katewritesandreads

katewritesandreads

Thursday, 14 December 2017

'Perfect for the festive season'


Stella’s Christmas Wish, published in November 2016 by Black and White, has had some delightful reviews in the last week. 



From Fictionophile (a booky blog I hadn’t come across before but will now be following):

‘ … This is a charming Christmas novel that will be appreciated by anyone who likes the work of Kate Hewitt or Rosamund Pilcher.  A ‘feel-good’ love story set over the Christmas season, and a heart-warming testament to the importance of family.’

(How brilliant to be compared to two (best-selling) authors whose books I love!)


From Withloveforbooks (again, a book blog I didn’t know; they did a lovely feature on the book, asking me to write a guest post (which I did, on sending Christmas cards) and doing a review which included:

‘ … Kate Blackadder's writing has a lovely flow. Her vivid descriptions of Melrose made the town come to life really well. It was easy to picture Stella's friends and family. I love stories about close communities and Stella grew up among wonderful people. I enjoyed reading about every single one of them. Stella's Christmas Wish is a charming and sparkling Christmas story with a terrific moving and fabulously romantic ending.’


From Lothian Life, an online magazine. Anne Hamilton raised some points about the book that I have been hoping someone would!

‘ … there are several other dimensions to this tale that raise it above being ‘just’ another decent bit of chick-lit.

I’ve said it many times, but the fiction world needs more strong and engaging older characters! And  it’s here that Kate Blackadder delivers that something extra. Stella and her ex, Ross, may be young, but other characters are not – Alice, Gray, Lilias – and rather than these being consigned to the realm of supporting cast, they are main players with their own stories, both developed and resolved.

Kate Blackadder has produced a light but not light-weight read, perfect for the festive season – or actually any other time of year.’


Why not have a read and see for yourself? Stella's Christmas Wish is available on various e-platforms including Amazon http://amzn.to/2dYQOrY

Friday, 24 November 2017

Seven in October


I read seven books in October – four novels, three non-fiction.


Gail Honeyman won Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014 (for a first novel for writers over forty). At the Frankfurt Book Fair there was a bidding war for it and since publication it has won or been shortlisted for many prestigious awards; film rights have been bought by Reese Witherspoon.

Eleanor is socially awkward, has a lowly clerical job and keeps herself – and her history – very much to herself. But when circumstances force her to interact with her one of her colleagues and then the wider world, her life gradually changes. Her story (narrated by herself) unfolds slowly, and it’s not a happy one. But despite everything Eleanor has no self-pity and there are moments of great humour in the book – tears and laughter in fact. I enjoyed it very much and it stayed in my mind for a long time after I finished it.
 

I saw Nell Stevens at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year – having been very intrigued by the description of her book in the programme. Nell, from London, did an intensive Fiction MFA, a prestigious course at Boston University and (how amazing is this?) that included funding for the students to live somewhere of their own choosing for three months in order to concentrate on their writing.

Reasoning that ‘there has never been a literary novel set in the Falklands’ she went to live on Bleaker Island, where the only other human inhabitants were a farming couple whose rare time off the island coincided with Nell’s arrival. The other little issue was that Nell had to exist on the food supplies she’d brought with her. The novel she planned to write turned into more of a journal; this book comprises that journal, extracts from the putative novel plus other writings. I loved her fiction writing and her descriptions of the ‘end of the world’.


Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
This is one of a newish series whereby a novelist chooses a Shakespeare play from which to write a contemporary novel. Anne Tyler chose – did you guess? – The Taming of the Shrew. And, although I expected nothing less from one of my favourite authors, she has done it most plausibly. Loved it.



by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Published in 2007, written by a woman who grew up on her grandparents’ farm. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to reading about this era but I am. As it says in the blurb, ‘This, however, is not a tale of suffering’ … but is ‘filled with stories of a family that gave its members a remarkable legacy of kinship, kindness, and remembered pleasures, and brimming with recipes and how-tos from everything to catching and skinning a rabbit to homemade skin and hair beautifiers, apple cream pie … ’ I don’t think I’ll be trying the recipe for ‘head cheese’ though …


 Being the English Girl by Claire Watts
Read on Kindle. A very enjoyable YA novel about a girl visiting her flighty French-exchange student. Part of a series – I’ve also read Gingerbread and Cupcake.


by Mara Wilson
Have you ever wondered what happened to the little actress who played Matilda? I hadn’t particularly but I picked up this book at the Christian Aid book sale and found out. There are several sad and poignant reasons why Mara Wilson isn’t a professional actress anymore but she needn’t worry about being unemployed; her writing is brilliant.


