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Patrick Gale Competition - Win a Signed Proof of The Whole Day Through

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by Jen

Patrick Gale Competition

As part of the interview with Patrick Gale this week, we have a signed proof copy of his book 'The Whole Day Through' to give away, which is published today, May 28th.

The first comment below with the correct answer to the following question wins:

Q,. At one point in his new novel, Patrick’s heroine stands naked in her mother’s garden under cover of darkness. In which other Gale novel does a character do this, and what is her name?

Interview Part 1 of 2
Interview Part 2 of 2

Don Juan de la Mancha

By Robert Menasse
Translated by David Bryer
Publisher: Alma Books 2009

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by Jane

It’s well known that book covers and their blurbs are influential in our choice of novel and I’m as gullible as the next person when it comes to falling for a bit of propaganda. If the blurb reads An entertaining read, easy to digest - The Telegraph I’m more than likely to succumb to the thought of a delicious book feast or, at the very least, serve it up with mayonnaise. (I’m on a diet so even paper has become attractive; it has remarkably similar properties to lettuce.) And if it reads Best book since The Bible – The Sun naturally I will rush out and buy it as fast as my Zimmer frame will let me.

Of course any opinion on a book is subjective but if you’ve read the blurb for The Devil Wears Prada or The Undomestic Goddess you might believe some publishers need prosecuting under The Trades Description Act. Anyhow my point is; on the rear cover of Don Juan de la Mancha it reads “One of the most entertaining comic novels of these past few years” so with this phrase in mind I set about reading with my Laugh-O-Meter and spare knickers to hand ready for a rip roaring rollercoaster of a read.

Unfortunately by page 50 and not a giggle having passed my lips I decided there must be something wrong with me and I resolved to start the book again. I duly flipped to the rear cover to see if I’d read the blurb correctly. And there it was;

One of the most entertaining comic novels of these past few years - Die Zeit

Yes, I had failed to see Die Zeit. I now felt fully justified that I hadn’t been laughing my socks off. Because, and I ask you, what do the Germans know about comedy? Yes, yes I know those silly boots are hilarious but come on you’ve got to admit Brecht never really had you in stitches did he? Now the author of Don Juan de la Mancha is Robert Menasse, an Austrian, so I began to wonder if there were lots of in-house jokes about lederhosen and frankfurters that I simply wasn’t getting. But realistically how many gags can you have about Lederhosen and frankfurters? Not many. Well okay…quite a few about frankfurters… but this is a family site so let’s not go there.

I carried on reading the blurb;

Published in more than twenty languages, Robert Menasse is one of the leading voices in Austrian literature and the recipient of numerous literary awards, as well as a prominent essayist and journalist.

Now in if I translate this into more utilitarian language it reads;

You are thick if you don’t like this book.

So with my glasses placed studiously upon my nose, my Aspirin dissolved and my feather quill poised to make copious notes I set about reading Don Juan again. The novel, I decided, was like a crossword puzzle; once I had put myself into the mindset of the writer everything would fall into place. This time I resolved to read it through in as few sittings as possible having discovered on my first attempt that the proliferation of characters and the events jumping between the past and present made it easy to lose the thread of the story.

I duly read the book and here’s what I found;

Don Juan is Nathan, a 50 year old Austrian journalist working on the lifestyle section of a newspaper. Suffering from a midlife crisis and on the advice of his psychotherapist he recounts his life thorough an adhoc journal. It describes how his relationship with his father, his two wives and his many lovers have all proved, in some way or another, unsatisfactory. Although Nathan’s relationship with his mother is less tainted all her romantic liaisons have also failed. As the story develops we see that he has lived his life yearning for fulfillment and a constant need to find and feel sexual desire.

Basically, Nathan is a man whose cup is always half empty and never half full. The past and future are always more attractive that the present and so he lives his life in limbo. When he consults the newspaper’s astrologer she tells him his birth is on the “border.” He is in between two personalities. Maybe this why he is so fascinated by females, their sexuality and why ultimately, even though it is comical, he ends up dressed as a woman.

Don Juan de la Mancha is an intriguing book examining the relationships between men and women, sexuality and desire. It is sad, funny and poignant and I’m sure Freud would have dined out on it. It is the perfect fodder for those who wish to study the human psyche. However while the novel is all of these things, I never laughed, cried or felt deep empathy for any of the characters. In real life that is what we do. We laugh, we cry, we empathize, we feel. We don’t just observe.

And so I closed the book feeling like I’d seen only half the picture.

So is Don Juan de la Mancha a comic novel? Well it is – but for me that comedy came from visualizing the scenarios in my mind; the writing didn’t really speak to me. I’m not sure whether that is because the oomph was lost in the translation from Austrian, the irksome narration so none of the other characters really become alive, or whether Menasse simply can’t blatantly deliver the humour that the situations invoked. However, I can see this book translating extraordinarily well into film. In fact it would be the perfect material for Woody Allen but like his earlier films you’ll probably either love it or hate it.

So there you have it. According to the blurb I’m thick and don’t understand Austrian humour. Damn.

I should be depressed.

But since I just dressed up as a man I feel a whole lot better.

Patrick Gale Interview Part 2 of 2

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by Jen

The View From Here Interview: Part 2 of 2 Patrick Gale

Part one of this interview can be found here.


Which of your own books or characters are your favourites and why? And your favourites written by someone else or that you wish you had written?
I love the books I wrote when I was intensely happy – Rough Music, Little Bits of Baby, Notes from an Exhibition. My favourite characters are my brave, badly behaved ones. I sort of live through them. (See early comment about dogs…). I wish I’d written Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea and The Black Knight.

