates the lonely days while he works away and forgetting her birthday is the last straw.

When Nathan invites Caroline and Pete to a surprise birthday dinner for Marcie, to make amends, Caroline has her reservations. She knows if anyone is going to spoil the family party it would be Pete; he has done it plenty of times before. What she doesn’t anticipate is that her husband won't even be there and that one of the four will very soon be dead.

Dirty Work will be available for pre-order on Amazon from 15th May 2017 and published on June 16th 2017

All three books in the Berriwood series now have brand new covers

 to celebrate this latest release

About the author

Wendy Unsworth is the author of mystery and psychological suspense books. She has also written a series of chapter books for young children and has enjoyed the challenges of these very different genres.

Wendy has lived in Ndola Zambia, Nairobi Kenya, in a 17th century Cornish cottage, Lincolnshire and Lancashire in England and now divides her time between Scotland and the wilds of Portugal. In between packing and unpacking her passions are writing, reading, travel, her cat Cleopatra and, of course, her family. 

Wendy can be found at her website where she loves to welcome visitors. 

Twitter @WendyUnsworth

Huge thanks to Wendy for spending time with us today and for telling us all about the latest book in her Berriwood series.


Sunday 28 May 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

When I first started this WW1 commemoration back in 2014 I mainly featured poetry.

This month I will share my favourite poems

(IN MEMORY: T. P. C. W.)


Marjorie Wilson (1918)

Gemmed with white daisies was the great green world
Your restless feet have pressed this long day through –
Come now and let me whisper to your dreams
A little song grown from my love for you.

There was a man once loved green fields like you,
He drew his knowledge from the wild bird's songs;
And he had praise for every beauteous thing.
And he had pity for all piteous wrongs …

A lover of earth's forest – of her hills,
And brother to her sunlight – to her rain –
Man with a boy's fresh wonder. He was great
With greatness all too simple to explain.

He was a dreamer, and a poet, and brave
To face and hold what he alone found true.
He was a comrade of the old – a friend
To every little laughing child like you.

And when across the peaceful English land
Unhurt by war, the light is growing dim
And you remember by your shadowed bed
All those – the brave – you must remember him;

And know it was for you who bear his name
And such as you that all his joy he gave,
His love of quiet fields, his youth, his life,
To win that heritage of peace you have.'

Marjorie Wilson was the sister of the war poet Captain T P C Wilson. Her war work
included service in the War Relief Office and also in Voluntary Aid Detachment Nursing.

Saturday 27 May 2017

Close to Home ~ Kirsty Ferry

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern writer

Hi Kirsty and welcome back to Jaffareadstoo. 

Thank you for spending time with us today and for telling us how living in the North East influenced your first novel.

I’ve lived all my life in the north east of England, and much as I love other areas of the country, I do adore where I live and wouldn’t want to move. We are only about twenty minutes from the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne and twenty minutes in another direction gets us to Newcastle airport, or Hexham, or Durham, or Tynemouth on the coast. In fact, we were in Amsterdam once, getting rather drunk on a Wine-and-Cheese-Cruise canal boat, and we got chatting to some Americans. Even they said they were envious of where we lived. ‘Hey,’ said the guy, ‘you can really city-hop from that airport. You can even country-hop! So cool!’ We agreed, and had more wine. That was the night we ended up hitching a lift back to the hotel from a French Tour Bus as we had no idea where we were when the boat pulled up at the end of the tour. But I digress.

The north east of England is also a fascinating and very inspiring area to write about. Lots of people think it’s all flat caps and whippets (a Cockney once asked my husband if he worked in a coal mine and was genuinely surprised I had a car and a job at a University), and that it’s all like a Catherine Cookson novel up here. Well, we do have a proud heritage, but some of that, especially a little further north from us, is down to the Romans.

