In the second instalment of our Writers Bloc series, we get the inside scoop on how to write a novel from commissioning editor and author, Phoebe Morgan
A commissioning editor by day and novelist by night, Phoebe Morgan is the author of The Doll House, published this month, and The Girl Next Door which is released in February 2019, both psychological thrillers. She is 28, and lives in Clapton, East London, with her boyfriend.
Where do you write? Are you one of those novelists who can write anywhere, or do you have a special place where your mind focuses best? I wrote some of The Doll House in the Pret by Leicester Square, some of it in the British Library – which is free and such a beautiful place to spend time – and some of it in my downstairs neighbour’s flat in my old building. I used to babysit her son and so after he’d gone to bed I’d sit down with my laptop and beaver away. I can pretty much write anywhere but I do now have a little desk in our bedroom, complete with a sunshine yellow chair. It has to be said, though, a lot of my second novel was written in bed whist looking at my desk… I think as a writer it’s best not to get too hung up on where you write; getting the words down on the page is the most important thing and that can be done almost anywhere. Motivation and persistence are more important than setting. And it turns out Pret will let you nurse a coffee for a really long time.
What inspires you? Do your books tend to start as the kernel of an idea and develop as you start to write, or do you plot meticulously before you dive in?
My books tend to start more as the gem of an idea rather than a fully fleshed out plot. The idea for The Doll House came from a real doll house I had as a child, and I love the idea of it being a little microcosm of the real world. So many people play at happy families but almost every family has its own secrets and demons and I was really keen to explore that idea through my characters. I often take inspiration from the world around me – so often when I’m out and about I make little observations and write them down in my iPhone, as you never know what might come in handy in another book. I find the idea of plotting meticulously quite daunting – for me I prefer to begin writing and see where the book takes me, then go back and revisit everything once I’ve got a first draft down. Ideas often come to me as I’m writing, so as long as I have an initial idea of character, I’m happy opening up my laptop and beginning to tell the story. Some authors have terrifying wall charts of coloured post-it notes and Excel sheets detailing each scene of their novel, but I’m very much in awe of those people – it’s just not the way my mind works.
How many drafts do you tend to write, and do you edit as you go or prefer to push through to the end and work through any problems in rewrites? I wrote several drafts of The Doll House, probably even five or six by the end. I’m lucky to have a very hands-on agent who worked with me on redrafting the manuscript once or twice – we ended up cutting out a whole character which felt traumatic at the time but actually was definitely for the best. I prefer to push through to the end of the novel, as I find the blank page intimidating and think it’s always easier to edit once you have something to work with. I’m an editor for my day job too, which probably helps! I don’t know a single author who hasn’t done a rewrite at some point – it really is all par for the course, and it’s often once you start the editing process that things start to feel clearer – you can see which scenes help move the plot forward and which don’t, and you can be brutal in terms of cutting out unnecessary sections or even characters. I think I prefer the editing process to the first drafting process – it’s just such a relief to have that first part done.
Are you a plotter or do you let the story unfold in the writing of it? I let the story unfold, although I often have an idea of how I want the novel to end. This might change as I write, of course, but it’s good to have a rough idea of which direction you want the story to be headed in. Sometimes I find that my characters almost take on a mind of their own – when I was writing The Doll House, the character of Ashley became much more of a key player as I redrafted, and actually a lot of people have since said she is their favourite person in the novel, even though in my mind she’s not strictly the main protagonist. I think it’s important to let your imagination take hold when you’re writing – try not to be too strict with yourself as you can end up limiting yourself if you try to stick rigidly to a plot that wants to take a different direction!
For The Doll House, I wrote a huge amount of backstory for one of my characters and then ended up cutting it all out – but having that knowledge, even just in my head, really helped strengthen the character even though it didn’t make it to the final edit. Sometimes it really is about knowing your characters inside out. They start to feel very real once you’ve spent that amount of hours with them. My least favourite part is the structural edit – so if an agent or editor suggests a major rework it can feel really overwhelming. I remember calling my friend crying once after another round of edits had come in, sitting on my bedroom floor and telling her that I had no idea how I was ever going to re-jig the manuscript. She said: ‘Of course you’ll do it,’ and those very simple words really helped – I just had to trust that I’d get there and eventually, I did.
Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome?
