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.

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.

Interview with Louise Doughty – author of Apple Tree Yard and Black Water

Louise Doughty, author of Apple Tree Yard joins us at Winchester Discovery Centre on March 29 to discuss her new book Black Water, with fellow authors Kate Hamer, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and Emma Flint, author of Little DeathsTickets are available now.

Black Water

John Harper is in hiding in a remote hut on a tropical island. As he lies awake at night, listening to the rain on the roof, he believes his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of what he’s already done.

In a nearby town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own tragic history. They begin an affair, but can they offer each other redemption? Or do the ghosts of the past always catch up with us in the end?

Apple Tree Yard

Louise Doughty’s seventh novel Apple Tree Yard is about a woman who makes one rash choice that ends up putting her on trial at the Old Bailey for the most serious of crimes. But what is that choice and what’s the (real) place on the map in central London called ‘Apple Tree Yard’ got to do with it? Part-psychological thriller, part-personal morality tale and part-courtroom drama, Apple Tree Yard really will have you hooked from the very first page. Here to tell us more about it is the author, in conversation recently with her Faber editor, Sarah Savitt.

[SS] The novel’s prologue had me on the edge of my seat. At first Yvonne seems certain that she will be found innocent of murder, but when she realises the barrister knows about Apple Tree Yard, she fears she will lose everything and be sent to prison. Was the prologue the first scene you wrote? Could you talk a bit about how you began to write the novel, what the genesis of it was?

[LD] Yes, in this case, the prologue was the first thing I wrote. It came to me hard and fast, at around 10pm one evening, a time when I normally just want to watch the news with a camomile tea and think about going to bed. I had a sudden idea for a novel opening with a woman being caught out on the witness stand at the Old Bailey – and I went to my computer and wrote the whole scene at once. As soon as the barrister mentions Apple Tree Yard, the woman knows it’s all over; she is about to be exposed and her life will be destroyed.

At the time I wrote that scene, I didn’t know the details of what had let her to court but I did know what had happened in Apple Tree Yard, which is a real place – a small back alley in Westminster. I was actually planning on writing a completely different novel when I wrote that prologue, but once Apple Tree Yard came to me, I was possessed by it and couldn’t write anything else.

Part of your research for the novel involved sitting though a murder trial. Could you tell us a bit more about this experience and how it affected the writing of Apple Tree Yard?

I managed to get special permission from a judge to sit in the well of a court throughout a three-week murder trial at the Old Bailey. I was embedded with the prosecution team and sitting right behind treasury counsel: I had access to all the evidence, including the forensics, and every lunchtime and coffee break I was hanging out with the murder squad who had investigated the case.

At the beginning of the trial, I had the bones of my story and had written quite a lot, so at first I thought I was just after authentic description and detail – but the whole experience was so fascinating, the legal and moral issues involved, that even though I already had my story, much of what happened at the Old Bailey really informed my plot. I also managed to wangle my way into the cell area and the judge’s chambers. I love research and I’ve always enjoyed bluffing myself into areas I’m not supposed to go. I think I’m actually a frustrated spy.

Apple Tree Yard is on one level a novel about an affair – like so many well-loved classic novels, for example Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. What is your favourite novel of adultery? Does writing about an affair in 21st century Britain, where divorce is so commonplace, have a different charge to it?

Well of course what Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina have in common is they both commit suicide – the classic fate of the adulterous, disturbed or immoral woman – whereas my heroine ends up on trial at the Old Bailey for murder. I guess we can call that progress. I was very keen that Yvonne should not be a victim and not turn her anger in on herself – she’s a grown up woman, highly intelligent and organized, a top scientist. She indulges in one impetuous act and her whole life spins out of control, but she makes her own decisions and some of them are morally dubious. She’s a very 21st century heroine.

Hilary Mantel has said this novel is about ‘the fine line women walk’ and I think that’s very true. Writing about adultery nowadays is certainly different from the nineteenth century. In theory women have much more freedom but with that comes more responsibility – and there is still a strong sense that a woman’s morality is judged in terms of her sexual morality. Yvonne is a good person, who has worked hard at a responsible job and raised a family but that’s not the criteria she gets judged by when she steps out of line.

Yvonne meets X, the man she has an affair with, at the Houses of Parliament, while she is giving evidence to a Select Committee, and much of their relationship is conducted around Westminster. Could you talk about why you set the novel in this part of London?

