Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Seven in June

I read seven books in June.

Calling Major Tom by David M. Barnett
Read on Kindle. Think of a story where a highly trained astronaut is about to leave on a one-way trip to Mars, his task to take ten years to set up a colony there. However, when he dies before take-off his place is taken by forty-year-old Thomas Major (and yes, he is Bowie fan) who is unqualified for the job except that he is so unhappy he relishes the thought of the forthcoming solitude. Now think of the Ormerods, a family firmly rooted on Mother Earth, where a teenage girl is desperately holding things together for herself, her little brother and their increasingly forgetful granny, terrified that bureaucracy will separate them.

It seems impossible at first that these stories could plausibly coincide. Yet they do, in this cleverly constructed and heart-warming book.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
OK, I cracked. I couldn’t leave my last two Liane Moriartys unread any longer. They lay at the side of my bed saying … go on, you know you want to …
Hypnotherapist Ellen is fascinated by what makes people tick. So when she falls in love with Patrick, the fact that he has a stalker doesn't faze her in the slightest. If anything it intrigues her, and the more she hears about Saskia, the more she wants to meet this woman. But what Ellen doesn't know is that they've already met . . .
Not my favourite, which remains The Last Anniversary, but once embarked upon not to be put down until finished.

Truly Madly Guilt by Liane Moriarty
Some similarity to Big Little Lies – an event at a social function has unexpected consequences and results in someone’s death. Terrific characters – I loved Vin in particular, and little Ruby just jumped off the page.

So that’s where my bingeing has got me … no unread Liane Moriartys; I can only hope she is typing at top speed at this very moment.

Foreign Fruit by Jojo Moyes
On the bright side I found a Jojo Moyes I hadn’t read at the Christian Aid booksale and enjoyed it very much too. Set partly in the 1950s and partly fifty years later, the story centres around Arkadia, an Art Deo House, in a staid English seaside town. Notorious in its early days for its bohemian inhabitants, it falls into disrepair until its transformation into a hotel uncovers past secrets.

Autumn by Ali Smith
Read for Book Group. I must admit, because I thought it would be a difficult read, that I put off starting it until the Sunday morning before the Monday evening meeting – but then found myself completely involved and read the first 150 pages without looking up, finishing it in the afternoon. Her writing is mesmerisingly good. There’s not a plot as such but different stories illustrate the state of Britain in the time of Brexit. It has some very funny scenes such as when Elisabeth is trying unsuccessfully to produce a suitable photograph for her new passport, and when two characters get onto a TV programme called The Golden Gavel (clearly AS is poking fun at Antiques Road Trip). An unexpected treat.

The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell
I loved Lisa Jewell’s earlier books but after I read, and wasn’t very keen on, The House We Grew Up In, I didn’t pick up her more of hers until I saw this one and liked the premise.
Lydia, Robyn and Dean don't know each other – yet.
It would be a spoiler to tell you what these three have in common so I’ll just say that it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for my favourite TV programme Long Lost Family. Loved it. Now I’m back being a Lisa fan with lots to catch up on.

The Boy that Books Built by Francis Spufford
Christian Aid Book Sale purchase. FS had a difficult childhood in some ways – good parents but also a little sister with a very rare medical condition. So he retreated into reading and in this beautifully written memoir he revisits his favourite childhood books. I think he’s a little younger than me but we both grew up before the ‘Young Adult’ book was a thing.

I was a retreater too, if not for the same reason, so I felt we were kindred spirits even if our tastes rarely coincide – for some reason the Narnia books completely passed me by and neither have I read Tolkein or Ursula Le Guin, all of which obsessed him. However, we are a hundred per cent on the same page about Little House on the Prairie; he has a wonderful chapter on the series, and its author, including an account of a visit he made (in order to write a newspaper feature) to De Smet, immortalised in the later books, and now trading on the fame Laura Ingalls Wilder brought to it.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Interview with Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax has written: Palace of Deception, The Scottish Diamond (standalone romantic mysteries featuring the same characters with a bonus story A Question by at Hogmanay if you buy the anthology); A Way from Heart to Heart; The Antique Love (voted Most Romantic Love Scene Ever by readers of Love, Romances and More); The Silk Romance and a short story with recipes Come Date Me in Paris.

Her latest novel Felicity at the Cross Hotel is published today, 7 July, as an e-book and in paperback. Isn't the cover gorgeous?

A quaint hotel in the Lake District. The Cross Hotel is the perfect getaway. Or is it?
Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …
Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he's forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.
With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves?

I was delighted to receive an advance copy and after I read it I had some questions for Helena:

Helena, welcome to Kate Writes and Reads. I really enjoyed Felicity at the Cross Hotel and one reason is that I think a hotel is such a brilliant setting for a novel because it’s a natural way for all sorts of people to come together. I wondered if you’d ever worked in a hotel yourself?

