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/

Monday, 22 April 2013

Creative Writing Festival for aspiring writers planned for York

If you're an aspiring novelist hoping to get your book published commercially, the best place to be in September will be the University of York.

For three days, from 13 to 15 September, the campus will be brimming with book doctors, top agents, publishing legends, best-selling authors and other hopeful writers. This is all serious stuff and everyone will be doing their best to help you. It's the 2013 Festival of Writing, run by the Writers' Workshop team.

Previous festivals have resulted in publishing contracts and agent sign-ups, so it's worth giving it a go. What do you have to lose? You can have a one-to-one session with an agent or a book doctor if you send a copy of your novel in advance - they'll give you loads of tips and answer any questions you have. They all descend on York each year in the hopes of finding the next big author - that may be you.

You can book on to one of the mini courses or workshops on writing or publishing, led by industry pros, listen to keynote speeches by authors who have made it and listen to panel discussions by the experts. And the friendly atmosphere and positive support you will receive will make it worthwhile. Making contacts is all-important in this business and just chatting and exchanging contact details with other emerging writers will help you to keep in touch with writing buddies - writing is a lonely business and it's good to compare notes with people in the same position who can empathise.

Keynote address will be made by author Adele Parks, whose debut novel 'Playing Away' was published in 2000. She's had 11 novels published since then, all of them Times Top 10 Bestsellers. Her books have sold over two million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

Best-selling author Adele Parks

You can learn more about the Festival on http://vimeo.com/54084473 and http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/events.html

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Artists a feature of author's first novel

During the Second World War, London's National Gallery ran a Picture of the Month scheme, putting one masterpiece on public display each month to keep up morale and cultural interest during the city's dark years.

In the present, Claire and her Canadian husband, Rob, once so much in love, are drifting apart since the death of their unborn baby, six months earlier. When Rob's grandmother, Elizabeth dies in Canada, the couple receive a box of letters written to her by her cousin, Daisy who worked as a typist in Whitehall in 1942. Claire is fascinated by the correspondence, which describes Daisy's visits each month to see a painting at the National Gallery and she decides to follow in her footsteps, read a letter a month and search out each painting for herself. It's the only thing that makes her life bearable, for she blames Rob for their child's death. When he fails to turn up to meet her because of a business meeting, she is attacked by thugs and suffers a miscarriage without his support.

What Claire really wants is to be loved and although Rob does love her, she rejects him for letting her down, something he didn't do deliberately. She sets out to destroy him, instead of trying to move forwards, in fact she actually enjoys hurting him. After a while, Claire's attitude towards Rob and her constant introspection began to grate as I felt it had gone on for too long. He has also lost a child and now he is losing his wife. I wondered why Claire hadn't been having counselling to sort out her thoughts and feelings. I didn't feel that I wanted to root for her and instead, my sympathies lay with Rob, who displayed the patience of a saint. However, I did realise that without Claire's emotional inner turmoil, there would have been no story.

And the mood soon changes. She goes from despair to hope on seeing the paintings and learning how Daisy's life unfolds, in epistolary form. She can't help acknowledging the parallels between the two. When Claire meets art auctioneer, Dominic at the gallery and embarks on a monthly tryst with him, her life changes radically. She creates a fantasy life for herself in her obsession both for Dominic and Daisy's unfolding life in the letters and is soon in danger of losing everything that she cares about.

It's a well-written story, thought-provoking too, with some inventive twists and satisfactory closure - all ends happily. Through it, we learn something about the privations of war in England through Daisy's life and times. And if you like art history, the author has researched thoroughly and highlighted some wonderful paintings, with vivid descriptions and analyses, along with snippets about some of the artists, ranging from Titian to Renoir. You can actually view them if you scan the QR code at the start of each chapter with your Smart phone or download a free app if you have a BlackBerry or iPhone. You will be taken to each painting at the National Gallery, with information about the artists.

This is a worthy first novel for Camilla Macpherson, who is part-lawyer, part-author. She is a winner of the Promis Prize for short stories and has been shortlisted for several other writing awards. Her website is at:

'Pictures at an Exhibition' is published by  Arrow Books,2012.

Friday, 5 April 2013

'The Middlesteins' - and how overeating can affect your family

Whenever little Edie Herzen was out of sorts, especially when she hollered, her mother found the perfect antidote - food. 'Food was made of love and love was made of food and if it could stop a child from crying, then there was nothing wrong with that either.' As a result, Edie became known to the neighbours as 'just that fat child from (apartment) 6D...'

Quite why I read this book with an American accent twirling around my head, I have no idea, except that the length of the sentences probably dictated it. Is 16 lines long a record, I wonder? I could hear a New York Jewish torrent of words hurling themselves onto the pages, always with that singsong tone and nasal twang so beloved of the Jackie Masons and Bette Midlers of this world; hence the humour.

It's a funny book with a serious sub-text and author Jami Attenberg cleverly blends the two to prevent her tale becoming maudlin or, for some readers, too close for comfort. I first heard 'The Middlesteins' on 'Book at Bedtime' on BBC Radio 4 but as I missed a huge chunk of it, I decided to read it for myself.

