Oh sugar (Author Q&A)

I’m delighted to publish an interview with Sharon Maas on my blog today. Sharon’s latest (and fabulous) book, The Sugar Planter’s Daughter is published today by Bookouture.



Q. What inspired you to become a writer? 

I guess I was born that way! Seriously: even as a child, I loved writing down the stories that my imagination dictated to me; second to reading, I loved writing. All through my school life, the one subject at which I excelled was writing. Unfortunately, story-writing didn’t seem like an area in which I could make an honest living and so, after leaving school, I did the next best thing: I became a journalist.

But even then, I was almost 50 before I had the confidence to try writing a full-length novel. So my life as a novelist started very late in life. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, however, since by then I had the maturity to know exactly what I needed to write, and to stick to my guns.

Q. What obstacles did you face when trying to achieve your ambition to be a writer?

The first novel I wrote found an agent almost immediately, but not a publisher. I rewrote that novel five or six times – on a manual typewriter, you understand – in order to bring it up to scratch. I revised it, restructured it, polished it for several years, all at the encouragement of my then agent. It still didn’t find an publisher. I broke down in tears, then gave up and started again. The next novel was Of Marriageable Age, and that one found a first-rate publisher at first try.

I had a few “good” years in publishing after that, but then, with my fourth book, I ran into rocky waters again. My publisher, HarperCollins, didn’t want me to write books set in Guyana. Unfortunately, that was the one matter on which I could not compromise. I had grown up reading books that I loved, but did not in any way reflect my own background. I knew that my job as a novelist was to write from the heart, and that meant, about the experiences that shaped me as a human being.

That stubbornness meant that I was rejected not only by HarperCollins but by the British and American publishing world in general. Guyana as a setting was judged to be not commercial enough; the consensus was that the reading public is xenophobic and would not want to read books with a setting they weren’t familiar with.

So for ten years I kept writing novels that kept getting rejected. I was determined to prove the agents and editors who rejected me wrong, and the only way to do that was to write books that the public would love, books that woud sell. That is still my aim: to show that the reading public, that is, that the white reading public, is not as xenophobic as the publishing experts insist. The only way to do that is to produce a bestseller! So it all depends on how well the books are received. The only thing that speaks are sales!

Q. Who is your favourite character from your books?

That’s really hard to say! I guess it’s a draw between Savitri from Of Marriageable Age, and Winnie, from books 1 and 2 of the Quint Chronicles trilogy. But I have a very soft spot for Dorothea, of The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q!

Q. Who or what inspired the character of Winnie? 
She was directly inspired by my paternal grandmother, whose name was also Winnie, and who married a George. It was their wedding photo that lit the spark: they are so elegant, so confident in that photo, yet I could easily imagine the drama it must have caused back then, a white woman marrying a black man. My grandmother went on to have eight sons, and so does Winnie Quint. The rest is purely fictional – my grandmother did not come from a sugar plantation family, so that part is made up, as well as the conflict between the made-up Winnie and her sister, Yoyo.

Q. Can you recommend any books for those of us who want to learn more about Guyana?

There are several good contemporary Guyanese writers. There’s David Dabydeen, for instance, Jan Shinebourne, Oonya Kempadoo, Fred D’Aguiar, Grace Nichols. Then there’s the late Edgar Mittelholzer, whose novels set in the early 20th century were recently reprinted and are enjoying a bit of a comeback.

Q. What’s your favourite book (written by someone else)?

There are so many; I can’t choose! If forced to name a single book, I’d say the Indian epic Mahabharata.

Q. What book do you wish you had written?

The Mahabharata — so much so, that I did write (and self-publish) a shortened version of it! But I greatly admire the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and would love to have written Half of a Yellow Sun.

Q. What genre of books do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Historical family sagas.

Q. Can you tell us anything about the next installment of the Quint Chronicles?

It’s not written yet, so I don’t know the details or the main story “hook” yet myself, but I do know it will be about the boys growing up and going their ways; World War II will play a part, as well as the struggle for Independence in Guyana, what happened to the sugar plantations and in particular, what happened to Promised Land in the end. A surprise character in The Sugar Planter’s Daughter is Mary Grace and I suspect she will take over from Winnie in becoming the main female character. Winnie will become the matriarch at the centre of the family – as already hinted at in The Small Fortune of Dorothea Quint. That sounds like a lot – maybe too much for one book!

