Monday, 18 March 2013

House With No Name has moved!

House With No Name has now moved to my own website – 

I'll still be blogging several times a week about books, films, family, education, France and whatever else strikes me – so I hope to see you there. Do let me know what you think of the new site and please subscribe to the new House With No Name blog. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Movie review - Eloise Laurence makes outstanding debut in Broken

If there’s an award for outstanding film debut of the year then it should go to 13-year-old Eloise Laurence. No question about it.

Eloise has just made her big screen debut in Broken, a gritty family drama set in a dreary suburban cul-de-sac. She plays 11-year-old Skunk Cunningham, who lives with her single parent father, her au pair and her teenage brother. Kind-hearted and adventurous, Skunk has had to cope with an awful lot in her life. Her mum ran off with an accountant, she is diabetic, she’s tormented at school, her au pair’s having an affair with her teacher and the two neighbouring families are troubled to say the least.

Broken, which is based on a novel by Daniel Clay, isn’t exactly a laugh a minute film. It features everything from mental illness to parenting to dysfunctional families and an awful lot in between. But Eloise Laurence gives a mesmeric performance. She lights up every scene she’s in (which is virtually all of them) and her facial expressions switch in the blink of an eye. She’s one of those rare performers who make acting seem like a piece of cake.

Director Rufus Norris spotted her talent straight away. He saw more than 850 girls for the part before casting Eloise. The daughter of actors Clare Burt (who also appears in the film) and Larry Lamb, she didn’t take any acting lessons beforehand and apparently hasn’t even decided whether she wants to act when she’s grown up.

The film itself isn’t perfect but it’s definitely worth seeing. The cast includes Tim Roth (as Skunk’s dad), Denis Lawson, Rory Kinnear and Cillian Murphy and they are all excellent. But by the end of the movie, as tragedy after tragedy unfolded, I was emotionally wrung-out and exhausted with it all.

Broken (certificate 15) is in UK cinemas now.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Download School Ties for FREE this weekend

My second romantic novella, School Ties, can be downloaded for free on Amazon this weekend – just in time for Mother’s Day in the UK. Here are the opening paragraphs. I’d love to know what you think, and look out for the sequel, Lessons in Love.

Will Hughes slammed his pen down in frustration. It was ten fifteen on a rainy September night and he’d been marking Hamlet essays for more than an hour. And what a bloody shambles they were too. Admittedly he was teaching the bottom set, but he was stunned by the quality of the teenagers’ work. Some could barely string a sentence together, let alone use an apostrophe properly. Only one had produced work that showed any understanding of Shakespeare’s most famous play. 

Trying hard to stay awake, he took a gulp of cold instant coffee. He was less than halfway through the pile of scripts and at this rate he’d be hard-pressed to finish them by midnight. Worse still, he’d promised to take the first XV rugby squad on a training run at dawn.

For the umpteenth time, Will wondered why he had returned to teaching. He’d left his last school a year ago to join an up-and-coming Shoreditch advertising agency. Yet now he’d had another change of heart and given up his skinny lattes and generous expense account to return to the chalkface.

Not that Downthorpe Hall was a tough place to work. It wasn’t. Compared to the early years of Will’s career, when he’d been a young English teacher at a tough inner-city comprehensive, Downthorpe was the cushiest number imaginable. A private school dating back two hundred years, it was housed in an elegant Cotswold mansion, complete with castellated turrets, a winding two-mile drive and acres of playing fields. It had once been an all-boys school, but had gone co-ed twenty years ago. The decision was deplored by the old guard but had succeeded in giving the school’s academic results a much-needed shot in the arm.

Will stretched his arms out wide to keep himself awake, then stopped. He could have sworn he heard a loud whirring noise outside the window. It sounded like a helicopter. But that was impossible. Not at this time of night. And not so close to the school...

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday book review - A Sea Change by Veronica Henry

I’m a huge fan of Quick Reads, the “bite-size” books that aim to get more people reading. Around one in six adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and many never pick up a book. That’s where Quick Reads come in. Launched in 2006, Quick Reads  commissioned a host of big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. The initiative has proved so successful that over the last seven years 4.5 million books have been distributed and three million library loans clocked up.

