Saturday, 29 December 2018

2018 in Books (with 2019 preview)

Here are some of the year’s best books. But first, a sneak preview of 2019.

Books for reading next year.

In February 2019: 
C. J. Tudor’s second novel promises to be equally as chilling as her fist, the bestselling The Chalk Man. This time, in The Taking of Annie Thorne, the action is set in Notts.

In March 2019: 
Susan Finlay’s moving debut Our Lady of Everything arrives on our bookshelves. Strongly set in Nottingham it’s a story of love, faith and what people do when they don't have the answers.

In May 2019: 
How To Find Home by Mahsuda Snaith is about Molly, a young homeless woman. The novel features Nottingham. 

In June 2019: 
Habeas Corpus by the former Nottingham rogue turned QC, Gary Bell, could be one of the year’s big hits.

In July 2019: 
The Second Sleep by Robert Harris will be one of 2019’s must-reads.

A look back. Here's NottsLit's pick of 2018:


The Chalk Man by C J Tudor
Shell by Paula Rawsthorne


A Normal Family by Henry Normal
In Byron's Wake by Miranda Seymour


Body and Soul by John Harvey
Our Tan by Rod Madocks


Missing by Alison Moore
A Child Called Happiness by Stephan Collishaw


Some Things by Panya Banjoko
The Dead on Leave by Chris Nickson


Robin Hood, who's he? by Adrian Sissons and Martin Berry
The Accidental Memoir by Anthony Cropper and Eve Makis


Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
Fall Down Dead by Stephen Booth


John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire by Alan Spree
From Here We Changed the World by Adrian Gray


Closer by K L Slater
The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig


Frieda by Annabel Abbs
Byron Speaks Up for the Luddites by Lord Byron (24 pages) including an intro from Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Thursday, 27 December 2018

20th Century Notts, 1990-1999

1900-02, 1903-05, 1906-08, 1909-11, 1912-14, 1915-17, 1918-20, 1921-23, 1924-26, 1927-29, 1930-32, 1933-35, 1936-38, 1939-41, 1942-44, 1945-47, 1948-50, 1951-53, 1954-56, 1957-59, 1960, 1961-63, 1964-66, 1967-69, 1970-72, 1973-75, 1976-78, 1979-81, 1982-84, 1985-87, 1988-1990, 1991-93, 1994-96, 1997-99


The Revolutionary's Daughter by Gwen Grant (1990)

Nominated for a Carnegie Medal, The Revolutionary’s Daughter takes place at a time of the miners’ strike and tension is mounting. With local families becoming divided, Violette’s own family are about to be ripped apart by her deserting mother in this book for teenagers. Gwen Grant was born in Worksop during the Second World War. Grant’s father was a miner and she grew up in poverty. Despite this, her parents taught her that there was opportunity for everyone

Don't worry, there won't be any tears from me. I've done all the crying I'm going to do. You've been telling me to grow up. Well, now I have. (from The Revolutionary’s Daughter)

In 1990 Alan Sillitoe was awarded an honorary degree from Nottingham Trent University. Twenty years later (in 2010) there was a commemoration event for the late writer at the Council House at which Gwen Grant was a guest speaker.


Cutting Edge by John Harvey (1991)

Insightful and compassionate with fine characterisation and a solid plot, Cutting Edge is another highlight of John Harvey’s Resnick series. There’s a slasher at large, brutally targeting hospital staff in inner city Nottingham. With a knowledge of anatomy, the killer seems able to keep one step ahead of the police, but Resnick is on the case.

There was a radio broadcast of Cutting Edge in 1996. The BBC Radio 4 drama featured the voices of Tom Georgeson (as Resnick), Sean Baker, Kate Eaton, Paul Bazeleyand and John Simm.
The blow sent him stumbling backwards, losing his footing as he cannoned against the centre of the doors and pitched forward, thinking before the belated sear of pain that he had been punched, not cut. (from Cutting Edge)

Former Nottingham Girls’ High School pupil Stella Rimington joined Britain’s Security Service in 1969. In 1992 she was appointed Director General of MI5 becoming the first woman to hold the post, and the first Director General to have her name publicly announced on appointment. Following her retirement in 1996, Rimington released her autobiography Open Secret, and has since published ten thrillers featuring MI5 officer Liz Carlyle. 


Correspondence by Sue Thomas (1992)

Sue Thomas’ first novel, Correspondence, won The Heinemann Fiction Award, an Encouragement Award from the European Science Fiction Society, and it was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Described as a hypnotic mix of cyberpunk and magical realism, it’s a chilling read which blurs the boundaries between virtual reality and real life and examines the interconnectedness of fantasy, desire and memory. Thomas became the first course leader of Nottingham Trent University’s MA in Creative Writing, spending sixteen years here and writing a book for creative writing teachers. She also founded Trace Online Writing Centre; a unique, international creative community which used the internet to develop innovative work.