Thank you to Sharon Maas for her time and answers which helped provide a little more insight into her world and her characters. I’m eagerly awaiting the not-written-yet third instalment of the Quint Chronicles.

About The Author

Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1951 and educated in Guyana and England. After leaving school she worked as a staff journalist at the Guyana Graphic and the Sunday Chronicla in Georgetown.

Sharon has always had a great sense of adventure and curiosity about the world we live in, and Guyana could not hold her for long. In 1971 she set off on a year-long backpacking trip around South America. In 1973 she travelled overland to India through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and spent two years in an Ashram in South India.

For more information, visit her website.

My review of The Sugar Planter’s Daughter

This is another beautifully told tale from Sharon Maas. Continuing the tale of Winnie, from The Secret Life of Winnie Cox, this story centres around Winnie and George as they come to terms with their unusual marriage, Winnie’s mum and delightful sister Yoyo. It’s told in alternating chapters, centred around life in Georgetown and on the family plantation Promised Land.

Sharon Maas is a great storyteller and you can imagine yourself transported to British Guiana with the sights, sounds and smells… I absolutely loved this tale and felt quite bereft when it ended. I can’t wait for the next instalment in Winnie’s story.

5* 🍭🍭🍭🍭🍭 

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Sharon Maas and the team at Bookouture for my advance review copy of The Sugar Planter’s Daughter, which is published on 22nd July and is available from Amazon.

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A complicated childhood

  
A heart-wrenching exquisite book that is both the story of a complicated childhood and the social context of the 80s, particularly the racial tensions.

This is a lovely story about a nine year old boy called Leon and the challenges he and his newborn brother face when his mother cannot look after them. Told through the eyes of Leon, this story is powerful, emotional yet simply told – it would be accessible to a early teenage audience — in a similar vein to “Wonder”. Much of it is about acceptance, making the best of what we have and overcoming prejudices, a powerful story, with a narrative ease that belies its depth. 

I think this book will be very big in 2016. It’s not due to be published until June so I expect it will build momentum … 

An outstanding debut from Kit de Waal. I wish her much success and look forward to her next book.

MetLine Rating: 4.5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ highly recommended

About this Book

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one. Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas.

But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not. As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum. 

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.

Acknowledgements

My Name is Leon is written by Kit de Waal and is published by Penguin Random House on 2nd June 2016. It is available for preorder from Amazon UK

I received an advance review copy from Penguin Random House via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged…

… that Pride & Prejudice is a book that has stood the test of time.  Curtis Sittenfeld has brought it bang up to date with tales of silicon valley, yoga, fitbits, publishing and healthcare issues.  Funny, amusing and at times cringeworthy, whilst it’s based on the original P&P, it won’t be a book that appeals to the P&P purist.

ELIGIBLE

I loved it – one of my most favourite books (Pride & Prejudice) brought up to date by one of my most favourite authors. What’s not to love?

The characterisation stays true to the original. LIzzy is fun but as hot headed and prejudiced as her Darcy; Jane and Bingley’s attraction is warm but not excessive. Kitty and Lydia are as vacuous as in the original and Mrs Bennett is as irritating as ever. I liked the fact that Wyckham was now Jasper Wick and Ham Ryan! Lady Catherine is now an ardent feminist and Mr Collins is as repulsive as ever as Cousin Willie! My only disappointment was that Mrs Bennett’s stereotypes were not adequately countered or addressed (anti-semitic, anti-transgender and racist) but that doesn’t really detract from my love for this story.

Admittedly this book won’t be for everyone – the characterisation isn’t particularly deep – but I loved the retelling of the tale. Despite knowing what would happen, the reinterpretation did make me smile at each turn of events and even giggle on occasion.

I absolutely loved it and was thrilled to receive an advance copy.

Brilliant! But not for the P&P purist!

MetLineReader Rating 5 stars🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Metropolitan

About this book

 

From the bestselling author of Prep, American Wife and Sisterland comes this brilliant retelling of Austen’s classic set in modern day Cincinnati.

The Bennet sisters have been summoned from New York City.

