13
Jul 11

Summer of Love, by Katie Fforde

Grab a glass of chilled white wine, find an English cottage garden to relax in (preferably your own) and enjoy reading reading this lovely, lovely book.

‘Summer of Love’ is, quite possibly, the perfect summer read. Set in a quiet, rural community and with plenty of cups of tea, homemade cakes and clinking of wine glasses thrown in for good measure it really is a book to savour.

The main character Sian, is a thirty-something single mum. She has recently moved from the city to the English countryside to find a better school for her little boy Rory and a new life for herself and her furniture restoration business. From the very first lines of the book when Sian’s neighbour Fiona, a stalwart widow and divorcee in her fifties, welcomes her to the village with a jam jar full of flowers, a bottle of wine and a no-nonsense attitude to life, you know you are in for a treat.

Although on the outside her new life appears idyllic, Sian is anxious – about how Rory will fit in at his new school, about the annoying Melissa who is trying to buy the house she is now renting, and about her feelings for Richard – perfect husband material, if only she could make herself fall in love with him. And then, to complicate matters even further, Fiona’s son Angus arrives back from his latest travels and sends Sian into a spin – Sian has met ‘Gus’ before: he is the father of her son.

From this point in the book, we are taken on a delightful romantic romp through the English countryside as Sian and Gus try to deny their inevitable feelings for each other while Sian tries to discover her true feelings for dependable Richard. When Sian mistakenly assumes Gus is sleeping with the dreadful Melissa, she finally decides to make a go of things with Richard and his huge mansion. Unknown to Sian, Gus is left devastated.

The characters in ‘Summer of Love’ are brilliantly written – they are ‘real’ people who are easy to identify with and to like instantly. There are so many books written with characters who are  far-fetched and stretch our realms of belief and reality, but there is something very compelling about Katie’s characters who have real problems like what underwear is appropriate for a dinner date which may lead to something else or whether to have white or red with dinner! Her characters have problems and make mistakes and sort it all out over the kitchen table with a mug of tea and/or a bottle of wine.

Katie’s trademark wry humour is present throughout the book and there are some laugh out loud scenes with the sub-plot of Fiona and her disastrous attempts at internet dating. The scene in the garden centre when she is trying to escape from creepy Evan is comedy gold. Fiona’s romantic liaisons with book shop owner James are excellently written and portray a more mature woman’s outlook on romantic encounters brilliantly.

There is plenty to keep the reader guessing throughout the book as we are never entirely sure what Gus’s intentions are or what Melissa is really up to or whether Sian will ever tell Gus that Rory is his son.

This is far from just a breezy summer read. It is a well-crafted, intelligently written book which delivers a satisfying, happy ending. I would definitely recommend this book for the beach, although I can’t help feeling it would be best enjoyed lazing around in a sunlit garden with the bees buzzing around and fairy lights in the trees at dusk.

This is a book you will be recommending to your sisters, friends, aunts and mum so get the kettle on, cut an extra large slice of cake, put your feet up and start reading.

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I spoke to Katie about ‘Summer of Love’ and her writing life.

When did you start writing – and why? I started writing when my youngest daughter was two.  I had wanted to write for a while but had assumed I’d have to wait until my children were bigger.  My mother had other ideas and gave me a writing kit for Christmas.  Paper, dictionaries, Tippex, it was all packed into a box file.  I started in the new year.

With so many successful titles behind you, how do you keep yourself motivated to write – do you ever struggle to come up with ideas, or does it all come naturally? Keeping motivated isn’t often a problem.  I love my work and so far, fingers crossed, I have lots more books I want to write.  That said, we all have days when we don’t want to work.  Usually when I’ve got started I wonder why I messed around so long.

What is the most amusing comment you’ve ever received about one of your novels? I can’t think of anything particularly funny but someone did once accuse me of stalking her and writing her life, although she knew we’d never met.

