Writing

Review: One-day Urban Writing Retreat, London

It’s quickly clear that Charlie Haynes has hit on an entrepreneurial concept that works: writers will pay good money to sit in a room without the distractions of the phone or the Internet.

Continue reading “Review: One-day Urban Writing Retreat, London”

Film, Journalism

Women and Hollywood: A Review of the WFTV Discussion

The perception of women in Hollywood is fraught with judgement and jealousy.

Even now, women in the film and television industry are being sized up not on their talent, but on their appearance.

Why are studios determining the right person for the job based on their sex?  Continue reading “Women and Hollywood: A Review of the WFTV Discussion”

Books, Writing

Novel News: J.K. Rowling’s New Book Cover Revealed!

Bestselling author J.K. Rowling, 46, has revealed the cover of her first adult book, The Casual Vacancy, which will be published by Little, Brown and Company on 27th September 2012.

‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling – Image courtesy of The Telegraph

The striking but simple yellow, red and black cover with white titles indicates a huge departure from Rowling’s previous work. The Harry Potter series, with which she made her name, used colourful character drawings on the cover to attract a younger audience.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling’s last release

Her last novel – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in a series of seven – was published in 2007. Rowling has since earned an OBE for services to children’s literature, as well as having been awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur, the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.

J.K. Rowling. Image from Little, Brown

The Casual Vacancy will centre on a small English town, Pagford, and the “blackly comic” parish council election that happens there.

“When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Seemingly an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war,” say Rowling’s publishers, Little, Brown. “[The character’s passing is] the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen.”

The author is currently estimated to be worth more than £620 million from the Harry Potter brand.

What do you think of Rowling’s book cover? Will you be one of the first to buy her new novel? Comment below!

Books, Journalism, Writing

Want a six-figure publishing deal? Here’s how Kathleen MacMahon did it…

The name ‘Kathleen MacMahon’ has been on the tips of literary tongues since April 2011, when the award-winning Irish journalist picked up a €684,000 advance and a two-book deal from Little, Brown at the London Book Fair for her début novel, This Is How It Ends.

Continue reading “Want a six-figure publishing deal? Here’s how Kathleen MacMahon did it…”

Books

A Book You Wish You Could Live In: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The crazy, mad world of today is hardly ever quiet: from the bleeping of text messages, banging of doors, screeching of owls, and the blaring of the radio, sometimes curling up with a great book in your warm bed or a snug armchair can be the best way to get away from it all.

When we read, we immerse ourselves completely in the universe that the author has created: we visualise the sprawling setting, hear the thoughts and comments of the narrator and envisage the different characters. We allow ourselves to be swept away by the world of the story. If we are not convinced by the tale the writer has produced, we simply cannot believe in it.

A book must be spilling over with imagination.

‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ by J.K. Rowling

That is why the book I wish I could live in would be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. Published in July 1999 by Bloomsbury, it became an instant bestseller, satisfying the cravings of Harry fans worldwide.

Not only did Jo Rowling stay faithful to the original world she had established in the first books of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (both of which I will discuss in this book challenge), she went above and beyond readers’ expectations. Revealing the new setting of the enchanting wizard village of ‘Hogsmeade’, showcasing the new characters of Professor Remus J. Lupin and Sirius Black (the latter being briefly mentioned in Book 1) to name but a few, and adding the chilling Dementors, scary Boggarts and majestic Hippogriffs to the list of astounding creatures that inhabit the Potter universe all served to enhance J.K. Rowling’s story.

WANTED: The Azkaban Prison escapee, Sirius Black

As her protagonist, Harry, learns more about his father and why his parents died, we, the readers, follow him on his journey into the past, and, indeed, the future. The book is jam-packed with plot twists, seemingly insignificant but vital characters (Scabber and Crookshanks) and the author’s ever-present humour (Harry inflates his aunt before he returns to Hogwarts).