Oh, all the time! I’m not sure it’s something I have ever overcome, I don’t know if anyone does. I think it’s something I’ve just learned to live with and it’s not always a bad thing as I think it keeps you quite grounded. It can feel really strange having a book out in the world, and whilst it’s lovely hearing from readers who have enjoyed the book, I do sometimes feel as though everyone is going to realise I’m some sort of fake and take all of this away from me at any moment. I mainly just try to focus on getting the work done, remind myself of what I have achieved so far, and try not to listen to the negative voice in my head which tells me I’ll never be able to write another book! The writing and publishing community is on the whole such a supportive one, though – I have a group of writer friends and we’ve often talked about imposter syndrome, so I know that everyone suffers from it and that none of us are alone in that. That really helps.
What does your writing schedule look like – are you a believer on the mythical golden hour or tend to work nine to five, or something else entirely? I work full time as a senior commissioning editor so my nine to five is taken up solely with that. I’m lucky as I absolutely love my day job and wouldn’t change it for the world. Therefore, most of my writing gets done in the evenings or the weekends – I’m much better at staying up late than getting up super early, so whilst doing the final edits on The Doll House there were a few very late nights. My boyfriend’s dad once walked into the kitchen to find me on my laptop at 3am, drinking my fifth cup of coffee and with a slightly deranged look in my eye! I try to be quite strict with myself when I’m working on the first draft of a new book, with word counts to hit, as this helps me keep going and prevents me from worrying about making everything perfect in that initial draft. If I take a whole day off work I can get lots more done, but my day job is quite intense so there isn’t much scope for that at the moment.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would that be? The key really is persistence. I know so many authors who didn’t get a book deal with their debut – it might be your second book that sells, or even your fifth! If writing is something you really want to do, keep going, and be prepared to accept feedback. Editors always want the best for your book, just as much as you do, and so if you can listen to their comments and keep pushing yourself to make the book the best it can be, the end result will be much stronger. My other piece of advice would be to take chances – put yourself out there in the writing community, say yes to things, be prepared to try new publishers – you never know where it will take you.
We hope you’ve practiced your swish and flicks and memorised your incantations. It turns out that London is set to get a little bit more magical this month, as nine gigantic wands are going to be installed nearby one of the capital’s biggest attractions: St Paul’s Cathedral. Beyond being a super cool nod to the wizarding series, they also light up at their tips to guide the way for those finding their way home.
The installation is officially called Fantastic Beasts: Wizarding World Wands Supporting Lumos and will be open to the public between 18 October and 12 November. Forget going to see Oxford Street switch their lights on, as you’ll be able to murmur your own Lumos and watch the fifteen foot wands light up the darkness at 6.45pm every night.
And while we’re on the topic of the Lumos spell, the installation is all in support of J.K. Rowling’s charity of the same name. Aimed at bringing orphans a better life and ‘ending the institutionalisation of children around the world’, the gigantic wands are intended to spread awareness of Lumos’ mission.
If you’re around the area on one of their Wizarding Wednesdays, it’s also worth popping down to see what’s happening as apparently there’s going to be a whole range of Potter-themed activities: think live musical performances of the films’ stunning scores and wand training sessions. (Note: no Unforgivable Curses allowed.)
It’s also been speculated by The Evening Standard that Daniel Radcliffe could potentially be involved in some way, as the wands will be installed just a stone’s throw away from his old school City of London School for Boys. We’ve reached out to his agent to see if there’s any truth to it, but fingers crossed we’ll get to see him in person at a Wizarding Wednesday.
Josh Berger, the President and Managing Director of Warner Bros. Entertainment UK, said, ‘London has played a huge role in the on-screen legacy of the Wizarding World…Fantastic Beasts: Wizarding World Wands supporting Lumos is emblematic of this unique relationship, celebrating the magic of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts here in London while raising awareness for the vital work being done by Lumos on behalf of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.’
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will be released in the UK on November 16.
Since Meghan Markle and the Hubb Community Kitchen launched their joint cookbook, sales of the book have gone through the roof and it’s become something of a sensation. The project, titled Together: Our Community Cookbook, has become a bestseller internationally and especially here in the UK. It’s great news for the charity kitchen as all the proceeds from the book have gone towards their efforts. It’s pretty wild how quickly it’s taken off, given that it was launched literally last Wednesday.