Yikes! So, what is the best part of life as a writer – or is it really a terribly lonely existence in a fusty old attic with cold cups of coffee for company? The best part is meeting readers at events and festivals – although it’s more fun than glam.  The loneliness of writers has been hugely helped by Twitter and organisations like the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) which has newsgroups for writers so you don’t feel so alone.

What is the strangest ‘research’ experience you’ve ever had for a book? Going on a Ray Mears bushcraft course for ‘Summer of Love’ was definitely the strangest thing I’ve done to research a book.  I also went up in a helicopter which I knew would terrify me – it did!  I was going to make a heroine a bee keeper, but when I went with a friend to look at his bees, that scared me too.  I made my heroine’s friend the apiarist.

Which three words best describe your writing style? Quirky, upbeat, romantic.  Very hard to think how to describe my writing in just three words!

Other than your own novels, which book would you love to have written? I’d love to have written a really sweeping novel, with a heartbreaking romance (but happy ending) that everyone would remember.  I don’t think I’ll ever manage it though.  I’d be very happy to have written any of Georgette Heyer’s novels.

Have you ever spotted anyone famous reading one of your novels? I have never spotted anyone, famous or otherwise, reading my books, although my friends tell me they have.  I long to see someone reading one!  I would most like to see a celebrity who wants to star in a book reading one, so they could get it made into a TV programme.

Are you working on your next novel and if so, can you tell us anything about it? I am working on my next novel.  It’s based round a television cookery competition.

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Thank you to Katie for her time in answering my questions. ‘Summer of Love’ is published by Century priced £14.99’. You can contact Katie at www.katiefforde.com or on Twitter @KatieFforde


07
Jul 11

The Ghost of Lily Painter, by Caitlin Davies

‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’ is a new novel from author Caitlin Davies. It has been described as a ‘Mr Whicher’ style hit by The Independent on Sunday and with the combination of ghost story and historical references, is a book which will appeal to Sarah Waters fans.

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As soon as I saw the cover of this book I knew I was going to like it; the haunting pencil drawing of the terraced house and the Edwardian woman and the sepia colouring all suggested a sense of intrigue and history; I was not disappointed.

The story centres around Annie Sweet and her daughter Molly who move into an old house in Stanley Road, Holloway, London. When Annie’s marriage to her husband Ben falls apart, she is left to bring up her daughter alone and throws herself headlong into her obsession about finding out more about the house which she feels has ‘chosen her’ and the people who used to live there.  Told through the wonderfully executed characters of an Edwardian Inspector writing a journal, his lodger Lily Painter and modern-day Annie, the  ‘first person’ narrative is engaging and adds great authenticity to the historical elements of the novel.

The novel moves easily through Edwardian London, modern day London and wartime London – spanning 100 years in total. While occasionally novels which are as ambitious in their time-span can confuse and lose the reader, this certainly doesn’t. It has been excellently researched and plotted with a richness of detail which immediately immerses you into the relevant period of time.

From the very beginning, I was fascinated by the character of Lily Painter, who is introduced in the first chapter as a ghost describing the scenes she is watching in a family house; the occupants unaware of her presence. It’s an intriguing hook and although the novel is based on the disturbing true story of two ‘baby farmers’ (women who took young unmarried mother’s into their home with the promise of a better life for their babies) who were hanged for their crimes of infanticide, the author manages to blend fact and fiction seamlessly and handles the subject skilfully – retaining a necessary degree of suspense and shock, without making it too disturbing to read.

‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’ is the sort of book you can’t put down. Whether you pack it in your bag for the beach or keep it for a rainy Sunday snuggled up on the sofa, you will rip through this to find out the real truth about Lily Painter and her family and to see whether, through Annie’s investigations, Lily’s ghost will ever be able to rest. If you live in an old house, I guarantee you will pay more attention to those creaks on the stairs and draughts of cold air after reading this!

I haven’t read Cailtin’s previous novels but will definitely check them out and will absolutely be keeping an eye out  for her next novel which will be in a similar style.

