Category Archives: Books

Being positive and offering editing services

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Almost two years ago now, I started to hunt for every book / fictional work that mentioned or was set in Bristol. I turned this into the Best Bristol Novel search. It turns out the best way to do that was to become the Books Editor of a magazine. Since I only write about Bristol authors or relevant Bristol fiction, I overwhelmingly come across more and more Bristol novels.

I also come across novels that could do with some editing. A friend book blogger tells authors that she only accepts professionally edited works but I often get sent books unsolicited so I don’t have much choice. I can’t find it in me to send back criticism or what I feel would be good advice, because however well-intentioned, it still feels like spreading negativity.

Instead, I will focus on what I can do, let people know that I offer editing services ranging from copy editing to story structure suggestions.

If people feel they need some help with their writing then they can contact me at joanna@ephemeraldigest.com for a quote or some advice. This isn’t just for Bristol writers and sending me your manuscript doesn’t mean that I will write about you. This is a service I am offering so that when I receive something full of mistakes I won’t have to point them out. (Aside: Would you point them out?)

For a wider range of what is available to writers, also check Book Helpline (Disclaimer: with whom I occasionally work**) for a comprehensive description of what they offer in story advice and text editing.

Unsolicited advice

Now here is some unsolicited but relevant advice: If you are going to send your writing to an agent or a publisher then check with a professional about whether it needs some editing. It doesn’t have to be me but it should be someone. Don’t ask your friends or your writing group as they are more likely to be nice to you. If you send me, or any editor, work that it is self-published and riddled with mistakes or bad writing then it will be a wasted chance to get reviewed or to get coverage in the media.

There is a lot of competition out there so don’t waste your opportunity to get published professionally.

For a quote, contact me at joanna@ephemeraldigest.com.

** For who afficionados, Sentence First has some good news.

Week 7: Clever Girl vs Things Unborn

Two things are unavoidable in Bristol novels: slavery and the suspension bridge. I’m now almost certain that a reference to Bath Spa University will have to be added to that list.

Tessa Hadley would have walked alongside C.J. Flood, Nathan Filer and Anna Freeman at Corsham Court in Bath as she lectured and still lectures at that university. One way in which she stands out from the rest however is that she has often been published in the New Yorker, including two chapters from Clever Girl.

clevergirlIn Clever Girl, she writes about Stella who we follow from the bedsit she shares with her mum in Kingsdown in the 1960s, all the way to adulthood and through most of Bristol. Stella’s auntie ‘Andy went to work on the factory floor of the chocolate manufacturers where Uncle Ray was in dispatch.’ The chocolate manufacturer is Fry’s which was based at Nelson Street.

There is a move from the city centre to a new estate on Stoke Bishop. We chart her various phases through location. Young, single mother Stella works on Park Row and lives in a commune.

What got very tedious for me was the constant description of everyone’s face and personality. The way they were labelled in such detail. Hadley says that “I never think that the material detail is an addition to the story. A story is what it is through the detail.” And yet those details have to progress the story not just be used to add words.

Stella is a sad and burdened kind of character who is talked about by her future self as if she spent her whole life lacking self-awareness. The characters aren’t easy to enjoy but the story did bring up something very Bristolian that doesn’t get discussed very much; the wide disparity between those who participate in higher education and those who don’t. Or those who have opportunities and those who don’t.

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The map of Bristol above shows a range of areas with different levels of participation in HE. Dark blue areas are where most young people will go on to HE and the red patches show areas where few, if any, do. In Bristol, it is often the case that these areas are right next to each other. Clifton, Cotham and the city centre are all areas of higher participation and right next to St Philip’s where very few young people may know anyone in HE.

The two universities in Bristol are also very different. One is full of “girls and boys with glossy hair and loudly assured voices who’d been to private school” and the other is UWE, surprisingly not mentioned in this book. Stella in later life gets three As at A Level and ‘with these good grades [she] applied to university” and got in to study English literature. This of course makes little sense in real-world Bristol University. Every one who applies there has three As (or A*s now). Good grades are only a distinguishing factor if that’s what separates you from the other candidates. At Bristol this does not and most people of Stella’s background apply to and attend UWE instead.

Things Unborn by Eugene Byrne is the contender against Clever Girl this week and while I knew it was a novel set in London with very little Bristol reference, I just couldn’t resist writing about Byrne and seeing what his fiction was like. If there is ever a writer who knows Bristol then it is he. He has written about Bristol in magazines, online and in published books. He wrote about Brunel and about plans for Bristol that never did get built.

Things Unborn, however, is just not that informative about this West Country city. There is a wink at Bristol with reference to the Locarno Music Hall which used to be where the O2 Academy is now and was popular in the 1960s. There is also a pretty great description: ‘The great city of Bristol was the light and the shadow of their lives, a huge, sprawling, noisy port where merchants got rich on slaves and sugar, and the poor drank and pissed their money and miseries away in stinking dockside ale houses.

In 1962, the USA and Russia went to nuclear war over Cuba…after millions of deaths, people started returning. Not just those killed in the Atom War, but people who had died centuries previously. And they were always reborn in the place where they died, at the age of their death. In Britain, there were struggles for power between Catholics and Protestants, another Monmouth Rebellion. Now, in 2008, Richard III rules the country – although he holds no real power. And Protestant fanatics would see him, his government and their “Liberal Settlement” destroyed. A handful of policemen and their allies must hunt down the conspirators.

Protagonist Inspector Scipio Africanus lived his previous life as a slave in Bristol and is a reference back to a black slave or servant in the household of the Earl of Suffolk. He died aged about 18 and was buried at Henbury Churchyard, Bristol, in 1720. His grave is one of the few known burial places in the UK of an African from the period when Christian Englishmen traded in slaves.

The links to Bristol are there but not enough to make this book a real contender. It’s a heavy-going read with a lot of information to process. There are many explanations about the new reality, about the retread procedure, about each and every past era from which the people who have died have arrived. Also the new reality consists of current police procedures, geographies, machines and products that all take some explanation and then there’s the parallel world’s history, current politics and future trajectory. And in between all this there is a storyline.

The effect is one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld meets Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A quality production but not light and breezy.

This week’s winner is unquestionably Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley.

Week 6: Eye Contact vs Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion

Airship300 Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion is published by Wizard’s Tower Press who also produced the tribute Colinthology. They are a curious publisher who specialise in science fiction and fantasy but don’t want submissions and won’t read them if you send any. This isn’t the only reason they have become a firm favourite, they are also very friendly and are big fans of the south west.

The short stories in the current Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall edited work are Bristolian from title to end. The title is a play on the phrase ‘shipshape and Bristol fashion’, a term dating from 1840 when talking about the treachorous port of Bristol. Its very high tidal range of 13m meant that if things weren’t tied down they would end up overboard.

Not only is the time period fitting to these stories but their genre seems surprisingly apt. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.” It all makes for a very respectful tribute to this city. The following quotation from the introduction says it quite nicely:

Take a walk around Bristol, and history seeps from the walls. The city can claim more than its fair share of firsts, including the first iron-hulled steamship, the first female doctor, the first chocolate bar and the first use of nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic, the invention of the Plimsoll line, the first undersea telegraph cable, the world’s first test tube baby and the first transplant organ grown from stem cells, and a large share of the world’s first supersonic airliner. Now, from this fertile ground comes an anthology charting other realities and alternate histories, in a collection as rich and varied as the true history of this great British city.

— Gareth L. Powell

“Not bad for a little city” said Bristol Culture editor, Martin Booth,  when I read the above to him and he would add that Bristol is where Ribena was invented too.

Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous aspects of the city such as its slavery connections and the tobacco industry but all is included in a rich Bristol setting.

Two excellent stories from its collection are Joanne Hall’s Brass and Bone which is based in Clifton and touches on the use of the Suspension Bridge in both folklore and local awareness.

The Girl with Red Hair, by Myfanwy Rodman is written so beautifully and hauntingly while making sure to use Bristol to its most picturesque best, never losing sight of its story. Not all the stories are as strong but all are true to their setting.

eyecontact Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill on the other hand is a debut novel published by the same company that has published Stephen King. They are big and they have money to spare. McNeill’s work is about a serial killer whose method of choosing victims is in the title.

It starts on Severn Beach with a body and then begins from the serial killer’s perspective in Clifton. There is a subtitle in parentheses – DI Harland Book I and it has a sequel, published in 2013, with its follow-up title DI Harland Book II.

As all slickly published and promoted books, these days, there is a trailer.

Eye Contact is set in Bristol but it has no love of the city. At least none more than a passing acquaintance because of the fact that it is set here. Clifton Down, Whiteladies and Starbucks feature prominently in the beginning and even after a walk up to the Clifton Observatory, and the obligatory mention of the Suspension Bridge there is no sense that these characters are part of their setting.

Clifton is an obvious choice of a setting for tourists and casual Bristolians but when a character in Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion visits a pawnbroker on Hobbs Lane then you know you’re reading someone who knows their city.

Eye Contact could be set anywhere without the story changing. The depth of the characters doesn’t go far enough to touch anything more than a curiosity about the plot. The writing is smooth, it’s slick and it’s glib. If you like Peter James then you’ll like Fergus McNeill, and if you love Jeffrey Archer then you’re in for a treat.

For the purposes of this tournament however, there is only one choice for the work that is shipshape and Bristol fashion and it’s the collection of short stories which references many airships. Not bad for a little publisher, who certainly outshone Hodder & Stoughton on this occasion.

Week 4: Bristol Bells vs Where’s My Money?

In front of a low, old house, opposite St Mary Redcliffe and tall business buildings, there sat a thoughtful effigy of Bristol’s best known literary figure, the boy poet Thomas Chatterton. This figure is hidden whilst the house is being repaired but a plaque still helps identify the location.

Feeling disgruntled and under appreciated in his home town of Bristol, Chatterton left for London in 1770. Finding no luck there either his life came to a sad end by the time he was 24.

Since I have not included poets in this tournament, however, I would have had no need to mention him were it not for Emma Marshall.

Marshall, author in 1890 of Bristol Bells, and of over 200 more stories in her lifetime, liked to base her works around a famous figure and in this case it was Chatterton.

The story is also about Bryda, the beautiful and refined granddaughter of a farmer, who wants to follow the sound of the Bristol bells and leave her house in Dundry. When an old debt needs to be repaid she has no choice but to gain employment as a servant in the same house where Chatterton is apprenticed to a lawyer.

Marshall clearly, and fittingly to the story, outlines what is known of Chatterton’s sad and short life. Bristol Bells is a pleasant and short read with two stories running parallel. It is informative of one of the great literary figures of Bristol as she includes bits and pieces of his life and snippets if his poetry along with biographical information.

Much of the story takes place between Corn Street and Dowry Square with ventures to Hot Wells and St Vincent’s Rocks. There is a villain and a love interest, suspense and intrigue and a delightful introduction to the Bristol of 250 years ago.

Power of expression: 6/10
Bristol content: 11/15
Bristol integration: 9/15
Characterisation: 6/10
Total: 32/50

Mike Manson’s Where’s My Money, on the other hand, is a classic in contemporary Bristol fiction and as the cover suggests, it will indeed make you laugh out loud.

Max Redcliffe joins the Ministry of Work at the unemployment office on Union Street after having been on the other side of the counter for quite a while. His colleagues include Lee Woods and Ashley Hill and if you don’t recognise a couple of these names then you’re obviously not a Bristolian.

There is a wicked charm to Redcliffe’s story of his adventures in the unemployment office which while failing to deliver much of a narrative arc does provide lots of entertainment and information about the south west city.

From cider to slavery, tobacco to chocolate, the Downs and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, there is so much Bristol in its pages that this story could not have taken place anywhere else and yet the book does not feel overburdened with facts.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, hanging by a thread across a vertiginous gorge, is one of the world’s most fabulous bridges, and it goes nowhere. There’s nothing on the other side of the bridge apart from a few big houses and a wood. The bridge is an expensive conceit. And rightly so. This golden gateway frames the Avon Gorge – transforming the landscape of grey cliffs and hornbeam woods into a sublime vision of grandeur.

Set in the 70s, it is funny and consistently Bristolian and manages to cover the decade pretty well too. The only thing that seems to have changed in 40 years is that we now have some great places for coffee. Three in fact. Oh and that the Bristol sound is no longer jazz.

Power of expression: 8/10
Bristol content: 15/15
Bristol integration: 13/15
Characterisation: 8/10
Total: 44/5020140727-220433-79473448.jpg

Week 2: The Shock of the Fall vs The Choice

Pitting Susan Lewis against Nathan Filer is like making Tweetie bird fight Muhammad Ali and I just don’t have it in me. Well, I do but I’ll do my best to keep as bloodless as possible.

filer_nathan_shock_of_the_Fall_140225a vs susan lewis_the choice

The Shock of the Fall describes the life of a boy from Bristol dealing with his grief at the death of his brother and experience of mental health care services for schizophrenia. The Choice is about a young girl (21, not 19 as the blurb says) who falls pregnant, falls out with her parents and then is confronted by a choice no parent should have to make.

Whereas Filer’s first book is sparse and clear, Lewis’s writing is filled with adjectives, adverbs and every possible type of description she could find.

There are mischievous eyes, eyes full of mischief and eyes of grey lead. Hearts surge, worried faces light up, voices soften with tenderness, or are husky with pride. Cliches fill the pages, serving no purpose other than to provide fodder for those who don’t have the time to turn on their television at midday and catch another made-for-TV-melodrama.

We don’t even find out what The Choice is until about 300 pages in to a 500 page novel and then every possible plot combination gets thrown in for good measure.

In direct contrast, Filer shows and never tells. As the writer he doesn’t presume anything about our understanding. Every word in the Shock of the Fall is direct and helps the story. He is a storyteller because he has a story to tell and nothing more. Lewis’s 26th* novel is an example of pulp publication where words are put in one after the other and spat out to people who just want to stay distracted for a few hours and aren’t too fussed about engaging and growing with their characters.

One thing Lewis does do well, however, is write about Bristol. It doesn’t matter whether the story requires it, and it seldom does, but if you read the Choice, you’ll find yourself finding out all about Brunel, Corn Street, Broadmead, the Banana bridge, the ss Great Britain, Southville, the Tobacco Factory and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. All are mentioned quite familiarly by the Bristol writer and are well written. They add nothing to the story, however. Lewis could just as easily have set her story somewhere else and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The Shock of the Fall is not inherently Bristolian but unlike Lewis, Filer touches on location only where he has to. The occasional mention of Kingsdown in passing doesn’t have to mean much but when his protagonist talks to a homeless man on the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft (not Cheltenham Road as he writes) we Bristolians, know exactly what he’s talking about and why it’s easy to make that mistake. The area adds to the story, to the characters, it needs no further explanation.

One of the most poignant scenes takes a Bristolian landmark and misses it. The protagonist Matthew Homes’ mother, tells him of how she had tried to find the Clifton Suspension Bridge when she was younger and in despair about what to do wanted to jump off it but ended up circling around Clifton instead. Bristol is integrated into the story, not an aside, not a random description. Filer does it beautifully. The Shock of the Fall won Best First Novel and Book of the Year at the 2013 Costa Book Awards.

The winner this week, Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, was never in doubt but it’s interesting to see that even though Lewis wrote pages and pages about Bristol, the snippets which Filer uses add more to a Bristolian sense of his work than constant references used as filler.