According to PEOPLE, the book has racked up close to 11,000 sales in the UK which is pretty wild and is currently the sixth most sold book on Amazon US. Amazon UK also revealed that currently, it’s the third best selling book in the food and drink category – trailing behind Jamie Cooks Italy and Deliciously Ella The Plant-Based Cookbook.
We also chatted with Bea Carvalho, Waterstones’ Cookery Buyer, as the book’s doing fantastically well with brick and mortar shops too. Although she couldn’t divulge the book’s sales statistics, it’s apparently been a real winner since it landed on their shelves.
Bea said, ‘We’ve been really pleased with the success of Together. The press and social media activity following the announcement generated a huge number of pre-orders, and created a real sense of occasion in our shops when the books arrived.’
‘Our sales continue to be strong and show no signs of slowing down, and the response we’ve had from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive,’ she continued. ‘We’re very proud to be helping to raise much needed money for this very worthy cause.’
Last week’s launch was literally everywhere when it happened as well, as it was one of Meghan’s first high profile projects as a member of the royal family. Her mother Doria Ragland also came along to show her support and Prince Harry was spotted beaming with pride as she whizzed around, totally in her element. Even if he did sneak off with a couple of samosas when he wasn’t supposed to.
The book features a foreword by the Duchess of Sussex, who met the team behind The Hubb Community Kitchen when she volunteered to cook with them for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire. The BBC reported that Meghan said she felt ‘immediately embraced by the women in the kitchen’ and hailed the diversity of people who had come together as ‘pretty outstanding’.
Featuring over 50 recipes from places as different as the Middle East and North Africa, the cookbook is a meaningful reflection of London’s diverse population.
Together: Our Community Cookbook is available now both on Amazon UK and at Waterstones. Priced at just £9.99, all of its proceeds go towards funding the Hubb Community Kitchen.
Cue the theme song and your favourite film, the Royal Mail are feeding our decades long obsession with Harry Potter. If you still haven’t given up hope that an owl from Hogwarts is coming with your letter, you’ll now be able to send a very angry letter of complaint – stamped with one of your favourite Potter characters. The Royal Mail are releasing fifteen new magical stamps and we’re totally obsessed.
The selection of stamps are available for pre-order now and they’re covered in characters from the films, including Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Severus Snape, Remus Lupin and – your least favourite characters – Ginny Weasley and Horace Slughorn. They’ve also opted for some nicher characters like Pomona Sprout and Professor Trelawney which is was a welcome surprise.
In the corner of the main characters’ stamps, there’s also a number of fun little details that throw back to some of their most significant moments in the books. For instance, Harry’s stamp has a small golden snitch in the corner, Hermione’s has a time turner, Neville’s has the sword of Godric Gryffindor and Ron has a gigantic chess piece – a reference to his escapade with wizarding chess in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Other characters like Remus Lupin and Severus Snape are set against a backdrop right from out of the Marauders Map, complete with fading footsteps.
According to The Mirror, if you shine an ultraviolet light on each of the Potter stamps then it reveals a number of ‘hidden details’ you’’ll just have to find out for yourself.
The one in in the top left corner is also a reference to Harry’s scar as well as the iconic Harry Potter font, which transforms the length of the number into a lightning bolt.
Royal Mail’s Philip Parker said, ‘The Harry Potter movies continue to thrill and delight audiences of all ages. The goal with our stamps is to capture the excitement of the Wizarding World and the heroism of the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.’
And we know what you’re thinking. Where are my favourite characters, namely, all the vehicles from the series? Well, Royal Mail has you sorted as well as there’s also a collection of stamps featuring the Hogwarts Express, the Night Bus, Hagrid’s Motorbike and the Weasley’s enchanted Ford Anglia. Don’t say that Royal Mail never did anything for you.
For the first in our new Writers Bloc series, prolific crime writer Val McDermid tells Charlotte Philby the secret to writing 32 books in as many years
Val McDermid is the multi award-winning author of 32 crime novels, which have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and been translated into 40 languages. She is married to the professor Jo Sharp, and has a teenage sons. McDermid divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh. Her latest novel Broken Ground is published by Little Brown (£18.99)
You’ve written 32 books in as many years with no signs of abating, and had your work adapted for TV. What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt about successfully drawing readers into the worlds you create?
