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: 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

Ann Cleeves

A great advocate and supporter of libraries, the best-selling writer Ann Cleeves was awarded an OBE in the 2022 New Year Honours List ‘for services to Reading and Libraries.’ Typically modest, this author of more than 30 novels responded to the nomination by saying, ‘I’m delighted that this honour highlights the importance of reading and libraries and celebrates the skilled staff who work in the field.’

Throughout her long career Ann has created a number of enduring characters whose exploits have made the transition to television, including Vera Stanhope, of the eponymous series Vera, Shetland’s Jimmy Perez and mostly recently an adaptation of The Long Call, the first in Ann’s new series set in North Devon featuring Detective Matthew Venn.

In 2017 she was presented with the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honour in British crime writing, for her excellent writing and contribution to the crime writing world. In 2006 Cleeves was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland series. In addition, she has been short listed for a CWA Dagger Awards – once for her short story The Plater, and twice for the Dagger in the Library award, which is awarded not for an individual book but for an author’s entire body of work.

We have picked out a selection of titles from Ann’s long career – for the full list of books, eBooks and aAudiobooks by Ann Cleeves we have available to borrow, please visit our website.

In true Agatha Christie style, Cleeves once again pulls the wool over our eyes with cunning and conviction.

Colin Dexter

Sea Fever

Amateur sleuth, George Palmer-Jones, and his fellow bird-watchers on the Jessie Ellen catch sight of a rare sea bird. When one of the party goes missing and is found floating in the sea, Palmer-Jones must find out who murdered the man.

Murder in My Back Yard

When a proposed housing development results in uproar and murder, the pressure is on Inspector Ramsay to find the killer. Just as he thinks he is nearing a conclusion, disaster strikes again and Ramsay must test his measure as a detective.

The Crow Trap

At the isolated Baikie’s Cottage, three very different women come together to complete an environmental survey. The three women each know the meaning of betrayal. So when people begin to mysteriously die, DI Vera Stanhope is sent to investigate.

The Glass Room

DI Vera Stanhope is not one to make friends easily, but her hippy neighbours keep her well-supplied in homebrew and conversation so she has more tolerance for them than most. When one of them goes missing she feels duty-bound to find out what happened. But her path leads her to more than just a missing friend.

Raven Black

The murder of teenager Catherine Ross sends shockwaves through a small Shetland community, and most of the fingers of blame point to loner and simpleton Magnus Tait. But Catherine’s vicious and sudden demise has thrown a veil of suspicion over everyone who knew her, and one local detective is keeping all options open.

Blue Lightning

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancée, Fran, to his parents. When a woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, Jimmy must investigate the old-fashioned way.

Too Good to be True

When young teacher Anna Blackwell is found dead in her home, the police think her death was suicide or a tragic accident. After all, Stonebridge is a quiet country village in the Scottish Borders, where murders just don’t happen. But Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez soon arrives from far-away Shetland when his ex-wife, Sarah, asks him to look into the case.

The Long Call

In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too. Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region.

The Heron’s Cry

Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder – Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed. His daughter Eve is a glassblower, and the murder weapon is a shard of one of her broken vases. Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He’s a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband. 

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.

Author of the Month: Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s novels are as diverse as his upbringing. Born in Hampshire in 1948, his childhood was a transient one, spent moving between east Asia, Germany and north Africa, following his father’s military postings. His similarly wide-roaming career has positioned him as one of Britain’s foremost literary voices. 

Whether penning eerie psychodramas or delicately wrought period pieces, what unites McEwan’s novels is an unerring curiosity about people. Whether the book’s key concern is personal or political, it is the intimate interpersonal relationships that provide their emotional core.  

McEwan’s career began with a penchant for the gothic. His first two novels The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) were released to uneasy admiration, with critic John Krewson describing the former as being “beautiful but disturbing”. Subsequent works went on to stray from this generic darkness and, in doing so, found a wider readership. After the divisive release of The Child In Time (1987), an unusual tale of time travel, cold-war era romance The Innocent (1990) was met with near-unanimous critical praise. 

The image shows the book cover of The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
The image shows the book cover of The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

 

It was his 1998 novel, Amsterdam, that marked a true popular breakthrough. The tale of love and death won him the Booker Prize, with critics praising its “sardonic and wise examination of the morals and culture of our time.” 

