Driving Over Lemons

Chris Stewart. Sort Of Books. (304p) ISBN 9781908745859

Driving Over Lemons

Driving Over Lemons

This book had been hanging about on my shelves ever since I watched Richard E Grant talk to Chris on the BBC4 show ‘Write Around the World’.

This is a bit of a new experience for me as I don’t read memoirs or travel writing, but working in a bookshop makes you expand your reading material.

From the start Chris makes it feel as though he is talking to you personally with a really warm and humorous writing style that makes the book so intimate and his passion for what he is doing comes across so clearly.

Chis takes us through all his ups and downs in setting up home in Las Alpujarras, a remote region in the south of Granada, introducing us to the ragtag band of his neighbours from gruff natives to eccentric ex-pats.

I loved the humour throughout the book, making even the most frightening and disastrous of events another episode to be overcome with a certain lightness of heart and this seemed to have made him lots of friends amongst the people he becomes involved with.

One of my favourite chapters (I lived in North Yorkshire for 20ish years) is when he decides to bypass all traditions and attempts to go to market with sheep and sell them without an agent.

I got the anniversary edition with the extra chapter 25 Years Later, loved how things had changed but stayed the same.

A cracking read full of warmth and dry humour, one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.


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Ewan Laurie – Q&A

Ewan Laurie

Ewan Laurie

Ewan Lawrie is the author of Gibbous House, (January 2017) and No Good Deed, featuring the charming villain Alasdair Moffat, published by Unbound in January 2021. His Cerasus Poetry-published collection “Last Night I Met John Adcock” was shortlisted for the Poetry Book Prize 2020. He is an one of a small team of editors for the writers’ web-site, ABCTales.com.

Ewan can be contacted at:
Website: https://ewanlawrie.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @EwanL
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ewan.lawrie.9

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

I boarded at an old grammar school in Northumberland, in Alnwick, actually. I’ve loved the county ever since. I wrote a short scene set in Alnwick for an OU CW prompt, It wasn’t even an assignment.

What came first the characters or the world?

A tiny piece of the world. Then I decided to start a novel to get a character I only had in my head to Northumberland. All I had was the first line that the character, Alasdair Moffat, a distinctly villainous protagonist, opened with in Gibbous House.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I was lucky. After about two years of unanswered e-mails and letters. Unbound took a punt on Gibbous House in late 2014.

How long did it take to write?

2 years.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

Not as such. But I did do an experiment whilst writing Moffat III (as yet unpublished). I worked out my top five artists for word count per minute of music and put the results on
Twitter! [https://twitter.com/EwanL/status/1455841297491808259]

Ewan's Books

Ewan’s Books

How many publishers turned you down?

Only two ever answered, so I always say just one.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Mostly favourable. No book will please everyone, of course.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

Pete Langman’s review of Gibbous House, which contains the immortal phrase/praise:

“It is a yarn that rattles along like a hansom cab drawn along a cobbled road by a horse that can smell the glue factory.”

What can you tell us about your next book?

My next book is Moffat III, At the Back of the North wind or The Last of Moffat. It resolves some of the mystery of Moffat.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

All writers answer “no”, but writing is making things up, after all.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I have. You can find 3 collections of short stories and a noir fantasy mashup novella at Smashwords.com.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I spent 23 years in the Royal Air Force, 10 in the then West Berlin during The Cold War and then 13 years flying over the rather warmer conflicts that followed. Then I lived for 14 years in Spain occasionally teaching English to Hispanophones of various nationalities. The writing started then.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Dickens, Karen Maitland, Elmore Leonard. Jane Austen. Bulgakov.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I read absolutely everything.

What is your biggest motivator?

This will sound trite, but it is true: seeing how the story turns out.

What will always distract you?

Research. Especially if I’m using a reference book rather than the internet.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

Unbound were brilliant. The two books they produced were things of beauty.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Boarding school will do that. But I was able to read before starting primary school.

What were your favourite childhood books?

Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson. Hmm… there’s a pattern here.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Barter Books in Alnwick

What books can you not resist buying?

Usually something featured on the podcast Backlisted, if I don’t have it already.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Two mugs of espresso.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

Ten

What is your current or latest read?

Oddly enough, I’m reading “A Game of Thrones”, book 1 of G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – and it’s much better than I thought it would be.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I’m looking forward to reading Suzie Wilde’s third part of her Bera Trilogy, “Landfall”.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

Placing Moffat III, if Unbound decide it’s not for them.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It was the last novel I read before moving to Spain. A year later, I finished my OU degree in Language Studies and decided to spend the rest of the money awarded by the Air Force for further education on retirement on a Diploma in Creative Writing.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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Unravelling Women’s Art

P L Henderson. Aurora Metro. (280p) ISBN 9781913641153
Unravelling Women’s Art

Unravelling Women’s Art

I’d been following @womensart1 On Twitter for absolutely ages and when I saw there was a book coming out I had to grab it, so pleased I did, wonderful survey of textile arts variety and history.

The book explores various aspects of textile art, giving each area a chapter to itself, such as Identity, Fashion, and Weird and Wonderful.

It takes a time-based survey of work that has been produced in each of these broad areas then emphasises and reclaims the idea of ‘craft’ into the world of art.

I was absolutely fascinated reading from start to finish with the examples that were used to broaden the story of women’s textile art through the years and looked forward to the interview section at the end of each chapter.

After reading this book we were watching a TV programme on the V&A museum when a piece of cloth came on and I was able to identify it as Ghanaian Kente cloth, which really impressed my partner.

An important book in the study of textile art and the reclaiming of the idea of craft as an important type of art, well worth a read.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

Janet Dean Knight – Q&A

Janet Dean Knight

Janet Dean Knight

Janet Dean Knight explores contemporary themes through historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Peacemaker is a moving story of a young woman’s struggle to make peace with her father on the eve of the Second World War.

Born and raised in a coalmining village, Janet draws on her experience and family history to tell compelling stories about the past that resonate with current issues, particularly in the lives of women and working class communities. Janet writes strong characters and engaging plots about the past which help her readers to think more deeply about what matters now. Her writing is challenging yet respectful, passionate and accessible.

Contact details for Jean are:
Website: www.jdeanknight.com
Twitter: @jdeanknight
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jdeanknight
Instagram: jdeanknight

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My mother told stories all the time and she often talked about her parents and her mother’s first husband who died in the First World War. When the 1911 Census was published I started doing family history research I was able to both corroborate and correct some of my mother’s stories. This is what inspired my debut novel The Peacemaker which is about a young woman who discovers that that her life in 1938 is about to follow the path of her mother’s in 1914.

What came first the characters or the world?

The characters, but they are in their home settings of industrial South Yorkshire and the North York Moors, and when I decided to focus on the two world wars, the whole thing came together.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I tried for about a year to interest agents and through them mainstream publishers without much success, despite reasonable feedback about the book. I then tried independent publishers who take manuscripts direct and Top Hat Books offered me a traditional publishing contract without an advance but with slightly higher royalties than normal.

How long did it take to write?

The family history research was an obsession for a couple of years, then I started an MA in Creative Writing because as a poet I wasn’t confident about my ability to write long-form prose. I started that in 2013 and graduated in 2015 with the first few chapters forming part of my dissertation. I completed a first draft in 2016 and final edits in 2017. It was accepted for publication in 2018 and published in 2019. Put that way, it took at least 6 years if not 8!

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

No, I don’t although Violet my heroine, likes music so there is reference in the book to some of the music of the time, which my parents would have danced to – big band tunes, songs from the Hollywood musicals, crooners like Bring Crosby.

How many publishers turned you down?

I only had a couple of direct rejections from publishers before I accepted the contract from John Hunt. I had some feedback that the lack of interest was because I hadn’t got a series lined up, or that my book wasn’t commercial enough.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Very positive. It deals with some difficult issues and because it has a female heroine, it is seen as ‘women’s fiction’. But it also focuses on Violet’s father Ellis, who is based on my grandfather and takes a viewpoint of his experience in the First World War. The feedback I’ve had from male writers has been particularly positive and rich. Quite a lot of readers have described it as absorbing, a page turner which is always great to hear.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

Two very different ones. A writing friend compared my book to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, not sure about that, but I’ll take it, and a woman with a small boy asked me when I was promoting my book in WH Smith if it was about trains because it has a picture of the North York Moors Railway on the cover. She said her little boy liked trains, but I couldn’t recommend it to her – although there is a train journey in it.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Peacemaker

