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Favourite books read in 2016

In absolutely no order whatsoever, here are my favourite books I read in 2016:
Favourite books read in 2016Favourite books read in 2016Favourite books read in 2016

Favourite books read in 2016Favourite books read in 2016Favourite books read in 2016

What were your favourite reads of the year? x

Writer Wednesday: Christina Philippou

Christina Philippou's writing career has been a varied one, from populating the short-story notebook that lived under her desk at school to penning reports on corruption and terrorist finance. When not reading or writing, she can be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation. Christina has three passports to go with her three children, but is not a spy. Lost in Static is her first novel, published by Urbane Publications.

Christina is also the founder of the contemporary fiction author initiative, Britfic.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I've always loved writing - and, when I was an awkward teen and I told my grandmother that I loved writing poetry, she told me a wonderful story of how she used to do this while watching the goats (she grew up in a secluded village in pre-WW2 Greece). That one story conjured up so many images and inspired me for life, taking me from being someone who writes to thinking of myself as a writer.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Editing. I’m an intricate plotter (I love my spreadsheets – please don’t judge!), and first draft writing flows well once I know where I’m going, but the editing... Ugh! It doesn’t help that I’m a grammar and factual accuracy pedant, which means hours of trawling my scripts for inconsistencies and wrong word usage.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Plotting. I love sitting down with a basic idea and adding layers until I have enough for a multi-faceted story with complex characters and a normally serious (despite the levity in my writing) theme.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. It’s raw, it’s pacy, it’s complex, and it’s so beautifully written that, if you weren’t paying attention, you could miss the beautiful writing that underpins the (OK, OK, very dark) story.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
Hard question. I think fictional calamity serves its purpose and strengthens my characters so I’d probably leave them to it as most come out OK (if a little scarred) in the end.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Just one??? I’d probably go solve a mystery with Sherlock Holmes, although I’d probably regret it when he made me look stupid. I have a thing about flawed characters, and a drug-taking, paranoid, overly-self-centred genius fits the bill perfectly.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
My next novel is somewhat darker, although some of the levity is still there…

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
I wish someone had bothered telling me to ‘stop procrastinating and just do it’ and I would have probably written my first novel far sooner. Know the writing rules and then consciously break them is another.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
There is no typical writing day. There is a ‘squeeze in some writing at some point between looking after three small children, doing a full-time job, and managing everything else going on in my life’. It sometimes works. 

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
Balancing fiction (Half Wild by Sally Green) with non-fiction (Fraud, Corruption and Sport by Graham Brooks, Azeem Aleem, and Mark Button).

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Sometimes growing up is seeing someone else's side of the story. Four stories. One truth. Whom do you believe?

Callum has a family secret. Yasmine wants to know it. Juliette thinks nobody knows hers. All Ruby wants is to reinvent herself.

They are brought together by circumstance, torn apart by misunderstanding. As new relationships are forged and confidences are broken, each person's version of events is coloured by their background, beliefs and prejudices. And so the ingredients are in place for a year shaped by lust, betrayal, and violence...

Lost in Static is the gripping debut from author Christina Philippou. Whom will you trust?
Follow Christina on Twitter | Buy Lost in Static on Amazon |
Like her on Facebook | Visit her website

Writer Wednesday: Tom Williams

Tom used to write books for business, covering everything from the gambling industry to new developments in printing technology. Now he writes about love and adventure in the 19th century, which is not nearly as well paid, but much more fun. It also allows him to pretend that travelling in the Far East and South America is research. Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I have no idea. I won a writing competition when I was about ten years old, so it's been something I've always wanted to do.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Actually putting the words on the paper. Simply typing out eighty or ninety thousand words is just horrible.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
I write historical novels and I love the research. Going to places where the stories are set is great fun too. For 'Burke in the Land of Silver' I went to Argentina and went riding with the gauchos (Argentine cowboys) like he does in the story. And we took horses up into the snow on the Andes too. That was unforgettable.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Every so often I come across a book that is just wonderful and it's so frustrating to know I will never write like that. Just after I finished writing 'Back Home', I read Sarah Waters' 'Fingersmith'. In 'Back Home' I write about poverty in London in the mid-19th century and a lot of the scenes in her book are similar to things I wrote about, but she just does it so incredibly well. 'Back Home' has been very well-received, but I wish I thought it could ever be nearly as good as 'Fingersmith'. (Tom's review here.)