The TV drama Heartbeat first hit the screens in 1992. It ran for 18 series, over 350 hour-long episodes, to 2010. The setting, as well as many of the characters and storylines, was taken from the Constable novels by Nicholas Rhea, stories featuring an English policeman in a rural village in North Yorkshire during the 1960s. The late Nicholas Rhea (aka Peter N Walker) was a former President of Nottingham Writers’ Club. An author of over 130 books, he is best known for inspiring Heartbeat and wrote a lavishly illustrated book about the popular TV show. 

Another crime drama to appear on British television in 1992 was an adaptation of John Harvey’s first two Resnick novels. Running for two series, Resnick starred Tom Wilkinson as the Polish Detective. The teleplays were written by Harvey himself. Fellow Notts County fan William Ivory played Det. Con. Mark Divine.


Married Past Redemption by Stanley Middleton (1993)

Observational and shrewd, this is Stanley Middleton at his best as he investigates the trials of contemporary marriage as experienced by several professional couples and characters of different generations. At the heart of this are the engaged David and Alison. His father (a TV celebrity) and grandfather (a retired teacher) have their own problems, whilst an ex-lover of Alison’s remains a destructive presence. It's a story of the hopes and fears of the journey we call marriage, and of the nature of change.

On Vernon’s insistence, they had moved to a larger house, part of the de Courcy Estate, but he, once a puritan, self-obsessed worker, had now relaxed, begun to enjoy his fame or notoriety, made love to friends’ wives if they were attractive enough, to bimbos, to colleagues, never seriously enough to land him in trouble with anyone but his wife to whom he talked openly of his liaisons. We heard him in a silence which he misjudged. (from Married Past Redemption)

Broadway Cinema's Shots in the Dark crime festival welcomed Herbert Lom, best known for his portrayal of the hapless inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films. 

Also in this year, BBC One had a hit on their hands in the form of Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover which was serialised as a mini-TV series starting in the June. Joely Richardson, James Wilby and Sean Bean took the leading roles, with Hetty Baynes playing Connie's sister Hilda. The show’s director Ken Russell - who was married to Baynes at the time – played their father.


Sleepwalking by Julie Myerson (1994)

Sherwood born Julie Myerson grew up in and around Nottingham, attending the Girls’ High School. Her first novel, Sleepwalking, captures the inner thoughts of Susan, a woman stuck in a fledgling marriage that’s already reached its end days - only she’s pregnant with her husband's child. Confused and bereft after her father’s death, Susan is soon haunted by visions of a boy, seduced by a painter, and faced with the prospect of motherhood.

‘He’s gone, Susan’ – her voice cuts in and out, distorted by the car phone – ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know how you’re going to feel. It’s going to be a shock after all this time.’ (from Sleepwalking)

After writing non-fiction Robert Harris turned his pen to best-selling thrillers, beginning with the publication of Fatherland in 1992, a detective story/alternate history set in Berlin. In 1994, Fatherland received a film adaptation, made by HBO, and starring Rutger Hauer and Miranda Richardson, the latter scooping a Golden Globe Award for her performance. Born in Nottingham, Robert Harris has working class roots and spent his childhood living on a council estate. “My father left school at 14, my mother at 13,” he explained. “My father was clever, and well read. He took a newspaper, always watched the news, discussed it all the time.” Robert’s writing ambition arose at an early age, partly inspired by his visit to the local printing plant where his father worked.


American Tabloid by James Ellroy (1995)

Broadway’s crime festival Shots In The Dark spawned Britain’s first major crime writing festival, Shots On The Page. Many top authors were lured to Nottingham's festival including Sara Paretsky, James Crumley and Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain). Shots… paved the way for Nottingham to host the world’s premier crime festival - known as Bouchercon - in 1995, at which the American crime writer James Ellroy was the International Guest of Honour. Ellroy’s best novels include L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia and American Tabloid.

The first of Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy, American Tabloid chronicles events surrounding three rogue law enforcement officers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the novel, the officers become entangled in the affairs of the FBI, the CIA, the mafia, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Three shots tweaked his hatred. Four shots and up cut those hatreds all the way loose. Three shots said, You project danger. Four shots or more said, You’re ugly and you limp. (from American Tabloid)

Alan Sillitoe's autobiography Life Without Armour hit the bookshelves in 1995. Covering Sillitoe’s formative years, we read of his time in poverty and life in the army, up to, and including, the writing and publication of his first books.
My father wielded the ultimate authority of the fist and the boot, tempered – if that is the word – by a fussiness which was only another form of self-indulgence, thus giving me an enduring disrespect for authority. (from Life Without Armour)


A Public Body by Raymond Flynn (1996)

Author Raymond Flynn was a Notts police officer. He worked in the CID and headed up the fraud squad. Flynn used his 26 years of expertise gained in the force when writing his crime novels. This second career came after he retired and took a creative writing course. Following this endeavour Flynn made the finals of a short story competition and won a prestigious prize, leading to a contract with the publishers Hodder & Stoughton. A Public Body is his second crime novel. It follows D.I. Graham and an eccentric group of characters. Klondike Bill - aka Councillor William Lynch - is furious when he's passed over for Mayor in favour of his detested second wife Muriel. When she's found dead, and Klondike Bill is arrested for murder, D.I. Graham doubts all is as it seems.

