Book Review: Greatest Hits.

cover102011-mediumHave you ever read a book featuring a fictional musician and thought ‘I wish I could hear their work in real life?’

Cass Wheeler, the lead character in Laura Barnett’s new book, Greatest Hits, had such an interesting, attractive and authentic voice on the page. I felt sure she had to be real and was so disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t the case. Then I read about an innovative project between the author and singer songwriter Kathryn Williams, which will bring the songs from the book to life.

An album of 16 tracks, entitled Songs From The Novel Greatest Hits, with music by Mercury-nominated Kathryn and lyrics by them both, is being released alongside the book.

How cool is that? I’ve listened to the first song, Common Ground, from the collaboration and it’s perfect. There’s no other way to describe it.

Before we get into more detail, here’s the blurb for the book:

One day. 16 songs. The soundtrack of a lifetime…

Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the 16 tracks that have defined her – 16 key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.

In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?

Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most?

This is Laura’s follow up to the hugely successful The Versions Of Us and I think she has another hit on her hands.

It was one of those books where I was frustrated and, at times, a little bit cross to have to put it down and do real life things.

It’s complex, intense and bittersweet. Although it covers several decades, it doesn’t feel like there are massive jumps and it flows beautifully. The book is well-researched and steeped in nostalgia (for some reason it made me think about my first clunky old Walkman, which I adored, for the first time in years). It’s an altogether unique experience – and that’s before you even get to the music.

As I got further engrossed, I longed to hear Cass sing, which is why I went looking to see if she was a real artist. Instead I discovered the fantastic project between Laura and Kathryn, which surely has to be the next best thing.

When announcing the album, Laura, who is also a freelance journalist, feature writer and theatre critic, said: “From the earliest moment of coming up with the idea for Greatest Hits, it was clear to me that I wanted my character’s musical output to have a life beyond the page. I’ve been a fan of Kathryn’s music for years and I’m so thrilled to be working with her – she’s an absolute magician, and I’m so excited about the creative possibilities posed by drawing literature and music together in this way.”

I’m intrigued to see how the album, which is realeased under the One Little Indian label, does, but one thing is for sure – it’s safe to say Laura, like Cass, is no one hit wonder.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £6.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

With thanks to Orion Publishing Group for the ARC in return for an honest review.




Book Review: Spandex And The City.

spandexAnd now for something completely different – well, not completely, exactly, but there’s certainly some extraordinary qualities to Spandex And The City.

When I opened the email asking if I’d like to read this book I was hesitant because it’s not totally my sort of thing. I then saw it was written by Jenny Colgan, under the pen name Jenny T Colgan – an author I have enjoyed on more than one occasion – so I thought “why not?”.

I’m so pleased I did (and also thinking I should break out of my comfort zone more often).

Have a read of the blurb and you’ll see what I mean:

Mild-mannered publicist Holly Phillips is unlucky in love. She’s embarrassed beyond belief when the handsome stranger she meets in a bar turns out to be ‘Ultimate Man’ – a superpowered hero whose rescue attempt finds her hoisted over his shoulder and flashing her knickers in the newspaper the next day.

But when Holly’s fifteen minutes of fame make her a target for something villainous, she only has one place to turn – and finds the man behind the mask holds a lot more charm than his crime-fighting alter-ego.

Can Holly find love, or is super dating just as complicated as the regular kind?

So, it turns out that a relationship with a superhero – especially one dressed in purple and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t have the greatest “good guy” name, is actually even more complicated than the “regular kind” – who knew?

Not that Ultimate Man is really into dating, despite (or perhaps because of) the truly explosive chemistry between him and Holly. It seems the life of a superhero is a lonely one, something else he has in common with Holly, on occasions, even in a city crammed full of people.

But these two can’t seem to keep apart, especially when Holly catches the attention of the “bad guy” (if you thought Ultimate Man was an unlikely name, wait until you meet him).

It certainly makes for an entertaining, funny and, at times, emotional read. It is also rather thought provoking but in a gentle way (no lectures here).

Jenny, who under her pen name has written the Doctor Who tie-in novel Dark Horizons and several Doctor Who short stories, takes us on a crazy ride where the lines between good and bad, fact and fiction, are certainly blurred.

It has all the elements I love in the books I generally read – romance, comedy, drama and a happy ending – but it turns out adding a touch of science fiction is a turn-on not a turn-off.

I’m definitely going to add her first book with this added extra, Resistance Is Futile, to my TBR pile.

Format: Kindle (out on May 18th).

Price: £4.99.

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to the Little, Brown Book Group (via Netgalley) for the ARC in return for my honest opinion.

A Look Behind The Book With H J Moat.

PortraitPicWhile she might have steered away from an early childhood ambition to own a petrol station, when it comes to her new book, H J Moat definitely went the distance.

Even though a publisher had taken an interest in Other People’s Business, the London-based author opted to self-publish so she could stay true to her story.

