Thursday, 29 October 2015

BLOG TOUR: Talk of the Toun by Helen MacKinven

I am delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour for Talk of the Toun. My thanks to Helen and the Publishers Thunderpoint for sending me a review copy.

Talk of the Toun is published 29th October 2015.

‘She was greetin’ again. But there’s no need for Lorraine to be feart, since the first day of primary school, Angela has always been there to mop up her tears and snotters.’ 

An uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship, Talk of the Toun is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985, in working class, central belt Scotland. Lifelong friends Angela and Lorraine are two very different girls, with a growing divide in their aspirations and ambitions putting their friendship under increasing strain.

Artistically gifted Angela has her sights set on art school, but lassies like Angela, from a small town council scheme, are expected to settle for a nice wee secretarial job at the local factory. Her only ally is her gallus gran, Senga, the pet psychic, who firmly believes that her granddaughter can be whatever she wants.

Though Lorraine’s ambitions are focused closer to home Angela has plans for her too, and a caravan holiday to Filey with Angela’s family tests the dynamics of their relationship and has lifelong consequences for them both.

Effortlessly capturing the religious and social intricacies of 1980's Scotland, Talk of the Toun is the perfect mix of pathos and humour as the two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are.

My Thoughts:

This book is a wonderful evocative story of time and place. A flashback to growing up in 80's Scotland, jam packed with references and nostalgia, I loved every word.

Although not a teenager myself in the 80's, the references were not lost on me. I used to play Ker Plunk and also wear Rimmel Lipstick in the shade of Heather Shimmer. This book is full of humour and at times I was simply roaring with laughter. I love the wit and sometimes the irony with which this author writes. The humour is there for all to see.

I initially thought I would struggle with the use of the Scottish Dialect, but I didn't. I think it is the only way this story could and should have been told. The characters came alive in my head, I could hear their voices, their accents and feel their awkwardness of their formative years.

Although not all funny, this book contains a level of grit and a sense of some of the struggles of that time, coming from a working class area and trying to do better for yourself. I cringed when reading this at some of the terminology that nowadays would be culturally unacceptable. However it was the 80's then, and that was how things were.

This book was brilliant and I loved every single word and every single page. I was sad to leave the characters at the end. I felt like I had truly gone back in time and could imagine myself right there at the centre of it all.

This book is going to be on the list of my favourites this year. The girl did good!

I was thrilled when Helen agreed to take part in a Q & A for the blog and you can see her answers below. I wish her every success with the book, and thank her for taking the time to visit us today.

1)      Where is your favourite place to write and is there any particular time that works better for you?

I prefer to write in bed and at night after I’ve had my dinner and a bath. The habit started when I wrote my first novel while working full-time so it was the only chance I had to write. Although I now only work part-time I still prefer to get into my jammies and stay cosy in bed to do creative writing rather than sitting at my desk (the base of an old Singer sewing machine with a pine top) where I spend office hours when I’m working from home.

2)      Where did the idea for Talk of the Toun come from?

The idea for the novel came from one of the assignments I did for my MLitt in Creative Writing. The task was to write a 4000 word A to Z on any topic with an average of around 153 words for each letter. I chose to write about the first 18 years of my life and felt that this assignment conveyed a strong sense of my writing voice.  After the course, I wanted to use some of these short pieces as a stimulus to write a fictional story of what it was like to grow up in the 1980s in a working class town in central Scotland.

3)      Are there any Characters that you would like to develop further in future, or a particular theme you would like to write about?

I see this book as a standalone coming-of-age story so I don’t feel a burning desire to follow any of the characters but who knows if that will change, especially if readers are interested to follow their next moves. The theme of identity and giving a voice to working class characters is definitely something which I plan to explore again in my next novel.

4)      Are you currently writing anything else?

I’ve made notes and written a few thousand words of a new novel. It’s set in the Lanarkshire town of Airdrie after the Scottish referendum result but with a local historical event related to the Leningrad Siege weaved into the narrative. Only time will tell if I follow the idea through and it becomes a full length novel but I’d like to give it a go.

5)      Which Writers inspire you?

 I admire authors such as Jackie Kay, Janice Galloway, Anne Donovan, to name but a few, I could go on but you get the idea, they are writers of Scottish contemporary fiction who bring the world I know alive and help me understand it better. I want to try to do the same, give a voice to Scottish working class characters that don’t often feature in fiction.

6)      Which book would you most likely give as a gift or recommend to other people?

 I kept a record of all the books I read last year and if I had to pick a favourite it would be The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer and so far this year it’s The Good Son by Paul McVeigh and I’d recommend both of these books as being well worth a read.

7)      Could you share with us something that other people don’t necessarily know about you?

I have two pet pygmy goats .They are twin boys named Jack and Victor after the characters from
            Still Game which is one of my favourite                     comedy programmes.

8)      If you could have written any book from the past, which would it be?

To have written a book that goes on to be described as a ‘classic’ and have people still talk about long after it was written must be an amazing achievement. Out of the modern classics I would love to have written Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

9)      What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to read and enjoy going to book festivals, theatre and art exhibitions. I love going on city breaks and try to visit a couple of new places each year to add another pin on my map of Europe. Apart from the goats, I have two working cocker spaniels and eleven chickens and I enjoy spending time with my pets.

10)   Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

Talk of the Toun published on 29th October can be ordered online from Amazon                            

I blog regularly at and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @HelenMacKinven

       Thank you!

About the Author

Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction, with a particular interest in exploring themes such as social class and identity, using black comedy and featuring Scots dialect. She graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012. In her day job Helen MacKinven works with numbers, travelling all over Scotland to deliver teacher training in maths. By night, she plays with words writing short stories and developing ideas for her next novel. Helen's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine. Originally from the Falkirk area, Helen now lives in a small rural village in North Lanarkshire with her husband. She has two grownup sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy goats and an ever-changing number of chickens

Thanks for stopping by today, I would love it if you would visit some of the other stops on the tour.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Around the World Blog Tour ~ Guest Author Hazel Gaynor

The Around The World Blog Tour is a partnership between TripFiction and #BookConnectors ~ bloggers and authors, travelling the world, through fiction.

TripFiction was created to make it easy to match a location with a book and help you select good literature that is most pertinent and relevant to your trip. A resource for armchair and actual travellers, it is a unique way of exploring a place through the eyes of an author. We blog, and chat books and travel across Social Media, and love to meet authors and bloggers as we take our literary journey.

Book Connectors  was created as a place on Facebook for Bloggers, Authors and small Publishers to share their news.We encourage book promotions; information about competitions and giveaways; news of events, including launch events, signings, talks or courses. Talk about new signings, about film deals .... anything really.

Book Connectors is  a friendly group, there are no rules or guidelines - just be polite and respectful to each other. 

I am delighted to have been paired up with Author Hazel Gaynor for the final stop on this month's tour of Ireland. 

Hazel kindly sent me a signed copy of her book, The Girl Who Came Home. I will discuss that below. There is also an exciting giveaway as well!

A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .
Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .
Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanic that she's harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy's impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their 

My Thoughts:

Everybody has heard of Titanic, arguably one of the greatest maritime disasters of all time. There has been a lot of books written about it and a lot of films made, such is its importance in history.

I wondered whether another book about it, could bring anything fresh or new to the story but this one does. This book was written upon the centenary of the sinking in 2012. It was actually inspired by real events and real people. It tells the story of fourteen friends and family from Ireland who are wanting to travel to America to start a new life. 

This book has been written beautifully, with a poignancy and an accuracy. The attention to detail, makes life on the ship seem very real. It was a very moving read, as at the beginning you can sense the excitement of those aboard the ship. Little did they know the fate that awaited them a short few days later.

I also enjoyed the elements of the story where Maggie, a survivor tells her story to her Great Granddaughter Grace. A story that Maggie has kept locked up inside her, causing her much pain and sadness. 

Overall the book was truly wonderful, meticulously researched and I really enjoyed reading a different perspective on a disaster that we know so much about. I had little knowledge that so many people from Ireland set out that day for new lives, never to return home. I really recommend this one. I most definitely will be reading this author's other books.

About the Author:

Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic (HarperCollins) was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller and winner of the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Romance Novel of the Year. Her second novel A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was also a NYT and USA Today bestseller and was selected by WHSmith Travel as one of their ‘Fresh Talent’ titles.

Hazel was chosen by US Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015 and was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers. She also writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Rachel Joyce and Cheryl Strayed, among others.

 Hazel’s third novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY will be published in the U.S., UK and Ireland in 2016. She has also contributed to WW1 anthology, FALL OF POPPIES – Stories of Love and the Great War, which will be published in March 2016.

Originally from East Yorkshire, Hazel has lived in Ireland for the past fourteen years. She lives in Kildare with her husband and two children and is represented by Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management, New York. 

Twitter: @HazelGaynor

Many thanks to Hazel for joining me for this stop of the Ireland Tour.

Finally, Hazel has very kindly and very generously provided a unique prize for one lucky winner. UK and Ireland only eligible to enter please. Entries from other places will not be counted. 

Hazel is giving the lucky winner the opportunity to have a signed copy of both of her novels, with some Irish Chocolates as well. I hope that I have tempted you enough above regarding THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, that you will enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The First Thing You See by Gregoire Delacourt

Published by Orion on 10th September 2015. My thanks to the publisher and Bookbridgr for my review copy. 
This novel has been translated from the French by Anthea Bell.