Bristol novel rankings

Group 1 – The Elites

  1. Filer, Nathan – The Shock of the Fall (2013)
  2. Freeman, Anna – The Fair Fight (2014)
  3. Benatar, Stephen – Wish Her Safe at Home (1982)
  4. Brown, Chris – Guilty Tiger , Bovver (2002)
  5. Carter, Angela – ‘The Bristol Trilogy’ (link):Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968) and Love (1971) – Locarno Ballroom.
  6. Manson, Mike – Where’s My Money (2008)
  7. Wakling, Chris – The Devil’s Mask (2011)
  8. Burgess, Melvyn – Smack (or Junk) (2010)

Group 2 – Literary

  1. Barnes, Julian – The Sense of An Ending (2011)
  2. Byrne, Eugene – Things Unborn (2001)
  3. Nichols, David – Starter for Ten (2004)
  4. Cusk, Rachel – Arlington Park (2010)
  5. Butler, Paul – Cupids (2010)
  6. Trewavas, Ed – Shawnie (2006).
  7. Nicholson, Christopher – The Elephant Keeper (2009)
  8. Lee, Jonathan – Who is Mr Satoshi (2010)

Group 3 – Crime

  1. Wright, M.P. – Heartman (2014)
  2. McNeill, Fergus – Eye Contact (2012); Knife Edge (2013); Cut Out (2014)
  3. Carver, Caroline – Gone Without Trace (2007)
  4. English, Lucy – Selfish People (1998).
  5. Ferguson, Patricia – Peripheral Vision (2007); the Midwife’s Daughter (2012)
  6. Lewis,Robert – The Last Llanelli Train (2005)
  7. Hall, M.R. – The Coroner (Jenny Cooper 1) (2009)
  8. Prowse, Philip – Bristol Murder (2008)

Group 4 – Murder and Others

  1. Flood, C.J. – Infinite Sky (2013)
  2. Tessa Hadley – Clever Girl (2013)
  3. Hardy, Jules – Altered Land (2002)
  4. Hayder, Mo — Jack Caffery series – Birdman (2000); The Treatment (2002); Ritual (2008); Skin (2009); Gone (2010); Poppet (2012); Wolf (2014);
  5. Mason, Sarah – Playing James (2003)
  6. Moate, Jari – Paradise Now (2010)
  7. Johnson, Jeannie (pseudonym of Lizzie Lane) – A Penny for Tomorrow (2003).
  8. Gregory, Philippa – A Respectable Trade (1995)

Group 5 – Short Stories mostly

  1. Clarke, Roz and Hall, Joanne (Ed.)- Colinthology (2012)
  2. Clarke, Roz and Hall, Joanne (ed) – Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion (2014)
  3. Harvey, Colin – Future Bristol (Ed.) (2009)
  4. Harvey, Colin – Dark Spires(Ed.) (2010)
  5. White, Tony – Missorts Volume II (2013)
  6. Maughan, Tim – Paintwork(2011)
  7. Boyce, Lucienne – To the Fair Land (2012)
  8. Lewis, Susan – The Choice (2010)

Group 6 – Historical and sagas

  1. Marshall, Emma (1830-1899) – inc. Bristol Bells (the story of Chatterton), Under the Mendips, In Colston’s Days and Bristol Diamonds
  2. Smollett, Tobias – The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)
  3. Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island (1883)
  4. Burney, Fanny – Evelina (1778)
  5. Lane, Lizzie – Wartime Brides (2012)
  6. Steen,Marguerite – The Sun Is My Undoing (1941)
  7. Young, E.H. – The Misses Mallett (1922). William – A Novel ().
  8. Butler Hallett , Michelle – Deluded Your Sailors (2011)

Group 7 – Bits and Pieces

  1. Douglas, Louise – In Her Shadow (2012)
  2. Dunn, Matt – The Accidental Proposal (2011)
  3. Smith, Zadie – Martha and Hanwell(2005)
  4. Le Carre, John – Our Game (1995)
  5. Moggach, Deborah – These Foolish Things (2005), You must be sisters (1978)
  6. Godwin, John – Children of the Wave (2010)
  7. Mayhew, Daniel – Life and How to Live it (2004).
  8. Ames, Laurel – Castaway (1993)

Group 8 – the Unknowns

  1. Bouzane, Lillian – In the Hands of the Living God (1999)
  2. Random, Bert – Spannered (2011)
  3. Rowbotham, Michael – Shatter (2009)
  4. Sheers, Owen – Pink Mist (2013)
  5. Mitchell, Diane – Tainted Legacy (2012)
  6. O’Brien, Maureen – Dead Innocent (2004)
  7. Myles, Josephine – Pole Star (2012)
  8. Archer, Jeffrey – Only Time Will Tell (2011)

Order of play for the Bristol Book Tournament

The following table shows the order of play for the tournament.

