My Review of How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time bok cover

I got her to play two strings, back and forth, plucking at a quickening pace, along with my heart. I touched her arm. I closed my eyes, and felt fearful of how much I felt for her.

‘Music is about time,’ I told her. ‘It is about controlling time.’

Tom Hazard is much older than he looks, having been born in Elizabethan England with a rare genetic condition that causes him to age very, very slowly (at the rate of approximately one year for every fifteen years). While his mother considered it to be a gift, the condition has caused Tom numerous problems in life. Fear, suspicion and heartache dominate his existence. He’s had to endure his losses, alone, for centuries.

When a mysterious woman named Agnes holds him up at gunpoint late one afternoon in 1891, telling him that she’s taking him to Plymouth and, from there, to America, he has no idea what to think. What he learns is that there are others like him in the world, and that they’re part of a secret organisation, which he now must join. The first rule of the organisation: that you must not, under any circumstances, fall in love. Those who are part of the organisation must change their identities every eight years, moving to a completely new location in a different part of the world and becoming an entirely different person. This is, supposedly, to ensure their safety and the safety of others like them.

The story is told in first person from Tom’s perspective and alternates between his present—where he teaches history in a Tower Hamlets comprehensive school—and his various, colourful pasts. Haig does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of history without getting bogged down in detail, while simultaneously keeping the focus on how Tom’s past affects his present-day reality.

How to Stop Time contains all the right ingredients for a highly engrossing and memorable story: romance, adventure, an exciting plot with mounting tension, immersive settings and an empathetic protagonist I rooted for all the way through the book (and then some). Matt Haig has certainly succeeded in stopping time with this novel, not only for his protagonist, but also for this reader.

How to Stop Time is published by Canongate Books.

I bought my copy of How to Stop Time from my local independent bookstore, Ink 84.

How to Stop Time is available from all good bookstores and from Amazon.

Literary Laryngitis by Poppy Peacock

Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow writer and blogger, Poppy Peacock, to the blog.

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I have a confession. Well, two actually… I didn’t spend my, ok arguably misspent, youth with my nose in a book. I did read, from rib-tickling escapism to rousing expeditions but sporadically rather than emphatically.

I haven’t yearned to write since being knee-high either, as many writers often profess; I was more of a talker. Writing was mostly formal and confined to official documentation & business reports; any creativity only leaked into odd letters & emails to far flung friends and relatives in a voice very different to my work one. When writing about my news & happenings I tended to write the way I spoke – strong regional accent laced with local dialect & idiolect of the North East of England – and definitely NOT always grammatically correct.

Then sudden, severe illness all but silenced me in 2004. For cognitive rehabilitation – and to keep the gibbering-n-twitching at bay– I began studying with the Open University. Initially I stayed in my medical-background comfort zone; then I ventured into Literature & Creative WritingReader, I was hooked!

During my first three years with the OU I did 3 Creative Writing modules: A174 Start Writing Fiction, A215 Creative Writing and A363 Advanced Creative Writing and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

My creative voice was very much being formed from extending my correspondent, not professional, habits. I certainly got the best feedback – and marks – when I used my native tongue, rather than a strained RP narrative, and characters with familiar social backgrounds.

Here’s an example of one of the first pieces of life writing I fictionalised for an activity:

Chapter 1 : I am born

            ‘Dimples to die for’ Nana S sighs wistfully.

            ‘Fat as butter, just like her mother’ spits Nana P; Dad’s mam obviously.

            ‘Missed nowt’ chuckles me Dad.

            ‘Humph, I wouldn’t know’ huffs me Mam.

It is with these comments, rung out religiously with the habitual presentation of the one – and only – faded Polaroid,  I can deduce how I appeared on my big outing; and according to old Mrs Edna next door – neighbour and fiercesome midwife – did them all out of a good Co-op Ham Tea. Her prediction of my demise was premature.

By all accounts I certainly wasn’t; I kept them waiting just short of three weeks. After days of Mam writhing and kneading that starchy bed, my best effort produced a solitary foot; as if dipping in a toe and deciding against any further venture. The painful recollection never dims with time. She still describes the inhumane suffering, heels and palms rubbed raw, the howling, until they finally conceded to a quick abdominal exit. Rudely levered and yanked from my cocoon the forceps bruised a nerve so for the first few days I slept with one eye open.

‘A flock of hair, rich like any coal face’ crows me Dad.

‘Like the wether of a prize ewe’ simpers Nana S.

‘Aye, but a black sheep, nevertheless’ prickles Nana P.

But like Mam said – she never saw that. Wrung through and spent, she was left limp in that bed whilst I was whisked off to another bubble four floors up.

‘That’s why we never bonded,’ Mam’s favourite retort; aired at every disagreeance.

I got a great response and encouragement to continue in my own everyday voice, although it wasn’t always grammatically correct and I used certain colloquial words, odd sentence structure and even made-up words: ‘disagreeance’ caused a mini-storm! Many agreed it sounded natural but some couldn’t get past it should technically be disagreement.

