I realise, as I started to compile my list of books that I most enjoyed reading this year, that a good sixty five per cent of my reading output is given to old books, mostly out of print, mostly written and set in the Thirties or Forties. Some of it is research as I’ve taken my passion for that period and started writing about it, but it’s also because I was obviously born a good seventy years too late.
Anyhow I did manage to read some new releases and these are the ones that I loved above all other.
I adored Nina Stibbe’s memoir of her time as a nanny in 1980′s literary LondonLove, Nina: Despatches from Family Lifeso I couldn’t wait to read her first novel. Set in the 70′s, Man At The Helm is a funny but heartbreaking account of her parent’s divorce told through the eyes of nine year old Lizzie. Her mother and her two siblings move to a village and her mother, entirely incapable of fending for herself, ricochets from one unsuitable lover to another, though the children are convinced that everything will be all right once there’s a man at the helm again.
I read Crooked Heart in one greedy, four hour binge on the train coming back from Edinburgh. I’d previously read and loved Lissa Evan’s previous WW2 novel, Their Finest Hour And A Half, so I knew I was in for a treat with Crooked Heart and yup, I was not disappointed. When Noel Bostock’s great aunt Mattie, a former Suffragette, stricken with dementia dies at the start of the war, Noel is evacuated to St Albans where he’s billeted with down-on-her-luck Vera Sedge. She’s a hard-hearted scam artist and Neil is a lost but resilient little boy and somehow they’ve managed to find each other. There are lots of different kinds of love story and Crooked Heart is one of the best kinds.
Most of her novels scare the B’Jaysus out of me but a new Sarah Waters book is always a reason to cheer. The Paying Guests, set in the 1920′s, is a looooonnnngggggg tale, stuffed full of detail that builds and builds with a creeping menace. Expect the usual Sarah Waters tropes of bitter, repressed women past the first flush of youth, sinister houses and murder most horrid.
Third novel from the wonderfully funny and rude, Mhairi McFarlane. I think It’s Not Me, It’s You is my favourite of her books, but she writes romantic comedy like nobody else. Her characters are real and flawed but utterly likeable and I am hopelessly in love with both Delia and Adam West (who, in my head, looks like Tom Hiddleston.)
I don’t do dystopia. Nope, it’s not for me but I fell for Station Eleven hard. Had it sitting on my desk for ages but the blurb about a traveling theatre group roaming what’s left of the American MidWest twenty years after a killer flu pandemic, didn’t push any of my buttons. But then people started raving about it on Twitter and I read the first couple of pages and was hooked. The writing is beautiful and weaves through multiple narrators and a timeline that zips in and out of a world devastated and depleted by disaster.
One Day is a hard act to follow, but I think I preferred Us, though I way over-identified with the hapless Douglas as he embarks on a trip round Europe with his wife Connie and son Albie in a last-ditch effort to save his marriage. Though I don’t know why I way over-identified with a 50-something scientist.
Angela Thirkell was one of my big discoveries last year when Virago started reissuing some of her Barsetshire novels. I’m now reduced to buying the out of print ones for vast sums so I can read them in chronological order. (Anyone got a cheap copy of Northbridge Rectory I can have?) This is a review of August Folly that I wrote for The Guardian this summer. Oooh, get me!
I love J D Salinger so much that Franny from The Worst Girlfriend In The World was actually named after Franny Glass (of Franny and Zooey fame) and I’ve always been intrigued by Salinger, who withdrew from public life in the ’60′s. So Joanna Rakoff’s memoir about her time spent working as an assistant to Salinger’s literary agents in the mid-90′s was a must-buy. It’s not just about her relationship with Salinger and his work but a fascinating account of New York, publishing and being young and broke and making questionable lifestyle choices.
Viv Albertine was the guitarist in the iconic, all-girl punk band The Slits and this is her fantastic autobiography. She knew everyone from The Sex Pistols to The Clash to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren. But while she writes about her punk days and her life after The Slits, what I really loved were the earlier chapters which dealt with her wild teen years in my stomping ground of North London and how different life was back in the 70′s. One of my favourite bits is when Viv talks about trying to set up a band, in the days before a lot of people even had a landline, and it would take days of traveling around London to visit people and having to wait for them for hours if they weren’t in. I found this memoir hugely inspiring.
Hello, hello, hello!
I am so thrilled to be able to tell you my exciting news. I’ve signed a new two book deal with Sphere (a division of Little Brown.)
My next novel (title to be confirmed) will be released late 2015. It’s a story about a seventeen year old girl who runs away to London in 1943 to jitterbug with GIs and eat donuts at Rainbow Corner, the American Red Cross Club in Piccadilly. And it’s also the story of another teenage girl who runs away to London some sixty years later to escape a terrible secret, and the woman she becomes.
It’s a love story. It’s a story about finding somewhere to call home. It’s about impossible men. It’s about feeling safe. I think it will make you laugh and I hope that it will make you cry big snotty sobs in at least five different places.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter, that I’ve written a novel that’s not just a contemporary love story but is also set during the Second World War. I’m absolutely fascinated by the 1940′s and it’s always been by intention to write a story that’s partly set in that era.
I spent eighteen months writing this book out of contract – it’s been a real labour of love and I absolutely can’t wait for people to actually read it. Only a year to go!
This is the official announcement that went out today from Sphere.
Manning moves to Sphere in two-novel deal
• 28 October 2014
Manpreet Grewal at Sphere/Little Brown has acquired two adult novels by Sarra Manning, who is moving from Transworld.
Sphere has UK/Commonwealth rights from Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown in novels that “encompass a historical setting – a new direction that Sphere has plans to expand on with her next books”. The first of the two will be published in late 2015.
Manning’s new novel combines an uncompromising contemporary love story with a historical narrative set in London during the Blitz, when young women and GIs escaped the brutality of war by experiencing the giddy thrills of dancing at Rainbow Corner, the American Red Cross club at Piccadilly Circus.
Grewal said: “I’ve been a fan of Sarra’s writing for years and I’m thrilled to be welcoming her to Sphere as she moves in this exciting new direction. Sarra is a remarkable writer but her new novel takes her to another level entirely – it’s an epic, emotional and highly satisfying read that pulls no punches in its honest and unsentimental portrayal of the entire gamut of human relationships. Readers are going to love it.”
Manning is the author of four previous adult novels, including Unsticky and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Her most recent YA novels are published by Atom, Sphere’s sister imprint at LB.
I’ve been going through a huge box of papers from my parent’s house. Mostly letters to my mother from before she was married, some old payslips, bank statements and then I happened across this.
Nascent feminist, though she might have been, I don’t think my mother wrote this but she certainly thought it was worth typing out. I think it’s priceless. A carbon copy version of an internet meme.
USELESS CREATION – MAN
Men are what women marry. They have two hands, two feet and sometimes two women, but never more than one dollar or one idea at a time. Like Turkish cigarettes they are all made of the same materials, the only difference being that some are better disguised than others.
Generally speaking, they may be divided into three classes; husbands, bachelors and widowers. A bachelor is an eligible mass of obstinacy entirely surrounded by suspicion. Husbands are of three types; prizes, surprises and consolation prizes. Making a husband out of a man is one of the highest plastic arts known to civilisation. It requires science, sculpture. common sense, faith, hope and charity – mostly charity. It is a psychological marvel that a small, tender, soft, violet-scented thing like woman should enjoy kissing a big, awkward, stubbly-chinned tobacco and rum-scented thing like a man.
If you flatter a man you frighten him to death. If you don’t bore him to death. If you permit him to make love to you, he gets tired of you in the end. If you don’t, he gets tired of you in the beginning. If you agree with him in everything, you cease to interest. If you believe all he tell you, he thinks you are fool. If you don’t, he thinks you are a cynic.
If you wear any gay colours, rouge and silly hats, he hesitates to take you out, but if you wear a little brown beret and a tailored suit, he takes you out and stares all evening at women in gay colours, rouge and silly hats. If you join in the gaieties and approve of his drinking, he swears you driving him to the devil. If you don’t approve of his imbibing and urge him to give up his gaieties, he vows you are snow and ice. If you are the clinging vine type, he doubts whether you have a brain. If you are a modern, advanced, intelligent woman, he doubts whether you have a heart. If you are silly, he longs for a bright mate. If you are intellectual and brilliant he longs for a playmate.
Man is just a worm in the dust, he comes along, wriggles for a while and finally some bird gets him.
AND SO SAY WE ALL
By now, I hope you’ve read and loved The Worst Girlfriend in the World
As a little add-on, I wrote this, which Franny and Alice would do well to remember.
THE BEST FRIEND MANIFESTO
Chicks before dicks.*
Your friend’s secrets are your secrets too. To the grave and beyond.
You don’t have to give your best friend your last rolo, but you do have to give them your second to last rolo.
Friends are contractually obligated not to let each other out in public in an outfit that doesn’t work.
A problem shared takes an awful lots of kettle chips.
