Friday 27 January 2017


I'm over at Chat About Books today, chatting with the lovely Kerry Parsons about books and stuff: character names, new endings and why I'll be inviting Kizzy from The Diddakoi for a coffee some time soon…Please pop over and say hello!

Meanwhile, a reminder of my two events over the next few days. You are, as always, so very welcome to join me - either on the airwaves this Sunday, 29th January, with Girls Around Town on Newark Radio...

...or for a Q&A and general chit chat at Harrogate Library on 10th February. 

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Holey socks!

If I've been a little quiet of late, it's because I've been somewhat distracted by my sock drawer.

No, really.  

I read this book. I read it because I thought it was time I read some non-fiction again, of the self-help variety, as I hadn't reviewed anything like that for a while. I didn't know this little gem would take my chaotic life of good intentions and shake and twist and blast it into a more coherent form. It's not a perfect re-make but it's a feel-good, de-stressing step in the good intentioned right direction. 

Confused? Here's a review of the book which is setting me on the straight and orderly narrow. And I'm enjoying the ride. How about you? Have you had any similarly unexpected revelations?

Start With Your Sock Drawer by Vicky Silverthorn
Published by Sphere. Paperback and eBook
I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions. I like wholesale life changes as much as the next person, but September is my time for this. Mid-winter, I prefer to enjoy the hibernation.

That isn't to say that I don't like a good tidy up post January 6th: throwing away the stress of a busy few months with the detritus of this well-wrapped Christmas. And with the New Year also comes the perennial inclination to conquer the to-do list. For this year (and every year) my work load will be better managed, my to-do list more realistic, my working day, my evenings, my weekend less manic.
I know that sorting through the evidence of years now past will also help clear some clutter from my mind, not to mention free up some time no longer spent rummaging for essential items but lacking the time to finish the job, makes me uninclined to start.

If this is a scenario you recognise, let me introduce, 'Start With Your Sock Drawer'. It's a guide to de-cluttering our homes and our minds, one sock at a time.

Author, Vicky Silverthorn, has had an interesting life. Starting out as a nanny, she quickly learnt the virtues of orderly systems. Next, she became PA to professional golfers and then to footballers, travelling with them to exotic places, to manage their array of effects and engagements with immaculate organisation. Latterly, she found herself PA to Lily Allen and toured the world with her, priding herself on knowing where to find items as small as a hair pin at a moment's notice. 
Now, in her capacity as 'professional organiser' she sees her job as helping ordinary people to take back control of their lives and headspace – and that is where this book comes in. Sprinkled with quotes such as, '…The clutter around my flat was stopping me from being able to wind down after a day at work…' Silverthorn explains first why a de-cluttered lifestyle is beneficial and then how everyone, even the most time-poor, even those living in the smallest space, can do it. 

Depositing the entire contents of your wardrobe into a Mount Vesuvius on the floor to be sorted tomorrow, however, is not what she advises. It may feel like a step in the right direction but as soon as you've allocated something 'more important' to the time-slot and thus pushed the clothes into the corner of the room, you've simply added further clutter to a cluttered life. It's another stress, even though we might not realise it at the time. I know, because before I read this book, I'd done it.
Silverthorn's mantra is not to take the clothes out of the wardrobe, (the toys out of the cupboard the books from the shelves…) until you have the time to sort through, keep only the items you are honestly ever going to wear again and replace the remainder in a much more ordered, appealing, accessible space.

I like order. I think it saves time and time-saving measures are next to godliness in my mind. So I appreciate the sentiment of arranging our socks, crockery and toys like a well-kept library. Jade jumper for work? In the non-black work section. Favourite pink socks for the gym? Right there at the front of the drawer (Silverthorn will tell you that most oft used goes at the front) in between the red and white. Before Start With Your Sock Drawer, however, achieving this Utopia of order was the stuff of dreams. How could I possibly prioritise my socks over my filing, my tax return, and the day job?

Start with your sock drawer, Silverthorn says. And once you've thrown away all the odd socks which will never be reunited with their partner, have holes which won't be darned or orange splashes which you really can't abide, move on to your handbag, your jewellery, your ornaments and so it goes on.

Because it does.

Once you start, even for this sentimental hoarder, it's infectious. Removing the mess in our environment, really does de-clutter our brains. When our house becomes less of a walking to-do list, when we can find what we need with minimal effort, we're less stressed. We have more time and we're nicer to be around.

I didn't agree with every suggestion. We should throw away all our unused chargers and pc connectors, for example, because the chances are, they won't ever be needed again. And that's true. They take up space and add clutter to our lives. Agreed. And if the worst case scenario happens and we need a lead, well we can always pop out and buy a new one for a few pounds, which is well worth it for a de-cluttered mind.


If I'd thrown away something I later needed and not only that, had to spend the time I'd saved through living in a less cluttered world, trawling the internet or driving to a shop (I live in a little village, no shops selling chargers anywhere near me) to spend precious time and money on something I'd thrown away, it would take me days to get over the regret. But I did find the general ethos and many of the initiatives utterly inspiring.