His discovery of the Marauder’s Map (an enchanted piece of parchment, mapping the school grounds and detailing the whereabouts of everyone on it) gives a whole new dimension to the secrets that can be uncovered in Hogwarts. It aides Harry in his adventures and proves to be a source of increased tension among the characters, in the midst of a renowned murderer on the loose. This map, however, is not the only outstanding magical object in Prisoner of Azkaban; in fact, my personal favourite is Hermione Granger’s Time Turner. The scenes that it is featured in are beautifully written and wonderfully evoked.

Hermione’s Time Turner

The world that J.K. Rowling captures in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of mystery, beauty and magic. Remarkably, this is the only book in which Lord Voldemort, the series’ villain, does not make an appearance, and the novel does not suffer for it. Rather, the novel’s strength is based on its engaging characters, its prose, and its originality, which is why it is the book I wish I could live in.

What book would you choose?

Books

Favourite Book: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

As I type this on my clattering keyboard, my wooden bookshelf sits opposite me, groaning under the weight of literature and film it has accumulated since it happily took up residence in my bedroom at the beginning of the year. (Only five shelves to contain the majority of books I own, plus my entire DVD collection. I mean, really?!) Crammed ledges are starting to feel the burden, as they are crushed slowly under the pressure of The Shelf.

The Bookshelf… a lot more full now than when I first got it!

Every bibliophile can spot The Shelf from a mile away – the scent of freshly bought written word, the sight of devoured, eagerly-page-turned novels, or the delicate and deliberate order in which the books are allocated a place. The Shelf exists for the sole reason of stocking the selection of your favourite worldwide literature, perused over your lifetime, each chosen carefully to permanently reside on this ledge. They have proudly retired here after earning their badge of honour: your thorough enjoyment. The Shelf is the very persona of your book passion. It is the essence of flowing words, effortless communication and graceful composition by gifted authors, celebrating their creative skill side by side. It is your Holy Grail of Prose. It is the victorious army of successful published authors, who have bravely risen from the grey smoke drifting across the battlefield of wounded writers who didn’t make the cut. It is…well, you get my drift.

Flanked by bestselling novelists, dramatic titles, French translations and histories of Modern Ireland, my most preferred book to date nestles quietly on The Shelf between its younger siblings, Human Traces (2005) and A Week in December (2009), both fleshed out by the same author, Mr. Sebastian Faulks, of whose wondrous talent I have developed a ridiculous amount of respect, not just because he hails from possibly the best city in the world.

‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks

I have to be honest. I did not stumble upon this masterpiece of a novel merely by chance. Birdsong (1993) was recommended to me by some well-read old friends: remarkably, they couldn’t explain exactly why they loved it, but just urged me to read it. Curious, I began my foray into the world of Stephen and Isabelle, never to look back. I was immediately hooked on the immortal and poignant tale of love and war, set amongst the roaring French trenches of World War One. Its simple cover – a black outline of a soldier and a crucifix – barely alludes to the captivating tale between its pages, but perhaps the magic of this story is its sweet integrity and the passion with which Faulks tells it.

The wonderful characters jump out from the pages, each with their own distinctive personality, traits and feelings. The author vividly describes his journey with them in the introduction of the novel. His well-honed voice speaks clearly and directly to the reader, as he recounts his exploration into their world. This personal glimpse of Faulks’ literary experience offers a unique and rare view of his writing career: from the perspective of the author himself. He reveals snippets of his reasons for Birdsong‘s creation – “in the opening section, I wanted the texture of the prose to increase the sense of social and sexual claustrophia” – and simultaneously evokes an honest and moving portrayal of a writer hard at work. “Sometimes I felt choked by rage and indignation; […] at other times, in the spring sunshine, among the headstones, I felt oddly tranquil and at ease, as though among friends. […] Could I really do this thing?”

The introduction is only the beginning. The story of Birdsong is one that has truly captured my imagination and set it on fire. I am always inspired when I read Faulks’ elegant narrative, see his three-dimensional characters stroll about in my head, and witness the flashes of genius present in his writing.

Out of all the books I have read over the last fifteen years, this novel has had the most profound effect on me, as a writer and as a human being. Faulks’ tale is sheer magnificence, which is why Birdsong has received the title of my Favourite Book. I may not always be so in love with the exquisite literature that pours from its pages, but it will always be there, waiting on The Shelf, for the day when its words will once again see light.