Memory of Snow Amazon UK

My first novel, The Memory of Snow, was self-published in 2012, and based on Hadrian’s Wall – more specifically, at the site of Brocolitia Roman Fort, the Mithraic Temple and Coventina’s Well. There is nothing left of the Well now except a big boggy puddle; but during the Roman times, it was a sacred well and people worshipped the goddess Coventina there - a deity very specific to that area. There was an excavation in the nineteenth century that revealed a whole load of altars and offerings in the depths of the Well, yet nobody knew why they had seemingly been dumped there. One theory was that a Christian Commander took over the fort, and the Pagan altars were destroyed. Another theory is that there was a raid on the fort, and the valuables were thrown in to be saved and collected at a later date.

Mithraic Temple

Also at the site was a Shrine to the Water Nymphs, of which nothing remains – and a stream that runs down from the Well called Meggie’s Dene Burn, which allegedly swept the ashes of a seventeenth century witch down to the Tyne and out to sea.

Well – I defy anyone with an ounce of imagination to not put all that together and come up with a story; which is exactly what I did. The Memory of Snow is a timeslip, and has three timelines; one in the Roman times (which might explain what happened to Coventina’s Well), one in the seventeenth century, and one in the modern day. I wove fact and fiction together and did lots and lots of research – to the point where people have asked me how much of the story is real. All I can tell them, is that it’s based on fact, but a lot of it came from my head. Yes, for example, my witch is called Meggie; but she’s not an old hag. She’s a very beautiful young girl who just wants to heal people with her herbs. She makes one mistake, upsets the wrong people, and well – you’ll have to read the book if you want to find out more. I recently did a project with Groundworks North East at Newbrough Village, and worked with a youth group who were researching “Old Meggie” as she is known there. I was taken to what remains of the real Meggie’s house, and had a wonderful time learning all about her. The children seemed quite intrigued by the witch trials I talked about as well!

Meggie's House

The Memory of Snow just does its own thing, to be honest. It’s a magical little book and just keeps having little resurgences. It’s also stocked in the gift shops at Vindolanda Museum and The Roman Army Museum, up on the Roman Wall and it’s lovely to know that visitors from all over the world might be buying that book and reading about such a wonderful place. The book itself is so very niche, I don’t know if it would have ever been accepted by a commercial publisher – although everyone I approached loved it and were very apologetic in their rejections! It was just too special, I think.

Covetina's Well

The actual area of Coventina’s Well is strange; but I mean strange in a good way. It’s very peaceful and very spiritual, and you can completely visualise it all as it was, if you stand next to the residual puddle for a little while. I often say that if I had a camper van I’d drive it up there and sit in it and write – maybe have a cuppa, maybe have some biscuits. But I’d certainly get some work done – I can’t think of anywhere more perfect to spark my imagination.

©All photographs by kind permission

You can find out more about Kirsty's books by following this link to Choc Lit

Follow on Twitter @kirsty_ferry

Warmest thanks to Kirsty for spending time with us today and for sharing with us her love for the North East

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature

Coming next week : Jan Ruth


Friday 26 May 2017

Review ~ Warriors and Kings by Martin Wall

Amberley Publishing

What's it all about..

For centuries, the Celtic peoples of Britain stood fast against invasion, oppression and war. Theirs is a fascinating and exciting story which birthed some of the most tenacious and heroic leaders in history: from Caractacus and Boudicca, to William Wallace, Owain Glyndwr and the legendary King Arthur. What was it that gave first the Britons, and then the Welsh, this fanatical will to hold out against overwhelming odds, over so many centuries? Martin Wall explores the mythology and psychology of this unyielding and insular people: their devotion to charismatic leaders they believed to be sent from God, and their stubborn determination "ne’er to yield" to oppression and injustice, whether Roman, Saxon, Norman or Viking, or the ravages of soulless industrialism.

My thoughts about it..

I don't claim to speak with any authority on the Celts. As an avid reader of historical fiction, I merely have a non-academic interest in finding out more about the people who shaped the early world. So for me, to have an easy to read introduction to the Warriors and Kings of Celtic Britain is both fascinating and informative.

I tend to read non-fiction history books in non-sequential order, much preferring to read snippets from chapters here and there which seems to appeal more to my sense of purpose. In Warriors and Kings, the author has given a thoughtful introduction into the Celtic world and over the course of the next sixteen chapter spans almost fifteen hundred years. A might ambitious, maybe, but no less interesting.

