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January 2019

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Diane Setterfield on her new novel, Once Upon a River
17th January 2019 - Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield on her new novel, Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

"Its fable-like qualities and river-like winding work together perfectly to make a tale that is as near to oral storytelling as it’s possible to get with the written word."

Sarah, Web Team

 

Once Upon a River is a story lover’s delight. Diane Setterfield confirms her place as a master storyteller, with a tale woven through with magic, folklore and mystery. On a dark winter’s evening in the late 19th century, in an inn somewhere along the Thames and renowned for its stories the regulars’ routine is disrupted when a horribly injured stranger bursts through the doors carrying a drowned child in his arms. As they call for help and try to piece together what disaster has befallen the pair, the child comes back to life. How such a thing could happen and who the child is forms the core of this intriguing and compelling novel. From this beginning, Once Upon a River flows into an atmospheric story touching on life and love, and a society caught between the old and new ways.

Below, Setterfield writes exclusively for Foyles on the roots of Once Upon a River and how storytelling helps us make sense of the world.

We have a limited number of signed First Editions of Once Upon a River—get yours while stock lasts!

 

 


Storytelling

 

When I was four, my little sister was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart defect and our job as a family was to keep her alive till she was old enough for surgery to correct it. I was taught to watch her vigilantly: were her lips turning blue? Was she pale? Was it time to run for a grown up? It was frightening. What is more, we were living at this time next door to what is today known as a dysfunctional family. When my youngest sister was born at home, the boys from next door stood at the entrance to the cul de sac threatening all comers with knives. My grandmother was forced to turn back, unable to see her newest granddaughter. Soon after that the local doctor came to visit my mum and the same boys beat him up with an iron bar. All this was scary enough, but when the police came to do a stake out from our bedroom, watching for an escaped convict thought to be making his way to his girlfriend next door, I was terrified.  

 

I also remember the stories. Every night, Mum or Dad would read, a bedtime story from a familiar and trusted voice, and I felt safe. What were they, these stories that I found so cosy? They were tales of children in danger. They involved monsters, great jeopardy, calamitous events and wicked villains, and the children that faced them were seemingly as defenceless as I was. Escapist? Hardly. These stories brought me face to face with the big issue of my everyday existence: fear. What they taught me was that clever children can outwit scary monsters, that peril and danger might be passing moments to be followed by a happy ending, and that although you might be unlucky enough to suffer unthinkable loss, it was possible to survive it. These were good things to know when I was 5 and 6 and 7, and - though my sister has been out of danger for decades and I live in a place of peace and safety - it’s still helpful to be reminded of them.  

 

I was so impressed by stories in my childhood I that I took them for natural phenomena. Like mountain ranges or thunderbolts they seemed far too powerful to have been made by a mere person. When I learned that stories were in fact invented, I was as shocked as if I’d been told that lightning was carved by artisans in Devon workshops or clouds brewed in Scottish distilleries. Yet storytelling is actually hardwired into all human beings. Children spend most of their waking hours in a world of make-believe, whilst adults look for a fix of story as soon as they are not sleeping or working. We go to the movies, play computer games, daydream, even when we don’t read. Sports games and TV competitions are a kind of story in which forces are ranged against each other and only one can emerge the victor. When we gossip we arrange other people’s lives into narratives, and when we go to a counselor we pick over the story we have made of our own life to see whether we have somewhere mistold ourselves to ourselves – maybe there’s another story hidden in the pages of our life, a better one, that might surface if we studied it in a new light.  

 

In the Swan Inn in Once Upon a River, the drinkers are ordinary people.  They are gravel-diggers, watercress farmers and bargemen. They are also storytellers. They are observers, collectors of words, craftsmen. They practice their telling, honing details, balancing effects, creating drama and suspense to refine a satisfying ending. The story is everything. 

 

When one day a little girl is pulled drowned from the river outside only to come to life again later, the impossibility of what the drinkers have witnessed creates a tear in the fabric of reality. It destabilises their sense of the world and unsettles them. There is only one tool that can repair the damage and it is storytelling. So the regulars set to, recalling events and subjecting them to scrutiny, testing the accuracy of every word they use to account for the strange event. With each new discovery – and three different families turn up at the inn, ready to claim the little girl as their own – they reassess what they know to try and predict the future. They tell and mistell, untell and retell in their efforts to figure out why it happened and how it is going to end. In this, they are doing the same thing that we all do every day of our lives: they are using story to navigate the world and understand their place in it. We wouldn’t be human without it. 

