Blog Tour: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small -a Review

Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

Kate and Marine have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School where they formed an intense bond after respective family tragedies. Their friendship seems unshakeable until their final year when only one girl can be selected for a place in the Opera’s company. The physically demanding competition takes an emotional toll, and their support for each other starts to crumble. Marine’s eating disorder begins to control her life as she consumes less and dances more, and Kate discovers the depths of depression and the highs of first love as she falls for the school heartthrob—who also happens to be Marine’s dance partner.

As rankings tighten and each day is one step closer to the final selection, neither girl is sure just how far she’ll go to win. With nuance and empathy, the intense emotions of teenage years are amplified in Small’s debut as the girls struggle with grief, mental health issues, and relationships, all set against the glamorous backdrop of Paris.

Published 21 May 2019 |  Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers |  RRP: USD$17.95

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

I couldn’t help myself… A glance at the cover and I’m gone! Yep, I’m definitely reading this one – I just A.D.O.R.E. ballet. When I read the description, I doubted whether this is something I’d like but I still had to try. The bit I didn’t like was that it hinted at a love triangle and that it’ll take over the whole book but it did NOT and boy, I was so thankful!

Bright Burning Stars was so much more than just a love story or even boys. It delved much deeper into the psyches of these two girls who are passionate about dancing but are in a very stressful competitive situation. Their friendship of many years are challenged to the breaking point and their health are at risk to the point of destruction. This was a rather dark read.

Thankfully, this book is told in dual perspective, Kate Saunders and Marine Duval. I am very glad for Marine’s because I think I might have thrown the book if all I had to read was Kate’s point of view. Both Kate and Marine have had their share of childhood grief and each has their own issues in this story but Marine as a character is one you can easily sympathise with while Kate may just make you cry (after wanting to shake her).

As I read Bright Burning Stars & tried to guess the ending (who does that!?), I was reminded of Centre Stage (movie). The more I think of it, the more I see similarities between the 2 but enough differences to exist. Nevertheless, if you love this book, go watch Centre Stage!! And vice versa 😉

My thanks to Algonquin Young Readers for having me on this tour 

About the author

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

Find her on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  | instagram

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Review: Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

By the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018.

Since her sister died, Meg has been on her own. She doesn’t mind, not really—not with Atticus, her African grey parrot, to keep her company—but after her house is broken into by a knife-wielding intruder, she decides it might be good to have some company after all.

Andy’s father has lost his job, and his parents’ savings are barely enough to cover his tuition. If he wants to graduate, he’ll have to give up his student flat and find a homeshare. Living with an elderly Australian woman is harder than he’d expected, though, and soon he’s struggling with more than his studies.

Published 7 May 2019 |  Publisher: Text Publishing |  RRP: AUD$29.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

I went to see the author’s panel at Sydney Writer’s Festival this year and Christos Tsiolkas, who was facilitating, praised this novel for its quiet splendour (I can’t quite remember the exact phrase he used but it’s something along that line) and I couldn’t agree more! This little unassuming novel was so relatable; it’s easy for me to relate to Andy as I was myself an overseas student but I also found myself to be able to relate to Meg, an older Australian lady.

In Room for a Stranger, we have two seemingly very different people come together and found, in the end, that they were troubled with what is essentially the same thing even if troubles came in different forms. It is very clear that the author knows her subjects well as she drew from her own personal experiences as an “overseas student” and a GP to many older patients.

While the book dealt with our protagonists going about their daily lives: Andy with his parental expectations of good results and Meg with her loneliness, it also did not shy from the hard reality of life: sickness, health, unhappy marriages, and racism (one particularly shocking scene where even I as a reader felt the shame of it and I’ve had my share of scenes…).

A wonderful novel about life – no matter who you are or where you are in life, it is always possible to connect with the stranger next to you.