The book covers a huge area of history starting with the 'war mad' Celts of the pre-Roman era and extending to the Arthurian legend surrounding the once and future King and the search for the elusive Holy Grail, all is done with a fine eye for historical detail and a distinct enthusiasm for the subject matter. The author writes with authority and gives the reader enough information without getting too bogged down in interminable facts and figures which can so often spoil the enjoyment of reading a non-fiction history book. There is also an extensive bibliography and a useful index which is particularly valuable if , like me,  you want to reference something quickly.

On a personal level, and because I have just read an enjoyable fictional book set in Wales during the time of Owain Glyndwr, I was especially interested to read about the Welsh bard Iolo Morganwg in the chapter entitled, The Son of Prophecy.

I found much to enjoy and lots to learn in this book. I am sure that I shall use it as an aide memoir when I need some clarification on a period of history I enjoy learning more about.

Jaffa was especially thrilled to find reference to this poem written in the 9th century by an Irish Monk to his cat Pangur Ban...

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Martin Wall inherited his passionate interest in local history and folklore from his father and has been writing about these subjects for ten years. He lectures historical groups on a variety of subjects and acts as a gallery interpreter in his spare time.

My thanks to Philip at Amberley Publishing for introducing me to this author and also for kindly supplying the review copy of Warriors and Kings


Thursday 25 May 2017

Candlestick Press launches ~ Ten Poems about Grandparents

Published May 2017, priced £4.95
ISBN 978 1 907598 47 0

Selected and Introduced by Liz Soar with Pupils of Headington School, Oxford

“Poems that capture the joy of being – or having – a grandparent”

This latest title from Candlestick Press is something of a departure: all the selections have been chosen by pupils at Headington School in Oxford and the anthology includes two beautiful poems written by the students themselves and one by their English teacher, Liz Soar.

The pupils were diligent editors and their choices reflect the multicultural world in which they are growing up. There’s a poem in three languages about a joyful reunion with a grandparent arriving from overseas and another in which a Muslim grandmother raises eyebrows in a posh department store by washing her feet in the sink in the ladies’ room.

But the abiding spirit of the selection is the sense of safety and comfort we feel in the company of a beloved grandparent. Joan Johnston’s tiny poem ‘Safe’ captures the feelings of a child tucked up in bed. Or as Andrew Waterhouse says so touchingly, it’s simply about:

“feeling his heat, knowing
the slow pulse of his good heart.”

from ‘Climbing my Grandfather’ by Andrew Waterhouse

Poems by Tiffany Atkinson, John Burnside, Katie Cleverley, Vicki Feaver, Joan Johnston, Katerina de Jong/Anastasia Matveeva/Minnah Rashid, Mohja Kahf, Derek Mahon, Liz Soar and Andrew Waterhouse.

Illustration by Kathy Morgan

To continue the Candlestick tradition of supporting a range of charities through pamphlet sales, a donation will be made to Friends of the Elderly.      

Candlestick Press is a small, independent press publishing sumptuously produced poetry pamphlets that serve as a wonderful alternative to a greetings card, with matching envelopes and bookmarks left blank for your message. Their subjects include Cricket, London, Lesbian and Gay, Revenge, Babies and Fathers. Candlestick Press pamphlets are stocked by chain and independent bookshops, galleries and garden centres nationwide and available to order online.

Follow on Twitter @poetrycandle


Wednesday 24 May 2017

Blog Tour ~ Making Space by Sarah Tierney

 Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting a stop on the Making Space Blog Tour

What's it all about...

Miriam is twenty-nine: temping, living with a flatmate who is no longer a friend, and still trying to find her place in life. She falls in love with Erik after he employs her to clear out his paper-packed home. They are worlds apart: he is forty-five, a successful photographer and artist and an obsessive hoarder still haunted by the end of his marriage. Miriam has an unsuccessful love life and has just got rid of most of her belongings. Somehow, they must find a way to reach each other.

What did I think about it...

Miriam seems to be a lost soul, struggling to live her life to her full potential. She lives with a flat mate she doesn't like very much and who seems to treat Miriam with complete disregard. Miriam's unsatisfactory work life leaves her feeling even more bereft, that is, until she comes into contact with Erik, a man who is as lost as she is, and who is struggling with his own problems which, at times, seem insurmountable.

This was a really astute look into the way we behave as human beings. How circumstances can affect the way we act, and of the coping mechanisms we choose to protect us from further hurt and pain. There is an acute realism to the narrative which is both bittersweet and tender and which gives such a sensitive look at life and love and which reiterates that we can only control our lives to a certain point, after which fate takes over.

I loved both Miriam and Erik from the start and felt both their isolation and their uniqueness, which comes across in the shrewd attention to detail and in the gentle way the author allows their combined stories to unfold.

I particularly enjoyed the Manchester ❤ references, a proud city I know and love, and of course, Morecambe fish and chips, who can resist that!

Making Space is undoubtedly a very confident and beautifully written first novel by a talented writer who I look forward to reading more from in the future.

Best Read with...Morecambe Bay fish and chips, straight out of the wrapper and tangy with salt and vinegar..

Sarah Tierney is a graduate of the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester University, and her short story, ‘Five Miles Out’, was made into a short film by the acclaimed director Andrew Haigh. Sarah has worked as a journalist, editor and copywriter. She lives in Derbyshire with her husband and daughter.

Follow on Twitter @sarahjtierney #MakingSpace

Published by @SandstonePress April 2017

My thanks to Keara at Sandstone Press for the invitation to be part of the blog tour

 and for my review copy of Making Space

Available on Kindle  promotion  at £1.00 until this weekend.


Tuesday 23 May 2017

Blog Tour ~ Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the blog tour for Leopard at the Door

July 2017

What's it all about...

After six years exiled in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, only to find the home she has longed for in the grip of change. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household, and the political climate in the country is growing more unsettled by the day. Looming over them all is the threat of Mau Mau—a secret society intent on uniting the Africans and overthrowing the whites.

As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home, she initiates a secret relationship, one that will demand from her an act of betrayal. Only one man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.

What did I think about it...

When Rachel Fullsmith returns to her childhood home after an absence of six years, it brings back memories which she had thought hidden. The sights, sounds and smells of her home in Kenya are just as vivid as she remembered, and yet, all is not as it once was; now there is violence and unrest in the area and, with the introduction of a new partner in her father's life, even Rachel's childhood home appears changed and unsettled. Memories linger in the shadows and Rachel is acutely aware that finding what she thought lost perhaps means losing things forever.

This is a really powerful story about the 1950s Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, a period in history which I knew practically nothing about. So it was with interest that I started to read Leopard at the Door. With unsettling precision, the story shows just how families were ripped apart, and of how a way of life, so long in the making, was changed forever. The author writes so evocatively of the people and the places that I felt at one with the story. Africa, with all its innate splendour, comes gloriously to life, particularly in the author’s description of the stunning landscape, with its shimmering heat and vibrant colours. Rachel’s own personal story is linked irretrievably with that of her homeland. The childhood secrets she buried so deep within herself now threaten her safety and the repercussions have a devastating effect, not just on Rachel but also on those people she holds dear.

The author writes well and although the story is at times unsettling there is intensity to the narrative which I found made it all the more compelling to read. Leopard at the Door is about the fragmentation of tradition and values. It’s about the turmoil of coming-of-age in a world made angry by fear and oppression, and, for Rachel, it’s about those secrets which have been buried for far too long and which once exposed can never be hidden again.

Best Read With...Honey, from the forest, sticky and sweet..

Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002. She went on to work in film, radio and publishing before giving up her day job to study for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She has travelled in wilderness areas of East Africa and southern Africa, driving and camping along the way. Her first novel, The Fever Tree (Penguin, 2012), was a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick and received widespread critical acclaim.

Find out more on the author's website by clicking here 
Follow on Twitter @McVeighAuthor #LeopardattheDoor
Find on Facebook 

My thanks to Elke at Penguin for the invitation to be part of the blog tour for 

Leopard at the Door.


