Monday 31 January 2022

πŸ“– Poetry Review ~ OAK by Katharine Towers



25 November 2021

A fascinating collection concerning the life cycle of the oak tree, from the winner of the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize

Oak is a terrifically imaginative look at the life cycle of the oak, from acorn to mighty, its place in the forest ecosystem, the home it provides for animals, the role, both practical and mythical, that it plays in the human realm. It is a remarkable window into the slow journey of a different kind of consciousness and being, one we rarely see depicted in this way.

πŸ“– My Review..

There is no doubt that the mighty oak tree has a special place in our hearts. But what of the tree itself? In this beautiful poem Katharine Towers, shares a remarkable journey through the seven stages of the oak’s life, and from infancy, through to old age the oak tree comes alive, and grows to maturity in our imagination, from the delicacy of saplings, to the heartwood of an oak which has ‘outlived its vigour’. 

This stalwart guardian of our ancient forests carefully spreads its branches in order to shelter a microcosm of activity in a secret world both within, and below. Each moment of its life cycle is so beautifully described it’s like we are standing with a glorious leafy canopy spreading before us and opening magically into the secret world of the birds, insects and plants who make the oak tree their home.

Although there are distinct sections, the poem flows as one movement so that it becomes perfectly possible to read OAK in one sitting. However, once finished I found myself turning to read parts of it again, enjoying the beauty and imagery as it unfolds, and each time finding something new to ponder over and enjoy. 

"..a child puts an acorn under her pillow
to see what dreams will come.."

Poetry is a very personal experience and each reader will take something different away but for me, I think that it reminded me of the sheer mindfulness of walking through some of our ancients woodlands which have been such a life saver over the lockdown of recent months. On my local walks I’ve seen trees in various stages of both growth, and decay, some slumbering softly on the woodland floor, whilst others towering above in all their glory.

OAK is, quite simply, a beautiful piece of layered writing from a wonderfully imaginative poet. It will appeal to all those who love the special nooks and crannies of our woodlands and especially our glorious oak trees who continue to survive, and thrive, in our troubled world.

Best read with ...a little drink of oak from an acorn cup.

About the Author

Katharine Towers was born in London and now lives in Derbyshire. She has published two poetry collections, both with Picador. The Floating Man won the Seamus Heaney |Centre Prize and was shortlisted for the Jerwood-Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and for the Ted Hughes Award for New works in poetry.

Katharine's poems have been broadcast on Radio 3 and Radio 5 and have appeared in several anthologies, as well as in the Guardian, Poetry Review and Poetry London. From 2016-2018 Katharine was Poet in Residence at the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Twitter @TowersKatharine #Oak


Sunday 30 January 2022

🍴Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo ~ Anne O'Brien

 On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo

I'm delighted to welcome Anne O'Brien to Sunday Brunch

Welcome back to Jaffareadstoo, Anne. What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch?

The perfect brunch for me: thick Greek yoghurt, mixed berries, and a sprinkle of granola, followed by granary toast and honey.

Would you like a pot of English breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz?

English Breakfast Tea please. I'll enjoy the alcohol later in the day!

Where shall we eat brunch – around the kitchen table, in the formal dining room, or outside on the patio?

Around the kitchen table. Kitchens are lovely intimate spaces for conversation.

Shall we have music playing in the background, and if so do you have a favourite piece of music?

Something without words that will not interfere with the chat. Pachelbel's canon perhaps, which is so soothingly baroque, which I often play when I am writing.

Which of your literary heroes (dead or alive) are joining us for Sunday Brunch today?

At present I am writing about Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, and his wife Joan de Geneville. Perhaps they could join us. And what an uneasy couple they would make. We would have to be very patient. Mortimer was one of the villains of medieval history, plotting against King Edward II and becoming involved in what must have been a sexual liaison with Queen Isabella. His marriage to Joan began as one of great compatibility but this was all destroyed as Joan was imprisoned for his rebellion, and he betrayed her. I would love to hear what they had to say to each other, particularly Joan's thoughts on the infidelity of her husband who was to pay the penalty for his rebellion in a traitor's death.

Which favourite book will you bring to Sunday Brunch?

Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan

Here are two stories separated by the vicious intrigue of post war years in Italy, where relationships are not what they seem, but held together by the discovery of a fifteenth century painting. A tale of two dynamic women; of love and loss and betrayal, set in Rome and the surrounding countryside, all marvellously atmospheric, where the present day heroine must face the shadows in her own life if she is to achieve happiness.

I admit to being a constant fan of Elizabeth Buchan and thoroughly enjoyed this book over Christmas when I was taking a break from writing.


When you are writing do you still find time to read for pleasure? And is there a book you would like to read but haven’t had time for …yet!

I am a reader, a gardener and a visitor of churches and museums. Covid had put a crimp in the last one and winter hampers gardening apart from leaf collecting and tidying up, so reading is great pleasure. For Christmas I was given a splendid book. Dragons Heroes Myths & Magic: the Medieval Art of Storytelling. Beautifully written and magnificently illustrated, it is published by the British Library. It is a large book so needs a comfortable chair and a lap, a book to savour on a cold night with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. A perfect book of quests and journeys, heroes and heroines, villains, crime and murder, and of course love. I have not yet found the time to do it justice, but now with the New Year and cold weather I will.

Where do you find the inspiration for your novels?

Inspiration comes to me from the vast spread of the Plantagenet years. So many fantastic stories, so many women lurking in the shadows, women who barely step onto our historical stage. I still have a list of those whom I would like to investigate. The men are vivid also, either heroes or villains, or those who demand both our admiration and our condemnation. The Pastons are unusual since they had comparatively little connection with the Royal Court, but as female protagonists they cannot be bettered.

Have you a favourite place to settle down to write and do you find it easier to write in winter or summer?

I have one room in my house put aside as an office/study with all my reference books and my PC so that I can close the door and concentrate. I don't mind winter or summer writing, but in winter I am not affected by guilt that I should be doing something urgent in my garden. Lockdown has been a trial though...

When writing to a deadline are you easily distracted and if so how do you bring back focus on your writing?

I don't write well under pressure of deadlines so I have to be disciplined and limit the distractions. The best way for me is to start writing early before breakfast to give me a head start. It is all in the mind, so if I feel that I have achieved something good at the beginning of the day, I can tackle the rest with ease and confidence.

Give us four essential items that a writer needs?

A laptop or PC - obviously essential.

Background music to suit the time of day or the subject to be written about.

A notebook and pen for all those essential notes, ideas, chapter headings and 'To Do' lists for quick reference. I carry them around with me. How often do ideas strike just as I am about to go to bed?

A kettle and a mug/tea bags ( all one item of course)

What can you tell us about your latest novel or your current work in progress?

My latest novel is The Royal Game, bringing the marvellous letter-writing Paston family in Norfolk to life. What a remarkable group of women they were, playing a full, and sometimes contentious, role alongside their menfolk in their bid to rise from peasant to gentry in the 15th century against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses. My next novel is the sequel to The Royal Game which left a number of loose ends for the Paston women which demand to be tied up. The sequel also introduces a number of new dramatic and heart-breaking issues for them to face. But through it all the Paston women remain strong and wilful although not always as successful as we might like them to be. This will be published in 2022.


The Royal Game


King Henry IV’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses tear England apart. Everyone must choose between the Yorkists or the Lancastrians. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Lead by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family of humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure a castle and a place at the heart of the court as rightful members of the Royal Family. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An story of intrigue, of courage, and of resilience, A Royal Game charts the rise of three remarkable women from poverty to the very heart of the Royal Family during a time of war.

Anne, where can we follow you on social media?

Twitter: @anne_obrien

More about Anne O'Brien

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history, before becoming an international writer of historical fiction

Today she lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels about the forgotten women of medieval history.

Thank you, Anne, for taking part in Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo.

Thank you for the invitation Jo. I enjoyed the opportunity.

Follow us on Twitter @jaffareadstoo #SundayBrunchWithJaffareadstoo

Friday 28 January 2022

πŸ“– Feature Friday on Jaffareadstoo ~ The Midwife by Tricia Cresswell


Welcome to Feature Friday

it's a warm space to a highlight a book coming soon which is on my book radar

and one I am looking forward to reading

Published on the 17th February 2022

Pan Macmillan

A haunting and moving debut, The Midwife by Tricia Cresswell is perfect for fans of The Familiars and The Binding.

