Other Writers

Book Reviews, Author Interviews and more

Q&A with Sarah Pinborough

Well, it's been some time since we last did a Q&A, and we've been meaning to get Sarah Pinborough in as a victim volunteer for a while. At the time her novel The Death House was about to be released, it was all over Twitter, and I was champing at the bit to read it. On meeting Sarah at a GollanczFest signing, she said she would send me one for my birthday, which she very kindly did.

Q&A with Lauren Beukes

I've been wanting to do a Q&A with Lauren Beukes ever since I read The Shining Girls (which, when I try to type it, always starts out as The Shing Girls). I managed to nab a pre-publication copy (because I'm cheeky in bookshops and I just ask for them), and I was hooked.

Q&A with Peter James

A change of direction for this one, Plot Bunny jjclark conducted the interview over the phone. So, over to Joe.

Q&A with Danil Mikhailov

Danil Mikhailov is an instructor at Fujian White Crane kung fu club in London, and has recently self-published his book on the subject, The History and Philosophy of Kung Fu: An Introduction. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions from Brighton Plot Bunnies about the process of DIYing, why he made the choices he did and how he has been marketing the book.

Q&A with Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell has written five novels to date: The Sparrow, its sequel Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day and her latest book Doc. Her writing spans several different genres and her way of telling stories draws readers in.

She kindly agreed to answer some questions for Brighton Plot Bunnies.

Q&A with Guo Xiaolu

We were fortunate enough to have Guo Xiaolu agree to answer a few questions for us here at Brighton Plot Bunnies. She’s a great writer and her native language being Chinese means that the way she expresses herself is very precise.

Q&A with Tina Walker

Tina Walker is a BBC screenwriter who has worked on several short films. She has an IMDb page and is an established writer on the BBC serial drama Doctors. I have known Tina for some while and as we recently got back in touch (thanks, LinkedIn!), I asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for us. She agreed, and this is what she said:

Q&A with Lisa See

Lisa See, the Chinese-American author of such titles as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which has been adapted for the screen) and Shanghai Girls and its heartbreaking sequel Dreams of Joy, is our first international Q&A writer. Her work focuses on what it's like to be a Chinese woman, both in China in centuries past and as an immigrant to the USA in the 1930s. She kindly agreed to answer some of our questions, and this is what she said.

Q&A with Tony Jordan

Tony Jordan is a British screenwriter. In the early 1980s, he sent a script on-spec to the BBC, who invited him in for a chat, told him they were working on a new soap opera and asked him to write an episode. The soap opera was called EastEnders and thus his career was launched. More recently, he has been the series creator and main writer for Hustle and has also been closely involved in the making of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

Q&A with Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is a person who has written lots of books. The first one he had published was The Eyre Affair, and a little anecdote about that was that it was rejected 76 times before being published, and he can probably decorate his bathroom with the results of his efforts. Now, the whole Thursday Next series, which comprises six books so far with another one due out in July 2012, has something of a cult following.

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A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris

It isn’t often these days that not only do I feel compelled to immediately review the book I’ve just read, but the need to spew words out right now is so powerful that I can’t ignore it. Joanne Harris’s latest novella A Pocketful of Crows is the first book I’ve read in a single sitting for a long while. Often I’ve read them in two, or perhaps three sittings - but one is very rare. (The last one I read in one sitting was Brian and Wendy Froud’s Trolls, but that’s more a story book than a novel, and it’s short - but it socked me in the gut for similar reasons.

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris

It isn’t often these days that not only do I feel compelled to immediately review the book I’ve just read, but the need to spew words out right now is so powerful that I can’t ignore it. Joanne Harris’s latest novella A Pocketful of Crows is the first book I’ve read in a single sitting for a long while. Often I’ve read them in two, or perhaps three sittings - but one is very rare. (The last one I read in one sitting was Brian and Wendy Froud’s Trolls, but that’s more a story book than a novel, and it’s short - but it socked me in the gut for similar reasons.

'The Death House' by Sarah Pinborough

“They say it makes your eyes bleed. Almost pop out of your head and then bleed.”

This is the first line of The Death House. Cleverly, Sarah Pinborough has forced you to wonder what “it” is and why it makes your eyes bleed, and who is saying it. It’s every writer’s dream and every writer’s curse: get the first page, paragraph, hell, get the first sentence just right, so readers will want to know more.

'The Death House' by Sarah Pinborough

“They say it makes your eyes bleed. Almost pop out of your head and then bleed.”

This is the first line of The Death House. Cleverly, Sarah Pinborough has forced you to wonder what “it” is and why it makes your eyes bleed, and who is saying it. It’s every writer’s dream and every writer’s curse: get the first page, paragraph, hell, get the first sentence just right, so readers will want to know more.

