Author of the Month: Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble is our Author of the Month for December.

Dame Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield in 1939. She attended a Quaker Boarding School in York then studied English Literature at Cambridge.

She is the author of numerous novels, in a long career chronicling British women’s experience throughout the changing stages of their lives.

She was appointed CBE in 1980 and made DBE in 2008. Margaret was also awarded the Golden PEN Award for a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature in 2011.

Find her collection of work on our catalogue here.

Author of the Month: Hilary Mantel

It’s November, and that means it’s time for a new Author of the Month. This month we are celebrating the late, Hilary Mantel.

Hilary Mantel was an award winning author who won several literary accolades in her lifetime. She was the first female author to win The Booker Prize twice. The Wolf Hall trilogy has sold more than 5 million copies and has been translated into 41 different languages.

Find Mantel’s collection of novels on our catalogue.

Author of the Month: Dorothy Koomson

Our author of the month for October is the brilliant Dorothy Koomson.

Born in 1971, Dorothy Koomson is a bestselling author of adult fiction books with over 2 million books sold. She has earned her title ‘The Queen of the Big Reveal’ with her nail-biting psychological thrillers, which pack an emotionally devastating punch.

Dorothy Koomson has been a strong advocate for Black authors to write the stories they want to tell without compromising their vision.

Try her latest novel ‘My Other Husband’ which critics are calling one of her best yet. This expertly crafted novel is full of twists and turns sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Check out our full catalogue of Dorothy Koomson titles.

Author of the Month: Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is our author of the month for September. Born in 1939, this well-loved Canadian novelist, poet and essayist has won two Booker prizes and been shortlisted for three more, making her one of only four authors to have won twice!

She has become associated with the rights of women and girls all over the world. The iconic red dress of the Handmaid’s Tale has become a symbol of protest against attacks on women’s rights.

Margaret Atwood is a great read for those looking for strong female characters, uncomfortably plausible dystopias and razor-sharp wit and satire. Her novels have had enduring popularity and raise questions as relevant now as when they were written.

Find Atwood’s books on our catalogue.

“Being able to read and write did not provide answers to all questions. It led to other questions, and then to others.” – The Testaments

Author of the Month: Haruki Murakami

August 2022

Biography

Haruki Murakami was born in 1949 to middle class parents in Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan. However, at an early age the family moved to the bustling port town of Kobe, where a young Murakami was exposed to American culture through books, movies and jazz music. Murakami studied drama at Waseba University in Tokyo, where he expanded his reading and developed a taste for Western writers such as Jack Kerouac, Franz Kafka and Kurt Vonnegut. After completing his studies, Murakami and his wife Yoko opened a coffee house and jazz club in Tokyo called the ‘Peter Cat’. Murakami began to write during this time, publishing his first novel Hear the Wind Singin 1979 at the age of 29. This debut novel would win the well-respected Gunzo Prize for New Writers (1979) and convince Murakami to continue writing.

Career

Murakami’s writing does not sit easily within the cannon of Japanese literature, and for much of his career he has been seen as an outsider due to the American influences in his novels. Murakami’s novels are generally seen as examples of magical realism. However, the plot and style of his novels are eclectic at best and defy all attempts at categorisation. Murakami has characterised himself as a conduit from his own subconscious to that of the reader, expressed through his dreamlike and often experimental prose. Common themes in his work include cats, baseball, jazz, classical music and the Beatles.

Following on from Hear the Wind Sing (1979) Murakami would complete a trilogy of works with A Wild Sheep Chase (1982). The novel was successful in Japan and received critical praise from Western reviewers. However, Norwegian Wood (1987) was the novel which would bring Murakami to his widest audience yet. It became a sensation in Japan and then abroad (in 1989), selling more than 1 million copies in the first 7 days of its release and 3.5 million in its first year. Murakami has been a household name in Japan since, with fans going to great lengths to meet the famously reclusive author.