 


Diane Setterfield author photograph

Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale was published in 38 countries, sold more than three million copies, and was made into a television drama scripted by Christopher Hampton, starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave. Her second novel was Bellman & Black, and her new novel is Once Upon a River. Born in rural Berkshire, she now lives in Oxford, by the Thames.

 

 

Read an extract from John Lanchester's new novel, The Wall
16th January 2019

Read an extract from John Lanchester's new novel, The Wall

The Wall by John Manchester

"Like a kind of 1984 for Brexit and climate change, The Wall takes a present we didn't see coming and extrapolates it to a future we might."

Gavin, Marketing Team

 

John Lanchester’s breathtakingly prescient latest novel, The Wall, is set in a very-near-future society where climate change has stoked xenophobic fear and panic, resulting in a literally walled-off UK: in a world beset by rising sea levels, the country is ringed by the National Coastal Defence Structure, better known as the Wall. All young people must do two years' service as Defenders on the Wall, taking their turn to scan for and forcibly repel Others—desperate, displaced people looking for shelter. Add to that a blond baby politician, a chasm of understanding between generations and the use of asylum seekers as Help and you'll see why this dystopian vision is at once supremely topical and a terrifying what-if.

Read an extract below from the opening of this essential novel.

 


It’s cold on the Wall. That’s the first thing everybody tells you, and the first thing you notice when you’re sent there, and it’s the thing you think about all the time you’re on it, and it’s the thing you remember when you’re not there any more. It’s cold on the Wall.

 

You look for metaphors. It’s cold as slate, as diamond, as the moon. Cold as charity – that’s a good one. But you soon realise that the thing about the cold is that it isn’t a metaphor. It isn’t like anything else. It’s nothing but a physical fact. This kind of cold, anyway. Cold is cold is cold.

 

So that’s the first thing that hits you. It isn’t like other cold. This is a cold that is all about the place, like a permanent physical attribute of the location. The cold is one of its fundamental properties; it’s intrinsic. So it hits you as a package, the first time you go to the Wall, on the first day of your tour. You know that you are there for two years. You know that it’s basically the same everywhere, as far as the geography goes, but that everything depends on what the people you will be serving with are like. You know that there’s nothing you can do about that. It is frightening but also in its way a little bit freeing. No choice – everything about the Wall means you have no choice.

 

You get a little training but not much. Six weeks. Mainly it’s about how to hold, clean, look after and fire your weapon. In that order. Some fitness training, but not much; a lot of training in midnight awakening, sleep disruption, sudden panics, sudden changes of order, small-hours tests of discipline. They drum that into you: discipline trumps courage. In a fight, the people who win are the ones who do what they’re told. It’s not like it is in films. Don’t be brave, just do what you’re told. That’s pretty much it. The rest of the training happens on the Wall. You get it from the Defenders who’ve been there longer than you. Then in your turn you give it to the Defenders who come after. So that’s what you arrive able to do: get up in the middle of the night, and look after your weapon.

 

You usually arrive after dark. I don’t know why but that’s just how they do it. Already you had a long day to get there: walk, bus, train, second train, lorry. The lorry drops you off. You and your rucksack are left standing there in the cold and the blackness. There is the Wall in front of you, a long low concrete monster. It stretches into the distance. Although the Wall is completely vertical, when you stand underneath it, it feels as if it overhangs. As if it could topple over onto you. You feel leant on.

 

The air is full of moisture, even when it isn’t actually wet, which it often is, either with rain or with sea-spray splashing over the top. It isn’t usually windy, immediately behind the Wall, but it sometimes is. In the dark and the damp, the Wall looks black. The only path or sign or hint for what you should do or where you should go is a flight of concrete steps – they always drop you near the steps. There’s a small light at the top, in the guard house, but you don’t yet know that’s what you’re looking at. Instead what you mainly think is that the Wall is taller than you expected. Of course you’ve seen it before, in real life, and in pictures, maybe even in your dreams. (That’s one of the things you learn on the Wall: that lots of people dream about it, long before they’re sent there.) But when you’re standing at the bottom looking up, and you know you’re going to be there for two years, and that the best thing that can happen to you in those two years is that you survive and get off the Wall and never have to spend another day of your life anywhere near it – then it looks different. It looks very tall and very straight and very dark. (It is.) The exposed concrete stairs look steep and slippery. (They are.) It looks like a cold, hard, unforgiving, desperate place. (It is.) You feel trapped. (You are.) You are longing for this to be over; longing to be somewhere else; you would give anything not to be here. Maybe, even if you’re not religious, you say a prayer, out loud or under your breath, it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t change anything, because your prayer says, please please please let me get off the Wall, and yet there you are, on the Wall. You start up the steps. You’ve begun your life on the Wall.

