Archive | April 2016

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

This is a seriously impressive novel. It’s probably the most compelling book I’ve read since The Girl on the Train last summer. I read it in roughly two sittings, and had I had all the time in the world, could’ve swallowed in a day.

The novel is centred on Jenna Gray, whose life changes in an instant on one awful day. Desperate to escape the memories, she flees to a remote seaside village in Wales, where she can hope to move on. Unfortunately for Jenna, her past won’t let her escape that easily.

The first half of the novel is told from two perspectives: Jenna’s, and the police team working on the accident. I like novels with a ‘dual’ storyline, because it keeps the book from becoming too stale and offers a change of scenery every other chapter, which keeps you interested in the ‘other’ storyline. The second half of the novel starts to uncover Jenna’s past, which is equally gripping.

Clare Mackintosh does an excellent job of keeping the reader interested; in fact, me and my mum both agreed that we thought something entirely different was happening in the first half of the novel than what was actually going on, which shows that Mackintosh has really put thought and effort into her work. Her characters are well developed, with you as interested in background character Tom as you are in Jenna. There are also a number of side-plots alongside Jenna’s main story, which keeps the momentum of the novel going, and again, stops the focus from being too intense.

There was twist after twist after twist in the novel – when I thought I’d hit the first twist, there were still a number left to come, which was part of the reason why it was unputdownable. I couldn’t stop reading because I had to know, firstly, where that twist had come from, and secondly, whether my next predictions were correct.

Mackintosh does a really excellent job of writing a narrative that is, frankly, in some parts disturbing and uncomfortable. Her writing is so skilful that she can have you rooting for a character one minute, hating them the next, and then rooting for them again. And all the while, you’re just desperate to know what happens next.

My only slight grumble was that for someone who didn’t want to be found, I couldn’t understand why Jenna didn’t change her name completely. It made her traceable, which yes, I understand was necessary for the story, but I think someone in Jenna’s situation would want to erase every trace of her past.

It’s an outstanding debut and I give every congratulations to Mackintosh for her writing. I was lucky enough to pick up a sample of I See You at London Book Fair, so I’m looking forward to checking that out.

Cover

I Let You Go is published by Sphere. 

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

I have been desperate to read Asking For It by Louise O’Neill for a long time, but unfortunately it’s currently £8.99 (ON KINDLE AS WELL?!!) on Amazon, and I just can’t afford that right now. Maybe for my holiday. So when Only Ever Yours was down to 99p, I took advantage of having at least one Louise O’Neill book in my library.

The book is described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls. Confession, I’ve not actually read The Handmaid’s Tale, but I know it’s a dystopian fiction. Mean Girls, however, I know well.

O’Neill’s novel is set in a near-future society in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, they are left as concubines or chastities (teachers, with bald heads).

frieda and isabel (without capitalisation, because women are not even worth that much) have always been highly ranked, but when their final school year starts and isabel begins to spiral and gain weight, frieda is left with no-one to turn to and a desperation to become a companion that supersedes everything else, even her longest friendship.

It’s an interesting novel and highly disturbing, right from the outset. The idea of a school where girls are programmed to rate each other and focus only on their looks, surrounded by bald-headed teachers who tell them that they must always be happy and never be fat is frankly disconcerting. Then, once you get involved with frieda and her story and life, her own personal downward spiral is haunting and terrifying.

I don’t think I have ever felt more sorry for a character than frieda and, though I knew it unlikely, I was so desperate for her to get her happy ending because reading her unravelling was just so painful. I suppose this reflects O’Neill’s prowess as a writer.

Meanwhile, isabel is repeatedly noted as ‘special’ – she doesn’t have a number like the other ‘eves’ and is excused things that the other eves would never be permitted to do. Perhaps her mystery is one of the most compelling, yet her ending is the most rushed.

The divide between the sexes is highlighted even further by their names: the girls are all named after great beauties of our day – frieda (Pinto), isabel (Lucas), megan (I can only assume Fox?) and cara (Delevingne?), whilst their future husbands are named after great thinkers, the highest ranked being (of course), Darwin.

It is such a shocking and disconcerting novel, far more disturbing than other dystopian novels of our time, that made me feel really, truly uncomfortable. However, for me, the ending needed a little more clarity and resolution. I suppose maybe I wanted more for freida (which for her story was not possible) but as a protagonist, I felt she needed a more satisfactory (if not pleasant) ending.

It’s a sickening book, let’s be honest here, but it is fantastically written and extremely compelling. It’s impossible to like because it’s so intolerable to read and I felt uncomfortable for at least the last third of the novel. It’s terribly bleak speculative fiction of what our society could become if we allow it to progress in the way we are: with such focus on looks and perfection, are we girls looking forward to a life where we can only be satisfactory as companions or concubines?

Only Ever Yours is published by riverrun. 

The Martian – Andy Weir

This book was given to me by Paul Martinovic at Penguin General last year, so thanks Paul! Only just got around to reading it but I’m glad I did, and I definitely wanted to read it before watching the film.

