My favourite reads of 2015

As another year draws to a close, it’s traditional for me to post a list of my most memorable reads – books I’ve enjoyed most – over the past twelve months. This is a very personal list; I’m an author, not a professional critic, and my taste is eclectic. So much depends on mood, though like many readers there are those authors I return to time and time again. There’s one on this list and a couple of new authors I’ll definitely read again. In 2015 I read 35 books for pleasure (I read many more in my role as editor and mentor to developing writers) and here are my top ten, in no particular order!

Some of my favourite reads of 2015

Some of my favourite reads of 2015

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Moyes always hits the spot for me, and this was a delight from start to finish. Gorgeous.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

A beautifully written, poignant debut about the myriad faces of grief. Moving.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

Old but wonderful. Barbara is one of the saddest, most deliciously screwed-up protagonists I can think of. Incredible.

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Alzheimer’s, love and family, covered with Coleman’s trademark warmth and insight. Tender.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Flynn’s debut about a hack returning to her small town home to cover child murders is stronger and nastier than her breakthrough novel, Gone Girl, IMHO. Disturbing.

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

An exquisitely written story about a Derbyshire pit village, the damage the community wreaks on an Albino mother, her husband and boy and its  repercussions. Poignant.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

A YA novel about a young boy whose sister is killed by an act of terrorism. The novel is a few years old now but still so relevant. A book every child should read. Pertinent.

Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt

A beautiful collection of short stories inspired by the sea. Dancing on Canvey and Catching the Tip-Tap to Cayes de Jacmel were stand-outs in a fabulous collection. Tangy.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam

A time-slip dual narrative set in a grand, cliff-top house in a fictional seaside resort (though obviously based on Brighton), this is a compelling mystery peopled with memorable characters and passages of utterly gorgeous prose. Reminiscent of Sarah Waters and Agatha Christie.

OK, so I cheated on the last book, using more than a one word summary, but, hey, it’s almost Christmas!

And on that note, I’ll finish by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and here’s to a successful and happy 2016. Happy reading!

Laura x

 

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#Giveaway: The Beginning of the End

public battles draft30 years ago today, miners all over the country went back to work after a year long strike; the battle to save their jobs and their communities was over, lost. For some pit towns closure was swift, for others it took up to a decade. Only a few survive and today we import our coal from Eastern Europe and beyond. Their world, and ours, was transformed, forever. And while there were losses, there were also personal victories, as my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, explores.

To mark this anniversary – celebration is quite the wrong word – my publishers have set up a giveaway over at Goodreads. Click below for a chance to win a paperback copy of my novel. Good luck and for those who win, I do hope you enjoy the read.

Goodreads Giveaway!

What’s the story 2014?

It’s been an especially good year for great fiction with the release of cracking debuts and stunning works from more established authors. You can read my personal pick of the best here.

photo by Sarah Smith

photo by Sarah Smith

And 2014 has been a good year for me personally. So much to celebrate and enjoy, and lots of hard work too; I find the two are often connected. Where to start? In classic chronological style perhaps? *listen to the sound of me opening my Mslexia diary*

March 2014 saw the release of my ‘miners’ strike’ novel Public Battles, Private Wars (in fact, it’s about complex friendships, rivalry, love and finding the best of yourself in difficult circumstances – oh, and lots of cakes!). Publication coincided with the 30 year anniversary of the landmark strike and as a result I found myself appearing on radio, newspapers, blogs and e-zines all over the shop, including BBC Radio, the Western Mail, and the Yorkshire Post. My publicist at the super-fabulous Accent Press worked extremely hard for me – as did my wonderful editor – and I am so grateful to the entire team for their faith in me and the book. Reviews have been terrific and out-performed my expectations.

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 115This year I was fortunate enough to be offered appearances at literary festivals too, starting with a reading at Grit Lit in my home town, Brighton.  Then an all-day event at the Feminist Library in London on a baking hot June day. I spoke alongside Dr Katy Shaw of Brighton University, a leading expert on literature of the miners’ strike. Thanks to a friend, I was also a last minute speaker at The Big Book Club in the Barn event – 19 Sussex book groups (about 120 people) in a barn gathered to talk books and drink wine – my idea of heaven! Later in the summer, I appeared at GladFest – a dynamic festival in north Wales at the stunning Gladstone Library. My workshop sold out, much to my amazement.

WH Smith Show Card with author (3)After this came the Richmond Books and Boots Festival (Yorkshire, not London) where I spoke to a group of 25-odd readers at the town library about the novel. The reception was wonderful. In amongst these events, I have spoken with a number of local book groups and I did my first ever book shop signing at WH Smith Cardiff in the autumn. Lots of travelling, lots of talking, lots of fun.

2014 wasn’t all about the novel either. A short story, Deep, Dark and Dangerous, made the final ten of the inaugural Brighton Prize competition. Delivered by spoken word organisation Rattle Tales, it has a prize of £400 so worth looking out for in 2015. The winners were announced at a live event – there was champagne and roses for all the shortlisted writers too.

