Author Archives: bookwitch

The Bookshop on the Shore

Jane Eyre meets the Sound of Music, with a little You’ve Got Mail, and some almost library porn (by which I mean getting excited over a fancy library; not that other thing you first thought I meant).

Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore

Yeah, I’m not used to adult romantic fiction. I used to read a lot of it, decades ago, and now that I had worked out that Jenny Colgan writes this stuff and not just children’s books or Doctor Who, I felt the time had come to investigate.

I gather this latest story about a [mobile] bookshop on the shores of Loch Ness builds on at least one former book by Jenny. Her Nina, now pregnant and in need of a temporary replacement, somehow arranges for Zoe to move out of London, where she and her mute four-year-old son Hari have lived in impoverished circumstances.

So it’s that perennial dream romantic book lovers have of moving to a new life somewhere completely different and meeting more books. And love. At first I thought she’d got the wrong love interest there, but he grew on me a little. And I dare say the other chap could come back in some other book.

There are children. They have problems. The local village is another problem, along with its residents who want what they have always had. Nina herself, is another problem to some extent. She wants things done her way.

But Zoe is, well, she knows what is right and stands up for her own ideas, and she loves little Hari, and overcomes most of the other issues. Because it is that kind of story.

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How to Write a Great Story

I frequently wonder why authors write ‘how to write’ books. Are they mad? I know that they know how to, or at least what worked for them, but the competition! Keep it secret, I say.

In this latest one, How to Write a Great Story, Caroline Lawrence shares her tips. In fact, she shares how she wrote her books. And if you know her books, I’d say the advice is even better, because you’ll be able to see exactly what she means, and know what the references are about. She also mentions other famous pieces of writing, likely to be known to the reader.

Caroline Lawrence, How to Write a Great Story

(I brought her book to the hairdresser’s, and he said he’d never want to read a book like this. Could be because it’s not aimed at forty-something hairdressers, but more likely at Caroline’s fans, young and old. He wouldn’t object if I wrote a book about him, though.)

There are some sample workshops, and I envy students who’ve been able to work with Caroline on this. It looks interesting. You might start with a line from The Hobbit, and then you actually change everything, completely losing the Hobbit.

A long section explains writerly words, in case you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Even the Vomit Draft sounds reasonably ‘appealing.’ Or do I mean appalling? And don’t you just hate those elevator pitches? Because you forgot to come up with one, or you forgot what it was. And there is Mr Spielberg, ready to listen for at least ten seconds…

I’d say Caroline doesn’t sleep enough. Some of us need more time. And preserve me from her lunches of broccoli and mayonnaise!

Strangers at the Gate

Wow! If you want an intelligently plotted and well-written crime novel, that will only partially keep you awake at night, then Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson is the answer.

Catriona McPherson, Strangers at the Gate

The murder is pretty gruesome and after a while you realise that there are only so many possible suspects, and that makes your life a little difficult. Yes, some of the characters are a bit odd, but you don’t necessarily want them to be the one who did it.

The question is, ‘did what?’ Finnie and Paddy are newly married, and suddenly find themselves moving from Edinburgh to a small – and strange – town, in a deal that could be described as too good to be true. And you know what they say about such things. Although the weather is awful – Scotland in winter – and the dead bodies not exactly fun.

But Paddy is dead keen to be made partner of the law firm, and Finnie gets a post as deacon in the local church.

If dead children and disappearing corpses are your thing, look no further. In fact, even if they are not, and I really don’t like dead children, this book is it.

I’m so clever I noticed one clue before even Finnie did, and then I saw another, which was actually never part of what happened. I’m really glad I read this novel. I suspect I could be a fan for life, now.

German book words

For all you readers, especially if you have a fondness for impossibly long German words.

Long words about books in German

The best thing about the German language is that you really can put together all the necessary bits and it becomes a new, real word.

As for Buchendschmerz, well it’s just a horrible feeling, isn’t it?

(A big thanks to Tom Gauld in the Guardian earlier this year.)

Kästner’s streets

The Resident IT Consultant likes his maps, and when Berlin became a reality in our lives, he reread Erich Kästner. He really wanted to know where it was that Emil went when he got to Berlin, arriving at Zoologischer Garten station.

Well, he got on the 177 tram, which took Emil down Kaiser Avenue. Using his little grey cells, the Resident IT Consultant worked out that this might well be the current Bundesallee. From there Emil turned into Trautenau Street, which led to Nicholas Square, the Nikolsburger Platz.

So there’s the issue with names having been translated, plus the small complication of Germany having changed since Emil’s days. Though there are Kaiser-based names; just no longer for this large street leading south from the station opposite the Zoo.

It helped [me] that this was practically where Daughter and I had stayed in the Spring. Also that it’s close to the Swedish Church. (Well, we all have our priorities.)

Interestingly this whole area is close to where Daughter has found her kitchen-less flat to live in. So I may come to wander Emil’s streets before long.

On the other hand, my attempts at finding which street might go with no. 67, where Lisa Tetzner’s children lived, have not been successful. Perhaps she made it up?

Once Upon a Bedtime

Right now I’m thinking about going to bed. On time. Just so I can wake up when I need to.

David Melling, Once Upon a Bedtime

Like the creatures in David Melling’s Once Upon a Bedtime I have routines. Things that have to be done. But not quite as many as they do.

His Rabbit must have a bath. After which getting dry seems imperative. There’s pyjamas and teeth-brushing (that crocodile has a lot of teeth!) and stories with cuddlies.

But I have yet to discover a Thing under my bed, looking for its cuddly, without which this going to sleep business just can’t happen.

This is another gorgeously sweet ‘please-go-to-bed-now-darling’ book. You just can’t have too many of them.

Sharing the plot

On the cover of Catriona McPherson’s latest crime novel Ann Cleeves calls it ‘disturbing.’ Obviously in a complimentary way, but disturbing is disturbing. A facebook friend – I forget who – mentioned reading it and said what a great book it was, but perhaps not for bedtime.

I immediately decided I wouldn’t read it, and that lasted until Catriona said she’d send me a copy, and then there I was, reading it – because it looked so very good – alone in the house and bedtime was approaching. What to do?

Instantly devising a solution of reading Catriona’s book in the daytime, and moving on to Jenny Colgan’s new romantic novel for evenings, I felt quite satisfied.

And then I realised that the two plots have a lot in common. Both feature women going somewhere new, starting new jobs. Both new jobs are in some far flung dark corner of Scotland, in a small community, and there are rumours about the ‘man in the big house.’

Whose mother was it? And were there plans for coffee or something on Friday?

When I got this far I suddenly realised my own life had similarities, too. It was the week Daughter started a new job somewhere a longish way away. Hopefully there are no weird ‘lairds’ in big houses where she is. But perhaps the coffee on Friday was hers?

I just don’t know.

(And this is not a review, of anything. Those will come later, assuming I sleep at night, and the Friday coffee plans get sorted.)