I really enjoyed setting a novel in the areas of London that people associate with the power structures in our society; the Houses of Parliament and the general Westminster area, the Old Bailey. There does seem to be something about those high octane, self-important jobs that makes people more prone to the drama of an affair. X is a man who needs excitement; he’s addicted to it. Yvonne has been organized and conventional all her life, but when she is offered that kind of thrill, she accepts immediately, in a way that suggests she has always missed it without knowing it. And the environs of Westminster, the parks and cafes and alleyways, are a gift to any novelist – particularly if you’re writing a novel about secrets and power structures of different sorts and how they affect our personal relationships

I love that this novel is both a compulsive thriller and an examination of the values we live by. How important is plot to you as a writer, and as a reader? Where do you start when you’re writing – with theme or plot – or something else?

I always start with plot and that’s something I’m quite unapologetic about, although I occasionally get the feeling that some of our literary critics would like me to apologise for it a bit more. My first drafts are always very sketchy and, to be honest, quite badly written – I’m just getting through the mechanics of the story. But there’s nothing I love more than re-writing, adding layers, complexity, really tinkering with the prose and the imagery, weighing every adjective and comma and licking it into shape. That’s the bit where I feel like a writer.

Thematically, it’s common for me to work out what a novel is really about quite close to the end – sometimes I’ve stopped in the middle of meal with a fork halfway to my mouth (only when I’m on my own, you’ll be pleased to hear) and said to myself, ah, that’s what it’s about. There is also a difference between what a novel is ‘about’ in the public sense, what you’ll admit to, the line you’ll use to intrigue someone into reading it, and what it’s ‘about’ in terms of what was going on in your head and your heart as you were writing it. I rarely admit to the latter.

Yvonne’s experience of the working world and then the criminal justice system is a thought-provoking and sometimes shocking exploration of how women are viewed, valued and judged by our society, what they are allowed and expected to do, and what happens when they break the rules. Do you see Apple Tree Yard as a feminist novel? Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes, and yes – of course yes. I actually think all my novels are political with a small p. I hope my viewpoint is hidden well behind character and story, but it’s always there. With Apple Tree Yard, the themes are more overt, because it has a woman character at the mercy of our criminal justice system. The more research I did, the more disheartened I became about how women are viewed within that system, whether as victims, witnesses or defendants. Stereotypical views of what makes a woman reliable, truthful, or conversely ‘bad’ still abound, and a woman is still seen through the distorting prism of her sexual history.

While I was at the Old Bailey, the Millie Dowler trial was going on in the next-door court and I saw her parents in the corridors from time to time. The way that family was treated in the witness box was appalling. The same summer, we had the Dominic Strauss Kahn case in New York and Kenneth Clarke’s comments on sexual assault on Radio Five Live. As Yvonne says in Apple Tree Yard at such times, it can become suddenly difficult to find your way around your own kitchen.

Yvonne was such a powerful character that I almost believed she existed by the end of the novel. How do you approach character when you’re writing a novel?

I tend to home in on the question: what makes this character different from me? That’s where the fertile ground is. In the case of Yvonne, it was important that she’s a scientist, a leading geneticist, a woman who has proved herself in very male, intellectual field. Creating her was something of a challenge when I only just managed to scrape an ‘E’ in O-level chemistry. I visited the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute outside Cambridge and had a tour of the premises and talked to Principal Investigators there, the people who run the labs. I even have a photo of me on the only occasion I will ever wear a lab coat. I took a geneticist involved in protein sequencing – Yvonne’s field – out to dinner, a woman who had been involved in naming genes as they were discovered during the early stages of the Human Genome Project. I read quite a few texts books where I scarcely understood a word.

What intrigued me, of course, was the human application of all this. There is so much about genetics that plugs into issues of personal morality: to what extent are we at the mercy of what we inherit and to what extent are we socially conditioned – and at one point does pure choice enter our lives? This isn’t a novel about science but it was very important to me that the main character was someone who has lived by science almost as a religion, as a way of making sense of her life: then something happens to her, a grand passion, that all her rationalities cannot explain.

I hope that readers will be sympathetic to Yvonne’s plight even as they are disturbed by her choices. In many ways, this novel is a plea for all of us to be less judgmental of other people but particularly of women who don’t necessarily fit the conventional idea of what a woman should be.

Thanks to faber.co.uk.

