Sunday, 26 May 2013

Shouty Dad starts a new chapter

Don't ask me to look after your avocado
I was never too keen on Friends Reunited. Of course, it's always lovely when people first get in touch; the first email or two can be quite exciting. But once you're past the catch-up phase and have relived a few great memories in old stomping grounds, you usually realise why you lost touch in the first place - you simply don't have anything in common any more and you have to let the friendship die all over again...

But then along came Twitter, a much better way to look up auld acquaintance and see if a connection can be dusted down and made good again. And that's how Shouty Dad and I rekindled our friendship. Once upon a time were both reading English at Sussex Uni in the UK. We moved in different circles and didn't see each other all that much, but we did get on well and I'm not sure why we eventually lost touch. It might have been because he got married or perhaps it was because I killed his avocado plant while he went traveling. Either way, our paths diverged for a decade or two.

By the time we bumped into each other again on Twitter, I'd moved to Australia. But I was delighted to run into him online and greatly enjoy reading his dry, witty blog about family life:

When Burned was picked up by Random House, I thought about asking Shouty if he'd like to read it. Of course, I valued his opinion, he's no mean writer himself, but I knew things could be a little awkward if he didn't like it. As it happens I needn't have worried. Here's his review:

'An act of revolting violence done to a homeless man lies at the heart of this stunning debut novel. 
As the impact of the attack ripples out - the apparent pointlessness of the brutality making it seem all the more plausible - Persephone Nicholas picks apart with forensic skill the lives of those affected. 
In a gripping story that switches seamlessly between characters, countries and the passing of time, she focuses on Noah Daniels, a young lad who witnesses the attack.

As he falls under police suspicion, Noah’s innocent and gentle life begins to fall apart - and in one of the book’s many subtle echoes, he too becomes violent, lashing out against those closest to him.

Burned is thoroughly absorbing, its writing mature and assured, especially so for a first novel. There's not a misplaced or superfluous word throughout, and Nicholas keeps the story bowling along with short chapters and frequent changes of location between Sydney and England.

Her characters are totally believable - especially slimy Rich, Noah's feckless dad - and she gets inside the head of young people and adults alike with convincing accuracy.

Long after you’ve finished the last page, the personalities and places stay in your mind. You won’t visit Salisbury again without being reminded of the nasty underbelly present even in England’s prettiest city. Nor will you pass a homeless man without thinking that he, too, once had a different life.

This powerful book by a new writer with a glittering future deserves to be read.'
Burned will be out on Amazon kindle on May 29 and in print from August. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Who the hell is Ida Pollock?

Loving these vintage covers..

If you'd asked me a few weeks ago what I thought of Ida Pollock, I would probably have said: 'Who the hell is Ida Pollock?

I'd never heard of her until I read Simon de Bruxelles' recent piece in The Times. Not surprising perhaps given she has numerous noms de plume and began her writing career more than 90 years ago. The surprising thing is that she's still going. Yes, at 105, Ida Pollock, who started writing at the age of 14 and already has 123 novels under her belt, is publishing two more this year.

Her stories are romances - she's written 70 books just for Mills & Boon - and may not be everyone's cup of tea but I for one admire Ida. Here's why:

1. She knew what she wanted to do from an early age - and did it.
2. She's found her niche and made herself at home there.
3. Her output is prodigious - she focuses on the job and gets it done.
4. Her books are romantic escapism pure and simple.  Ida says she loves writing them and I'm sure her readers enjoy them all the more because she does.
5. There's not a butt plug in sight.

Ida is an inspiration. When she turned 105 last month, The Romantic Novelists' Association (which she founded) made her their honorary vice president.

I'd like to add my best wishes too. Ida Pollock, Rose Burghley, Mary Whistler, Marguerite Bell, Joan Allen - whoever you are, I salute you. Many happy returns.

Who's inspiring you this week? I'd love to know...

Saturday, 4 May 2013

4 must-read books for mums

Mum and me in 1963

Becoming a mother changes your life unimaginably. Almost from the moment of conception it feels as though your life and your body are no longer your own. When you're pregnant, near strangers feel free to ask you the most intimate questions. Once your child is born, you can forget ever having any privacy again.

In my mothers' group in London, most of us were having our babies fairly late. We were all comfortably off, professional women used to running our own shows. All the more shocking then to discover at noon that, having been up since 5am you still hadn't managed to brush your teeth.

I remember my friend Mary's story of how, having (mistakenly) thought she'd finally got her baby into a routine, she decided to shave her legs while he slept. Of course, the baby woke up before she'd even finished the first leg, so she didn't managed to get to the second one. And as for her teeth...

Then there was my lovely friend Anthea who, pinned to the sofa for hours while her newborn suckled, was reduced to eating five bananas in one sitting - she was starving, didn't dare disturb her tiny babe and the bananas were all that was within reach.

My boys are growing up now and those baby days are a distant memory. But it's not overstating it to say that motherhood changes your life forever. I'm not one for commercial celebrations but I do think it's important to remember your mum who, however much she wanted a baby, didn't quite know what she was getting herself into.

There are many great books about the parent/child relationship. Here are my favourites. That's not to say you won't enjoy them if you don't have kids, it's just that having been there, you'll appreciate them all the more.

1. Room by Emma Donoghue
A beautiful, inspiring, book. Ma, the heroine of this story, is strong, creative and sets new standards in parenting. Read it and weep.

2. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
One for parents of teenage boys. Charlie and Jeffrey's exchanges make me snort with laughter. How could you not love a book that poses the question: "Would you rather wear a hat made of spiders or have penises for fingers?" I'm still mulling that one over.

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
This book scared the bejeezus out of me. Brilliant nonetheless and I reckon every parent should read it. Excellent choice for book clubs - you won't be able to stop talking about it.

4. Burned by me
It's hard for me to sum up Burned in a sentence or two, so I hope you won't mind me borrowing what my publisher, Random House, says: "When a tragic event occurs in a quiet town in England, no one could predict just how it would ripple through the four people from opposite sides of the world who physically and emotionally collide in this multi-faceted tale.'

I can say that the two events that have inspired my writing the most are moving to Australia and becoming a mother. Burned celebrates them both.

On that note, I wish my mum, Mollie Thorrowgood, and every other mother on the planet, a very happy Mother's Day on 12th May.