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
 Some of my characters die. I'm not saying which ones, because that's a major spoiler. But some of the deaths have made me cry. I'd save all of them.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
When I was a child my father introduced me to Leslie Charteris's 'Saint' books. The first 'Saint' story was written in 1928. The Saint was Simon Templar, an urbane Robin Hood figure who stole from rich crooks and other bad guys and redistributed his booty (less 10%) to the deserving poor. I still read them occasionally: they're the sticky toffee pudding and custard of fiction. Templar was always charming and liked to live well. I'd do whatever he suggested (his friends in the books always did). It would involve a romantic location, fine dining, a beautiful woman and the chance to hold a gun and watch him doing something dangerous and cunning, after which a multi-millionaire would have one fewer yachts and a pension fund for his employees would receive a substantial anonymous donation. It was a simpler world, especially in the vastly superior pre-World War stories. It wasn't really a better world, but it was one I'd enjoy to visit in his company.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I'm working on another about my Napoleonic spy, James Burke. This time he's fighting the French in Spain. 

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
An agent took me on and I was about to celebrate when I realised that he would drop me if he couldn't sell the book (and drop me he did), so I should not break out the champagne. He said that a writer should celebrate every success in advance and mourn the failures when they came along, because writing gave all-too-few opportunities to celebrate.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
Trying to put off any actual writing (see my answer to your second question). Replying to questionnaires like this is a good way to duck any real work.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I usually have several things on the go at once. At the moment I'm reading 'The Making of the English Working Class' by EP Thompson. (I did say I love research.) Unusually for me, I'm also reading a modern autobiography: 'Mr Nice' by Howard Marks, the cannabis smuggler. Generally I read a lot of crime thrillers. I just finished the rather weird 'Double You' by Nell Peters. I read it because I know her (we share a publisher) but it's rather good (Tom's review here) so I've started the next in the series, 'Santa's Slay'.

Follow Tom on Twitter | Buy his books on Amazon |
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Writer Wednesday: Cassandra Parkin

Writer Wednesday: Cassandra Parkin
Cassandra Parkin is an East Yorkshire writer with Cornish roots and a passion for fairy-tales. Her debut short story collection, New World Fairy Tales won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. Her bestselling debut novel, The Summer We All Ran Away was nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars award and her second novel, The Beach Hut, was a WHSmith summer bestseller. Her third novel, Lily's House, will be published in October 2016.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to live across the road from the country’s most gorgeous public library; Anlaby Park Library in Hull. It looks like a little secret cottage nestled in the middle of a village green. I wanted very much to go and live there (in fact I only went home when they closed) and from the love of reading came a love of writing.

I decided I was going to be a writer when I was about six, but accidentally ended up going into FMCG Marketing instead, because it paid well and student loans are terrifying. I volunteered for every possible project with a vague requirement for writing skills, and wrote short stories and novels for my friends in the backs of my notebooks during meetings. The next fifteen years of my life were essentially everyone who knew me telling me “Um, you do know that what you really want to be is a writer, yes? I mean, you are aware of this?” and me replying, “la la la, can’t hear you, not good enough, world doesn’t need another struggling author, bills to pay, ‘kaythanksbye”. Looking back, I can see how this must have been annoying.

I finally took the plunge when I wrote a collection of short stories for six very dear friends in America. Each short story was based on the favourite fairy-tale of the recipient. They all ganged up and me and insisted that I try and get it published. So I entered New World Fairy Tales for Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize for short stories. To my utter astonishment, it won, and shortly after my first novel The Summer We All Ran Away was published by Legend Press, and shortlisted for the Amazon Rising Stars award. The moral of this particular fairy-tale is probably listen to your friends and family, because they know what they are talking about.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Sharing something that’s not finished! Some writers thrive on writing groups and feedback. I do not. I am absolutely, 100% the “hide in a cave and deny all knowledge until everything is exactly the way I want it to be” type of writer. The literary image I relate to most strongly is Jane Austen’s squeaky door that gave her time to hide away her work before anyone saw it.

