Category Archives: Books

Kindle or weight-lifting? The perils of author ego.

Phil: On my reading pile at the moment are Still Me by Jojo Moyes and Make a Killing on Kindle by a shouty American.

Both are good reads and neither has accompanied me on a train, my favourite place to read. Why not?

Because both are stupidly heavy. 1.7kg in total.

Now, I love a proper book as opposed to an e-reader, but looking at these things makes me wonder if I need to change my mind. In electronic form, these would be lighter than a feather. I’d be able to take them anywhere. Reading could be enjoyed wherever I have a few minutes.

Instead, the Kindle book has been sitting around since Candice gave it to me at Christmas. I’m up to chapter 8. It’s not that it’s bad (a bit shouty perhaps) but A4 sized and weighing as much as a large cat, I’m just not willing to lug the thing around.

Still Me was read in 4 chunks at home – the story is engaging enough to make me want to charge through it, but I’d still have rather read it on the train. I’ve passed the book on to the Nolan having warned her to bring a big bag. It’s a good job she’s a bit of a gym bunny.

Why are these things so massive?

The American I understand. It’s all bigger and better from him.

The novel? Publishers or authors ego. “Look at me”, the book shouts from the shelf in the supermarket, “I’m a really luxurious product.” In this day and age, there’s no need for hardbacks. The words would be the same in paper covers. I’m assuming it’s a combination of prestige and I suspect, profitability driving this.

Publisher – please think of your readers! I can’t be the only one put off reading because of the weight of the book, can I?

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Selling books and meeting readers with Pauline Hazelwood

Phil: Last week, Pauline Hazelewood of Saddletank books told us how she goes about writing train-based children’s stories. This time, she moves on to the exciting (for prospective authors) task of selling books and meeting authors. As I said, Pauline has been a memorable presence at a number of exhibitions I’ve attended and gets out and about to meet her readers in a way many authors need to consider if they want to sell copies.

I’ve met you at several railway events, and you list more on your website. How many do you attend and what sort of events do you attend each year?

I thought I’d try to do one a month. I need to see people and find out what they think of the books, but I am a bit swamped with the other work that I do. I like meeting the enthusiasts that go along to the railway events. You meet genuine, kind, interesting people, often very knowledgeable.  I do a few model railway events, some steam fairs and of course my annual trip to Bala Lake Railway, where it all started with the book on Alice.

The kids are very cute and entertaining. It’s a lot of fun with the props that I take along. My model railway and soft sculpture steam engine entertain and draw people in. I often pretend that the model engine is voice activated. The kids will shout ‘GO!”, and ‘STOP’ to the engine while I work the controls out of sight. Sometimes a deluded adult will believe  it too, which is a hilarious.!

This is a lot of effort. Do the sales at an event justify the travel, or are there more reasons to get out there?

I don’t generally travel that far or that often, but this book business has introduced me to some fantastic people and places. Actually on reflection the research part is definitely growing and becoming more exciting.  the sales events are a different thing.

I’ve done quite a few art shows and the camaraderie is part of the fun. You always feel that the circus is back in town. The steam fairs draw a fantastic relaxed bunch of enthusiasts that aren’t  so commercial and are so knowledgeable about history and mechanical engineering. And there’s often a beer tent and music, crafts and so on. I love it. It’s fascinating.

Feedback and meeting the public is great too. I sometimes wonder if it’s worthwhile carrying on with the books and what have I got myself into, but the positive feedback from total strangers amazes me and encourages me to  do more. People actually enjoy reading them to their children, just as I’d hoped. Some kids know the words by heart from some of the books. I re-read one that I was sending out the other day to sort of remind myself what it was like and I liked it.

You’ve built a strong brand with products beyond the books and this extends to your costume on the stand. Was all this planned or did it evolve? Where did the hat come from?

I love dressing up! I think that when I put on an outfit the show is on. You need to stand out a bit from the people buying. I like that steam punk look. Bowler hats are so cute. You know the ladies of Bolivia wear them because the British Railway workers went there to set up the railway. They must have swapped a few favours to get their hands on them. Nowadays they’re actually made in Bolivia.

I’m glad that you think it’s a strong brand. Perhaps that’s just because it’s only me working on it and I  just do what I like all the time. I have some very lucky breaks. The very smart expensive stand that I now use I found in a skip! I can’t believe my luck with that. The display company near my studio was filling a skip with loads of brand new display stuff. I can’t bear to see things not being recycled so I and another mad lady kept climbing in and we filled the boots our cars with all sorts of new things.

This links up with the products in a way, as I’m keen to get everything that I sell, made in Britain. The books, magnets, bags, etc are all made here and there will soon be an eco friendly, british made, non plastic, wonderful little toy engine on sale too!

How important do you feel it is for authors to go out and meet readers?

