Sunday, 22 February 2009

Book of the Week - Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant

Kate Grenville is one of Austalia's foremost writers, with a significant record of success in literary prizes. The Lieutenant is her seventh novel, and should do very well this year. I will update with a bibliography later in the week - I am on an early flight in the morning and time is short!

In 1787 Lieutenant Daniel Rooke sets sail from Portsmouth with the First Fleet and its cargo of convicts, destined for New South Wales. The shy and quiet Rooke is full of anticipation about the natural wonders he might discover in this strange land on the other side of the world. After the fleet arrives in Port Jackson, some of the Aboriginal people who live around the harbour soon pay a visit. One of them, a girl named Tagaran, starts to teach Rooke her own language. But her lessons and their friendship are interrupted when Rooke is given an order that will change his life forever.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Book of the Week - Chris Killen, The Bird Room

The Bird Room by Chris Killen is a first novel published by Canongate. The author is 28, lives in Manchester, and has a website for the book, a myspace page, a blog and recently gave an interview in second life. I think he may like cats. The novel has been widely noticed and praised. Keep an eye open for signed copies.

When a boy named Will meets Alice, he can't believe his luck. She's smart, sexy and, much to Will's surprise, in love with him. Alice brings meaning to his urban existence and his McJob. But the course of modern love did never run smooth and soon devotion leads Will to something darker. Elsewhere in the city Helen is an actress. Or she will be one day. For now she finds work as a model. She used to be called Clair, but she wants to be something new and she can be anyone. She's an actress, remember. This is a love story with a twist, this explosive debut novel brings Will and Helen's lives together in a tale as tight as rope and as black as tar. "The Bird Room" is a candid, funny, intimate portrait of a generation.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Book of the week – Charles Elton, Mr.Toppit

Mr.Toppit is a first novel by Charles Elton, for which Penguin paid a great deal of money. Consequently, the print run is likely to be relatively high. Nonetheless, reviews have been universally positive and I am looking forward to reading the book (signed copies currently available at £12.99). Charles Elton is in his 50’s, and worked as a designer and editor in publishing before becoming a director of the literary agency, Curtis Brown. Since 1991 he has worked in television and has been Executive Producer in drama at ITV since 2000. Among his productions are the Oscar-nominated short Syrup, The Railway Children, Andrew Davies' adaptation of Northanger Abbey and the recent series Time Of Your Life.

And out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us. When The Hayseed Chronicles, an obscure series of children's books, become world-famous millions of readers debate the significance of that enigmatic last line and the shadowy figure of Mr Toppit who dominates the books. The author, Arthur Hayman, an unsuccessful screenwriter mown down by a concrete truck in Soho, never reaps the benefits of the books' success. The legacy passes to his widow, Martha, and her children - the fragile Rachel, and Luke, reluctantly immortalised as Luke Hayseed, the central character of his father's books. But others want their share, particularly Laurie, the overweight stranger from California, who comforts Arthur as he lies dying, and has a mysterious aganda of her own that changes all their lives. For buried deep in the books lie secrets which threaten to be revealed as the family begins to crumble under the heavy burden of their inheritance. Spanning several decades, from the heyday of the British film industry after the war to the cut-throat world of show business in Los Angeles, Mr Toppit is a riveting tale of the unexpected effects of sudden fame and fortune.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Book of the Week and Bibliography – Jill Dawson, The Great Lover

The great Lover is the sixth novel of Jill Dawson, focussed on the poet Rupert Brooke. Reviews have been uniformly good, and the novel may be a contender for the Orange and Booker prizes later this year. Signed copies are not available yet, but should be soon. Nell Golightly is living out her widowhood in Cambridgeshire when she receives a strange request: a Tahitian woman, claiming to be the daughter of Brooke, writes to ask what he was like: how did he sound, what did he smell like, how did it feel to wrap your arms around him? So Nell turns her mind to 1909 when, as a seventeen-year-old housemaid, she first encountered the young poet. He was already causing a stir - not only with his poems and famed good looks, but also by his taboo-breaking behaviour and radical politics. Intrigued, she watched as Rupert skilfully managed his male and female admirers, all of whom seemed to be in love with him. Soon Nell realised that despite her good sense, she was falling for him too. But could he love a housemaid? Was he, in fact, capable of love at all? In a dazzling act of imagination, Jill Dawson gives voice to Rupert Brooke himself in a dual narrative that unfolds in both his own words and those of her spirited fictional character, Nell. A memorable tale of love in many guises, of heartbreak and loss, the novel brings Brooke vividly to life as it shows him to have been a far more interesting, complex and troubled figure than the romanticised version allows.

Jill Dawson was born in Durham and grew up in Staffordshire, Essex and Yorkshire. Her writing life began as a poet, her poems being published in a variety of small press magazines, and in one pamphlet collection, White Fish with Painted Nails (1990). She won an Eric Gregory Award for her poetry in 1992. She edited several books for Virago, including The Virago Book of Wicked Verse (1992) and The Virago Book of Love Letters (1994). She has also edited a collection of short stories, School Tales: Stories by Young Women (1990), and with co-editor Margo Daly, Wild Ways: New Stories about Women on the Road (1998) and Gas and Air: Tales of Pregnancy and Birth (2002). She is the author of one book of non-fiction for teenagers, How Do I Look? (1991), which deals with the subject of self-esteem. Jill Dawson is the author of five novels: Trick of the Light (1996); Magpie (1998), for which she won a London Arts Board New Writers Award; Fred and Edie (2000); Wild Boy (2003); and most recently, Watch Me Disappear (2006). Fred and Edie is based on the historic murder trial of Thompson and Bywaters, and was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Novel Award and the 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction.