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Human Remains

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Our best book group books of 2013

Joining a book group about then years ago was a really good way to get me back into reading fiction. I'd got so much into the habit of reading textbooks that I'd forgotten the delights of good story telling. It's a small group and we meet in each other's houses once a month, taking it in turns to choose the book.

Last January we were reading Peter May's The Blackhouse, the first of his Lewis trilogy and we were so engaged by the atmosphere of the Hebridean location and the intriguing characters that we went on to the read the other two just to find out what happened next. I then made the mistake of trying out the first of the China thrillers - The Firemaker which I really didn't enjoy. I found the characters irritating and the style a bit 'instructional' - I was conscious of being taught about life in China and given a stereotypical view of the Chinese. The insights didn't flow comfortably from the story in the best 'show don't tell' manner. So I don't think I'll try any more of those. However, the Lewis trilogy I would recommend.

I went to two book launches in January too. Alex Brown held her launch for Cupcakes at Carringtons in a rather posh members club in London, with red velvet cupcakes to suit the story - so it was wortth going just for that experience. It's a good book to take on holiday and read on the beach. The second book launch of the year was for Elizabeth Haynes' Human Remains which is her best book yet in my view. The story rests on the discovery of a pattern in unexplained deaths - people found long after they had died but with no evidence of foul play. It draws on Elizabeth's experience of working as a police intelligence analyst and it is well worth reading. Her fourth book Under a Silent Moon is next on my list for 2014. It sounds really good - a 'police procedural' with a woman DI. The Kindle edition is out already and it looks like the paperback will be launched early in 2014. There are some books I have to have in paperback and this will be one of them so I can look back at all the procedural documents and try to solve the crime.

In March we read Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey which was a big chunky book with lots of historical research behind it. It gave us insight into what it was like for both owners and workers when the mines were privately owned. It told the story of a big house Wentworth in Yorkshire, the Fitzwilliam Family who lived in it and the miners who worked for them and the other owners of the 70 local coal mines. It covers fifty years of history when relationships between different stratas of society changed dramatically so it's full of all the elements of a good story and we all thoroughly it. When I was browsing in Waterstones yesterday I noticed she had a new book out in 2013 The Secret Rooms, and I'm definitely going to get it in 2014... definitely in paperback because of all the details I will need to refer back to.

That's a few of the best reads last year - there are so many good books around I look forward to reading more. Happy New Year!

 

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Why don't you write a snail recipe book?

When I started writing ‘Molluscs and Me’, I began with the story of how it all came about. Then people said to me: ‘Why don’t you write a recipe book? Well recipe books only sell if the writer is a famous TV chef. I may have been on TV a few times but I quickly realised that doesn’t make me famous. I knew that recipes had to be there somehow and that gave me a problem to solve. It’s all about structure. When I read a book I’m always intrigued by the way the writer puts the story together. Toni Morrison’s book ‘Paradise’ (http://womenshistory.about.com/od/tonimorrison/p/toni_morrison.htm) made an impression on me years ago because of the way each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. I rushed through each chapter to reach that ‘Oh I see!’ moment when I saw how this new piece linked together with all the others at the end.

Elizabeth Haynes latest thriller ‘Human Remains’ (http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/) has mini chapters between the main storyline where she introduces each new victim. Elizabeth lent me Gowing’s ‘Travels in Blood and Honey’ (www.elizabethgowing.com/) when she knew I was struggling with how to incorporate recipes. The sub-title ‘becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo’ gives you a clue what it’s about. Each chapter has new items of Albanian vocabulary at the beginning and a local honey recipe at the end.

Phillippa Moore (http://www.skinnylattestrikesback.com/) gave me lots of help with structure and suggested that I read a number of books to give me ideas. Kay Sexton’s ‘The Allotment Diaries’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Allotment-Diaries-Plotting-Feasting/dp/1849533555) was a very good example of how to weave practical information in-between the elements of a story. It follows the seasons of the year and explains what you should be doing on the allotment each month. At the same time it creates a sense of the community of people who dig and sow alongside her.

So I had lots of ideas to draw on … and you’ll have to read the book to find out what I did!

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