Group 2 v Group 4
Group 7 v Group 1
Group 5 v Group 3
Group 8 v Group 6.

For the first month, for example, the books competing will be as follows:

  1. Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending vs CJ Flood’s Infinite Sky;
  2. Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall vs Louise Dougas’ In Her Shadow;
  3. MP Wright’s Heartman vs Clark, Ros and Hall’s Colinthology;
  4. Marshall Emma v Bouzane, Lillian’s In the Hands of the Living God

Methodology:  I created eight columns and added the groups in order (Group 1 to 8). Then I created a random function which gives a number between 0 and 1 and sorted in ascending order. The following groups were selected.

Group 2 – Literary Group 4 Group 1 – The Elites Group 7 – Group 3 – Crime Group 5 – Short Stories mostly Group 6 – Historical and sagas Group 8 – the Unknowns
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of An Ending Flood, C.J. – Infinite Sky (2013) Filer, Nathan – The Shock of the Fall (2013) Douglas, Louise – In Her Shadow Wright, M.P. – Heartman Clarke, Roz and Hall, Joanne – Colinthology (Ed.) Marshall, Emma (1830-1899) – inc. Bristol Bells Bouzane, Lillian – In the Hands of the Living God (1999)
Byrne, Eugene – Things Unborn (2001) Tessa Hadley – Clever Girl Freeman, Anna – The Fair Fight (2014) Dunn, Matt – The Accidental Proposal McNeill, Fergus – Eye Contact (2012) Hall, Joanne (ed) – Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion (2014) Smollett, Tobias – The Expedition of Humphry Clinker Random, Bert – Spannered (Feeder Road)
Nichols, David – Starter for Ten (2004) Hardy, Jules – Altered Land Benatar, Stephen – Wish Her Safe at Home Smith, Zadie – Hanwell in Hell (Park Street) Carver, Caroline – Gone Without Trace (2007) Harvey, Colin – Future Bristol (Ed.) Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island Rowbotham, Michael – Shatter
Cusk, Rachel – Arlington Park (2010) Hayder, Mo – Wolf; Skin; Gone; Ritual Brown, Chris – Guilty Tiger , Bovver Le Carre, John – Our Game English, Lucy – Selfish People (1998). Harvey, Colin – Dark Spires(Ed.) Burney, Fanny – Evelina Sheers, Owen – Pink Mist
Butler, Paul – Cupids Mason, Sarah – Playing James Carter, Angela – ‘The Bristol Trilogy’ Moggach, Deborah – These Foolish Things Ferguson, Patricia – Peripheral Vision; the Midwife’s Daughter White, Tony – Missorts Volume II Lane, Lizzie – Wartime Brides (2012) Mitchell, Diane – Tainted Legacy
Trewavas, Ed – Shawnie (2006). Moate, Jari – Paradise Now Manson, Mike – Where’s My Money Godwin, John – Children of the Wave Lewis,Robert – The Last Llanelli Train (2005) Maughan, Tim – Paintwork(2011) Steen,Marguerite – The Sun Is My Undoing (1941) O’Brien, Maureen – Dead Innocent
Nicholson, Christopher – The Elephant Keeper Johnson, Jeannie (pseudonym of Lizzie Lane) – A Penny for Tomorrow (2003). Wakling, Chris – The Devil’s Mask Mayhew, Daniel – Life and How to Live it (2004). Hall, M.R. – The Coroner (Jenny Cooper 1) (2009) Boyce, Lucienne – To the Fair Land (2012) Young, E.H. – The Misses Mallett (1922). William – A Novel (). Myles, Josephine – Pole Star

A House in the Sky, A Memoir of a Kidnapping That Changed Everything

houseinthesky At 18, Amanda Lindhout moved from her Canadian hometown to the big city, saving tips as a waitress to travel the globe. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a reporter. In August 200, she travelled to Somalia to report on the fighting – and was abducted.