A popular candidate for adaptation, McEwan’s works have frequently been seen on screen. Joe Wright’s 2007 film Atonement, adapted from McEwan’s 2001 novel of the same name brings to life a confusion of sexuality, war and guilt, replicating the author’s ability to vividly capture a moment frozen in time and imbue it with sizzling heat.  

More recently, Man-Booker prize shortlisted On Chesil Beach (2007) was adapted into a 2017 film starring Saoirse Ronan. Once again McEwan’s meditations on desire in a repressive society of the past are proven to have a continuing contemporary appeal. This reliable appetite to see McEwan’s work reinvented speaks to his continued appeal to diverse audiences.  

With the ability to wheedle his way to the emotional heart of any story, regardless of how convoluted, McEwan brings his readers into an unfamiliar situation only to find relatable humanity. 

The image shows the book cover of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The image shows the book cover of Atonement by Ian McEwan

These titles are also available to loan through our eBooks app, BorrowBox.

Written by Flora Pick

Joanne Harris

If you think you’re familiar with Joanne Harris, our author-of-the-month for July, you might want to think again.

While she’s best known for her multimillion-seller Chocolat, Harris’ books don’t tend to neatly fit within one genre. Perhaps uniquely among best-selling authors, her books dip into a multiplicity of topics such as food, romance, France, psychological thrillers, vampires, Norse mythology, fairy tales, author self-help – and Dr Who.

In a recent interview with the Hampshire Libraries’ podcast Love Your Library (available later this month), Harris explained: ‘Much as a I understand the convenience and the financial interest of being a brand who does the same thing predictably every year, I just couldn’t do that. What drives me is an element of discovery and of risk.’

It’s the above-mentioned Chocolat (made into an Oscar-nominated film featuring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), which first gave her a taste of success. It’s now sold more than 33 million copies worldwide and in 2012 she became only the fifth British female novelist to join the book industry’s “Millionaires Club”: an exclusive list of authors who have seen at least one of their books pass the million sales barrier in the UK since the 1990s.

Joanne Harris (MBE) grew up with her English father and French mother in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and started her career as a teacher, pursuing writing as a hobby. Her first novel, The Evil Seed, is a dark gothic romance which had limited commercial success. She spent more than 12 years teaching French at Leeds Grammar School, the inspiration behind her St Oswald’s series of books, the latest of which, A Narrow Door, is to be published next month. This darkly comic novel continues the story of eccentric Latin Master Roy Straitley, and follows Gentlemen and Players, and Different Class.

She said: ‘In a sense I’ve been writing about teaching since the start. I tend to write about small communities and the pressures they undergo, and the changes new arrivals make – and how the volatile chemistry of the small community can be utterly disrupted by what seems to be a relatively trivial change.’

Harris writes intelligently with a dry humour, and while her work is sometimes described as captivating or enchanting, her novels can frequently be darkly funny. Settings play an important role in her books and she often writes in a first-person, dual-narrator structure with complex characters who may be psychologically damaged or morally ambivalent.

She’s already published two other books in 2021: The Strawberry Thief (the fourth in the Chocolat series, including Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), a bittersweet story of motherhood and learning to be yourself; and Honeycomb, a novel built from stories in which every chapter tells a standalone tale, which sits within her folklore/fairytale collection (A Pocketful of Crows, Orfeia and The Blue Salt Road).

This achievement is all the more admirable since, alongside the normal difficulties of living through lockdowns and Coronavirus, Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of last year. With typical generosity, she has decided to share her experience to ‘make it more mundane’ and talks about her diagnosis as ‘Mr C’, a fictional character who has outstayed his welcome: her Twitter updates include the hashtag #GoodbyeMrC.

Harris still lives in Yorkshire, she plays bass and flute in a band first formed with her husband when she was sixteen, and works in a shed in her garden.

If you like Joanne Harris, you might also like Tracy Chevalier, Louis De Bernieres, Helen Fielding, Sebastian Faulks, Kate Atkinson, Salley Vickers, William Boyd, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver and Edward St Aubyn.

Written by Kate.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954 and moved to Britain at the age of five. His fiction has earned him many honours around the world, including the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Booker Prize. His novels have been translated into over fifty languages and The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go and The White Countess have been made into acclaimed films.

Ishiguro was awarded a knighthood in 2018 for Services to Literature, he also holds the decorations of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from Japan.

His novel An Artist of the Floating world was nominated for the Book Prize in 1986 and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award that same year.  In 1989 he won the Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day which later became an Oscar nominated film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

His most recent novel Klara and the Sun explores the relationships between AI and humans as well as the enduring question of what it is to love. The Evening Standard says  “With its hushed intensity of emotion, this fable about robot love and loneliness confirms Ishiguro as a master prose stylist.”

