Time to Read Blog

"There’s so much going on beneath the skin": author Caroline England on her inspiration

Posted Monday 9 April 2018 by Caroline England in Author blogs

Caroline England writes about her writing influences and inspiration.

"Writers are often asked what has inspired their writing. For me it’s both fiction and real life.

Switch BitchI discovered Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch and his other short story collections as a teenager. I loved the intriguing spiteful tales with their dark twists and surprises. Crime fiction has always been my first choice of holiday reading, from Agatha Christie as a child through to Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and more recently Mark Billingham and Jo Nesbo. I adored Mary Wesley’s surprisingly risqué stories and I’m a big fan of Maggie O’Farrell and Kate Atkinson’s contemporary books.

England beneath skinThough my novels Beneath the Skin (published by Avon HarperCollins last October) and My Husband’s Lies (out on 17th May 2018) are at the ‘domestic noir’ end of the crime fiction umbrella, I think my writing has been influenced by the blend of the above two genres, so I write about contemporary lives but with intrigue and complications, love and betrayal, friendship and secrets. I certainly love to explore what goes on behind closed doors!

I studied Law at university and worked as a solicitor in Manchester, initially specialising in divorce and matrimonial cases, later moving on to professional indemnity work, where I represented lawyers, accountants, surveyors and other professionals accused of negligence.

These areas of my career have very much influenced my writing. I met people at their lowest ebb, emotionally stressed and exposed, having to bare their souls and admit to their darkest deeds, sometimes keeping secrets and telling lies (like the characters I write about!) It was a little like a being a therapist, I was seeing people naked, effectively; raw, human emotion. 

Husband's liesAs a trainee, I was involved in representing clients charged with crime. I accompanied my boss as a Duty Solicitor, sat in on police interviews, visited prisoners in Strangeways and spent many hours frequenting the local magistrates courts. Some of the ‘criminals’ were bad people, but others were often young people who had lost their way.

People going through divorce are at their nadir too. Sometimes they have to admit to horrible truths about their own behaviour or make allegations against someone they once loved, or face the heartbreak of adultery and betrayal.

Although an allegation of a professional mistake might seem lighter in comparison, it isn’t necessarily so. It’s often a frightening slur to one’s name, a dreadful dent in a persons professional pride and reputation. The allegation could arise in many and varied ways, sometimes relating to the misappropriation of money.

When I left the law, I became a volunteer mediator for the City Council, which again was fascinating. This time I heard not one, but two or more points of view, two or more versions of truth, which is very much what story telling is about. 

I’m captivated by people and the human condition; how we’re all different but the same, how we’re all flawed and frail but put on a brave face, when there’s so much going on beneath the skin. If you read my books, you’ll find such characters on the page!

"I’m captivated by people and the human condition; how we’re all different but the same, how we’re all flawed and frail but put on a brave face, when there’s so much going on beneath the skin."

I came to the writing game a little later in life, but when I thought about it, I realised I’d always been ‘writing’ in a way - as a child I had made up stories before sleep, then as a lawyer there had been pleas of mitigation and statements, divorce petitions and pleadings, detailed reports to insurers (that felt longer than a novel!)

Turns out my creative writing skills were developed at work without me knowing it!"

www.carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

A Vintage evening: book previewing in Manchester

Posted Wednesday 28 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events, Opinion

Vintage inviteOne of the serious perks of being the co-ordinator of Time To Read (well, apart from working from home with my dog, Gusto, sleeping on my lap while I’m typing) is being invited to book launches and there was a particularly good one put on by Vintage this week which I want to tell you about.

The Vintage 2018 preview event took place in the wonderful Waterstones at Deansgate in Manchester on a mild Monday evening.  It turns out that the bookshop has a secret events room behind double doors by the Costa on the top floor.

So what happens? Well, you walk in and there’s free drinks (wine and juice) as well as free nibbles (the best Marks and Spencers can offer) and six authors waiting around for the event to start. This is a great time to speak to them, as they’ve not formally been introduced yet and people are a bit stand-offish. I chickened out of talking to Irvine Welsh and instead spoke to the very friendly Abir Mukherjee, who’s an old hand at such things and politely underestimated my age, and Damian Le Bas and his wife, who were fascinating.

Then the event properly started and we all took our seats to listen to the speakers and to people form the publishers. The first speaker described who was there, including not only a sprinkling of us librarians, but also staff from Waterstones, independent bookshops and book bloggers. The publishers then summarised their favourite forthcoming books from other authors, including two which caught my eye – Star of the North by DB John, due out in May, about child abductions carried out by North Korea and the new one by Yuval Noah Harari, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”.  If you’ve not read any Harari, well, start now … but don’t miss this one. The man is a genius.

Irvine WelshOK, now on to the speakers. Irvine Welsh, the megastar in the room, was first on and literally set his stopwatch at the start to make sure he did not speak too long. He was there to speak about his “third real Trainspotters” book Dead Men’s Trousers.  This is a “twisted redemption” for his characters.

Then we had Damian Le Bas whose Stopping Places is about his journey to places in the UK which Damian Le Bashad links to Travellers. I checked with him and he’s also fine with the terms Gypsies and Romany, although the fact I had to do this showed how touchy the subject still is, even in 2018. And, yes, some people do use the socially unacceptable term “pikey” but I bet none of them knew that they do so because it comes from the old word “turnpike”, which is a road-toll. He’s full of fascinating information like that and has a real flair for description, as his reading of his trip to Appleby Fair in Cumbria demonstrated. Did you know that you can so carefully control a coin toss that heads can come up nine times out of ten?

Diana EvansDiana Evans came nest with Ordinary People, a novel about black British middle class people from the day Obama was elected to the death of Michael Jackson in the same year. Themes like parenthood and middle age are touched on as is, of course, race, which she made clear was “not just a black person’s problem. Again there’s some good turns of phrase like the description of "Obama walking out victorious on to the bulletproof stage".  I love fact as well that the book has a playlist.

Andrew MacMillanPoetry is a notoriously hard sell but Andrew McMillan, now based in Manchester, gives it his best shot. Like his previous book, Physical is very graphic and eyewateringly personal, with lightning-quick turns of phrase that shock almost as much as the meteorological phenomenon itself. It’s about a homosexual adolescence but is basically also about awkwardness and the pains of growing up generally.

Christie WatsonThe next speaker grabbed the attention of everyone from the start. The story of a child dying in your arms from burns and the smell of her hair as it is washed is going  to stay with me for a long time. Such is the work of Christie Watson, whose book “The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story is, for my money, going to be – or damn well should be – the bestselling book here.  She’s a nurse in the NHS and talks about kindness as well as life and death. She is an absolutely riveting speaker and can move  from gruesome morbidity to humour in a minute. I think the time has come for this as it’s not misery fiction – it’s kindness non-fiction – and from a nurse, not a doctor or a midwife. I did video snaps of the other authors but I forgot to do it with Christie, she was that good.  There was a 14-way auction for the rights to this book and I can see why.

Abir MukherjeeAh, but then we had the infinitely likeable Abir Mukherjee –whose “Smoke and Ashes” is the third in a detective series based in 1920s India. It’s a good backdrop for thrillers and he does it well, with the latest being about the shameful medical tests done on Indian troops at the time, mixed in with preparations for the arrival of Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) in Calcutta. I’ve not come across his work before but I’m going to jolly well read some now.

Abir then proved very popular in the next stage of the evening, which was a social get-together with the authors, although poor Irvine Welsh – who I suspect was too famous to be socially talked to – had to stand around for a bit while people just came up to him to autograph his new book. Oooh, did I mention there were piles of free copies of the books to just pick up? That’s rather good isn’t it? Or it would have been if I had not been so intent on speaking to people I forgot to get them until it was too late. Such are the problems of such a good evening. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

WowFest 2018

Posted Monday 19 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Latest Libraries News

Wowfest 2018WoWfest 2018 – CROSSING BORDERS responds to recent national and international political, social and cultural developments around issues of Brexit/The EU, migration, race, inclusion/exclusion, diversity, and nationalism. While Trump talks of building walls, and borders are back on the international agenda, WoWFEST 2018 - Crossing Borders will explore messages of togetherness, hope and inclusivity by building stories and experiences around the thoughts, ideas and hopes of our communities for the society and identity they wish to build for themselves and each other in the wake of Brexit.

working class writersWith the impact of Brexit hotly contested and unbridled Trumpery across the Atlantic, WoWFest 2018 – CROSSING BORDERS will explore literature, art, ideas, and practice that has transgressed and challenged accepted ways of thinking. From migrant literature to refugee stories, prisoner stories and translated works, we’ll be discussing race, gender, sexuality, Europe, politics, activism, satire, collaboration, grime music, and technology.

