When Stephen King recommends a book, we all have to listen! ‘It’s a true nerve shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end’.
‘Books like this don’t come around too often. I would say I inhaled this in one, but I think I was too busy holding my breath throughout. Bravo’ – JOANNE HARRIS
‘A chilling and beautiful masterpiece of suspense. I was completely enthralled’ – JOE HILL
This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.
All these things are true. And yet they are all lies…
You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. That’s where you’re wrong.
In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, lies something buried. But it’s not what you think…
This book was already on my radar, but now I’m dying to read it! Early reviews describe it as ‘deeply disturbing’ and an ‘atmospheric gothic thriller’. All of the elements seem familiar, I feel like I’ve read books like this before but I’m promised something completely different, raw, visceral and terrifying. There simply isn’t a bad review about this book. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less from the Shirley Jackson and August Derleth award at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. This made her the only woman to have won the prize twice. Reviewers praise the structure, the multiple narrative voices, and the satisfying, unexpected ending.
CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Her gothic thriller, The Last House on Needless Street, will be published March 2021 by Viper (Serpents Tail).
She was a Guardian best book of 2018 and her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.
Today on the blog it’s my pleasure to share the trailer for one of my most anticipated reads of 2021.
Light a fire they can’t put out..
Caldonbrae Hall has sat on top of the Scottish cliffs for 150 years, as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. This boarding school for girls promises pupils they will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’. Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher, is the first new hire for the school in over a decade. Rose feels overwhelmed in the face of this elite establishment at first, but soon after her arrival she begins to realise that there may be more to fear than her own ineptitude. Rose stumbles across the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor – a woman whose ghost lingers over everything and who no one will discuss – she learns that there is far more to the school than she has been led to believe. Rose begins to uncover the darkness at the heart of Caldonbrae; a battle that will threaten her sanity as well as her safety…
A brooding, mesmeric novel with a feminist kick…
This has certainly whet my appetite for next February, and the book can be pre-ordered at all the usual outlets.
Emily Proudman’s life is imploding. She’s lost her acting agent, job and home all in one day. Scott Denny also has a problem, one he doesn’t think he can fix. He is a wealthy and successful CEO but neither of these things can help him. Then he meets Emily and she is perfect. He takes her on for a summer job, as housekeeper for his rambling estate in the South of France. Emily thinks she has fallen on her feet and charmed by his wife Nina, and their unusual daughter Aurelia, she throws herself into her summer role. Yet all is not what it seems. The family have dark secrets and
if Emily doesn’t play her part, the summer and even her life could be in danger.
Nina is keen to have Emily there, so greets her enthusiastically when she arrives. The mansion is eerie but then so is Nina, who seems to be a quiet and obedient wife. Aurelia is more of a shock. She’s shy to the point of introversion, but that could be down to living in such a remote location. Communication with others seems to be frowned upon as there’s no phone line or internet connection. What if something goes wrong out here? Emily tries to use her time well in looking after Aurelia and even turning her hand to a bit of renovation, but she feels herself becoming little more than a companion to Nina, sometimes losing whole days drinking wine by the pool. Aurelia is difficult to get to know, she flinches if touched possibly down to the rare skin disease she has, but it felt more like she simply wasn’t used to physical affection. Her silence could be shyness, but Emily starts to feel that there is something odd about this girl and the problems she has.
This is a modern Gothic novel, with definite shades of Jane Eyre – the remote mansion, the stepdaughter, a slightly odd wife and a new, young housekeeper/governess. However, instead of the usual first person narration we get multiple narratives but how many of them are reliable? The cover jumped out at me, making me long for sunnier climates and a chance to explore – something that’s even more of a fantasy at the moment! I think the reader is lulled into this holiday feeling, alongside Emily. We know something is wrong here, so does Emily, but working it out, when instead you could lie by the pool with a cold cocktail and a good book, seems unnecessary. When the secrets are finally exposed, Emily might find it’s too late. The characters have more depth than appears at first. Although Nina might seem like the perfect rich man’s wife, there is something else going on underneath. There’s a brittle edge to her character that allows us to glimpse her fragile mental health. Even Emily, turns out to be more intelligent and resourceful than I gave her credit for at first.
When the secrets of Scott Denny and his estate are revealed weren’t too much of a shock. This isn’t one of those twists that makes you rethink the whole book, but nor did it disappoint. Scott reminded me of the estate owner in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw – working away a lot, only briefly at the estate and even then doesn’t really engage with his wife or stepdaughter. Furthermore, when it’s mentioned that Emily has briefly worked for Scott before I wondered whether their meeting was a coincidence or whether it was calculated. Perhaps Emily is the perfect person for this role? I think this was a great beach read and shows great promise for a debut author. I will be looking out for her future work.