Any boy your friend has expressed an interest in is off-limits. End of. You are only allowed to admire him in a supportive way, but that’s it. “Yeah, you’d look perfect together.”
Friends have veto rights before any photos of them are posted on the interweb.
If your friend breaks up with her boyfriend, it’s always his fault. Always. Besides, his eyes were too close together and his nostrils were too big and you never liked him anyway.
In addition, friends listen to Gretchen Weiner.
Friends share clothes, hair products, Instagram accounts, coursework notes but never eye make up, PIN numbers or any new item of clothing that hasn’t even been worn yet.
Never rat out your friend to her parents unless you’re pretty certain her life is in danger.
Friends bitch at each other but not about each other.
*Special Bendy Cumberbatch exemption clause.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE IN A SARRA MANNING NOVEL
1. There is literally no one who understands you. The real you, that is, and not the shiny, glittering you that you show the world. It saddens and disappoints you, quite frankly.
2. Although you like to think you have increased word power you, like, say, ‘whatever’ all the time. See also whatevs, whevs, triple whatever. Whatever.
3. There’s a boy, a man, a manchild. He’s tousle-haired, slumbrous of eye, smirky of lip and lean of frame. He moves you in ways that would make other people write sonnets. You make mix-tapes instead.
4. Although you try to listen to your head, your sensible, level head, your heart is a wild beast that can’t be tamed or hold its drink and it gets you in trouble time and time again. Your foolish heart wins out every single time.
5. In times of emotional turmoil, which typically amounts for a large part of your every waking hour, you take refuge in a family-sized bag of potato-based snacks. Also chocolate. Much chocolate. Something about the combination of sweet and salt speaks to the chaos in your soul.
6. There is a dress. A perfect dress. When you find and purchase this frock, amazing things happen to you.
7. The previously mentioned manchild is incapable of speaking. Instead he drawls. Occasionally he purrs. Usually while slouching nonchalantly against a doorjamb.
8. There have been times when your entire life has taken on an entirely new shape in the time times it takes for someone to kiss you.
9. You live in London and you love the city’s frantic beating heart. Apart from when you actually live in a small, boring town where nothing ever happens.
10. Let’s not even talk about the hair.
11. There are at least three polka-dot dresses, two of them vintage, hanging up in your wardrobe. You can never have too many polka-dot dresses. You can never have too many vintage dresses. A vintage polka-dot dress is fashion nirvana.
12. You could never settle for a man who lacked the ability to arch one eyebrow. Or smirk. Or, as previously mentioned, slouch nonchalantly against doorjambs.
13. The ability to apply liquid eyeliner and your in-depth knowledge of obscure areas of popular culture are what sets you apart from the masses.
14. You often look younger than you are, but your soul is positively geriatric.
15. There is a kind of happy ever after but it’s not the kind of happy ever after that necessarily includes florid declarations of love. It may include bickering and the occasional china-smashing row at three in the morning. That’s OK. You’re suspicious of anything as sentimental and cliched as a florid declaration of love. Your happy ever after is still a happy ever after.
With apologies and much, much fond affection to The Toast.
Photo credit: http://favim.com/image/514989/
Hello, hello! Long time, no see.
I’ve been hunkered down on the fourth (yes, fourth!) draft of an adult novel. It’s a bit of a change-up for me and I can say no more about it because I don’t even have a publisher yet so I don’t want to jinx myself. But it is the novel I’ve wanted to write for years and I really hope it sees the light of day. So does my bank manager!
Anyway, onto more certain things and slipping my teenage head on. I’m very happy to say that my new YA novel, The Worst Girlfriend in the World, is now on sale.
Alice Jenkins is the worst girlfriend in the world according to the many, many boys who’ve shimmied up lampposts and shoplifted from New Look to impress her, only to be dumped when she gets bored of them. Alice has a very low boredom threshold.
But she never gets bored with Franny, her best friend since they met at nursery school. Friends are for ever. Ain’t nothing going to come between them. Girls rule, boys drool is their motto. Well, it’s Alice’s motto, Franny doesn’t have much time for boys; they’re all totes immature and only interested in one thing.
But then there’s Louis Allen, lead singer of Thee Desperadoes, the best band in Merrycliffe-on-sea (though that could be because they’re the only band in Merrycliffe-on-sea). He’s a tousle-haired, skinny-jeaned, sultry-eyed manchild, the closest thing that Franny’s ever seen to the hipsters that she’s read about on the internet and she’s been crushing on him HARD for the last three years.
She’s never worked up the courage to actually speak to him but she’s sure on some deeper level that goes beyond mere words, Louis absolutely knows that she’s his soulmate. He just doesn’t know that he knows it yet. It’s why he cops off with so many other girls.
So, when Alice, bored with callow youths, sets her sights on Louis it threatens to tear the girls’ friendship apart, even though they’re better than fighting over a boy.
They strike a devil’s deal – may the best girl win. Best friends become bitter rivals and everything comes to an explosive conclusion on their first trip to London.
Can true friendship conquer all?
I also now have a Facebook page, which you can like here. I kind of feel like I should be on Instagram but it would just be pictures of Miss Betsy, my dog and nothing else. Then there’s Tumbr, but it befuddles me and then I feel very, very old. *nan face*
My other big news is that I’m thrilled to announce that I will be appearing at the very first UK YA conference YA Literature Convention as part of Comic Con on the 12th and 13th July at Earls Court in London. I’ll be taking part in a panel on the Sunday, but there are so many amazing authors taking part, you may want to go both days. I know I do! Early Bird tickets are already on sale.
I’ll be doing at least one other YA event this year, I will keep you posted.
So, that’s quite enough exciting news to be getting on with, I think. I am going to try and blog a bit more. But the proof of the pudding is in the actual blogging.
Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend.
Good morning, America!
We took it right to the wire but have managed to publish It Felt Like A Kiss in the States today too! Hurrah. Its available only on Amazon. This is not likely to change. The ebook is a very reasonable $2.99 and there is (or will be) a print on demand paperback, though I don’t have the pricing information for that yet. To buy, click here.
I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to have a transatlantic release day. I hope to have news of foreign editions soon, but if your local Amazon or bookshops don’t stock my books, then you can always order them from Book Despository, who do free international shipping.
Thrilled that after all the delays, It Felt Like a Kiss is finally published today in paperback and ebook.
And very soon, maybe later today, I will give you details of the US release of It Felt Like A Kiss (though it will only be available on Amazon, as ebook and print on demand paperback.)
2013 didn’t have a lot going for out personally, but at least I had books! 2014 is shaping up to be another stellar year with all sorts of good reading to come. Here are the ones that I’ve already added to my wishlisr.
Debut novel from John Pilger’s daughter, Zoe. Ann-Marie is heartbroken and lovesick until she falls in with legendary feminist, Stephanie Haight, who is determined to rescue Ann-Marie and her entire generation. Whether it involves funsexytimes with bad men, naked cleaning jobs, burlesque parties and ceremonies to invoke ancient spirit goddesses, Ann-Marie is on a missio to find herself.
Out January 30th
Two very different novels from two different writers about the women left behind after World War One. Anna Hope’s debut novel, Wake, tells the tale of three women all coping with their own grief as they wait the arrival of the body of The Unknown Soldier. This is a beautiful moving book that perfectly captures the mood and patina of the times.
I’m also very excited to read the wonderful Adele Park’s first period novel, Spare Brides. It starts in 1920 at the start of a new decade full of hope but for four women, tainted by the scars of the war, happiness is something to be snatched at, rather than savoured.
Wake is out 16th January, Spare Brides February 13th
Part memoir, part how-to guide, this wonderful non-fic book has been dubbed shelf-help, rather than self-help. Faced with some thorny life dilemmas, Ellis finds solutions in the lessons learned by such literary heroines as Petrova Fossil and Scarlett O’Hara. Petrova for the win. Always.
Out January 2nd.
I loved Dawn’s debut novel, Paper Aeroplanes, and can’t wait to find out what happens next to Renee and Flo, now in their final year of school and making plans for the rest of their lives. Can their friendship survive once they’re out in the big, wide world?
Out May 1st
Alys, Always, Lane’s debut novel was a clever, creepy story about a woman always on the outside of life who worms her way into the lives of a family after she witnesses the death of their mother. Her, about two unlikely women who strike up a friendship, though Nina remember Emma and what she did from years before, promises to be equally twisty and thrilling.
Out June 12th
I’m a sucker for a WW2 novel and The Dynamite Room, about an eleven year old girl taken hostage in her Suffolk home by a German soldier, sent on a mission to prepare for the invasion of England, pushes all my buttons. Every single one of them!
Out March 27th
Another novel mostly set during World War Two, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is about an unhappily married woman who falls in love with a Polish squadron leader when his plane crashes in the field behind her house. Their story is pieced together by the woman’s granddaughter who finds a letter in her grandmother’s belongings after her death and stumbles upon a secret that will have a huge impact on her life too.
Out February 27th
Lara is a friend and dear ex-colleague from my J17 days. She’s spent years working on her writing and going through the chore of finding an agent and so I’m bursting with pride and excitement that her debut novel is published this year. It promises to be an absolute heartbreaker about a boy who wants many things in life from shipping his older sister off to the North Pole to helping Sherlock Holmes fight zombies. But mostly, he wants his dad to love him.
Out March 1st
Sarah Waters is one of my favourite authors and although this is months and months away, I’m very excited that there’ll be a new novel from her this year. Another post-WW1 novel, this is about the lodgers of a large villa in Camberwell and a genteel family fallen on hard times.
Out September 14th
I also hear that some bint called Sarra Manning has two novels out this year. Anyone know anything about her? If you fancy taking a punt, then It Felt Like a Kiss is out January 30th and her new YA novel, The Worst Girlfriend in the World, is out on May 1st.
Happy reading and a Happy New Year!
Happy Holidays, lovely readers
I am writing this in between keeping my food levels topped up so they never dip below ‘extremely full.’
If you’re sick of telly, bored of board games and have book tokens or one of those new fangled e-readers, you might be wondering what to read next. So, I thought I’d do a round up of some of my favourite reads of 2013. Luckily, I can type one-handed and hold a mince pie with the other hand.
You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane
If you’re the last person left in Britain who hasn’t read this equally funny and heartbreaking novel about what happens when you meet up with The One Man You Never Got Enough Of, this is the time to remedy that situation.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I think Life After Life is the most extraordinary book I’ve read and probably in my Top 10 all-time favourite reads. It’s the stop/start/rewind story of Ursula Todd and the many, many lives she lived and the many deaths she suffered. She lives her life again and again but only sometimes does she get it right.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Pride And Prejudice from the servants’ point of view – this isn’t Jane Austen lite but a 180 degree spin on the book we know so well. LOngbourn shows what life was like below stairs and the tragedy, drudgery and unexpected love experienced by the Bennets’ maid Sarah as the events of Pride And Prejudice play out.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Anyone who has even a passing interest in YA fiction or wants to read a heart-tugging love story should read Eleanor & Park. Rainbow Rowell can write about the simple act of a boy and a girl holding hands and slay you. (She also released the wonderful Fangirl this year too.
Red Ink by Julie Mayhew
Full disclosure, Julie is a good friend of mine, but she’s still written a bloody good coming of age novel.
I also loved Code Name Verity and I did have plans to write my own novel about a girl flying for the Air Transport Auxiliary during WW2, but, quite frankly, Elizabeth Wein beat me to it and I could never write anything as amazing as Rose Under Fire.
The fifth Cazalet Chronicle novel catches up with the Cazalets in the 1950′s after the turbulent effects of WW2 and a changing world of class and tradition. If you’ve never read The Cazalets, the first book in the series, The Light Years, is only 95p on Kindle. I feel like a pusher, because you will binge read all five of them in quick succession.
Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell
Virago have just reissed four Angela Thirkell novels, all with beautiful covers, and they are reading crack to me. Set in the 1930′s; it’s all bossy girls, timid girls, country house parties, posh types, arty types, faithful family retainers. What’s not to like?
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
I don’t normally read thrillers, but rather than being a crime novel, this an agreeably creepy read that captures all the pain and rage of a woman who feels so sidelined that she’s almost invisible. I way over-identified.
I read a lot of non-fiction this year, mostly obscure out-of-print books about the Home Front but I loved this book of letters home written by a teen nanny looking after two children from a literary family in 80′s Camden Town. Alan Bennett pops over most nights for supper, pretentious nanny, Pippa, from across the road thinks King Charles spaniels have the freedom of the city, and will playwright, Jonathan Miller ever get back the saw that Nina borrowed? Such a funny, lovely gem of a book.
This is just a small selection of the books I loved this year. I’ll be compiling a list of the books that I can’t wait to read in 2014. There are quite a lot of them, so check back in a couple of days.
Now, I have an urgent appointment with a turkey sandwich…
A new deal, a new direction
From my late mother’s papers: a late 1950′s feminist polemic. #yesallmen
The Best Friend Manifesto
How To Tell If You’re In A Sarra Manning novel.
THE WORST GIRLFRIEND IN THE WORLD – out now!!!
It Felt Like A Kiss US publication today too!
IT FELT LIKE A KISS – PUBLISHED TODAY!!!
Book recs for 2014
2013 – a year of exceedingly good books