At the end of Year 2 I adapted and grew this piece into a complete short story (Frontline, which you can read over on Poppy’s blog:  http://poppypeacockpens.com/) keeping the narrative very much in my natural regional tongue. After receiving a distinction, I was encouraged to submit it to a competition – I chose The Yellow Room: a women’s literary magazine edited by Jo Derrick – and was chuffed to bits to get 3rd place and see it published!

I also submitted two other short stories and got one win and a highly commended… the first published online.

During the Advanced Course in Year Three, my strengths were again nurturing my natural voice while learning about various other media forms too – such as short films & radio plays – I knew then I really wanted to persevere with my own writing.

Now came the crunch bit… although I only joined the OU for cognitive physio I was loving the learning environment and passing assignments & modules was a great boost to my morale and self-esteem; being stuck at home due to ill health is very isolating and through studying I was meeting like-minded folk online who have become great friends (though I’ve still yet to actually meet most of them).

At 17, I dropped out of school during ‘A’ levels to nurse where there was very minimal classroom time; at the very least 80% of the time was spent working 45hr weeks in placement. With the OU the new world of academia was appealing and I succumbed to further literature modules – to attain a degree – but mainly believing it would enhance my appreciation & aptitude for writing.

And I have no doubt it has helped; through these modules I’ve learned so much about different authors through the ages for many genres, styles of writing and narrative techniques. But my creative writing dwindled due to the demands of studying and writing critical essays; by the time I finished Uni in 2013, I hadn’t written any fresh stories for quite a while.

By the end of that summer I missed the routine of study – having M.E. I have to try and do some kind of cognitive activity every day to battle brain fog. Interested in possibly pursuing a career in writing/editing etc I wanted to explore the industry and a friend suggested Twitter… WOW! What a fantastic find!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these last 18 months; Twitter is a brilliant resource for meeting so many good folk and being introduced to so many good books I never really appreciated existed, but it can be very time consuming, not to mention expensive! My book buying habit has excelled!

As for my own writing, I keep starting new pieces and rehashing old pieces but really struggle to get anything I’m truly happy with. I’m finding it hard not to be influenced by all this reading and question what my own voice is actually like now. It’s definitely a case of my academic voice – sitting on my shoulder like some stuffy old crow – nagging and pecking at my creative voice; the latter being far more laid back and colloquial but definitely muffled. Spookily, as Kendra and I talked about this, there was an excellent post from Tara Guha on the very subject:

http://lindasbookbag.com/2015/10/15/guest-post-by-tara-guha-author-of-untouchable-things/

I certainly don’t want to stop reading but I do want to find the right balance so I can write again, comfortably! So, I set up my blog poppypeacockpens.com to record and review what I’m reading, document what I’m writing and best of all liaise with like-minded folk for companionship; it feels like the perfect way to strike the right balance between developing academic skills but most importantly, nurture the return of my natural storytelling voice.

Thank you, Poppy, for a fascinating post. And I have to admit I found it very interesting that you don’t come from a writing background–I would never have guessed it from reading your work. 

You can find out more about Poppy by reading/following her blog: http://poppypeacockpens.com/ 

She is also on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Happy Holidays, and thank you!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! With Christmas just around the corner, this will be my final post of the year. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of my readers for reading/following me. It’s been great getting to know you, and sharing writerly/readerly news and views.

2015 was quite an eventful year for me. In March my first novel, The Forest King’s Daughter , was published by Pilrig Press.  In July, I began writing book reviews for Lothian Life Magazine . In October, I helped to short-list a joint writing competition run by Lothian Life and writingclasses.co.uk (for those who may have missed it, the winners were announced last Thursday and the winning stories are now published: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2015/12/writing-home-short-story-winners/). Then, just a few weeks ago, I received my MLitt degree in Creative Writing from The University of Glasgow.

Whew, that feels like a lot! Of course, none of it would have been possible without the help of so many good writing friends, professors and classmates (you know who you are 😉 ). So, thank you!

One of the most difficult things for me this year was figuring out ways in which to promote my novel, which ultimately meant conquering my fear and distrust of social media. I couldn’t have done this without the help and  support of friends and fellow bloggers (such as Ruth Hunt, Molly Greene and Belinda Pollard, among others) who readily gave me advice on taking the plunge and starting a Twitter and Facebook account. And, ultimately, it has paid off in more ways than one. Besides being a useful promotional tool, I’ve made new friends and connections via social media as well as discovering some great new books and authors whom I would never have known existed otherwise. It also helped put me in touch with some amazing bloggers who helped promote my novel, such as Alison Drew who ran a #BookBoost for my novel in October, Adrian Doyle of Englanti Editing who featured my novel and an excerpt on their website at the start of November, and others who gave of their time to interview me and offer me a guest post on their blogs. Thank you all!

And a special thank you for those who have read my novel, and reviewed it. (For those who may have read the novel but not reviewed it, could I give you a nudge and request that you consider doing so? A review need only be a few words about why you liked a book, or didn’t. Reviews are essential for authors).

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and a great start to 2016!

A Christmas Chickadee