New authors are added every year, with the latest starry batch of names including Andy McNab, Kathy Lette, Minette Walters and Veronica Henry. The novels cost a bargain £1 each and have turned loads of previously reluctant readers into “book addicts.”
I’ve read several Quick Reads over the years and when I spotted A Sea Change by Veronica Henry in Foyle’s at St Pancras the other day I snapped it up to read on the Eurostar.
The story was perfect for my train journey. It’s only 90 pages long but has all the charm and insight of Henry’s longer novels. Set in the fictional seaside village of Everdene, it’s the tale of ice-cream seller Jenna, who turns up for work one hot summer’s day to find that she’s been sacked. With a flaky family, no money to pay her rent and no work on the horizon, she takes drastic action – action that catches the attention of a young copper sitting on the beach.
Henry’s story is thought provoking, easy to read and as light as the summer breeze. The perfect Quick Read in fact.
A Sea Change by Veronica Henry (Orion, £1)

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Taking Sides, my third novel - out as an ebook TODAY

Taking Sides, my third novel, is published as an ebook for the first time today. It’s got a snappy new cover and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that readers will enjoy it.

The star of the book is Juliette Ward, a young mother who has grown tired of city life. Her newspaper job is driving her crazy, her hours are horrendous and she barely gets to see her young son during the week. Added to which, her house has been burgled three times and her car’s been vandalised by a bunch of thugs. 

So Juliette takes a deep breath, chucks in her job and persuades her husband to uproot to the wilds of the Lake District. Except just as they’re about to move, he’s offered the job of his dreams – hosting a new London breakfast show.

I got the idea for the book from the ever-increasing number of couples forced to live apart from their partners during the week – not because they want to but because they can’t get jobs in the same place.

Juliette, for instance, loves the thought of swapping the big city for life in the country. But she hates the idea of swapping her stable marriage for a long-distance relationship. She decides to give it a go, but the question is – can she ever make it work?

Taking Sides by Emma Lee-Potter (Piatkus Entice, £3.99)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Amy MacDonald in concert at the London Palladium

What on earth possessed Justin Bieber to be two hours late for his own concert? In one fell swoop the 19-year-old singer disappointed hundreds of young fans, infuriated their parents and set Twitter ablaze with criticism.

I reckon they should have gone to Amy MacDonald’s concert at the London Palladium the night before instead. The Glaswegian singer-songwriter (responsible for one of my all-time favourite tracks, Let’s Start a Band) arrived on time, took the packed audience by storm and left us all stunned by her talent.

I’d booked tickets months ago but when it came to it, my husband was on a work trip in Dubai and my daughter was in Paris. So I asked my 18-year-old son instead and even though he was dubious and his musical tastes are diametrically opposed to mine he sweetly agreed. His favourite music is “Trap,” which is apparently a mix of “southern hip-hop and Crunk” – and no, I’m still none the wiser.

But after a set lasting more than an hour, even my son agreed that Amy MacDonald and her band gave a storming performance. Now 25, she is a self-taught musician who started playing in Glasgow pubs ten years ago and has now sold more than five million albums. Her latest claim to fame came last week when she appeared on the BBC’s Top Gear programme. A self-confessed car fanatic who drives a Ferrari, she drove a Kia hatchback at top speed around a Surrey racetrack and was described by a clearly impressed Jeremy Clarkson as “one of the biggest petrolheads we’ve ever had on the show.”

But back to the Palladium. Amy MacDonald, a diminutive figure in a short black sparkly dress and sky-high boots, gave one of the most outstanding live performances I’ve ever seen. She’s halfway through a European tour and whether she was singing acoustic ballads or anthemic rock numbers held the audience in the palm of her hand.

She’s good at the chat too. Along the way we discovered that she recommended Irn-Bru as a hangover cure, that the song The Green and the Blue was inspired by her love for Glasgow and that, unlikely as it sounds, she and her band warm up to Higher and Higher, from the Ghostbusters movie.

The next day she was off home to Glasgow, ahead of a gig in Edinburgh tonight. If the audience was this rapturous in London, goodness knows what it will be like up there…

Friday, 1 March 2013

Friday book review - With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan

What a treat to curl up on the sofa on a chilly winter’s night and read Patricia Scanlan’s latest novel.

With a clutch of bestsellers to her name (including Love and Marriage and City Girl), Scanlan is renowned for writing heart-warming novels about family, friendship and love.

Her new book, With All My Love is no exception. I read it in one delicious go, with tears streaming down my face by the time I got to the last chapter.

Once again, Scanlan focuses on a family – a family torn apart by a festering tangle of secrets and lies.