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The author, Caitlin Davies is the daughter of writers Margaret Forster and Hunter Davies who is probably best known for his biography of ‘The Beatles’. Her previous novels include the memoir ‘Place of Reeds’, and novels  ‘Black Mulberries’ and ‘Friends Like Us.’ She lives in north London with her daughter Ruby and I spoke to her about the book and her writing life.

‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’ is based on true events. How did you discover the story and how did you go about the research?

Three years ago I moved into a new home, a small terraced house in Holloway, north London.  For some reason, from the moment I saw the house, I wondered who had lived there before me. Then one night I looked up my address on the 1901 online census and up popped a three-page list of all the former inhabitants. The census only gave the bare bones – names, ages, occupations – and I wanted to find out more about how these people would have lived in the early 1900s.

One day I was reading about nearby Holloway Prison when I stumbled across a brief paragraph on all the women who had been executed there, including Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the baby farmers. I’d never heard the term baby farmer and so I set about trying to find more. I read the transcripts of their trial at the Old Bailey, plus lots of Edwardian newspaper reports on their arrest and execution, as well as some more scholarly works on infanticide. I also interviewed a retired policewoman and a criminologist, and re-traced the baby farmers’ steps, visiting all the places they’d lived and worked. At the end of my research something spooky happened, when a woman contacted me out of the blue to say Amelia Sach was her great grandmother’s sister!

Was it particularly difficult to research a topic as sensitive as baby farming?

Yes it was harrowing because you’re reading about women who killed – or who were charged with killing – children. I thought about writing a non-fiction book, but decided that would be too upsetting. So I invented a fictional character who would turn to the baby farmers for help.

What appeals to you about the periods of history you cover in the book, particularly Edwardian London?

It wasn’t a conscious choice. I’d found the former inhabitants of my house on the 1901 census. Sach and Walters were arrested in 1902, so it seemed natural to set at least some of the novel in Edwardian London. While it was hard finding out about the lives of ordinary people, I was struck by the amount of entertainment on offer at the time, and that’s why I made my heroine a music hall singer.

With both your parents being successful writers, do you think it was inevitable that you would become an author too? How did you start out?

I’m often asked about a ‘writing gene’ but I don’t know if there is one! Having parents who are writers doesn’t mean you’ll become one, but then again I have always wanted to write. When I was 11, I secretly entered a magazine competition, I say secretly because writing was something I always did but didn’t necessarily talk about.

I finished my first complete novel at 19, and despite my parents being writers, I had no idea what to do with it, so I made a pile of books I’d enjoyed reading, and sent it off to a handful of publishers. Surprise! They all sent it straight back. So then I wrote another novel. And another. Then I got a great agent and she’s stuck with me ever since.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of being an author?

I don’t know where to begin! Having ideas and then the luxury to develop them. Each day being different from the next. Being my own boss. Being able to work around my daughter’s school hours. Someone reading your book and saying they stayed up to 3am to finish it. You can’t get better than that….

If you could have written any book (other than your own), which would it be, and why?

There are a few children’s books I’d liked to have written, the ones that I never minded reading over and over again at bed time, like Where the Wild Things Are, The Tiger who Came to Tea, and Not Now Bernard. There’s something hypnotic and bizarre about these books.

What three words would best describe your writing style?

Easy to read. (Does that count as three words?!)

It does! I think ‘compelling, haunting and authentic’ would sum up ‘Lily Painter’. So, what’s next for you? Can we expect more in the style of ‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’?

Next is a novel about a woman who discovers a family secret and instead of immersing herself in research, she’s hell bent on revenge. The style is similar, with different time frames and different voices, but this one is a bit ‘darker’.

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Thank you to Caitlin for her time and for sharing her insights into this fascinating book and also to Marissa Cox at Random House for sending me a review copy. You can contact Caitlin on Twitter @CaitlinDavies2


24
Jun 11

Something from Tiffany’s, by Melissa Hill

Melissa Hill’s No. 1 bestseller  is, quite simply, a wonderful book. From the beautiful, ‘Tiffany-blue’ cover with the embossed silver heart and gorgeous white bow (which I just had to keep running my fingers over) to the very last twist on the very last page, this is a real treat. Melissa has crafted a stylish, pacy, engaging story which you will struggle to put down until you know how everything turns out. From the unexpected twist in the opening chapter, you know you’re in for something a bit special.

The story starts in Tiffany’s 5th Avenue store in New York on Christmas Eve (I know, you’re already hooked!). Ethan and his daughter Daisy are shopping for a very expensive and beautiful engagement ring for Vanessa, Ethan’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, Gary is last-minute shopping for his girlfriend Rachel and settles on a relatively inexpensive charm bracelet. When Gary is knocked down by a taxi outside the store, Ethan and Daisy rush to help – resulting in the trademark ‘little blue bags’ being mixed up.

On Christmas morning, when Vanessa opens the box containing the charm bracelet she is a little disappointed and Ethan is – well – totally confused. Gary, meanwhile, recovers from his accident and when he and Rachel eventually exchange christmas gifts,  and she opens the box containing the engagement ring, he thinks all his  christmasses have come at once – quite literally! She is, unsurprisingly over the moon, if a little surprised as she wasn’t expecting a proposal at all.

From there on in the dilemma is clear: how will Ethan get the ring back, will Gary ever confess to how the ring came to be in his possession and will Rachel ever put two and two together and realise what has happened?

The story moves easily between New York, London and Dublin – where the majority of the action takes place in ‘Stromboli’ – the bistro Rachel owns with her business partner and best friend Terri. The dialogue rips along  while the bread slowly rises and things come to boiling point when Ethan, Vanessa, Rachel, Gary – and the ring –  all end up in the bistro together. At times I wanted to shout at one or another of the characters as, just when it looked like the truth would come out, it didn’t! As I said, this is an engaging book!

As with Melissa’s other novels,there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way to keep you hooked until the very end; whoever you are rooting for.

If this book was a movie it would be the style of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, mixed with a sprinkling of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ magic and a dash of homemade goodness from ‘Julie & Julia’ – all carefully kneaded and rolled into one, delicious, un-put-downable treat.

One final note – Ethan’s daughter, Daisy, believes in a bit of Tiffany’s magic – and by the end of this novel, I dare you not to believe in it either!

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Melissa is the best-selling author of no less than ten novels (phew). I spoke to her about her life as a writer and to find out how on earth she manages it all.

When did you start writing and when was your first publishing deal?
I first took the writing plunge in 2002 after reading a disappointing novel on a long flight. I naively muttered to hubby that I thought I could do better myself, and he challenged me to give it a go. I soon found out that writing a novel was much harder than I’d thought, but difficult or not, I enjoyed the writing process so much that I didn’t want to stop and I still haven’t!

I was extremely lucky to find an agent within a month of finishing my first book, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW and a publisher a couple of months after that. Looking back it all sounds very straightforward, but I remember it as being the most nail-biting time of my life. When I got the call, my agent mentioned something about an advance and I stupidly thought that this was what I had to pay the publishers to get my book published (and was fully prepared to do so)!

LOL! A nice surprise then when you realised it was actually the other way around! So, how long does it take you to write a novel?
Usually it takes me about six months to write the first draft and then another month or two for tweaking and edits, so about eight months in all. But SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S was a bit different because my baby daughter arrived right in the middle of it, which slowed the whole process down just a little while I tried to get used to the sleepless nights, so it took the best part of a year to complete. Her appearance means that I’ve had to become much more dilligent and efficient with my time, as does the fact that I’m involved in writing two books a year now – one of my own and another co-written with my hubby.

I’m impressed that you manage to write anything at all !
It can be challenging, as it is for every working parent. But right from the beginning, hubby and I worked out a relay system, so that when one of us is writing, the other keeps tabs on baby while dealing with other publishing-related admin. It doesn’t always work out so well; especially as she’s becoming much more active, and only recently she crawled the whole way into the dishwasher while I was editing. I blame the dog who saw it all and didn’t raise the alarm. Lassie he isn’t.

I think I’ll have to come round to your house – it sounds hysterical! So, how did you get the idea for ‘Something From Tiffany’s’?
I’ve been in love with the idea of the little blue box and its related allure since my very lovely publishers Hodder gave me a gorgeous Tiffany’s charm bracelet (much like the one Gary buys in the novel) when BEFORE I FORGET went to No 1. After that, every time I went to New York I visited the Fifth Avenue store for a charm to add to the bracelet, and one time I had a good scoot around the diamond floor, where I saw all these loved-up couples choosing their engagement rings and walking away happily swinging bags containing that little blue box. Each Tiffany’s shopping bag looks the same, irrespective of what’s inside, and there and then the thought struck me – imagine the mayhem if a couple of identical bags with very different contents got mixed up?

Who is your favourite character in the novel?
I’m sure many readers will disagree but I have to say Gary. He was so much fun to write, because despite being such a dunderhead and so frustrating at times, he is without doubt the most complex character in the novel. He finds it difficult to be straight up about his failings, preferring to hide behind a macho persona, which I think can often be the case with many Irish men.

No comment! And, what is your favourite ‘author’ moment to date (apart from aforementioned Tiffany’s gift!)?
I think for most authors, reaching No 1 for the first time has to be special. For me, I honestly didn’t expect it, as the book in question, NEVER SAY NEVER had been sitting at No 2 behind a really popular Richard & Judy pick for about three weeks, and not for one second did I anticipate passing it . But somehow on the fourth week I managed it (I’m still convinced my mother went out and bought a stack of them), and I remember the pure elation I felt when I heard the news.

So, what are you working on next – any details or juicy insights to the next novel?!
I’m busy at work on a new book about an Irish couple who are determined to get married abroad, despite howls of protest from friends and families who for various reasons try to convince them to do the traditional big church wedding at home.

Oooo, sounds excellent (and horribly familiar!). So, finally, do you have Terri’s (from the novel) famous sourdough recipe for us to pass onto our significant others, you know, just in case they have anything special they’d like to hide in a loaf of bread?!
In small saucepan, heat milk and pre-prepared yeast shortener. Set aside and allow to cool until lukewarm. In large bowl, add sugar and salt. Pour in warm milk and melted shortener. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add flour, half a cup at a time, until dough is too thick to be mixed with wooden spoon. Turn dough out on floured board and begin to knead for 10 minutes, adding flour when dough gets sticky. Leave dough to rise for 90 mins, then cover and let rise for further 30 mins. Then shape dough into a round loaf, place on greased baking sheet, cover and let rise for another 60 minutes or until double in size. Preheat oven 180 C. Bake for 40 minutes or until bread sounds hollow.

Amazing – I’m off to bake a batch!

Melissa  lives in Dublin with her husband and baby daughter. To get in touch visit Melissa’s website or Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @hillmelissa

‘Something from Tiffany’s’ is out now in the UK and Ireland and is also available at Amazon.co.uk and to download for Kindle. With many thanks to Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown and Joanna at Hachette Ireland for organising my review copy.


08
Jun 11

Rival Passions by Zoe Miller


If you like your summer reads to come with a side order of glamour and sizzle, then Rival Passions is one for you.  Set amid a stunning backdrop of five star hotels and swanky champagne-fuelled parties, this is definitely a book to pack for your summer holidays.

Serena Taylor and Jack Devlin are twins who have taken over the running of the family hotel, Tamarisk Manor, from their mother Charlotte.  While Jack has been getting over his wife’s death, Serena has thrown herself headfirst into the business of ensuring Tamarisk remains the haven of choice for well-heeled celebrities, but she is struggling to balance her roles of businesswoman, wife and mother; just one of the ‘rival passions’ which is addressed in the book and a familiar conflict which many readers will identify with.

While taking time out in France at Tamarisk’s sister hotel ‘La Mimosa’, Jack meets Jenni, a young waitress, and starts to put his life back together. Meanwhile, despite the financial pressures of the recession and the fact that her husband Paul has discovered she is deceiving him, Serena continues to chase the elusive accolade of ‘Haven of the Year’.