Thanks to Text Publishing for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

I am a writer, mum and general practitioner from Melbourne, Australia. I have been published in print and online. My writing has appeared in The Age, Meanjin, Overland, Griffith REVIEW, Sleepers Almanac, The Bridport Prize Anthology, Lascaux Review, Visible Ink, Peril, The Victorian Writer and Seizure. My short story collection, Australia Day, won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript and went on to win the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction. My latest book is the novel, Room for a Stranger. If Saul Bellow is right and “a writer is a reader moved to emulation” then I am moved by authors like Richard Yates, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami and Christos Tsiolkas.

Find Melanie on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter

Review: The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey

The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey

1833. A near-fatal carriage accident has deposited an unconscious young woman on the doorstep of Hardwick Manor and into the care of young Lord James Ellerby. But when she finally awakens, it is with no memory of who she is or where she came from.

Beth, as she calls herself, has no identity; the only clue to her circumstances is a recurring nightmare of a hummingbird, blood dripping from its steel beak.

With the help of James and his sister, Caroline, Beth tries to solve the mystery of her own identity and the appalling events that brought her to their door. But nothing could prepare her for the escalating dangers that threaten her and the Ellerby clan. From the hazardous cliffs of Dorset to the hostile streets of London, Beth will fight to reclaim her past, hunted by a secretive foe with murderous intentions.

Published 16 April 2019 |  Publisher: Swoon Reads  |  RRP: AUD$26.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

I just adored Anstey’s debut, Love, Lies and Spies which is a bit like an Austenesque romp. It was just a fun easy read so I didn’t hesitate to pick this one up. The Hummingbird Dagger though sounds a little more gothic and even the cover hinted at something more sinister than her other books. Then again, I just lurve mysteries! This is a win-win for me 🙂

One of my favourite tropes is a protagonist suffering amnesia at the beginning of the novel and having to slowly regain their memories and identity through the plot. It was exciting start to the novel as Lord James Ellerby witnessed a carriage accident in which his brother was involved. A rather horrific accident where he found a lady, thrown out of the carriage, lying battered & unconscious. Immediately, his sense of responsibility kicked in and with a dose of kindness & generosity, he took charge of the care of this lady.

Beth, as she’s called for she could not remember her name, is a likeable heroine although I feel that I could have loved her had she known who she is. Her gentility, intelligence, and sense of independence still shone through her inability to recall her background; and she has guts! Even while she is depended on the Elerby family in investigating her identity, she wasn’t just going to sit there when the safety of herself & her friends are threatened.

The Hummingbird Dagger with its slight gothic overtone was a terrificly fun read. I feel that this is one that I’d happily snuggle up to reread upon a rainy day over & over again.

Thanks to Pan MacMillans Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Cindy Anstey spends her days painting with words, flowers, threads and acrylics. Whenever not sitting at the computer, she can be found—or rather, not found—travelling near and far. After many years living as an expat in Singapore, Memphis and Belgium, Cindy now resides with her husband and energetic chocolate labrador in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Find Cindy on:  goodreads  |  website  | facebook  | twitter

Review: The True Queen by Zen Cho

The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho

Fairyland’s future lies in doubt…

The island of Janda Baik, in the Malay archipelago, has long been home to witches. And Muna and her sister Satki wake on its shores under a curse – which has stolen away their memories. Satki plots to banish it in London, as Britain’s Sorceress Royal dares to train female magicians. But the pair journey there via the Fairy Queen’s realm, where Satki disappears.

Distraught, Muna takes her sister’s place at the school, despite her troublesome lack of magic. Then the Sorceress receives an ambassador from the Fairy Court, which has incarcerated her friends – for supposedly stealing a powerful talisman. Their Queen is at her most dangerous, fearing for her throne. For the missing trinket contained the magic of her usurped sister, Fairyland’s rightful heir. Mina must somehow find Satki, break their curse and stay out of trouble. But if the true queen does finally return, trouble may find her first…

Published 12 March 2019 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$29.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

This review is in relation to book 2 of the series but each book could stand on its own and therefore I believe no spoilers exist in my review. 

