Book Review: This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

51bLYEeNwHL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Those of you who read my posts, tweets, and follow me on other social media platforms will know that I am a HUGE fan of Maggie O’Farrell’s work, so you can imagine my excitement when I received an ARC of This Must Be The Place from über-blogger Anne Williams. Thank you, lovely Anne!

I first encountered Maggie O’Farrell’s work many years ago through my monthly subscription to glossy mag, Red. (Forgive the formality of the full name. I don’t know her so ‘Maggie’ seems overly familiar and using her surname only, whilst a convention, feels too formal for a woman whose soul I feel I have a window into on account of her writing). A copy of My Lover’s Lover was included in the shrink-wrapped package. It sat on my bedside table for ages – I am crazy mad about the late, great Bernice Rubens and at the time was working my way through her books – but when I did pick up My Lover’s Lover, I enjoyed it immensely and sought out her debut: After You’d Gone, which I adored. Ever since, I have waited eagerly for each new MO. How’s an abbreviation? And if there are any publishers listening in, I guess this goes to show that giving books away for free – paperbacks – really can bring in new readers. I’m less convinced about Kindle because it must be easy to forget they’re there, on your machine.

Back to Ms O’Farrell’s (better still?) novels. They are all great, but if I had to choose I’d say my favourites were: After You’d Gone and The Hand That First Held Mine.

Until now.

OMG, This Must Be The Place is bloody brilliant. Swearie good.

Crossing continents and three decades, it’s an expansive, sweeping, epic-yet-intimate story of a group of interrelated people. Told from multiple points of view, at the centre of the maelstrom is Daniel, a complex, flawed, beautiful man who’s made a bit of a hash of his life. In less assured, and frankly genius hands, this could have been a dog’s dinner. Instead, it is a glorious study of a marriage, people struggling to find their place in this messy but often wonderful world. Brim-full of fascinating characters (a reclusive film star; a stammering boy; an elderly woman who has recently left her husband; a film-maker’s assistant; I could go on), psychological insight and vivid storytelling, I found that as I read each section I didn’t want it to finish; I wanted to discover more about this particular character’s story and yet, simultaneously, I wanted to find out how others were faring since I’d seen them last.

No review can really do this novel justice – certainly no review I can write. So, I’ll leave by saying: Read it. It is divine.

The Official Blurb:
Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway.
He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

This Must Be The Place is released on 17 May. Buy it here. Or at your local bookshop.

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Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey rules: Guest post from historical novelist Tom Williams

Back HomeToday, please welcome another Accent Press author to my gaff. Tomorrow is the official launch of Back Home and I’ll be there in person to toast Tom’s latest offering. In the meantime, let’s raise a virtual glass here. Cheers, Tom. Over to you.

Back Home is the sixth historical novel that I’ve written but it differs from the other five in that it is not tied to a specific historical event. My son insists that I like writing historical novels because I lack imagination. It’s true that if somebody asks me where I get my ideas from, the answer is, “History books.” Indeed, part of the fun of plotting my previous novels has been making sure that my characters are in the right place, at the right time, to fit the historical record. My fictional creations meet and talk with real people, often using the words that those real people actually did use in their diaries and letters. It can be challenging, but it’s a lot of fun, and it does mean that I seldom have to ask myself, “What happens next?”

Back Home is different. My narrator, John Williamson, has returned to England after his adventures with the real James Brooke (The White Rajah) and having survived the all-too-real horrors of the Indian Mutiny (Cawnpore). Back in his native land, though, there are no great events for him to be caught up in, so I had a blank page on which to write whatever story I wanted.

In fact, I didn’t really have an entirely blank page. Cawnpore had ended with John Williamson landing in Devon and in The White Rajah I had suggested that he died in Devon, so the story has to begin and end there. But, reading history books in search of plot material, I had been caught up by tales of the Victorian underworld and these seemed to centre on London. Certainly London’s underworld is the best documented, largely because of Mayhew’s astonishing work on London Labour and the London Poor. John, I decided, would travel to London for one last adventure before retiring to live out his years peacefully in Devon. And that adventure would involve the criminal gangs of London and, in particular, Seven Dials, an area that had fascinated me for years. (I’ve written about Seven Dials and why I wanted to set the story there on Lynne Shelby’s blog)

Within that loose geographical outline, I could write whatever I wanted. I thought it was important, though, that the story reflected the tone of the previous John Williamson stories and was historically accurate. Although the events are completely fictional, the historical framework within which they take place is quite detailed – arguably more so than in the previous stories. The London that John explores is the London of Bradshaw’s 1862 Hand Book. The streets are the streets of the Post Office Directory map of London from 1857 and the people he encounters are Mayhew’s characters. The background of worries about possible invasion by the French and concern about communist revolutionaries is real. (Karl Marx features, and his character – and some of his words – are true to life.) I learned how to forge a sovereign (I really could, I think) and where to pick up a prostitute. I found the cost of a light lunch and what exhibits were popular in the British Museum. And, once I’d done all this, I let rip with a story about villains and secret policemen and government plots that is entirely fantasy.