Edie's father - '...at meals he ate and ate...' had justifiable reasons for doing so, having starved eight years before on his long journey from the Ukraine to Chicago, where the family now live. So no wonder that, as an adult, Edie now suffers from obesity in a big way and has associated, life-threatening health problems. At 59, she weighs over 300 pounds.

When Edie's husband, Richard Middlestein refuses to take any more and leaves her after 40 years, he is reviled by his children and grandchildren, cast out as a 'coward' and no longer included as a family member. Well, you would, wouldn't you? But is that cowardly, or is it brave? I felt sorry for this guy, who has spent most of his married life being bullied and picked on by his wife. Nobody seems to mind about that (except Richard). But why would anyone want to remain in a situation that makes them unhappy? And he's had no sex for a long time. My only surprise was that he hadn't left her earlier. Her health problem is of her own making. She is given every opportunity to save herself but she has no desire to do so and listens to nobody's advice. So why should her long-suffering husband be expected to hang around, taking more abuse when he could be doing something for himself for a change. There comes a time when we have to say 'enough' and begin thinking about ourselves. I think he did the right thing.

The importance of family is highlighted here. We see a coming together of a family that didn't seem that close at first, in an effort to help Edie, who after all loves eating and doesn't want to be helped. '...her heart and soul felt full when she felt full...' She relates a pack of crisps and a tub of onion dip to '...waiting for her like two friends who had come over for coffee and a little chitchat.'

Some cutting back and forth for back stories tends to confuse but it's worth pressing on, it's well written and thought-provoking; sad too, not only at the outcome but by the predicaments this middle-aged couple experience after the breakup of their marriage and family. Loneliness can be, well, lonely and dating on internet sites can be daunting after a certain age, so I'm told... And secretly, he would like Edie back but only if she loves him again. So he chases his past in an effort to capture something wonderful that he's lost. But he knows she will never love him again.

The children's own lives are threaded through the main theme with some credible characterisations. Daughter Robin, now 31, has had a mixed up childhood and son Benny smokes a lot of pot. His controlling, perfectionist wife, Rachelle (who lives on veg and tofu) becomes obsessed with his mother's eating habits and takes to stalking her, which is how we find out what Edie is up to and how she meets the new man in her life. By page 146, Benny is worrying about everyone and in particular, his balding pate. It touches on themes that are pertinent to us all. This is about everyday life in a dysfunctional family. Nobody conforms. Everyone is affected by Edie's situation, except possibly Edie. Granddaughter, Emily, nearly 13, meanwhile is filled with hate. She hates her mother and everything else and operates a Things That Suck list. Her twin, Josh is a bit of a wimp. Emily's attitude towards her grandfather is so disrespectful, you will root even more for him.

And every so often, Jami Attenberg throws in something so profound, out of the blue, that you have to stop and think about it. This is a great story and how inventive to highlight one of the biggest health issues of our time - obesity, the dangers of junk food and the problems of persuading people to eat more healthily - not to mention the destructive effect on the lives of the people around them that obsessions create.

Jami has written three books and contributed to the 'New York Times' and many other publications. She lives in New York. You can visit her website at jamiattenberg.com or follow her on Twitter @jamiattenberg

'The Middlesteins', by Jami Attenberg is published by Serpent's Tail (Profile Books) 2013.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

New online database helps writers find agents

There was a time when publishers received thousands of unsolicited manuscripts a year from would-be authors, more than they could cope with. They employed readers who were skilled enough to recognise within 10 pages and often by the end of the first page, whether the sender could write. Infrequently, they found a gem hidden in what was commonly termed 'the slush pile'.

Nowadays, most of the major publishers no longer accept unsoliciteds and only deal with agents, though in some cases a well-written enquiry letter can result in a request for sight of the manuscript. But finding an agent to take on an unknown writer with no track record can be as difficult as finding a gem in a slush pile. Most publishers want to work with people already in the business who understand what writing and publishing is about and writers who can churn out a book a year. The alternative, a growing trend, is self-publishing but this is expensive and time-consuming, so often ending up with a heap of unsold books under the bed or stacked in the garage. And paying for a book to be published is by no means an indication that someone is a writer.

The Writers' Workshop have set up a new website to help would-be writers find the right agent for them. www.AgentHunter.co.uk is a searchable database of UK based agents and publishers. The site development has taken a long time for the team to define what agents are looking for. It includes contact details and advice along with links to their twitter feeds. Agents' personal tastes are highlighted and the site includes articles by or about them. Writers will find great advice on site to guide them through the process of seeking representation, how to go about doing it and what they might expect.

The Writers' Workshop say there is nothing like this site in the world and that 'it's the best course of action you can take when you feel you have a manuscript which is ready to be viewed commercially'. If you have a book with an original plot that's well-written and to publishable standard, there is no reason why an agent should not be interested in taking it on. It's a matter of finding the right agent for you and Agent Hunter may be just what you need to get you started.

And if you want to meet the agents, don't forget that the Writers' Workshop Festival of Writing takes place this year in York from 13-15 September. Details from info@WritersWorkshop.co.uk