Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017

Once a year something magical happens in Edinburgh. All the bookish people in the world gather together in Charlotte Square, a beautiful part of the city named after the wife of King George III. It seems a fitting place to hold the world’s biggest book festival, a place where literary royalty, and their admirers, assemble. Saturday marked the official opening of Edinburgh International Book Festival. Julia Donaldson, Val McDermid, Paula Hawkins and Anthony Horowitz were all in camp, and despite the drizzly weather, the atmosphere was electric.

I started my day with the festival’s Opening Up event with authors Carl MacDougall and Frank Cottrell Boyce, who were chaired by Sally Magnusson. Both authors were there to talk about their latest short story collections, MacDougall’s Someone Always Robs The Poor and Cottrell Boyce’s still to be named Scrabble themed collection, which is due to be released this Autumn. Readings from both books were stunning, with MacDougall’s words moving me to tears. I look forward to picking up both collections, very soon.

My second event of the day was Julia Hobsbawn’s Too Much Information. Chaired by Bob McDevitt the event explored the themes of Hobsbawn’s book Fully Connected and examined how human beings are coping with the dizzying amounts of digital information that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. It was an interesting event which highlighted just how many people are struggling to keep afloat in an age when we are drowning in data.

Next up was the Paula Cocozza and Gail Honeyman Wild at Heart event at the Festival’s Writing Retreat. The authors were both there to discuss their debut novels; Cocozza’s How to be Human and Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Chaired by Lee Randall, the event featured lots of interesting discussion on the themes of mental health issues and loneliness.

My final event of the day was Sarah Moss & Helen Sedgwick’s Small Kids: Small Problems, Big Kids: Big Problems. I’ve been a fan of Sedgwick’s since reading The Comet Seekers (and interviewing her for The Scots Magazine in 2016), but I was completely new to Sarah Moss’s work. Both Moss’s latest novel The Tidal Zone and Sedgwick’s dystopian offering, The Growing Season, examine the complexities of motherhood. With beautiful, thought provoking readings from both authors, this event was my favourite of the day.

I left Charlotte Square with a head full of words and a TBR pile the length of my arm. I’m already looking forward to returning this Friday, for round two.

For further information about the Edinburgh International Book Festival, visit: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/

 

 

Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

I love reading a good thriller, so when I heard that Holly Seddon had a new one coming out this summer, I knew I was in for a treat. After devouring her novel Try Not To Breathe last year, I was desperate to get my hands on a preview copy of her latest book Don’t Close Your Eyes. The novel tells the story of sisters Robin and Sarah, whose ordinary lives are changed forever when a new family arrives in town. The book, which alternates between the girls’ past and present, is a gripping psychological thriller about childhood wounds and how they can last a lifetime.

Here’s the blurb…

Robin and Sarah weren’t the closest of twins. They weren’t even that similar. But they loved each other dearly. Until, in the cruellest of domestic twists, they were taken from one another.

Now, in her early 30s, Robin lives alone. Agoraphobic and suffering from panic attacks, she spends her days pacing the rooms of her house. The rest of the time she watches – watches the street, the houses, the neighbours. Until one day, she sees something she shouldn’t…

And Sarah? Sarah got what she wanted – the good-looking man, the beautiful baby, the perfect home. But she’s just been accused of the most terrible thing of all. She can’t be around her new family until she has come to terms with something that happened a long time ago. And to do that, she needs to track down her twin sister.

But Sarah isn’t the only person looking for Robin. As their paths intersect, something dangerous is set in motion, leading Robin and Sarah to fight for much more than their relationship…

The book is full of twists and turns which will have readers turning the pages late into the night. I read it in two sittings and couldn’t put it down until I’d finished that final, last page.

Don’t Close Your Eyes, which is out on the 6th of July, is bound to be a huge hit this summer. Make sure you get your hands on a copy!

Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon is published by Corvus.

You can pre-order a copy on Amazon.

 

The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross – Blog Tour

Today I’m delighted to be part of the #TheManWhoLovedIslands Blog Tour.