 


John Lanchester author photograph

John Lanchester is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books and a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He has written four novels and three works of non-fiction. His books have won the Hawthornden Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the E. M. Forster Award and the Premi Llibreter, been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and translated into twenty-five languages.

 

 

 

#FoylesFive: Haruki Murakami
12th January 2019 - Matt Blackstock

Foyles Five: Murakami Novels

#FoylesFive: Haruki Murakami

As Haruki Murakami celebrates his 70th birthday, Matt from our Web Team talks about why he loves Haruki Murakami and recommends five books he'd add to our TBR piles!

 

A friend of mine told me about Murakami and suggested I read his work. I took her advice... about two years later. I really wish it had been sooner because once I jumped into the world of Murakami there was no escape! Norwegian Wood was my first read, then straight into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Both are completely different and both are brilliant beyond words.  Murakami can write about anything, he makes the mundane magical, and the world around us a much stranger place. Once you read one you'll want much more Murakami in your life.

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Murakami will stun you with this magical novel, taking you from a missing cat, to strange phone calls and a well. This spiralling tale of mystery from the master of the written word in modern fiction will leave you wanting more.


Killing Commendatore - Foyles Exclusive Edition 
With this novel, Murakami returns and brings with him his usual bag of metaphysical wonderment. An artist goes on a personal journey that changes his life and leaves him questioning his own reality, and when he befriends a new neigbour his world and another more haunting world start to merge...


Kafka on the Shore
This twisting tale shifts between a runaway and a man who works as a cat finder, as he can communicate with cats. Music is also a strong theme in this novel expertly knitted together by an author whose use of language is beyond reproach.


Norwegian Wood
A piece of music takes our protagonist back to his student days, his love of American novels and all the things and people he has loved and lost throughout his life. The classic Murakami novel that made his name in Japan and the rest of the world.


Wild Sheep Chase
A nameless man is given an offer he cannot refuse - to search for a sheep. But this is no ordinary sheep; it is one that holds the key to a great mystical power. This is a perfect book to start off with if you have never had the adventure of reading a Murakami before.

 

 

 

 

The Binding
10th January 2019 - Bridget Collins

Bridget Collins tells us about her new novel, The Binding

The Binding by Bridget Collins

"The Binding is a book about books and the power of their contents; it’s a book about love, how it binds us and sets us free, and it’s a book about knowing and accepting yourself."

Sarah, Web Team

 

The Binding is Bridget Collins' first adult novel, and it's set to be one of our favourites of the year (and it's only January!). In a tale laced with magic and unforgettable characters, Collins explores the importance of memory to our identity and how this might change if we were able to permanently erase parts of our past. Below, exclusively for Foyles, the author tells us about the inspiration for The Binding, how love is at its core, and how she feels about her characters.

 

We've a limited amount of signed first editions, order yours while stock lasts!

 


I started studying bookbinding a few years ago, and I was immediately seduced by it: by the processes, the materials – the coloured papers, gold, leather, beeswax, silk – and the tools, which are made of wood and bone and metal. It was all wonderfully tactile, with a sort of subtle glamour that made me imagine another, older, world. When you restore books, you start by taking them apart, and it’s like going backwards through time: by the point when you’re ready to start work, you’ve learnt something about the original binder, and you feel surprisingly close to them. You see the mistakes they’ve made, the shortcuts, the places they’ve been lazy or taken extra care. Being an incorrigible daydreamer, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d pretend I was an apprentice, and start to imagine the life I would have led; and Emmett – my main character – seemed to materialise at my shoulder, learning the craft along with me.

 

At more or less the same time, I was a volunteer with the Samaritans. There I had the privilege of hearing people’s stories, which were often traumatic or painful, and ‘holding’ those stories for them, feeling that my act of listening somehow helped them to heal. But occasionally I’d come across someone who was ‘stuck’ – whose whole life had become defined by a narrative where they were a victim or a villain – and I began to wonder what would happen if I could simply reach out and take that memory away from them, leaving them to begin again. Would I do it, if I could? What would it be like? And what would the wider implications be? It was out of that juxtaposition, I think, that the central idea of The Binding was born: that people can put part of their lives into a book, and walk away remembering nothing. I’ve always been fascinated by memory loss, and the way it can make the simplest things heart-breakingly poignant (I’m haunted by the time my grandfather turned to my mother, after my grandmother’s death, and said, ‘I wonder why Joy doesn’t write to me…’) and so gradually I came to see that this was one way to tell a story about it, and about our sense of identity, about desire, about consumerism – but most of all, about love. After all, The Binding is about two people who find, love and betray each other – although not necessarily in that order… At its heart, it’s shamelessly romantic!