I love reading books on writing (yes, I know, displacement activity …) so was pleased to find this at the Christian Aid Book Sale although I’d never heard of Anne Lamotte, an American novelist and lecturer on creative writing. I didn’t really get on with it/her though; I think perhaps there was a culture clash plus I found her rather negative.

But I liked this – a quote made by the coach of the Jamaican bob-sled team (in the film about them called Cool Runnings) is one she reiterates to her desperate-to-get-published creative writing students: ‘If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.’

And I liked the explanation for the title. Her brother had put off doing his summer project on birds until the night before school went back. As he slumped at the kitchen table, horrified at the magnitude of his task, his father comforted him and told him to take it ‘one bird at a time, son, one bird at a time’.




Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ups and downs


It’s been an ‘up’ week at katewritesandreads:

On Monday, to celebrate National Short Story Week, I brought out a new collection of eleven stories, nine of which have won/been placed in competitions. See last blog post for further details.



On Wednesday I was interviewed on radio, a first for me. Crime writer Wendy H. Jones has a fortnightly radio show called Wendy’s Book Buzz on Mearns Radio, which operates from Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. My first instinct when Wendy asked me was to say No! I couldn’t do that but then I remembered that my new policy when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone (where my writing is involved ...) is to say Yes, I'd love to! and worry about the details later. So there I was clutching the phone and chatting to a very-well prepared Wendy about Stella’s Christmas Wish


It was the nearest I shall ever get to being on Desert Island Discs … I’d chosen six songs in advance and in between playing them Wendy asked me some great questions. Later, I plucked up courage to listen to the whole thing – how weird it is to hear your own voice. Good music choices though! See what you think – it’s available on listen-again (go down the list to find Wendy's Book Buzz) until about the 24th of November I believe.

And on Saturday, as well as having lunch with 32 of the brilliant Authors and Book Bloggers in Scotland Facebook Group, I acquired a couple of copies of The People’s Friend Special, no 149 with its lovely Christmassy cover. 


I have a story in it The Overnight Guest: Judith is dreading Christmas. Instead of it being a quiet day spent with her son like last year, she’s with him, his new girlfriend – and her three children. But on Christmas Eve there’s an unexpected development …



Sunday, 12 November 2017

Another World/National Short Story Week







National Short Story Week 2017 runs from 13-19 November. 

To celebrate it, I've put together an anthology of some of my short stories. What most (nine of the eleven) have in common is that they won or were short/long-listed in competitions including the Muriel Spark Short Story Award, judged by Maggie O' Farrell, and the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award. All the stories have been published in anthologies/magazines.

The Real Thing
Inspired by Pride & Prejudice’s Mary Bennet, long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award in 2009. Looking at her sisters’ relationships, Mary concludes that fiancés are fun but husbands are hard work.

Four in the Morning
Judged by Maggie O’Farrell, winner of the Muriel Spark Short Story Competition, 2008. Her memories, her worries about her daughter, strange noises in the dark house – all conspire to prevent newly widowed Alison from sleeping.

The Ties that Bind
When Eleanor and Doug sort out their late mother’s possessions they come across a puzzling photograph.

Home before Dark
Was this move to the country a good idea – or a terrible mistake? It’s late – surely Billy should be home by now?

The Shimmering Shores
Joy gets away from an unhappy home life by taking the bus down the Scottish east coast every week, hoping to have a chat with bus driver Vic.

Angel
It’s 1923. Beatrice pays a visit to the sad lady in the house across the square and makes an unexpected friend in her garden.

Lucky Tatties
Anne remembers the sweets she used to get in the village shop, including the ‘lucky tatties’ – but who were they lucky for?

Second Best
Georgie may never have won a show-jumping medal at the Olympics but she does have something that has eluded her former rival.

Booty and The Beast
The narrator gives up on love to concentrate on her career as beauty columnist but she can never forget Ronan.

Pittenweem
Barbara thinks she made the right decision all those years ago but a new young colleague makes her wonder if it’s too late to change her mind.

Another World
Shortlisted for the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award in 2006. Liam recovers from an injury, sustained on active service, in the company of his younger sister – but can he ever tell her about that other world he’s been through? 