In her modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which happens to be one of my favourite plays (and not just because Keanu Reeves appeared in a film version), she explores whether “we’re ever really in control of our own romantic destiny and if true love really can conquer all”.

I can’t think of anyone better to kick off my new series, Behind The Book, where I interview authors about their writing lives and route into print.

Where do you live? Islington. Team North London.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? The first ambition I remember having was to own my own petrol station…that’s perfectly normal, right? I did start a novel when I was 16 and sent it to an agent on a whim. Unbelievably, they actually asked to see more, but – and lord knows I regret this – I lost interest and never followed up. Teenagers…

Is fiction writing your day job (if not, what do you do, and when do you find the time to write)? Not fiction, although I have made a career out of writing. I’ve spent a decade as a fashion and entertainment journalist and I’m now the editor of Farfetch, which is a luxury fashion website. I mainly edit and commission my team’s features there, but I do write some of the bigger stories – celebrity and designer interviews and in-depth style pieces. I write whenever I can: before work, after work, free lunch times, and I try and get in at least four hours in on whatever day of the weekend Spurs aren’t playing. I also have three notebooks of differing sizes for different handbags – I’m always having ideas in the most random places.

CoverCan you explain a bit about your book? Were you intimidated to take on such a well-known and popular play? Other People’s Business is my first book, though it started out with a different, wildly pretentious name. I began writing it in 2013, during a very long, very bleak winter and from then to publication it probably went through six or seven revisions. I should point out it’s not like I was sat there for four years obsessively tinkering with it, thinking it was my Magnum Opus or something – there has been other projects in between.

So, why did I take on Much Ado About Nothing? Well the truth is though I had story ideas of my own, I’m madly in love with Shakespeare’s work, but most people I know dismiss reading him because they think it’s too hard to understand. It made me sad, so I thought if I could modernise my very favourite of his comedies, anyone who read it would have a far better chance of being able to understand and follow the play. Also, nobody can craft a story that blends romance and joy and sorrow and laughter quite like Shakespeare can, so, no, I wasn’t intimidated taking it on at all – in fact I was less scared than if I was writing something original, because I knew I could learn so much from it.

Who are your favourite authors (obviously you’re a Shakespeare fan)? I do love Shakespeare quite an embarrassing amount, although I draw the line at Titus Andronicus (so gory). But Jane Austen is my absolute writing idol, and so ahead of her time. P.G Wodehouse is another favourite, and as for modern authors, I like to mix it up – Curtis Sittenfeld, Nick Hornby and Jackie Collins.

Are you a planner or more of a wing it and see? I like to have structure to a certain extent – I think it’s important if you want to drive the plot forward and not allow your reader to get bored. So when I sit down to write a chapter I will know what story beats I need to hit, but I like to experiment with different ways of getting there and seeing what works best. Sometimes a character will sort of decide for themselves and surprise even me!

Can you talk about your route to publication? After my very first draft I sent off chapter samples to several agents. I received some very positive feedback but none of them actually took me on. I’m not surprised, it wasn’t ready – honestly that professionals liked it remains a shock because that first version is so, so embarrassing and I’m still mortified I sent it off. A few redrafts down the line it attracted some interest from a publisher I was in touch with, and whose director gave me an initial round of detailed notes which were extremely helpful and I think really improved the book. She then passed it to some colleagues for a second round of notes and their advice was to strip out all of the Shakespeare elements of the story (the crossed-wires…can’t say too much without spoiling) and turn it into something more formulaic. Which may have been good advice – I’ll never know, it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. So I decided to go it alone.

Where do you hope your fiction writing takes you in the future? I feel very lucky to have my career in fashion (and to quote another great book, The Devil Wears Prada, to have a job that a million girls would kill for) but the more fiction I write the more I know that in a perfect world I’d spend my life telling stories.

Are you already working on your next book? I’m about to start the 4th draft of my 2nd book, which is of a genre I don’t think there’s enough of about: a rom-com detective story. I love mysteries and heists but I hate that they’re all so humorless and grim. This one is about two estranged sisters who mend their relationship as they team up to investigate a blackmail and kidnapping.

Is there one piece of advice you could give to writers (or would-be writers)? Yes, the most important thing is if you have a great story idea – just get it down. Write it. Even if you think what you are writing is a pile of crap, you need to start with something. Editing is magical and it’s literally my (day) job to improve copy by moving it around, and cutting out the unnecessary bits and changing words so that it reads better. But you can only do that once you have something to edit.

Thank you so much to H J for agreeing to be featured. I found her answers not only helpful but also really inspiring, which is exactly what I hoped for when starting this series. If you’d like to connect with her you can follow her on twitter @hjmoat or on Goodreads here.

Please also give Other People’s Business some love. It was released last month and you can buy it here, priced £1.99. It’s on my TBR pile.

If you are an author and you’d like to appear in Behind The Book please get in touch.