Imagine you are a young mechanic living in a small community in France. You own your own home, and lead a simple life. Then, one evening, you open your front door to find a distraught Hollywood starlet standing in front of you. This is what happens to Arthur Dreyfuss in the village of Long, population 687 inhabitants.
But although feigning an American accent, this woman is not all that she seems. For her name is Jeanine Foucamprez, and her story is very different from the glamorous life of a star. Arthur is not all he seems, either; a lover of poetry with a darker past than one might imagine, he has learnt to see beauty in the mundane.
THE FIRST THING YOU SEE is a warm, witty novel about two fragile souls learning to look beyond the surface - for the first thing you see isn't always what you get!

My Thoughts:

Allegedly this was the book that Scarlett Johansson tried to ban. I can't really see why! Arthur Dreyfuss lives in a small town in France. One day he opens his front door to a damsel in distress who he believes to be Scarlett Johansson. Only it isn't, it is a lady who looks like her called Jeanine Foucamprez.

They embark on a brief love affair, both characters with their own faults and quirks.

The premise of this story sounded very good, I like quirky. Anything different, I don't mind. Whilst this book isn't run of the mill, I am sure a lot of the references and things were completely lost on me. I really wanted to love this, but I just couldn't.

It is a short book at 244 pages. I think I understand the themes it was trying to portray. People aren't what they seem, don't judge people by their appearance, etc.

The best part of this story was the frailty with which the author draws his characters. There instability makes them reckless though. I did like the poetic style with which some of the passages were written.

All in all, this book has left me with a sense of confusion. It is these kinds of reviews that I hate to write. 

If anybody else has read this and wants to give me their take on it, that would be fabulous.

About The Author:

Gregoire lives in Paris where he runs an advertising agency with his wife. He has written five novels and has won awards. His previous novel The List of My Desires has rights sold in twenty - seven countries and was selected for the Waterstones Book Club.

National Poetry Day...

Well today sees a temporary departure on the blog, as it is National Poetry Day. I can't claim to know that much about poetry and how it is constructed etc. Below is a few bits I have come across that I like:

* The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
* Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden
* Digging by Seamus Heaney
* If by Rudyard Kipling
* The Tyger by William Blake

If you have any recommendations for where to start with the vast amount of poetry there is out there, I would love for you to get in touch.

Finally, bearing in mind I am no poet, I shall share with you something I wrote a few years ago.

Words Unspoken

Words unspoken they fall into a silent void, into the chasm somewhere between love and hate. They hang in the air, and cling to the trees, as if captured in time, unable to cause an impact.

Words unspoken delicate like a single flower battling to survive against a harsh wind. Words that tread a fine line, a balancing act, like a tightrope walker teetering on the edge.

Words unspoken all jumbled up, all fighting to reach the surface, competing for their turn in the glare of the spotlight.

Words unspoken waiting patiently to be heard, time stands still and yet the world still moves. Everything has changed but still remains the same.

Words unspoken silently hide in the shadows behind their radiance and their beauty, frozen in a capsule of fear, refusing to transcend.

Words unspoken that fall short, they have no meaning for their intended now. They retreat into the shadows and slowly fade to grey.

By Leah Moyse 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

Published in paperback on the 17th September by Orenda. It is also available as an e - book. My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of the book.

All the stories died that morning ... until we found the one we’d always known. 

When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. 

Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. 

A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love ...  and what it really means to be brave.

My Thoughts:

I will start by saying everything about this book is absolutely beautiful. Initially I was drawn in by the distinctive and quite stunning visual on the cover. I was also fascinated by the outline of the story and wondered how it was possible to merge the past with the present. Rest assured it works, it really, really works. 

This is Colin's story, it is also Natalie and Rose's story. When Rose is diagnosed with diabetes it is up to Natalie to help her young daughter through. Although not surrounded by water like Colin, the times are turbulent and choppy for them. It will take them a certain kind of strength and bravery to make it through. 

Natalie decides to use Colin's story of his time at sea as a distraction during Rose's treatment and together with Colin they find their way to land, unified and no longer afloat on a mass of emotions and anxiety. 

The writing is spectacular, the author has a real gift for storytelling, that is rare. Perhaps, because it is based on facts it seems all the more real.

For me, it was Colin's story, his bravery and time at sea, that touched me the most. The author managed to create a sense of time and place with immaculate skill. You could almost feel the salt water spray on your skin and sense the endless days drawing out. This is where the most poignancy in the story lie for me. 

I was staggered to learn that this is the Authors debut novel. It was so assured, so well written and I felt privileged to read it, as if I too had been on a journey that will stay with me.

We can all be brave when it is needed most, it takes courage and people around us to survive. The human spirit can be indomitable. 

Please read this, I defy you not to be moved in some way too.

About the Author:
Louise has always been haunted by the sea, and regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull - the UK's 2017 City of Culture. She loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums' Army on Lizzie and Carl's BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show. This is her first book.
You can follow her on Twitter: @LouiseWriter