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An apocalyptic publication day
by Elizabeth on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm
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Hereward author, James Wilde, tells us more about a rebel, a leader and a treacherous landscape…

Hereward paperback is out now.  Follow James on Twitter @manofmercia

APOCALYPSE THEN

On one side there was Hereward, England’s near-forgotten hero.  Rebel leader, outlaw, blood-thirsty and brutal.  On the other, King William, the Conqueror, the Bastard.  Just as brutal, single-minded in his desire to impose his will upon his new territory.

Yet there was a third character in that epic struggle for the future of England in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest – the Fenlands itself.  That may sound strange, but when I was in the eastern counties researching my sequence of Hereward books, I discovered how much a part geography played in history.

It’s certainly debatable if that rebellious English upstart Hereward could have maintained his uprising for so long in any other part of William’s realm.  He had the wit, or good fortune, to establish his base at the heart of a vast natural fortress of wood and water.  To any but the locals, the Fens was, at that time, an inhospitable and treacherous place.

Bounded to the west by a dense, near-impassable forest and to the east by the sea, the Fens was a landscape that changed by the day, by the hour.  Water flooded across it, at times turning lakes and meres into what was almost an inland sea with ferocious currents, the settlements rising up on small islands.  In other areas, and when the waters receded, the area was covered with bogs that could suck a man down to his death in moments.  Only the narrow flint causeways that crisscrossed the Fens allowed truly safe passage.

In a country almost devoid of wilderness in the 21st century, it’s hard to understand how the king’s well-equipped battle-hardened army could be kept at bay – after all, they had only recently laid waste to the entire North.  Yet that’s what happened.

As I trekked across the countryside around Ely, Hereward’s headquarters, I began to realize how the post-1066 resistance to William’s rule was akin to the Vietnam War.  Here, too, a poorly-armed, ragtag guerilla force managed to inflict massive losses on a more powerful force because of their ability to utilize local knowledge of their wild countryside.

Hereward’s Wild Men of the Woods, as they were known, rose from the water-courses and ditches, swept out of the forests in the blanketing mists to slaughter and returned to their hiding places before the bodies had grown cold, and lured the king’s men to their deaths in the bogs.

But there were several problems in researching this important aspect of the story.

Not the least was the fact that the Fens has changed phenomenally in a thousand years.  Sitting on a fence and looking out over the flat, green landscape just doesn’t help evoke the feel of that time.  Land reclamation, drainage and agriculture has created a gentler, pastoral world far removed from Hereward’s wild land.  I spent long days looking at ancient land records and old maps, and talking to academics to try to comprehend the true nature of the Fens at that time.  Historical geography (geographical history?) was a new area to me, but it paid off.  By the end I realized it was impossible to understand that bloody rebellion without truly understanding the Fens.

For once, L. P. Hartley’s now-cliched but famous opening line from The Go-Between actually rang true: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’

The What Shall I Read?
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The haunting new debut from American writer Wiley Cash is now available in hardback.

A Land More Kind Than Home is a spellbinding, heartbreaking story about cruelty and innocence, and the failure of religion and family to protect a child. The Financial Times recently said that ‘With a couple of scenes so unnerving that they’ll make you yelp, and the most villainous preacher since Robert Mitchum in The Night Hunters, it’s an electrifying debut’ .

Even though Wiley is currently on tour calling into bookshops across America, he took some time out to tell What Shall I Read about the journey he went through writing A Land More Kind Than Home and why he loves to write about North Carolina.

In the late summer of 2003, I left the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, for the bayous of southwest Louisiana. I’d enrolled in a Ph.D. program in English and creative writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette because I was determined to become a writer; exactly how this would happen I wasn’t quite certain. I’d already spent four years as an undergraduate in a similar program, followed by two years as a master’s student. Even after all that time in school, I still didn’t know what it meant to be a writer, but UL-Lafayette had offered me a teaching assistantship and a stipend that would keep me from starving, so I packed up my car and headed south. I’d applied to this particular program for two reasons: I wanted to go as deep into the American South as possible, but more than that I wanted to study fiction writing under Ernest J. Gaines, the university’s writer-in-residence and a man I believed then, as I do now, to be the South’s greatest living writer.