I suppose it depends on the individual, but I love it. It’s great to meet all the children. I run occasional art classes for kids, it’s good to show them the roughs of the books, so that they can see how a book is developed. and it’s fun chatting with people. I want girls to see that the railways aren’t just for boys, that mechanical engineering is an option and that painting and drawing engines is fun for anyone to do.

I’m  also learning Welsh because I go to Wales each year. I love learning languages and you can download podcasts of Welsh from the ‘say something in Welsh’ website. I already speak Spanish ( my mother is Gibraltarian), and some French, so I enjoy practising with people who can speak those languages.

When I do art demos for  art societies, it’s a performance. I paint a picture and tell funny stories at the same time . I like making people laugh and I like sharing skills and tips, passing on ideas, so it’s very much the same thing.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Don’t forget, you can find Pauline’s books here.

 

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That’s not a printing error, it’s a plot twist

Phil: Time for me to read a bit of unashamed chick-lit. If you are heading for a sun lounger, the sort of book to pack with the suncream.

The One we fell in Love with centres on Phoebe, Eliza and Rose, identical triplets and the man at least two of them fell in love with – Angus, the hunky next door neighbour.

It’s difficult to tell you much about this book without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say that everyone gets paired up as you would hope.

So far, so normal for the genre. Yes, there is a bit of “will they won’t they” and some angst, but by halfway through the book, you know how everything will turn out.

It’s the middle of the book that threw me. All the chapters end and then on the next page, the next one begins.

Except that at the end of chapter 24, the words stop halfway down the page as normal. You turn over and they carry on again for half a page before chapter 25 starts. Someone has dropped the big twist in and fiddled with the layout to make it more of a shock. I actually thought the printing was duff at first until I read it properly.

This annoyed me a bit.

The preceding chapters hadn’t hinted at a twist and yet I felt they could have done it easily enough. As it is, this seems like a bit of a gimmick. Shame really, as there was no need, the story doesn’t need tricks.

Another issue is that there are an awful lot of diaries being read. Is this a girl thing I’m not really aware off to deposit your innermost thoughts and feelings to the page? Thinking back, Candice did mention hers some time ago

Anyway, a pleasant read. Marrion Keyes was uplifted, but I wasn’t. I was entertained though and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Blood on the Shrine

Phil: With Candice on holiday, I get to do a book review with a steam engine on the cover and not suffer “the look” that says, “What are you doing Parker? I told you, NO TRAINS.”

To be fair, the book isn’t about trains, but the author, Chris O’Donoghue is a railway modeller among his other skills (also award-winning garden designer) and I met him at a model railway show.

Blood on the Shrine is the second Inspector Sonny Russell mystery. Set in the 1950s, the only connection with railways is that the Inspector lives in a converted railway carriage. This wasn’t so common years ago – you could buy a coach for a fiver and have it delivered to your plot of land. Many were then added to to make domestic dwellings and some still exist to this day.

Justifying the cover photo, the story involves a robbery from a train, but that’s incidental. Back then, trains were far more central to life than they are today, it could just as easily have been a van. We have the police charging around in cars, so nothing will be too unfamiliar to a modern audience but the world is very much just post-war and the atmosphere and detail works well.  There’s been a lot of research carried out before any writing started. Chris isn’t old enough to have known the world except as a small child so he’s not just working from memory.

If you’d like to see some of the reasearch – check out Chris’s Blog.

Not so much a whodunnit, more a will they get killed/captured. The book opens with a death, but oddly, not the most important one.  There’s a secondary storyline which follows the first book in the series, Blood on the Tide, and makes me want to read that one too.

I managed to read most of the story on a return trip to London with a couple of hours to finish the last few chapters. I was engrossed enough not to stare out of the window on the journey, something unusual for me. That’s quite a recommendation!

Blood on the Shrine at Amazon

 

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The Lubetkin Legacy – Two Stories. One book.

Phil: You don’t read many books where a block of flats is a central character, but in The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka, the building plays a central role in the plot.

Story 1 – Lily Lukashenko dies and her dying words to son Bertie are “Don’t let them get the flat.” He has been living with her since the breakup of his marriage, unable on his actor’s salary, to afford anything else. To be fair, his acting work seems to be mostly “resting” and grumbling about the success of George Clooney. To be fair, George probably can’t quote Shakespeare as well as Berthold, but that’s as good as it gets.

In an effort to avoid eviction, he moves the lady from the next door hospital bed in to impersonate Lily with modestly comic effect, especially if you consider the names of Eastern European meals to be amusing.

Along the way, there is much rage about the problems faced by people relying on the state for an income. Officialdom comes calling many times, although one particular functionary eventually lifts Bertie out of his gloom.

Story 2 – Violet is a young Kenyan-born woman who gets a job in the city working in “wealth preservation”. This turns out to be tax avoidance and plundering African countries funds by overcharging the health services for basic supplies. She quickly grows a conscience and decides that the dream job really isn’t.

The two characters are neighbours and interact sporadically. There is a plot involving building plans that involve grubbing up a patch of cherry trees to be replaced with executive flats.