My Thoughts | I haven’t read any new poetry for a long time so I jumped at the chance to read this new collection. For me, poetry is very emotional. It’s about whether a poem connects with my feelings in some way; is the poet describing something I recognise, something I’ve felt or seen? There tend to be certain images that make me stop and think and Marc Rahe’s new collection Gravity Well did all of these things and resurrected my interest in poetry.
Some images made me smile because of how clever they were or because of the beautiful combination of words. In Writer Friend the narrator describes an unsettled afternoon as a ‘forecast-come-true afternoon of cloudy and scattered’. I also loved the Schroedinger reference in Our Shared Life of ‘The bee trapped with you inside/ your helmet in traffic, will or will not’. It made me think of that moment before something happens. In that moment, playing simultaneously in the biker’s mind, are the bee that stings and the bee he successfully releases back into the world unharmed. We get another sense of the in-between reading his poem Stellar, as if moments in time are simply Russian dolls with each possibility stacked within each other – touching but separate:
‘This tree was my favorite the day it rained during my walk. Uncanny when it’s raining and it’s sunny at the same time. As if being in someone’s presence and feeling the presence of their ghost’.
Another line I loved was ‘the air was as wet as dog’s breath’ because it made me feel the humidity of a wet day in August, that moisture hangs like warm misted breath in the air.
There were also themes running through the work that interest me greatly, because of my own writing work which is focused on how the body, particularly a faulty or malfunctioning body, interacts with the world. Rahe has a way of describing age and the changes of the body that are surprising and moving. In his poem Appetite I loved the following section:
‘I’ve been reopened along the same incision
and though metal plates and wires, metal screws,
can only be said to ache, I say
it is the metal in this leg that tells me
the sky is so full of mountains and trenches
as the ocean, metal that warns me
of my own weight held past a certain angle from the center.’
I love how he describes the constant ache of the structure that holds the speaker’s leg together, but it isn’t a negative statement, it’s just something that’s there. Also it’s a way of gauging the world, like I know if my joints ache it’s going to be wet or if my muscles seize it’s going to be cold. The unnatural pins and wires he needs for his limb to work naturally, actually link him to the natural world too – to the heights and lows of the lands, and even how the force of gravity can be sensed as he finds the balance of walking with these metal supports.
In Fable of the Cephalopod he uses humour to describe a sense of coughing up a foreign body, something that feels like ‘an octopus that was trying to wear a sweater’ giving the reader a sense of how stuck it feels, trying to force eight woollen legs from the ‘wrong bronchial tree’. Later he describes the moment of having a blood test, very routine for me and others who are ill, but tense all the same. He perfectly describes that moment when you almost hate yourself for trying to make the medics life easier. When you feel guilty for being difficult, as if you could control the way your veins and body work:
‘at a blood draw my vein resisted the needle. The needle
slipped aside inside my arm, despite repeated attempts. I made,
for the phlebotomist, a joke I hoped would defuse her growing anxiety.’
I felt a connection with parts of the work, and as always with poetry, I know that re-reading will bring further meaning and interpretation, depending on my mood. Poetry’s meaning lies with the readers once it has left the author’s pen. It may well have had an original meaning, but really the beauty of poetry comes out when the reader brings their ‘stuff’ to the poem. I’m sure there are other bloggers who have had totally different experiences with the images and themes but that’s the beauty of it, it can touch a multitude of people very differently. I thought this was an imaginative and thoughtful collection from a poet I’d never read before. It sparked my interest in poetry again and I am looking forward to reading more for the blog and for my own enjoyment.
Other Reviews | Marc Rahe’s luminous poems find grace in acts of intentional remembrance, in turning back to sing ‘what can be seen / looking behind.’ The speaker’s world resembles our own fraught moment–fallen, divided–but never numb. These poems hum with moments of transcendence, between body and weather, air and breath, between today’s pain and the deep wounds of the past. In precise, lucid lyrics, this voice insists that our capacity to feel is what binds us, ecstatically, to our planet and to one another.–Kiki Petrosino
Ever since his first book, THE SMALLER HALF, was published, I’ve kept my eyes open for new work by Marc Rahe, and whenever new work has come, I’ve celebrated, actually celebrated. No poet writing in English today is better at making poems stuffed full of being and of things seen, things heard, things touched, things tasted, and things thought hard about nonetheless quiet. And yet, though they approach silence, these poems resonate, and, like Rahe’s previous work, they will resonate for years.–Shane McCrae
Biography | Marc Rahe is the author of THE SMALLER HALF (Rescue Press, 2010), ON HOURS (Rescue Press, 2015), and GRAVITY WELL (Rescue Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, MAKE Literary Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, Sixth Finch, and other literary journals. He lives in Iowa City.
Literary sleuth Helen Oddfellow has started her new job as a lecturer in an English Literature department of the university and is hoping for a quiet life. What she gets is anything but. When she is asked to cover a module for Professor Petrarch Greenwood she expected the students to be a little underwhelmed. He is something of a literary celebrity, having followed his lifelong love of William Blake into TV opportunities and book deals. Yet his students behaviour seems strange to Helen. They are subdued and one is genuinely emotional about him, which rings alarm bells to Helen. Petrarch is flamboyant, holds swish parties at his London flat and has very little time for new feminist theories regarding his hero. On the dark web, a strange literary obsession is being used to stir unrest in its largely male following, and an underground police officer is trying to break into the online community by sharing a love of Blake. Their focus is a an artist who produces a graphic novel based on a Blake character, with a disrespectful and violent attitude towards women. How many of his followers even know or understand Blake? As this unrest grows will Helen be able to come between the innocent and a disturbed gunman bent on making his point with bloodshed?
This is one of those times when I really didn’t need to have read the first novel to enjoy this second instalment in the Helen Oddfellow series. The start was slow but I was intrigued with the larger than life and potentially dangerous Petrarch Greenwood. He’s clearly living a rather decadent lifestyle of bedding young students, and stretching his professional ethics. Officially Helen is covering his classes as he has a book deadline to meet, but we get the sense that really he’s being removed to cover up a scandal. The university can’t afford to lose him as he’s their celebrity professor but they also can’t be seen to do nothing. I sensed a really unpleasant character underneath the charm and wondered if he or his assistant was behind the Blake website.
Running through the book is the treatment of women, from the misogyny on the dark web to gender politics within the university. Helen recounts her own reading on Blake and his wife. The question of how involved his wife was in his work is one that’s been at the forefront of feminist theory, something Professor Greenwood is very dismissive about. He’s dismissive about women in general, in fact one is being physically dismissed from his office when we meet him. The behaviour of the female students in his class is worrying too, some are very subdued and don’t want to meet Helen’s eyes. There’s an unpleasant atmosphere, and an undercurrent that I feared didn’t bode well for some of these women. The story started to focus around the events of Professor Greenwood’s party and this is where the book gripped me.
I’m clearly very dark, because when the truth of the party was revealed I was pleased the author had pushed the story to such a disturbing place. It was a great contrast to the tamer beginning of the book and I think it needed it. I didn’t manage to guess all that had happened so I was able to enjoy all the twists and turns to the end. I enjoyed guessing who had the talent and knowledge to be behind the artwork, but the mind to plan such a terrible act of mass murder. However, this wasn’t the only person with secrets and it seemed only Helen was who she professed to be. She is like the calm centre to the novel, but everything around her felt chaotic and changeable. I worried early on that this would be a novel where women were victims, but actually the ending was quite empowering. The women took control, which was a great way to end. I would have liked to know more about some of the characters so maybe some differing perspectives on events would have been interesting. However, I think it was deliciously dark and turned a light on the type of misogyny that seems to be a constant undercurrent on the internet these days. This was intelligent, surprising and as a literary mystery, quite unique.
Meet The Author
Anna Sayburn Lane is a novelist, short story writer and storyteller, inspired by the history and contemporary life of London. Her first two novels introduce the literary sleuth Helen Oddfellow. Anna shares Helen’s love of literature – mysteries surrounding the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe and the Romantic poet William Blake feature in the books. She’s pleased her History and English Literature degree finally came in handy! Anna has published award-winning short stories in magazines including Mslexia, Scribble and One Eye Grey.
If it hadn’t been for libraries this blog wouldn’t exist and I would be a very different person. I have my mum, another avid reader, to thank for this. Every Saturday morning my father would drop us in Scunthorpe and go off to play football. We would do some shopping in the market, pay Radio Rentals for the telly and then best bit – we would go to the library and change our books.
In the 70s/80s the library was a very odd looking building that visitors entered through a glass pyramid. A type of working class Louvre, usually covered in poo from all the pigeons in the square! However, it was the magic gateway to culture for me. A place where the message board advertised local gigs and theatre productions and downstairs housed an art house cinema, where Mum famously fainted after being overcome by Kevin Costner on the wide screen. We were a low income family, living in the middle of nowhere in Lincolnshire. Dad’s basic wage from the drainage board had to keep all four of us and the pets. Books were loved but not a priority in the budget, so I had to wait for Christmas and birthdays to get book tokens. This building was my holy grail of reading and I read classics, comedies, books about growing up. This was my window on the world and it didn’t matter if I didn’t like one, I could just put it to one side and take it back the following week. Mum would go upstairs to choose her books and I was left to browse on my own and I could take all the time I wanted.
After the library we would grab a sandwich and get the 336 bus to Ashby where my grandma and grandad lived. We would stay there until Dad picked us up at teatime. In spring and summer I might sit out in the garden or in Grandad’s shed which always smelled of shallots and had a pair of curtains at the window. While he pottered doing jobs and I would read my book. Or in the colder months we’d be inside, with the gas fire on so high it gave me a headache, and my Grandad in his red all-in-one (he was ahead of his time when it came to onesies). He’d watch rugby league or an old black and white film, while I read or we would read together. Grandad was very fond of pioneer stories, adventure novels and Wilbur Smith.
These are just a few of my book choices from those earliest days of picking my own books and cultivating a love of reading:
Little Women: This was the first book I read after completing the reading scheme at school. School had the first book, but I went to Scunthorpe Library to read the next stage of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy growing up in civil war America. I borrowed this series so many times that I still know each girl’s story off by heart. Of course Jo is my favourite. I wanted to be a writer and have a room to work in with lots of books. However, I also grew to love Amy despite her haughty character and snobbish tendencies. These early attempts to seem genteel were affected and often satirised by her older sisters. Yet, Amy grows from there. She keeps a certain steeliness and determination to succeed, but becomes kinder, softer and more vulnerable. Her interest in the finer things though give her a certain polish, she is cultured and this gives her opportunities. Good Wives shows this growth. I love how this series seems to stay relevant for every generation, with the latest film taking an interesting, more feminist slant than before. I love this Puffin ‘In Bloom’ edition of the book.
What Katy Did: I chose to read about more 19th Century growing up with Katy Carr and her house full of brothers and sisters. Katy’s mother had died and her father worked long hours as a local doctor, leaving the siblings to run a bit wild. Until her father’s sister, Aunt Izzy takes over as housekeeper. The strangest thing about reading this series was Katy’s accident on the garden swing that leaves her paralysed. I had an accident and broke my back at a similar age and was temporarily stuck in bed. I remember wanting to be like Katy or her mentor Cousin Helen who was always cheerful and helpful, even though she was in constant pain and a wheelchair user. In later years I wrote about the illness of Katy and other 19th Century heroines such as Beth March and Pollyanna. They all learn to be well behaved and Christian young ladies through suffering, if you read them from a feminist viewpoint. Back then though I just loved the sequels to Katy’s story – the secret societies at school, the trunks of goodies sent from home, Katy’s travels across Europe, particularly the Venice carnival. I’m sure it was this book that made me determined to visit Venice when I was older.
The Bagthorpes Saga: For humour I always enjoyed James Herriot’s stories, and later the Adrian Mole diaries, but the Bagthorpes were in a league of their own when it came to comedy. The four siblings William, Tess, Rosie and Jack were the children of writers – capable Agony Aunt Mrs Bagthorpe and the stressed out and highly strung scriptwriter Mr Bagthorpe. The whole family are always getting into scrapes with Grandma and their psychopathic four year old cousin Daisy behind all sorts of nefarious schemes. The siblings are all busy with accomplishments that Mrs Bagthorpe calls ‘strings to their bow’. All except Jack. Jack is the ordinary sibling, who enjoys walking his dog Zero and doesn’t really excel at anything. Aided by a hedgehog like housekeeper, Mrs Thorndyke, the Bagthorpe family lurch from one disaster to another; fires, floods, hauntings and kleptomaniac four year olds! I read these books over and over.
Pippi Longstocking: Pippi was one of those marvellous heroines who is an orphan so has no restrictions to her imagine or what she can get up to. Pippi Longstocking is only nine years old and lives all by herself with a horse, a monkey, a suitcase full of gold, and no grown-ups to tell her what to do. She’s wild and funny and her crazy ideas are always getting her into trouble! She devises adventures for her new found friends Tommy and Annika. Pippi performs at the circus, is reunited with her long-lost father, and takes her friends Tommy and Annika on a trip to the Canny Canny Islands. She also finds a squeazle, gives a shark a good telling-off, and turns 43 somersaults in the air. I loved her sense of adventure and wanted to feel as free as she did. I love the new gift editions illustrated by Lauren Child, they seem to capture the spirit of Pippi perfectly.
The Moomin Sagas: Oh how I love the Moomins! Today I have a Moomin dress, light box, mug collection and many other reminders of Tove Jansens eclectic characters. The Moomintroll family live in a tall blue house in Finland and are peaceful, happy creatures. Moominmamma is an earth mother type, always willing to feed another at her table and often taking in other creatures to help, such as the Hemulen – a tall, cross dressing botanist with depressive tendencies. Moominpapa likes nothing better than a quiet day fishing and smoking his pipe. Moomintroll is their son and has various friends such as Snufkin, a green clad, flute playing traveller who often wanders off to have adventures. Moomintroll’s love interest is the Snork Maiden, a Moomin with curly eyelashes, blond hair and a few cuddly extra pounds that she worries about (I feel a great affinity with her). There are adventures with eclipses, hobgoblins and comets, but it is the characterisation of these varied creatures that has always stuck with me and their philosophical musings on life. I’m considering a Moomin tattoo, perhaps Little My?
I’m thinking of a combi Moomin and reading tattoo to represent this childhood love of reading, all started with a library card.
Synopsis | Tanz is living in London and still grieving her friend Frank, who died in a car crash three years ago. As acting jobs dry up, she has to find a normal job to fund her cocktail habit. When she starts work in a new age shop, Tanz discovers that the voices she’s hearing in her head are possibly real psychic messages, not the first signs of schizophrenia. Alarmed, she confronts her little mam and discovers she is from a long line of psychic mediums. Despite a whole exciting new avenue of life opening up to Tanz, darkness isn’t far away and all too soon there’s murder in the air. In book two, after her fast paced introduction to the world of clairvoyance, Tanz is hiding in bed, having nightmares about a suicidal psychopath, drinking red wine, irritating her cat and waiting to be evicted. Life as she knew it seven months ago has turned on its head and only the prospect of a new TV job in Newcastle and a month with her best friend Milo can help pick her up off the floor. But when she gets home, the Newcastle of more than a century before decides to haunt her bringing all kinds of spooks and horrors with it
Review | Tanz is a cocktail drinking, straight talking, Geordie actress, with a talent for swearing. She is an absolute breath of fresh air. Within pages she felt like my long lost friend and I was mentally inviting her to my fantasy dinner party (alongside Mr. Tumnus, Ruth Galloway, Sugar from The Crimson Petal and the White, Jo March, and Vianne Rocher).
I read both of these short novels in a weekend and have been left longing for more. The story begins as Tanz is working at a new age shop, between acting jobs. She has made friends with one of the ‘readers’ in the shop, but is starting to have an inkling that her own family might have their own gift. Her Mam seems to have prophetic dreams, but doesn’t make a big thing of it even though her grandmother was a Romany. Tanz had started hearing voices, but wondered if it was a symptom of grief following the sudden death of her friend Frank three years before. She even starts to worry if she could he schizophrenic. Luckily she has a great mentor at hand – Sheila is another reader at the shop, an older woman with years of experience in this strange world of mediumship. She describes Tanz as a ‘natural’ and her strong reaction to an odd couple who visit the shop seems to set them on an investigative path. Sheila is vital to Tanz and their friendship grows as the mystery becomes disturbing and dangerous. What are this strange couple hiding and why is Tanz hearing a woman wailing every time they’re near? Despite being terrified Tanz and Sheila let their spirit guides lead them towards the answers and into danger.
Gin Palace situates Tanz back in her hometown of Gateshead, where she has a role in a TV series after months without work. She would have loved the main role, but is playing the tart with greasy hair, dark circles under the eyes and the shortest skirt. She’s the only one with a genuine Geordie accent. After her introduction to clairvoyance, she was hoping for a quieter time, but it seems the spirits aren’t ready to leave her alone. Tanz finds herself haunted by visions of an 18th Century Gateshead and the tenements down by the docks. On a ghost walk she finds out about the brutal murder of a prostitute, the terrible warehouse fire that razed the tenements to the ground, and the role gin played in the lives of these unfortunate residents. This gives her some background but doesn’t explain the violent man who keeps beating her to death in terrifying dreams. Nor does it explain her visions of a little boy who looks like the Artful Dodger, with the face of a pitiful waif one moment, and eyes that burn like the coals of hell the next. Is she being warned off? Or is there another mystery the spirit world like her to unearth?
I loved both of these books for their characters and the company of Tanz. I loved her Mam and Dad, who are traditional Northerners through and through. They were very like my parents – always half way down a cup of tea, have tea at 5pm and seemingly happy to potter at home together. Tanz’s dad has his shed to tinker in, but her ‘little Mam is always there with some very down to earth and wise advice. I love how Whitwell presents mediumship and it’s effects on the practitioner. Sheila teaches Tanz how to protect herself against certain types of spirits, but there are still times when she is terrified by what transpires in her own mind and in front of her. Her nightmares affect her sleep, she feels unnerved and often wonders if her gift is worth it. It’s great if it helps someone, but otherwise it’s very inconvenient and not making her any money. It made me think of taking a counselling session, it can be exhausting and the counsellor needs a self-care regime in place to replenish their reserves. I enjoyed Tanz’s loyalty, not just to her close friends, but to those people she picks up along the way and even those from the spirit world who need release. Her bravery in confronting the scarier paranormal events, while being absolutely terrified, is endearing. By the second book she is starting to trust her powers a little, to understand the strength of her gift and her guides. These books are fresh, modern and comfortingly Northern. The mix of gothic and supernatural subjects, with this down to earth, 21st Century heroine is different and such great fun. Tanz is a woman you’d like to go for a few cocktails with and the mingling of her familiar worldly worries and her other worldly gift is irresistible.
Biography|Tracy Whitwell was born, brought up and educated in Gateshead in the north east of England. She wrote plays and short stories from an early age, then had her head turned and ran off to London to be an actress. By 1993 she was wearing a wig and an old fashioned dress and pretending to be impoverished on telly in a Catherine Cookson mini-series, whilst going to see every indie/rock band she could afford.
After an interesting number of years messing about in front of the camera and traveling the world though, Tracy discovered she still loved writing and completed her first full length play. A son, many stage-plays, screenplays and two music videos followed until one day she realised she was finally ready to do the thing she’d longed to do since she was six. She wrote her first novel. A crime/horror/comedy tale about an alcohol-soaked, gobby, thrill-seeking actress who talks to ghosts. (Who knows where the inspiration came from, it’s almost like she based it on her own ridiculous life.) Then she wrote a follow up and realised she couldn’t stop writing books.
Now Tracy lives in north London with her son, still travels whenever possible and has written novel number four. Now being edited.
Synopsis | Life is short – no one knows that better than seventeen year-old Lenni Petterssen. On the Terminal Ward, the nurses are offering their condolences already, but Lenni still has plenty of living to do. When she meets 83-year-old Margot Macrae, a fellow patient offering new friendship and enviable artistic skills, Lenni’s life begins to soar in ways she’d never imagined.
As their bond deepens, a world of stories opens up: of wartime love and loss, of misunderstanding and reconciliation, of courage, kindness and joy. Stories that have led Lenni and Margot to the end of their days.
Fiercely alive, disarmingly funny, and brimming with tenderness, THE ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF LENNI AND MARGOT unwraps the extraordinary gift of life even when it is about to be taken away, and revels in our infinite capacity for friendship and love when we need it most.
My Thoughts | As soon as I read the synopsis for this book I knew it was meant for me. This is the type of world I understand; the kingdom of the sick. Not that I have a terminal illness, but I do have a life limiting illness and that puts me into a different bracket in society. I don’t do a 9-5, I have to spend a lot of time at home and I have no idea what the next day will bring. It’s a strange place to be; to have life in front of you, but knowing there are now limits to how I live and possibly how long I live for. It’s about learning to live, while dying.
That’s what Lenni and Margot understand. While the nurses are already saying their goodbyes, Lenni and Margot are making friends and learning how to carry on living. I love the idea of this cross generational friendship, because I do believe we can develop deep connections outside of our own age bracket. We have so much to offer each other. Older people bring their wisdom, experiences and perspective to the table. Whilst younger people can replenish a life with energy, knowledge of popular culture and technology that can enrich an older person, establish connections and reduce isolation. Also both are aware that they have limited time so put their all into the friendship, as well as the new experiences it brings. It sounds like a tearjerker, but one that that’s also uplifting and full of life lessons we could all do with learning.
Biography | Marianne Cronin is the author of ‘The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, which took me six years to write and I’m very excited that their story is now reaching readers. Before She started working on writing fiction full-time, she worked in academia and has a PhD in Applied Linguistics but she doesn’t use the title ‘Dr’ on official documents because She’s scared of being asked to help in a medical emergency and having only a thesis on linguistics to help. She likes to write at night and when not writing, she can be found trying to be funny in various improv groups or watching her recently-adopted cat sleeping under my desk.