Liz and Jane are good daughters. They’ve come home to suburban Cincinnati to get their mother to stop feeding their father steak as he recovers from heart surgery, to tidy up the crumbling Tudor-style family home, and to wrench their three sisters from their various states of arrested development.

Once they are under the same roof, old patterns return fast. Soon enough they are being berated for their single status, their only respite the early morning runs they escape on together. For two successful women in their late thirties, it really is too much to bear. That is, until the Lucas family’s BBQ throws them in the way of some eligible single men . . .

Chip Bingley is not only a charming doctor, he’s a reality TV star too. But Chip’s friend, haughty neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, can barely stomach Cincinnati or its inhabitants. Jane is entranced by Chip; Liz, sceptical of Darcy. As Liz is consumed by her father’s mounting medical bills, her wayward sisters and Cousin Willie trying to stick his tongue down her throat, it isn’t only the local chilli that will leave a bad aftertaste.

But where there are hearts that beat and mothers that push, the mysterious course of love will resolve itself in the most entertaining and unlikely of ways. And from the hand of Curtis Sittenfeld, Pride & Prejudice is catapulted into our modern world singing out with hilarity and truth.

‘This year the book of the summer is going to be Eligible’ The Times

‘Sheer joy… Giddy and glam and a hearty update of Pride and Prejudice’ Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist

Acknowledgements

Eligible is published on 21st April by The Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins UK.

I received an advance review copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.  I loved it and have already pre-ordered my hardback edition!

Relativity, astrophysics and a 12 year old called Ethan

 

From the stunning cover to the clever storyline, I absolutely loved this book. I was blown away by it. From the outset, it drew me in. Wanting to find out what happened to Ethan — was his father really to blame?? 

As the story unfolds and Ethan’s gift becomes apparent, I became enthralled by the descriptions of the light and sound waves. 

Ethan’s friendship with fellow patient Alison is touching and adds some warmth and grounding to the story. Without this element it would be a more factual story — what caused the brain injury and why was it occurring? Alison and Ethan have fun together and this brings humour to some potentially rather unpleasant situations!

If you read the blurb and thought well it’s not for me, I would urge you to give it a go. It’s just so different from what you imagine…  the descriptions of the light and sound waves are enthralling! And that’s from someone who hated Physics at school!

MetLineReader Rating 4.5🌟🌟🌟🌟

About this book

Help,” he said. “He’s not breathing.”A tiny baby is rushed to hospital. Doctors suspect he was shaken by his father, who is later charged and convicted. The baby grows up in the care of his mother. Life goes on.

Twelve years later, Ethan is a singular young boy. Gifted with an innate affinity for physics and astronomy, Ethan sees the world in ways others simply can’t – through a prism of light, time, stars and space.

Ethan is the centre of his mother’s universe. Claire has tried to protect him from finding out what happened when he was a baby. But the older Ethan gets, the more questions he asks about his absent father.

A single handwritten letter is all it takes to set off a dramatic chain of events, pulling both parents back together again into Ethan’s orbit. As the years seem to warp and bend, the past is both relived and revealed anew for each of them.

Relativity is an irresistible story about love, unbreakable bonds and irreversible acts.

Acknowledgments

Relativity by Antonia Hayes is published on 7th April and is available from Amazon UK. 

I received an advance review copy from Corsair in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Relationships– or what not to do 

   

An interesting story that blends insights into teenage girls; relationships old, new and slightly bizarre; the challenges of running a school and “modern” teenage trials and tribulations.
There’s a variety of characters including Eve, the formidable head of a Prep school, her ex-husband Simon and her two daughters, Zoe and Alice. Simon and his new partner Ed have adopted a son Jordan who has special needs and there’s also Eve’s secretary Gail and Gail’s dishy next door neighbour, Mike the SuperHead. Oh and there’s the super-wealthy Sorensons and Eve’s journalist BFF Cathy… 

After a lot of scene setting, Zoe is offered an internship with the Sorensons — and on her very first day is told she is flying to NYC with her male boss. Cue the drumroll. No spoilers, this was in the blurb!! 

What follows is as predictable as day follows night. Once it is revealed (and how will be kept under wraps or it spoils the story), the protagonists come together in a very modern fashion to address the fallout.

