Showing posts with label Chipping Norton Literary Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chipping Norton Literary Festival. Show all posts

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday Book Review - The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Reviewing a book by an author you’ve met in real life can be tricky. But actually, when the author is as talented as Jojo Moyes it’s not difficult at all.

Over the past year Jojo has become one of our most successful novelists. Me Before You, her tear-jerking story of a hotshot city financier who becomes wheelchair-bound after an accident, was one of the top five paperbacks of 2012 and has sold more than 500,000 copies in the UK so far. Her ninth novel, it’s now a New York Times bestseller and this week MGM acquired the film rights. Me Before You is an amazing book and if you haven’t yet read it, go and download it NOW.

As I wrote in my House With No Name review last year Jojo is one of those writers who surprises her readers with every novel. While lots of novelists play it safe and stick to familiar themes and subjects, she always chooses something different. To date she’s written about everything from brides crossing the world to meet their husbands after the Second World War (The Ship of Brides) to a businessman planning a controversial development in a sleepy Australian town (Silver Bay).

And her latest, The Girl You Left Behind, is different again. It’s the story of two women, unrelated and separated by 100 years, who are united in their determination to fight tooth and nail for what they love most. One is French artist’s wife Sophie Lefèvre, who is forced to make a terrible decision in the hope of being reunited with her beloved husband during the First World War. The other is young widow Liv Halston, who a century later finds that her future is inextricably linked with Sophie’s past.

There’s no doubt that Me Before You is a hard act to follow but Jojo has managed it with style and panache. The Girl You Left Behind isn’t quite as spellbinding as its predecessor but it’s still utterly compelling and the two stories are skillfully entwined and meticulously researched. At first I found Sophie’s story – her courage, pragmatism and determination to keep her family safe against all odds – far more gripping than Liv’s. But as the novel progressed Liv and the ex-NYPD cop she falls for completely won me over. I can’t wait to see what Jojo writes next.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (Penguin, £7.99)

PS. Jojo Moyes is speaking at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival on Sunday April 21.  You can book tickets here.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Veronica Henry on Discipline, Displacement and Dipsomania at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival

It’s all very well having a stack of ideas, but how on earth do you carve out the time and space to get cracking with your book?

After hearing the brilliant Contemporary Women’s Fiction discussion at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival I blogged about yesterday, I hared down the street to hear novelist Veronica Henry’s talk on Discipline, Displacement and Dipsomania.

Veronica – known to everyone as Ronnie – is well-placed to talk about the day-to-day reality of writing for a living. She lives in north Devon with her husband and three sons and for the last 20 years has combined her hectic family life with a hugely successful career as a scriptwriter and novelist. Her latest book, Marriage and Other Games, is out in paperback and her new one, The Long Weekend, will be published in July.

First of all, she told us, “writing is a business and you have to treat it as a business. It’s not just about floating around with a pen and a notebook.”

But how do you go about combining “creativity and real life?” Well, for a start, said Ronnie, you need “head space” - the time and space to get on with your writing. That means no distractions – no mobile phone, no TV, no internet. She sometimes negotiates three days away in a rented cottage or hotel by herself so that she can write without any interruptions. “Your productivity shoots up,” she said. “I can write 10,000 to 15,000 words in three days.”

Personal space is vital too. Ronnie writes on the dining table in her open-plan house and uses a Mac PowerBook. She backs everything up on Dropbox and has an inspiration board where she pins pictures of what her characters look like, where they live, even their wallpaper, and “a smallish library” (dictionary, thesaurus, book of names, brochures, index cards).

She also reckons writers have to be ultra-disciplined about how they manage their days. She works office hours and has a target of when she is going to finish a book – “a mental meter about where I am aiming to be.”

Ronnie mentioned a few apps she finds useful. Pomodoro (Italian for tomato!) is a timer that sits in the corner of your computer screen. Apparently 25 minutes is the perfect time to complete a task so Pomodoro sets the timer for 25 minutes and at the end of it you can allow yourself a five-minute break.