The Peacemaker

I have a completed manuscript called Does She Love Us? which is in search of a publisher. It started as a sequel to The Peacemaker, which a lot of readers asked for, but I couldn’t make it work that way. It’s a family drama set in 1963 about working class women trying to find independence through work and through living their own lives. I think the challenge I have is that the book is what I would call accessible literary fiction – this means it is not as commercial as some publishers would like, nor as literary as others would want.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Yes of course, if they’re positive! I have one one-star review on Amazon which is from somebody who bought the book by mistake. They were very annoyed, my guess is more with themselves, but they took it out on me. I use the advice that writers often give – check the reviews of your favourite book, somebody will have hated it, there’s no such thing as a book that everybody loves.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Yes, I have ideas for all sorts of plots – crime, psychological thriller, romance. Some historical, some contemporary. I am unlikely to write fantasy or sci-fi, but never say never.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I worked in the public sector as a Director and Non-Executive Director in housing, health, social care and regeneration. I still do some voluntary non-exec work, but mostly I write now.

Which author(s) inspire you?

A long list: Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Sarah Waters, Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Donna Tartt, James Baldwin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Patrick Gale, Sebastian Barry.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Mostly literary fiction at the moment, although I go through periods of reading a lot of crime – I like Michael Connelly, George Pellicanos, Nikki French, Jo Nesbo. I tend to read something from a prize list followed by something lighter in rotation.

What is your biggest motivator?

Getting feedback from readers, and talking to readers about writing. I love talking at events and book groups.

What will always distract you?

Lots of things – emails, Twitter, Wordle, The Guardian on my phone, writing prompts, webinars, Zooms, lunch, dinner. This is why if I really want to concentrate I need to go away to write – to the library or an isolated cottage or a friend’s house if they’re away.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I was asked too suggest three images that I liked and the publisher chose one of them and designed the cover. I could make comments about the layout and fonts, etc, and this was taken on board. Overall the design has a vintage feel which is great.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes, I liked to read, but we didn’t have a lot of books in the house. My parents read – my mother borrowed books from the library, my father swapped books with his friends, but there were very few children’s books until we got a new library in the village when I was about 10. My love of books really took off from about 12 or 13 and I went straight to adult books – there was nothing in the middle back then, really.

What were your favourite childhood books?

The first book I remember was a picture book called Prudence and Priscilla about two cats who go shopping for hats and gloves. I loved What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next and at school I remember reading The Television Twins. A family friend used to send the Scottish comic books The Broons and Oor Wullie for Christmas and I would pour over them for hours.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

The Little Apple Bookshop in York is 10 minutes from our house on the way into town, so I’m often drawn to its window. It provides a great personal service. We have friends who live in Portobello near Edinburgh and the bookshop there is stunning, bright, stylish and full of wonderful books.

What books can you not resist buying?

If I like a book by an author I tend to buy up everything they’ve written, or ask for them as presents – Maggie O’Farrell and Sebastian Barry are doing very well from this at the moment.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I am a plotter, so I will write an outline before I start writing. I then write freely and edit when finished, not as I go along. If (when) I get stuck I make mind maps to look at possibilities. Not sure if these are rituals or sensible methods. I always make a coffee before I start.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I have two on the go at the moment on my bedside table, about eight under the table, only two of which I am likely to read soon, and then another pile of ten or so on a table in my study from which I will pick. But then, if I read a new author, I might buy another of theirs and I won’t get round to the TBR pile.

What is your current or latest read?

I am finishing Lowside of the Road by Barney Hoskyns, which is a biography of Tom Waits. It’s a thick tome, so I didn’t take it on a recent holiday, so am also reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, which I did. I should also be reading Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon for my book group next week – I’ve started it on Kindle.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

A couple in particular where I bought but didn’t read the debut and now plan to read that and the follow up – Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart and Queenie and People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I also have a book called The Man In The Street Has No Shoes which is at final edit stage and this is probably a little more commercial. It is about a woman who passes a homeless man in the street and recognises him as the person she almost married forty years before. Set between the present day and the 1980s, the novel explores how people’s lives are affected by decisions they made in the past.

Any events in the near future?

I’ve missed events over the past two years, but this March I was lucky to be able to speak about writing as a later life or ‘encore’ career at the York Literature Festival with my friends poet and memoirist Yvie Holder and novelist Jane Austin who was launching her new book Renegade. I’ve got a private event lined up for a group in September and a book group in May, but would love to get back into the swing of small festivals and book groups. I am involved in poetry events online in April and May which is great, but there’s nothing like real life, is there?

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I was never a great reader of historical fiction, so surprised myself by writing it. Family history inspired me, especially my mother’s willingness to talk about the past, and I really enjoyed the research, so I hope to do more in future.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.