Showing posts with label Rachel Joyce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rachel Joyce. Show all posts

Monday, 31 December 2012

My favourite novels of 2012

It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back over a year of brilliant reads? I love reading about other people’s favourite books of the year, so as 2012 draws to a wet and windy close, here is my list.

Australian ML Stedman’s first book is the moving account of a young lighthouse keeper and his wife in the 1920s. The couple live on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia, barely seeing anyone from one month to the next. Then one morning a boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man and a crying baby inside. As I wrote in the Daily Express earlier this year: “Keep a box of tissues at the ready – Stedman’s book is a real tearjerker.”

I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Joyce speak about her work and cherish her description of writing as “like having knitting in my head.” Her debut novel is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French
As the years go by, I like crime novels and thrillers more and more. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin but my favourite crime novel of the year was Tuesday’s Gone. The second of the husband and wife writing duo’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein was even better than the first. As I wrote on House With No Name: “I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.”

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane writes beautifully and her story of a lonely, 30-something newspaper sub who witnesses a woman’s death in a car crash was one of my favourite reads. When I chose it for one of my Friday book reviews I called it a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go.” And I can’t say better than that.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
It’s very special when you love a book and then get the chance to interview its author. And thanks to Headline’s Sam Eades, I interviewed Eowyn Ivey for House With No Name this year. Her first novel, the tale of a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, is, as I said at the time, “a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.”

Pure by Andrew Miller
One of my most memorable evenings of 2012 came way back in January when I was invited to the 2011 Costa Book Awards party. I’d been lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the first novel of the year category (a prize awarded to Christie Watson for the compelling Tiny Sunbirds Far Away) and as a result got an invitation to the glittering awards ceremony at Quaglino’s. The overall prize went to Andrew Miller for Pure, his novel set in a Paris cemetery four years before the start of the French Revolution. I later reviewed it for the Daily Express and wrote: “You can almost smell the cemetery’s stifling odour, see the noisy, turbulent streets and sense Baratte’s joy when he unexpectedly finds love in the midst of all the horror.”

2013 promises a host of eagerly anticipated novels, including Instructions for a Heatwave (February) by Maggie O’Farrell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March), the latest in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones saga and William Boyd’s new James Bond novel.

So on that happy note, thank you so much for reading House With No Name over the past year. I hope you have a cracking New Year’s Eve and a brilliant 2013.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A round-up of writing tips from top authors

Over the past week, I’ve collected some brilliant tips on how to write from novelists at the top of their game.

Jill Mansell says she doesn’t write in chapters. She writes her novels first, then goes back and looks for natural breaks afterwards. Veronica Henry declares all writers get writer’s block at some point and if it happens to her, she goes for a walk along the beach or takes a nap. And Rachel Joyce says that if a brilliant idea strikes her when she’s driving she asks one of her children to write it down for her – she never simply assumes she’ll remember it.

If you’d like to read more of their tips, here are my three writing posts from this week – and good luck!

PS. My absolute favourite comes from a Robert McCrum piece in The Observer I stumbled across this morning. “Put a body on page 1,” is his advice.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Rachel Joyce in conversation about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of those special books that only comes along once in a while. Male or female, young or old, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love it.

Rachel Joyce’s debut novel has inspired such devotion that on a drizzly Monday night (World Book Night, in fact) scores of us grabbed our umbrellas and dashed off to Abingdon Library in Oxfordshire to hear more about her writing.

Rachel was introduced by Alison Barrow, director of media relations at publishing house Transworld, who confided that during the course of her 25-year publishing career she has never experienced “such love for a book” from readers.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Rachel, a tiny figure with a mass of dark hair, started her career as an actress. Over the past 16 years she’s written more than 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4 and, as she told us this week, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry began life as a radio play. She starting writing it for her father when he was dying of cancer - "but I'm not sure he knew." After it was broadcast she realised that there was a lot she hadn’t said in the play “that I wanted to say” and decided to turn the 7,000-word drama into a 100,000-word novel. Best of all, it meant she could write about what was going on in her characters’ heads, which she couldn’t do in a play.

It took her a year to write the book and she had no idea if anyone would ever read it. As she explained: “Just as Harold’s walk was a leap of blind faith, so writing the book was for me.” She'd throw herself into writing the moment her four children left for school each morning and was completely taken over by it. Sometimes, when she got ideas while she was driving, she’d ask her children to jot them down for her. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “It was like having knitting in my head. You know you won’t have any peace till it’s done. I felt I had to write a book with my heart in it – true to what I feel, true to what I see, true to what I love.”

Rachel is ultra-disciplined when she’s writing. She works in a shed (now painted “an aesthetically pleasing pale blue”) in the garden of her Gloucestershire home. “But sometimes I have to be at the kitchen table,” she said. “And I have sometimes been known to write at the cinema while my children are watching a film.”

From Harold Fry’s starting point in Devon to his Berwick-upon-Tweed destination, Rachel writes beautifully about the English countryside.  A Londoner by background, she moved out of the city when, pregnant with her third child, she suddenly found herself pushing a buggy across the South Circular to get to “a tiny green patch.” Now she and her husband live on a farm in a peaceful valley - she’d left her children at home that evening feeding four orphan lambs. “When I was writing the book I was writing about my feelings about the land and the sky,” she said. “I increasingly don’t want to be inside.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday, £12.99)

PS. A huge thank you to the lovely staff at Abingdon Library for saving me a ticket.

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