I was invited to celebrate the launch of the BBC’s ‘Novels That Shaped Our World’ campaign at New Broadcasting House on Tuesday night with other book bloggers and vloggers. It begins a year-long celebration of literature at the BBC and also marks the 300th anniversary of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which is widely considered to be the first modern English novel.
Six writers and critics – Stig Abell, Syima Aslam, Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal, Mariella Frostrup and Alexander McCall Smith – have come up with a list of 100 novels that shaped our world. The list itself is not going to please everyone. It consists of English language titles only and it also includes several series such as the Earthsea trilogy and Discworld, so to call it a list of “100 novels” isn’t strictly true. However, I think those bemoaning the fact that it is not a collection of “greatest” novels featuring lots of worthy tomes are slightly missing the point, as it is very much a list of books which have had personal impact on the panellists. That’s not to say that books traditionally thought of as great literature are not here because they are (‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Middlemarch’, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ are among those which made the cut). But it seems to have upset some people that they appear alongside more modern books considered to be guilty pleasures (‘The Twilight Saga’ and ‘Riders’ being two which are typically excluded from these kind of lists). Organised thematically, it’s a bit like an updated version of The Big Read series from the early 2000s but without a public vote, thereby preventing the overrepresentation of Jeffrey Archer and Jacqueline Wilson this time. Continue reading
I have been to a number of individual literary events in London over the last few years but until this weekend, I had never been to one of the many book festivals held in the capital each year. Now in its eighth year, Chiswick Book Festival in west London runs from Thursday 15th – Monday 19th September with talks from a wide variety of authors and other speakers. Armed with an all-day pass, I went to four events at St Michael and All Angels Church and the Tabard Theatre yesterday.
In no particular order, here are some of my favourite books from those I’ve read in 2015:
Favourite fiction published in 2015
I loved Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith which is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series and I was lucky enough to attend a special launch event in October in which my team came first in a live escape game. Winning a signed copy was a particular highlight.
The relaunch of the Sunday Times / PFD Young Writer of the Year Award introduced me to some fantastic new authors including The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota which is my personal favourite from a very strong shortlist.
I really enjoyed seeing Hanya Yanagihara talk about her second novel A Little Life at Foyles last summer. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it’s been one of the most talked-about and controversial books of the year and, in my view, one of the most astonishingly original. Continue reading
Last week, I attended another bloggers event at the Groucho Club in London to celebrate the work of classic crime writers Margery Allingham and Eric Ambler with short talks delivered by Barry Pike, a founder and Chairman of the Margery Allingham Society, and Simon Brett, a crime writer and Ambler expert. I developed an interest in classic crime fiction after reading Martin Edwards’ compendium of the genre The Golden Age of Murder last summer which outlined the lives and works of key members of the Detection Club in the early 20th century including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley among others. I was therefore very keen to learn more about two other crime writers whose names were familiar to me but whose novels I had never read before.
This week, I was lucky enough to get a place at a special launch event for ‘Career of Evil’, the third book in the crime fiction series by J. K. Rowling written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I really enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm and was very keen to read the latest instalment of Cormoran Strike’s adventures.
To celebrate the launch, the publishers of ‘Career of Evil’ teamed up with Time Run to organise a special crime thriller version of a live gaming experience where teams need to solve clues and puzzles to “escape” the room as quickly as possible. Based in Hackney, it’s been described by the Metro as “immersive theatre meets Crystal Maze but better”. This definitely wasn’t going to be a typical book launch… Continue reading
Longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara has been talked about as one of the novels of the year, if not the decade. On Wednesday night, Yanagihara appeared at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London in conversation with Cathy Rentzenbrink, the Associate Editor of The Bookseller, to talk about her astonishing second novel.