I think the best crime novels are like a three-legged stool, they depend on character, story and setting – all are equally important. You can have a great story but if people don’t care about your characters they won’t remember your book two days after they’ve finished reading it, and at the heart of all great storytelling is character. You have to create characters that your readers think are plausible, that feel authentic and they have to care about them; they don’t have to love them, they don’t have to hate them, but they have to care about their fate; they need to have invested in the outcome for those characters.
I think people sometimes underestimate the power of setting, in particular with the crime novel, because everybody knows murders are not solved the way we write about them in our books, it’s not how it happens. If we wrote about the reality it would be so boring no one would read it, so what we have to do is to persuade the reader to come with us on this journey of suspension of disbelief, and anything you can do to make your book feel more plausible helps you with that. So if you write about place in a way that for someone who knows that place, that absolutely they’re there with you and you’ve got it right – the way people will read and think I know that café, I know that park, I’ve waited at that bus stop – if you get those details right then they trust you about everything else you’re telling them… In order to take people on that journey of setting, you make your setting vivid, you make it rich, you make it part of the world of the book, and you use all the five senses as well, sight, sound, smell, touch, hearing, and taste.
One of the things about P. D. James’ work that I think makes it so intriguing and so fascinating, is that all of her books are set in a different world of work, so she conjures up what it’s like inside a barristers’ chambers, what it’s like inside a publishing firm, what it’s like working in a nuclear power station and she makes those worlds come alive – so you just believe everything else.
You’re incredibly prolific, as well as having brilliantly realised characters and great plots. Where do your stories come from and how do you develop them?
I used to plot things out very carefully, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, and about 14 or 15 books ago that stopped working for me so I now have a much freer approach to writing the story, to plotting the story; I kind of know the arc of the story, I know what I’m aiming for, I know the ending I’m aiming for, and I usually know two or three crucial turning points along the way, but the ideas, the initial trigger points can come from all sorts of places.
Sometimes someone will tell me a funny story, or an anecdote, or something odd that happened; sometimes I’ll hear something on the radio just in passing and I’ll think ‘Oh that’s interesting I didn’t know that, but what if it’s this instead of that?’; sometimes it’ll be you know I’m having a conversation with Sue, because I’ve rung her up to ask her about something in the book I’m working on and we’ll chat away and we’ll chat away and she’ll tell me something that I didn’t know, and I immediately just think ‘Oh that’s really really interesting’.
Books take quite a long time in the head for me, from having the original idea to being ready to roll with the book, it can, it will be a minimum of a year, and it can be as much as you know a dozen years. I rewrite as I go. I’ve kind of got the basics down now; it’s been a long since I’ve had to do a structural rewrite.
And what about when you have a recurring character, do you have an arc in mind for them from the beginning?
No, it goes book to book… I don’t know when I start a book what the next one’s going to be but by the time I’m about three quarters of the way through, I start to have an inkling, a sense of where the next one might go, because by that time I’ll know where the characters’ lives need to move, or how they need to move forward from this book, that often acts as the trigger for me to know the kind of story I should be thinking about for them.
Then I kind of rifle through the filing cabinet in the back of my head to see what I’ve got kicking around that might do the trick, and then I’ll think about that, play with that idea, work with it, do any research that needs to be done, which sometimes is next to nothing and sometimes is a lot, it just depends on the idea and the book and the setting.
Your research is meticulous and you have a strong working relationship with forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black, whom you consult for your books. How did that come about?
Well it came about through entire serendipity. This goes back to around 1995 thereabouts, and I was in Manchester and Sue was in Aberdeen and we were both taking part in a radio programme that was coming out of Glasgow and, as is often the way when you’re doing that kind of thing, they kind of park you where you can speak to each other before you go on air so you’re not just left hanging in a void, and so we started chatting and Sue very foolishly said if you ever need any help with anything forensic then give me a ring…
A year or so later, I was working on a book called Wire in the Blood and the question I had was ‘What kind of piece of forensic evidence would be analysable now that wasn’t analysable 20 years ago?’ So we started talking about tool marks and the advances in electron microscopy and we got on very well, and over the following years I would ring up when I needed some information or some help with something, and we developed a friendship, really. Over the years she’s introduced me to a lot of other forensic scientists, who like Sue are very good communicators.
Author Val McDermid, who has written 32 best-selling crime novels
How do you file the things you learn along the way?
