Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Witness launch for Cath Staincliffe

If you're in Manchester on Thursday, 28 April, pop in to Waterstone's on Deansgate around 6.30pm for the launch of crime writer Cath Staincliffe's new novel, Witness.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Gothic Scheherazade from Joanne Harris

Sleep, Pale Sister

Drugs, sex and --  only the rock 'n' roll is missing from Joanne Harris's novel, Sleep, Pale Sister (Black Swan). And it isn't the first time that great literature has been influenced by The Arabian Nights, for wasn't it Mary Shelley who used some of its elements for her own Gothic Frankenstein horror story?

Sleep, Pale Sister was one of the two novels written before the author hit the jackpot with Chocolat and since its debut in 1994, it's been revised and republished by demand. I think it's a great story in the Harris tradition, pacey, full of action, twists and dark surprises; it's about love and hate, revenge and treachery. Apart from the parallels to Scherherazade's escape from male domination with her storytelling techniques, I was minded of Wilkie Collins, Wilde, the Brontes, the pre-Raphaelites and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in turn. That's a lot to be reminded of. It's a dark novel with a tragic ending, splashed with visions of a netherworld and the murky side of life in the back streets of London, brothels and graveyards.

Dark Plot

Henry Paul Chester is a painter who has twice exhibited his work at the Royal Academy. But he's an odd bod with emotional scars from a childhood influenced by his minister father, whose home is steeped in religious paraphernalia and maternal neglect from his beautiful mother whom he rarely sees. On trying to gain her love, he succeeds only in gathering massive guilt, which mars his ability to show his true emotions. Svengali also comes to mind when he marries his main model, the 'stunner' who sits to him for his allegorical portraits reflecting young women.

Effie Shelbeck is only 10 when she first sits to Henry and, at 17 she becomes the 40-year-old artist's wife. (Interesting that John Ruskin married a teenage bride called Effie Gray.)  Henry keeps her in check with regular doses of laudanum, which she promptly pours into the plants, a quite natural reaction for a spirited young woman you might say. Quietly, she makes a life of her own in another world, in the rather dubious company of Mose Harper, poet and philanderer and his friend brothel keeper Fanny Miller, whose little daughter Marta was murdered by 'a client'. Effie is a bit of a witch -- Harris seems to specialise in these -- and has out-of-body experiences where she identifies the murderer and takes over Marta's identity. Need I say more?


Both Henry and Mose are fundamentally flawed, there is no Mr D'Arcy for poor Effie and she must suffer her fate a la Juliet. The novel is full of Gothic Victorian allusions, so much so that I felt that I'd already read the section on Henry's disillusionment with married life somewhere before but couldn't put my finger on it. He seemed a familiar character somehow. Perhaps he is typical of Victorian men. He requires perfection and wants to put Effie on a pedastal to adore from a distance. She is his muse, he has moulded her but Effie is human and has needs of her own. Mose, on the other hand, is a cad and womaniser who wants Effie solely for lust, to destroy her and he has no morals. Effie is neither of the women they want her to be and both men are using one another -- Henry is after Mose's connections in the art world and Mose wants access to his wife. Fanny wants her daughter back and poor Effie just wants To Be.

'God made women weak and perverse and full of treachery', says Henry. And what about men? What are they full of?

If you enjoy Joanne's books, why not log onto her website at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Found cat alert. Is this intruder yours?

Grumpy Old Cat stages a sit-in

It's very tiring being a cat. Fortunately, my job involves a great deal of sleep, so I have no time any more to write blogs. But it enables Her to get on with the important things, like cleaning my litter tray, filling up my various food bowls and changing my water, regular trips to the vet and bank, as she makes out my vet's fees and food bills are exorbitant. I'm only a cat, for heaven's sake. How much can it cost to keep one lousy cat?

Of course, if she didn't fall for the spare cat's theatrical act of bursting open my private door and pleading poverty and starvation every day, she'd only have one cat to pay for. I've heard her groan when she picks him up. There's obviously something heavy inside (like a free range chicken) and he plays on her sympathy by occupying her filing tray, fooling her into believing he's doing something useful.

Cry for help

So if anyone out there misses their cat for great lengths of time and recognises this intruder, or Spawn of the Devil as she calls him, please come and get him. It's gone beyond a joke.

Spawn of the Devil pretending to be useful

Lady cat column

And while I'm on the subject of superfluous devil-cats, have you noticed that The Lady magazine, not content with a tedious dog's column, (the idea of a dog being able to write is so ridiculous) have launched a cat's column too. Whatever next? Gertie the Goldfish blogs swimming tips? Soon there will be no space left for humans, or huwomens either for that matter.