Monday 22 May 2017

Review ~ See you in September by Charity Norman

Allen & Unwin

What's it all about about ...

It was supposed to be a short trip - a break in New Zealand before her best friend's wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they'd see her again.

Having broken up with her boyfriend, Cassy accepts an invitation to stay in an idyllic farming collective. Overcome by the peace and beauty of the valley and swept up in the charisma of Justin, the community's leader, Cassy becomes convinced that she has to stay.

As Cassy becomes more and more entrenched in the group's rituals and beliefs, her frantic parents fight to bring her home - before Justin's prophesied Last Day can come to pass.

What did I think about it...

Whilst on holiday in New Zealand, Cassy has a row with her boyfriend, Hamish. After abandoning him, she hitches a ride with a group of people who persuade her to join them in Gethsemane, a rural community which lies within the volcanic shadow of Mount Tarawera. 

Living a sustainable existence in such an idyllic location is an attractive proposition to Cassy and even though she knows should return to her family in London, she is entranced by the group's ideology and decides to make her home with them. When Cassy fails to return, as planned in September, precious family memories are all that Cassy’s parents, Diana, Mark and younger sister, Tara have to sustain them through the missing years.

I think what is so powerful about this story is the utter believability of how Cassy was taken in and how, almost without conscious thought, she was brainwashed into believing that the life she was now part of at Gethsemane was the absolute truth. The indoctrination at the heart of the story is subtle and so cleverly contrived that I almost wanted to join the community, and follow the teaching and philosophy of Justin Calvin, for myself.

I read See You in September over the space of a couple of days and even when I wasn’t reading it I still had Cassy on my mind. As a parent, I felt every inch of Diana and Mark’s anguish at not being able to communicate with their precious daughter, and yet, due to the author’s vivid description of life at Gethsemane I also understood why Cassy felt compelled to remain there with her new family and friends.

Powerful, upsetting and more than a little disturbing, See You in September is an unputdownable novel by an author at her absolute best.

Best Read With...a rich and succulent venison casserole..

About the Author

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years' travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002 realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. See You in September is Charity's fifth novel.

Find on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @charitynorman1 #SeeYouInSeptember

Follow the publisher @AllenAndUnwinUK

My thanks to Kate at Allen &Unwin for the opportunity to read and review 

See You in September 


Sunday 21 May 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

When I first started this WW1 commemoration back in 2014 I mainly featured poetry.

This month I will share my favourite poems

Sara Teasdale

1884 - 1933

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Sara Teasdale was an American lyrical poet. She was born Sara Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri, and after her marriage in 1914 she went by the name Sara Teasdale Filsinger.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Close to Home ...Beth Underdown

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.   

Please welcome North West Writer

Photo credit : Justine Stoddart

Hi, Beth. Welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for spending time with us today. 

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author. 

I was born in Rochdale and went to school in Oldham. My mum is from Rochdale, but my dad is from the south, and I remember growing up thinking that he was dead posh because he said ‘baarth’ instead of ‘bath’. None of my immediate family are very arty, but when I was little there were always a lot of books in the house. I was keen on writing at high school, and had one particular teacher who encouraged me a lot – she died while I was doing my A-levels, and The Witchfinder’s Sister is dedicated to her. 

I didn’t write very much as an undergraduate – I was quite social, and writing is such a solitary thing to do – but after I graduated I moved to London and started working for a publishing house, Phaidon Press. While I was there I began to get up early in the morning to write for an hour or two in a cafรฉ before work, and that was when I started to think that I wanted to dedicate a bit more time to my writing. This happened to coincide with getting fairly fed up with living in London. I decided to do a Creative Writing MA, and the only way I could even slightly afford to do it was to move back in with my mum and dad in Rochdale – I found this pretty challenging, and I’m sure they did, too! 