The book opens as Briony McAllister sits in a sunny park on the Costa del Sol, watching her young daughter playing with her dolls. Briony’s mother, Valerie Harris, has recently bought a house in Spain and Briony and her daughter have flown out from Dublin to help her settle in.

But when Briony takes an old photograph album out of her bag and starts to leaf through it, a letter she has never seen before falls out. The letter is addressed to her and as Briony reads it she realises that her mother has been lying to her for more than twenty years. Her mother had always maintained that Briony’s beloved grandmother cut off contact when she was little and didn’t want to see her – but it was an out and out lie.

As the lives of the three women unfold, Scanlan observes the conflict from each point of view. None of the women are without blame, but Scanlan cleverly makes the reader sympathetic towards each of them in turn. One moment I felt sorry for Tessa, Briony’s abandoned grandmother, the next I felt infuriated by her antagonism towards Valerie. For instance, when Valerie falls in love with Tessa’s youngest and favourite son, Tessa does everything she can to put a stop to the relationship. She makes snide remarks about Valerie’s clothes, warns her not to distract her son from his studies and acidly refers to her as “Miss Clinging Vine.”

Best of all, Scanlan keeps readers guessing about the women’s secrets right till the very end. There was no way on earth I could cast the book aside and stop reading. I had my suspicions, but I had to find out why Valerie had taken such drastic action and deprived Tessa of her precious relationship with her granddaughter.

PS. Watch out too, for Scanlan’s brilliant evocation of life in the late 70s and 80s, when Valerie first meets Tessa’s son. Glittery boob tubes, Queen singing We Will Rock You, Charlie perfume – Scanlan has remembered it all.

With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

Interview with Alison Morton - author of Inceptio

One of the very best things about Twitter is meeting other writers. Alison Morton and I got chatting about writing, blogging and France a few months back and with the her debut novel, Inceptio, out today I jumped at the chance to interview her for House With No Name.

Inceptio is your debut novel. Can you tell me a little about the road to publication?

Alison: I’ve played with words most of my life - storyteller, playwright (aged seven), article writer, local magazine editor and translator. I started novel writing in 2009 after seeing a particularly dire film. "I could do better than this," I whispered in the dark to my other half. "So why don’t you?" Three months later, I had completed the draft of Inceptio, the first Roma Nova alternate history thriller.

I knew the draft was both woolly and rough. I needed to learn novel-crafting skills and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme in 2010. Two RNA conferences, an Arvon Foundation course in commercial fiction and the Festival of Writing at York spurred me on me on. I met some knowledgeable, generous and fun people along the way, one of whom ended up mentoring me. My history MA had taught me how to research and my six years in the Territorial Army trained me to do “guns and mud.” Perfect preparation for Inceptio.

I made the classic mistake of submitting too soon. Several rewrites later I had some full submission requests, including from a US agent. Replies like “If it was a straight thriller, I’d take it on” and “Your writing is excellent, but it wouldn’t fit our list” were a little depressing. I was (am!) passionate about my stories so, happy that my writing was at a reasonable standard, I decided to self publish with bought-in publishing services. Using high quality professional backing (editing, advice, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing etc), I think it’s a fantastic way for new writers to enter the market.

Why did you choose to write a thriller and what is it about?

Alison: Inceptio started as a romantic novel with some action bits, but the thriller proportion grew until I realised I loved writing tension, danger, death, cliff-hangers and conspiracy more than romance. But the central romantic relationship is still key in this and the next two books.

It starts in New York, present day. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice - being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded 16 centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it... 

Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?

Alison: Bash the story out. If you pause too long beautifying individual scenes at this stage, you risk losing the narrative flow. You’re first and foremost a storyteller; the story is the most important thing.

Put it away for at least six weeks, then do the first self-edit, checking the plot structure, deleting the dreadful parts and working on the sloppy bits. Then back into the drawer and start the next project.

Out of the drawer comes the first novel a few months later and this time you scrutinise each sentence word by word, forcing each one to justify its existence. Then you have something to work with.

What is your own favourite novel?

Alison: Currently, it’s Restless by William Boyd – spies, two strong women leads, Second World War, love, betrayal on personal and political levels, Cold War, class, alienation, irreverance and beautiful prose. Perfect!

Inceptio by Alison Morton (SilverWood Books, £9.99)

Alison’s blog:
Twitter: @alison_morton
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