In my head. If it’s not interesting enough for me to remember it accurately then it’s not interesting enough to interest a reader. That’s my basic rule of thumb, so mostly things stay firmly lodged in my head until I actually start writing.
Then what I tend to do is just jot down the next four sections, the next five sections, so I’m always kind of what E. L. Doctorow described as ‘driving at night writing’. This is like you’ve got a destination in mind but you leave your home base and you head for your destination but you can only see the bit of the road that’s lit up by your headlights, so you keep moving forward and you can see that little bit of road in front of you and you have to sort of fare forward in the confidence that all these bits of road will join together and take you either directly to your destination or as near as makes no difference.
That’s very much how it feels for me now; there will always be a few cruxes along the way that I kind of know what they are, and I suppose they’re a bit like the service stations aren’t they? Like you think ‘Oh yeah I know Hartshead services is down here somewhere’, so it’s sometimes a little bit unnerving because I sometimes think ‘have I driven down a dead end here?’
But I’ve learned to trust myself and I revise as I go along. Every day the first thing I do, when I’m in the writing phase, is to revise what I’ve done the day before. Then every couple of weeks I’ll print out a chunk and read that through to make sure it flows smoothly, and that you know each strand of the story is getting enough attention and that I haven’t left a character alone for too long, and that’s really just you know start at the beginning and plough through to the end.
How long do you spend on a novel, and what’s your writing routine?
When I’m in writing phase I work seven days a week. But that’s only three or four months a year. The rest is not so much research as thinking time and parking stuff to let it fester. This is one of the few jobs where you can actually get paid while you’re sleeping in essence.
If in the morning I know I’m going to be writing a scene that’s not quite clear in my head yet, or a difficult confrontation, or a complicated transition, or I’m not quite sure why somebody’s doing something at all, then I’ll set myself a problem when I’m going to sleep and I’ll talk myself to sleep almost through it, and then nine times out of ten when I get in the shower in the morning, the answer’s there.
I try to get out in the fresh air every day because walking is really a helpful thing for me to; there’s something about the rhythm, particularly the rhythm of walking by water, and you know the water of Leith is just at the end of our street in Edinburgh, so I just walk down the end of the street and and that somehow just often loosens things up, it gets rid of the stone in your shoe or whatever, and then just go back and you’re ready to roll again.
Are you sitting down? We hope you are. We’re about to drop a pretty insane fact that’ll make you feel old: Harry Potter is over twenty years old now. We’re not talking about the character – technically, Harry was born in 1980 and would be 38 years old today – we’re talking about the magical franchise itself which started it all. We’ve been feeling incredibly nostalgic lately, poring over Harry Potter facts and dreaming of simpler times when our biggest fear was He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – boo hiss, yes, the American version – and Potterheads around the world have been celebrating in style. Even Rowling jumped in on the festivities with a sweet message below which she post per her favourite social media platform, Twitter:
Us Brits had our twentieth anniversary for the Philosopher’s Stone last year on June 26, but any excuse to celebrate the Boy Who Lived is just fine by us. We’ve rounded up some inspirational Harry Potter quotes below to help you get through the day (and the rest of your life) below. Side note: everybody deserves their own personal Dumbledore.
1. Harry Potter: I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Albus Dumbledore: To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
3. Hermione Granger: Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
4. Albus Dumbledore: It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
5. Sirius Black: If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
6. Hagrid: I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’d dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.’
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
7. Albus Dumbledore: It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
The summer and sunshine has finally rolled around, which means that we’re a go for a whimsical lunch break spent reading a page turner in the park. With so many books to choose from and so little time however, sometimes it can be hard whittling down what the best books to read this summer are so we did some digging and found something to tickle all kinds of fancies.
Whether you’re looking for the ultimate chick lit read to shove in your beach bag on holiday or want a cathartic epic that’ll make you sob your heart out, I’ve put together a list below of all the books everybody’s been talking about (or soon will be).
By the way, if you haven’t already joined our Marie Claire book club, there’s no time like the present. Keep an eye out on our Instagram and for the hashtag #marieclairebookclub, as we’ll be regularly announcing a new novel and reviewing it with all of you lovely readers on the feed.