Tell us about appearing on Richard and Judy with “Notes from an Exhibition’. You described it (in Falmouth) as ‘an awful beauty parade.’ What changed for you as a result of making the R&J list?
The first I knew was a phone call from my publisher, very excited, saying it had made it through to the longlist of 20 titles. At this point I had to jump through hoops (as did my publisher) writing a letter to Richard and Judy saying how much getting onto their short list would mean, not just to me but to Penzance etc. I also had to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. There was then a mercifully short judging period – about a month – before another, this time slightly hysterical phone call to say the book had made it through. Just what this meant took most of Christmas, and a lot of phone calls and e mails from other novelists, including my old friend from college, Kate Mosse, for me to realize my life was about to be changed. A film crew came down to interview me a few weeks later. They filmed me in our kitchen, out on the cliffs and around Penzance. Also, bizarrely, they hired a local woman artist – nothing like my character – to represent my character. On the evening the show was broadcast featuring Notes I had to answer questions online for about an hour. Then I just sat back and watched the book’s sales go through the roof. Completely weird and amazing and I now remind myself at least once a week that something like this will never happen to me again. The book ended up being 22nd on the overall bestseller list for the year and the top title on that list from HarperCollins. Thanks to that, Sainsburys picked whatever I wrote next, as a title for promotion in their new book club venture, so the R&J benefits may be continuing for a little while yet.

Some of your (book) jackets were rebranded recently. Do you like the new look and did you get involved in the design process?
I haven’t seen the new look yet but I can understand the sense behind it. Notes sold well so they’re using the Notes jacket as a template for the new ones. I’m very nervous about my new novel’s jacket. All I know so far is that it’s shot in a bathroom…

Can we assume your next book also has a challenging mother? I believe she is something of a naturist, if I recall correctly?
The Whole Day Through has a very challenging mother but rather a wonderful one too. She’s extremely clever, which was a tough one to pull off as I’m not. She’s a type I have a weakness for – brutally honest but basically decent. Very self-sufficient so she detests getting old and having to depend on others.

Do you often hear feedback from your readers? What do they say?
I get about two e mails a day through my website and about two letters a week, which I love as it completes the reading/writing circle. Some of the messages are rude but a lot are very simple and just say thank you, it touched me, more please. A great boon, I can tell you, when you’re having a bad writing week!

You said that you are ‘an obsessive gardener.’ What do you grow? Are you obsessive about anything else?
I grow flowers and vegetables. I love germinating seeds and smuggle a lot back in my socks when I travel abroad. In the recent frosts I’ve just lost a magnificent Moreton Bay Fig I’d grown from seed brought back from Australia and am heartbroken. And yes. I’m obsessive about all too many things. Loading the dishwasher. Loading the washing machine. Alphabetising my spices. What can I say? I work from home…

A Sweet Obscurity has a musical theme. Do you listen to music when you write? What do you enjoy listening to, or playing?
Always. It has to be music with no words, though. I find it a really useful device if I listen to the same cluster of pieces while working on a given story as it provides an unconscious shorthand that lets me return to the same emotional space if the work has to be interrupted for any length of time. I find I only have to read my novels again to remember the pieces I wrote them to, pieces which often have nothing to do with any music described in the text.

You live in Cornwall and have said that you ‘feel claimed by it'. How does your environment affect your writing or settings of your stories?
Yes, I’m heavily influenced by environment but I’m not precious about it. Cornwall is wonderful, especially so at the empty times of year, but I know I’d find the same about Norfolk or Pembrokeshire. I do need the country, though. I’d become a very different sort of writer if I had to live in a city all the time. Going for walks is such a part of my writing routine, as is not talking to anybody for hours on end, which is very hard to do in town.

If you were to share the cooking of a celebrity summer barbecue who would it be with: Nigella, Jamie or Delia - and which guests would you invite?
None of the above. I’d want Simon Hopkinson or the late Jane Grigson. Both cooks who can/could really write. Simon’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories is a classic of the genre and he’s also lovely company. As for fantasy guests ; Stephen Fry, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Ian McKellen, The Endellion String Quartet and then, oh, a novelist or two…

Is there a question you would you like to be asked at interview, but never are?
Those jeans look fantastic on you. Where did you buy them?


I must extend a very warm thank you to Patrick Gale to whom I spoke after an event during Cornwall County Council's Wonderful Words Festival 2008. He was highly informative, humorous and above all, very charming and generous to his audience.


1985 The Aerodynamics of Pork
1985 Ease
1987 Kansas in August
1988 Facing the Tank
1989 Little Bits of Baby
1990 The Cat Sanctuary
1996 The Facts of Life
1996 Dangerous Pleasures
1999 Tree Surgery for Beginners
2000 Rough Music
2003 A Sweet Obscurity
2005 Friendly Fire
2007 Notes from an Exhibition

The Whole Day Through - due out 28th May 2009
Gentlemen’s Relish, a second collection of short stories due out at Christmas.

Patrick’s website:

Author photograph credit Mark Pringle

Crazy Women

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by Kathleen

When Edward and his family finally arrived, the receptionist said Mrs. Nesbitt would receive them in an hour.

As always, the family waited at the McDonald’s across the highway. The nursing staff refused to prepare residents before their guests arrived, because getting the elderly patients cleaned up, dressed, coiffed, and settled involved strenuous maneuvering. And often their visitors failed to show up.

Inside the grimy franchise across the highway, Edward’s wife Amy conceded that McDonald’s coffee wasn’t bad.

Grant and Diana, who were approaching their teens, hooted. “Really, Mom? You think it’s safe to drink coffee here?”

She laughed. “I suppose I was prejudiced against it.”

Edward, however, imbibed nothing. He acted disinterested unless someone suggested his grandmother was slipping into dementia. Or if the thought occurred to him unbidden. “Grandma never misses a trick. Her mind is sharper than ever.”

Amy signaled her children—do not contradict him or you’ll be sorry.

After Edward phoned the facility and learned Victoria was ready, the family hurried through the hallways, averting their eyes from the communal rooms, where contorted bodies were strapped into padded furniture. Reaching Victoria’s dismal, sick-smelling room seemed like an oasis.

“So lovely to see you!” Amy kissed Victoria’s papery cheek and gestured that her children do likewise.

Despite trouble speaking or swallowing, Victoria wanted to give little Diana a quart of vodka, hidden behind a curtain. “Open it now, honey, because somewhere it’s cocktail hour.”

“Yes, but not for nine years in Diana
s case,” Edward yelled into his grandmother’s ear.

Grant elbowed his sister and whispered. “Sharp as a tack.”

