Brief and trivial

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Nobody gave me the correct answer to the question of which novel my fictional book group was discussing in A Spoke In The Wheel.

I can’t say that I’m surprised. It was in fact North Face, which is the last novel that Mary Renault wrote before giving up on writing about straight people and moving to South Africa. The rest of this post will contain spoilers, because I feel that I probably ought to explain a little.

The unpleasant hero is Neil Langton, who spends the whole book alternately mansplaining, manpaining, and trying to persuade the unfortunate Ellen that she ought to sleep with and/or marry him for her own good.

He achieves both.

The biscuits are metaphorical – well, a simile, really, and a very odd simile it is, too.

So far he had brought her; if it seemed well to him that she should part with her virginity as a casual epilogue, after an exhausting emotional crisis, in the abrupt and flickering desire of weariness – a satisfaction as brief and trivial as the biscuit which, wakeful, one reaches from the bedside tin – then this must be the perfect, the only possible thing, and she would embrace it gladly.

Sexy, no? No.

As for the incest, I still can’t work out whether we’re meant to think the reason that Ellen wasn’t attracted to her (now deceased) childhood friend Jock is because of the Westermarck effect, or because he literally was her brother. So it actually isn’t as incestuous as the book group made it sound. Or is it?

On a less baffling note, the winners of the giveaway, as determined by Random.org, are VivieH and joannechillhouse. I will be emailing you for your addresses.

The picture, by the way, shows the north face of the Eiger as seen from the train at Kleine Scheidegg, and rather appropriately obscured by the weather.

National Reading Group Day giveaway

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Apparently it’s National Reading Group Day. For the next three hours, anyway. I thought about celebrating by putting together a set of reading group questions for each of my books, but I’ve yet to come across a group that actually uses those. In my experience most people are quite capable of talking about what did and didn’t work for them.

One reading group I used to belong to didn’t always get around to talking about the book at all, but I think that was an extreme case.

Instead, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that there is a book group in my latest book, A Spoke In The Wheel. As the old meme (almost) says, I put a book in your book, so you can read while you read… The book group aside, A Spoke In The Wheel is the story of what happens when a disgraced professional cyclist meets a disabled cycling fan; a story of assumptions, of redemption, and of coming to terms with one’s own limitations. And to give you that opportunity to read it, I’m hosting a giveaway.

The book group scene is below. They’re talking about a real book. It isn’t by Ian McEwan, despite what Polly thinks. The first person to identify the book wins a copy. Anyone who comments here with a guess that turns out to be incorrect will be entered into a draw for a second copy.

In short:

  • leave a comment on this post with the title and author of the book that you think this reading group might be discussing
  • the first person to guess correctly wins a copy
  • people who guessed incorrectly are entered into a draw for a second copy
  • if no one guesses correctly then I’ll draw for both copies from the incorrect guesses
  • if you have no idea, take a wild guess. What’s the worst that could happen?
  • this draw will take place on Saturday 23 June
  • I am prepared to send the prizes anywhere in the world

Those present at the discussion that inspired this (they know who they are) will not be eligible. If they feel hard done by they should comment with an alternative book, and if I find their suggestion sufficiently amusing I might enter them into the draw anyway.

 

Vicky texted me later in the day to say that she’d been sent home ill by her boss (who clearly wasn’t such a sadist as she’d made out) and could I pick Polly up on my way home. It seemed that one of Polly’s church ladies was going to drop her off at the Three Bottles after some event, and Vicki was going to pick her up when she got home from work. Quite why the church lady couldn’t take her all the way home I couldn’t work out, but since it wasn’t really any of my business I didn’t ask, just texted back to say that would be no problem. And, because I had a headache, felt slightly virtuous about it.

The Three Bottles was quite lively for a week night. I eventually found Polly at a small table behind a very rowdy book group. The substitution of me for Vicki didn’t seem to be a particular disappointment, so she’d evidently been warned.

She motioned me to sit down, and murmured, ‘I’ve been eavesdropping for the last quarter of an hour. They’ve established that the biscuits were metaphorical, but they can’t work out whether or not the incest was literal.’

‘What on earth are they reading?’ I kept my voice down too, though it was hardly necessary.

‘I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to catch sight of the book. It sounds vaguely like Ian McEwan, but I don’t think it’s one I’ve read, if so. The biscuits don’t sound right. Though the whole group seems to want to stab the hero in the face, which does.’

‘Right,’ I said. I still hadn’t put anything on my new library card, and whatever this book was, it didn’t seem like a very good place to start. ‘What about a drink?’ I offered. Now that I was inside, in the warm, I was reluctant to go out into the rain. My headache was getting worse, though; I hoped I wasn’t coming down with Vicki’s cold. I told myself that it was probably just dehydration.