The novel tells of Mark Watney, a botanist-astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after a dust storm makes his crew think he’s died. Whilst Mark’s initial struggle is working out how to survive on Mars, NASA eventually realises he’s still alive and the mission turns to working out how to get Mark back to Earth.

It’s a sciency novel, let’s be honest here, and it was a little difficult for me to wrap my head around. Whilst Mark’s going on about oxygenation and EVAs, I found my attention waning, but once the secondary storylines of NASA back at home and the Ares 3 Crew are brought into play, the novel became much more engaging and exciting to read. Mark faces a lot of obstacles throughout his journey – which is understandable, survival and escape from Mars was never going to be an easy task, but it did become a bit repetitive at times.

The characterisation of Mark really is the novel’s highlight. He is witty, immature and incredibly relatable, rather than being a smarty-pants geek of an astronaut. Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a huge psychological breakdown (which in all fairness, might well come after the end of the novel, because during his time on Mars it’s highly likely that he was just trying to get from one day to the next) because otherwise it would have been a really bummer of a book. Instead, the novel and its protagonist are captivating and engaging, which makes you want to read on and see how this joker is going to get off Mars.

And you can bet that Mark’s interviews once he gets back to Earth were probably hysterical.

As I said, it’s slow to build and can be a little jumpy at times (there was a whole section of interspersed paragraphs describing the production of something for the airlock that ultimately failed, which felt a bit out of place), but if you like science and outer space, then this is definitely for you.

I also really liked the little prequel in the back of my book, telling you about Mark getting into the Ares 3 programme. I’d be interested to read more of that, and even a sequel/epilogue about Mark’s return to Earth.

I think readers of this novel will divide into two camps: people who like science and people who don’t. Those who do will love the opening sections of all the maths and sciency stuff, and those who don’t (like me) will enjoy the human side of the novel, and the action going on off-Mars, such as the parts on the ground and of the Ares 3 Crew.

Overall, if you stick with it, I think it’s a really great book and extremely well written by Andy Weir. Which is saying something for someone who is clearly intelligent enough to invent his own Mars mission. Usually science and emotions don’t really mix, but here, they do.

The Martian is published by Del Rey, the SFF Imprint of Ebury. 

I Want to Be in the Room Where it Happens – #LBF16

Title above is Hamilton meets London Book Fair; when I think about it, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical actually suits my publishing career quite nicely. Thanks Lin! Well, the ambition and the feminism, the politics and the death, not so much.

But what does that mean? Well, aside from being the title of a song sung by Aaron Burr (third vice-president of the USA and responsible for Hamilton’s death), it encapsulates how I feel about London Book Fair. Walking into Olympia on Tuesday morning, despite having examined the map extensively, I found myself in an overwhelming grid of stands – some two stories high – of trade publishers, children’s publishers, foreign publishers, academic publishers, recruitment agencies, basically anyone and everyone connected to this thriving, creative and bustling industry. And me? I was just a small fish in a very large pond, but I knew I was just happy to swim along and be part of the current. I wanted to be in that room where meetings and negotiations and connections are constantly being made – the room where publishing happens.

I spent both mornings of my time at the Fair working for The Bookseller putting Bookseller Dailies on stalls and standing at the front entrance handing out the magazines to everyone coming into the Fair. By 1pm every day the words ‘Bookseller Daily’ were starting to blur into one, but with a cheerful attitude and an assertive nature, we managed to pass out the majority of the dailies.

Once I was finished working for The Bookseller, I was free to enjoy the Fair as I pleased. As I said, it was quite overwhelming to be there on my own, as a student, with no real purpose. So many people were busy with meetings and business it was hard for an outsider to get a real look in at the goings on. But I hung around the stands, checked out the popular titles and assessed the popularity of the stands, to get a sense of how well the companies are doing at the moment. It was useful to be there without anything to do so that I could find my feet; therefore, if I ever do get to go once I actually have a job in publishing, it won’t be so overwhelming.

I was lucky enough to bump into my old friend Callum, who is basically me but one year ahead: we both went to the same school, did the same(ish) degree, and want the same career – he just has it first (but he graduated before me, so there’s hope for me yet). I got some really great advice from him about job applications, being part of the industry, and book recommendations. And it was nice to have a friend at the Fair!

Aside from wandering around looking at stands, I went to some interesting seminars in the afternoons. On Tuesday, we heard from Charlotte Bush and Emma Finnigan, from Cornerstone; author Nikesh Shukla; Alan Staton from the Bookseller’s Association; and Daniel Dalton from Buzzfeed on a panel called ‘Making Books Trend’, chaired by the wonderful Cathy Rentzenbrink. Each of the speakers had interesting and different insight into taking books beyond established platforms and make them part of a bigger conversation.