Thanks so much for having me, Kate! I'd been keen on the idea of the hotel setting for a while before I got down to writing Felicity at the Cross Hotel, and for exactly the reason you say. It's the perfect setting for people of all backgrounds to come together, and they could be at the hotel for all sorts of interesting reasons.

And yes, I have worked in a hotel myself. Just like my heroine, Felicity, I worked behind the bar one summer. The hotel I worked in was a family-run hotel in the Bavarian Alps. With my own hotel – halfway up the side of a mountain in a remote location – there were lots of similarities with my fictional Cross Hotel in the Lake District. There was the same sense of a family community, a mix of lots of different people, including a grumpy chef (I wonder if all chefs are grumpy!), and the same way that gossip spread like wildfire round the village.

You cleverly manage to get two sorts of hotels into the story. The Cross Hotel is a one-off family-run hotel while Felicity’s family is in the chain hotel business. Which would be your preference for a holiday?

When I go on holiday I really don't mind what the hotel is like, as I usually like to be out for most of the day sight-seeing. The Cross Hotel would be perfect for a relaxing break, though. I could imagine relaxing with my book on the terrace every day, with its gorgeous views to the lake, drinking tea and eating the chef's delicious cheesecake. (And it would be nice to get to know Patrick Cross, too!)

I see from your website that you live in an old Victorian mill town ‘right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors’. The book is set in the Lake District so not too far away from your home – is it an area you know well?

The Lakes aren't far at all from me and I used to visit often, especially the area round Ambleside and Coniston Water. The landscape in the Lakes is completely different from the rolling moors and hills round where I live in Yorkshire, and I love the drama and romance of the mountains. Even the sky appears different at times – more steely and dramatic. It's no wonder Wordsworth called his home ‘The loveliest spot that man hath ever found’.

Apart from the hotel, and the relationship between Felicity and Patrick, there are other strands to the story. One of them is Patrick’s love of diving. I don’t want to give any spoilers but we do read about Patrick recalling something that happened while he was diving years earlier. I really felt I was there with him in cold murky Lake Emmswater. What research did you do to evoke this so well?

I have been diving myself, but that was in the sea around Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean. It was an amazing experience, and the waters I dived were the favourite spot of Jacques Cousteau. I can understand why! The Caribbean Sea is crystal clear, and the fish darting past are every shade of jewel-like colours. It was also warm – unlike the water in the Lake District! Freshwater diving in a cold lake is very different from diving in warm seas, and I knew I would have to get some help with the research, to make sure I had every detail correct. In the end I got in touch with the divers of Penrith Divers' Club and asked if I could watch them kit up and enter the water – just to see how putting on a dry-suit for cold water diving was different from wearing the wet-suit suitable in the Caribbean. The divers were really interested in my story and incredibly helpful. They gave me a CD they'd recorded underwater and explained all the manoeuvres they'd undergo to deal with a situation such as the one that Patrick Cross faces in my book. They had some fascinating stories to tell, and having gone to meet them I made friends for life. Felicity at the Cross Hotel is dedicated to them.

Another strand is Felicity’s relationship with her parents and her younger sister. Her father is an unpleasant and ruthless businessman but also a loving family man. Have you ever met anyone like that in real life?

I have met someone like that in a place I once worked – a man who was quite cold and hard, and a bit of a bully in business, and yet with his own family he was always kind and generous. His children were open and friendly, and completely different to him. I thought it would be interesting to explore that father/child relationship between Felicity and her dad, because it must be very difficult for the children of such a father. Patrick Cross's father, too, ‘wasn't a very nice guy’, and yet Patrick has grown up to be unselfish, caring and thoughtful.

I was once part of a discussion in which several women including myself ‘admitted’ that they give their cars (and other inanimate objects) names. The men in the room were baffled by such behaviour … In the book, Felicity’s ancient car, Agnetha, is almost as much a character as the people. Does your car have a name?

It doesn't have a name – but I'm very attached to it! My car is also an old banger, but I feel it's like a trusty old horse. I know it sounds ridiculous, but getting rid of it would be like putting it out to pasture. I'd be really sad! On the other hand, I have had cars I couldn't get on with at all. Cars that were cumbersome and awkward to drive, and one that was a total drama queen and would break down if asked to drive over a puddle. I swear all cars have a personality!

What was the inspiration for the book? Having coming up with the hotel in its lovely setting do you think you’ll set other stories there?

This might sound crazy – and very far from my Lake District setting – but my heroine was actually inspired by the heroine of a Bollywood film called Jab We Met – a girl with a cheerful, lively personality who transforms everyone around her. I'm also a big fan of the TV series The Hotel Inspector, and I liked the idea of Felicity thinking up ways to rejuvenate the Cross Hotel. I have ideas for more stories in the same setting. At the moment, they are just ideas scribbled in my notebook, but one day I hope to see them fully fledged!

Thank you for answering my questions, Helena. All the best with the book and your writing.

Thanks so much for having me here, Kate, and for your thoughtful questions!

Felicity at the Cross Hotel is available now.

Find out more about/contact Helena:

Lake pictures by Pixaby