1838. After a violent storm, a woman is found alone, naked and near death, on the Northumberland moors. She has no memory of who she is or how she got there. But she can remember how to help a woman in labour and how to expertly dress a wound, and can speak fluent French. With the odds against her, a penniless single woman, she starts to build her life from scratch, using her skills to help other women around her. She finds a happy place in the world. Until tragedy strikes, and she must run for her life...

In London, Dr Borthwick lives a solitary life working as an accoucheur dealing with mothers and babies in the elegant homes of high society together with his midwife, Mrs Bates, and volunteering in the slums of the Devil’s Acre alongside a young widow, Eleanor Johnson. His professional reputation is spotless and he keeps his private life just as clean, isolating himself from any new acquaintances. But he is harbouring a dark secret from his past – one that threatens to spill over everything.


The early reviews I've seen of the book are encouraging, so I'm looking forward to reading The Midwife as I enjoy dual time stories. I trained as a midwife, so I'm always interested to see how the profession is portrayed in a historical setting.

So as they this space..

@jaffareadstoo #FeatureFriday #amreading

About the Author

Tricia Cresswell is a retired public health doctor. She temporarily returned to work in spring 2020 in support of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and volunteered as a vaccinator. She achieved a Distinction in her Creative Writing MA at Newcastle University in 2017. Creative response to the climate emergency has now taken priority in her writing.

The Midwife is available to pre-order from wherever you buy books

Thursday 27 January 2022

πŸ“– Publication Day Review ~ Pandora by Susan Stokes -Chapman


Vintage Books

27 January 2022

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book

London, 1799. Dora Blake is an aspiring jewellery artist who lives with her uncle in what used to be her parents' famed shop of antiquities. When a mysterious Greek vase is delivered, Dora is intrigued by her uncle's suspicious behaviour and enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a young antiquarian scholar. Edward sees the ancient vase as key to unlocking his academic future. Dora sees it as a chance to restore the shop to its former glory, and to escape her nefarious uncle.

But what Edward discovers about the vase has Dora questioning everything she has believed about her life, her family, and the world as she knows it. As Dora uncovers the truth she starts to realise that some mysteries are buried, and some doors are locked, for a reason.

πŸ“– My Review ...

Pandora Blake lives with her uncle Hezekiah above the family's antique business. During the time her parents traded in antiquities the business was successful, and honourable, however, their untimely demise brought the business, and Dora, into the guardianship of Hezekiah. Realising that her uncle is less than scrupulous in his business dealings, Dora enlists the help of a young book binder, Edward Lawrence, whose own interest in antiquities is exactly what Dora needs to help her to restore the family business to its former glory.

What then follows is an atmospheric and beautifully detailed historical novel which opens up the world of Greek mythology and the dreaded secrets of Pandora's Box. The Georgian world of 1799 comes alive, from the mean dispirited streets of London, to the gloomy shop basement filled with boxes of precious antiquities, there is never a moment when we are not fully in the moment with Dora and Edward as they go about setting right the terrible wrongs which have been done, and of the sinister evil which lurks within the world they uncover.

Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Pandora not only brings to life a worthy heroine in Dora, and not forgetting then glorious, Hermes, but it also paints a wonderful picture of Georgian England with all its colourful eccentricities. Pandora is a commendable debut by a talented new writer of historical fiction.

Best read with...a decanter of rich, red claret and an open mind

Susan Stokes-Chapman was born in 1985 and grew up in the historic Georgian city of Lichfield, Staffordshire. She studied for four years at Aberystwyth University, graduating with a BA in Education & English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel, PANDORA, was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction prize 2020 as well as longlisted for the Bath Novel Award that same year.

Twitter @SStokesChapman #Pandora


Wednesday 26 January 2022

πŸ“– Blog Tour ~ Foolish Heroines by June Wentland


Delighted to host a stop on this blog tour today

Valley Press Ltd

My thanks to Valley Press and Isabelle Kenyon at Kenyon Author Services
for the copy of this book and the invitation to the blog tour

Janina Reston is a language expert, translating fiendishly tricky Arabic and Asian mathematical and scientific texts. Words are her world. But she can’t find any to share with her husband Owen. Instead, she confides in a spider named Gladys (who may or may not be her deceased grandmother). She lives in an ordinary city suburb where extraordinary things happen. Lily’s husband dies in a strange accident with a milk bottle, while Fatima writes biographies of unknown people living seemingly inconsequential lives, and Zosia – whose most daring adventure thus far has been replacing jelly and ice cream with lemon meringue pie – runs off to Delhi with an Asian Women’s Sewing Group. 