Ishiguro doesn’t limit himself by genre or writing style, it is the unassuming, thoughtful prose which defines his work and draws the reader in with its intelligence and humanity. 

Books by Kazuo Ishiguro are also available to loan as eBooks, aAudio on the BorrowBox app.

Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips, born in St Kitts and brought up in Leeds, has written for television, radio, theatre, and cinema and is the author of three works of non-fiction and eight novels, including Crossing the River which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and an Honorary Fellow of Queens College, Oxford University, among his literary prizes and awards Phillips has won the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Fellowship, and Britain’s oldest literary award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His novel A Distant Shore won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize, and Dancing in the Dark won the 2006 Pen/Beyond the Margins Prize.

Much of his writing – both fiction and non-fiction – has focused on the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade and its consequences for the African Diaspora. The Final Passage (1985), his first novel – which won the Malcolm X Prize for Literature, is the story of a young woman who leaves her home in the Caribbean to start a new life with her husband and baby in 1950s London. His second novel, A State of Independence (1986), is set in the Caribbean and explores the islands’ growing dependency on America. Higher Ground (1989) consists of three narratives linking the lives of a West African slave, a member of the Black Panther movement and a Polish immigrant living in post-war Britain.

Cambridge (1991), his fourth novel, centres on the experiences of a young Englishwoman visiting her father’s plantation in the Caribbean and won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Crossing the River (1993) which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) and was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, follows the separate stories of two brothers and a sister from slavery to a dislocated emancipation. The Nature of Blood (1997) draws parallels between the persecution of Jews in Europe and the black victims of slavery. His most recent novels are In the Falling Snow (2009), The Lost Child (2011), and A View of the Empire at Sunset (2018).

Caryl Phillips’ non-fiction includes a travel narrative, The European Tribe (1987), winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, and The Atlantic Sound (2000), an account of a journey he made to three hubs of the Atlantic slave trade: Liverpool, Elmina on the west coast of Ghana, and Charleston in the American South. In Colour Me English (2011), Phillips explores the notion of identity, how is constructed, thrust upon us, how we can change it.

Phillips is a writer who often appears most at home when he is away, journeying between places. Accordingly, he has remarked that he wishes to be ‘buried’ in the Atlantic, at the crossroads between Britain, Africa and the Caribbean.

Books by Caryl Phillips are available to reserve by clicking the book titles below or to loan as eBooks, eAudio on the BorrowBox app.

Jan Morris

The greatest distance travelled by Jan Morris, was not across the Earth’s surface but from being newspaper reporter James Morris to the female voyager and historian Jan Morris. The Guardian

James’ Morris post-war career as a journalist, writing for The Times and the Manchester Guardian, was balanced with time spent researching and writing travel books, with his unique voice as a travel writer first emerging in the publication of Venice in 1960.

Morris’ approach to travel writing hooked readers. His written voice always sounded certain, but his personal life was overshadowed by the knowledge that the male body of James was an error, and his true identity was female. With the support of his wife Elizabeth, he had reassignment surgery in 1972 and returned from clinic in Casablanca as Jan.

Morris had been denied surgery in the UK because the couple refused to divorce, and wrote in Conundrum (1974), which told most of the story, that the marriage had no right to work, “yet it worked like a dream, living testimony … of love in its purest sense over everything else”.

Morris’s exploration of sexual identities enhanced her trilogy on the social history of the British empire, Pax Britannica (1968), Heaven’s Command (1973) and Farewell the Trumpets (1978). Sometimes she made whimsical choices of subject, and of genre, especially the fantasy-fiction travelogue Last Letters From Hav (1985). Morris acknowledged the indulgence, adding that “the whole oeuvre of travel is one enormous ego-biography”, but the criticisms hurt.

She vowed several times to type no more but could not give up the daily practice of writing, which produced the inspired Fifty Years of Europe (1997), Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001), In My Mind’s Eye (2018), which was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and her final book Thinking Again which was published in 2020.

Upon her death, the lives of Jan and Elizabeth, with whom she had lived for many years as ‘sisters-in-law’ were marked with a memorial stone inscribed in English and Welsh which read: ‘Here are two friends… At the end of one life’

Books by Jan Morris are also available to loan as eBooks, aAudio on the BorrowBox app.