In addition to the pivotal story of Serena’s failing marriage and her fraught relationship with her distracted brother, there are interesting sub-plots offered through family friend Kim, who is fed up of the single thirty-something party scene and also has a very soft spot for Jack, and also in the flashback’s to Charlotte’s life.

With scenes set among the beautiful people of Dublin society, this book rips along with designer shoes, stunning dresses and passionate liaisons at every turn. But bubbling underneath the glamorous façade of the main character’s lives are secrets and anxieties  which provide several interesting twists and turns.

If I had to describe Rival Passions as a meal, it would be an aperitif of Kir Royale, a starter of oysters, and a main course of succulent fillet steak. There would be no dessert; just more of the finest champagne money can buy!

For sheer escapism, this has to be a book that ticks all the boxes and would be best enjoyed while on a sun lounger in your bikini – preferably with a cocktail to hand, just to keep you cool!

Rival Passions is published by Hachette Ireland and is available now priced €13.99.  Zoe’s previous titles are Guilty Secrets and Sinful Deceptions.

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I spoke to Zoe, who is married with three children and lives in south county Dublin, about Rival Passions and her writing life.

How did you start writing – and why – and when was your first novel published?
I’ve been writing since I was young – I still recall standing in a library at age seven, filled with wonder at the shelves of books, knowing that I had found my life’s passion. I was first published as a freelance writer, with articles and short stories. Eventually I realised that if I wanted to write a novel I was going to have to carve out the time somehow. There were lots of hiccups along the way but Guilty Secrets was published in 2009, Sinful Deceptions in 2010 and Rival Passions in 2011.

And having established yourself as a successful author, what’s the most exciting moment so far?
Signing my book deals and getting onto that bestseller list! A writer’s life is 95% working at the laptop in solitary confinement, but I’ve had a few glamorous moments at various book launches, the Hachette Summer party, and champagne occasions with Sheila Crowley, my agent. Recently I had a glitzy moment at my launch for Rival Passions when Ireland’s newly crowned, most stylish couple, Nicky Byrne of Westlife and his lovely wife
Georgina popped in to say hello.

Oh, I don’t think I would enjoy that at all (ahem). Rival Passions is set in several stunning locations. Do you always write about locations you’ve spent time in?
Yes, in all my novels I like to include a foreign location I’ve already visited; Italy, Paris, the French Riviera… I think you need to have been there to write with authenticity. A great excuse, I tell myself, to plan a trip to the Maldives! Or the Seychelles… (wishful sigh)

Is Tamarisk Manor based on a real hotel?
Tamarisk is based on the best that Irish hotels have to offer. I had planned to base most of Rival Passions in France, then I realised it was a golden opportunity to showcase Ireland’s beautiful scenery and great hospitality. It was fun checking out 5 star hotels and enjoying the spa and facilities. I’d love to say I go to lots of glamorous parties, but have to admit that I research some of this online.

How do you develop your characters and are any of the characters in Rival Passions based on real celebrities (oh go on, tell us)?!
I watched a girl stroll out of a café in Old Town, Nice, and Jenni from Rival Passions walked right into my heart and sparked a whole book. Generally my characters are an amalgam of lots of different impressions. I develop them by making some initial background notes and focussing on the human relationships between them. By the time I’m finished a novel, I’m emotionally attached to my characters as though they are my family, and I hate saying goodbye. I’d never consciously base a character on a real person or celebrity – I think they need to come from your heart.

Which three words would best describe your writing style?
I like to think my trademark style is a heartfelt and passionate story, under the facade of glamour. I like to unravel the hopes and fears behind the glossy persona my characters present to the world, the life experiences that shape them and compel them to behave as they do. Then, no matter how many mistakes they have made, there is still hope for the future.

