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Smash Lits with Polly Samson

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1) How do you organise your book shelves?

The bookshelves are all full.  They are hopelessly disorganized, though in the sitting room I have a book case dedicated to my late mother-in-law’s books and another to those of my late aunt.  Finding the books I need on their shelves makes me feel close to both women and their taste in fiction is very much in line with mine.  Lots of Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Taylor, du Maurier and yards of lovely green-spined Viragos.  All the new books that make their way in to the house live in piles up the stairs.

2) What would your superhero power be?

To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.

3) What is your favourite cheese?

Babybel but mainly for the making of lips with the wax after it’s eaten.

4) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

An explosion of 70s orange and yellow discs

5) What was your favourite book as a child?

Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops

6) What was the last text you sent?

To my son to confirm that I’ll collect him from the train

7) Who would play Julia and Julian in the film of your book?

I hope a couple of  previously unknown actors who both go on to win Oscars for their roles.

8) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon.  I’ve never craved Tofu or heard it sizzle invitingly.

9) What colour is Tuesday?

Yellow, obviously.

10) Have you ever had a nickname?

Many:  Clarence (the cross-eyed lion) was particularly unwelcome as a six-year-old with a squint.

11) What is the oldest item of clothing in your wardrobe?

My dad’s toweling T-shirt

12) Do you have a favourite pen?

Yes, but it’s a fountain pen so I am often cross with it.

13) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

As a child I got a book out of the library about it and it kept me awake for years.  Wish you hadn’t reminded me.

(Oops, sorry.)

14) Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or paper?

No.

15) Have you ever had your fortune told?

Yes.

16) How do you put your duvet cover on?

I don’t have a duvet.  

17) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

Never seen it so I don’t know.

*Gasp*

18) What’s your favourite swear?

Hells bells and buckets of blood.

19) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Hilary Mantel?

I don’t want to go on a picnic with Hilary Mantel.

20) What question should I have asked you?

I am sated.

Thank you so much for taking part in Smash Lits, Polly.

I reviewed Polly’s latest novel, The Kindness, here and throughly recommend it to fans of sumptuous prose and twisty stories. All sorts of information (and gorgeous pictures) can be found at Polly’s website.

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

I was given Adult Onset by my boss. (I think she is my reading twin and it’s very cool to have met someone whose reading tastes seems to chime so exactly with my own.) I’d never heard of Ann-Marie MacDonald before, but wow, Adult Onset is a stunning novel and MacDonald is an exceptional writer.

The novel is about motherhood and family and how the past informs the present. I won’t be able to do it justice here. Please trust me when I say it’s rare to read someone who writes with such insight and has the ability to portray the workings of a mind reaching for distant truths with such clarity.

Mary Rose is marred to Hilary. They have adopted one child and Hilary has given birth to another. Mary Rose has chosen to stay home and be “Mumma” and during the week in which the novel takes place Hilary is working away. Beginning on Monday and finishing on Sunday we journey alongside Mary Rose as she negotiates her way through the days of toddler tantrums, domestic crises, parent’s, siblings, and her aching arm; the result of childhood bone cysts, which niggles and nags and flares, beginning the examination of her past.

This book is so damn quotable. Paragraph after paragraph of amazing writing.

“How do you tell yourself what you already know? If you have successfully avoided something, how do you know you have avoided it?”

And

“Mary Rose felt guilty for not feeling warm and happy. Instead of melting into a smile, she felt her face go positively Soviet in a pre-glasnost kind of way. She knew she looked like Brezhnev and there was nothing she could do about it. If she rummaged in her basement, she could probably find the box marked WARM AND HAPPY. But who knew what else might be down there, she didn’t have time to go through it all.”

And

“Mary Rose has thought Rochelle socially awkward, but it dawns on her now that Rochelle may be that rare personality type, the Fearless Pauser.”

So excellent. I will now hunt down everything she has written.

Incidentally, I knew nothing about the author until after I finished reading. I thought this the finest novel I’ve read since Miriam Toews’ superb “All My Puny Sorrows” and it’s interesting to discover that not only are both Canadian, but that this novel is also apparently somewhat autobiographical. I think there’s something incredibly powerful about the truth that comes from fiction and wonder if what makes these novels so strong is the honesty that resonates with the reader.

The Kindness by Polly Samson

Julia meets Julian when she’s flying her husband’s hawk in Wychwood, and so begins a novel which is told in a series of ever illuminating flashbacks. Despite the age gap between them, and Julia’s existing unhappy marriage, they fall deeply in love and make a life for themselves in London. Their daughter, Mira, adds to their happiness and when Julian’s beloved childhood home, Firdaws, is up for sale he does all he can to buy it to recreate his idea of a perfect family home. It is when Mira becomes desperately ill that everything unravels. As we slide back and forth in time we see devastating heartbreak and discover a lie that poisons everything.

Samson is a gloriously evocative writer. She conjures the countryside and all its scents, sounds and sights beautifully, but is equally vivid writing about homes, clothes, life.

“She pokes her stick among the branches, unzipping the sound of angry buzzing, ‘Oh, but so many wasps,’ she says, batting her hands. The smell of the hot fruit has never pleased him, something too much like tom-cat pee. Where she parts the bush he can see a pair of figs hanging like purple testicles and he’s already trying to scoot off but she’s rushing with him, saying what a shame it is that no one gets to eat those delicious looking figs, her little legs working hard, two strides to his one.”

I really don’t want to give anything away and the plot is such that it would be easy to, so it’s best to just say that The Kindness is a novel to immerse yourself in and I imagine it will be a book club favourite.

I wrote this (and if you read it I’ll be glad).