The chapters on 'letting go' were particularly interesting. Why do we hold on to the bequeathed beige corduroy sofa with its threadbare cushions and sunken seats which has never fitted in size or period on that far wall in our mauve painted living room? Do we really need all those chipped mugs, just in case the entire street descends on the house, all demanding tea in the exact same moment? And then there's the pristine exercise bike which embodies all our good intentions, right there, guiltily occupying the corner of the kitchen - when really, the only function it's ever going to perform is to provide something else to wipe down and walk around. Better to give it away to someone who will use it and you feel the rush of endorphins that way, instead.

And if you're panicking that the pursuit of perfection will simply add stress rather than take it away, don't. The emphasis in this book is in removing clutter and mess to achieve a more useable and accessible life style. It's about achieving a beneficial order we can maintain, rather than show home status. Phew. As Silverthorn says, it isn't rocket science. But sometimes we all need somebody to tell us that something is a really good idea.

So, have I de-cluttered my to-do list, freed up some time with more orderly spaces? Do you know, after years of trying, I think I have. Would I recommend, Start With Your Sock Drawer? Absolutely. But once you've finished with the book, you have to give it away, that's the deal.

Meanwhile, I'm back on the Glass Houses trail and have a couple of events coming up. I'd love you to join me if you can. 

Friday 6 January 2017

Moving On

Exactly five years ago, at the beginning of January 2012, I submitted my first book reviews to Chase Magazine. I'd toiled for ridiculously many hours over them, I always over-prep when I'm nervous, my way of coping. Thankfully, the reviews were accepted and three editors and 30 bi-monthly issues later, my final two page spread has just been published. I've only glanced at it. I don’t want to wallow but feel quite sad about the situation - a bit like your child leaving home, I imagine, you know it's going to happen, you're excited for them but still your heart breaks a little.

Simply, life got too busy and something had to give. That's a good thing, I know. I'd hate to be bored. Besides, it's somebody else's turn now. Someone who'll read different books to me and see different things in them.

Chase introduced me to books I'd never have entertained, particularly biographies and other non-fiction, and gave me the excuse to continue reading 'unputdownable' books whilst stirring a sauce, ironing (you need a recipe book stand for this – or a Kindle), on the exercise bike, walking home, when-I-should-have-been-doing-proper-work. I have yet to try reading a book whilst running - those of you who know my accident prone self, will be relieved to hear this - but I have discovered Audible books for the gym.

I'm certainly not planning on doing any less reading, but I admit to relishing the chance to choose titles forced to be neglected at the bottom of my To Be Read pile because they were too similar in genre to a book I'd recently reviewed.  

Meanwhile, to mark the end of this era, I thought I'd look back through every book review spread and come up with my Top Ten of Chase reads over the past five years. How hard could it be?

Very, very hard.

I've reviewed 81 books and the best I can manage is a top 18. And that took me two days of soul searching. I feel that if I gave it any more thought I'd change my mind again and for that reason, I'm also going to post the remaining titles in their own, 'Highly Recommended List'. I only ever review books I love and thus it seems wrong to leave any out.
I'm keen to know how many of these you've read and what would be on your own top ten of the last five years. Please do share with us!

Meanwhile, thank you to Joe Cawthorn and all the team at Chase. They are a wonderfully kind and talented group of people to work with and I've had a ball :D

My Top 18
1.       Defending Jacob by William Landay, published by Orion Books in 2012.
Did he, didn't he? And a brilliant twist at the end.
2.       Flying Under Bridges by Sandi Toksvig, published by Sphere in 2001.
Wonderful dark humour – just why is this sassy woman narrating from prison?
3.       Perfect by Rachel Joyce, Published by Doubleday in 2013.
Great characters, brilliant observation, pithy narration.
4.       The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood, published by Headline Review in 2016.
Massive feel-good factor from wonderfully quirky characters.
5.       A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray, published by Hutchinson in 2014.
Wonderful characterisation, a sometimes humorous, enormously fascinating tear jerker.
6.       We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, published by Serpent's Tail in 2014.
So clever and I love the way Fowler tells a story.
7.       When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman, published by Headline Review in 2011.
One about rocky rides, growing up and older, and the power of love and relationships.
8.       The Devil’s Music by Jane Rusbridge, published by Bloomsbury in 2010.
Beautifully descriptive writing of characters dealing with different recollections of childhood.
9.       Crossing The Line by Christian Plowman, Published by Mainstream Publishing Company in 2013.
A superbly written auto-biographical account of undercover officer, Plowman's, torrid working life.
10.   The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson, published by Sceptre in 2014.
Does a transplanted heart bring a soul with it? Great question, great fiction narrated by three very different characters.
11.   Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown, published by Myriad Editions in 2009.
Life with an alcoholic mother told through the delicious voice of adorable (and humorous) 13 year old Jake.
12.   The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke, published by Piatkus in 2012.
Unlike anything I'd normally read and had me guessing right to the end.
13.   The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2013.
Couldn't put this down. What is the secret in the envelope: 'For my wife' and how on earth can this be resolved?
14.   The Things We Never Said, published by Simon & Schuster UK in 2013.
Hooked from the off – why on earth is Maggie in a 1960's mental asylum?
15.   The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue, published by Picador in 2012.
An unusual step into historical fiction for me, but with contemporary narration. Fascinating story based on truth.
16.   The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall, published by Legend Press in 2010.
A psychological drama based on love and loss. Characters I still remember today.
17.   The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, published by The Borough Press in 2014.
Principally a book for teens but I devoured it. How Matthew, who suffers with schizophrenia, deals with his brother's death. Another emotional, humorous, life-affirming tale.
18.   Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, published by Black Swan in 2012.
Gripped by the story and impressed by the brilliantly complicated premise.