Awards and Accolades

Some of Murakami’s most notable works include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995) which won the Yomiuri Literary Award and Kafka on the Shore (2002) which received a World Fantasy Award for its English translation in 2006. Murakami has also received a Hans Christian Anderson Award (2016) and an America Award in Literature (2018) for lifetime achievement in writing. Notable exceptions to this trend include Murakami’s three volume novel 1Q84 (2009-2010) which has been voted one of the greatest novels of the last 30 years in Japan but received poor reviews with Western critics and fans. For first time readers A Wild Sheep Chase or Norwegian Wood are a great place to start, while Murakami’s short story collections are interesting and challenging in shorter manageable chunks.

Links  

The Paris Review – Haruki Murakami, The Art of Fiction No. 182

The Guardian – Haruki Murakami: ‘You have to go through the darkness before you get to the light’

The New Yorker – The Underground Worlds of Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami – Author

NPR – Haruki Murakami: ‘I’ve had All Sorts of Strange Experiences in My Life’

Fantastic Fiction – Haruki Murakami

Find Murakami’s books here

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Haruki Murakami

Author of the Month: Marian Keyes

Early Biography  
Marian Keyes is an Irish author born in 1963, who grew up in and around Dublin as part of a large family. Keyes completed degrees in law and business, moving to London in 1986 to take on an administrative role. However, Keyes began to struggle with alcoholism and depression in her twenties, eventually attempting to take her own life in 1995. Keyes underwent rehabilitation for her alcoholism in Dublin and began working on short stories, based in part on her own experiences. Keyes submitted these stories to the publisher Poolberg Press, with the promise of a novel to follow. The novel she submitted, Watermelon (1995), would become a best seller in Ireland and launch her career as an author. While Keyes has struggled with mental health difficulties for most of her adult life, she has described her writing as a ‘rope across the abyss’ which has given her the strength in times of crisis. Keyes has been sober now for over 25 years and lives with her husband Tony in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. 

Work and Career  
Keyes’ works are darkly comic but insightful novels, often based on her own experiences. They cover sensitive topics such as mental illness, divorce, substance abuse and domestic violence while maintaining a tact and approachability which makes them instant favourites with readers. While Keyes’ books tackle heavy topics, their tone and narrative are optimistic and uplifting with a happy ending for all your favourite characters. Keyes main series is the Walsh Family novels, where we join the Walsh Sisters as they navigate the ups and downs of modern life. Watermelon (1995) is the First book in the series, while her latest work Again, Rachel (2022) is the most recent addition. Despite being associated with the genre, Keyes has been a strong critic of the term ‘chick-lit’ and its ‘belittling’ and ‘demeaning’ connotations. Equally, Keyes is a strong feminist and has drawn attention to differences in the way that male and female written works are represented and awarded.  

Accolades, Awards and Statistics 

Keyes is the British Book Awards Author of the Year 2022, recognised for her ‘expert storytelling, incredible warmth of heart, and significant contributions to the publishing industry over three decades of writing’. She has sold over 33 million books worldwide and her works have been translated into 36 different languages. Keyes has won ‘Popular Fiction Book of the Year’ at the Irish Book Awards in 2009 and 2017 for This Charming man (2008) and The Break (2017) respectively. Keyes has had multiple best-selling books in the UK and Ireland, where her works routinely top bestsellers lists. 

Marian Keyes – Biography 
Penguin – Where to start reading Marian Keyes’ books 
The Guardian – Marian Keyes: rehab was one of the happiest times of my life 
Twitter – Marian Keyes  
BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs Marian Keyes 
Independent.ie – Author of the Year 
Chatelaine – Keyes on the term chick lit 

Check out our Marian Keyes collection on our catalogue

“Writing about feeling disconnected has enabled me to connect, and that has been the most lovely thing of all.” ~ Marian Keyes

Author of the Month: Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory was chosen to tie in with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.  We wanted an accessible author who has a royal theme in their work, as well as having a good backlist.

Philippa Gregory is a world renowned historical novelist and a recognised authority on women’s history.  She has written 27 novels – her 27th, Dawnlands, will be published in November 2022 as well as 3 books for children.