Books you need to read right now
Who better to ask for book recommendations than somebody who works with them all day? We chatted to the lovely Michael Perry, a bookseller based in South London, to see what he’s currently poring over when he’s not playing bookshelf Jenga with the arrivals sweeping through the shop door. Check out his recommended picks below…
Michael said, ‘There’s no one book leading the pack when it comes to this year’s essential titles, but Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling has just landed in paperback and I’m hoping that it capitalises on the buzz it received in hardback last year. It’s a compassionate, commanding and uncompromising dig into emotional and physical scars, and it deserves a wide readership to match its critical plaudits. It might not sound particularly summery on paper, but in the same way Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life did several years ago, it’s a book of such direct clout that it consumes its readers like little else.’
Literally everybody has been buzzing about this book in the office, which follows the story of an offbeat socially awkward woman Eleanor. When she and her colleague Raymond wind up saving an old man Sammy on the street, all three of them wind up deeply affecting one another’s lives in different ways – drawing each other out of their little bubbles and their personal tragedies. Reese Witherspoon loved the book so much, she’s actually going to be producing the film and we trust her judgment.
Celeste Ng is back with another page-turner you’ll quickly become obsessed with, set in a sleepy American suburb in Cleveland. When single mother Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive fresh to the neighbourhood, their landlords – the Richardsons and particularly Elena Richardson – quickly become fast friends. However as a custody battle over an adopted child comes to light, it threatens to tear the new connection apart.
There’s a reason that this book has been on the bestsellers list for weeks on end. This odd yet charming little novel follows the story of Anthony Peardew, who obsessively collects lost things after losing a keepsake from his fiancee the day she passed away. After he too passes, his newly divorced assistant Laura is tasked with taking on his mission and quickly falls in love with the ghosts haunting the home – as well as the gardener Freddy next door.
Sometimes, all you want is some easy chick lit. This fun book by Katy Collins is not only summer-appropriate, it’s a lighthearted tale that follows a girl called Georgia as she attends her best friend’s wedding out in Australia. As her pal melts down with the ceremony inching nearer, Georgia starts to reassess her own relationship…
If you’ve seen this Oscar-nominated film before, you already know what you’re in for. This gentle coming-of-age LGBTQ story is a beautiful one, following precocious teenager Elio as he falls in love with the bumbling American exchange student who moves into his Italian home for the summer. Not all great love stories roar, sometimes they unfold slowly – just like this one.
In sore need of getting your shit together this year? This no-bullshit inspirational guide to life for black women is a must-read. Full of interviews with female visionaries, illustrations and career tips on creating the success you deserve, it’s a must-read for anybody who needs to turn their life around this summer.
That summer vacation, wardrobe upgrade and time spent eating/drinking alfresco is going to add up and this book from Jen Sincero is our little budgeting saviour. Both empowering and practical, this self-help guide goes beyond the boring Excel sheets and helps you change your mindset to money for bigger bucks down the line.
This book has been out a little while, but the sentiment is an utterly timeless one. We spend a lot of effort worrying and stressing about every little thing, but sometimes there’s just crap you need to stop wasting your energy on – which is where this guide steps in. From the NotSorry Method to all the stuff to cut out of your life, you’ll come out of the experience feeling like a total blissed out bad ass.
With the next series of The Handmaid’s Tale soon upon us, this classic feminist tale by Margaret Atwood feels more relevant than ever. This dystopian tale set in fictional Gilead revolves around Offred, a woman whose only purpose is to breed in a world where fertility is a rare trait. However as the abuse mounts and things reach a boiling point, she finds herself hoping for a better future and taking dangerous strides towards it despite all odds.
The story of 1984 has never felt more prescient than right now, with the chaos that seems to be spilling out all over the globe. Whether you read it for your GCSE or never got the chance to, this warning tale about the power of politics told eerily through farm animals will have you musing over world events. Not one for those looking to escape from reality though.
I will never stop screaming about this book, as long as I live. This devastating Scottish modern classic follows the story of a woman named Joy Stone, whose life has stagnated after the man she was having an affair with suddenly and violently passes away. It’s an unflinching look at the stigma surrounding mental health, the oppression of women and while incredibly dark, it’s full of glimmers of hope as Joy strives to discover ‘the trick’ to live on in a world that seems to have forgotten her. Better than The Bell Jar, in my opinion.