Before long, Amy half-carried, half-dragged Victoria to the minuscule bathroom. Victoria wasn’t heavy, just stiff as stone, crying and moaning whenever Amy moved her. Adult diapers filled the bathroom shelves but Victoria insisted the nurses were joking. Nonetheless she cringed with apologies as Amy cleaned her. “Hush, this is nothing,” Amy said, “compared to when the kids were babies.”

Mission half-accomplished, Amy heaved Victoria, who moaned and groaned pitilessly all the way back to her recliner. Hands flailing, she snatched at the tissue Amy offered and spit into it.

From next door a woman screamed, “Save me! Someone! Get me out of here!”

A nurse appeared. “Sorry about the crazy woman next door. Just don’t listen to her.”

“Save me!” the woman yelled. “Get me out of here!”

“Victoria,” Amy said, “this is horrible. Please, come home with us.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Victoria said. “You can’t mean it.”

“Amy, have you lost your mind?” Edward demanded. “Victoria needs expert care.”

The crazy woman continued screaming.

“I’m ready to save you, Grandma. The lady next door does not sound crazy to me. If I woke up her body? In her bed here? I’d be screaming, too.”

“That day will dawn,” Edward said.

And Victoria added: “He’s right, my dear. You’re next.”

Patrick Gale Interview - Part 1 of 2

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by Jen

The View From Here Interview: Part 1
Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale has a long and successful writing career, but the inclusion in the UK's 2008 Richard and Judy Book Club of his last book, 'Notes from an Exhibition' further added to his widespread appeal. It sold over 273, 000 copies in 2008.
His latest book, 'The Whole Day Through' is due out this week, on May 28th. (And you can win a signed copy in the competition later this week!)


The Aerodynamics of Pork is the most unusual title of your first book. How and when did you begin writing? Why were the first two books published simultaneously?
I’d always written fiction almost too easily all through school. I think I was very lucky to be encouraged but not specifically taught much about the process, so that I sort of worked it out for myself. My school made me read enormously and so did my English degree and I maintain that reading is the best possible training for writing! I didn’t think I was going to become a writer, though. I thought I’d be an actor or, at a pinch, some kind of music teacher. Somehow my hobby became my living. The first two (very short!) novels were published on the same day purely because Penguin had bought out my first publishers, Abacus, and didn’t want to retain me as a writer. They were simply clearing their backlog of books but I was the beneficiary because it secured the novels a lot more coverage in the press than they probably deserved.

Longhand or PC? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Longhand for me. I started off on a horrible electronic typewriter with a tiny memory then an Amstrad PCW9512 which had a horribly noisy daisywheel printer. By the time neat sleek pcs came along, I’d already been driven into writing by hand and fallen into the habit. I do think it works better. The process is wonderfully organic and messy – just the way creativity should be – so that you keep having extra ideas and the writing process never quite stops. Whereas writing on a pc, the way I’m doing this now, feels artificially neat and tidy and – judging from all too many novels on the market – convinces writers they’ve finished when they haven’t! The only tools you need are a nice pad and pen and somewhere quiet and comfortable. I write out of doors a lot. I also manage to do a lot of work on the Penzance/Paddington trains.

It appears that character is more defining in your work than plots and planning. Many of your stories feature difficult women and fathers who ‘get away with it’. What appeals to you in these characters?
Ooh. Lots of questions in one. I try to let my characters suggest my plots rather than the other way around. I think if you do that then you’re more likely to come up with a plot that’s lifelike – always assuming your characters are lifelike to start with. As for difficult women and naughty fathers – I suspect there’s a strong element of wish fulfillment in my fiction. Characters, like dogs, can express the things their owners are too polite or inhibited to express.

Several of your books include mental health issues - Alzheimer’s, Bi-polar disorder. How do you research these subjects?
With some difficulty. I don’t like fiction to be research-heavy so, again, the characters come first then I do the research where I have obvious gaps to fill or where I need to know about a disease or whatever that has shaped a character. For writers at the back of beyond the way I am, the Internet is a great boon, as is having a sister who’s an eminent epidemiologist and a friend in psychiatry.

Can you take us through the steps behind one of your books getting published? How long does it take to write a book from opening line to final word, the editing, and final submission?
It varies. When my publishing stock was low, e.g. back in 2000 when Rough Music was yet to be published, there were nearly 18 months from delivery to publication. I’ve just delivered my latest one, however, and that’s due out in less than six months. The writing process varies in length too. I’m a quick an obsessive writer once I get stuck into a piece of work but being expected to tour to book festivals, especially ones overseas, completely disrupts the process. My latest book turned out to be very short – about 150 pages, which was a joy because I was able to work on it uninterrupted for three or four months and then, on the rewrite, for another two. A bigger, more complex book, could never have been put together so quickly.

Tell us a bit about daily workings with your agent, editor or publishers.
Less of the daily. I only have dealings with my agent when there’s a new deal under negotiation or a new book about to be published. We’re good friends but he’s a very busy man and his job is just that – the deal and getting the best one possible. My editor is a really close friend, which is lovely. We holiday together every autumn and she’s a constant source of support and stimulus. There are then lots of different people at my publisher’s I have dealings with at different times. There’s my official in-house editor, my hardback publicist, my softback publicist, my softback editor, the jacket designer and so on. But basically whenever there’s a new book in production or just published, I’ll have regular e mails and phone calls from them and between books life gets wonderfully quiet…

Publishers want more of the same and writers want to do something different each time. How do you deal with this clash?
Ignore the publishers! Actually, that’s not quite true but I have to follow my instincts primarily and be confident that whatever I produce, however weird or unexpected in marketing terms, will still feel like a Patrick Gale novel. I am painfully aware these days, however, that whatever I write will have to be marketed – the new novel is being heavily sold into Sainsburys despite nobody from Sainsbury’s having read it or known much about it in advance. I’ve done my best not to let this influence the subject matter of the book but I was at least able to reassure my editor that what was emerging was a weepy love story, and we all know that love stories are eminently sellable.

As a writer, one is often told, read widely, write every day. But what would your recommendations be to aspiring authors, starting out in today’s world of publishing.
Absolutely. Never stop reading. I regard reading as the writer’s equivalent of the dancer’s daily class – it keeps your mind limber, it stimulates you whether it’s good (envy!) or lousy (comforting!) but most importantly, if you read analytically, it doesn’t just remind you how it feels to be enfurled in fiction but can teach you how certain emotional effects can be triggered in a reader.

