Tag Archives: rachel joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryPhil: At the Stratford Literary Festival “How to get published….or How we did it” event, each of the authors took turns to describe their latest novel to the assembled crowd. When it came to Rachel Joyce, she announced the name of her book, but it was so long that only the avid literary groupies desperately scribbling notes at the back could remember it.

The story concerned a man who suddenly decided to walk to see a friend at the other end of the country. Candice wasn’t sure she liked the sound of this but then she did exciting things like flying off to Mexico. Phil felt much more at home with the idea. Indeed, he wondered at the time what it took for someone to do something so completely out of character. He thought that perhaps it would be fun to do something completely different without thinking about it. On a whim. He thought he might enjoy reading about Harold Fry.

A few months later, he had forgotten all about the book but was reminded when he spotted a copy in the local Oxfam bookshop. According to the front cover, the story had the Sunday Express laughing and sobbing. That didn’t sound like much of a recommendation as the Sunday Express is a dreadful paper more interesting in pronouncing the end of the world or trying to shoehorn mentions of the late Princess Diana into every story. Despite this, the book was soon on its way home in his rucksack.

Reading had to wait for a trip to London that provided several hours train travel, Sat in the cosy confines of a Chiltern Railway seat, he began to turn the pages.

The story follows Harold Fry and his walk to see a dying friend. He convinces himself that she can’t expire until he has reached her and the best way to extend her life is to make the journey take as long as possible. In other words, he will walk from Kingsbridge in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Phil liked the sound of this as the idea that you would believe that someone would live a bit longer if you undertook some irrelevant task sounded just like the sort of crazy notion he could fixate on. He liked the idea that Harold was completely unprepared. His journey crept up on him a post box at a time. He couldn’t go back home and buy proper boots to replace his yachting shoes or plan the best route because when you step outside your normal life you can’t drop back in for a few minutes. Return home and the door closes, never to re-open.

As Harold makes his way, painfully slowly, he meets lots of different characters. We also gradually learn the story of his life. His marriage. His son. His relationship with Queenie, the friend who he is walking towards. At one point, he passes close to where Phil lives and it amused him to think that the local paper was capable to playing a pivotal role by doing some reporting.

If there was anything that jarred, it was the speed of the journey. Harold might be old and not in the best of health but he seemed to be walking at around 1/2 a mile an hour on good days. Often, the rate of progress was considerably less than this. Phil couldn’t see the reason for this, but decided that with 4 children, the author spends so much time ferrying them around in a people mover that she hadn’t walked anywhere in years and considered 6 miles in a day to be quite a hike.

Apart from this, the book is a pleasant journey. There are twists and you probably won’t guess them in advance – there are some very deliberate red herrings placed – and the way all the characters related to each other made sense. They fitted. All the revelations made sense for the people they involved. As Phil closed the covers after reading the final chapter, it all fitted together like a well made jigsaw. Very satisfying he concluded.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Phil

Beer and book festivals

Betty Stoggs BeerPhil: A few posts ago, Ms Nolan commented adversely on my ability to have a drink without feeling poorly the next day. I retorted that it must have been something to do with the quality of the beer, and not my ability to handle it. I don’t think she was convinced.

So, purely in the interests of science, I headed off to the Long Itchington Beer Festival to see who was right. Obviously, I took no pleasure in this, although the pint of “Betty Stoggs” was particularly good, but did it just to prove a point. After all, I can’t be going around having my manhood impuned on the Internet can I ?

You’ll be pleased to know that despite consuming (for the purposes of science as noted earlier) twice as much beer as I had after the book festival, in the morning I felt absolutely fine. Point proved. Nolan – Nah Nah Nahnana.

Talking of the book festival, I opened yesterdays Guardian to see a piece by Deborah Orr recommending a couple of writers. Who should be smiling out from the page ? Only that Rachel Joyce who we saw at the festival.

Rachel Joyce Review in the Guardian



Filed under Phil

Stratford Literary Festival Part 2

Candice: Phil has given his thoughts on the Stratford Literary Festival so I though I’d give mine.  As always, I am as much interested in what people are saying as what they are wearing.