This book surprised me, delighted me and broke my heart. It was not at all what I expected, but was all the more special for that. Cleverly, Serle wrong foots the reader into thinking this is a straight forward romance, but it really isn’t. It’s about love and just as our heroine Dannie is some times unsure what love looks like, so is the reader. The author shows us that we hold certain conventions and have expectations about how the story will unfold. This beautiful story teaches us that sometimes we don’t notice or fully appreciate what we already have.
Dannie is a corporate lawyer, living in Manhattan and dating the eminently eligible David. David and Dannie only begin to live together after dating for two years. They have done everything according to an unspoken timetable; everything about their relationship is planned and just right. In fact their relationship is so predictable that when David suggests dinner at the Rainbow Room, Dannie knows he’s going to propose. She says yes when he presents the perfect engagement ring, but they don’t plan their wedding. They continue to drift along as they are until Dannie has the dream.
Her vivid dream shows a loft apartment in Dumbo with interior design details such as an art print of an optician’s chart with a witty slogan. It’s nowhere Dannie can imagine living. It’s trendy and edgy. She and David live in Gramercy Park. A perfect location for their work and where they are in life. Yet, the Dumbo apartment feels comfortable. Then a man appears. She’s never met him before but yet there is a connection, something she can’t define. As he moves closer she feels actual electricity. She has never felt this before. Like some huge force compels them to be together. When she wakes, Dannie feels strange. Now she’s questioning everything around her.
She has planned to see her friend Bella. They have been friends since boarding school and are still incredibly close. Bella takes more risks than Dannie and sometimes Dannie sees her as someone who doesn’t finish things, maybe even a bit flakey. Bella loves art, she lives to travel and has a more bohemian outlook on life. Dannie has a more settled and perhaps, conventional life where work is the priority and her stable relationship with David simply ticks along. Up until now Bella hasn’t had a stable relationship in her life, but she has brought someone important to meet Dannie. When he walks in, Dannie is shocked to see the man from her dream. She panics and decides to do everything she can to stop her dream from coming true, but life can take strange turns and a series of events unfold that she never imagined. They make her rethink everything about how to live life and how to love.
I became so involved with Dannie and Bella’s story that it was hard to put the book down towards the end. The story crept up on me from something very light to an emotional tale about the strength of female friendship. These girls are life partners. Their presence sustains each other in ways that romantic relationships sometimes don’t. Bella’s mother lets slip that she purposely placed her daughter in the same school as Dannie, because she saw them together and could not part them. The very structure of the book teaches the reader something about love and our romantic expectations, we are learning alongside Dannie. The author shows that loss and love are linked; when we grieve it just proves how much we loved. I found myself becoming very emotional towards the end of the book. I found the writing so truthful and similar to my own experience of grief that I had a lump in my throat. I loved the ending and the fact it wasn’t predictable elevated the book above the ordinary. I will be hugging my friends a little closer and appreciating all the people in my life who love me.
Synopsis | Eudora Honeysett is getting tired of life. If She can choose how to live her own life, why can’t she choose how to die her own death?
Eudora Honeysett is done – with all of it. Having seen first-hand what a prolonged illness can create, the eighty-five-year-old has no intention of leaving things to chance. With one call to a clinic in Switzerland she takes her life into her own hands.
But then ten-year-old Rose arrives in a riot of colour on her doorstep. Now, as precocious Rose takes Eudora on adventures she’d never imagined she reflects on the trying times of her past and soon finds herself wondering – is she ready for death when she’s only just experienced what it’s like to truly live?
Being offered this book was a real gift, because now I’ve discovered a new author I love. I can go back and read her other work and wonder why I’ve never come across Annie Lyons before. Thanks to Harper Collins and One More Chapter for bringing this writer and a beautiful character like Eudora to my attention. Eudora is 85 and lives alone in Cornwall with her cat Montgomery. She has sent what a lengthy illness and old age can do and doesn’t want a prolonged end to her life. Very decisively, she makes a call to Switzerland so she can organise an end to life on her terms, quickly, painlessly and without fuss. She’s quite sure no one will miss her. Her family are gone and the only people she knows are passing acquaintances, not friends.
Then a new family move in next door, with a little girl called Rosa. When the family introduce themselves to Eudora, she is mesmerised by this bright, bubbly little girl. She is like a whirlwind of love and fairy dust. Eudora has never had children so this is her first experience of spending time with one. Every experience they have together is brand new and Rosa has all the wonder and enthusiasm that has been .”missing from Eudora’s life. When she looks at life through Rosa’s eyes it becomes new, shiny and filled with hope. As they embark on adventures together, Rosa’s attitude to life starts to rub off on Eudora. She is enjoying life for the first time, trying new things and meeting new people. One of these new friends is Stanley and Eudora experiences making a new friend, with all the excitement and joy that brings. When the call comes from Switzerland will she be ready?
I think this book is an important lesson – to keep trying new experiences in life, no matter what your age and ability. Never assume you’ve done all the learning you’re going to do. When we throw ourselves into life, we get so much back. Eudora had backed away from life, possibly due to her past experiences, and as a consequence every day was the same isolated and limited existence. Together Rosa and Eudora throw the doors wide open and welcome life in. As a reader we bring our own experiences to books and I seem to be reading a lot of books lately that touch on my own life. I have a life limiting condition called multiple sclerosis, and when well enough, I work as a counsellor with people who have this condition and other disabilities. The ‘Switzerland option’ comes up a lot and many years ago someone I knew in my personal life did this. He threw a huge party for his final birthday, then flew to Dignitas and ended his life; MND was limiting him more each day and he was at the point where he was unable to swallow. When your life is limited, small pleasures can be so important. For him, the ability to enjoy and experience food was too much to lose. My own husband sometimes wished he’d taken this option towards the end of his life, but when we talked about those moments we had experienced together right up to the end, he agreed that he was glad not to have missed them.
It’s vital to continue to live, try new things and meet new people because all of those things enrich our lives. For me, I’m living something similar to Eudora’s experience. I found out many years ago that I would find it difficult to have children. After a third miscarriage, I made the decision that I couldn’t keep putting myself through this for the sake of my mental health. I have always felt that children are a gift, not a right, so I accepted that my life would follow a different path. When I met my partner after six years of living alone, I was aware he had two girls but got to know them very slowly. I didn’t want them to feel their relationship to their Dad had changed, or that I was trying to be their Mum, because they have a perfectly good one already. I was around but made sure they had plenty of alone time with Dad too. I was so worried about my effect on them that I underestimated the change they’d bring to my life. One afternoon when we’d all been living together a while, our fourteen year old came rushing in from a day out shouting for me and panicking; she’d spilled chocolate ice-cream down her white crop top and would I be able to get the stain out. I realised I was the ‘fixer’ of things, that she trusted me to be able to fix this for her. My partner found me in the downstairs bathroom crying into the Vanish stain remover! It was the moment I knew I was accepted and I was part of this family. They both bring such joy and fun into my life, and the experience of parenting I never expected to have and I love it, even though it’s not always easy.
I guess what I’m trying to say, is the book’s message really resonated with me. That we never really know when our life is over or when something new is going to come along and change everything. To make us see the mundane everyday in a totally different way. That’s what this novel does, and what makes it so uplifting. In a year that’s increasingly beginning to feel like Groundhog Day, this novel manages to lift the spirits and bring hope – quite an amazing feat when the central subject is death! This is the right time for a novel like this, if ever we needed an uplifting, joyous tale like this, it is now. This shows what an incredible writer Annie Lyons is, because she has taken a deep, difficult subject and yet left the reader feeling hopeful for the future. Eudora is such a great character, developing from a curmudgeonly old lady to someone full of life and love. I enjoyed the flashbacks to her past where we see how she came to be a lonely, isolated woman who doesn’t want to live. She goes on a huge journey emotionally, and the dual timeline shows us this – one journey leading to hopelessness and the current journey towards joy and re-engaging with all that life has to offer.
The portrayal of Rosa was brilliant, because of her innocence, especially where it is highlighted against Eudora’s character. Rosa doesn’t see age or grumpiness. Eudora, and Stanley from down the road, are simply two friends she can play with and create and create adventures for. She doesn’t see their potential limitations and I think that says something about the way we treat older people – is it society’s tendency to avoid ageing? Do we see their lives as over and assume they have nothing to contribute? Is it when society stops seeing them as worthwhile, that they become isolated and dissatisfied with life? We need to stop seeing ages, and other potential differences, and instead see people with so much to offer us. This is one of those books that has arrived without hype or fanfare, but has bloggers shouting from the rooftops. This book is emotionally intelligent, has multi-layered and well written characters, with a storyline that will draw you in and enrich your life. If you need a lockdown lift or the impetus to start living again then this wonderful book is for you.
Meet The Author | After a career in bookselling and publishing, Annie Lyons published five books including the best-selling, Not Quite Perfect. When not working on her novels, she teaches creative writing. She lives in south-east London with her husband and two children.