As well as hosting one of the biggest literary festivals in the country, Hay-on-Wye is the official book town of Wales and home to over twenty bookshops. It was somewhat inevitable that I would end up visiting a few and making some purchases during my time at the festival last month…
Hay Cinema Bookshop
One of the first bookshops I visited was the Hay Cinema Bookshop with Francis Edwards Antiquarian Books on the top floor. I made three more visits during the week and still feel like I barely scratched the surface of this enormous shop which has been based in a converted cinema since 1965. It’s a bit like Baggins Book Bazaar – another very large second-hand bookshop in Rochester, Kent – but with a much wider range of fiction including a large amount of brand new remainder stock. I bought seven books from the shop which has an excellent range of translated fiction and literary biographies. Continue reading
On Saturday, my final day at the Hay Festival, I went to see Helen Macdonald deliver the Samuel Johnson Prize lecture at the Tata tent about ‘H is for Hawk‘ which has won both the Costa Book of the Year and Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction awards. ‘H is for Hawk’ was one of my favourite non-fiction books of 2014 and was the first memoir to win the Samuel Johnson Prize since its launch in 1999. The book comprises of three strands: Macdonald’s experiences of grief following the death of her father in 2007, her attempt to train a goshawk called Mabel and a biography of T. H. White. Her lecture focused on the former two aspects rather than T. H. White’s story. You can watch a clip of the event here where Macdonald describes meeting Mabel for the first time.
On Tuesday evening at the Hay Festival, I went to see Alexander McCall Smith in conversation with S. J. Parris at the Tata tent.
McCall Smith recently won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction for his novel ‘Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party’. As well as being a literary prize for one of the more neglected genres of fiction, it is notable for its unusual reward. Rather than money, the winner receives a jeroboam of champagne, the 52 novels by P. G. Wodehouse and a Gloucester Old Spot pig named after the winning novel. The event began with McCall Smith being presented with the champagne and 1 of the 52 Wodehouse novels having met the pig earlier in the day (you can watch the meeting here).
This week, I am very excited to be at the Hay Festival in Wales attending various events, browsing lots of bookshops and maybe purchasing one or two books…
The first event I attended on Sunday evening was the Man Booker International Prize winner László Krasznahorkai in conversation with Dame Marina Warner, the Chair of the Prize’s panel, on the Oxfam Moot stage. Since its launch in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded every two years to any living author writing fiction in English or whose work is widely translated into English. Unlike its sister prize the Man Booker Prize, it is awarded in recognition of the author’s whole body of work rather than a particular novel.
Bloomsbury Book Club Grantchester Christmas Special
On Wednesday night, I attended the Bloomsbury Institute Book Club Grantchester Christmas Special event at Bedford Square in central London with author James Runcie and scriptwriter Daisy Coulam discussing how the first book in the Grantchester Mysteries series, ‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ was dramatised for television by ITV. Continue reading
Last year, I went to the Man Booker Prize shortlist readings event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre. This year, I was lucky enough to win tickets to the same event which was held at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday and hosted by Kirsty Wark.
This year’s shortlisted novels are:
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
J by Howard Jacobson
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
How to be Both by Ali Smith
Last weekend, I went to a book launch in Cambridge for Cliff James’ debut novel ‘Of Bodies Changed’. The novel tells the story of Jackie, who travels to the South Downs in search of her childhood home. As she tries to find out what happened to her estranged brother, Chris, she uncovers a number of dark family secrets. Based on what Cliff describes as a “close encounter” with the Church as a teenager, the story follows Jackie as she is introduced to a world of heathens, priests and paganism. Continue reading
Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a special screening of the film adaptation of ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ at the Soho Hotel in London ahead of its general release on Friday. Thanks to the likes of Steig Larsson and Henning Mankell, Sweden is generally more famous for producing atmospheric crime fiction. However, the comic novel by Jonas Jonasson has been a worldwide hit and has been translated into more than thirty languages with more than six million copies sold since 2009. The film is likely to match the book’s success across the globe this summer having already broken box office records in Sweden when it was released last December. Continue reading
Founded in 1947 by Charles Ede, the Folio Society is an independent publisher with a reputation for producing beautifully illustrated books. This week, I was lucky enough to attend their spring titles launch event at the British Library in London.