Written with zest, zeal and humour, June Wentland’s debut novel was longlisted for the Blue Pencil First Novel Awards. It is a surreal journey through the avenues and alleyways of everyday life. But forget dull domesticity. This is a suburb where dense jungle leaves creep through the patio door when you’re putting the kettle on, where porcelain shepherdesses have evil intent, and where a seven-legged arachnid can be a wise companion for a woman at the end of her tether. June says, ‘It’s written for anyone who’s prepared to look at life in a different way, anyone who would like to pick up a book and see the world a little differently when they’ve finished reading it but experience humour, humanity and a shedding of their own worries for a while in the process.’

πŸ“– My thoughts..

Foolish Heroines took me by surprise, in a good way. It isn't at all what I expected and even reading the blurb I wasn't sure whether the story would be a good fit for me but once I started to read and got into this author's sense of humour I found the story to be quirky and fun but with a deeper message.

Janina Reston is immersed in words, as a language expert translating Arabic and Asian mathematical and scientific texts, she is used the complexity of words but she seems to have a problem in communicating with her husband. Instead Janina confides in Gladys, a spider who lives in her bathroom, and who, Janina thinks, may, or may not be, her deceased grandmother. Ok, so once I got past this premise of confiding in spiders, I allowed myself to just let the words flow and that's when the story started to open up. What then follows is an interesting look at the lives of women, not just Janina, who are learning to re-evaluate their lives, and the often, unheard, complexities which make their lives difficult.

Foolish Heroines is a difficult book to describe as it's a bit like trying to remember one of those occasions when you wake up in the morning thinking, did I just dream that ! So, I won't spoil anything by relating the story except to say that it's surreal, quirky, imaginative and gloriously creative. 

June Wentland is an ordinary woman who believes that extraordinary things can happen if you keep your eyes peeled and your heart open to new possibilities. She grew up in Hull, moving to Manchester and Bristol before settling in Wiltshire. June has worked in community development and outreach for libraries as well as being a rather lacklustre waitress and on an assembly line sticking tassels onto lampshades. She has had stories televised and published by the BBC and her poetry has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. This is her first novel.

News Alert ** The publishers, Valley Press have a Jan 2022 sale. Customers just need to enter code JAN22 when shopping on at the basket stage and the discount will be applied.

Twitter @june_mw #FoolishHeroines

Instagram @junewentland



Monday 24 January 2022

πŸ“– Blog Tour ~ Before We Grow Old by Clare Swatman


Boldwood Books
 19 January 2022

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book
and to Rachel's Random Resources for the invitation to the blog tour.

When seven-year-old Fran first met Will they knew instantly that they were made for each other. For eleven years they were inseparable, but then, at the age of eighteen, Will just upped and disappeared.

Twenty-five years later Will is back.

Is fate trying to give them a second chance?

Still nursing the heart break from all those years ago, Fran is reluctant to give Will the time of day. The price Will must pay is to tell the truth – the truth about why he left, the truth about why he’s back…

And Fran has her own secrets to hide. The time has come to decide what Fran and Will really want from life – before it’s too late.

πŸ“– My Review ...

Fran and Will were best friends as children and then, at eighteen, and just when their relationship was getting more complicated, Will moved away. Twenty-five years later a chance meeting brings Fran and Will together again but with the scars of the past still painful, Fran is reluctant to get hurt again.

Before We Grow Old is a gentle story about love and loss with two main characters who seem to have had their share of personal heartache. Moving forward, and backwards, in time we get to know more about Fran and Will, the reasons for their separation and the sense of excitement when they meet again. However, whilst finding each other again is wonderful, they are both very different people than they were as teenagers but with gentle consideration they agree to rekindle their relationship and go forward together again. 

Nicely written with a strong sense of emotional connection Before We Grow Old is a poignant and bittersweet story about taking a second chance on love, about finding a soul mate when you thought they were lost forever, and about coping, as best you can, with everything that life throws at you.

Best Read with...a creamy latte and box of tissues.

About the Author

Clare Swatman is the author of three women’s fiction novels, published by Macmillan, which have been translated into over 20 languages. She has been a journalist for over twenty years, writing for Bella and Woman & Home amongst many other magazines. She lives in Hertfordshire.