But, after just a few days in Cajun Country, I realized that I was desperately homesick. Suddenly, the things I’d taken for granted while living in western North Carolina became important fixtures in my life. I found myself ordering photo collections by North Carolina photographers, albums by North Carolina musicians, and I began reading and rereading books by North Carolina authors: Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster, Fred Chappell’s I Am One of You Forever, Wilma Dykeman’s A Tall Woman, and Clyde Edgerton’s Walking Across Egypt.

But, most importantly, I reread Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so deeply affected by a book.

It should be no surprise that the novel resonated so deeply with me. Aside from being set in a fictionalized Asheville, Look Homeward, Angel is about a young man struggling with the idea of leaving home. Wolfe’s autobiographical protagonist Eugene Gant longs to discover the destiny that awaits him beyond the confines of the towns square. Because of this, I believe the novel’s final line is perhaps the most beautiful line in all of American literature.
Yet, as he stood for the last time by the angels of his father’s porch, it seemed as if the square
already was far and lost; or I should say he was like a man who stands upon a hill above the town
he has left, yet does not say “The town is near,” but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring
ranges.
Thomas Wolfe’s four major novels are about young men who leave home and later struggle with the idea of whether or not they want to return. But it’s the title of his last novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, that sounds the final, resounding note on the issue: once you’re gone, you’re gone. This was true of Wolfe’s characters, and it was certainly true of Wolfe, who, after leaving Asheville in 1920, returned home only once for a brief visit in the summer of 1938. He died just a few months later. Thomas Wolfe spent his life longing to get out of western North Carolina; I wondered if I’d spend my life longing to get back in.

Aside from my fiction writing workshop with Gaines, I was also taking a course in African American literature, and one day my professor brought in a news story about a young African American boy with autism who was smothered during a church healing service in a storefront church on Chicago’s South Side. Although I was raised in an evangelical Southern Baptist church, I was familiar enough with charismatic belief to understand its power, and I was particularly drawn to the Pentescostal tradition, especially the Holiness movement that takes the Bible as the literal word of God, particularly Mark 16: 17-18.
And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons, they will
speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes with their hands, and when they drink deadly
poison, it will not hurt them; they will place their hands on the sick, and they will get well.
The story of the young boy’s smothering was clearly tragic, but given my interest in the Holiness movement, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it, and given my own memories of growing up in the church, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to write about it.

But when I thought about sitting down at my desk to begin the story, I knew I’d face several insurmountable problems: as interested as I was in the Holiness movement, I’d never been to Chicago’s South Side, and I knew nothing about the experience of growing up in the city’s African American neighborhoods. It was impossible for me to attempt to speak for a cultural experience that existed so far outside my own. So, I put the story idea out of my mind, and I continued to flip through my books of North Carolina photography, listen to my collection of North Carolina musicians, and fall asleep each night after reading the words of North Carolina writers.

I got to know Ernest J. Gaines pretty well over the next few months, and I learned his own story of leaving home. He was born and raised in the quarters on a plantation just west of Baton Rouge where his ancestors had spent generations working as slaves and later as sharecroppers. In 1948, at the age of fifteen, he’d had to leave Louisiana and join family in California because of the lack of education available to African American children living in Pointe Coupee Parish. But, once he arrived in Vallejo, he realized that he ached for the sugarcane fields and the twisted oak trees he’d left behind. Because he couldn’t afford to return home, he decided to read about it, but after realizing that he couldn’t find any books about the lives of rural, African Americans in the South, he decided to write about them.

Gaines’s act of recreating home was never clearer to me than the first time I visited him and his wife Dianne where they’d built a new home next door to the land where he was born and raised. It was All Saints’ Day, and a group of us were working to beautify the old slave cemetery that sits about a half-mile behind the still-standing master’s house. Gaines and I had paused in our work, and we were talking about his memories of growing up on the land and the stories of the people buried in the cemetery. At one point, he looked at me and then gestured toward a grave. “Do you know Snookum from A Gathering of Old Men?” he asked. “He’s buried right over there.”

In our workshop back at the university, Ernest J. Gaines had helped me learn to write better stories, but that day, standing in the cemetery with the master’s house barely visible through the trees and the ghostly sound of the wind rustling the sugarcane, he showed me what those stories would be about. Later that evening, while driving home in the fading daylight through the flat farmland of Louisiana, I saw the clouds sitting low on the horizon, and I realized that if I squinted my eyes I could make them look like mountains.

A few weeks later, I went back to the story of the young autistic boy who’d died in Chicago, and I imagined the same tragedy unfolding in western North Carolina. In my mind, I saw a church sitting on the riverbank in Marshall, a small town in Madison County only a short drive from Asheville where I’d spent countless days and nights driving back roads, taking photographs, camping, and swimming in the French Broad River. I gave the autistic boy a younger brother named Jess whose doubts about the church only intensify once he loses his brother inside its walls. The more I wrote, the more the community around Jess flourished in my mind: a church matriarch who struggles to protect the children; a local sheriff who must deal with his own tragic past to solve the mystery of the boy’s death; a mother who’s torn between her faith and her loss; and a father whose pain portends only tragedy. In creating these people and the place they live I got to watch the sun split the mist on the ridges above the French Broad River. From my home in Louisiana, I pondered the silence of snow covered fields. While living in a place that experiences only summer and fall, I watched the green buds sprout on the red maples, and I was there when their leaves began to shrivel before giving way to the wind. I lived in two places at once, and it was wonderful.

When it came time to give the novel a title, I went back to Thomas Wolfe and took the phrase “a land more kind than home” from the closing lines of You Can’t Go Home Again. I love the resonance of those words, the hope that perhaps something greater awaits us when we leave our old lives behind. The characters in my novel, especially young Jess, hope for that as well. But even as our circumstances often call upon us to leave home, to cast our eyes to the distant, soaring ranges, to find a land more kind than home, I believe that you can go home again, even if you have to listen to a song, open a book, or write your own to get there.

 

To order your copy of A Land More Kind Than Home click here

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash out today in hardback

Debut author Wiley Cash

The What Shall I Read?
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Pay It Forward Reading Flash Mob in London
by Kate on Mar 29, 2012 at 8:41 am
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Yesterday in the centre of a very sunny Trafalgar Square in London, a reading Flash Mob of more than 100 people took place. This was all part of a Global Flash Mob for the Pay It Forward Foundation that was set at 4pm on 28th March. There were flash mobs everywhere from Australia and Brazil to America and Slovenia!

The Pay It Forward global movement was launched from the bestselling novel Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde to promote random acts of kindness. Whilst inspiring the Foundation of the same name, Catherine’s novel was also made into a Warner Bros. film starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt in 2000.

Wednesday’s international event was organised to remind people to take time out of their busy days to help others without expecting anything in return and what best to do this with than a good book.

Flash mobbers were asked to bring a book that inspired them to swap/pay forward to someone else. At 4pm three people in bowlers hats signaled the start of the flashmob, at this signal, everyone sat down and took some time to reflect on a book that inspired them. After another signal everyone disperses and either swapped their book with someone else who attended the flash mob, or passed it on to a complete stranger.

It was great to see how these small random acts of kindness had the potential to change someone’s life and to feel a part of a global movement of change.

You can see where the other flash mob locations were around the world if you visit the facebook page 

 

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s original novel Pay It Forward all starts with a social studies teacher’s extra-credit project: Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action.

Whilst this proves a little ambitious for most of the class, twelve-year-old Trevor thinks he will start by doing something good for three people. But instead of paying him back, he will ask them to “pay it forward” by doing a favour for three more people. If it all goes to plan, Trevor thinks, it will be the start of a long chain of human kindness . . .

 

Catherine works closely with the global Pay It Forward Foundation to keep this going and is an element she adheres to in many of her novels since.

Today, Bantam Press publish her latest novel ‘When You Were Older’ in hardback. For more information and to order a copy click here.

London Pay It Forward flash mobbers showing the inspirational books they've brought with themOne person paying a book forward on to a stranger in Trafalgar Square as part of the flashmobPay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

When You Were Older by Catherine Ryan Hyde out today

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

One person paying a book forward on to a stranger in Trafalgar Square as part of the flashmob

The What Shall I Read?
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Video Extract from Mike Skinner!
by Lynsey on Mar 27, 2012 at 10:37 am
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This week Transworld is thrilled to be publishing The Story of the Streets by Mike Skinner, the book the Guardian is calling ‘one of pop’s greatest memoirs’ 

Mike traveled to some of the locations now made famous from the album covers of The Streets to record three video extracts from the book. Below you can see the location for the cover of Original Pirate Material, the tower block Kestrel House in Islington, where Mike went to read the book.

We hope you enjoy the video! More to come…

 

 

The What Shall I Read?
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Fault Line – the new thriller by Robert Goddard
by Leanne on Mar 26, 2012 at 9:32 am
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Don’t forget to grab yourself a copy of the new hardback FAULT LINE by bestselling thriller author, ROBERT GODDARD, published on the 29th March.

Read more about what Robert has to say about his brilliant new thriller here:

http://www.robertgoddardbooks.co.uk/books/faultline.html

The What Shall I Read?
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Girls Night in with Jo Carnegie and Sarra Manning
by Polly on Mar 14, 2012 at 3:04 pm
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Come and meet two of Transworld’s most popular authors in the women’s fiction genre: Jo Carnegie and Sarra Manning, who will be talking about, and signing copies of their new novels at:

 Blackheath Library, 145 High Street, Blackheath, Rowley Regis, B65 0EA

Date: 27th March 2012, at 7pm (doors open at 6.30pm).

Jo Carnegie:

Jo is the author of the Churchminster series, debuting with the fantastic Country Pursuits. Her new novel, Horse Play, stays true to its roots and is a fantastically fun and sexy read.

Sarra Manning:

Sarra is loved by everyone who’s read her, and her new novel Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend; an unputdownable story about a girl, the boy next door, and the chance of happy ever after,will not disappoint! 

The What Shall I Read?
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Happy Publication Day Pauline!
by Lynsey on Mar 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm
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Today is the publication day for Pauline Quirke’s new memoir Where Have I Gone?

To mark this special occasion Pauline appeared on QVC’s the Breakfast Show this morning. Catch up with her on their blog by clicking on the link below:

The QVC blog interview will Will Gowing

 

Happy Publication Day Pauline!

The What Shall I Read?
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Becoming Nancy by Terry Ronald is out today!
by Kate on Mar 1, 2012 at 9:18 am
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You can pick up your copy of the novel all the celebs are loving – Becoming Nancy – today!

‘I laughed out loud! Terry’s humour translates perfectly to the page and his book is a joy.’
- Kylie Minogue

‘A coming of age novel that goes straight for the jocular vein. Witty, pithy and wise.’
- Kathy Lette

‘A lyrical maestro – this ‘Nancy’ will jump of the page and tap straight into your heart.’
- Dannii Minogue

Becoming Nancy is a wonderful semi-autobiographical novel about coming out and falling in love in working-class 1970s’ London. It is filled with fantastically original characters (such as David’s drama teacher Hamish who is ‘exotically, both Scottish, and homosexual’), piercingly acute observations on adolescence, hilarious one-liners, and nostalgic musical references that will transport you straight back to your childhood. Warm, colourful and full of life, Becoming Nancy will touch your heart and leave you wishing you could hang out with the cast.

Terry Ronald is a songwriter, producer and vocal arranger and he has had success with some of the biggest names in British pop, including Kylie Minogue, Girls Aloud, Roger Sanchez, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and The Wanted.Terry’s experience is often called upon for television programmes and music events including The Brits, Eurovision and, in 2007, The X Factor, where he joined Dannii Minogue as her guest judge. Terry has also been part of the creative teams on hit West End shows.

To order your copy of Becoming Nancy, click here

‘Funny touching and brave, and I can’t say enough good things about it’
- Wondrousreads.com

‘[It} will make you laugh and cry’ - Heat

The What Shall I Read?