I knew him all right: I tried not to show it, but, deep inside, I shuddered. William Lynch, Councillor William Lynch, if you wanted to be precise, piss artist extraordinaire, alias Klondike Bill, more accurately known in the Cell Block as Dirty Disgusting Bill. (from A Public Body)

In 1978 Nigel McCrery applied to join the Nottinghamshire Constabulary because he “wanted to be middle class.” After working as a murder squad detective in Nottingham, McCrery became a writer of fiction, non-fiction and TV drama. His credits include Backup, Born and Bred, New Tricks, and Silent Witness, first broadcast in 1996. The BBC crime drama focuses on a team of forensic pathology experts as they investigate crimes. McCrery’s 2014 book, entitled Silent Witness, looks at the history of forensic science over the last two centuries. McCrery is a former pupil at George Spencer Academy in Stapleford. The school recently named their Learning and Inclusion Centre after him.


Dark Forest by Frank Palmer (1997)

For over two decades Frank Palmer was the Daily Mirror’s man in the East Midlands. Before that he had worked for the Daily Express where he once wrote the front and back page leads on the same day. Palmer took early retirement in the early ‘90s and wrote sixteen detective novels that were popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Half of his books featured D.I. 'Jacko' Jackson, and the other half, the Nottingham cop Phil 'Sweeney' Todd, introduced in Dark Forest. Both Palmer’s leads boast humanity and humour. In Dark Forest, a blast from a killer's shotgun has left 'Sweeney' Todd lame, disillusioned and seeking a discharge from the force. After his hot-tempered lawyer offers Todd employment on a missing person's case, he soon finds himself in the cut-throat world of commercial drug manufacturing.

After Palmer’s death in 2007, the Nottingham branch of the National Union of Journalists unveiled a memorial bench at Keyworth Cricket Club, bearing his familiar greeting “Ey up sunshine”.

Written by Nottingham’s William Ivory, Common As Muck is a BBC comedy drama about the lives of a crew of refuse collectors. Running for two series it was nominated both times for a BAFTA, for Best Drama Series. The ratings winner - first screened in 1994 - featured Lesley Sharp, Tim Healy, Kathy Burke, Douglas Henshall and Saeed Jaffrey amongst the cast, as well as Edward Woodward as the group’s leader. The rebellious gang must cope with the realities of privatisation as they battle the suited bureaucrats at the council.


Love Lessons by David Belbin (1998)

Rachel, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, and her new English teacher, twenty-three-year-old Mike, begin a love affair in which a fantasy becomes a nightmare. They become too close during a school drama rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, and for never was a story of more woe than when love between pupil and teacher doeth grow. Constantly in fear of being found out, the star-crossed lovers make plans and promises they find difficult to keep. Set in Nottingham, Love Lessons is a brave and thought-provoking YA novel, originally written for adults.

For many years David Belbin was the programme leader of Nottingham Trent University's Creative Writing MA, and he led the successful bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature.
“He’s not paid to look at me the way he looked at me today,” Kate retorted. “You know what else he did? As I was leaving, he winked at me.” (from Love Lessons)

Published in 1998, Beyond the Wall is an anthology of prison writing from 28 inmates from Nottingham Prison. The book of short stories and poems was edited by David Swann, the then writer-in-residence at Perry Road’s H.M.P. Nottingham. In 2010 Swann wrote a book based on his experiences in the prison entitled The Privilege of Rain. He has been shortlisted for The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. 


The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick (1999)

At the age of ten, Elizabeth Chadwick came to Nottingham. That was back in 1967 and she has lived here ever since, writing award winning and best-selling historical fiction since 1990. The Marsh King’s Daughter is set during the time of King John and among his rebellious nobles is young Nicholas de Caen. Captured and injured, Nicholas ends up at a nunnery where he is nursed by Miriel of Wisbech, a woman itching to break free from her restrictive lot. Shedding light on the blood-stained Middle Ages, Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels mix fact and fiction, romance and religion, bringing history to life.

It was a glorious May morning in the world at large – soft, balmy and harmonious. At the home of Edward Weaver in Lincoln, however, a violent storm was raging. (from The Marsh King’s Daughter)

Giles Croft became Artistic Director at the Nottingham Playhouse in this year, a position he would hold for 18 years, increasing the theatre’s in-house productions from 6 to 14 per year, and producing more than 50 new plays. His directing credits include Polygraph (2001), Any Means Necessary (2016) and the European premiere of The Kite Runner (2013). He also oversaw the implementation of the Nottingham European Arts & Theatre Festivals (neat).