I remembered enjoying Sorcerer to the Crown (book 1 of this series) when I read it a few years ago so I was excited to see a sequel. I was even more excited when I read the description which seems to have more Asian slant (“The island of Janda Baik, in the Malay archipelago…“). There aren’t many fantasy books published in English with Asian slant; until recent times, of course, when social media helped readers like me to come across writers like Zen Cho, Fonda Lee, and many other amazing talents out there.

I know nothing of Malay’s mythology so I’ve no idea whether any part of this book is inspired by such. I just had a lot of fun imagining Mak Genggang (old cranky Malay old lady), the island, and their style of dresses (I had a lot of Batik motif in mind). And then, when setting was moved to Fairyland, I had even more fun imagining all the fantastical fairy things and creatures. Even whilst I used a lot of my own imagination, I was totally helped along by the author as this novel was full of such rich  descriptive prose. This was what I loved most of this novel.

We mostly follow one of the 2 sisters with some chapters in between from perspectives of some English sorceresses. Prunella, who was the main protagonist in the first book, also made her appearance here though as rather minor character so we didn’t really see her develop here. I did identify with the main protag’s earlier character of sensible timidness even if it annoyed me a little however she did develop into someone you’d very much like.

That last bit at the end of the book, though… I just felt that it was forced. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t feel coming at all. I just didn’t feel it. Is it just me? Please tell me if you actually felt that spark cuz I had none :/

Overall, a very fun adventure of interesting (plus quirky) characters in very lush settings. You could read this second book without reading the first but you’ll miss some background on the English side of the ‘history’. So, read both!

Thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Zen Cho is the author of a short story collection (Spirits Abroad, Fixi, 2014) and two historical fantasy novels (Sorcerer to the Crown, 2015 and The True Queen, 2019, both published by Ace and Macmillan). She is a winner of the Crawford Award and the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and a finalist for the Locus, Hugo and Campbell Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.

Find Zen on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter

Serene Conneeley: Q&A

Thank you, Serene, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing journey.

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Dark chocolate.

Coffee or Tea?Tea for sure. There’s nothing better than books and tea 🙂

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark?

Anything for a bookmark. No dog ears! I have heaps of lovely bookmarks, but I often end up using envelopes, scraps of paper, a shopping list or whatever’s at hand – I just found a book I’d been searching for, and it had one of those moisturiser samples from a magazine marking my place…

Plot or Character? They’re so intertwined, but if I had to choose I guess I’d say character.

HEA or unexpected twist? Unexpected twist…

Q: Could you please share with us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer? Was there a particular book you loved as a child or how did your love of words translate to writing?

A: I’m shy, so writing has always been the way I communicate, and the way I make sense of the world. Mum still has a little story I made into a book when I was a kid, about saving the seals 🙂 I wanted to help people, so I was planning to be a social worker, but Dad convinced me I could help more people through words. And that’s what still motivates me to write – when I was a journalist I got letters from teenagers who told me my articles helped them deal with a traumatic event or decide not to commit suicide, and as an author I’ve had a lot of readers contact me to let me know how much one of my books has helped them heal too.

In high school I wrote for a national surfing magazine, at uni (I studied politics and journalism) I was the first student editor of their newspaper, and spent way more time writing articles than going to class, and after that I was a journalist for years – writing about everything from health and social issues to entertainment and spiritualty. A publisher I worked with when I was in magazines offered me a book contract when I left one of my jobs, and that’s how I became an author.

Some of my favourite childhood books were Mandy by Julie Edwards, about a girl in an orphanage who found a little cottage in the woods she escaped to, Searching For Shona by Margaret J Anderson, about two girls who switch places during the war, and one who refuses to give the identity back at the end, and A Time To Love, A Time to Mourn by Paige Dixon, about a teenager with a rare and fatal disease… Which I realise as I write that, all have a sense of tragedy, yet also hope, which is true of my books too. (Hence the unexpected twist not the HEA – I like a book that makes me cry, but also uplifts me…)

Q: Could you share a little of what this trilogy is about and what inspired you in in writing it? Was there a purpose or a target audience you are seeking to reach?