Written by David F. Ross, the book is the third instalment of the series and comes after The Last Days of Disco and The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas.

Here’s the blurb:

THE DISCO BOYS AND THE BAND ARE BACK…

In the early ’80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than ten years. A bizarre opportunity to honour the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive … and forget.

With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one off Music Festival – The Big Bang – on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island? Absurdly funny, deeply moving and utterly human, The Man Who Loved Islands is an unforgettable finale to the Disco Days trilogy – a modern classic pumped full of music and middle-aged madness, written from the heart and pen of one of Scotland’s finest new voices.

This book is right up my husband’s street – so I passed my copy straight on to him to read. As a fan of authors such as Irvine Welsh who write in Scots dialect, he loved it!

After being completely engrossed from the first page, he flew through the book and is now looking forward to reading the first two books of the series.

And I’m not surprised! Ross’s work has been endorsed by everyone from Chris Brookmyre to Hardeep Singh Kohli. He has a brave and distinctive voice which is sure to appeal to men and woman across the country.

The Man Who Loved Islands is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.


Dundee Literary Festival 2016 – Review

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When I was a little girl, it’s fair to say that I didn’t exactly fit in. I was rubbish at sports, useless at computer games and I wasn’t really the outdoorsy, go out and ride on your bicycle kind of girl. The only thing that I ever really wanted to do was just sit down and read. In front of the fire with a cat on my lap was always the best case scenario, but you know what, it didn’t really matter where I read, as long as I had a book in my hand I was happy.

It took me until adulthood to realise that being bookish was my kind of my “thing”. Perhaps I even rebelled a little against the label, because let’s face it, reading isn’t the most sociable of hobbies…

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Outer Edges with Amy Liptrot and Malachy Tallack, hosted by Stuart Kelly

Except sometimes it is! Once a year, when the autumn leaves start to fall, being a book geek like me is actually an extremely sociable thing to be – thanks to Dundee Literary Festival.

Now in its 10th year, the festival is THE place to be in October if you love reading. With a schedule packed full of book events for every taste right in the centre of Dundee, the event is every literature lover’s dream.

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First Writes with Shelley Day and Sandra Ireland hosted by Zoe Venditozzi

A few weeks back I attended the five day festival, fitting in as many events as I possibly could. You could say that the range of events I attended was pretty eclectic!- From A Rock & Roll Roald Dahl Party with Scots writer Matthew Fitt and Outer Edges with non fiction writers Amy Liptrot and Malachy Tallack to Haunting Afterlives – an event examining the work of Shirley Jackson and Josephine Tey – the subject matters were pretty diverse but I got something out of them all.

Attending debut author events with the wonderful Sandra Ireland, Shelley Day and Martin Cathcart Froden was a real highlight, especially to an aspiring novelist like me. As was seeing more established authors such as James Kelman, the only Scottish author to ever win The Booker Prize, read with such passion.

But for me, the best thing about Dundee Literary Festival is the sense of community that it has. It’s a fabulously warm and engaging event, full of friendly faces who all share the same love and passion for reading.

So thank you Dundee Literary Festival! Thank you for making me feel part of the best bookish gang in Scotland! I’m already counting down the days until next year!

Dundee Literary Festival is run by Literary Dundee as part of Dundee University. For more information, visit their website: http://www.literarydundee.co.uk/

Photographs by Bob McDevitt

Beneath The Skin #BlogTour – Why Taxidermy Both Horrifies and Fascinates

I’m delighted to be taking part in a blog tour today to celebrate the release of Sandra Ireland’s gothic thriller Beneath The Skin. Set in Edinburgh, the novel centres on damaged ex-soldier Walt whose life becomes unexpectedly tangled with a cruel, calculating taxidermist named Alys. Today, Sandra shares her thoughts on why taxidermy still horrifies and fascinates us…

Why Taxidermy Both Horrifies and Fascinates by Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

beneath-the-skinTaxidermy is all a bit marmite. The mere mention of it provokes some very strong reactions! People are either fascinated by it, and keen to relate examples of ‘bad taxidermy’ they may have spotted, or even ‘bad taxidermists’ they may have met. Others will regard you with suspicion, as if you’ve just confessed to regularly dining on dormice. Even the dictionary definition of the word- ‘an arrangement of skin’- conjures up images of nightmarish Frankenstein-esque creations.