Twitter @clareswatman #BeforeWeGrowOld

@BoldwoodBooks #BoldwoodBloggers #bookandtonic


Sunday 23 January 2022

πŸ“– Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo ~ Brian Price

On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo

I'm delighted to welcome Brian Price to Sunday Brunch


Welcome, Brian. What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch?

Well you can’t really have curry for brunch so I’ll settle for a free-range sausage sandwich on granary bread

Would you like a pot of English breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz?

Tea, please. I drink coffee to stay awake, not for pleasure

Where shall we eat brunch – around the kitchen table, in the formal dining room, or outside on the patio?

The patio if the weather’s good and the ambiance is quiet, otherwise around the kitchen table

Shall we have music playing in the background, and if so do you have a favourite piece of music?

Difficult - I like so much music. Favourite songs include Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’, BeBop Deluxe’s ‘Maid in Heaven’ and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All along the Watchtower’ but they’re short and need to be loud. I’ll settle for Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief album.

Which of your literary heroes (dead or alive) are joining us for Sunday Brunch today?

Terry Pratchett

Which favourite book will you bring to Sunday Brunch?

Again, difficult. Probably the latest Poe and Tilly thriller by M.W. Craven.


When you are writing do you still find time to read for pleasure? And is there a book you would like to read but haven’t had time for …yet!

Reading for pleasure is part of a writer’s job. I intend to read Philip Pullman’s ‘Book of Dust’ series but I’m waiting for him to write the final book, at which point I’ll re-read the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy within the sequence.

Where do you find the inspiration for your novels?

‘Fatal Trade’ came along after I won a competition, run by Crime Fiction Coach, for the best opening line for a novel. I then had to write the book! I’m not sure I get “Eureka” moments for a book but ideas occur to me that I think I can fit in to a story. I mentally file away stuff I’ve seen in the media, from science, and from reading – perhaps a phrase or a small nugget which could be used as a plot point, or a major issue which I feel I need to write about. One such issue appears in Fatal Trade – but to tell you which would be a spoiler

Have you a favourite place to settle down to write and do you find it easier to write in winter or summer?

I write in my study which is a loft conversion looking out over a cemetery. Neither winter or summer is easier, although there’s more noise from mowers and strimmers in the summer and the hammering of rain on the roof sometimes drives me into another room. I review drafts in a different place.

When writing to a deadline are you easily distracted and if so how do you bring back focus on your writing?

I’m pretty good with deadlines – I don’t hear them “whooshing past” as Douglas Adams described.

Give us four essential items that a writer needs?

Imagination, a good command of English, an enquiring mind and a decent laptop

What can you tell us about your latest novel or your current work in progress?

Fatal Trade is a gritty, twisty thriller which starts with the discovery of a man’s head on his ex-wife’s doorstep. DC Mel Cotton and her colleagues investigate and are pitched against a ruthless gang prepared to use murder, kidnapping and torture to maintain their hold in the local drugs trade. But where do they get the rest if their illicit income? At the same time, a former sex worker has infiltrated the gang to take bloody revenge on its leader - the man who trafficked her and put her in a Glasgow brothel when she was a teenager.

A sequel, Fatal Hate, will be published on the 12th April which deals with far-right terrorism, corrupt politicians and a group of unscrupulous perverts.

Brian, where can we follow you on social media?

Twitter @crimewritersci

Follow us on Twitter @jaffareadstoo #SundayBrunchwithJaffareadstoo

Friday 21 January 2022

πŸ“– Feature Friday on Jaffareadstoo ~ The Letter Home by Rachael English

Welcome to Feature Friday

it's a warm space to a highlight a book coming soon which is on my book radar

and one I am looking forward to reading

Published on the 3rd February


She had left behind everything she loved to forge a future for the one she treasured most...

Inspired by heartbreaking true events, a rich, powerful novel of a mother's love, a baby girl, a dangerous journey from Ireland to America and a forgotten story that binds two families separated by an ocean. From the Number One bestselling and beloved author of THE AMERICAN GIRL and THE PAPER BRACELET.

A faded letter. A mother lost. A daughter found...

When journalist Jessie Daly loses everything she holds dear, she travels home to Ireland's west coast, and helps an old friend researching life during the famine. Jessie becomes drawn into the heartbreaking story of a brave young mother, Bridget Moloney, and her daughter, Norah.