As we sat down, my first thought was “someone’s got my coat on”.  Sat in the next row was a lady in a cobalt blue coat not my exact coat but a similar colour – so I took mine off rapide, as we can’t have that.

I sometimes judge a book by its cover, this is one of the reasons clothes are important to me.  As our three authors lined up, plus chair, my first thoughts were.   Author one was channelling the cool university professor vibe, with turned up jeans, funky specs and jacket, our second was more of a mystery as she was clad in all black with her hair up (but in a slightly messy cool way), and our third was more wafty hippy, with maroon tights and boots.  Well in two cases the book matched its cover, with author one (SJ Watson) being a NHS boss gone author and exclaiming he’d had a mid life crisis to get there, Rachel Joyce being the more intellectual writer type (having already written Radio 4 plays) and very slow and deliberate (but posh) in her delivery.  And then there was Julia – who would be more suited to bright colours than black as she was sweet, depreciating and fun, and very much in awe of the fact she was on to her second published book.

And the Chair – well he had the funkiest snake print shoes on with a more sensible outfit, but I think it went well with his PR head but also intellectual book knowledge.

However, there were no good Mulberry handbags to be seen (other than my own).

The experience was interesting and informative, as Phil has said, backing up some of the things that we already know and adding some other juicy insights that might help.  Though Gareth, the chair, pointed out afterwards that the three authors seemed to have had a charmed life compared to other authors he dealt with as far as being picked up and their deals with agents and publishers.  Oh, to have that experience.

I think the biggest shame of the evening was that they didn’t not tell you anywhere how long the event would be, so we didn’t know we could have gone to the Sue Townsend event afterwards.  Though it did give Phil and I time to cogitate in the very nice One Elm Pub over the way, and for him to down enough strong local brew to have a sore head the next day (I stayed on the water!).

Hum, where to now?


Filed under Writing

Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival

How to get published stagePhil: Yesterday evening, Candice and I wended our way to the Shakespeare Centre, next door to the Bard of Avon’s birthplace, for an event called “How to get published….or How we did it”. Along with around 30 other eager wannabee authors, we hoped to find the secret code or incantation that would take The Book from a file on our computers to the front window of Waterstones bookshops.

Hosted by Gareth Howard (CEO of authoright.com), there were a panel of real authors: SJ Watson, Rachel Joyce and Julia Crouch. All had been through the process of writing, submitting, editing and then watching their book get published and the idea was that they could describe this to us and we would learn the tricks of the trade.

Each writer started with a little of their background and then a very short reading from their book. After this the chairman asked a few questions to get the discussion going and then threw it open for the attendees to ask thier own.

Sadly, none of the panel seemed to have a big pile of rejection slips from agents or publishers, pretty disappointing as the owner of such a pile myself, but we did get an insight into the process once you are accepted.

There was a lot of talk about the mountain to be climbed before getting there. SJ had reduced his full time job in the NHS to part-time to free up writing space. A couple had been through a very demanding Faber course where they’d been told to cancel all extraneous appointments for 6 months. Basically, writing is hard work was the message. Julia wrote the main part of her novel during NaNoWriMo, which is a serious commitment in itself and the first time I’ve heard of anyone getting anything out of this.

Once you get there published of course, it’s fabulous. I loved Julia’s description of the joy of seeing the book in print. I have a feeling it’s like the first time I placed an article in a magazine (I haunted WH Smiths for days around the date it was due) but times 100.

Funnest moment though, had to be either the loud “Oooof” issued by one of the audience when Rachel mentioned she was a mother of 4, or SJ’s advice on the famous Artist’s and Writer’s Yearbook.

The story goes, he was on a writing course and the tutor asked how many people had bought a copy. All the hands went up.

Then he asked, how many people still owned it. Half the hands went down.

To the rest, his advice was simple.

“Burn it. It’s full of dead people”

Not something the W&A marketing department would be entirely happy with but you can see his point. After all, you can just as easily look at the books on sale that you like, or your novel could happily sit alongside. Check out the agent details in the back and look them up on t’interweb. That’s 14 quid saved. Which allowing for the cost of entry, would go a long way to an after show drink.

Which is exactly what it did do. We sat and talked, the results of which we’ll be blogging in the near future. Watch this space – writing mojo has returned.


Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing