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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is such a good book. A real classic. When I was a teenager and in my twenties, I read loads of classics before I got on to reading any modern contemporary novelists, and this novel is as satisfying as a fat George Eliot or a Jane Austen, or a labyrinthine Thomas Hardy – although different, because modern. It’s set in the Second World War, and what makes this book so engaging are the two main protagonists, whom we meet when they are children, caught up in the engines of war. Werner is a gifted orphan, brilliant with radios, who lives in an orphanage with his little sister after their father went to work in the mines one day and never came home. He longs to be a scientist rather than labour away in the mines like his father. His gift for fixing radios brings him to the attention of the Hitler Youth. Marie-Laure, blind since the age of 6, lives in Paris with her father, who works as a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. The museum is Marie-Laure’s childhood and her education, but when the Nazis invade, they have to flee, in possession of an invaluable diamond. They hope it is one of the replicas to put the Nazis off the scent, but could it be the real one? We see the world through Marie-Laure’s “eyes”. Sounds, smells, touch and taste build up a kaleidoscopic universe full of remembered and imagined colours. These two children, caught up by war, are so engaging, and the whole narrative really explores the injustices which are always at the heart of life, both in war and peacetime. It’s a novel about humanity and hope, the little people against the inescapable machine of war – what it does to people’s lives, how it is in the little things that they try to exercise control. Werner is an incredibly gifted child, and one of his fellow soldiers says affectionately “What you could have been…” It is also about the importance and the power of radio, beautifully described. Werner and his little sister in their orphanage hear broadcasts from a Frenchman who speaks to his listeners about the beauties of the natural world, he educates, inspires and informs, and they have no idea where his voice comes from until foreign radio is banned in Nazi Germany, and Werner is forced to destroy the radio set he has lovingly repaired. Anyway, a great read. One of those books that will stay with me…

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Upcoming Events

I have a few events coming up. If you are out and about near Killin on Wednesday 16th May, I’ll be talking about FOR MY SINS, my historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots at Killin Library at 7.30 pm as part of Off The Page Festival. Exactly who did murder Darnley? Do I know? Do any of us know?

Out and about in Glasgow on Thursday 17th May? I’ll be at the Mitchell Library as part of TheWeeWrite festival (baby sister to Glasgow’s AyeWrite), talking to young people about CHILL, SHIVER and DARKER ENDS, about the Jacobites, the massacre of Glencoe, and ghost stories with atmospheric sounds and images. Slip in at the back, and I promise I won’t pick on you to ask a question. Appearing here twice at Mitchell Library, Glasgow, 10 am, and then again at 1 pm, same venue.

If you are anywhere near Dunbar Library on Saturday 19th May at 1 pm, I’m very excited to be appearing at Coastword Festival, talking about CHILL, SHIVER and DARKER ENDS.

Also, if you are about in Edinburgh on Thursday 31st May, I’ll be at Noir At the Bar in Edinburgh. Noir at the Bar tours the country, and brings together crime writers (and wild cards) for a relaxed event of chat and discussion. 7.30 pm, venue to be confirmed. Delighted to be part of this exciting line up, which includes Neil Broadfoot, JV Baptie, Tana Collins, Olga Wojtas, Kaite Smith-Welsh, Mark Leggatt, Helen Grant, Lesley Kelly, Kevin Scott & Jónína Leósdóttir from Iceland.

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Aye Write!: Glasgow’s Book Festival

If you are out and about in Glasgow on 25th March

Come to Aye Write! Glasgow’s Book Festival. 

Anne O’Brien and I will be sharing a platform as the Queens of Historical Fiction.  Our guests will of course be Mary Queen of Scots and Joan Fair Maid of Kent.

Looking forward to being there and seeing you.

Information and tickets here:

https://www.ayewrite.com/Pages/Whats-On.aspx#/events

01-for-my-sins-20mm-spineThe Queens of Historical Fiction

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Previously… Scotland’s History Festival

As part of Scotland’s History Festival, I shall be doing an event at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Edinburgh on Sat 25th November at 4pm-6pm, talking about Mary Queen of Scots and historical fiction writing in “A Historical Showcase.”  

Previously... is an “ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF OUR NATION’S LONGEST RUNNING DRAMA… OUR STORY. IT’S THE STORY SO FAR…”

It runs from 17 November – 26 November 2017 in Edinburgh, and includes a whole package of exciting and varied events: greedy queens, Culloden, crime, runaway slaves in Britain, the history of department stores, featuring speakers like Prof Tom Devine and Alex Salmond…

If you are free on Saturday 25th November, I’d love to see you there, at Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge in Edinburgh… around tea-time…

 

 

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International Literacy Day

On Friday I drove to Motherwell to perform a session at Braidhurst High School to kick off their Literacy Week. This was arranged by Kirsten Scott, the school librarian who works hard to give students a safe haven & the encouragement to read, which seemed to be working as pupils dropped by all lunchtime to borrow books. Some schools just give you a good vibe, and this was one of them. The audience who came in to see me were absolutely delightful, and made me feel very at home. I felt very relaxed. Told them about my problems with the SatNav & asked whether they have the same problem processing road sign information when driving on the motorway! They’re in Third Year! But they kind of knew what I meant. The Head of Languages said I should try comedy… As I drove away past the bleak streets of Motherwell, I found myself hoping that these students will have the same chances, same opportunities as those in other areas. They definitely deserve to.

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A little bit of this…

This summer I have been doing quite a bit of this…

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while admiring this…

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a bit of this…

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while listening to this…

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plenty of eavesdropping in places like…

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a little of this…

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and this…

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which was all inspiration for this…

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and this…

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When it rained I was very happy to do this…

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When the sun shone I did more of this…

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Took the mickey out of…

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at…

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but underneath it all, I was ever aware of this …

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which lead me to feel…

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and continued to write 30,000 words of another

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but this time it will be about …

a different person altogether…

 

 

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Call to all colleges and schools of Higher Education

I’m offering two workshop sessions to schools and colleges inspired by my latest novel FOR MY SINS, a historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, sitting in her prison cell at the end of her life, a prisoner to Queen Elizabeth, stitching her tapestries while being haunted by the ghosts of her past. It’s receiving 5 star reviews and has been quoted as “a masterclass in historical fiction.”

The first workshop – TENSIONS IN SCOTTISH HISTORY – will be a talk on Mary, Queen of Scots, and this period of Scottish History (1542-1587), the conflicts and tensions, together with a Q&A session. This is suitable for History students at Higher, Advanced Higher, and University level to help with engagement of the subject and bringing the topic to life in a memorable way.

The second workshop HOW TO WRITE A HISTORICAL NOVEL is suitable for Higher, Advanced Higher, and undergraduates and graduates of English and Creative Writing, and will explore the pleasures and pitfalls of writing historical fiction, offering 5 inspirational ways to make it work for you.

As well as being a writer I am also an experienced English teacher. I teach and mentor English students at Higher and Advanced Higher.

Please be in touch if you would like to arrange either or both of these workshops for your students.

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