If I’m honest, Bertie ends up OK, but pretty much nothing else nice happens in the end. Violet is back in Kenya working for an NGO, but her efforts to expose dodgy dealings don’t go well. The trees get cut down. One character dies due to lack of money. If this is what The Times considers “A joy to read”, then I can only assume the reviewer likes seeing poor people get a kicking. Even those officials who went into public service are worn down and cynical. Everyone assumes that bad things are just going to happen and you might as well accept it.

One of the central plot strands, that Lily had an affair with the architect Lubetkin who designed the flats and left her a tenancy, is never tied up. Bertie finds a plan under the sofa but that’s it.

I’d planned for this review to be a bit more upbeat, but after a couple of days mulling the book over since finishing it, I’m just becoming more miserable about the story. I think that’s partly the point. Lewycka has written several other books including the well known A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and I suspect that these are also full of downtrodden people. You certainly feel for the characters (OK, I certainly do, maybe the Times doesn’t) and the lives they are trapped in.

The contrast between people working in “wealth preservation” and those at the bottom of the pile constantly being ripped off is pretty powerful. Very much a serious message wrapped in pretty paper.

 

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Death of a Bore

Phil: My pile of books to read has been going down and I found myself recently with a selection that while appealing, didn’t grab me. I felt the need for a proper novel with a story that I could fall into.

Dropping into my local library, I spotted Death of a Bore by M.C.Beaton on the shelves. As one of the dullest people you could wish to meet, I wondered if she was writing about me, and there is a picture of a steam train on the cover. Perfect. Out came the library card and the book came home with me.

First up, under the author’s name is “Author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series”. I’ve heard of these but this book is from the Hamish Macbeth series of mysteries. I remember those, televised by the BBC back in the mid-1990s with Robert Carlyle in the lead role. It seems that this is so long ago, the more recent Raisin series, also televised a couple of years ago (but only on Sky so I haven’t seen it) is considered more of a selling point by the publisher.

Anyway, thanks to snow cancelling an event I was supposed to devote a weekend to, I decided to read the book in a day. The chance to do this rarely occurs but it’s lovely when you can devote the time to it. Proper relaxation.

Is the book any good?

Let me start by saying that Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) is a breathtakingly prolific author. There are 33 Macbeth books, 28 Raisin ones and 76 others according to Wikipedia. She is a writing machine!

So it’s no surprise that this isn’t the greatest work of fiction ever. I’ve read books with more depth, less clunky narrative and more polish. Characters are paper-thin much of the time and I didn’t really warm to Hamish much.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. That Hamish on the page bears no resemblance to Robert Carlye is a bit odd, but then Morse on the page isn’t much like John Thaw and people deal with it.

The style really reminds me of Agatha Christie. It’s a bit of a pot-boiler but who cares? I’ve tried to read books that were allegedly much “better” and gave up on them. This rattles along nicely and entertained me for a few hours. If you have a sunbed to lie on or just want to read for pleasure, its all good stuff.

Since the plot revolves around an authors murder and one of the things he does is inspire the local villagers to write, it’s odd that this has done the same for me. I think our books are every bit as well-written as Death of a Bore so there’s no reason that people shouldn’t enjoy them every bit as much as they obviously enjoy these.

Entertainment and inspiration. Not bad for a snowy Saturday afternoon.

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Behind Her Eyes

Phil: Reading a book is often about the journey rather than the destination.  Plots can be summed up in a few lines and if you really want to know what happens, Wikipedia will probably fill you in.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is an excellent case in point.

On the cover, something designed to look like a sticker (it isn’t) promises “The most shocking ending you’ll read all year”. The publishers have bagged #WTFthatending on Twitter. On the back, John Connolly entreats browsers to “Read it now before someone spoils the ending.”.

And that someone won’t be me.

The story revolves around single mum Louise who devoted her life to her son but finds that she needs to get back into the world of work. David is her new boss, but just before she meets him at work, the bump into each other in a bar and enjoy a furtive (an initially regretted) snog. In the early stages, the plot covers the embarrassment of having got off with someone you then have to work for and the uncomfortable situation this provokes.

Very quickly, we meet Adele, David’s wife. She befriends Louise but doesn’t know she knows David as anything other than a colleague. Louise is lonely and fascinated by Adele so she doesn’t say anything to David. Nor does she tell Adele her secrets about her husband.

And that’s about as much as I can tell you.

The story is great at gradually unfolding. The author never lies to the reader, but you are constantly changing your opinion of the main characters. This draws you in gradually until the book has to be consumed in great chunks of reading.

Everything is told from the characters point of view, with the chapter title explaining who’s eyes were are looking through. Just as in real life, each one has a slightly different take on matters. As a reader, we think we have a handle on the various duplicities, but do we? Adele says, “The truth is different to different people” and she’s not wrong.

You could skim this, jump to the end and find out what happened. That would be a mistake. Enjoy the journey.

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