Charlotte and Emma spoke about their incredible Go Set a Watchman campaign, setting out their strategies and making the most of every opportunity to market Harper Lee’s second novel. It was inspiring to see how they utilised various ideas to generate conversation about the book and rocket it to the top of bestseller lists.

Nikesh discussed his book Meatspace and how a simple idea with friends became a critically acclaimed work. To him, the key is a combination of timing, plus mates (or word of mouth) plus luck.

Alan spoke about Books Are My Bag, a campaign for bookshops, which puts books and bookshops at the centre of the publishing narrative. It’s a genius idea and I can’t wait to see the newer Books Are My Bags, like the Bard is my Bag – a celebration of the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Finally, Daniel spoke about making books go viral – except, books don’t go viral. Stories go viral, controversies go viral, people go viral and stunts go viral. To Daniel, an emotional message is far more important than a rational message to get people to share your message.

In the ensuing Q&A, an interesting topic was raised: whether a book can be publicised through word of mouth alone or if an advertising campaign is always needed. In some ways one can lead to another; Charlotte cited Fifty Shades as an example of something that became a phenomenon primarily through word of mouth. More recently, I have seen an example with Jem Lester’s Shtum, which though it is a fantastic book with a great marketing campaign, came to my attention through a Facebook Book Club, and then suddenly seemed to be the book that everyone was talking about. So perhaps, it is equally important to be sharing conversations and recommendations as devising marketing campaigns.

I also went to Inspired Selection and SYP‘s ‘How to Get Into Publishing Seminar’, which was a must for anyone looking to break into the industry. The Speakers, Stephanie Hall from HarperCollins, Helen Youngs from Inspired Selection and Sam Perkins, editorial assistant at SAGE (chaired by Eleanor Harrison), all gave out invaluable advice about first jobs, how to stand out and perfecting your CV and cover letter. They also answered lots of questions that I’m sure many of us have about salary expectations, when to apply and how to find jobs. I made TONS of notes in my handy BookBub notebook, which I got at FutureBook in December.

On Wednesday, I slipped into the end of a discussion on Diversifying the Industry, which is so interesting and so topical at the moment. Later, I went to ‘The Book as Brand Platform’, where Jeff Norton, author, writer-producer, and founder of AWESOME; Joshua Davidson, Managing Director of Night Zookeeper; and Guy Gadney, CEO of To Play For (chaired by Shana Jackson) spoke about how we tell stories on platforms other than books, how books can transcend the page to become films, games and TV shows. It was such a fascinating discussion on how our industry has gone beyond print to put characters on screen, in games and various other platforms, identifying how stories and characters become more than just an author’s word but become a brand.

And after the seminars, I was lucky enough to be invited to a couple of parties, one with The Bookseller and one with SYP and Maria’s JobsInBooks. I went to the latter and got chatting to some lovely MA students from UCLAN, who gave me some valid reasons why an MA is a valuable next step after your undergrad, but I still don’t think it’s for me!

I also spoke to Emma Stokes, who runs PubInterns and is just lovely, Fran Roberts, who works as in Marketing at DK whilst also being SYP’s Social Media gal, Zara Markland, Chair of the SYP and Producer at DK and Ben Bisset, digital publisher at Hachette and Prince of Twitter, according to Fran.

I’m just so grateful that I have these opportunities to build up my network and get to know more people in publishing. So far, everyone I have met is absolutely wonderful and I’m kind of quietly hoping that one day, people will be talking about me in the same way, as a person to know and love in publishing.

So what would be my top tips for a first-timer at #LBF?

  • Try and get involved in one way or another, either by volunteering or interning. It’s a lot more fun to have a purpose whilst you’re there and you’ll probably get invited to more parties that way.
  • Plan your days in advance. Even if they all go wrong, plan anyway, and know what seminars you want to go to – additionally, try and get to your seminars at least 10 minutes early to guarantee a good seat.
  • Make notes in seminars! You won’t remember everything. Or you can live-tweet, which is helpful for everyone else there as well.
  • Tweet the speakers in the seminars if you like what they said – they will appreciate it and there’s more chance of them remembering you that way, and don’t feel afraid to go and speak to them afterwards so they can put a face to the tweet.
  • Wear comfy shoes!! CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. I wore my comfiest converse and was still in agony.
  • Bring your own food if you can – queues are long and food is expensive. Us students can’t afford it, let’s be honest.
  • Take a minute to just sit down and absorb it all. I took this picture just as I was leaving, to remember just how brilliant it really was:
  • LBFTake every opportunity you can. I was walking past Bonnier and saw they had career cards to fill in, so I gave them my CV as well.
  • In that sense, speak to anyone you can. I know it’s overwhelming and scary – I consider myself sociable and an ambivert, and even I was terrified to speak to anyone. But it’s so worth it when you do.

And now, to return to Hamilton, I am ready and energised to take my next step in my career. I’ve done so much so far to build steps for myself, but like the man himself says, there’s a million things I haven’t done. So just you wait… it’s all out there waiting for me.