On the other side of the ocean, in Boston, Kaitlin Wilson is researching her family tree. She unearths a fascinating story, but her research forces her to confront uncomfortable truths about the past, as she uncovers an unexpected connection to Ireland in famine times.

Generations before, in the small town of Boherbreen, a young mother faced a heart-wrenching choice: to watch her baby girl perish with hunger, or to start out for a new life in America, alone, in order to protect the one she loves most...


I've long been a fan of Rachael English's writing and have been involved in several of her blog tours. I was asked, at the start of December, to be involved in revealing the lovely cover of The Letter Home on social media. I'm really looking forward to sharing my thoughts about this lovely story on the 3rd February, its e-Book publication day. 

So as they this space.. 

@jaffareadstoo # FeatureFriday #amreading

The e-Book available to pre-order now, paperback is due to be published in July

About the Author

Rachael English is a bestselling novelist and presenter on Ireland’s most popular radio show, Morning Ireland. During more than twenty years as a journalist, she has worked on most of RTE Radio’s leading current affairs programmes, covering a huge range of national and international stories. The American Girl, The Night of the Party and The Paper Bracelet were all top 5 Irish bestsellers.

@EnglishRachael #TheLetterHome



Thursday 20 January 2022

Author Interview ~ Nicholas Jubber


On Publication Day of The Fairy Tellers I am delighted to welcome its author

Nicholas Jubber

to tell us more about his book

Welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Nicholas, thank you for spending time with us today.  What inspired you to write The Fairy Tellers?

Fairy tales thrilled me in childhood - classics like ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, ‘The Ebony Horse’. I’d imagine myself riding on a reindeer’s back like Gerda or working the levers of the wooden horse like the Arabian prince. As a student, I wrote and put on a play about fairy tale characters, and found these stories were still bubbling in my head. So when, a decade and a half later, I was looking for stories to tell my children, the traditional tales weren’t very far out of mind. But now I was itching with a particular question: who were the people behind these tales? This question came partly from my lifelong interest in fairy tales, and partly from my curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes - whether it’s at the theatre, movies or anything else. So that set me on a quest to learn about some of the long-ago tellers of tales and the lives they led.

Where was your starting point? And how did you decide which fairy tellers to write about?

There were so many potential starting points, such as the first written ‘Western’ fairy tale, from 2nd century North Africa, or a 9th century Chinese version of Cinderella, or a medieval Indian story collection - which features prominently in the book. But I decided to start in Naples with Giambattista Basile, a charismatic storyteller who was kicked around the courts of 17th century Italy, often in the wake of his singing sensation sister Adriana. Giambattista’s book, The Tale of Tales, is a charming and often surprising anthology of fairy tales, and it’s the first written European fairy tale collection, with early versions of iconic tales such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Rapunzel’, so I felt it was a good entry point. Plus, Giambattista’s world is still wonderfully accessible: for all that Naples has changed over the centuries, the raucous atmosphere of his time still hums through its streets.

As for choosing which fairy tellers to write about - this came about organically. I wanted to cover a wide spectrum of the world and a wide spectrum of stories. I was keen to include a range of tellers, women and men, people from different social and ethnic backgrounds, and people who covered different angles on ‘fairy-telling’ - inventors of tales like Hans Christian Andersen, collectors of tales like Ivan Khudiakov, and the sources who told tales to collectors, like Dortchen Wild. I spent a lot of time thinking about this selection, so I hope it offers the reader a varied and interesting cross-section of fairy tale history.

What were the challenges?

I had already done a lot of travel and research when the pandemic struck. In early 2020, I’d been travelling between Italy, France and Germany, and was attending a witches’ festival in the Black Forest, when I learned that Northern Italy had transformed into a central zone of the virus. The lockdowns forced me to change many of my plans. I found myself looking back at notes from travels in places like Kashmir and Syria, exploring the lives of storytellers like the medieval Indian poet Somadeva and the 18th century teller of ‘Aladdin’, Hanna Dyab, through my jottings from those journeys. I sought out experts around the world, received documents from Delhi, Berlin and Kiev, and spoke via Zoom to scholars and storytellers in America, India, Egypt, Russia and many other places, people who might have been harder to get hold of if they hadn’t been, like me, stuck at home. So, whilst it was a tricky time to write a book (especially with homeschooling two small children!), there were also opportunities that I might not have found if circumstances had been different.