Clever, witty and spot-on with some of her observations, Kathryn Flett has given us a well-written story that unfolds in a pacy yet intriguing fashion. It’s also a cautionary tale for people whose children haven’t yet entered their teenage years…

MetLineReader Rating: 4🌟🌟🌟🌟 Jubilee 

About this book

Eve Sturridge, a high-flying divorcee and mother of two girls, is head teacher of Ivy House, an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ prep school in Sussex. Eve is passionate about her school and its pupils.

When Danish power couple, Stefan and Anette Sorenson, jet in and choose Ivy House over other schools, Eve is justifiably proud. The Sorensons are A-listers who bring an aura of style and power to Ivy House.

Zoe is Eve’s pretty seventeen-year-old daughter. Unlike her mother, Zoe’s not so keen on school. She prefers sending nude selfies to her boyfriend.
When glamorous Stefan Sorenson proposes that Zoe interns at his company and invites her to accompany him to New York, Zoe is over the moon with excitement, while Eve is too focused on her job to smell danger . . .

Acknowledgements 

My thanks to the publisher Quercus for an advance copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. Outstanding is published on Thursday 7th April and is available from Amazon and other bookshops. 

Shout it loud!!! 


Wow wow wow. Words cannot do this book justice. The book of 2016. A must read.

Late last year, I was privileged to receive an advance review copy of Shtum from the publishers, Orion. I cannot express my delight adequately. I have not stopped talking about this book, it will be a phenomenon (and deservedly so). Shtum defies explanation and is a must-read.

Jem Lester has opened my eyes (and those of many others) into the world of autism. At once heartbreaking, yet uplifting, this is a tale rooted in reality — from the highs and lows of looking after a boy with autism, family relationships and getting the right support for your child. Jem Lester’s writing style is warm and engaging, so easily flowing that you’ve become utterly absorbed in it and don’t want to stop reading.

MetLineReader Rating 6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ off the map

About this Book

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult home truths. Jonah, blissful in his innocence, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.

Perfect for fans of David Nicholls, THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

Acknowledgements 

My thanks to the publisher, Orion, for an advance review copy in November last year in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’ve been shouting off the rooftops about this book ever since.

Shtum is available on Amazon UK for preorder and is published on April 7th.

Please buy it, it’s such an amazing book! 

It’s. A. Loooong. Journey.

This is the story of John (the dad) and Ethan (the son) as they embark on a road trip to their daughter/sister Karen’s wedding across America.

It’s no ordinary road-trip because Ethan is no ordinary child. He has profound difficulties which are tragic yet provide moments of darkly black humour. Accompanied by three teddy bears – hence the picture – which keep Ethan amused and Jim sane, this road trip showcases the reality of life with Ethan.

The relationships between John and his estranged wife (ex?), his daughters and with Ethan all have their fragilities and stresses and strains. The bears provide amusement whilst illustrating their inner thoughts. I particularly enjoyed Stinky Bear’s solos – as did Ethan, who requests them over and over again.

Whilst I found it hard going at times, I reflected that so is life with Ethan.

A darkly comic tale yet twinged with sadness – from Karen’s wedding to Mindy’s humour – and to Mary and john’s relationship. Well worth a read for the insight into life with a profoundly challenged child. Makes me even more in awe of my friends with similar children.

MetLineReader Rating Thought-provoking, sad, frustrating yet ultimately uplifting hence 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  ( or should that be 🚐🚐🚐🚐)

About this book

Meet John Nichols. He’s 50-something years old, an ex-basketball player, ex-author, ex-philanderer, ex-husband, ex-high school English teacher. And he’s father to three: two overachieving adult daughters, and 19 year-old Ethan, who will never be an adult. John’s oldest daughter is getting married, and as the whole family travels from their homes in New York and the Chicago area, John is secretly preparing for a life-change that will alter his family’s hearts forever.

In this laugh-out-loud, heartbreaking, generous family novel, Jim Kokoris returns to the heartfelt writing of The Rich Part of Life. It’s Nice Outside explores that universal tension between being a parent and keeping true to yourself.

Acknowledgements

I received an advance review copy from the publisher, St Martin’s Press in exchange for a fair and honest review. It’s. Nice. Outside. is available from Amazon.