Shami CharkrabartiIn venues across the city WoWfest 2018 – CROSSING BORDERS will break down barriers - technological, geographic and those that frame our identity and ways of living.  Local national and international writers, artists and commentators will debate and discuss ideas of nationalism and identity and their impact on society, culture and artistic creation.  They’ll consider whether the gates protecting the most elite communities need to be torn down in the name of Social Justice and the Grenfell survivors. Subverting the theme, we’ll be exploring borders that need to be fortified #metoo. With guests including Lily Allen, Lowkey (and many more to be announced), WoWfest 2018 – CROSSING BORDERS will defy expectations, entertain and challenge, and invite you to get involved.
 
WoWfest 2018 is dedicated to Linda Meagor who crossed many borders and was an asset to many arts organisations and communities.

Bookmark this: Oldham Bookmark Festival returns in May

Posted Monday 19 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events

Oldham BookMark Festival 2018The ever-popular Bookmark Festival returns for a long weekend of fantastic fun-filled, book-related events and activities.

Expect returning popular guests, new literary voices and familiar favourites. There’s certainly something for everyone, celebrating reading in all its finest forms. See the full programme here. Book tickets here.

Events for adults include: 

bookmark crimeThe Life of Crime: Crime writers’ workshop with Jane McNulty

Do you want to write the perfect murder story? Looking for that perfect twist? Join Salford writer and playwright Jane McNulty in our Life of Crime mystery workshop. Learn how to create and handcraft your own crime stories, avoiding the regular tropes and clichés.

Mandasue Heller and David Mark

Two writers of thrilling and nail bitingly tense stories return to Oldham to discuss how and why they love writing about crime and punishment. Both bestselling authors know the dark streets of Manchester and Hull, the settings for their page turning crime thrillers. Manchester’s Mandasue Heller (author of the top ten bestsellers Run and Afraid) will be discussing her latest novel, Save Me and journalist and crime reporter David Mark will be discussing his latest book Scorched Earth.

Bookish

BookishFive mini comedy shows each inspired by a different book and you get to choose which ones you see! Performed by Laura Mugridge and Tom Adams with live original music, a quiz and the stories of what happened when they tried to research the books. There will be a live vote on the night, and two shows (books) will be performed. Suitable for 10+. The five books are:The London A-Z, Ginger - My Story (the autobiography of Ginger Rogers), The Remains Of The Day, The Dairy Book.

Afternoon Tea with Milly Johnson

Sunday Times Top Five bestselling author Milly Johnson hosts an afternoon in a beautiful park and a feast of finger sandwiches, delicious cakes and scones. Born and bred in Barnsley, Milly is also an after-dinner speaker, poet, cruise correspondent, columnist, scriptwriter and a joke-writer for the greetings card industry. She writes about love and life in present day Yorkshire and makes no apologies for the happy endings.

Katie ThistletonKatie Thistleton

Join CBBC’s TV and radio presenter Katie Thistleton as she talks about mental health and her new book Dear Katie: Real Problems, Real Advice. Katie will share anecdotes from her own experiences, as well as advice found in her book on some of the most common problems and worries associated with growing up. With a bright, positive attitude, Katie will leave you feeling happier and more confident, safe in the knowledge that whoever you are, you are unique.

An Austentatious Murder Austentatious

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Acknowledging Jane Austen as one of mankind’s most gifted writers on the subject of love and the human condition, tech developers have created the ‘Austen Algorithm’ - the key to finding the perfect partner! The new app Dating Mr Darcy is due to be launched at an Austen themed gala celebration. But moments before the app goes live, its creator is found dead - Someone has quite literally broken her heart!

An Afternoon with Simon Mayo

Oldham BookMark Festival 2018Join Simon Mayo for an afternoon of relaxed conversation around his debut adult novel, Mad Blood Stirring. Inspired by real events and real characters, the novel tells the story of the American sailors held captive in Dartmoor Prison during the Second War of American Independence.

The award-winning and popular BBC Radio 2 presenter, Book Club leader and author will be interviewed by ITV’s Caroline Whitmore. Caroline has worked for ITV for almost twenty years and is now the entertainment correspondent for Granada Reports. She meets a whole host of celebrities on a daily basis from Kylie Minogue to George Clooney and classes Take That and Peter Kay as friends.

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Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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