In your research did you find anything that surprised you?

Lots of things surprised me. For example, discovering that the Italian storyteller Giambattista Basile drank at the same Neapolitan taverna around the same time as the painter Caravaggio, who was wounded there in the early 17th century; or that Hans Christian Andersen visited the Brothers Grimm in Berlin and was very disappointed when Jacob Grimm admitted he’d never heard of him. These connections, joining up storytellers and other artists around the world, really fascinated me, as did the ways their lives were affected by the big events going on in the world around them - the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on the work of the Brothers Grimm, for example, as well as on the life of Hans Christian Andersen. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the life of the Russian storyteller Ivan Khudiakov. I’d originally planned to write about a completely different Russian storyteller, but when I started learning about Ivan’s extraordinary life - tramping around the villages of Russia in search of tales, and involving himself with ‘nihilists’ bent on assassinating the Tsar - I knew I’d have to scrap my previous plans and find out more about this strange, tragic figure. Many of the tales he collected lead to the macabre witch Baba Yaga and her hut on chicken legs, but in many ways Ivan’s life was even stranger, and darker!

Do you have a favourite fairy tale?

It’s hard to pick out one favourite! There are so many and I’ve been really excited by many tales that I didn’t know about before. But the one that’s stuck deepest inside me is ‘The Snow Queen’. I love the journey Gerda undertakes to rescue her friend Kai. As a child I dreamed of travelling by reindeer across Lapland like Gerda. On my journey, I got to meet a reindeer herder in Lapland and spend some time with his herd, and I also interviewed ballet performers in Copenhagen who were putting on a production of ‘The Snow Queen’. The costumes and sets were designed by Queen Margrethe, and I learned from the director of the show that ‘The Snow Queen’ is her favourite fairy tale too!

What do you hope readers will take away from The Fairy Tellers?

I hope readers will be introduced to many tales that haven’t been given the attention they deserve - wonderful tales like ‘The Flea’, about a princess forced to marry an ogre and how she escapes; or ‘The Golden City’, a mesmerising Indian tale about a gambler who sets out on an adventure in search of a mythical city, getting swallowed by a giant fish and riding a magical talking bird along the way. I hope they’ll feel they’ve dipped into the lives of the people behind these tales, and experienced the worlds they came from, and that they’re as excited as me by the way these stories connect around the world.

How can readers find out more about you and your work?

You can find out more at my website, or you can follow me on twitter @jubberstravels or see pictures from my travels on instagram - nick.jubber. I’m also hoping to do lots of talks and events about The Fairy Tellers, and I’ll be posting information about that on my website.

The Fairy Tellers: A Journey into the Secret History of Fairy Tales is published by John Murray Press, priced at £20 and available online and from all good bookshops.

Nicholas Jubber has travelled in the Middle East, Central Asia, North and East Africa and across Europe. Along the way, he has worked as a teacher, carpet-washer and even had a stint as a tannery assistant. He has written three previous books, The Timbuktu School for Nomads, The Prester Quest (winner of the Dolman Travel Book Award) and Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah's Beard (shortlisted for the Dolman Award). He has written for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Observer, Globe and Mail, Irish Times and BBC History.

Twitter @jubberstravels  #TheFairyTellers


Huge thanks to Nicholas for spending time with us today. 

We wish you good fortune with your book.

πŸ“– Publication Day Book Review ~ The Fairy Tellers by Nicholas Jubber

John Murray Press
20 January 2022

My thanks to the publishers and Emma at the Book Publicist for my copy of this book

Fairy-Tales are not just fairy-tales: they are records of historical phenomena, telling us something about how Western civilisation was formed. In The Fairy Tellers, award-winning travel-writer Nick Jubber explores the secret history of fairy-tales: the people who told them, the landscapes that forged them, and the cultures that formed them.

While there are certain names inextricably entwined with the concept of a fairy-tale, such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, the most significant tellers are long buried under the more celebrated figures who have taken the credit for their stories - people like the Syrian storyteller Youhenna Diab and the Wild Sisters of Cassel. Without them we would never have heard of Aladdin, his Magic Lamp or the adventures of Hansel and Gretel.