 

The Binding is my first adult novel, and in some ways it felt like beginning over again, writing for myself without a thought to what would happen once I finished. When I started I didn’t even know what sort of book it was going to be, and so I wrote in a fever of discovery. I always fall in love with my characters, at least a little bit, and I remember the butterflies-in-stomach, broken-sleep, no-appetite joy of writing some of the scenes. I particularly loved taking on the different voices: Emmett has a kind of innocence as he discovers the new world of binding, and his journey of discovery reflects the reader’s; Lucian is more complex, more troubled, and darker. I’ll let you guess which was more fun to write! But perhaps most of all I relished the dynamics of knowing and not-knowing that are constantly at play. There’s hardly a single scene in the book where both the protagonists know everything – so it was a constant challenge to juggle what I knew and what they knew, not giving too much away. Sometimes it was quite tricky to keep it all straight!

 

It’s always a bit scary when your book comes out. For years it’s been my story, unfolding in the safety of my own head, but now it’ll meet the people who count. I really, really hope that you enjoy The Binding – which, being about books and about lovers, is a book-lover’s book in more ways than one.

 


Bridget Collins Author Photograph

Bridget Collins trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after reading English at King's College, Cambridge. She is the author of seven acclaimed books for young adults and has had two plays produced, one at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Binding is her first adult novel.

 

 

 

Read an extract from The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods
10th January 2019

Read an extract from The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods is Samuel Halpin’s debut children’s story; it’s a dark and twisty fairytale with a mystery at its heart. The story starts when Poppy goes to stay with her Gran in the rather unusual town of Suds, where some very odd rules need to be followed. It’s a gripping tale perfect for fans of adventure who like their stories a little eerie and laced with humour. It’s also full of wonderful illustrations from Hannah Peck.

We’ve an extract from the book below, along with a map of Suds.

 


Poppy put the kettle on the stove.

 

“Where did we leave off? Oh, that’s right,” Gran said, unpicking a few of the scales from a pair of beetle wings she was making. “The fabric made in the Helligan Mills became more and more famous. The town of Suds prospered and grew…until something odd began to happen.”

 

The kettle whistled as it began to boil and Poppy poured the hot water over the fragrant tea leaves.

 

“One by one, like the birds of summer, children began to vanish.”

 

Poppy put the kettle down and brought Grandma her tea.

 

“What do you mean? How did they vanish? When did this happen?”

 

Churchill the pig rested his snout on the edge of his basket, as if listening to the story too.

 

“I mean just what I say: children began to vanish. One here, one there. They faded away. I remember I was twenty-three when Wilma Norbles disappeared. Wilma was a swimming champion. Every day before school she would swim up and down the river like a seal, until one morning something peculiar began to happen. It started with Wilma’s eyes. Very slowly, little by little, their colour began to fade. Before she knew it, the colour from her hair began to drain away too. The last time Wilma climbed into the river, despite being ten years old, she was as grey as an old woman. People watching from the shore said that she took a deep breath, sunk beneath the water and dissolved like a blob of paint. Some said she was eaten by the old fish rumoured to live in the River Suds. But even I’m not superstitious enough to think that’s likely.”

 

Poppy nodded politely. She didn’t quite know if she believed her wily old gran. She was twelve after all, and twelve is the age when one truly starts reasoning what is real and what is fabricated.

 

“I can see you don’t believe me, but let me tell you this: ever since, and ever so slowly, the children of Suds have been dwindling away.”

 

“Where did they go?” Poppy asked. “When was the last time it happened?”

 

Gran looked at Poppy and answered only one of her questions. “No one knows. Sugar, my button. Two lumps.”

 

Poppy retrieved the sugar, heeding Grandma’s instructions.

 

“And what’s happened to the Mills now?”

 

“They’re still there,” said Gran, sipping her tea. “Somewhere in the woods outside of town. Riddling Woods. Neglected, ruined and overgrown. Whether the fabric which floats down the river comes from the Mills or not is anybody’s guess. People in the village like to say they are haunted.”

 

“Haunted?”

 

“Haunted,” said Gran. “By the ghost of a washerwoman who crouches beside the river’s edge, washing the stains from a grey cloth.”

 

“That’s not real,” muttered Poppy, her chest swimming with unease.