And what about Twitter? Ronnie agreed that on the one hand it’s “an amazing tool for writers” and “just like having all your mates in the room with you,” but there’s no doubt it’s a massive distraction too. It was news to me but there are apps available (Freedom is one) to stop you sneaking on to Facebook and Twitter.

When it comes to writer’s block, Ronnie told us that “everyone gets it, and if they say they don’t, they are lying.” Her strategies to combat it include going for a walk on the beach or taking a power nap. “Don’t let it paralyse you,” she declared.

Finally she had a word of warning about writers’ clothes. She confessed to wearing “skanky leggings, my brother’s old rugby shirt and a pair of tights to tie up my fringe” while she works. But, she said, “try and dress up sometimes. Treat yourself as a real person and dress for success.” Dress for success - my new mantra. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Veronica Henry and Fiona Walker at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival

Hail, sunshine, a myriad of the nation’s top authors and some delicious cakes – the inaugural Chipping Norton Literary Festival had all these things, and much, much more.

Held in one of Oxfordshire’s prettiest towns, this was one of the best literary festivals I’ve been to. Fun, inspiring, friendly, and superbly organised by Emily Carlisle (who only had the idea for the event last August) and her team. 

I booked for two events, one on Contemporary Women’s Fiction and the other on Discipline, Displacement and Dipsomania (great title), so I’m going to write about them both this week.

The Contemporary Women’s Fiction panel kicked off bright and early on Saturday morning and featured four of our bestselling novelists – Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Veronica Henry and Fiona Walker. They know each other well and for a riveting hour the conversation, chaired by writer Jane Wenham-Jones, flowed. The quartet, who have written more than 70 books between them, covered everything from how many words a day they turn out to where and when they write.

Jane began the discussion by asking the secret of their “phenomenal success.” “I have no idea,” said Jill candidly. “I love spending time with my characters because I love them and I think the readers love them as well. After all, if you’re reading a book and you don’t care about the characters why would you carry on reading the book?” Katie said she wouldn’t want to write about unpleasant characters – “life is quite tough and our books are like time off from real life.” Veronica revealed she writes “from the heart” and about the life “I want to lead,” while Fiona declared that “if I don’t have that desperate urge to get back to my imaginery characters, then why would anyone else?”

Next it was on to the thorny question of how they all write. Katie likes to start writing before anyone else is up and about and before the phone starts ringing. She also pointed out the importance of “thinking time” and said 2,000 words a day is her “absolute maximum.” But conversely, Jill Mansell said she “couldn’t begin to write first thing.” Unlike the others, she writes all her books by hand in fountain pen and her daughter types up her manuscripts for her. She writes in bed or sitting on the sofa with the TV on and does 1,000 words a day.

The whole audience sat up in astonishment when Fiona said she sometimes manages 5,000 words a day. One day she even wrote 10,000 (wow!) The reason is that she works “in binges.” She writes very long books and sets herself three or four months a year to write her first draft. She avoids the radio and TV and doesn’t like any distractions, apart from her two small children, who peer through the glass door of her office and come dashing in to talk to her. 

Meanwhile Veronica works in her north Devon dining room, looking out across the sea. She writes 1,000 to 2,000 words a day – “1,000 is satisfactory, 2,000 is fantastic,” she said. “But writers can be working all the time. You can be thinking about your characters as you walk round Sainsbury’s.”
It was fascinating to hear how they all began their writing careers – a question that elicited four very different answers. After working in a hospital for 18 years, Jill Mansell picked up a magazine and read an interview with a woman whose life had been transformed by writing a string of bestselling novels. She tried her hand at writing a Mills & Boon novel – “but they kept saying there wasn’t enough romance and too much humour.” She astutely decided to carry on in that vein and has now written 23 novels.

Katie took eight years to get published (now look at her - she's written 19 bestsellers and Summer of Love recently won this year’s Contemporary Romantic Novel award). Veronica began her career at The Archers before becoming a scriptwriter for TV series like Heartbeat and Holby City. And Fiona wrote her first novel straight out of university. She moved back home to her parents’ house in Berkshire, worked part-time in a saddlery and, when she’d finished her book, sent it to five agents. The agent who snapped her up sold her novel in three days.

Last of all, Jane Wenham-Jones asked them for their top tips for wannabe novelists.

