Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Great Celebrity Memoirs.

I’m not a usual reader of celebrity memoirs. I know there’s a certain snobbery in bookish circles for the celebrity memoir, so I thought I’d get that in there before you click away to another blog. I’m all for whatever gets people reading to be honest, but it’s a rare book that sits above the usual ghost written Christmas fare. These are memoirs that sit above the ordinary, that have touched me emotionally or made me laugh, that have surprised me with the beauty of their writing or their inventiveness, or even revealed incredible stories that kept me gripped to the final page. Some you may have heard of while others are lesser known, but just as compelling.

Patient by Ben Watt.

‘In the summer of 1992, on the eve of a trip to America, I was taken to a London hospital with bad chest pain and stomach pains. They kept me in for two and half months. I fell very ill – about as ill it is possible to be without actually dying – confronting a disease hardly anyone, not even some doctors, had heard of. People ask what was it like, and I say yes, of course it was dramatic and graphic and all that stuff, but at times it was just kind of comic and strange. It was, I suppose, my life-changing story.’

Benn Watt is half of the band Everything But The Girl and his short memoir covers a period when his bandmate Tracey Thorn was also his partner. In 1992, when I was taking my ALevels and listening to his band, Ben contracted a rare life-threatening illness that baffled doctors and required months of hospital treatment and operations. This is the story of his fight for survival and the effect it had on him and those nearest him. I recommend this book because it is beautifully written and captures the feeling of being seriously unwell perfectly. He describes coming institutionalised, so in sync with the day to day running of the ward that he could tell to the second when the newspaper lady was going to enter the ward. I love his play on ‘Patient’ as noun and verb at the same time, the patience it requires to endure the diagnostic process and to cope with what I call ‘hospital time’ – where ‘I’ll be a minute’ means half an hour. Only two years after his book is set, I was going through my own lengthy periods of hospitalisation, enduring unpleasant tests and realising there are limits to medical science. It’s an incredibly scary place to be and Ben conveys that so well, as well as the strange feeling when discharged when the patient goes from totally dependent to alone. I remember after a lengthy hospital stay, sitting in my flat thinking it was getting close to mealtime and that I was hungry, then a second later realising I had to make my own food! What he captures best is the realisation that what he expected to be a short interlude in his life, is actually becoming his life. The narrowing of his horizons from someone who toured the world to a resident of a single ward, or even to an individual bed.

Ben Watt

Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by Rupert Everett

I became fascinated with Rupert Everett after seeing him on Graham Norton’s chat show and finding him both hilarious and painfully honest, both about himself and others. I loved his wit and comic timing in My Best Friend’s Wedding and especially in the Oscar Wilde films he starred in. I was pleased to find he was a devotee of Wilde, who wanted to make an honest film about his later life. My best friend from university always sends me a book at Christmas and I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of his second memoir Vanished Years. I made sure I found a copy of his first memoir above so I could read them back to back. They both lived up to my expectations. I seem to remember first noticing him in conjunction with Madonna back in the 80’s and he had come across as a pretty boy in that context, but there is so much more to that rather spoiled exterior. His performance in Another Country was exceptional and his eventual film of Oscar Wilde was extraordinarily moving, but it is the drama of his private life that has attracted more attention than his talent. These memoirs show that he has always been surrounded by interesting and notorious people, becoming friends with Andy Warhol by the time he was 17. He has been friend to some of the most famous women in the world: Donatella Versace, Bianca Jagger, Sharon Stone and Faye Dunaway. This notoriety and films such as Dunstan Checks In overshadow incredible work with the RSC and I finally saw him shine on stage in the West End as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion.

I have always known, from his interview with Graham Norton, that Everett is a raconteur, but these memoirs show he can write a great story too. He has an uncanny ability to be at the centre of dramatic events: he was in Berlin when the wall came down, in Moscow at the end of Communism and in Manhattan on September 11th. The celebrity stories are deliciously gossipy and terribly honest. It seems Everett doesn’t hold anything back, whether he’s lampooning someone else or himself. His second memoir is again mischievous, but also touching with stories from childhood and early life. He takes the reader on an amazing journey around the world and from within the celebrity circus from LA to London. I loved the addition of family stories, such as a pilgrimage to Lourdes with his father that is both hilarious and moving. There’s a misguided step into reality TV that goes horribly wrong. A lot of celebrity authors are easy on themselves, writing solely from their own perspective rather than presenting life objectively. Everett is unfailingly honest, presenting his flaws and tragedies with the same scrutiny and irreverence he gives to others. Both books are incredibly enjoyable, a journey with the best and most disreputable storyteller you will ever meet.

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl.

One of my favourite video clips recently was of the Westboro’ Baptist Church protesting outside a Foo Fighter’s gig. Then with perfect timing around the corner came a couple of majorettes, followed by a flat bed truck with a band playing The Beatle’s ‘All You Need Is Love’. On the back stood Dave Grohl with a microphone, shouting out their love for the protestors. I’ve always known that Grohl was a good guy and despite only enjoying some of the Foo Fighter’s music I’ve always thought he was an interesting and enlightened person. I’ve also wondered how he recovered following the suicide of Nirvana front man and personal friend Kurt Cobain, an event that stood out in my mind in the same way the death of John Lennon did for my parents. I loved Grohl’s humour and willingness to make an idiot of himself. My best friend and I rewatched the Tenacious D video for Tribute where Grohl is painted red and given an amazing pair of horns as Lucifer. I was bought this book last Christmas by my stepdaughters. However, it was only recently, after the death of another bandmate and friend Taylor Hawkins, that I picked it up and read a few pages every night in bed.

Grohl addresses my reservations about about celebrity memories straight away, stating that he’s even been offered a few questionable opportunities: ‘It’s a piece of cake! Just do four hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!’. Grohl writes his early experiences with fondness and an obvious nostalgia. He found the writing process much the same as writing songs, with the same eagerness to share the stories with the world. He has clearly linked back to old memories and emotions, feeling as if he was recounting ‘a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook’. He has definitely embraced the opportunity to show us what it was like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia with all the crazy dreams of a young musician. He takes us from gigging with Scream at 18 years old, through his time in Nirvana to the Foo Fighters. What’s lovely is that same childlike enthusiasm while jamming with Iggy Pop, playing at the Academy Awards, dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, hearing bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with his daughters…the list goes on. We may know some of these stories, but what he promises is to help us reimagine these stories, focused through his eyes. I’ve seen reviews that claim he has glossed over or withheld some of the truth of his experiences, particularly around Kurt Cobain with Courtney Love absent from proceedings. I don’t think this is being disingenuous, I think this is what Dave Grohl is like – generous, humble and honest with regard to his own take on events. Perhaps he feels other people’s stories are their own and not his to tell. I was so impressed with how grounded he is and how aware of the most important things in his life: his family; his daughters; his friends; those who remind him of where he’s come from; and lastly, his music.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Stephen King begins this memoir with the accident that he says has made the last twenty years of his life an incredible gift. With some humour he recounts being on his four mile daily walk and taking a break to relive himself in the woods. As he was returning to the road, a van driver was simultaneously trying to prevent one of his dogs rummaging in a beer cooler. This unlucky coincidence meant King was in a position to be struck as the van swerved off the road. A man who witnessed the crash watched as the impact threw King up and over the van, smashing the windscreen with his head and propelling him into a ditch 14 feet away. Local man, Donald Baker, found King ‘in a tangled-up mess, lying crooked, and had a heck of gash in his head. He kept asking what had happened.’ The van driver seemed devoid of emotion or panic, claiming he thought he’d hit a deer until he noticed King’s bloody glasses on his front seat. In a strange parody of his bestselling novel Misery King was left hospitalised with a shattered hip and pelvis, broken ribs, a punctured lung and fractured femur. The driver died only one year after the accident, from unrelated causes. It took King months to recover, with some limitations remaining to this day.

This strange hybrid book comes out of that time, from that trauma which affected him mentally as well as physically, back to his childhood, his early adult life, his marriage and the drinking that nearly cost him his relationship. If people read this hoping to read a masterclass or a shortcut to writing a bestseller, they’ll be disappointed. You don’t need a fancy masterclass to be a writer, you simply need to write. However, he does explore his own process and influences. There’s some practical advice on character building and plotting, showing how a spark of an idea was turned into Carrie. He also talks about pace, plots and presentation of a manuscript. He talks about he origins and development of certain books and uses examples of other writer’s work to illustrate what he’s advising. What he can’t do is identify that magic or spark that made him a No 1 bestseller for almost half a century. I enjoyed his stories about his early adult years when he was struggling financially, but was so persistent. The jobs he had to take to support his family, when the writing simply wasn’t paying. He was teaching by day and writing in the evenings. He also talks about the perceptions of him in the industry, perceptions I have always thought unfair, that despite incredible economic success and prolific output, he will never be considered a good writer. I loved his advice to write in a room with blinds and a closed door, if you’re not distracted by a view it is easy to disappear into a vista of your own making. He also plays loud rock music, but that wouldn’t be for me, I need silence or calm background music, no TV and no talking. It’s true that every writer needs their own best conditions for writing – although a closed door with no interruptions seems universal – you will need to find your own process. However, I do think he hits upon something important about life, like Dave Grohl, and that is the importance of family to ground us and stand by us while we create and especially when economic success does come.


Posted in Random Things Tours

Lost Property by Helen Paris

It took me about five pages to be drawn into Dot Watson’s quirky world and her love for the lost property office in which she works for London Transport. If anything is lost, be it on a cab, bus or train this is where honest people bring their found items. Dot is like the backbone of the office and the other workers would be lost without her. A lover of proper procedure and organisation, Dot is the ‘go to’ employee for anyone starting work with the team, or just to answer a question about an item. Dot thinks lost things are very important, almost like an extension of that person. Their lost item can tell her a lot about the person they are and she fills the lost luggage tags with as much detail as possible so that they have the greatest chance of locating it. Dot believes that when a person is lost to us, their possessions can take us right back to the moment they were with us. When Mr Appleby arrives at the office to find his lost piece leather hold-all it is what the case contains that moves Dot. Inside is a tiny lavender coloured purse that belonged to his late wife and he carries it everywhere. Something inside Dot breaks for this lonely man and she is determined she will find his hold-all. Her search becomes both the driving force of Dot’s story and the key to unlocking her own memories.

Dot has been working at the lost property office for years, but it isn’t the life she expected to be living. In her early twenties, travel was her main driving force in life and she was living the dream in Paris. Being multi-lingual Dot had exciting plans to travel the world, but all her dreams come to a halt when her father dies suddenly and traumatically, by throwing himself in front of a train. Dot’s relationship with her father was complicated, as he doted on her and they spent a lot of time together. However, as the youngest child by some years and because she hero worshipped her father, she didn’t always see things clearly. There are secrets at the heart of the family, kept for all the right reasons, but causing misunderstanding and resentment. When her father died Dot rushed home, but the trauma of his death affects the whole family deeply and it seems to put Dot’s life on hold. Now her collection of travel guides are her window on the world she once wanted to explore, but she is firmly stuck in her mum’s flat and still working in a job that was once a stop gap. Her only other activity is her regular visit to her mum in the nursing home. While her sister lives further afield, she constantly rings Dot to remind her of things and get updates on their Mum. She is pressuring Dot to get the flat viewed and sold so their lives can start again, but Dot is avoiding her. To add to her family stress, Neil from work is promoted to be their manager and the changes he wants to bring in are also disturbing Dot. He wants to reduce the amount of time they keep items, but what if something goes to auction and they can’t get it back? Dot seems to freeze, staying in the lost property office at night and looking tirelessly for Mr Appleby’s hold-all.

Dot is such a sympathetic character. She’s funny, resourceful and actually quite formidable when at full strength. We go back and see a naïve young girl, for whom Daddy is the centre of the universe. They spend a huge amount of time together which she has always viewed as the result of having a special relationship. As she goes back its interesting to see how others viewed the same events, with totally different conclusions. Their family story is so sad and brings home to us the benefits of living in such a tolerant and open society today. If Dot has been viewing her life through the wrong lens, how will she cope when she finally sees it all? Dot thinks she’s weak, but she’s actually incredibly strong. Some of the things she goes through, not just in the past, but during her time sleeping at the property office are really traumatic. She will take more time to process it all, but I loved the author’s importance in the human power to change, to take stock and move forward with life. I think the writer has been clever in her debut novel to write a light, uplifting story, but with so many darker layers underneath. It’s a real accomplishment to imbue a character that could have become a caricature, with life and authenticity. I love her optimism too, leaving us with the knowledge that no matter what the trauma, we have the power to change ourselves and our lives for the better. I heartily recommend this book to other readers, but they must prepare to fall in love with it as I did.

Meet The Author


Helen Paris worked in the performing arts for two decades, touring internationally with her London-based theatre company Curious. After several years living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she returned to the UK to focus on writing fiction. As part of her research for a performance called ‘Lost & Found’, Paris shadowed employees in the Baker Street Lost Property office for a week, an experience that sparked her imagination and inspired this novel.

Posted in Publisher Proof

A Little Hope by Ethan Joelle

Set in an idyllic Connecticut town over the course of a year, A LITTLE HOPE follows the intertwining lives of a dozen neighbours as they confront everyday desires and fears: an illness, a road not taken, a broken heart, a betrayal.