 

“It might not be real, but it’s a fact that people have seen her,” said Gran wryly. “Now, while your dad is away for the next few weeks and you’re staying with me here in Suds, I want you to follow four simple rules. No one else seems to bother with them these days, but I’m a bit old-fashioned sometimes, Poppy, and I like to stick to them.”

 

Poppy fetched her notepad from her backpack and wrote down what Grandma said. With each line she wrote, her fingers stiffened and her heart began to dance its familiar dance.

 

RULES:

 

1. All washing must be done during the day. Bring your clothes in off the washing line (even if they are wet) before six o’clock every night.

 

2. All sugar cubes are to be kept under lock and key.

 

3. At night close your window, lock it, draw the curtains.

 

4. NEVER, DON’T YOU EVER, dust the window sills.

 

***

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods Map

 


Samuel J Halpin author photograph

Born in Tasmania with Irish roots, Samuel J. Halpin is twenty-seven and writes daily. Having studied journalism at the University of New South Wales, Samuel went on to take cinematography at AFTRS, the national Australian film school in Sydney, before moving to London and working in comedy TV production. The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods is Samuel’s first answer to a childhood raised on a hodgepodge of fairy tales, crowded bookshelves and cups of hot chocolate.

 

 

 

Girl With Dove: Sally Bayley On Childhood Reading
9th January 2019 - Sally Bayley

Sally Bayley On Childhood Reading

Girl With Dove by Sally Bayley

In Girl With Dove: A Life Built By Books, Sally Bayley demonstrates how vital and transformative reading is in helping children understand the often mysterious and sometimes unsettling world around them. In this personal memoir of childhood, reading is shown as not only a means of escape and fuel for the imagination but also a way to make sense of one's immediate environment.

Here, Sally talks to us about who taught her to read, how she adopted Miss Marple, and why reading doesn't need to be a solitary activity.

 


It was my grandmother who first taught me to read. She taught me after school, in between the washing up and putting on the toast. I brought words home from school and they sprung out of a silver box that had once held sweets. Reading was a sweet treat. Words were something I sucked on, hardboiled and tangy. Words were my sherbet lemons, my rhubarb and custard and chocolate éclairs.

 

Words take time to dissolve because words all contain small plots. Words come out of particular contexts and circumstances. Where you place certain words changes the meaning of everything, and for a child that can be confusing, even unsettling.

 

When you first begin reading you need a familiar relationship: characters and plots you recognise and can comfortably navigate. Perhaps the strongest reading paths begin as a form of transference of trust from family members to literary characters: from real life to stories.

 

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was my first literary adoption. I adopted her and I like to think that she adopted me. Miss Marple was a version of my grandmother, and aged eight I adopted her, and she adopted me. We shared a sympathetic relationship: we both wanted to know what was going on in the world around us. We were both curious, or, perhaps downright nosy.

 

But I needed somewhere special to read. Miss Marple had her own cottage in St. Mary Mead where she looks out through her window upon the world. When you read you peek into other worlds. You carve out new spaces. I grew up in a house with little physical space. Reading gave me more space, an alternative habitat, other worlds. An avid reader is an escape artist; she is looking for ways out of now.

 

But children need help with reading: firstly a comfortable place. I read on the top of my bunk bed and then outdoors. I had a few special nooks and crannies. Once you have a reading place you have a habit. You can return again and again.

 

In this day and age children need more help with developing strong reading habits. There are so many distractions. Our capacity for reading -- our reading brain -- has altered because of the internet. ‘I can no longer deep-sea dive’, said one 12-year-old girl reader I knew. ‘I can no longer feel the words surrounding me. I don’t know how to go deep underwater: to swim.’

 

So we read Jane Eyre together. I showed her several editions, to try, one produced for children and two for adults, all with illustrations. We took turns reading sections together. We discussed the words alongside the drawings. We read parts and took on characters. We turned the book into a play. We became reading companions.

 

Reading need not be a solitary business. At the point that words enter the brain the experience is solitary and perhaps that is part of its tangible pleasure. None of us quite receives words and images in the same way. We all imagine and differently. But reading can also bring intimacy and connections - trust and friendship - kin. Reading can create new families and relations. When we read alongside others we are bridging the gaps between ourselves and others. We are learning sympathy; to cross an imaginative bridge between one self and another without eliminating the specific differences in our character and circumstances: our separate experiences of living.

 


Sally Bayley Author photograph

Sally Bayley put herself into care aged fourteen and remains the only person to study at university from the West Sussex Care Service. She is currently a Teaching and Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, and from September 2018 she will be teaching writing in Oxford as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. She is the author of The Private Life of the Diary as well as books on Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson.

 

 

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