In the end, the difference was less than I might have expected. History sets limits on what you can have your characters achieve, even when they are very much on the margins of great events. It turns out that Dr Who is right. History is governed by wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey rules. The attempted revolt of the people of Seven Dials is doomed: they will vanish from history. Enemies of the state will quietly die, possibly in not-quite-explained circumstances. Social misfits will conform or perish or, just possibly, escape back to Devon and a sort of peace. In art, as in life, history will move on remorselessly. We have less control of our characters, and our lives, than we like to think.

BLURB
In 1859, John Williamson returns from India, broken by his experiences in the Mutiny. England has become a country he hardly recognises. Industrialisation at home and military expansion abroad have made Britain into a dynamic political and economic power that dominates the world. Yet, in London, he finds the same divide between the poor and the rich that he saw in the Far East. Once again, is caught between the machinations of the powerful and the resistance of the powerless. But now that he is back home, can he escape the cycle of violence that has dogged his life?

LINKS
The White Rajah: myBook.to/WhiteRajah
Cawnpore: myBook.to/Cawnpore
Back Home: mybook.to/backhome

And here are the stories about James Burke.
Burke in the Land of Silver: myBook.to/LandofSilver
Burke and the Bedouin: mybook.to/Bedouin
Burke at Waterloo: myBook.to/BurkeWaterloo

I blog at http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/
My Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams/
My Twitter handle is @TomCW99

Bio:
Tom portraitTom Williams used to write about boring things for money. If you wanted an analysis of complaints volumes in legal services or attitudes to diversity at the BBC, then he was your man. Now he writes much more interesting books about historical characters and earns in a year about what he could make in a day back then. (This, unfortunately, is absolutely true.) He also writes a blog (http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/) which is widely read all over the world and generates no income at all.

Besides making no money from writing, Tom makes no money out of occasionally teaching people to tango and then spends all the money he hasn’t made on going to dance in Argentina.
Tom has a wife who, fortunately, has a well-paid job, and a grown-up son who has resolved that he is never, ever, going to write anything.

Thanks for stopping by, Tom. Good luck with the rest of the tour and the book itself. May it fly off the virtual shelves.

To like or not to like, that is the question

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Me, the pleaser, smiling for the camera (of course)

Commonly, we like to like our fictional heroes and heroines, and within some genres it is considered literary suicide to have a lead that isn’t very nice. Before I completed Redemption Song, had I been asked, I would have said I prefer stories with a likable protagonist: I adore Lou in Me Before You, Annie and Kate in The Day We Disappeared.

However, once the first draft was down and I knuckled down to the real business of writing – rewriting – I realised that while I love Saffron, my lead, her behaviour isn’t always likable, especially at the novel’s opening. I pondered whether to increase her nice factor but in the end decided that readers must see her warts and all. She is a good person; she just doesn’t always present that way!

And I began to dig a little deeper into my own likes and dislikes. Were my favourite literary heroines all lovely? No, as it turned out … Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, Emma Bovary, Emma Woodhouse, Becky Sharp, the list goes on. These are women I find fascinating, but always nice? Definitely not. The more I thought about it, the more I acknowledged my penchant for difficult characters, difficult female characters in particular. Why is this?

Novels with some of my favourite kick-ass heroines

Novels with some of my favourite kick-ass heroines

It stems, I believe, from a dream to be the rebel, the feisty girl who does as she pleases, who kicks ass, metaphorically if not literally. Like a great many women – more than men, I believe – from childhood I have been a ‘pleaser’. Pleasing others equals likability and acceptance, and if you need proof that girls seek approval more than boys, spend some time in a primary school classroom! As a girl, I would often set aside my desires and ambitions rather than risk upsetting others. As the years have passed, I have become better at not always being selfless, but I still find it extremely difficult to say no. This is why I enjoy those heroines who don’t give a damn what others think (some of the time), who are unafraid to pursue their desires, who behave badly sometimes, who forge a new path, who are unafraid of unpopularity. And the irony is that it is precisely these types of women who often become role models and national treasures. In real life I’m thinking of the likes of Caitlin Moran and Suzanne Moore.

