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Book Review: The Beautiful and Forever by Kevin MacNeil

I discovered Kevin MacNeil’s The Beautiful & Forever on a particularly successful bookshop browse. The title and cover drew me in and the Scottish island setting and the blurb on the back cover ensured that it came home with me.

On an island like no other, the annual Brilliant & Forever festival is a much anticipated event; its participants a story away from either glory or infamy.

This year, three best friends – two human, one alpaca – are chosen to compete, so victory is not only about reward.

Kevin MacNeil had me from the first paragraph of this beauty. He made me do a double-take while reading, and then laugh, and any author who does that in the first paragraph is likely to win my bookish heart. Besides, this book is about an island of writers who are gearing up for the annual literary festival: a festival unlike any other and one which exposes the preferences, prejudices and tensions within the island society. Which might make the reader think about their own society and its mentality, whether an actual island or one merely in terms of its attitude towards outsiders.

If you’re a writer or have ever been to a literary festival or a book event, this will especially appeal to you. There are egos, stories and every sort of writerly character here for you to enjoy. But it also works if that’s not your thing because it’s a novel about community and friendship, hierarchy and class, happiness and fulfilment, creativity, society and perceived outsiders. And Kevin MacNeil tells his story with a deal of quirk, whimsy, humour through the prism of three friends, one of whom is the novel’s narrator. And you probably won’t realise just how much is at stake for all of them until it’s too late and you find yourself caring and deeply upset when events take a turn in the book.

The Beautiful & Forever is a great read: it is beautiful and I wanted it to last forever.

A paws up from my Welsh Alpaca for the book.
A paws up from my Welsh Alpaca for the book.

The Beautiful & Forever by Kevin MacNeil is published by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Limited, and is available as an ebook and in paperback. You can listen to Kevin MacNeil talking about the book here. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. You can find out more about Kevin MacNeil and his writing and music on his Website or on Twitter.

Book Review: A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

An artist’s retreat with a difference in Sara Baume’s A Line Made By Walking becomes a beautiful meditation on our own fragility and how art and nature can both anchor and heal us.

Struggling to cope with urban life – and with life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to the rural bungalow on ‘turbine hill’ that has been vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by nature, that she hopes to regain her footing in art and life. She spends her days pretending to read, half-listening to the radio, failing to muster the energy needed to leave the safety of her haven. Her family come and go, until they don’t and she is left alone to contemplate the path that led her here, and the smell of the carpet that started it all.

Finding little comfort in human interaction, Frankie turns her camera lens on the natural world and its reassuring cycle of life and death. What emerges is a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of wilderness, art and individual experience, and a powerful exploration of human frailty.

Frankie’s voice is strong even when she is at her weakest. As her character shuts out most other people, the book relies on her perspective carrying it and it does this very successfully. Even when her situation frustrated me, I appreciated how self-aware she was being. I empathised with her need for retreat – I think most of us have felt the need for space or escape, even if we haven’t reached the crisis point which Frankie has. And it’s interesting to see her reconnect with mementoes and memories both in her grandmother’s house and from a trip to the seaside. Read more

Book Review: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole #RagdollBook #BlogTour

Daniel Cole’s debut novel, Ragdoll, intrigued me because it had not one but multiple victims, and I thought I’d enjoy seeing what the connections between them all were, that is, beyond the stitching that loosely connects the initial six. Here’s what the blurb says:

A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them. With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?

The prologue of Ragdoll opens with the end of what appears to be a wholly unconnected case to the one you’re expecting to read, that of the Ragdoll victims and their killer, so this was a disconcerting start. However, as quickly becomes apparent, the two cases are inextricably linked, thanks in great part to Detective Wolf’s involvement in both.

Wolf’s character is interesting: he’s about as flawed and damaged as a person can get, while still holding down a job, and stretches the ‘detective with issues’ idea to new limits. He’s recently reinstated and working with a team of detectives you’ll be familiar with from other detective novels or television series: the usual suspects are all here, but given his nickname, it’ll probably come as little surprise that William Fawkes is most comfortable when operating as a lone wolf. I couldn’t quite see how he had ever appealed to his TV journalist ex-wife or why his former partner on the force feels drawn to him. He’s volatile and obsessive when working a case which leaves very little over for anything, or anyone else. Of all the characters, though, it’s Wolf and Edmunds, the recent transfer across from Fraud, who held my interest the most. Perhaps because they are both terrier-like when on a case. I did like the Scot, Finlay, too but found Vanita fairly insubstantial and Baxter almost too much of a stereotype in any number of ways. Read more

#Sealskin Blog Tour – Interview with Author Su Bristow

I’m thrilled to welcome Su Bristow to the Nut Press today. Su was the first winner of the Exeter Novel Prize and the resulting novel, Sealskin, is out now from Orenda Books.

Su, I was lucky enough to be at that first prize-giving ceremony for the Exeter Novel Prize. Can you give me an idea of what happened after you won the award and how you went from prize-winning writer to published author, and the time it’s taken to make that transition?
Immediately afterwards? I went away in a daze, had dinner with some good friends, and spent two days working through the flood of facebook and twitter responses. It was amazing! And after that, I set to work to finish the book. The competition only required a synopsis and the first 10,000 words, and I’d done about 50,000 at that stage. By the time I’d got to the end, submitted it to Broo Doherty (the agent who judges the competition) and worked on her suggestions, another year had gone by. Then there were about six months of rejections, until Sealskin was accepted by Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books. She was busy establishing her business, and the first publication date she could manage was early 2017. So here we are, three years on!

What advice would you give to other writers considering entering writing competitions?
Tell yourself you might win, and be prepared! Ideally, you’d have the finished manuscript ready for submission. Beta-test it with readers who ‘get’ what your writing is about, and have good critical abilities. And listen to what they say! Build a good social media platform on facebook and twitter; that shows prospective agents or publishers that you’re willing to put in the necessary work to publicise your book.

Had you completed the manuscript for Sealskin when you entered it for the Exeter Novel Prize, or did you do so after you’d submitted your entry?
See above. I knew where it was going, but it took about three more months to complete.

From the extract I’ve read, your novel Sealskin centres around a myth which I find fascinating, that of the selkie, a creature who lives as a seal in the water and sheds its skin on dry land to take a human form. What interests you about the myth and what did you want to explore by writing about it in your novel?
Where to start? Stories that blur the boundaries between human and animal are told all over the world. We place ourselves outside nature, and yet we want to be part of it. The selkie stories come from the coast of Scotland and the islands around it, and I’m half Scottish so they have a special appeal for me. And this particular story… It’s beautiful and haunting, but there is ugliness at its heart. The legend says only ‘He took her home to be his wife’. She had no choice, and yet she lived with him and bore his children. So if that really happened, how could it possibly work? That’s where Sealskin began. Read more

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