As well as being a full time writer, she enjoys riding, walking, skiing and gardening.  She  also runs a charity which builds wells in The Gambia and teaches children how to cultivate their own food. The well digging side of the charity stopped during the pandemic to focus on a public health initiative.

We were lucky enough to chat to Philippa Gregory on one of our previous podcast episodes. You can listen to that here: https://pod.fo/e/e0f93.

“If it means something, take it to heart. If it means nothing, it’s nothing. Let it go.”
― Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl

Robert Harris

Robert Harris studied English at Cambridge University before joining the BBC as a television correspondent. His career in the media included writing as a columnist for the London Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and Political Editor of The Observer before he became a full-time writer.

Since his debut novel Fatherland which was published in 1992, Robert Harris has used fiction to re-write the history of the present. From the outset he has invited serious consideration of contemporary politics in a well-crafted package that entertains and rewards his readers. The success of Fatherland, which imagines in world in which Hitler was triumphant, allowed Harris to make the transition to full-time writer.

Enigma, which was released as a film in 2001 starring Kate Winslet, takes its inspiration from the brilliant individuals who worked to crack the German U-boat code at Bletchley Park during the second world war.

His third novel, Archangel, is set in contemporary Moscow and features Fluke Kelso a historian on the hunt for Joseph Stalin’s secret papers. The book, which was made into a mini-series, starring Daniel Craig, by the BBC takes the young scholar to the remote sea port of Archangel in search of the Soviet dictator’s final secret.

Pompeii (2003) was the first of Harris’ novels to be set in ancient times but draws direct comparisons between the Roman Empire and the United States. His portrait of local corruption makes for such compelling reading that the ‘finale’ is almost a surprise.

Following the publication of Pompeii Harris returned to the Roman era to write Imperium, this first of his trilogy about Cicero – the great statesman and orator. Taking the form of biographies, written by Tiro – Cicero’s assistant and confidante, the books map out Cicero’s attempts to win control of Ancient Rome.

Alongside his novels Harris has also written several well-researched non-fiction titles including Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries (1986), which documented the fiasco following the sudden appearance of the so called ‘Hitler diaries’ in 1983.

Visit our online catalogue for the entire Robert Harris collection, or see displays in your local library.

Graham Greene

Graham Greene, was an English novelist, short-story writer, playwright, and journalist whose novels treat life’s moral ambiguities in the context of contemporary political settings.

Following the modest success of his first novel The Man Within (1929), Greene quit his job as copy editor for The Times and worked as film critic and literary editor of The Spectator. He travelled widely as a freelance journalist until the 1950s and used his trips to scout locations for novels.

His 1932 thriller, Stamboul Train was the first of his ‘entertainments’ books which combined with spare, tough language and suspenseful plots with moral complexity and depth. Stamboul Trian was the first of Greene’s novels to be made into a film in 1934 and his fifth ‘entertainment’ The Third Man (1949) was originally written as a screenplay for the Director Carol Reed.

Brighton Rock (1938, films 1947 and 2010) shares some of the characteristics of his pacy thrillers – the protagonist is a hunted criminal roaming the underworld of Brighton, but Greene explores the moral attitudes of the main characters with a new depth, including the violent teenage criminal, whose tragic situation is intensified by a Roman Catholic upbringing.

I read Brighton Rock when I was about thirteen. One of the first lessons I took from it was that a serious novel could be an exciting novel – that the novel of adventure could also be the novel of ideas.

Ian McEwan

Catholicism became the dominant theme of his finest novel, The Power and the Glory (1940; also published as The Labyrinthine Ways; adapted as the film The Fugitive, 1947). The book follows a weak and alcoholic Priest who tries to fulfil his duties in rural Mexico despite the despite the constant threat of death at the hands of a revolutionary government.

Greene worked for the Foreign Office during World War II and was stationed at Freetown, Sierra Leone, the setting for The Heart of the Matter (1948; film 1953), a novel which traces the decline of a well-meaning British Officer, whose pity for his wife and mistress leads him to commit suicide.