Yours cattily
Harry the Cat, aged 21 this year
Presents gratefully received (especially food parcels)

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Next Big Author competition

There's a novel inside everyone! It's an old cliche and I don't believe it. Novels aren't inside us; they are between covers on bookshelves. Our life experiences might contribute to a novel but we don't all have the gift of turning them into a good read.

How to Enter

If you want to find out if you have that gift, five major publishers have joined forces with organisers youwriteon.com and The Next Big Author event to award one critique each to the top five entrants.

All you have to do is write the opening chapter (5,000-7,000 words) of a novel, any genre and upload them onto the http://www.youwriteon.com/ site between 17 and 31 May. You will find directions on there on how to do this. In June, you have to exchange reviews by reviewing and rating other entrants' opening chapters on the site. Every time you review a chapter, your chapter will be passed on for review in return. The minimum is four reviews. The five highest rated chapters will be announced on 1 July.

More details from http://www.thenextbigauthor.com/ and www.youwriteon.com/ The competition is funded by the Arts Council. The five publishers involved are Random House, Bloomsbury, Orion, Little,Brown and Hodder & Stoughton. Good luck!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Joanne's Lollipop Shoes - great fun and welcome change!

Keep starting books and abandoning them, so no point in blogging them. One was such a tale of disaster and misery, I couldn't bear to read further than Chapter 7. Another - authored by a major prizewinner - was the second book I'd given up by the same writer, whose style obviously doesn't appeal to me. Confusion over who was speaking, including the merging of some dialogue into the prose sentences with no speech marks, made it impossible to follow. Lots of brilliant research shone from the pages but out of character dialogue and tone put an end to it by Chapter 5.

I needed to be cheered up, so I turned to Joanne Harris and entered a world of witches and finger spells, magic and chocolates, suspended my disbelief for a few days and had a great time. The Lollipop Shoes (Black Swan) is a 2008 edition that I found in the library - thought I would support my local before the council added it to its list of closures. Kids ran around screaming and shouting, so I didn't stay long, popped into Cafe Rouge for a quiet drink and a read but kids were running around screaming there too. What is going on out there? Shades of Lord of the Flies?

Witchcraft in the chocolaterie

I come from a chocoholic family, famous in the area for its chocolate shop. So another chocolaterie story, especially in Paris, had more appeal than misery and confusion. Chocolat heroine, Yanne Charbonneau (aka Vianne Rocher) takes over an old cafe in Montmartre and turns it into the chocolaterie, continuing to run it after the owner, Marie-Louise Poussin has died. Her 11-year-old daughter Annie (aka Anouk) is being bullied at school and 4-year-old Rosette can't speak and is learning to sign. Business isn't so good. They are all a little witchy.

The status quo is shaken when witch's daughter with a past, Zozie de l'Alba (not her real name) with the pink-streaked hair and red shoes gradually ingratiates herself with Annie and from there to Yanne. This is all calculated to wreak havoc for them under the guise of friendship. Yanne absorbs Zozie into their lives and into the shop, where she becomes indispensable. Zozie makes finger spells and changes people, some for the better, winning everyone's confidence. Annie, with Zozie's support makes some finger signs of her own, beats the bullies and the shop prospers.

Landlord, prosperous snob Thierry le Tresset wants to marry Yanne but the sudden re-appearance of Roux, Yanne's former lover from Chocolat in Lanquesnet throws her into such confusion that at first she doesn't notice what is going on under her nose with Zozie taking over her children. Thierry is viciously jealous of him and Roux has no idea he has fathered Rosette. The story is told from three different viewpoints - Yanne, Zozie and Annie - which gives it an added dimension.

This is a fairy tale for adults and fairy tales can be scary, even though they may have happy endings. Just the thought of rum truffles and three layer chocolate cake was enough to glue me to the page, together with the evocative descriptions of the Montmartre I once knew and traipsed around; the characters looking artistically pretentious in corners of cafes in the Place du Tertre brought it all back. I remember one who always dressed in a cloak and a pseud artist's hat like Aristide Bruant in Lautrec's painting and the stylish transvestites reeking of Chanel No 5 were easily mistaken for models until the sound of a baritone voice hit the air as they passed. I won't go on. The Lollipop Shoes was great fun, a welcome change and took my mind off other things.

Latest news

Joanne is just putting the finishing touches to her latest book, Runelight and this should be out around October this year. And Vianne Rocher might just be on her way back to Lanquesnet... Joanne is working on a screenplay adaptation of Lollipop Shoes to offer for production. She is a great champion of the continuation of libraries so how apt that I should borrow Lollipop Shoes from one. You can log on to her website at: http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/