My Highly Recommended (in alphabetical order)
  • A Barrow Boy's Cadenza (Kind Hearts and Martinets), by Pete Adams, published by Urbane Publications in June 2015.
  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, published by Faber & Faber in 2015.
  • Awful Auntie by David Walliams, published by Harper Collins Children's Books in 2016.
  • Christmas Cupcakes by Annie Rigg, published by Ryland Peters & Small in 2011.
  • Christmas Magic by Kate Shirazi, published by Pavilion Books in 2012.
  • Christmas with Gordon by Gordon Ramsay, published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd. in 2011.
  • Close of Play by PJ Whiteley, published by Urbane Publications in April 2015.
  • Cloud Riders by Nick Cook, published by Three Hares Publishing in 2014.
  • Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton, published by Bantam Press in 2016.
  • Dear Thing by Julie Cohen, published by Bantam Press in 2014.
  • Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, published by Phoenix in 2014.
  • Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, published by Penguin in 2014.
  • Feel the Fear (Ruby Redfort, book four) by Lauren Child, published by Harper Collins children's Books in 2015.
  • Flight by Isabel Ashdown, published by Myriad Editions in May 2015.
  • Gorgeous Christmas by Annie Bell, published by Kyle Cathie Limited in 2009.
  • How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury by Cressida Cowell, published by Hodder Children’s Books in 2015.
  • Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell, published by Tinder Press in 2013.
  • Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, published by Hodder Paperbacks in July 2015.
  • Little Gypsy by Roxy Freeman, published by Simon & Shuster UK in 2011.
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyles, Published by Penguin in 2012.
  • Mrs Sinclair's Secret by Louise Walters, published by Hodder Paperbacks in 2014.
  • On a Beam of Light, A Story by Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, published by Chronicle in 2013 (children's literature).
  • Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe, published by Viking in 2016 (Young Adult).
  • Please, Mister Postman by Alan Johnson, published by Corgi in 2015.
  • Rook by Jane Rusbridge, published by Bloomsbury Circus in 2012.
  • Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2012.
  • She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick, published by Indigo in 2014 (Young Adult).
  • Start With Your Sock Drawer by Vicky Silverthorn with Emma Cooling, published by Sphere in 2016.
  • Starter for Ten by David Nicholls, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2004. 
  • Stone Seeds by Jo Ely, published by Urbane Publications in 2016.
  • Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott, published by Black Dot Publishing in 2015.
  • Survivor by Tom Hoyle, published by Macmillan Children’s Books in 2015.
  • Sweet home by Carys Bray, published by Windmill Books in 2016.
  • The Brilliant & Forever by Kevin MacNeil, published by Polygon in 2016.
  • The Children Act by Ian McEwan, published by Vintage in April 2015.
  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green, published by Penguin in 2013 (Young Adult).
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, published by Abacus in 2014.
  • The Good Children by Roopa Farooki, published by Tinder Press in 2014.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, Published by Bloomsbury in 2008.
  • The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, published by Bloomsbury in September 2015.
  • The Humans by Matt Haig, Published by Canongate Books in 2013.
  • The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head is Really Up To, by Dean Burnett, published by Guardian Faber Publishing in February 2016.
  • The Kindness by Polly Samson, published by Bloomsbury paperbacks in 2016. 
  • The Last of Us by Rob Ewing, published by the Borough Press in 2016.
  • The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir by Graham Norton, published by Hodder Paperbacks in July 2015.
  • The Little Book of Lunch, by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing, published by Square Peg in 2014.
  • The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen, published by Twenty7 in 2016.
  • The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce, published by Transworld Books in 2014.
  • The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins, published by Black Swan in 2012.
  • The Man Who Forgot His Wife by John O’Farrell, published by Black Swan in 2012.
  • The Runaway Smile by Nicholas Rossis, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing in 2014.
  • The Secrets We Left Behind by Susan Elliot Wright, published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, published by Vintage Books in 2012.
  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon, published by The Borough Press in 2016.
  • The Undertaking by Audrey Magee, published by Atlantic Books in 2014. .
  • The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year by Sue Townsend, published by Penguin in 2012.
  • The World According To Bob by James Bowen, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2014.
  • Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food by Tom Kerridge, published by Absolute Press in 2013.
  • Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes, published by Arrow Books Ltd. in 2014.
  • Us by David Nicholls, published by Hodder Paperbacks in May 2015.
  • Vigilante by Shelley Harris, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in January 2015.
  • What On Earth Wallbook from The Big Bang to the Present Day, by Christopher Lloyd and Andy Forshaw, published by What On Earth Publishing Ltd., in 2015 (age 10+).