I understand that you are part of the staff of the Oxford University Creative Writing Diploma. Do you think aspiring authors can learn to write or are good writers born?
I’m not really on their staff. I’ve just been a visiting lecturer there occasionally. I always feel really inhibited when asked to lecture or teach because I have no training at it. As to the nature/nurture question, it all depends on the sort of writing under discussion. I tend to think that if you can talk well you can often write well, or fluently at least. And elements of both talking and writing can be efficiently taught – which is how journalists are trained. But for really good fiction you also need elements of empathy and a willingness to lose your self, your ego in effect, that is probably harder to teach. I’ve met some really rather nasty novelists, however, whose novels are still terrifically stylish and win prizes etc. But there are about fifty stylists to every Carol Shields, which is why I prize the empathy element so.

Did your study of English, including any particular writer or book, have any great influence on your own writing?
Yes. Iris Murdoch was a big influence, as was the King James Bible, my father’s beautiful spoken prose and Jane Austen. But so was my early music training, I think. I’m always very aware of the rhythm of a piece of writing and I test my writing on myself in my head like a piece of music.

What have you learned in the course of your writing life, that you wish you had known at the start?

That the fiction that works best is actually very quiet in its surface effects. Somebody early on should have said to me, “It’s fine. You can write. Now calm down and stop showing off.”


Part Two will follow on Wednesday when Patrick talks about his experience surrounding the inclusion of Notes from an Exhibition in the Richard & Judy Book Club, his upcoming book and who he would invite to a celebrity summer barbecue .


1985 The Aerodynamics of Pork
1985 Ease
1987 Kansas in August
1988 Facing the Tank
1989 Little Bits of Baby
1990 The Cat Sanctuary
1996 The Facts of Life
1996 Dangerous Pleasures
1999 Tree Surgery for Beginners
2000 Rough Music
2003 A Sweet Obscurity
2005 Friendly Fire
2007 Notes from an Exhibition

The Whole Day Through - publication date: 28th May 2009
Gentlemen’s Relish, a second collection of short stories due out at Christmas.

Patrick’s website:

Author photograph credit Mark Pringle

The Integrity of Book Jackets

by Steve Potter
Commercial Trading Manager at The Book Depository

Above left: Deborah Lawrenson's book Songs of Blue and Gold published by Arrow Books.
Above right: TVFH mock-up cover for the book by Fossfor.

A discussion on book covers prompted by Deborah Lawrenson's book above.

As book jackets become more and more generic, it becomes harder to ‘never judge a book by its cover ’. And whilst this is not a problem for those authors /genres that would want to be identified by specific themes – Crime, Science Fiction and Fantasy for example – it is more problematic when cover art is alienating half of the book’s potential audience. Worse still, when it is the audience which the author wanted to reach out to in the first place. There will, of course, be authors and titles that are aimed very much at a gender specific audience, as the annoyingly named ‘chick lit’ testifies – but what of books with cross gender appeal? And just because women represent the majority in terms of book buyers, does it really make sense to jacket a book with a purely female audience in mind?

It is, of course, indicative of a wider issue – as what publishers are striving to do is pass muster with buyers at the high street chains, many of whom – with first time authors in particular – will look straight past the synopsis and concentrate on the cover ( and I shamefully admit to having been guilty of this myself on many occasions .) Jacket images are as much driven by booksellers as by book buyers.

The money spent on jacket design (as well as editorial, sales, marketing etc) ultimately has to be recouped in sales. And herein lies the dilemma for any author / publisher in terms of the integrity of their book jackets.

As we are all too aware, retailers operate around seasonality and offers to attract customers, and we are just around the corner from the annual 3 for 2 Summer Reading promotions that will dominate bookshops for the next few months. In the current economic climate, books – even at full rrp – represent fantastic value for money. But for many, if a book is part of an offer, it becomes that much more compelling and it is here that the jacket image needs to do its job.

Book buyers have always responded well to recommendation – and that is what the book jacket has become. A recommendation based upon the style of the jacket – the jacket will tell the reader all they need to know without even having to consult the blurb. For many low frequency book consumers – 2 to 4 purchases a year, generally for holiday reading – the images on a book’s cover can be more compulsive than the plot. Generic jacketing has allowed books to become an impulse buy.

But book jackets need to be seen – they need to be featured in that 3 for 2 summer reading promotion. And here is the vicious circle, because they won’t ever appear stacked high on tables at store fronts unless the jacket image has ticked the appropriate boxes that tie it to the theme of that promotion - and as such they will continue to be generic and uninspiring.

So, whilst publishers and designers will say their ambition is to create stylish and innovative covers, the reverse seems to be true. Stereotypical jackets are increasingly the norm – and one can clearly see why publishers and retailers would want to continue with a formula that sells books, but couldn’t they be selling a whole load more by not alienating half their potential audience?

The best example I can think of are the books of Douglas Kennedy – whose jackets bear an uncanny resemblance to Deborah’s, the same designer perhaps? Here is an author that was given the typical ‘summer reading’ treatment to appeal to a mass female audience. And yet, Kennedy is a writer whose novels are set against the backdrop of pivotal moments in history, often have a mystery element and are in parts real page turners – in other words, books with definite cross gender appeal.

In essence, the book jacket has morphed into something that conforms to perceived stereotypes – blokes read books about war and action heroes and women about love and sex. Ultimately there is nothing wrong with jackets being genre specific – one only has to look at the original Penguins which were differentiated by colour and are now considered to be classics of their kind. Though it does seem silly to pigeon hole authors by cover image alone. That being said, I am sure that Kennedy is not complaining – with the aid of targeted jackets his books have moved from midlist at best, to key frontlist / promotable titles.

Independent booksellers and the smaller presses, by their nature, tend to fall outside of convention – and that the two continue to exist will ensure that innovative writing and stylish design will flourish. An example that seems to typify this difference is that of Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost.