However, as my writing career progresses, I’m being asked to share my work at much earlier stages. It makes me cringe. Every time. Sometimes I have to get other people to press “send” on the email for me because I can’t bring myself to do it.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Oh, so much to choose from! I love editing – taking a rubbishy first draft and making it into something good. I love writing beginnings, and endings. For every project I have five or six key sections that I really look forward to writing, and they’re like little oases scattered throughout the first draft. Most of all, I love the moments when the characters suddenly come to life and I feel as if it’s them telling the story, not me. Of course, that’s an illusion, but illusions can also be real.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
The “Alice” books. Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land. I truly believe 1865 is a watershed year for creative thinkers across the world; there’s Before Alice, and After Alice. Her influence is everywhere – in books of course, but also in films and TV series, in art and music, in theoretical physics, in evolutionary theory, in politics and economics… I was lucky enough to do a TEDx talk about this a couple of years ago. One of the best moments of my life.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?  
I’d save Finn, from my second novel The Beach Hut. It’s a story about the special magic of the sibling bond, and Finn reminds me of my own little brother (who is taller than me and has two children and his own engineering company, but is still “little” in my head).

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
I’d visit Tove Jansson’s Moomin family. They’re very welcoming to unexpected visitors, they know the importance of making space for creative pursuits, they understand and embrace the sadness of life as well as the joys, and they’re simply excellent in a crisis. Also, their house and garden sound magical.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
My third novel Lily’s House was published by Legend Press in October this year. It’s the story of Jen and her daughter Marianne, who have returned to the house of Jen’s grandmother Lily, to clear it out after Lily’s death, and the family skeletons that come tumbling out of the closet as they do so.

For my next book, I’m working on a very dark and creepy Christmas project, following in a long tradition of Christmas-Eve ghost stories.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few schools and colleges to talk about writing – which I always find very strange and humbling, because I still feel as if I’m right at the start of the journey myself. Here are the things I always tell them:

- Writing happens when you use both your head and your hands. It’s a physical act. Don’t try and tell the story in your head. Get it out onto paper.

- Beginnings are easy. Endings are easy. The bit in the middle is the tough part. When you get to Chapter Four and think, “Now what?” – we’ve all been there. The difference between writers and wannabes is that writers don’t give up. Keep going.

- Write something every day. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when every word is flat and dull. Even when you don’t know why you’re bothering. Nothing’s wasted. A bad first draft can be cut and polished later, but you need something to work on. Keep going.

- Some days writing is the best fun ever. Some days it just kind of sucks. That’s how it is for everyone, so make your peace with this and accept it. Marathon runners don’t enjoy every training run either. Keep going.

- You will learn something from everything you write. If your first novel isn’t published, write a second. It will be better. If that’s not accepted, write a third. Keep going.

- The more beautiful your notebook, the less willing you will be to pollute it with the messy, untamed horror that is a first draft. If it makes your heart happy, go ahead and buy that beautiful notebook; but know that it is for looking at, not for writing in. Writing is not a pretty process. And that’s okay.

- Unlike actors, dancers and even musicians, there’s no such thing as “too old” to start. You haven’t left it too late. Start today. And keep going.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
When I’m writing a first draft, I write between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day, depending on how much freelance work I have on at the same time. Some days the words come easily, and some days it’s like pulling teeth while balancing on a tightrope!

I start with an outline that I build using sheets of paper and post-it notes. Each sheet of paper is a chapter, and each post-it note is a plot point. Once I have this plan, I guard it like it’s the world’s last viable dragon-egg and it has to go everywhere with me. However, I very rarely refer to my plan, and the final version will always differ wildly from the original. I suppose it’s more of a comfort object.

I work standing up using a cheap-and-cheerful desk converter on top of my dining room table – better for your back, your blood pressure, everything really – and I can directly correlate how well my writing is going with how clean and tidy my house is. When I’m pleased with my day’s work, I can easily convince myself that it’s charmingly bohemian to have books and papers on every available surface, blankets and cushions all over the floor, and cats everywhere. When I can’t even bear to look at what I’ve written, I clean the house, basically so I can think “Well, AT LEAST MY HOUSE IS CLEAN SO THERE’S THAT” and feel comforted.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’m savouring every word of the utterly exquisite short story collection “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” by Haruki Murakami. The novel I’m most in love with at the moment is “Owl Song At Dawn”, by fellow Legend author Emma Claire Sweeney. It’s beautiful, poignant and simply gorgeous.