Available on Kindle: 

http://amzn.to/2hv8xOb


#shortstories








Saturday, 4 November 2017

Living vicariously – or not





One reason I like writing fiction is that I can live vicariously through my characters. I can look different, travel to other times and far-off places, and have talents that I certainly don’t have in real life. For example I have been an archaeologist, played the fiddle, been a glamorous redhead, and travelled back to the 1950s (not all in the same story ...).

But I’ve never wanted to do what my heroine Elizabeth Duncan, in A Time to Reap, does – be a farmer.

My father was a farm manager so I was brought up on several farms in the Scottish Highlands. Most of my uncles were farmers, on both sides of the family. But get up early every single morning, be outside in all weathers? Not for me, thank you very much. I was roped in to help at some unearthly hour of the morning when it was time to gather the sheep off the hill and, I am shamefaced to recall, I did nothing but moan about it.

Sometimes I’d watch what Dad and his colleagues were doing, whether it was sheep-dipping, lambing, ploughing, making hay bales or milking the cow, and with my siblings and neighbouring children I roamed around over a wide radius, untroubled by traffic or worries about bogeymen.

My much-preferred occupation though was to read (in the garden on warmer days, hugging the Raeburn the rest of the year). The books I liked best were set hundreds of miles away geographically (in rambling houses in Cornwall, tapping walls for secret passages and finding buried treasure), or light years away from my own experience (having midnight feasts in a boarding-school dormitory). When, around the age of ten, I tried to write stories myself I aped my favourite authors. Write about life on a Highland farm? It never crossed my mind for a minute.

So no one was more surprised than me when many years later I found myself writing a serial for The People’s Friend – about a farming community in 1963. Despite my upbringing, research was required. Online I found a ‘calendar’ of a farmer’s year from around the right time-period and place. I asked a cousin how a haystack was made. In a second-hand shop I found a copy of The Farm as a Business: A Handbook of Standards and Statistics (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, seven shillings) and an item in it, about cattle-rearing, gave me an idea for a plotline.

I got rather obsessed with remembering life on big estates – not just the farming side; there were gamekeepers, foresters, gardeners, the wider community – and trying to think of it from the perspective of a grown-up, not as the child I was when actually there.

I enjoyed writing A Time to Reap more than anything I’ve ever written and of all my characters (in over 50 short stories, two other serials and a novel) I’d like to be Elizabeth Duncan.

That’s on paper only though – I’m afraid the intervening years have shown no improvement in my bad temper when I have to get up very early.

It’s April 1963 in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Duncan, widowed with two small daughters, is the farm manager on the Rosland estate, the job previously held by her husband, Matthew. Following a hard, snowy winter, her working life is made more difficult by the unpleasant estate factor.

Elizabeth enjoys support in the small community from family and friends, including her cousin Peggy and local vet Andy Kerr. The arrival of an American visitor at Rosland House unsettles her in a way she hadn’t expected but, after Matthew’s mysterious death, a new relationship has been the last thing on her mind. However, as she dances at the annual estate ball in September, that may be about to change …

A Time to Reap is available in a large-print edition in libraries, and on Kindle.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Seven in September


I read seven books in September.


At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
We’ve probably all heard the story of ‘Johnny Appleseed’ who scattered pips across America that grew into wonderful orchards seemingly without any further human intervention. But it turns out that growing apples is a great skill, that different kinds can be crossed to produce a different flavour/texture – and that drinking too much cider can have very dire consquences.

Once again Tracy Chevalier has chosen a fascinating subject to passionately pursue. Her (fictional) main character, Robert, moves on from the apple trees of his childhood to finding giant sequoias (even being involved in transporting some to Wales – this really happened ).

The research does rather overwhelm the story and I would have liked to follow Robert’s sister Martha too – but I do love learning something new in whatever form it takes and while I appreciated trees before I read this I’m definitely going to be hugging them now.
 
   


Yes, a bit of a random title for me – part psychology, part medical. When I read (and loved) Liane Moriarty’s novel Three Wishes, which is about triplets, she mentioned this book in her acknowledgements. So I thought I would read it, as a writing friend once pointed out to me that I am fond of having multiple births in my stories – lots of twins and the beginnings of a novel with triplets. Really don’t know why I do that … I’m trying to stop. 