We’re sure there’s a few RuPaul’s Drag Race fans in the house. Bianca Del Rio, one of the series’ most hilarious yet cutting queens with a heart of gold, has penned a collection of personal rants packed with advice you desperately need to hear. It’s not going to be one of your floaty mellow self-help books, instead this is a no-bullshit guide that’ll hit you where it hurts but keep you in stitches anyway.
All’s fair in dating, friendship and war, as Sunday Times dating columnist Dolly Alderton can attest to in her touching memoir. It’s the ultimate book for anybody who feels like they still haven’t got their shit together, as she recounts gently and wittily her own experiences of self-sabotage, falling in love, friendship and independence. And that one Rod-Stewart themed house party.
Ever wondered what it’s like to work in the NHS? Well, comedian and former junior doctor Adam Kay has penned a fantastic tell-all about his time working with patients. Both darkly hilarious and heartbreaking, it’s an intimate look inside one of the most significant British institutions of our time and will make you want to hug your family doctor.
Everybody was talking about this book when it first came out, even if there are some things Rennie Eddo-Lodge refuses to talk about. The bold title absolutely delivers with a deep dive into modern racial politics and the difficulty of encouraging people in privilege understand racial inequality, especially when things like structural racism come into play. An eye-opening read everybody should experience at least once.
Put the phone down and pick up this book, which delves into our current obsession with ourselves – and more importantly, the idea that there’s a ‘perfect version’ of ourselves. Spoiler: it turns out that the selfie-generation isn’t to blame, as Storr charts the culture all the way back to Ancient Greece, through Middle Age Christianity and all the way to the Trumps and Kardashians of the present.
We’ve long been obsessed with illustrator Manjit Thapp’s illustrations and when we saw she had teamed up with Julia Pierpont for a feminist read, we had to get our hands on this. Starring queens such as Frida Kahlo, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou and Amelia Earhart, each of the women is lovingly profiled by the duo in colourful language and artwork.
Richard Scott’s stunning debut collection Soho is a passionate and sometimes furious love letter to the LGBTQ+ community and its chequered history, revelling in the beautiful joy of sexual identity and mourning scars of past violence. The collection leaps vividly to life in the titular poetic sequence Soho, a wondering journey through London’s Soho – if you ever get the chance to see Richard Scott read live, jump on that opportunity ASAP.
This collection from American poet Ocean Vuong swept one of the poetry world’s highest accolades last year: the T.S. Eliot prize. With verses full of stunning heartbreak and devastation, Ocean explores his and his family’s experience as Vietnamese refugees fleeing to the United States during the war. A master of juxtaposition and the power of a line break, it’s an experience that’ll stay with you forever. As with Richard Scott, absolutely a poet you should see read live if you ever have the opportunity – head to YouTube and you’ll find he’s one of its spoken word darlings.
‘I will tell you again and again: in some small way, everything matters.’ The first of Alison Malee’s two-part poetry collection, this breathtaking collection bridges the gap between poetry and prose – making it a great contender for those nervous to commit to full on verse. Detailing her journey to find pockets of light amidst the darkness, the collection leaves readers with a message you’ll want to get tattooed: ‘you do not have to unravel gracefully.’
The tale of the Boy Who Lived is one that’s touched people all over the world, though one of Harry Potter’s biggest fans happens to be a little bit out of the way. Like, Himalayas far away. Kulsum Bano Batt, a twelve year old girl living in Northern India, was sent a very special package by J.K. Rowling herself and against all odds, it just arrived yesterday.
Kulsum had written an essay about the Potter author and about how she had inspired her, which her teacher Sabbah Haji shared on Twitter. It didn’t take long for avid Twitter user J.K. Rowling to respond, ‘Please can you send me Kulsum’s full name by DM? I’d love to send her something.’
Well, that package has arrived and Kulsum is over the moon about it. Her teacher Sabbah shared a series of photographs and revealed that Rowling had sent a ‘huge gift box’ which included a ‘handwritten note, inscribed book’ and no end of Potter merch (including a time turner and Hedwig toy).
The joy on Kulsum’s face is absolutely contagious and the rest of her class seemed equally as thrilled about the present. J.K. responded to the images, tweeting in relief, ‘I’m so happy it got there! I was getting worried! xxx’
Her teacher even said that J.K. Rowling’s initial tweet was ‘framed for ever in our school hallway’.