The success of this book can be attributed to many factors – not least that it is a stunning novel. It found its early success from the support given to it by independent booksellers and the quirkiness and originality of its jacket. That the cover stood out, and did not hint at any gender inspired content, ensured the book garnered fans of both sexes. As the book gained its more than deserved success, it was rejacketed and given what in my opinion is a much more non descript , almost non-fiction feel. The quirkiness of the original jacket seems to add life to this book, whereas the new one seems to be much more along the lines of the generic covers we increasingly see. All that aside, I would encourage everyone to read What Was Lost , regardless of which jacket you find.

In all – it seems that the gender specific jacket is here to stay. And who can blame publishers, when jacket images allow their books to sit in 3 for 2 promotions – titles which otherwise might have languished in mid list obscurity. The main concern is that the potential book buyer is being put off by the cover, and this seems a great shame – particularly as some of my favourite fiction in recent years has been found hidden behind a book jacket that was definitely not aimed at me.

It could be that as the importance of the jacket image for web based bookselling – where every cover is available to view – becomes more apparent , that we will see more innovative and inspiring jacket design come to the fore again. Until then we should, after all , never judge a book by its cover.

Steve is Commercial Trading Manager at The Book Depository
( )

A word from Deborah Lawrenson to TVFH on her covers ...

I love the new cover design. It captures the essence of the book: the dreamy literary aspect and the colours and word-pictures that were an important part of writing about "Lawrence Durrell", aka Julian Adie. As a reader, this really appeals to me as well; the gorgeous sea-greens, blues and yellow would certainly draw me closer to it on a bookshop shelf. Intriguing, too: abstract becomes a recognisable image. Very clever and lovely.

But I can completely understand why Random House published with the cover they did. They would say this one is too "literary hardback" for a wide commercial audience. For a them, it's all to do with author branding and recognition, and theirs was a design to match my previous novel for them, The Art of Falling.

My beef is with the publishing-wide obsession with branding, target marketing and following current trends, often dictated - deep breaths - by the now hugely influential supermarkets. It meant that Songs of Blue and Gold was pushed out last August (summer read! beach scene!) in sea of similar covers broadly aimed at the lucrative women's beach-read market. Sadly it also ensured that many people (including men who are interested in Lawrence Durrell) who subsequently raved about it, would never, ever have picked it up in a shop.

TVFH Available in Full Page on-line Magazine Format

From this month the magazine will be available in the format below as well as the printed edition.

In an environment where magazines and newspapers are struggling to find workable models to balance free on-line content and paper content we have decided after much thought and consultation ( a big thanks to Scott Pack from The Friday Project who met up with us last week in London ) to make this move as we can compete more effectively on-line, where it is more of a level playing field. The printed magazine will still be available but after launching on-line yesterday we have had nearly 500 people view the magazine already, so it is an effective way to get the magazine infront of people.

Do help the magazine to grow by embedding the magazine onto your site. Just copy and paste the code below and add water (width 190 pixels so it will fit in your sidebar if you have a blog.)

O and you will also notice that we have had a repaint job done on our site and a "about us" page to help people orientate themselves around the magazine.


Dear Everybody

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by Charlie

Jonathon Bender killed himself in 1999. Before making the decision to end his life he had gone to great pains to understand and document it.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I don’t know why I was so sick when I was a baby or why I cried so much, but I don’t think that I ever wanted you to put me down in my crib. I couldn’t get out by myself and I couldn’t tell if you were going to come back for me. I think I kept crying so that you wouldn’t leave me alone. Could you hear me?

Can anybody hear me?

‘Dear Everybody’ is a collection of unsent letters, cuttings, records of conversations and other assorted materials that his younger brother Robert has edited into a compelling account of an unfolding tragedy as he also seeks to understand his brother’s life and death.

Stories of families, love and death seem to be Michael Kimball’s stock-in-trade. I say ‘seem’ because I haven’t read his first two novels but these themes are evident on the neat and contained website that details his work to date.

‘Neat and contained’ was likewise my first impression when I was handed this remarkable novel. It won’t be the longest book you’ll read this year but it will be one of the most memorable, both in style and content.

Jonathon’s life is set out as a diary; sometimes a page may only contain a few notes, on other occasions it might be a newspaper cutting or lines from a transcribed interview. For me this worked beautifully, creating a sense that what I was holding was not a work of fiction at all, rather a ‘found manuscript’. It also meant that the whole book was readable in no more than a couple of evenings. This may not be to everybody’s taste, both in length and approach; it may take the reader a while to appreciate just what Michael has done here but this is most definitely a book that should not be abandoned after a few pages merely because it doesn’t fit expectations of what is a novel.

That this book is a quiet tour de force is testament to the skill by which Michael brings us the events, significant and trivial, that collectively created Jonathon’s life and death. There is humour and horror here and for me, moments when I was uplifted, others when I despaired, wanting desperately for the book to have another ending. But real lives don’t always have happy endings and I was struck by quite how true to life this story felt. I am, in a small way, a therapist and I have had stories not unlike this told to me before. They are hard to listen to and make no mistake; this is a hard book to read in places. I have no shame in saying that I was angered, heartbroken and deeply moved by the people Jonathon met, lived with and loved. On more than one occasion I cried, not just for Jonathon but for a world where through misunderstanding, fear, disinterest and downright nastiness, lives like Jonathon’s will be lived over and over again. But there is joy here too and a message that underpins everything, that we are shaped by others and we in turn shape them. Writing a novel with a moral centre without being ‘preachy’ is not easy. Michael Kimball deserves great praise.

Oh, and I said earlier that this was the first of Michael’s books I’ve read. It will not be the last.

Read Michael's Kimball's article at the magazine about writing Dear Everybody here.

Getting Over Me

by Nick Weldon

Having been writing novels on and off for over twenty years, I celebrate today the fact that I've finally managed to finish one. With this success comes insight into failure, which I now share with you. Perhaps it will save you time.

I've never found writing difficult. I seized at an early age the first principles of the art, and received strict training in the details of the craft from my mother, the writer Fay Weldon. As I progressed through school, sentences once long, clumsy and saturated with vague and emotive adjectives became lean, precise and finely balanced. My teachers, puzzled and envious, said I was cheating. At University my Tutor in Philosophy sighed as he awarded me my First.

"You don't know much more than them", he said. "But you can write".