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Lily's House Cassandra Parkin
When Jen goes to her grandmother's house for the last time, she's determined not to dwell on the past. As a child, Jen adored Lily and suspected she might be a witch; but the spell was broken long ago, and now her death means there won't be any reconciliation.

Lily's gone, but the enchantments she wove and the secrets she kept still remain. In Lily's house, Jen and her daughter Marianne reluctantly confront the secrets of the past and present - and discover how dangerous we become when we're trying to protect the ones we love.


Follow Cassandra on Twitter | Buy Lily's House on Amazon |
Visit her website

Writer Wednesday: Alli Sinclair

Alli Sinclair Writer Wednesday
Alli Sinclair is a multi award-winning author of books that combine travel, mystery, and romance. An adventurer at heart, Alli has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and immersed herself in an array of exotic destinations, cultures, and languages. Alli’s stories capture the romance and thrill of exploring new destinations and cultures that also take readers on a journey of discovery.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
My grandmother is the best storyteller I know and so I grew up listening to her fantastical stories, enthralled by the adventures of the characters she made up off the top of her head. I also developed a love for books at an early age and so it was a natural progression for me to try my hand at writing stories when I was a kid. I would often be found with a pen in hand or my head in a book. I spent most of my twenties travelling the world and working as a mountain guide so I didn’t have much time to write stories, but I kept very detailed travel diaries. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties, when a radio journalist interviewed me about my travels that I started thinking about trying my hand at writing once more. I saw a travel writing competition, entered it, and won and I got such a thrill that I decided to enroll in a creative writing course.

Fast forward to ten years and four manuscripts later and my first book was published. That was in 2014 and since then I have been contracted for many more books with publishers around the world. It is now my full time job and I absolutely love and appreciate the fact that I get to write books for a living and I can share these with readers from all over the world. The readers, I must say, are the highlight for me. It is so lovely to know when a story touches someone, makes them laugh or cry, or helps them escape their troubles. That, above all, is the main reason I became a writer—to take people on a journey into another world.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
The first draft by far is the toughest part for me. I am a planner, so I have very detailed outlines but sometimes I do stray if an idea pops into my head. And even though I am meticulous in figuring out who my characters are and what they want before I start the first draft, I often find I don’t really know them properly until my second, third, or even fourth draft. For me a first draft equals the pain of pulling teeth!

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
The readers! I love interacting with people who have enjoyed my books. The reading community is so diverse and I have met and spoken with people from from various parts of the world. I just love it!

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
I would love to have written A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It’s such a beautiful, culturally rich story set in India that spans generations and takes in a lot of India’s history. The storyline is so complicated that there is an “event” timeline and family tree at the beginning of the book so the reader doesn’t get lost! I am in awe of how this book is written and no matter how many times I read it, I’m still drawn into this gorgeous world and the wonderful characters.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
Why would I save them when their calamity is what makes a reader turn the page or burst into tears? Ha! Joking! Hmmm … Without giving the story away, there is one character in Under the Spanish Stars who has a very sad life and loses their only chance at happiness. They spend a lot of time questioning decisions they’ve made and trying to figure out where they went wrong. By the time they realise what to do and how to change things, it’s way too late. It breaks my heart!

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?
I would love to hang out with Delilah Drummond in Deanna Raybourn’s book, A Spear of Summer Grass. Set in Africa in 1923, Delilah is outspoken, non-traditional, and an absolute rebel. She brings disgrace on her family and is sent to Africa while things quiet down in Paris. When she gets there, she discovers a whole new world and the wildness of Africa actually tames her and starts her on a journey of self-discovery. I would love to sit on the deck of Delilah’s house and drink gin with her as we gaze out on the oranges and red of the sunset, talking about love, life, and the universe. I also wouldn’t mind spending some time in the company of Delilah’s neighbor Ryder White, but he only has eyes for Delilah! 