I’m chuffed that the very lovely Camroc Press review have published my flash “What’s Coming” today. And I just reread it and still like what I wrote. Imagine that. Please feel free to feed my fragile ego and tell me how much you like it. (Not even gonna put a winky face here.)

Gavin Emsworth at The Pygmy Giant

My brother sent me an email about a twunty colleague of his and I liked some of his lines so much I took ’em and turned them into a flash which the lovely folk at The Pygmy Giant have just published. It was fun to try and write in my brother’s voice and shape it into a wee story; I just hope his workmate doesn’t happen upon it and recognise himself.

Smash Lits with Carys Bray

I’m so glad that Carys has taken part in Smash Lits. She wrote one of my favourite books of the year, “A Song For Issy Bradley” which has been widely praised and is now on the prestigious shortlist of the 2014 Costa First Book Prize. Yay Carys! Anyway, without further ado:

1) Ian is described as “Superman in a Burton suit” – who would you be?

That is such a good question – argh! I would be Bibliogirl in an origami dress.

Ooh, I love that!

2) Do you have any recurring dreams?

Yes, and they’re both horrible! One involves my teeth falling out and the other involves a school reunion and the sudden realisation that I’m not wearing enough clothes.

3) Have you ever seen a ghost?

No (and I don’t believe in them).

4) What’s your favourite sweet?

I love Thornton’s Viennese truffles, yum.

5) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I haven’t watched Neighbours for years. Erm, Libby Kennedy!

6) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

I remember a whole school assembly in which I had to stand up and receive a dressing down for being late for school that morning. I absolutely wasn’t late – my mum was probably the most organised parent in the universe, I don’t think I was ever late for school – and I was only four. By that evening I was covered in hives and my mum was furious.

7) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

Not spontaneously, no.

8) What colour is Tuesday?

Oh, that’s easy, orange.

9) What is your favourite swear?

I didn’t swear for the first 30 years of my life because swearing was a sin, so I’m a late developer. I quite like near-miss swears, like twunt and nucking-futter.

I adore twunt, it’s such a satisfying word.

10) Tofu VS Bacon. Who wins? Why?

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Bacon. The bacony smell is one of the best smells ever. In fact, I think they should make bacon perfume.

Carys, they do make bacon perfume – lookit.

11) What is the picture on your wall?

I have a picture of ruby slippers and ‘There’s no place like home.’

12) What was the last text you sent?

A text telling son 3 that no, I couldn’t bring his drum sticks and music book to school because I was on a train to Liverpool.

13) How do you organise your book shelves?

I used to organise them by colour but the kids teased me so much that I changed them and now I’ve got short stories in one place and novels/favourite novels, poetry etc. elsewhere.

14) Who would play the character of Claire in the film of your book?

Suranne Jones because she’s a great actress, she’s northern and I think she’d be brilliant at the harried/resigned combo.

15) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

Something flocked in red. My violin teacher used to have this amazing red, velvety wallpaper and I remember stroking it as I waited for my lesson to start.

16) Have you ever read someone else’s diary?

Yes. My mum has written in a diary every day since I was born and I sneaked a peek a few times when I was a teenager (I’m pretty sure she returned the favour, so it’s all good).

17) What is your most vivid childhood memory?

I think this is a trick question – it’s one of those memory tests to make sure I can remember the vivid childhood memory I described in answer to number 6!

Oops! 

18) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Margaret Atwood?

I did a little research (because who wouldn’t, if they were going on a picnic with Margaret Atwood) and discovered that she doesn’t answer questions about favourite foods, colours etc. because she has a hard time deciding favourites. I remember reading that she took the Veggie Vows during the tour of The Year of the Flood, so I’d do Greek salad wraps

19) What is your Book of the Year?

Probably All My Puny Sorrows, which I first read about on your blog!

It is stunning isn’t it. So glad you read about it here *chuffed*

20) What question should I have asked you?

I like the questions you asked. It was a relief not to be asked about novel 2 and Mormonism – thank you!

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

One of my favourite bookseller tasks is recommending books. It’s so cool to enthusiastically share thoughts on ace reads. Of course often people aren’t looking for something that chimes with my tastes, but that’s ok too. I pride myself on being able to match folk with the right books. The thing I find the hardest is when someone asks for a funny read. Humour is subjective and I am often unamused by things people appear to find hilarious. Most of the novels I read are not exactly happy and a request for a light, enjoyable read can stump me when it comes to thinking of something I have genuinely enjoyed. My oft favoured approach is, “This is very popular and is meant to be funny.”

“Dear Committee Members” actually had me laughing out loud, although, somewhat typically of things I admire, there is a darkness too. It’s an epistolary novel (which I’m not that fond of usually) composed entirely of letters of recommendation written by Jason Fitger, a jaded professor of creative writing at a small college in midwest America. His own novels have not brought him the success he once seemed likely to have, his marriage has failed, and he is languishing at the bottom of the college hierarchy. Nonetheless, colleagues and students endlessly request letters of recommendation from him and he turns these into a truly hilarious and bitter art-form.

“My colleague Franklin Kentrell has asked me to recommend him for a Galloway Foundation research and Travel Award. I would have quickly refused with a clear conscience except that Kentrell penned a Galloway recommendation for me a dozen years ago (I did not receive the award), and in his oily, sidewinding way, he trapped me in the corridor this morning, clutched the lapel of my jacket with his untrimmed nails, and suggested that “tit for tat was only fair.”

Kentrell will never survive round #1 in your deliberations; therefore, secure in the knowledge that this letter will soon join thousands of its brethren in a  rolling bin destined for recycling— presumably before it is read—I am comfortable endorsing this application.”

His attempts to help his favourite student, a troubled and broke young man, and repair relations with his exes, add poignancy to the fun, and what at first seems a light read becomes something rather more.

(Thanks to Scott Pack for sending me a copy of this.)

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