'Birdy' by Jess Vallance

"Do you know, I met a family in Brazil who called every one of their children Frances. Two girls, and then Francis with an i for the three boys. 'It's our favourite name,' the parents said when we asked about it. That was all there was to it as far as they were concerned. How brilliant is that?"

'Throw Away Your Loincloth' by Michelle Jones

I haven’t really known how to start reviewing this book. I read it because I met the writer at an event at the bookshop where she’s the manager, Waterstone’s in Chichester (I refuse to delete the very necessary apostrophe), and we got talking (as you do - well, as I do, anyway). So she gave me a copy of the book and I promised to read and review it.

'Throw Away Your Loincloth' by Michelle Jones

I haven’t really known how to start reviewing this book. I read it because I met the writer at an event at the bookshop where she’s the manager, Waterstone’s in Chichester (I refuse to delete the very necessary apostrophe), and we got talking (as you do - well, as I do, anyway). So she gave me a copy of the book and I promised to read and review it.

'Labyrinth' by Kate Mosse

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt, reading so many books throughout my life that anything less than wow is just, well… meh. Or perhaps it isn’t that at all. Maybe the fact of being a writer myself means I pick novels apart, finding even minor faults in certain passages that make me think, ‘That sentence would be better if…’ or, ‘But that doesn’t make any sense!’ I don’t always do that, though it’s happening more and more all the time. Mostly, I read like a reader, not like a writer. Unless a novel is especially bad or especially good, I read and enjoy and then move on to the next one.

'Labyrinth' by Kate Mosse

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt, reading so many books throughout my life that anything less than wow is just, well… meh. Or perhaps it isn’t that at all. Maybe the fact of being a writer myself means I pick novels apart, finding even minor faults in certain passages that make me think, ‘That sentence would be better if…’ or, ‘But that doesn’t make any sense!’ I don’t always do that, though it’s happening more and more all the time. Mostly, I read like a reader, not like a writer. Unless a novel is especially bad or especially good, I read and enjoy and then move on to the next one.

'Into the End' by Jeremy Vaeni

Jeremy Vaeni does not have a Wikipedia page, so I can’t do my usual introductory thing of pointing at it and summarising the more interesting bits. He’s an obscure figure, clearly, who does not merit a page on Wikipedia; he’s just not important enough. Who the fuck is this guy, and what am I doing reading his book?

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Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has made an audio story for Halloween (thanks ForestGirl for letting us know). You can download it for free by clicking on this link.

Zadie Smith

Foyles Bookshop interviewed Zadie Smith. If you'd like to read it, just click on this link.

Jasper Fforde's Book Launch at Foyles

So once again, I spotted that Jasper Fforde, one of my favourite writers, was going to start his book launch tour for the 7th in the Thursday Next series, called The Woman Who Died A Lot in Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I’d got my place early. So early, in fact, that they weren’t yet officially released. But you have to get in quick, as places are soon gone.

This was the third such book launch event at Foyles I’d been to with Jasper Fforde and I got to the famous bookshop in good time. I bought my copy of the book, which is not officially released until Thursday (haha… Thursday… never mind), and found a decent seat. I got talking to the guy who sat next to me, whose name was James, and managed to plug Brighton Plot Bunnies quite mercilessly. By saying that Jasper had answered some of our silly questions a few months ago, I was able to do the Plot Bunnies name-dropping thing. He made a note of our web address on his smartphone, so I guess he’ll be popping in sometime soon to find out what Jasper’s replies were.

The room was packed out as usual, and Jasper began by thanking a few people for coming. All the names went in one ear and out the other except one: MINE! Wow. But then, I did tweet him that I was going (sort of on behalf of Plot Bunnies, sort of for my own selfish reasons, i.e. to be one of the first people in the world to get my hands on a copy of his latest book and to get it signed and stamped and to get one of his coveted limited-edition postcards).

He talked about the differences between 2001 and now. 2001 was when the first in the series, The Eyre Affair, was published, and things were very different. Pluto was a planet, he said. Indeed. We were still smarter than our phones. He spoke about mindworms (a running theme, as one of the characters is a mnemonomorph - someone who can mess with memories) and he asked if anyone in the audience had their own mindworms they would like to share. (One of his is that whenever he sees ‘Uniformed Personnel Only’ he reads ‘Uninformed Personnel Only’.) After a couple of examples, he got his pen out, as he liked the idea of ‘family butcher’ when English isn’t someone’s first language, and had forgotten about ‘heavy plant crossing’ (I always imagine a huge cactus with spurred boots and a stetson - Jasper himself pictures a triffid). Someone mentioned my personal favourite, when something is marked with a warning, for instance, ‘This door is alarmed.’ No it isn’t. It’s a fucking door.