Resized cover imageSpring saw the launch of a special anthology of prose and poetry from Blinding Books, an independent publisher spearheaded by Richard Penny. I was thrilled when Richard approached me and asked if the collection, My Baby Shot Me Down, might include two stories of mine: The Whispering Wall and Buried. Another story, The Difference Between Us, appears in Accent Press’ summer anthology: Holiday Fling. If you’re feeling cold and dreaming of long hot days this might transport you there right now.

Holiday FlingAnd as if 2014 couldn’t get any better regarding my short fiction, I was over the moon to discover that another story had been selected to appear in an anthology of Gothic fiction published by Parthian Books. It contains work by some fine, fine writers and I am flattered (and astonished) to be included. The collection was launched at an event in October and the paperback of A Flock of Shadows will be available in good book shops in February.

OK, so this review isn’t exactly chronological but life is full of unexpected twists and turns, no? And because life can’t be wonderful all of the time – nor should we wish it to be so – we should savour the beautiful moments – little and large.

Right now, as I look back over the year and at what has been achieved, I cannot imagine 2015 being as hectic, though a part of me hopes that it is. Already, there are some special things lined up – a writing retreat at the Gladstone as part of a sponsorship for one thing – and early in 2015 there’ll be an exciting announcement (at least for me). I’ll keep you posted.

All that remains is to wave 2014 goodbye – it was good knowing you – and wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Productive 2015.

Do you like my sheep pencil? I'm part Welsh, you know.

Do you like my sheep pencil? I’m part Welsh, you know.

Books and Boots and High, High Heels – and Pride

Sept 2014 011Books and Boots is the fabulous name of a walking and book festival held in Richmond, North Yorkshire. The festival is the brain-child of Anne Wicks, former owner of the Castle Hill Bookshop – a gorgeous independent shop nestled at the foot of the castle in this ancient town, which has been serving book lovers in Richmond and the surrounding Yorkshire Dales for over 30 years. The bookshop works with a community initiative and Gillian Howells creative consultancy to run the festival, and this year was its 10th anniversary.

As the name suggests the festival boasts a diverse programme of walks and talks and bookish events in and around the town. From ghost tours to mountain hikes to literary discussions there’s a lot to see and do, and in between there’s the town itself to explore (an absolute treat) and you can explore the dales independently too, of course. Now, I’m not a hiker – take a look at the shoes I bought while I was there – so I was all about the books and I was there as a guest. (OK, the heels aren’t sky scrapers, but they’re high enough for me.)

Sept 2014 007On Monday evening, I spoke with a group of book club members in the library, all of whom had read my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars. The audience were warm, attentive and had loads of brilliant questions, and two hours passed by in a flash. To my surprise they even wanted me to read from the book – not just one extract but two.

I felt privileged to part of this festival, because it really is very special and yet it’s not as well-known as many I can think of. Do check it out next year and if you’re in the area do visit the town – it’s stunning – and Castle Hill Bookshop which is a delight to browse around. It’s only small but feels much, much larger; it has a Tardis-like quality.

In other news this week, once back from the festival I had chance to hoof it down to my local cinema and catch the movie, Pride. What a treat that was too. Wonderful. Funny, touching, sad in places, it’s a great British film. The attention to period detail was brilliant – right down to the ‘angry’ theatre company van the LGSM group use to travel to the valleys of south Wales. Readers at a book group I talked with in Brighton a couple of weeks ago likened Public Battles, Private Wars to the film, and now that I’ve seen it I am truly flattered. I’ll also add that I agree with those readers – if you’ve enjoyed Pride you’ll probably get a lot out of my novel.

Shoes I bought in Richmond!

Shoes I bought in Richmond!

Budget food 80s style, Part 9: Baked Stuffed Hearts

Not a baked heart! But made with love!

Not a baked heart! But made with love!

On this, the 30th anniversary of a defining moment in British history and the strike – The Battle of Orgreave – immortalised by artist Jeremy Deller, author David Peace and poet Helen Mort. I’m sharing another offal recipe – Baked Stuffed Hearts. Why? Because the strike was full of passion and my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, has been described by book blogger Tracy Terry at Pen and Paper as a novel with a big heart.

You will need:

4 calves hearts

Pork Sausage Stuffing

50g/2oz of butter

3 tablespoons of stock or water if you’ve no stock

To prepare:

Wash hearts well

Remove veins and fat. Dry thoroughly

Cut through centre divisions to make 1 cavity in each heart

Fill loosely with stuffing

Transfer to casserole dish

Dot with butter. Pour in stock water

Cook, tightly covered, in the centre of a moderate oven (160C/325F or Gas Mark 3) for an hour and a half

Baste well

Continue to cook, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes (or until tender)

Serve with Creamed Potatoes, Brown Sauce and Redcurrant jelly.

On the 18th June 1984 striking miners clashed with riot police, many with shields and on horseback, in the fields outside the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire. In 1991 South Yorkshire Police force paid out over half a million pounds in compensation to miners arrested during the struggle.