A: I’d written five non-fiction books before I decided to see if I could write a novel, and Into the Mists was woven out of the research I did for Seven Sacred Sites, Faery Magic and Witchy Magic. It’s about death and loss, but also about healing, the bonds of family, the power of friendship and the magic of the natural world, and how that can heal and inspire us. I thought it would just be one small novel, but it turned into a trilogy, and then people asked about some of the other characters, and that spawned another trilogy.

In the beginning the audience was people who loved my non-fiction, but now it’s everyone from young girls at Supanova to men and women of all ages from around the world. With all my books, I want to acknowledge that there is sadness in life, but also hope. It’s always important to me that strong friendships are portrayed, that forgiveness and redemption is possible, and that love can heal. It was also interesting timing that the second trilogy, Into the Storm, launched in the time of #metoo and #timesup, as there is a strong thread of that through these books, and the feedback on that in terms of helping people who have experienced assault and harassment has been really touching.

Q: As I have mentioned to you previously, I found it truly difficult in the first half of the book due to all the grief and anger Carlie was going through. Have you experience such grief yourself and/or how did you research into this?

A: I’m so sorry you found it hard! Fortunately I haven’t lost anyone like Carlie has, but I have been overwhelmed by the response of readers to it. Several people have come up to me at events to hug me, and thank me, and burst into tears as they tell me how much it helped them deal with their own grief, which I wasn’t expecting at all. A husband told me how grateful he was, because when his wife lost her mum she was inconsolable, and he didn’t know how to help her, but apparently the Mists books did. So whenever I’m feeling discouraged, or the writing is hard, I remember those things, because to me it is worth it if it helps even one person… There are others who thank me because the books reminded them of who they are, and got them to re-engage with nature or magic or ritual, and then there are the people who just love the story and the mystery of it and that’s great too 🙂

With the research, I did a bereavement counselling course, and read a fair bit, and I’ve done energy healing courses and workshops, and rituals with shamans and druids and pagan priestesses, and that all contributed too…

Q: In Into the Mists, I could read your sincerity in all things pagan and the note at the end of the book also acknowledged that you are a pagan. Could you please share your experience on how you came to your belief?

A: Paganism is an earth-honouring spiritual path of personal growth and self-discovery, a connection to nature, to the rhythms of the earth and the cycles of the sun, moon and seasons, and a belief in the interconnectedness of people, animals and the land. I was born in Sydney, but when I was six my family moved to a tiny little town on the other side of the country, because they didn’t want to raise my sister and I in the city. So I grew up on a bush property on the river, near the beach, revelling in nature, campaigning with Dad to protect it, and doing healing work with Mum. (My parents were hippies, which I’m sure contributed to my pagan outlook!) A pagan is simply someone who walks lightly on the earth and strives to be kind and compassionate. Who takes responsibility for their own life and their own actions. Who is aware of the impact of word, thought and deed. Someone who understands that there is magic in every moment, if we stop to look, to breathe it in, and to unlock all the potential and promise we hold within. It’s about the magic of the earth, the magic of science and nature. Many pagans are environmentalists, working to protect the earth and its creatures, or they are healers or psychics – or all three – for it’s a path of learning, a search for wisdom and inner knowledge, and a quest to uncover personal truths and meaning. Pagans honour the phases of the moon and the changing of the seasons as metaphors for their own life, and perform rituals as a shaping of intention, and a way to express gratitude for their life, their loved ones and all they have achieved.

Q: What are your top reads for 2019 to date? And which book are you desperately waiting for publication?

A: I’m aiming for a book a week this year (so far so good!), and I’ve already read some wonderful stories. Paula Brackston’s Lamp Black, Wolf Grey, Anne Rice’s Blood Communion, Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches (thanks to Read3rz Revu for the reminder that I had it!), Jodi McIsaac’s Bury the Living, and DL Richardson’s One Little Spell, amongst others.