Her story illuminates the psychology, motivations, and desperate extremism of her guards and the men in charge of them. She survived by finding strength and hope in the power of her own mind. A House in the Sky refers to the place Amanda went to during her abuse. A place of peace and happiness she built for herself in the sky and this story is a moving testament to the power of compassion and forgiveness.

Since her release after 460 days in captivity, she has devoted herself to the cause of the rights of women and girls in Somalia, founding the Global Enrichment Foundation charity which funds women’s education projections and offers support for survivors of sexual violence.

A House in the Sky has its opening pages set right in the midst of the kidnapping and the writing allays all fears of a story written for the sake of tearing at the emotions. The events happened and they were real and someone survived them. And then there’s life that comes after that and strength and determination.

“This is one of the most powerfully-written books I have ever read. Harrowing, hopeful, graceful, redeeming and true. It tells a story of inhumanity and humanity that somehow feels deeply ancient and completely modern. It is beautiful, devastating and heroic – both a shout of defiance and a humbling call to prayer,” is how Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love describes it and I couldn’t agree more.

A House in the Sky: A Memoir of a Kidnapping That Changed Everything Published by Viking Paperback on April 3, 2014

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

The Faraway Nearby

This personal, lyrical narrative about storytelling and empathy from award winner Rebecca Solnit is a fitting companion to her beloved A Field Guide for Getting Lost

In this exquisitely written new book by the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination.

In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness—Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story.

Solnit is almost magical in her use of colour and connections which draw her stories together and help them flow from the specific to the general; from a bedroom floor full of apricots that in their mountainous quantity lose their delicacy, to her own life and each event building up and culminating in a life lived backwards. She touches individual stories from literature and politics but they all feel personal. Her grace and beautiful make for a lovely reading experience and a touching personal story.

This was one of my favourite books this year.

 

The Faraway Nearby

Rebecca Solnit

Provided by NetGalley

The 7 best places to read in Bristol

In honour of World Book Day, which in my household is like saying we need to celebrate World Oxygen Day, I have been thinking of the best places to read around Bristol.

1. On a sunny day, at the edge of the Floating Harbour, near where the ferry docks to take passengers to the other side for 80p.  Recommended reads: The Cider House Rules or A Prayer for Owen Meany, both by John Irving and perfectly crafted to shine a light on all that is beautiful in people’s lives.

2. On Brandon Hill, with an ice cream from Double Vee Moo. People love to talk about the amazing views but unless you climb to the top of Cabot Tower, the sights of south Bristol aren’t that exciting. Recommended reads: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer or Love by Angela Carter, two Bristol novels showcasing the seamier side of the people in our city and the madness within all of us.

3. At Castle Park just past the beginning of spring when the trees are full of white blossoms and the grass carpeted with lunchtime passersby. Recommended read: Be Here Now by Ram Dass – feel at one with nature while in direct contact with bugs and ants running around your feet.

4. At the Watershed where for the price of a green tea or Americano you can enjoy the spacious surroundings with little pressure to hurry and leave. Recommended read: The American by Martin Booth to suit your black coffee (or whiskey) and the stormy nights reflected on the water of the harbour outside your window. Sit near the window.

5. Small Street Espresso / Full Court Press / Didn’t You Do Well. The three best coffee shops in Bristol. You may not want to stay for hours because the excellent selections will bring in lots of people wanting your seat but that one coffee and a few pages will make it worthwhile. Recommended read: Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey to honour the great, great notion that all three sets of cafe owners had in opening their splendid establishments.

6. Papadeli at the RWA or Alma Vale Road opposite the Sainsbury’s car park. Delicious worldwide treats and sublime cakes and sandwiches are a perfect accompaniment to something classical. Take War and Peace or something by Jane Austen.

7. Alma Tavern near Beshley’s Wool Shop. Browse the wool shop first for some crafting ideas and when you select your heart’s desire go sit in the spacious pub and accompany a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Cupcakes and Kalsnikovs about female foreign correspondents or The Ashford book of dyeing.

Enjoy.

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