But I chose jazz as a profession, over writing, and happily or otherwise improvised my way through my twenties, thirties and forties at the piano. The occasional song or poem popped up, and I once managed to get a Radio Play 'Laura-Mae and the Olivardies' past the committees of Radio Four and out onto air. By some miracle. But the novels I kept starting kept stopping. Twenty, thirty, sometimes forty thousand words, all going well, then suddenly a dead end, or rather, a sheer drop and then beyond, the afterimage of the ending I had so meticulously planned, fading away into the horizon.

"Mum", I whinged, "I'm stuck".

"No you're not", she replied. "You're finished. Wait for the next one".

So helpful. What was I waiting for? What needed to change for my writing energy to complete itself in a novel?

Fay was diffident on questions of technique."Start writing", she would say, "and carry on until you stop". But she once confided that she would never have been able to find her own novel form but for her intensive spells in Freudian analysis. "I could see my characters", she said. "But I couldn't get to them. I had to get past myself". Her words now resonated uncomfortably with me. Perhaps the change I sought was in the realm of emotion rather than of technique. It turned out to be in both.

There were several reasons why I hadn't gone into analysis, or any other form of therapy. Firstly, the emotional confusion I felt wasn't severe enough to interfere with my day to day interaction with the outside world, even if it spavined my artistic progress. Secondly, I no longer trusted psychoanalysis, since it was itself in turmoil, having being submerged in a tide of gooey amateurs. Thirdly, I was already working hard on my own to illuminate my conscious and unconscious motives, not least at the piano, where I found, over hours of improvising, sounds that seemed to reach down into the cavernous depths of my inner self, and melodies that were in one sense maps of my mind.

Then I hit fifty, and many things changed. I was hit by a wall of grief about my father, who had died ten years before; I had what people often call a breakdown. (How strange are our ideas about mental health. The opportunity, even out of necessity, to work through the confusion and conflict of childhood and emerge as a balanced and positive adult is surely not a breakdown, but a breakthrough!) Then, gradually, I began to find less touch at the piano and to fall in love with another instrument, the double bass. Also, perhaps because of the real emotional work I had recently had to do, I was finding the act of improvising less interesting, and also less necessary.

I joined an orchestra, becoming fascinated by the long, complex forms of the symphonic repertoire. It was music, but not as I knew it; my own sound was right down in the mix, and though itself essential in the music, could only succeed if other, higher voices were allowed full expression. Jazz musicians are obsessed with their own voice; this is surely why the jazz novel is so scarce. As I learned to understand the interplay of many voices in orchestral writing, and the subtle ways in which they combine into a single narrative, I was, unknowingly, getting past myself, and learning to write a novel.

It finally happened last year, quite by accident, while I was in the fever of a bad flu, and writing only because I was too ill to sleep. But there was something else in between that I must mention. The year before, I sat down to write a brief biog for a web page, and didn't stop for three months. In the resulting memoir ('Joanna', still in manuscript) I set down as much of my life as I chose to remember, and in so doing rid myself of all the useless scripts I had accumulated in my mind, of all the monomaniac clutter I had generated in my constant retelling to myself of the story of my life. What a beautiful moment this was! Now, as I raised my eyes up out of my own boots, there was space again in front of me, but it was not as before, a gulf of ego, but just clean, fresh, open air, filled with interesting new scents and breezes, new ideas, new places, new feelings, new people. Finally I was over me, and able to envisage someone else.

So, last year, I started to write, without even intending to, and, just as I had been advised, went on until I stopped, and this is how I came to finish my first novel.

Nick Weldon was born in Cambridge, England in 1954 and is the son of writer Fay Weldon and folk singer and actor Colyn Davies. He was introduced to jazz by his stepfather Ron Weldon. Nick studied at Keele University, where while honing his blues licks, he received a First Class Degree in French and Philosophy. After graduating from the Barry Summer School, Nick began working as a professional jazz pianist in 1979. His first novel, Idristan, was published in February 2009.

Photo credit: Ben Smith

To visit Nick's website click here.

The Awkward Brunch

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by Stella

Concentration is a wonderful thing. Too bad I don’t have enough of it. You’ll understand why in a minute. Recently I had a conversation with another friend who writes and we got onto the subject of influence – the process itself – the analyses, the imitations, the parodies, ultimately ending in absorption. Naturally name-dropping followed – who, when, how, why. My list wasn’t difficult to make: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Woody Allen.

That accounted for the who, but the when, how, and why were all much fuzzier in my memory. Ah, I thought, excellent. I’ll do a healthy cycle of introspection and pinpoint what I owe to each. This is where the lack of concentration came in. What happened was, instead of mapping out something insightful about the nature of influence, what I ended up doing was contemplating what it would be like giving the eight of them brunch.


Oh sure, it sounds like a real easy job. Set a date and send out the invitations. But there’s so much more to it than that, and I’m not just talking about the menu. The seating plans alone could drive you crazy. Including me, there would be nine of us and nine is an awkward number to seat. On top of that I decided a round table would work better than a rectangle – no one gets precedence that way, although you still have to figure out where to put everyone. The boy-girl-boy-girl scheme is perfectly respectable.

The half-and-half, as in boys on one side, girls on the other, also has its merit.

Alphabetical is always an option, but it lacks imagination. It’s like letting the dictionary do the heavy-lifting.

To make matters even more interesting, I wondered what it would be like to invite eight fictional characters in place of their creators. To be fair, I invited one female and one male character per actual person, which doubled the number of guests to eighteen and which made it necessary to have two tables. Yes, I know I separated the characters in terms of gender, but I had to narrow down the seating choices at least a little bit. Besides, I would have had to make up more seating charts and you simply have to limit the nonsense somewhere.

It seemed like a good idea to keep Charlie Kane away from Newland Archer (they’d only quarrel about society issues) though I wonder whether seating him next to Walter Burns won’t be dangerous. They’re both newspaper men, it’s true, but you can’t trust Walter not to shoot his mouth off. Although come to think of it, putting Alvy Singer on Kane’s other side could be equally explosive. Peter Walsh might feel intimidated sitting so close to gentlemen like Archer and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but he should feel comfortable with Joe Gillis sitting to his right. Atticus Finch will do fine no matter where he’s sitting, god bless him.