He talked also about the several different plot threads throughout this book. There are four, he said, so this is an added-value book, as most writers offer only one. He went through what those plot threads were and explained how he had changed the title of the book right at the last minute, from Dark Reading Matter to its current name. There wasn’t much dark reading matter in the book, he realised, and The Woman Who Died A Lot sounded cool. After a call to his editor (who had already had the cover designed and was initially resistant - until she heard his idea), the new title was a done deal.

Opening to questions, he was asked a lot and he tried his best to get through them all. I kept putting my hand up, but it was only at the end that he realised there were a couple of questions from my end of the room, too. I first of all thanked him for the Q&A session he did for Brighton Plot Bunnies, to which he replied, ‘That’s OK, it was good fun.’ Then I asked my question: Given the somewhat unusual nature of his books, had anyone ever told him that he was the only author they read? After the audience had had a good laugh and Jasper responded with an indignant remark along the lines of, ‘You mean you read other authors?!’ he said no. No one had ever said that. The books have so many external references in them, about other books and writers as well as current affairs (which he rips the piss out of with great aplomb, I might add), that if someone were to hole themselves up and read only his books, they would have to be certifiably insane (this as I twiddled my finger near my temple to indicate the same). Plus, they wouldn’t get the jokes, of which there are many on every page.

Someone said her aunt gave her a copy of his book (from another series) Shades of Grey for Christmas. She’d thought it was 50 Shades of Grey. (I refuse to link to it here, as it gets quite enough publicity without me adding to it.) ‘Your aunt bought you 50 Shades of Grey?’ Jasper said he was glad her aunt had bought his book by mistake and wished more people would do the same. (This from a man who has, to date, sold 2.5 million books.)

After one more question (’Why Swindon?’ ‘Why not?’ which led to his story about how he was Mayor of Swindon for all of ten minutes), he had to wrap it up. There had been so many questions, in fact, that he didn’t have time to read any passages from the book, so he said, ‘You’ll just have to read it yourself.’ Hmph, thinks I, damn! Actually, I’d already read the first couple of pages, only stopping myself from going any further because I wanted to finish re-reading the previous title, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, first, to recap on a few things. I found myself very glad I did, because he mentioned something that was in it that I’d forgotten about until I read that part on the train to London on my way up. Day-stayers, synthetic humans made by the evil and all-encompassing Goliath Corporation, designed to replace people they think will be useful - but for only 24 hours, before they expire. And the person who's been replaced… doesn’t know they’ve been replaced.

As you can see from the above, there would be very little point in my trying to explain too much. Jasper gets asked all the time what his books are about. So do his readers. The best even his publicists could come up with when they released The Eyre Affair was, ‘Don’t ask. Just read it.’ Which is, as he said, not the best example of publicity in the world, but it’s also the best advice I can give.

He doesn’t plan his books in advance, either. Convoluted the plots may be, but he gets away with it by planting the seed of an idea in the book he’s currently writing, even if he doesn’t yet know where that idea could lead. Then, one, two, or even three books down the line, he’ll think about it again and write it in. So instead of suddenly appearing on the scene and distracting him, it sort of segues in stage right (his words), gently, at which point he weaves it in. (This was how he managed to come back to the idea of Thursday seeing herself coming out of a motorway service station sometime in the future. He thought it was a good idea, but didn’t know what to do with it, so left it in anyway. Three books later, it’s there again - and all is revealed.) He says he only writes to a plan in the sense that he has no plan, so he can basically do what he likes.

The worst thing about being an author, he says, is that magnum opus that, when you first start writing, you think is only a couple of years away. As you get better, and write more, instead of getting closer, it gets ever more distant, as you realise you’ll never write a Catch 22 or To Kill a Mockingbird. The best thing about being an author, of course, is you can have so much fun making things up.

As I was near the front during the talk, I was near the back when it came to joining the book-signing queue. I was trapped in the jazz section of the shop for almost exactly an hour, seeing the names of eminent jazz musicians on CDs, not knowing who most of them were, but guessing most of the music on them I would dislike intensely (I don’t much like jazz). I also passed the world cinema section, which I found far more interesting, but eventually, there he was. The man himself. I took the opportunity to ask him another question. I said we often take homemade munchies to our Plot Bunnies meetings and did he have any recommendations? After a nanosecond’s thought, he said, ‘Scones.’ ‘Any particular kind of scones? Cheese…?’ ‘Cheese??? No, just scones. But they have to be warm.’ And he went on a rant about how, if scones are cold, they’re not proper. So he signed my book, stamped it (all his new books have special stamps made) and placed a postcard inside. And not wishing to hold up the queue - or Jasper himself, of course - I thanked him again and then left.

And that was it. Another day in the crazy world of Jasper Fforde and his books. And so the epic tale of Thursday Next and her unbelievable antics continues…