Juliet Marillier is my favourite author, and she has TWO new books out this year, which I’m desperately waiting for! I can’t wait for The Harp of Kings, the first in her new Warrior Bards series, which is out in September, and she also wrote a new novel, Beautiful, that is coming out as an audiobook exclusive at the end of May. Squeee!

Q: What are your top reads for 2019 to date? And which book are you desperately waiting for publication?

A: So far this year I’ve really enjoyed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, which is an intriguing time-slip mystery about a man reliving a day again and again in different bodies, and Educated by Tara Westover, an extraordinary memoir about learning and change. I’m really looking forward to The Parade, by Dave Eggers, as his books are always both meticulously crafted and full of interesting ideas about the way we live now.

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

A: At the moment I’m finishing Into the Air, which is book three of the Into the Storm Trilogy. It will be sad in a way, to say farewell to these characters I’ve lived with for six years (the Into the Mists Trilogy is set in the same world), but I’m really excited about a couple of new projects I’m about to begin – an Australian faerytale of sorts, and a fantasy series with two friends. We’re off on a writing retreat next week to get started!

Q: “Well, cooking is definitely a witchy skill,”  ~ said Rose (Carlie’s grandmother)

Lastly, and just for fun, could you please share a favourite recipe for the upcoming festival which I believe is Ostara?

A: Of course. Mabon was March 21, and I put some recipes for Mabon (the autumn equinox), which is Ostara (the spring equinox), in the northern hemisphere, on my website for you – then I missed getting this to you in time, sorry! They’re here if you want to include any, www.blessedbeebooks.com/mabon-recipes and www.blessedbeebooks.com/ostara-recipes

The next seasonal celebration for Australians is Samhain, the beginning of winter, in the first week of May (and the first week of November in the northern hemisphere, which is where most of the Halloween traditions come from), so I’ve included a bunch for you in a separate document, if you want to include any… In the northern hemisphere the next seasonal celebration is Beltane, which has some cute recipes, so I’ll send you some of those too…

And the Mabon ones below are also perfect for Samhain…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Serene Conneeley is an Australian writer with a fascination for history, travel, ritual and the myth and magic of ancient places and cultures. She’s written for magazines about news, travel, health, spirituality, entertainment and social and environmental issues, is editor of several preschool  magazines, and has contributed to international books on history, witchcraft, psychic development and personal transformation.

She is the author of the non-fiction books Seven Sacred Sites, A Magical Journey, The Book of Faery Magic, Mermaid Magic, Witchy Magic and Into the Mists: A Journal, and creator of the meditation CD Sacred Journey. The Into the Mists Trilogy was her first adventure into fiction, and she is currently finishing three Into the Mists Chronicles.

Serene is a reconnective healing practitioner, and has studied medicinal and magical herbalism, bereavement counselling, reiki and many other healing modalities, plus politics and journalism. She loves reading, rainbows, drinking tea with her friends, and celebrating the energy of the moon and the magic of the earth. Her pagan heart blossomed as she climbed mountains, danced in stone circles, trekked along pilgrimage paths, wandered through ancient cathedrals and stood in the shadow of the pyramids on her travels, and she’s also learned the magic of finding true happiness and peace at home.

Find Serene on:  website  |  goodreads  |  facebook   |  instagram

Review: Into the Mists by Serene Conneeley

Into the Mists (Into the Mists #1) by Serene Conneeley

Enter the swirling mists of an enchanted land, and open your heart to the mystery...

Carlie has the perfect life. A wonderful family and a best friend she adores. A house by the beach so she can go surfing after school. A clever, rational mind and big dreams of becoming a lawyer. A future she’s excited about and can’t wait to begin.