Freddie and Greg Tyler seem to have it all: a comfortable home at the edge of the woods, a beautiful young daughter, a bond that feels unbreakable. But when Greg is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, the sense of certainty they once knew evaporates overnight. Meanwhile, Darcy Crowley is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband as she worries over her struggling adult son, Luke. Elsewhere, Ginger Lord returns home longing for a lost relationship; Ahmed Ghannam wonders if he’ll ever find true love; and Greg’s boss, Alex Lionel, grapples with a secret of his own.

Ethan Joella’s novel feels perfect for this moment in life. Since 2020 our world has changed irreparably, for some this means that every day life has changed so they no longer work in an office full of other people, or they’ve missed going out over the past two years, or had their exams cancelled. For others it means learning to live with loss, coping mentally with the work they did on the NHS frontline or dealing with the challenges of long COVID. For me it has meant still being super careful when I go out, avoiding large and crowded gatherings and my mobility being reduced because of treatment that’s been postponed indefinitely. Thanks to long periods of isolation, we are all used to living in our own world and can even be overwhelmed by what we’re facing inside our own front doors. To some degree, the plight of the Ukrainian people has brought us out of our own concerns and back into a collective again. We want to help and take action. It has given us perspective. This novel works in the same way. It feels inspired by the realisation we are only a small part of the jigsaw that makes up life. It’s the literary equivalent of that feeling I always get on the train in the dark, when I can see the human theatre of everyday life through the glowing windows of people who don’t shut their curtains. Every passing window is a snapshot of life. Ethan Joelle gives us a different life per chapter, as we meet the residents of the small US town of Wharton, Connecticut. Each chapter is separate, but related, and through the author’s lens we are granted access to the extraordinary lives captured within each unremarkable window.

We start with Freddie, who is coping with the fact that husband Greg has just been diagnosed with a cancer of the white blood cells called multiple myeloma. Not only that, they haven’t yet told their young daughter Addie. Freddie is just trying to process the news, but is worrying about what Greg’s diagnosis will do to their daughter at the same time. The author then takes us into Greg’s world, into his working life, where he has concerns that haven’t even crossed Freddie’s mind yet. His worries are caught up with what kind of man he is if he can’t work and provide for his family. His boss is trying to support him, but there’s a wall of denial and false optimism to get through, and what if that wall is the only structure holding him up? We weave through the lives of other Wharton residents, such as Iris, Darcy, Ginger, Luke and Ahmed. Each life is so preciously unique, their take on their world so different and beautifully human.

We are all familiar with the hashtag #BeKind and memes that remind us we never know what others are going through. Through these stories this really is brought home to the reader, as our characters touch on each other’s lives, sometimes without knowing what they’re coping with just under the surface. Yet, while taking us through every experience from infidelity to loss, the book never feels overwhelming or melancholy. Yes I wanted to shed tears from time to time, but somehow there is always a ray of hope. It reminded me that things like community, friendship, shared experiences and compassion can change everything. The author doesn’t hold back on how difficult and painful life can be, but yet always finds some element of joy that reminds us what a gift it is too. This book is poetic, achingly beautiful and full of empathy for the human condition.

Meet The Author

Ethan Joella teaches English and Psychology at the University of Delaware and specialises in community writing workshops. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The International Fiction review, The MacGuffin, Delaware Beach Life and Third Wednesday. He lives in Delaware with his wife and two daughters and is of Irish heritage.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Another Life by Jodie Chapman.

Published by Michael Joseph, 1st April 2021.

Nick and Anna work the same summer job at their local cinema. Anna is mysterious, beautiful and from a very different world to Nick.

She’s grown up preparing fot the end of days, in a tightly-controlled existence where Christmas, getting drunk and sex before marriage are all off limits.

So when Nick comes into her life, Anna falls passionately in love. Their shared world burns with poetry and music, cigarettes and conversation – hints of the people they hope to become.

But Anna, on the cusp of adulthood, is afraid to give up everything she’s ever believed in and everyone she’s ever loved. She walks away and Nick doesn’t stop her.

Years later, a tragedy draws Anna back into Nick’s life.

But rekindling their relationship leaves Anna and Nick facing a terrible choice between a love that’s endured decades, and the promises they’ve made to others along the way.

Wow! I expected a love story and received so much more from this wonderful read. Jodie Chapman has managed to capture all of life’s stages as we to and fro through the years with Anna and Nick. Told mainly by Nick, we begin on Christmas Eve in NYC 2018, then we tumble back through the years: to when he meets Anna; to his childhood years and everything beyond. Everything we come to learn about Nick’s personality, his closed off manner and inability to let anyone close, is made clear by one childhood event. So dreadful and emotional that it brought me up short. I had to close the book for a moment to process it and think about what such a loss could do to a young boy.

Nick and Anna first meet in their early twenties, while working at their local cinema. In the heat soaked days of summer 2003, their love burns with a similar intensity, as only young love can. They seem opposites. Nick is quiet and has a solidity to his character. Anna is more intense and emotion driven. These differences could balance each other out, but instead they mean the relationship never fully catches light. Anna’s fervency could come from her deeply religious upbringing. Her beliefs are strong and part of her, not just as a religion but as a culture, a way of being. If she’s to throw that life away she doesn’t just lose her church, she loses her friends, her family, her certainty in the way she sees the world. Only promises of Nick’s real feelings could persuade her to let go of these ties. Yet Nick isn’t built for such intensity of feeling. His calmness and solidity come from a place of not wanting to feel such extremes of emotion. He closes off just when Anna needs assurances. It is a short lived romance that never fully gets off the ground. Yet, this is not the last time they will meet, as they are thrown together again several times over a lifetime.

Love in all its forms is celebrated here, not just romantic love, but sibling love, family love, and love of a religion or way of life. Nick and his brother Sal have such a special relationship, condensed into that opening section, which is set in Manhattan. Nick pours a lifetime of shared love and memories into just a few pages and it grabs you, it pulls you into the story. In a way Sal is more like Anna, more fiery and quick to share his thoughts and feelings. Despite this difference in their characters the brothers are very close. We’re taken deeper into their lives together later in the novel, almost as if Nick has had to take the time to open up to the reader. These chapters are infused with nostalgia for the late eighties and early nineties – probably because I was a teenager back then, but also because they have the feel of faded home movies and I could almost here the sound of an old-fashioned projector running in the background. The author lulls us into a sepia toned dream and then shatters our emotions again as we revisit that terrible life changing event, but in greater detail. We see that this has affected both brothers, but in different ways. It also feels like one of those moments where everything clicks into place and our understanding of Nick’s behaviour and personality opens up completely.

I understood the young Anna well, because I was brought up within the confines of religion. My primary school years were spent partly in Catholic school and I made my first communion and confession, then inexplicably my Mum jumped to an evangelical church which became all encompassing. It was our Sundays, then weekly prayer meetings, house group, youth group and social events. In hindsight I was being indoctrinated and at times my parents actually scared me, because their behaviour was so out of character. If I liked a boy, my head would start whirling with how much my parents might disapprove, how they would act, the constant teaching of purity and dating exclusively within the faith and its rules. Often I found myself in the painful position of ‘just friends’ with someone I really liked, because I was too frightened to go out with them. I understood that Anna needed to hear more about how Nick felt. Did he love her? She couldn’t wait and let things play out because she didn’t have the freedom.

Personally, I realised that I needed to face whether or not I believed in this system of religion, independent from my parents. Not for a relationship, but for me. Then, although we didn’t always agree, I could make my own life choices based on my moral compass and not someone else’s. This is something Anna needed to learn too, whether she wanted that religious life or something different for herself in the future, because within some religions there is no compromise. I did appreciate the author’s autobiographical influence here, because I learned more about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their faith. It gave me a more nuanced picture than I had previously and helped me understand Anna’s choices. I also loved the touch of having Anna’s emails and poems throughout, because it is the only way we hear her voice unmediated by Nick.

The background of Nick’s parents marriage was a great addition to the novel, because it shows us how two very different people can be together. Eve is one of those people whose warmth can light up a room. She’s also keenly intelligent, not just intellectually but emotionally too. She can definitely read the men in her life. Her husband Paul is hard to like, because he’s more austere and can be unpredictable. It’s as if he’s resentful of something, and while it’s hard to understand what that might be at first, Nick does eventually discover why his father was so difficult. From the outside, people would shake their heads and wonder why this couple are together and how the relationship works. Marriage is a secret room, and only the two people inside it truly have the key to open its door. This book also feels like a key. A key to the inside of Nick and how he sees his life and relationships. A privileged and rare look into how he truly thinks and feels, but only for those who open it’s pages. I feel very lucky to be one of those few and I hope you will too.

Meet The Author

Born and raised in England, Jodie spent a decade as a photographer before returning to her first love of writing. She lives in Kent with her husband and three sons. Another Life is her first novel, coming April 2021.

Instagram: @jodiechapman
Twitter: @jodiechapman