She smiled. ‘Yeah, why not?’

‘What’s yours?’

‘Orange juice, please.’

I went to the bar. My timing was bad: two of the women from the book club had got up just before me, and were putting in an order for their entire table. I thought I heard someone say my name, but when I looked around nobody seemed to be trying to get my attention. The place was crowded; I’d obviously been mistaken.

 

The first thing I saw was the wheelchair.

The first thing she saw was the doper.

Ben Goddard is an embarrassment – as a cyclist, as an athlete, as a human being. And he knows it.

Now that he’s been exposed by a positive drugs test, his race wins and his work with disabled children mean nothing. He quits professional cycling in a hurry, sticks a pin in a map, and sets out to build a new life in a town where nobody knows who he is or what he’s done.

But when the first person he meets turns out to be a cycling fan, he finds out that it’s not going to be quite as easy as that.

Besides, Polly’s not just a cycling fan, she’s a former medical student with a chronic illness and strong opinions. Particularly when it comes to Ben Goddard…

What I’m writing next

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What a ride! I mean the Giro d’Italia, of course, and I’m not even going to try to guess what might happen on today’s stage.

But I also mean the blog tour for A Spoke in the Wheel. I had tremendous fun visiting other people’s blogs and talking about how my new book came to be.

And I also mean my travels around Europe – the sleeper to Stockholm, the Semmering line, the Zentralbahn and Jungfraubahn, and the whole three weeks of it.

I suppose you could say I’m now in the warm-down stage. Getting my breath back. I’m not writing a huge amount at the moment; I’m fulfilling a couple of pre-existing commitments, and, of course, writing this blog post.

My next task is to finish writing up my travels of the past couple of years. The Isle of Wight Coast Path and the Camino Inglés, and then this year’s Grand Tour, before I forget it all. (This morning I woke up from a dream where I was at a railway station somewhere in Flanders helping set out a tea table in preparation for Rev’d Richard Coles returning with a school trip, while a truncated Saviem Standard full of Tesco shopping bags did a handbrake turn in a very narrow lane. Nothing like this actually happened.) I’ll be posting all of that, together with a selection of photographs, on this blog.

I’ve also seen an idea I like for another ‘photographs of other people’s books’ series, which I’ll probably kick off in a month or so.

I have promised myself that I won’t start any more big projects until after the travel writeups are done – which means, of course, that the next three books are all trying to write themselves at once. I make no promises as to which order they’ll come in, or even whether they’ll ever happen, but they are:

  • the sequel to Speak Its Name. I haven’t yet managed to persuade myself that Scandal and Folly wouldn’t be an excellent name for it. (But then I have form in this department.) Not everybody can make the letters of Saint Paul sound like a bodice ripper.
  • the post-Brexit Ruritanian swashbuckler, possibly with ice dancing. (Got to get some sort of blade into it somehow…)
  • the murder mystery at a fan convention.

As you see, the chances of my picking a genre and sticking to it remain low.

Blog tour – final stage – excerpt at Books, Teacup and Reviews

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We’re nearly there! The very last stop on the blog tour takes A Spoke in the Wheel to Books, Teacup and Reviews, where you can read an excerpt. Yesha will be reviewing the book later in the summer, as well.

Thank you to all the bloggers who have welcomed me – and thank you for joining me on the ride. It’s been fun!

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Blog tour, stages 13 and 14: guest post at Anne Bonny Book Reviews, and review at Odd Socks and Lollipops

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It’s the penultimate day of the blog tour! Today I’ve taken A Spoke in the Wheel to Anne Bonny Book Reviews, where I’ve got a guest post on the subject of writing about disability.

And there’s a review at Odd Socks and Lollipops, where Jenni says,

Polly really made the novel for me, and the way in which she is written is so perfect. As a person who suffers with a chronic illness I could so relate to Polly and her experiences. It was so wonderful to see a disabled character written in the story and not have their narrative be there as a prop or so that they could be miraculously fixed. Instead Kathleen has created a wonderfully well developed character who highlighted both to Ben and the reader then challenge that every day life is for some.

You can read the whole review here.

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Blog tour, stage 10 and 11: a night in with Linda, and review from A Cornish Geek

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There are two stages on the blog tour today. First of all, take a look at Linda’s Book Bag and stay in with us – we’ve got cake!

Staying in with Kathleen Jowitt

And then head on down to Cornwall, where Emma has reviewed A Spoke in the Wheel at A Cornish Geek. She says,

When I received the PR for this book I was intrigued and drawn to the idea of second chances and redemption. Once I got stuck into the book, however, it was a different theme which kept me hooked: that of having your whole life mapped out and having it all taken away.

Read the review here.

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