As for the ladies:

It was a real dilemma whether to invite Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsay, but poor Clarissa is always throwing parties – she’d probably enjoy being a guest for a change, and Mrs. Ramsay probably wouldn’t be able to leave the kids anyway. I put Scout between Mary Kane and Hildy Johnson even though I thought she’d like Sugar Kane the best, but I thought it would be interesting to put Sugar next to Helen Sinclair since they’re both in show business. (Since I’m sure you’re wondering – I didn’t invite Annie Hall because I figured she’d be too stoned and you have to remember there’s a minor at the table.) No need to worry about Elizabeth or Ellen Olenska – they both enjoy diversity. You just have to hope that Ellen won’t keep everyone waiting; she likes being the center of attention.

I can’t even begin to imagine the conversation at any of these tables. I also couldn’t figure out where the heck to seat myself in all this, but honestly – if such a brunch could actually occur, I’d probably freak out and not show up. Although, theoretically I might attend if either of the culturally referential brunches were a possibility. At any rate, I’d still pay for the meal. I at least owe them that.

Artist Lori Andrews joins TVFH Crew

The talented artist, Lori Andrews, joins the crew at The View From Here today. Lori will be doing some original paintings to go with some of the fiction pieces over at The Front View.

So if you are submitting and we publish you, you may end up with some original artwork illustrating your story. ( Roughly 1 in 4 pieces will have commissioned artwork)

We are really excited to have such a talent on board with us and Lori really is great. I could gush on, but why don't you just watch her in action in the video below:

Check out Lori's work at her website here.

Welcome Lori!

Telescopes -- Ian Smith

The night sky was clear and I was sure I’d be able to see everything through my brand new telescope straight out of the box—the craters on the moon, Saturn’s rings, every detail. I assembled the parts in my bedroom and started by training the telescope on a distant house.

It wasn’t easy scanning up and down and I could only locate a fuzzy wall. Then I clapped eyes on a man looking at me. He smiled and waved both arms as though he was trying to attract the attention of a passing airliner.


Read the rest at The Front View!

Beware Bogus Expenses Claims

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by Mike

Here in the UK the news is awash with scandals of politicians making expenses claims way beyond what is justifiably reasonable. People who should know better exploiting a system to feather their own nests, to boost their incomes at the expense of tax payers.

This, as you can imagine in the current global recession, has not gone down well.

Switch attention then to literary agents. It is widely seen as a bad thing for agencies to charge a reading fee to look through your work.

"The AAR believes that the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession.

However, like politicians, there are some agencies who are willing to cash in during hard times on writers desperate to get a deal. To bring in an income into their business by charging a fee at the expense of authors.

Here are the warning signs:

1 They agree it's bad but justify it in the short term as a way of bringing in funds to start the agency.
2 They speak of an agency that specialises in new writers. We are your special friend.
3 They justify the cost because times are hard.
4 They claim that other agencies are put off looking for new talent because of the cost of processing the slush pile. We are covering our expenses so that we can help you.

Any of these should flash a red light up before you. Run for the hills there's cowboys about. New agencies started by people with no track record in the business should particularly be avoided.

Now politicians dress up their expenses as justifiable because they are working within the guidelines. However they are either acting like sheep and not questioning what they are doing because every one else is doing it, or they are morally bankrupt.
Agents who charge fees are working right at the limit of what is acceptable in the system by calling them "reading" fees but make no mistake you are dealing with sheep or a morally bankrupt agency. That is they are either stupid or bad.

Think about that before you hand over your novel and your cash to them. There is no gun pointing at your head other than your desire to succeed. Let that desire motivate you to find a reputable agent that doesn't eat grass or isn't trying to fleece you.

Photo credit: Guille Mendia

The View From Here Interview: Andrew Davidson

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by Kerrie-Anne

My first interview for The View from Here and I have the pleasure of introducing you to Andrew Davidson author of the International Best Seller 'The Gargoyle'.

The Gargoyle is a fictitious tale involving two main Characters. The first a Pornographer, drug addict and alcoholic, whose identity we never learn and has become known as The Narrator. The second is that of Marianne Engel, a carver of gargoyles, who believes she is a 700 years old former Nun from the famous Engelthal Monastery. The story is gripping, fascinating and keeps you wondering right to the last page.

Andrew Davidson grew up in a small town in Canada. He managed a Degree in English Literature, soon after he began a Media course. As his 30th birthday approached, Andrew moved to Japan. Spending the next 5 years traveling Japan teaching and translating English. This is where he embarked on writing a story which has taken 7 years to complete and has been well worth waiting for.

I give you Andrew Davidson.

Growing up in the small town of Pinawa, Manitoba, has many advantages. What would be your fondest memory?

I’d have to say all the hours I spent playing ice hockey, either with my childhood teams or practicing alone on the outdoor rink. But there are many memories that could compete, as I had a wonderful childhood full of love and support.

Out of all the places you could have gone why Japan? Was it convenience or desire which lead you there?

As my thirtieth birthday was approaching, I was haunted by the thought that I was just about to enter my fourth decade without having lived outside of Canada. I just wanted to experience a new culture, and the location was not that important. A number of my acquaintances had taught in Japan and had told me about the great time they’d had there. It seemed relatively easy, as the English conversation schools regularly had recruiters looking for prospective teachers in Vancouver, where I was living at the time, and the only real requirement was a university degree. I had a few interviews and, almost before I knew it, was on a plane to Japan.
Once I was there, I discovered that I loved the country. I went with the thought that I’d stay for a year, but ended up staying five.

One point, which every interview I have read makes mention of, is the amount of time it has taken for this story to emerge. Did you have any idea when you began, the journey would be so incredibly complex and the length it took to achieve would cause such curiosity?

I had no idea how long it would take to write and no clue that the amount of time would be of interest to anyone. I thought this would be just like every other project I’d ever worked upon—something that would entertain me for a while, and then be tucked away in the drawer with the rest of the unpublished work.
I can understand the fascination with the idea that a person would work on a speculative project for seven years, but if I hadn’t been writing I would’ve been writing something else in any case—writing is what I do. But it was easy to return to the story night after night, because I was curious to see how it all turned out.