If you could be a character from any book, either one of yours or someone else’s, who would it be and why?
Hmm… tough question, Hazel! It would have to be a mixture of the best of some of my characters, please! I’d like to have the success of Lia Lacey, novelist in Guilty Secrets, with a string of bestselling novels, who enjoys worldwide, whirlwind book tours, but without her skeletons in the cupboard. Mix this with the fun of Jenni in Rival Passions, then add a touch of Serena with the sexy Paul …

Wow. I think we’d all like to be that person! So, which celebrities would you love to play the main characters in Rival Passions?
Cameron Diaz for Serena and Jude Law for Jack, when they take it to the big screen. (another wishful sigh)

Have you ever spotted anyone famous reading one of your novels?
Georgina Ahern Byrne bought a copy of Rival Passions at my launch. I think she is keeping it for her hols and I hope she is spotted lounging by the pool, thoroughly engrossed in it!

Are you working on your next novel (and can I come and help with the location research)?!
The draft of my next novel – Bold and Beautiful – has just been sent off to my agent and my editor in Hachette, and right now I’m suffering major withdrawal symptoms! Locations include New York, Hong Kong and London. It’s about three glamorous sisters and what happens when the consequences of a family scandal holds the mirror up to their lives and reveals who is the most beautiful of them all…. and who is the boldest…

Oooo, I can’t wait for that one!

Thanks so much to Zoe for these brilliant insights. Visit Zoe at facebook.com/zoemillerauthor or find her on Twitter @zoemillerauthor


31
May 11

The Last Letter From Your Lover, Jojo Moyes

Curling up with a good book must surely be one of life’s simplest pleasures and one that, as a busy mum-of-two, I unfortunately don’t get to do as often as I would like, sigh! So, when I do find a fabulous new book and can retreat to the sofa for a few moments of uninterrupted escapism, I want to be transported to a different place; want to spend time in somebody else’s life. OK, I also want to avoid the ironing, but it’s mainly about the books!

This blog, ‘Off The Shelf’, is all about finding that time to enjoy a great book. I will be reading and reviewing my favourites and sharing an insight into the author behind the words. I hope you will discover some new favourite authors and books along the way.

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‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ by Jojo Moyes (published by Hodder & Stoughton) is an absolute treat of a book, from the beautiful cover to the very last word. If I had to describe the book as an occasion, it would be Afternoon Tea, enjoyed with the finest china and the most exquisite cakes in a beautiful, art deco hotel in Monaco.

The story, which spans over 50 years, starts with Ellie, a journalist who is having an affair with a married man and struggling with her career. She has just uncovered an intriguing archive of old documents and letters from the 1960s. From here, we go back in time to meet the main character, Jennifer Stirling, who wakes up in hospital after being in a car crash and is unable to remember anything about her life; her husband, her home, anything. It’s a terrifying prospect.

Sensing that something is missing in her life and ill-at-ease around her husband Laurence, some distant memories begin to stir when Jennifer finds a love letter hidden in a book. It is signed simply ‘B’. And so begins her search for the truth about her life.

Set between the Riviera and London society scene of the 1960s and also in modern-day London, the plot moves backwards and forwards in time, twisting and turning between Ellie’s life and Jennifer Stirling’s life, before and after the car crash.

I loved the character of Jennifer Stirling, finding her very reminiscent of Grace Kelly; oozing style and sophistication of a bygone era. Ellie is also a character I am sure we can all relate to; struggling at work and picking apart cryptic text messages to try and decipher the true meaning behind the abbreviated words.

The book has some brilliantly disguised plot twists (which I didn’t see coming and am certainly not going to reveal here). I also loved the whole premise of this book; the wonderfully romantic, almost-forgotten notion of handwritten letters between lovers.

For hopeless romantics and lovers of 1960’s Riviera chic, this book is a must. Satisfying on every level, I was sorry to come to the end (and yes, I shed a tear!) I am now looking forward to enjoying Jojo’s previous novels and cannot wait to see what brilliance she will craft next.

I spoke to Jojo about her life as a writer.

 

I was born in London and lived there on and off until I was thirty. I now live near a town called Saffron Walden on a farm in the middle of nowhere. I have three children, 13, 10 and 6 and we have two horses, two dogs and one cat. Before I was a writer I was a journalist for ten years, and before that my jobs included brochure writer for club 18-30 and typer of braille bank statements for blind people.