But I loved these stories about twins who were separated at birth (sometimes in the past, horrifically, deliberately separated as a scientific experiment) and who turned out to not only have eg the same mannerisms but who married wives with the same name, or who turned up to be reunited with their twin wearing the same colour and style of dress. About nature and nurture basically – absolutely fascinating. And the medical bit was too (did you know that twins can have different fathers?) … book now passed on to a young relative who has started midwifery training.


X by Sue Grafton
Bought in the wonderful Barter Books in Alnwick. This is the third last in this series about Californian private investigator Kinsey Milhone, which I have been blitz-reading over the last few months. This isn’t one of the best, a bit of a pot-boiler, and really it’s a follow-on story from W is for Wasted – so don’t make this the book you start your reading of the series. Otherwise you could start anywhere because the books, all 26 of them (I’ve still to read Y and Z is not out yet), are set in an unspecified year around the mid 1980s.




In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I’ve never read Judy Blume’s YA books – actually I’m not sure they were called that when they were first published, I think she probably invented the genre. But a friend passed this ‘for adult readers’ book on and I was intrigued to read it. It’s set in 1951 and based on a real series of tragic accidents that happened over one year in suburban New Jersey, where JB grew up. There are many wonderful characters, perhaps too many – some merited a whole book of their own. It’s a very interesting period to read about – I’ve read lots of fiction and non-fiction of post-war, still-food-rationed Britain when everything seemed rather gray and dreary, but America is the land of plenty; there are technological advances and women’s lives are changing. 



I’ve been meaning reading to read Karen Swan for a while – her covers look so enticing. But I was sadly disappointed. Four friends – two young couples – in the Canadian Rockies, an accident happens, and the book is about the fall-out. Great setting, great premise. But I didn’t like any of the four of characters – they simply didn't ring true for me – and one of them turns out to be so unhinged they seem to have strayed in from a different genre. And the title is a swiz – there are date headings throughout the book and it skips from 24 December to the 26th! There are good reviews online for this, KS’s eleventh novel, but there are also readers who think it not a patch on earlier titles. So maybe I’ll give her another go. Maybe.


Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
Read on Kindle. Short stories, some about the same characters, all single women and (the irony is deliberate) not awfully carefree or mellow. Loved, loved the characters, the settings and the dry humour. The New York Times described her writing as ‘Cheever mixed with Ephron’. That mix makes a very successful marriage …


Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Read on Kindle. When I finished her short stories I rushed out to buy KH’s novel (well, I downloaded and started reading it immediately). I don’t know when I’ve last read a book with such lifelike characters – they jumped straight off the page and I loved them all, yes, even the origami obsessives ...

There’s not much in the way of plot but who cares – this is a fly-on-the-wall, laugh-out-loud look at the 15-year marriage of Graham and Audra. He was previously married to ice-queen, humourless Elspeth. One of those people who light up a room, Audra could not be more different. She is much younger than Graham and he loves that she’s so gregarious and can talk to anyone – and does, at great length and speed, without filtering her thoughts (although he winces when the people sitting in front of them at a church wedding overhear her telling him some very (very) intimate information about the bride).

Graham and Audra have a son, Matthew, who has Aspergers, something they take in their stride although it’s not always easy. And sometimes Audra can be too friendly and hospitable, filling their house with waifs and strays, which is when Graham thinks nostalgically of the ordered, peaceful life he had with Elspeth

Throw in the New York setting as a bonus and I was completely hooked by this warm, funny and wonderfully written book.





Thursday, 12 October 2017

Just my Luck


We all have our little superstitions even those of us who say they’re not superstitious (she said, crossing her fingers).

My mum would definitely say she wasn’t superstitious, but she thought bringing pretty hawthorn blossoms into the house would cause something bad to happen – because one time a sad event did follow the blossoms.

Years ago I worked with a girl who believed all her horoscopes in various magazines and newspapers – even when they gave conflicting advice. She had her stars done once, although I can’t remember now what that entailed apart from sheets of that lined computer paper you used to get. Or was that her bio-rhythms? – she had those done too (whatever they were) and she put great store in coincidences and number patterns. We lost touch but I do hope life turned out happily for her.

Perhaps she was hovering in my sub-conscious when I thought of a storyline involving a girl who wouldn’t walk under ladders and who followed her horoscope to the letter. Then when a discussion a few months ago in my writing class led to the superstitions around seeing magpies the two things came together to make a magazine story.

Just my Luck was published in The People’s Friend this week (14 Oct.) with a lovely illustration:



and I got my name on the cover! 



Now that’s what I call good fortune.