Veronica Henry – “Get on with it – it’s no good just keeping it in your head.”
Fiona Walker – “Finish it. There are so many half-finished novels languishing in drawers.”
Jill Mansell – “Use a timeline – it works brilliantly for me. And I don’t write in chapters. It’s far easier to write your story and then look for the natural breaks afterwards.”
Katie Fforde – “Read a lot – and persevere. If you want something enough you’ll achieve it.”

Monday, 16 April 2012

Slippers - this season's most sought-after shoes. Really?

It was kind of inevitable. First the glossy magazines tried to convince us all that floral pyjamas are THE thing to wear this season (and not just when you’ve got out of bed too late to get dressed for the school run). Now the fashion editors are busy telling us that slippers are, as Hilary Rose wrote in Saturday's Times Magazine, “this season’s It shoe.”

Apparently the most sought-after slippers are by Charlotte Olympia (they come with an eye-watering £375 price tag), made of velvet and with a cat’s face sewn on the front. When I had a quick look online, they reminded me of a pair of slippers I wore as a child in the 1970s. But what do I know about cutting-edge fashion?

The article said that everyone from Alexa Chung (who’d look good in anything) to Beyoncé is wearing slippers out and about these days, but I can’t say I’ve spotted anyone in my neck of the woods in them yet.

But then again, they do look blissfully comfy – and effortless to walk in. I wonder if I should pop into the shoe shop up the road and buy a cheap pair there? So if you see me wearing slippers at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival next week, don’t assume I’ve completely lost the plot. You never know, we could all be wearing them soon.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Chipping Norton Literary Festival, James Corden and bike helmets

A dynamic writer friend called Emily Carlisle is one of the organisers of a brand new literary event due to launch next year. The Chipping Norton Literary Festival takes place in April 2012 and promises to be a treat, packed with writing workshops, author talks, book swaps, readings, signings and debates.

Over the weekend I’ve been helping (in a minuscule way) with the website and as I worked I got to thinking about some of the very best literary talks I've been to over the years. Two instantly came to mind. One was the late Sir John Mortimer, the beloved creator of Rumpole, who spoke at the Kings Sutton Literary Festival in 2008. I’ll never forget my teenage son’s engrossed face as Sir John regaled the audience with memories of Laurence Olivier playing his dad in A Voyage Round My Father, tales of Harold Wilson’s jollity and the fact that QCs keep their silk stockings up by wearing suspender belts designed for outsized hospital matrons.

My other favourite was hearing Martin Amis at the Oxford Literary Festival last year. He was interviewed by the poet and critic Craig Raine (who as a postgraduate student taught Amis at Oxford). I loved the way Raine dumped his bag on the floor, unravelled his scarf and then admitted cheerily to the audience that the pair had rehearsed “very little, if at all.”

But the friends’ hour-long conversation was enthralling. They covered everything from Amis’s view that for women, “having it all suddenly became doing it all” to his realisation that age is “very comic and tremendously humiliating.”

The most fascinating part of the discussion came when Amis spoke about his early novels. He said his writing style had “changed unrecognisably” and that he’d been “aghast” when he’d recently re-read three or four pages of his first novel, The Rachel Papers. “A first novel is about energy and originality,” he said, “but to me now it looks so crude. I don’t mean bad language – it’s so clumsily put together. The sense of decorum, the slowing a sentence down, the scrupulousness I feel I have acquired, aren’t there. As you get older, your craft, the knack of knowing what goes where, what goes when, is much more acute.”

I’m sure the Chipping Norton events will be just as illuminating. If you’re keen to hear the likes of Joanna Trollope, Sir Andrew Motion, Susan Hill, Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde and many more, you can sign up to the mailing list here.

PS: James Corden is one of the funniest men on the planet but my admiration for him soared today when I read an interview with him in the latest ES magazine. Asked what he would do if he was Mayor of London for the day, he replied: “Make sure that Boris bikes came with helmets. It’s terrifying that they don’t.” I’ve been thinking the same since the cycle hire scheme began. We urge everyone to wear helmets when they’re riding their own bikes, so why not when they ride Boris’s?
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