Although the humor throughout The Gargoyle is mingled within the seriousness of circumstance, Jack is a breath of fresh air. Her Nickname ‘Crispy’ for our Narrator showed her direct and uncomplicated nature. How important is a sense of humour to your writing and your well being?

I hope I always treat my work seriously, but I’m a goof at heart.

Your Research took you from Medieval Germany, to a Medieval Monastery, through Dante’s Inferno and The Divine Comedy and into Mental Health and all manner of issues surrounding victims of severe burns. Out of the vast array of subject matter which did you find the most interesting?

Each of these subjects held a different allure for me, but if I had to choose one I’d go with burn treatment, simply because it was the one about which I had the least knowledge in the beginning.
Every thing that I learned was new to me, and often so surprising that I could scarcely believe it was actual treatment and not science fiction.

I have read in other interviews you state ‘The lead female character, Marianne Engel, emerged from my consciousness without my having to coax her out. This was a weird and unexpected experience: she arrived with her full name and her appearance already set, and she began intruding upon my other writing until I consented to give her my full attention. She seemed to have a lot to say, and wouldn't shut up until I wrote it all down. Eventually, that resulted in the novel.’ Was the character of the Narrator initially as strong as that of Marianne Engel or did he evolve more from the telling?

The narrator evolved from my needs as a storyteller, more than anything.
I started the novel because Marianne Engel insisted she had stories to tell, but I knew immediately that I could not write these stories in her voice. The reason was her unreliable nature—already I was wondering whether she was a liar, a schizophrenic, or someone who had actually lived what she claimed. And yet, I also knew that I could not write in the third person omniscient: there could be no author, hovering above the action, who could explain everything. With Marianne Engel, explaining everything was never an option. So, I needed a narrator who was not her, but who could say: “This is what I saw, and this is what I think of it—but what do you think?”

For many years you lived overseas in Japan moving from town to town as work permitted, I noticed throughout The Gargoyle many Japanese aspects, not the least being Sei’s story and again with Sayuri. Were these characters a result of your time in Japan, an amalgam of people you met and stories you had heard or a need to reference your time spent traveling throughout the country?

Certainly my time in Japan had an impact on my storytelling, because it had such a great impact on my life. Although Canadian, I consider Japan to be a “second” home country. Sayuri was mostly a challenge to myself: I wanted to write a character who was a Japanese woman, and I needed a physical therapist, so.... Of course much of her experience was cobbled together from what I learned in Japan—but she’s not one person I know, although she might be a hundred.

Marianne Engel’s obsessive passion for cooking feasts to set before our Narrator is one of her endearing qualities, if she were to cook for you, which would be your most appealing meal?

Whatever she made, I’d be thankful.

Out of all the Characters in The Gargoyle who was your favourite and why?

I'm of the opinion that if I were to let slip a "favorite," it would be like a parent choosing a favorite child. I don't want to cause trouble in the ranks.
I don't have a favorite character, to tell the truth, as they all spoke to me in different ways.

One thing I find Curious is throughout the story. Marianne is constantly referred to as Marianne Engel, never Marianne but always with both names Why?

Many reasons, but most of all because it never felt correct to refer to Marianne Engel by anything other than her full name. It always felt like shortchanging her by half.
Besides, the narrator never reveals his name, so if you add their names together and divide by two, you've got one name each.

There are several stories with in The Gargoyle. That of the narrator and his battle with the snake of his addiction, his past and his growing emotional attachment. Then there is Marianne Engel’s own journey, her confidence in what and who she believes she is, her own obsession in her carving, her devotion to God and to tell him their story. Then there is their story linking the whole together. Was this a process of evolution, design or simply the way the story came out that allowed such a seamless flow through out the story?

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the many years that I’ve been writing, it’s that for me plot outlines result in dead stories. I try to push my characters around, and they hate it, and they refuse to cooperate.
I spend much of my time getting to know my characters. I will do anything to understand them, from writing their childhood diary entries to sketching out their clothing. After a few years, once we’ve gotten to know each other quite well, they trust me enough to let me follow them around. Then they do things that confuse me, and I write it all down. At the end I look inside all the writing in an attempt to find the “plot.” Then I hopefully remove everything else—the things that I needed to know, but the readers don’t.

It seems many of the characters in Marianne Engel’s story telling are either tragic lonely souls such as Siguror or tragic lovers Francesco and Graziana. The thought of an emotion being so strong as to transcend time and death, is one which is seldom tackled and rarely in the context of Dantes Inferno. Was it your intention to show Love as an everlasting quality or as a tool to doom lovers from the moment they enter?

The last person in the world who should suggest what a book “means” is the person who wrote it.

From the very first page through to the very last, the underlying truth or delusion is left to reader, you give no conclusive validity to either persons thoughts, either to Marianne Engel’s claims or to the Narrators theories, you leave the final verdict to that of the reader, giving clues and evidence as to either theories. How hard was it not to place your own verdict at the end?

This was not difficult at all, to tell the truth. Essentially there are two voices in this novel – the narrator and Marianne Engel—and neither one of these voices is Andrew Davidson. (I hope.) To illustrate, the narrator is an atheist and Marianne Engel is absolutely certain of the existence of God. Clearly, I cannot agree with both of these points, but that doesn’t matter, because my job is to portray these characters as honestly as I can. The very worst thing I could do is judge my characters, and without judgment any “verdict” is impossible.

The success of The Gargoyle has no doubt given you some wonderful surprises. What is the best and the worst thing about now being the author of an International Best seller?

The best thing: I no longer require a day job to support myself while I’m writing.
The worst thing: now that writing is my job, I have far less time to write.

Many of those reading this are themselves budding authors. What advice would you give them as they embark on their own journey of discovery?

If you’re writing because you love writing, keep doing it.
If you’re writing because you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to, then you’re definitely on the right path.
And if you’re writing because you think of publication as a necessary validation, you should never pick up a pen again.

What is the most important thing you have learnt along the way?

Writing one’s first book is of no help at all in writing one’s second book.

To learn more why not stop by Andrews website Burned By Love

Photograph of Andrew Davidson by Deborah Feingold