An author I respect, Lionel Shriver, said some years ago: ‘Goodness is not only boring but downright annoying… When fiction works, readers can develop the same nuanced, conflicted relationships to characters that they have to their own friends and family.’

Hear, hear.

And now that Saffron from Redemption Song is out here in the world, I must turn my attention to Diana, the protagonist in my next novel, Skin Deep. A former model and an artist, she is beautiful, talented, messed-up, thoughtless, selfish and needy. Another challenge, in essence!

Have a lovely weekend, people,

Laura x

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From place to place

Today I’ve been guesting at Lynne Shelby‘s blog on her regular A Sense of Place slot. Of course, I talk about the setting in Redemption Song, my latest, but I also talk about the locations in my other novels and in the one that is still to come … scheduled for publication in March next year. Skin Deep probably has the most unusual location – a sink estate in Manchester that was demolished in the mid-90s, way before the story of Diana and Cal arrived in my head. Pop over and find out more … HERE.

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Guest Post from Jenny Harper

Can the friendship of three women survive the attack of one very manipulative man?

Between Friends FinalThe friendships we form in our youth often go very deep. Yet however strong they may be, friendships – perhaps especially female ones – can be fraught by tensions, jealousies and sensitivities. In Between Friends, the issue is complicated by the fact that there are not just two BFFs, but three. We soon learn that at school Carrie and Marta were the driving forces, while Jane – less sure of herself and with a slight stutter – was carried along in their slipstream. Over the course of the book, each of the friends is put under pressure, each has their weaknesses, each their moments of strength and of stupidity.
Inevitably, the balance is forever shifting. Two friends collude in excluding the third, there is always the possibility of discussing the absent one behind her back, there are secrets shared that third knows nothing about. Toss an explosive ingredient into the mix – an outside force – and who knows what might happen?
As I was writing this story, the ebb and flow of the friendship between Marta, Carrie and Jane proved fascinating. Each has secrets and, more importantly, because of their very different personalities, each deals with what unfolds in a very different way. The stutter Jane battled at school returns. Marta’s marriage comes under strain and, isolated from her friends, she finds it difficult to cope. And strong Carrie – driven, ambitious, in control – learns the hard way that maybe what she always longed for is not what she needs after all.
They all knew Tom in the past. Over the years since his life was interwoven with the three heroines’ lives, his charm has been all but eclipsed by his delight in manipulation and control. He takes advantage of Marta’s generous and trusting nature and exploits Carrie’s attraction to him. To Jane he is brutal, delighting in her visible fear of what his reappearance might do to the safeguards she has constructed around herself. He is so adept at sowing mistrust that the lifelong friendship that could save them threatens to implode.
Only by pulling together can they have any hope of getting Tom out of their lives and, ultimately, of the satisfaction of revenge, but many factors conspire to keep them apart
This book was originally called The Glass Ornament and I have to be honest – when I was writing the story, I was so fascinated by Tom and what he was getting up to that what was happening between the women almost wrote itself. It wasn’t until I sat back and looked at the novel that I realised it was at heart a book about friendship and the many things that can come between friends. Selfishness, betrayal, lies, jealousies, different values, ambitions and lifestyles all play a part.
In the end, all these issues must be put aside and each woman has to dig deep to find the stronger and more likeable aspects of their personalities in order to survive.
Bio and links
Jenny CC 5 croppedJenny Harper lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, though she was born in India and grew up in England. She has been a non-fiction editor, a journalist and a businesswoman and has written a children’s novel and several books about Scotland. Jenny writes contemporary women’s fiction with bite – complex characters facing serious issues. Face the Wind and Fly is about a woman wind farm engineer with a marriage in trouble and a controversial project to handle. Loving Susie is about a female politician with a complicated family history and at odds with the world. Maximum Exposure, is about a newspaper photographer with job to save and some growing up to do and People We Love is about an artist whose life is on hold following the tragic death of her brother, and an unlikely journey back through grief.
Her latest book, Between Friends, is a tale of friendship and revenge and is set in Edinburgh.

Webpage http://jennyharperauthor.co.uk/

Blog http://jennyharperauthor.co.uk/

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