But in a split second her perfect life shatters, and she is sent to the other side of the world to live with a stranger. In this mystical, mist-drenched new land, she is faced with a mystery that will make her question everything she’s ever known about her parents, her life and her very self. A dark secret that made her mother run away from home as a teenager. An old family friend who is not what he seems. A woman in blue who she’s not convinced is real. A shadowy black cat that she’d swear is reading her mind. A deserted old cottage she can’t always find. And a circle of wild-haired witches who want her to join their ranks.

Will she have the courage to journey into the mists, and into her own heart, to discover the truth? And can she somehow weave together a life that she’ll want to live – or will she give up and allow despair to sweep her away from the world forever?

Published 19 May 2013 |  Publisher: Serene Conneeley/Blessed Bee |  RRP: AUD$4.99 

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N Nook | iBooks  |  kobo  

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

I met the author, Serene, at a bookclub meeting through Read3r’z Re-Vu and what really appealed to me was Serene’s own loveliness and the book covers. I thought the description was decent but didn’t particularly appeal to my reading taste.

It was a struggle to get through the first half of the book because it was just so choked full of grief that I could only read a small portion at a time. It should be acknowledged that the author has written it well if it could affect me in such terrible ways. However, I did persevere as I was assured of better things to come.

To be honest, I expected this to be more of a fairy story but if it was supposed to be so, that’s definitely not what I got in this first book. What I did get, however, is some education about paganism. The book lost me a bit here as I must confess that I have no interest whatsoever in paganism and at some parts, I felt that it dwelt a bit too much into theories behind it. However, I think for someone who loves paganism or even if curious, this may be something they’d love to read. They are lovely theories but they’re just not for me.

There was one particular part that I really really liked, and without telling too much, it explored a ‘what-if’ for the protagonist. What I really liked was the way the story was written; I just love this type of story (and I can’t tell you or it would spoiled). And at the end, the book raised quite a few more questions that I’d like to find the answer to so I think I’d try the rest of the trilogy and hope for more ‘what-if’.

Thanks to the author, Serene Conneeley, for copy of book in exchange of honest review. 

About the author

Serene Conneeley is an Australian writer with a fascination for history, travel, ritual and the myth and magic of ancient places and cultures. She’s written for magazines about news, travel, health, spirituality, entertainment and social and environmental issues, is editor of several preschool  magazines, and has contributed to international books on history, witchcraft, psychic development and personal transformation.

She is the author of the non-fiction books Seven Sacred Sites, A Magical Journey, The Book of Faery Magic, Mermaid Magic, Witchy Magic and Into the Mists: A Journal, and creator of the meditation CD Sacred Journey. The Into the Mists Trilogy was her first adventure into fiction, and she is currently finishing three Into the Mists Chronicles.

Serene is a reconnective healing practitioner, and has studied medicinal and magical herbalism, bereavement counselling, reiki and many other healing modalities, plus politics and journalism. She loves reading, rainbows, drinking tea with her friends, and celebrating the energy of the moon and the magic of the earth. Her pagan heart blossomed as she climbed mountains, danced in stone circles, trekked along pilgrimage paths, wandered through ancient cathedrals and stood in the shadow of the pyramids on her travels, and she’s also learned the magic of finding true happiness and peace at home.

Find Serene on:  website  |  goodreads  |  facebook   |  instagram

Come back tomorrow for Q&A with Serene! 😀

Sam Meekings: Q&A

Thank you, Sam, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing journey.

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Dark, and much more frequently than I probably should.

Coffee or TeaTea (I’m predictably British).

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? Dog-ear.

I’m sorry, Sam, this is totally a deal-breaker!!! :O

Plot or Character? Character – they best stories come from people and their desires and conflicts.

HEA or unexpected twist? Unexpected twist, though hopefully with a sprinkle of happiness!

Q: Could you please share with us a little bit about yourself and what it is that fascinates you about history?