The Quiet American (1956; films 1958 and 2002) chronicles the doings of a well-intentioned American government agent in Vietnam in the midst of the anti-French uprising there in the early 1950s. Our Man in Havana (1958; film 1959) is set in Cuba just before the communist revolution there, while The Comedians (1966; film 1967) is set in Haiti during the rule of François Duvalier.

Throughout his long career Greene’s novels share a preoccupation with sin and moral failure against a backdrop or setting wrought with danger, violence, and physical decay. Despite the downbeat tone of his books, Greene was in fact one of the most widely read British novelists of the 20th century, due to his superb gifts as a storyteller, especially his masterful selection of detail and his use of realistic dialogue in a fast-paced narrative. Throughout his career, Greene was fascinated by film, and he often emulated cinematic techniques in his writing. No other British writer of this period was as aware as Greene of the power and influence of cinema.

Throughout his career he also published several selections of short stories, essays a collection of film criticism.

Visit our online catalogue for the entire Graham Greene collection, or see displays in your local library.

Tracy Chevalier

American-English author Tracy Chevalier was able to become a full-time writer after her second novel, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, became a best-seller and the inspiration for the film of the same name starring Scarlett Johanssen and Colin Firth. She credits her time working as reference book editor for the skills of research, accuracy and editing as part of the writing process, which help her craft historically accurate novels that draw their readers into the story and keep them enthralled.

Her most recent novel, A Single Thread, is set in Winchester and tells the story of a single woman who carves a place for herself amongst the bells and embroidered cushions of Winchester Cathedral.

The Virgin Blue

Midwife Isabelle du Moulin is marked as different, by both her red hair and her love for the Virgin Mary in her rich blue robes. As religious fervour sweeps 16th-century France, Isabelle’s striking likeness to the Madonna puts her in danger when her village is enraptured by new Protestant doctrine.

Four centuries later, Ella Turner moves to the French village of Lisle-sur-Tarn and finds her dreams are haunted by the colour blue. Ella hopes to become both a midwife and a mother, but her plans unravel as she discovers her link to Isabelle, and her ancestor’s shocking fate.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Those eyes are fixed on someone. But who? What is she thinking as she stares out from one of the world’s best-loved paintings?

Johannes Vermeer can spot exceptional beauty. When servant girl Griet catches his eye, she soon becomes both student and muse. But then he gives her his wife’s pearl earrings to wear for a portrait, and a scandal erupts that could threaten Griet’s future… Vivid and captivating, this timeless modern classic has become a successful film and an international bestseller, with over 5 million copies sold.

Falling Angels

Queen Victoria is dead. In January 1901, the day after her passing, two very different families visit neighbouring graves in a London cemetery. The traditional Waterhouses revere the late Queen where the Colemans have a more modern outlook, but both families are appalled by the friendship that springs up between their respective daughters.

As the girls grow up, their world changes almost beyond measure: cars are replacing horses, electric lighting is taking over from gas, and emancipation is fast approaching, to the delight of some and the dismay of others…

Burning Bright

1792. Uprooted from their quiet Dorset village to the riotous streets of London, young Jem Kellaway and his family feel very far from home. They struggle to find their place in this tumultuous city, still alive with the repercussions of the blood-splattered French Revolution.

Luckily, streetwise Maggie Butterfield is on hand to show Jem the ropes. Together they encounter the neighbour they’ve been warned about: radical poet and artist William Blake. Jem and Maggie’s passage from innocence to experience becomes the very stuff of poetic inspiration…

A Single Thread

Violet is 38. The First World War took everything from her. Her brother, her fiance – and her future. She is now considered a ‘surplus woman’.

But Violet is also fiercely independent and determined. Escaping her suffocating mother, she moves to Winchester to start a new life -a change that will require courage, resilience and acts of quiet rebellion. And when whispers of another world war surface, she must live with a secret that could change everything…

Reader, I Married Him

A collection of short stories celebrating Charlotte Bronte, the twenty-one stories in Reader, I Married Him – one of the most celebrated lines in fiction – are inspired by Jane Eyre and shaped by its perennially fascinating themes of love, compromise and self-determination.