So I started the Creative Writing MA at the University of Manchester, part time. I began The Witchfinder’s Sister in the last year of the course, and an extract from it was printed in the anthology which the MA students produce every year. Copies of that anthology are circulated to agents and so on, and my agent, Nelle Andrew, approached me having seen my piece. I signed with PFD and then worked on the novel for a number of years with feedback from Nelle – I was ill during this time, too, which did slow things down. But then in January last year I was signed by Penguin, and a few months later I got a job lecturing Creative Writing at the University of Manchester – so I now teach on the same course I did all those years ago. 

Whilst your novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister is not set in the North West, I wonder if the North West landscape helped to shape your story in any way? 

That’s an interesting question – I’m not sure. I think the West Pennine landscape is very present in my imagination – my mum and dad live near the bottom of Blackstone Edge, which can look peaceful or beautiful or downright sinister depending on the weather. From being a kid I was always taken hiking most weekends, and so as an adult I have a habit of noticing field patterns, old boundaries, things like that, which is really just another way of noticing history. So I think the landscape of the north west has had an important role in teaching me to look in the ways that were necessary to write the book I’ve written – if that makes sense. 

In The Witch Finder’s Sister you were inspired to write about the man who was known as a notorious witch finder. How did your interest in Matthew Hopkins start

What happened first is that I got interested in the seventeenth century and the English Civil War in general. I had a great uncle who was a history professor, and I read one of his books, which is set in the 1600s. It’s about the town of Dorchester, which burned to the ground in this period, and my great uncle used this event to write about the lives and beliefs of ordinary people at the time. I was really struck by it – I think I hadn’t read much history that told a good story before (or told a story about ordinary people). From there I started reading about the seventeenth century in general, including a book on seventeenth century midwifery, because I was thinking about becoming a midwife! (I was doing the Creative Writing MA at this point, but had never thought writing could be a job, so I was doing some midwifery work experience.) It was in this book about seventeenth century midwifery that I found a footnote about Hopkins and his witch hunts, and the whole thing grew from there. I read Malcolm Gaskill’s book about Hopkins, and thought, ‘this needs to be a novel’. 

If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special? 

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I hope to be in this neck of the woods for the rest of my life – I’d like to do maybe a year in the US, a year in some other places, but I think I’d always come back. It has all the ingredients I need to be productive as a writer – green space, and good stuff going on culturally in Manchester, which for me is half an hour away. Most importantly, it’s still reasonably cheap to live. I’m not sure I’d get much done as a writer in London, or at least not full-time – I loved living there in some ways, but I found it exhausting. 

As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how have you overcome them? 

Not really. Quite often London events will pop up on my Twitter feed, and I’ll be like, ‘oh, I wish I could go to that thing tonight’ – but I manage to get to a reasonable amount by arranging trips down in advance and staying with friends. And actually a lot of my work in terms of events with readers and engaging with bookshops has involved long road trips in Essex, Yorkshire, the West Country – all over the place. I don’t feel like the promotional activity has been particularly London-centric. 

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors? 

I’m really lucky to work in a very supportive department at the University of Manchester, so I see a fair bit of the other authors there, certainly during term time. That’s been very important for me – some people there have been peers and others more like mentors, but all of them are great. We also have a lot of writers visiting the department to do events, so that’s not only interesting but also good for making links. I’ve met a few other authors through Twitter who have turned into real life friends, so that’s been lovely. And then, a friend from university has had her book taken on by Penguin for 2018, so we’re in very similar boats too. 

How supportive are local communities to your writing and have there been any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work? 

There’s a writer’s group I set up in the town where I live in the Peak District, and they’ve been hugely supportive. It’s now run by one of the first people to attend one of my courses – from there she went on to do the Creative Writing MA at MMU, which she’s just about to complete. I still drop in there now and then, it’s a lovely community of people and that gives me a real boost. There are quite a few reading groups doing the book, lots of them in Essex and Suffolk. My local Waterstones, the Deansgate store in Manchester, gave me a fabulous launch, for which I’ll always be grateful! 

You can find out more about Beth and her writing by going to her website 

Find her on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @bethunderdown #TheWitchfindersSister

Here is the link to my review of The Witchfinder's Sister

Warmest thanks to Beth for spending time with us today and for sharing her love of the North West with us. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature.

Coming next week : Kirsty Ferry