Tracking these stories to their sources carries us through the steaming cities of Southern Italy and across the Mediterranean to the dust-clogged alleys of the Maghreb, under the fretting leaves of the Black Forest, deep into the tundra of Siberia and across the snowy hills of Lapland.

From North Africa and Siberia, this book illuminates the complicated relationship between Western civilisation and the 'Eastern' cultures it borrowed from, and the strange lives of our long lost fairy-tellers.

πŸ“– My thoughts..

For me, there is something endlessly fascinating about fairy tales. I've loved them since I was old enough to listen and still enjoy reading tales from enchanted forests, of witches and princesses, princes and demons. That the stories span history and continents, folklore and legend, is what makes each fairy tale so unique.

In The Fairy Tellers the author takes us a comprehensive journey into this magical world of landscape and culture, explaining the history behind the stories, the inspiration and the beguiling nature of tales from storytellers which have been handed down generation by generation until they have become as intrinsic a part of our collective culture as the air we breathe.

Reading like a travelogue and breaking down the book into seven distinct parts we get to learn more about the origins and connections of some of our well known fairy tales. I especially enjoyed the fairy story which heads each chapter and which whisk us away to a magical world. The quirky line drawings which are interspersed within the text also add a lovely sense of atmosphere.

Beautifully written, extensively researched, and as descriptive as a history book, I found The Fairy Tellers completely absorbing.  Dipping into and out of the book, at whim, I discovered things I didn't know about the origins of the long lost fairy-tellers, those shadowy people, whose bright imagination once brought all our classic fairy tales to vibrant life.

You can read an interview with the author by clicking here

Best read with...a glass of milk and chocolate chip cookies

Nicholas Jubber has travelled in the Middle East, Central Asia, North and East Africa and across Europe. Along the way, he has worked as a teacher, carpet-washer and even had a stint as a tannery assistant. He has written three previous books, The Timbuktu School for Nomads, The Prester Quest (winner of the Dolman Travel Book Award) and Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah's Beard (shortlisted for the Dolman Award). He has written for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Observer, Globe and Mail, Irish Times and BBC History.

Twitter @jubberstravels  #TheFairyTellers



Wednesday 19 January 2022

πŸ“– Book Review ~ I know What You've Done by Dorothy Koomson


December 2021

My thanks to the publisher and ed pr for my copy of this book

What if all your neighbours’ secrets landed in a diary on your doorstep?

What if the woman who gave it to you was murdered by one of the people in the diary?

What if the police asked if you knew anything?

Would you hand over the book of secrets?

Or … would you try to find out what everyone had done?

πŸ“– My Review...

Oh, what a tangled web we weave springs to mind about the people who call Acacia Villas in Brighton their home and with this talented author in charge of the comings and goings of their lives, well nothing is ever going to be as it seems. What we have in I Know What You've Done is an intricately woven piece of literary tapestry in which all the residents of Acacia Villas have a role to play and no stone is left unturned in the quest to pore over the minutiae of everyone's lives.

Priscilla is the one to watch as she can see the whole of the street from her house and boy, does she observe what everyone is up to, so much so that she writes it all down in her diary, and that's when things start to get interesting especially when someone tries to kill her.  Leaving one of the residents in possession of this infamous diary only serves to put everyone under the spotlight and heightens the tension in this classy mystery. Once I got used to the moving around in time I was absolutely glued to the page and couldn't wait to find out exactly what was going on and who was really out to get Priscilla. There are so many dirty little secrets waiting to be discovered and the excitement of finding out just how many neighbours would be exposed is what makes the story so deliciously readable.

Clever, sophisticated and with all the trademark brilliance which this author brings to her stories I Know What You've Done is my favourite of her stories to date... but then all of Dorothy Koomson's stories are my favourites πŸ˜‰

Best Read with... a chilled glass of Prosecco and a few crackers..

About the Author

Dorothy Koomson is the award-winning author of fifteen novels including the Sunday Times bestsellers My Best Friend’s Girl, The Ice Cream Girls and Goodnight, Beautiful. Dorothy’s novels have been translated into over 30 languages, and a TV adaptation based on The Ice Cream Girls was shown on ITV1 in 2013. After briefly living in Australia, Dorothy now lives in Brighton.

Twitter @DorothyKoomson  #IKnowWhatYouveDone