To get a copy of the Apple Tree Yard book or DVD from your library, see our catalogue listings.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

About the book

Across the globe, millions of computer screens flicker with the artfully coded world of T’Rain – an addictive internet role-playing game of fantasy and adventure. But backstreet hackers in China have just unleashed a contagious virus called Reamde, and as it rampages through the gaming world spreading from player to player – holding hard drives hostage in the process – the computer of one powerful and dangerous man is infected, causing the carefully mediated violence of the on-line world to spill over into reality. A fast-talking, internet-addicted mafia accountant is brutally silenced by his Russian employers, and Zula – a talented young T’Rain computer programmer – is abducted and bundled on to a private jet. As she is flown across the skies in the company of the terrified boyfriend she broke up with hours before, and a brilliant Hungarian hacker who may be her only hope, she finds herself sucked into a whirl of Chinese Secret Service agents and gun-toting American Survivalists; the Russian criminal underground and an al-Qaeda cell led by a charismatic Welshman; each a strand of a connected world that devastatingly converges in T’Rain. An inimitable and compelling thriller that careers from British Columbia to South-West China via Russia and the fantasy world of T’Rain, Reamde is an irresistible epic from the unique imagination of one of today’s most individual writers.

Reviewed by Bookwombs

Too long to read in one month! Lots of excess detail, but once it gets going, really gripping. Would have made a great film

star rating **

 

Read this book

Request to borrow a reading book set

http://www3.hants.gov.uk/borrow-book-sets.htm

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

About the book

A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, he is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold. Greene’s gripping thriller, exposes a world of loneliness and fear, of life lived on the ‘dangerous edge of things’.

Reviewed by Novel Ideas

“Well written with an excellent atmosphere. It certainly got people talking about the past. Enjoyable.

star rating ***

 

Read this book

Request to borrow a reading book set

http://www3.hants.gov.uk/borrow-book-sets.htm

61 hours by Lee Child

About the book

Winter in South Dakota. A bus skids and crashes and is stranded in a storm. There’s a small town 20 miles away, where a vulnerable witness is guarded around the clock. There’s a strange stone building five miles further on, all alone on the prairie. And there’s a ruthless man who controls everything from the warmth of Mexico.

Reviewed by The Accidental Group

A modern western! The story and characters were very well constructed. The tension was built admirably to a wonderful climax. Highly recommended.

Star rating: ****

Read this book

Request to borrow a reading group set
 
 

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Joe Spork repairs clockwork and lives above his shop in a wet, unknown bit of London. All Joe wants is a quiet life, but when he fixes one particularly unusual device his life is suddenly upended. The client? Unknown. And the device? Its a 1950s doomsday machine.

Review by Monday, Monday Reading Group

Although not everyone liked it, we were agreed that it was well written – comparisons to Neil Gaiman, Mervyn Peake and Douglas Adams were very apt, and it was noted that Terry Gilliam could make a great film from it. In summary : a Hieronymous Bosch painting of a book, descriptive, dark and quite manic

Star rating: ***

Read this book

Request to borrow a reading group set
 
 

The Tenderness of wolves by Stef Penney

As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a woman steers herself for the journey of a lifetime. A man has been brutally murdered and her 17-year old son has disappeared. To clear her son’s name, she has no choice but to follow the tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin.

Reviewed by Kings Somborne Reading Group

A gripping adventure, strong characterisation but rather anachronistic language. Wonderful descriptions and imagery of the harsh landscape and climate. An air of suspicion and uneasiness pervades the story. There were some loose ends but that didn’t bother most of the group, although not all agreed about the books worth.

Star rating: ***

Read this book

Request to borrow a reading group set

Side tracked by Henning Mankell

About the book

Midsummer approaches, and Wallander prepares for a holiday with the new woman in his life, hopeful that his wayward daughter and his ageing father will cope without him. But his summer is ruined when a girl commits suicide before his eyes, and a former minister of justice is butchered in the first of a series of apparently motiveless murders.
Wallander’s hunt for the girl’s identity and his furious pursuit of a killer who scalps his victims will throw him and those he loves most into terrible danger.
WINNER OF THE CRIME WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION GOLD DAGGER.

Reviewed by Andover NWR:

All the group loved it! We liked the detective, enjoyed the dour humour and felt that the book portrayed an accurate account of police work ie the officers had to do boring, repetitive jobs, but the read was by no means boring and repetitive. A little gory in parts, but we’ll read more of his books.

Star rating:****

Read the book

Request to borrow a reading group set