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I have a new book coming out with Kensington Books in July 2017 called Under the Parisian Sky. Like Under the Spanish Stars, my next book will have a contemporary and historical storyline and will involve a family saga, decades old mystery, and have a rich and colourful setting that will take the reader on an adventure into a gorgeous land.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
There is so much great advice out there but it is often conflicting and what works for one person may not work for another. My suggestion is to take what you feel is right for you and give it a try. If it doesn’t work, there are plenty more ways for you to try again. Publishing is a landscape that is forever changing, so it really helps if you are able to be flexible, willing to give things a shot and pick yourself up if it doesn’t work out. The next time may be the time you hit the mark and get a bullseye. In other words, don’t ever give up if this is your dream. Oh, and I will add, read, read, read and write, write, write! Everything helps you hone your skills and you will find that each book your write, you will improve. Time is a very good friend when it comes to developing your writing skills.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I live in Australia and my agent is in the USA so she’s working while I’m asleep! I often wake up, check emails (and pray that there’s good news if I have any submissions out!), then get ready for the day. I take the kids to school (they are still quite young) then it’s into my home office where I’ll work on my book for six hours (if I stay off Facebook!). In between I’ll wash and dry clothes or cook dinner (it’s such a glamorous life!), answer emails and do any general admin work. Then it’s off to pick up the kids and take them to any extra-curricular activities they might have. Dinner and homework for the kids then if I’m on deadline it’s back to the desk. Of course, there is always time to chat to hubby and friends and the odd glass of wine! I try to take weekends off but sometimes it’s impossible if there’s a deadline or an idea comes into my head and I need to get it down before I forget!

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’ve just started reading The Three Miss Allens by Australian author Victoria Purman. She normally writes coastal romances and this is her first foray into historical fiction and she’s absolutely nailed it. I’m really loving the story and characters and I’m looking forward to delving into as soon as I get a chance!


Under the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair
Amid the vivid beauty of Granada, a woman entrusted with unravelling a family secret will discover the truth about her heritage-- and the alluring promise of love… 

When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Charlotte Kavanagh will do whatever she asks of her-- even if it means travelling to a country that broke her abuela's heart. Can an unsigned painting of a flamenco dancer unlock the secrets of her grandmother's youth in Spain? To find the answers she needs, Charlotte must convince the charismatic and gifted musician, Mateo Vives to introduce her to a secluded gypsy clan. 

The enigmatic Mateo speaks the true language of flamenco, a culture Charlotte must learn to appreciate if she wants to understand her grandmother's past-- and the flamenco legend that has moved souls to beauty, and bodies to the heights of passion. As Mateo leads her into the captivating world of the music and the dance, Charlotte embraces her own long-denied creative gift and the possibility of a future rich with joy...

Follow Alli on Twitter | Buy her books on Amazon |
Like her on Facebook | Visit her website

The month that was: November 2016

What happened:
Life is super quiet at the moment - and will be for a while. But we did celebrate Olly's birthday, head to Battersea Park for the fireworks, plus I went to a baby shower. Other than that... yep, November was a super quiet month!


What I ate:
I ate out at Lupita with a friend, Goodman for Olly's birthday (beautiful steak), and tried the new Pho in Wimbledon. Toasties were also on the agenda for breakfast since I bought Olly a Breville sandwich toaster for his birthday! (He loves it.)

What I watched:
I finished season 2 of Gossip Girl and watched the wonderful Planet Earth II. (How amazing is Planet Earth II?) As someone who lived in Brixton for almost three years, I had to watch Back in Time for Brixton, and as a cat lover, I had to watch The Lion in Your Living Room. Compy has never really paid any attention to the TV, but now she does after watching this! Finally, The Grand Tour started in November - I much preferred the first episode to the second.

Films watched: Grimsby, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Goosebumps, The Lady in the Van, Joy, Room, Independence Day: Resurgence, The BFG and The Peanuts Movie.

At the cinema, I saw Inferno, which was disappointing. I preferred the book, though it was wonderful to (quietly) point out spots we recognised in Florence (the whole reason I wanted to visit was because of reading Inferno). I also saw Arrival, which was I half-liked, half didn't, and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I liked it, though I have not succumbed and bought the screenplay... it just seems *too* much.

What I read:
In November I read 16 books, and abandoned reading 3 books. My favourite reads of the month were An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry and The Amateurs by Sara Shepard. I also enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

How was your month? x

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