The truth is that this ancient art is enjoying something of an renaissance, thanks to the work of a new generation of young, predominantly female, artists. They are possibly the most unlikely candidates to fill the  role of  the traditional taxidermist.

Leading the field is Polly Morgan, the inspiration behind the character of Alys in my debut novel Beneath the Skin. Polly has a freezer full of birds and small mammals in her kitchen, When she shakes your hand, she is imagining the structures beneath the skin. She also sells bizarre and beautiful taxidermied creations for six-figure sums.

Emma Willats is an Aberdeen-based entrepreneur. With her background in anatomy, it was a small step into the world of taxidermy. Emma recently launched her business The Dapper Dead. She makes and sells sporrans and other accessories created from roadkill foxes , badgers and so on. Even the odd guinea pig has found its way into her products. In a recent interview she reveals, “ You don’t want them [the animals] to die, but if they’re dead, you want them.”

It is this passion, this desire to resurrect the dead that I personally find so intriguing. It has opened up a whole new layer of meaning in Beneath the Skin, with Alys’s ‘undead’ animals inhabiting the twilight world of Walt, her assistant, who is suffering from PTSD. We may be repelled by the notion of keeping these creatures alive, but our human nature means we are fascinated by it too.

This is borne out by the Victorian obsession with taxidermy. It fed into the preoccupation with death and mourning which prevailed in this era. Walter Potter, a hero of my character Alys, was a renowned taxidermist who created anthropomorphic dioramas to astound the viewing public. Think kittens dressed up for a wedding, or toads playing cricket. These arrangements are decidedly creepy to out tastes, but were hugely popular in their day, and not that far removed from Polly Morgan’s white rat in a wine glass. ( Title: ‘Rest a Little on the Lap of Life’, 2006).

Although our views on what is ‘good taste’ and ‘bad taste’ are constantly changing, I predict that taxidermy will remain an endless source of fascination for us. There’s something raw and primitive about it that calls to us. We like to act all squeamish; we love to be repulsed. It is a horror film we just cannot look away from…

As Alys would say, taxidermy isn’t for wimps!

About the Author

Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

Sandra Ireland is an award-winning writer, poet and artist. Born in Yorkshire, she was brought up in the North East and lived for many years in Éire. Her work has appeared in various women’s magazines and publications such as New Writing Dundee, Dundee Writes and ‘Furies’, an anthology of women’s poetry. Beneath the Skin is her first novel and was inspired by a love of all things curious and unseen.

Web: www.sandrairelandauthor.com
Twitter: @22_ireland

 

About the Book

Beneath the Skin

Taking a job in the studio of an Edinburgh taxidermist probably isn’t Walt’s wisest decision. Suffering from combat stress and struggling to outrun the demons from his past, he now finds himself confronted by the undead on a daily basis. His enigmatic boss, Alys, and her sister, Mouse, have their own uneasy relationship with the past. Someone doesn’t want to let them go. Can Walt save Mouse’s eight-year-old son, William, from becoming the next victim? And can he save himself?

Deliciously disturbing, this psychological thriller peels back the skin of one modern family to reveal the wounds no one wants to see. It deals with the effects of trauma and how facing up to vulnerability is sometimes the only way to let go of the past.

 

 

Praise for Beneath the Skin…

“The debut novel from Sandra Ireland is an exceptional calling card.” The Courier

“Sandra Ireland shows an impressive skill at locating her reader’s empathy and drawing it out to make you both emotionally invested and totally hooked on the action.” Becky Hinshelwood, Books etc.

Powerful, unsettling, captivating.” Liz Robinson, Love Reading UK

Sandra’s debut novel, Beneath the Skin is available in both paperback and ebook. You can order a copy online here: Beneath The Skin