It’s amazing to see how the power of storytelling can really bring people together against all odds. When it comes to Harry Potter, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a Potter fan tucked away in some corner of the world as the books have been translated into 68 languages with 400 million copies all over the world.
Although the main bulk of the Potter stories have come to an end, Potterheads can still get their fix over at the theatrical continuation of the series Harry Potter and the Cursed Child over in the West End or on Broadway. And for a look at how the American magical world shapes up to Hogwarts and co., Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is set to be released this November.
Women were rewriting the book at this year’s Hay Festival. Our intrepid reporter Rosa (aged 7) caught up with headliners Chelsea Clinton and JoJo Moyes
According to recent analysis, women were better represented in literature in Victorian times than they are now. Academics from the universities of Illinois and California at Berkeley used an algorithm to examine more than 100,000 works of fiction dating from 1780 to 2007. Their research shows that there has been a decline in the proportion of female novelists from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.
It’s a sorry tale, but one that might come as a surprise to those attending this year’s Hay Festival, which took place from 23 May to 4 June in the bustling Herefordshire town of Hay-on-Wye.
The world’s biggest literary event, which ended last weekend, was swarming with female power-houses from across the creative, academic and political spheres, and around the globe. Key events including Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood in conversation with journalist and literary director of the Booker Prize foundation, Gaby Wood, and the hopefully-entitled talk ‘Is 2018 the Year of Women?’ suggest a happier arc for women in books.
And it is not just adult fiction where strong, independent women are increasingly being placed centre-stage. A swathe of powerful, and extremely popular, new children’s books – from Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted Around the World – are bringing female characters into a fresh new light. With this in mind, I brought my seven-year-old daughter Rosa – book-worm and shunner of all things princess-related – to this year’s Hay Festival to meet key female voices at this year’s event.
Rosa and Chelsea at this year’s Hay Festival. Copyright: Charlotte Philby
Chelsea Clinton, 38, lives with her husband Marc, and their children, Charlotte, 3, and Aidan, 1, in New York City. She is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, and a teacher at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She has written several children’s books, the latest of which She Persisted Around the World highlights the stories of 13 women who used their voices to stand up for something they believed in and changed the course of history in their communities. She spoke to Rosa, aged 7, about the representations of girls in literature.
Why are you at Hay?
I’m here for two reasons. I’m here to talk about a book I co-authored on global health governance, and I’m also here about two of my children’s books, She Persisted, and She Persisted Around the World, celebrating the accomplishments of girls and women, and amplifying the importance of persistence as a core value for us to become the people we want to be.
What were you like when you were 7?
When I was seven years old I loved to read a lot. I was just beginning to read chapter books and was reading a lot of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys… I also spent a lot of time with my very best friend Eliza. Our mothers met before we were born. I loved school and trying lots of things and I’m very grateful that my parents always supported that. If I could describe myself in one word it would be ‘curious’.
What is the most important lesson your mother has taught you?
My mother has always encouraged me and given me important advice. But the most important piece of advice came from my mother’s mother, who lived with us as she got older. She had a mantra and that is ‘life is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens’.
Our interview with Chelsea will appear in full in our October issue
Rosa interviewing JoJo at this year’s Hay Festival
JoJo Moyes is the bestselling author of Me Before You, which was adapted into a film starring Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke. A former newspaper journalist, she lives on a farm in Essex with her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, their three children, three horses named Brian, Fred and Bill, their cat, Eric, and dog, Alfie.
Why are you at Hay?
I’m here to talk about Still Me, which is the third in a series of books about a woman called Lou Clark, which has been more successful than I could ever have dreamed of.
Who are you excited to hear talk?
I am very disappointed to miss Jilly Cooper, who I love so much. I once went to her house and had to be prised out at the end of the night because I wanted to be adopted by her.
What was your favourite book when you were growing up?
It was a book called National Velvet, which is about a skinny little girl called Velvet Brown who was a bit sickly but falls in love with a horse and decides she wants to take part in the toughest horse race so she cuts off all her hair to look like a boy, and then she wins the race. It’s not that she wants the money from winning the race but rather that she wants the feeling of winning something. I was once a skinny little girl who liked horses and when I read that book it reminds me that if you want it enough, you can achieve anything.
Who is the most important female voice for women right now?
The feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has become a rock star across Africa, essentially. She is so wise and so profound and I could listen to anything she has to say. I love the fact that women across the world respond to her words.