A: I’m a British poet and novelist, and I teach creative writing and literature to university students. I’m also a single parent, so when I get small pockets of free time, I enjoy escaping into the past. I read a lot of history, as it’s really interesting to me how people lived, what they believed, what they had to cope with. My belief is that people have the same desires and longings and hopes no matter where or when they live, but what is interesting is the challenges they face based on the time and place they are trapped in.

 

Q: Your 3 novels so far have been historical fiction (2 being set in China). Was that a conscious decision on your part (your love for history naturally translate into historical fiction) or were there other factors in play?

A: Yes, it was definitely a conscious decision. I studied History and English Literature at university, and I’ve always been fascinated by different times and different cultures. I like to think of myself as a part-time time-traveller (books, after all, are the best time machines that we have). When I went to China after university, one of the first things I started doing was reading up on its history. When something interests me, I have a longing to share it, and that’s been the starting point of all my books: bringing the past back to life to share with others.

 

Q: I don’t know much about famous paintings though this Doctor Gachet looks vaguely familiar. How did it actually come to your attention? So much so that you’re inspired to write about it?

A: I first read about the painting in an article listing some of the most expensive artworks ever sold. It was the only one of those to have disappeared. That grabbed my interest, and I started reading up on it. There was something about the sad look on his face that intrigued me. There are hundreds of books about Van Gogh, but I was amazed to find that there are so few about the people in his paintings. Soon I was researching the painting a lot in my free time, and I knew I had to share his strange and fascinating story.

 

Q: I found the structure of this novel to be very interesting. The alternate chapters between Doctor Gachet himself with journeys of the painting and narrator. Is this narrator yourself? How did you come to structure the novel in such a way?

A: What I wanted was to show not only the life of this person and the painting, but also the afterlife. Part of that meant following the journey of the painting from owner to owner, from Nazi Germany to New York and on to its mysterious disappearance in Japan. But it also meant trying to trace the effect of the painting in the people who see it. I wanted to illustrate how works of art, or books, or songs, or movies, can take on a special relevance and meaning in a person’s life, and I decided it would be easiest to do that in the first person through my own experiences. I also hoped that structuring the novel in this way would help readers see the painting from many different perspectives (the history of the man in the painting, the journey of the painting, the effect of the painting), just like how in a gallery we might move around an artwork and look at it from different angles and in different ways.

 

Q: I don’t think this is a spoiler but there is one particular chapter which I was very surprised by. Near the end, you’ve inserted a chapter set in the far future. What prompted you to write this chapter?

A: For me, the act of writing a book is an adventure. No matter how much research I’ve done (especially to get all the history right), there is something exciting about veering off into unexpected places. I decided early on that it would be a novel – full of emotion, drama, conflict – rather than a biography, and so I wanted to show the importance of the painting not only through its past history but also in its possible futures. When we talk about our lives, we’re not only thinking of the things we’ve done in the past, but all our potential and all the things we might do in the future, and so I wanted to dramatize that with that chapter.

Q: What are your top reads for 2019 to date? And which book are you desperately waiting for publication?

A: So far this year I’ve really enjoyed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, which is an intriguing time-slip mystery about a man reliving a day again and again in different bodies, and Educated by Tara Westover, an extraordinary memoir about learning and change. I’m really looking forward to The Parade, by Dave Eggers, as his books are always both meticulously crafted and full of interesting ideas about the way we live now.

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

A: I’m working on a mystery set in Cambridge called ‘The Vanishing Light’, about the way the past echoes and repeats in the present.

You can check out my thoughts on The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet, here, and you can purchase it from following links: Amazon | Amazon UK | Book Depository  |  Eyewear Publishing | Soundcloud

 

About the author

Sam Meekings grew up near the south coast of England. He took an undergraduate degree in Modern History and English Literature at Mansfield College, Oxford University and, later, a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University. In 2005 he moved to China where he worked as a teacher and editor. He recently moved to Qatar with his wife and family to take up a post as Lecturer in poetry and creative writing at Qatar University. In 2006 and 2007 Sam was longlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for poets under 30.

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