That’s a lot of pets! So, when did you start writing – and why?
I’ve always written – as a child I filled piles of exercise books with stories about incredibly brave girls with ponies doing death-defying things. But I took it up professionally when I was working nights at The Independent and needed something useful to do with my days. It was that or shopping, and I didn’t have the money for shopping…

I know that feeling! So, when was your first novel published and how many have been published since?
‘Sheltering Rain’ was published in 2001, and seven have been published since. My ninth book, ‘Me Before You’, will be out in January.

So, tell us what is the most glamorous aspect of life as a writer?
Probably the launch parties, award ceremonies and lunches in nice restaurants with editors and agents. Believe me, when you spend the vast majority of your time alone in a room in your pyjama bottoms wrestling with things that only exist in your head, those events are really welcome!

Hmm, the pyjama bit I’m not so sure about, the launch parties and award ceremonies I could definitely do! Your novels are all set in different periods of history, ‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ being set partly in the 1960s and partly in modern times. What is it about history, and this period of history, which inspires you and how do you do your research?

I love that period of the late fifties and early sixties. I’ve written several books – Foreign Fruit, The Peacock Emporium and now Last Letter partly based in that time. I like it because you still have a lot of the restraint and inhibition of earlier times, which is so useful for fuelling plot, and really good for setting a love affair. Relationships are far more interesting for what stands between the two people, and there was so much stopping people getting together back then. It was also a time when the world teetered on the edge of a change – towards greater personal freedom and a more permissive society – and yet there were plenty of people who would take years to get there.

I do my research a number of ways, but one of the most important is visiting the British Newspaper Library at Colindale. There I go through newspapers of the era and study them – the advertisements, the preoccupations, the stories. I bring home loads of copies and pin them all over my office; you find that the names, the language, and the feel of the era seeps into what you are writing. I love the television series Mad Men, which seems to illustrate a lot of these issues beautifully and subtly. It would be my dream to write for that show.

You heard it here first! So, tough question, but which three words would best describe your writing style?

Oh gosh. Um – emotional, heartfelt, and I’d really hope for intelligent. I try to write characters who are properly complex and I trust the readers to work out some things for themselves.

As a writer, you are obviously an avid reader. Other than your own novels, which book would you love to have written?

I think the first book I really envied was ‘Behind The Scenes at the Museum’, by Kate Atkinson. A perfect example of a great plot, clevery told, a bunch of really original characters, and more than anything else the most amazing tone. More recently I also loved ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett.

Also two of my favourites. Now, here’s a tricky question. If you could choose a celebrity to play any of the characters in your latest novel, which celebrity and which character would it be?

A few people have already suggested them to me. I think the suggestions I liked best were James McAvoy for Boot and January Jones for Jennifer.

It must be wonderful to see people reading your books on the tube or at the airport. Have you ever spotted anyone famous reading your novels?

I haven’t spotted anyone, but Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice, The King’s Speech etc) read both ‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ and ‘Silver Bay’ and that made me SO happy. I love her work. Clare Balding read ‘The Horse Dancer’ and said lovely things about it. She also seems like a lovely person (and I’m not just saying that because she liked the book!)

And finally, because I am impatient and want a bit of a scoop, can you tell us anything about your next novel? Please?!

I’m just finishing the proofs for ‘Me Before You’. I can’t say too much about it, because it is truly different, but it’s a love story about a woman who falls in love with a man who has decided he wants to die, and what happens when she tries to change his mind. It’s a real weepie – possibly even more than my previous books – but it also has a lot of humour in it, which is a new thing for me. Every now and then you write a book which just writes itself, and this was one of those books for me. I’m quite nervous about it, as it is a controversial subject, but the people who have read it so far have been passionate about it, so I”m keeping my fingers crossed…

Thank you to Jojo for these fascinating insights into her life and her work. You can say hi to Jojo on Twitter @jojomoyes or visit her website www.jojomoyes.com

‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ is available now in paperback, priced £7.99.

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