Eva Jordan in conversation with publisher @janefspencer @EyriePress

 

Eva in conversation with Jane Spencer

 

Earlier this month I reviewed the wonderfully illustrated children’s story The Hospital Hoppities (see my review here), published by Eyrie Press. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a chat with Jane Spencer, the publisher and managing director behind the local press who published this lovely children’s story. 

 

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  1. Hi Jane, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and about Eyrie Press?

 

Hi Eva. I’m an editor and proofreader living in March, Cambridgeshire. I home educated my four children and realised there weren’t many books that featured home educating families, at least not in a positive way, so I decided to address that and publish some! I set up Eyrie Press as a social enterprise and then broadened its horizons to publish books that take a non-tokenistic approach to featuring other communities underrepresented in fiction, or books by writers from East Anglia. We also run local writing and publishing workshops from time to time and have an annual short story competition exclusively for East Anglian writers.

 

  1. The Hospital Hoppities is such a lovely, beautifully illustrated book and is the perfect companion for small children that have to spend time in hospital. How and why did Eyrie Press get involved with its publication?

 

Charlotte, the author, submitted it to us and it was such a lovely idea that we knew straight away we wanted to publish it. As a story which aims to make families in hospital feel ‘seen’ in children’s literature, and which empowers its main character with a helping role rather than a dependent one, it very much ticked our boxes! We put out a call on Facebook for an illustrator and were delighted to find Anjalee, who did an amazing job of bringing the story to life. We could hardly believe this was the first book she’d illustrated!

 

  1. And finally, for all those budding writers out there, I understand you are open for submissions. What, ideally, is Eyrie Press looking for?

 

Going forward, we’re focusing on well-crafted novels and novellas in the genres of contemporary, historical and speculative fiction. We’d really like submissions that are by writers from East Anglia (which we define as Cambridgeshire, Peterborough Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire), or which feature underrepresented communities. There are more details on our website www.eyriepress.co.uk and you can get some hints as to what I like in a submission by reading the Q&A I did over at The Book Stewards blog! www.thebookstewards.com/qa-with-jane-spencer-of-eyrie-press

Jane Spencer

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Eva Jordan reviews… The Hospital Hoppities by Charlotte Hartley-Jones Illustrated by Anjalee Burrows @anjaleebee Published by @EyriePress

 

Eve Reviews The Hospital Hoppities

My book review this month is something a little different for me. The Hospital Hoppities is a beautifully illustrated children’s story aimed at younger children that have to spend extended periods of time in hospital, the idea being to make their stay a little less scary and a lot more fun.

Ollie, a little boy waiting for his operation, is bored. His wise old grandmother tells him about the Hospital Hoppities: small, furry rabbits, with big eyes, shimmering fur and log floppy ears. They are, according to Ollie’s grandmother, magic rabbits that live in hospitals. “They look after the children and help the hospital be a happier place, but they don’t like to be seen”, so most of the time they make themselves invisible. They do this by thumping their back paw. However, one-day Ollie spots a Hospital Hoppity in the drawer of his hospital bedside cabinet. Somehow he has got his paw stuck. Ollie helps the Hoppity release his paw but when he taps it to make himself invisible, it doesn’t work. The Hospital Hoppity then asks Ollie for help, and between them they fly around the wards of the hospital carrying out good deeds.

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Charlotte Hartley-Jones, the author of this delightful story, is a trained clinical psychologist and writer. She was inspired to write this story after her own first-hand experience of life on a hospital ward with a son with a chronic medical condition. She was keen to write something children could relate to, especially those that spend a lot of time in hospital, by taking some of the fear out of the experience. Therefore, although the story itself doesn’t focus on individual health conditions, the beautiful illustrations by Anjalee Burrows, a digital illustrator, do show medical equipment like heart monitors, drip stands and hospital staff wearing stethoscopes and scrubs, helping to ‘normalise’ such things. The storyline also empowers Ollie, the main character, by giving him a helping role, instead of a dependent one.

 

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The Hospital Hoppities is a wonderfully magical, beautifully illustrated story that is both entertaining and comforting, especially for small children that have to spend time in hospital. It also makes the perfect companion for children visiting siblings and loved ones in hospital, helping to ‘normalise’ what can sometimes be a very daunting experience.

 

Hardcover: 32 pages

Publisher: Eyrie Press (30 Jun. 2019)

 

Hope Springs Eternal

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”

– Desmond Tutu

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Back in April this year I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland. If you’ve never been I highly recommend it. Dating back to the 7th century it is one of Poland’s oldest cities, rich in history and culture. It is also one of the few eastern European cities to escape bombing during World War II, which is why many of the streets and architecture remain exactly as they were before the war. In 1939, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Third Reich began rounding up all Jewish residents and confining them to overcrowded ghettos before later deporting them to concentration camps. Which was another reason for my visit to Krakow—I wanted to visit the nearby infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and pay my respects to the many innocent men, women and children that had been imprisoned and, in most cases, murdered there.

First stop was the Auschwitz camp where we entered via the notorious iron gates and emblazoned words “Arbeit Macht Frei” ­­­­­­­(Work Sets You Free). My biggest fear at this point was that people would attempt to take selfies––thankfully no one did, with those taking photos (myself included) doing so quietly and discreetly. Walking through the gates I noticed the old lookout towers and surrounding, once electrified, barbed wire fencing, which made me shiver, despite the warm weather. Our guide then led us to various rooms in numbered buildings known as blocks, which had once housed prisoners, some of which now contain physical reminders of those murdered. It was heart breaking to witness the hills of human hair, shoes, hairbrushes, clothes, and toothbrushes displayed behind glass panels. Equally appalling were the standing chambers, suffocation chambers, starvation chambers and the firing wall of notorious Block 11—otherwise known as the punishment chamber.

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Our next stop (10 mins drive away) was Birkenau (which reportedly held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944) also known as Auschwitz II. Built to keep up with mass European arrests taking place it evolved into a network of camps where most prisoners were exterminated, often in gas chambers, or used as slave labour, while other prisoners were subjected to barbaric medical experiments led by Josef Mengele. Our guide took us inside what was once one of the women’s barracks. These were brick buildings often housing up to 700 people, sometimes more, containing three-tier wooden bunks (sleeping up to six or seven people to each bunk), shoddily built, lacking any real heating or sanitation facilities. Our guide then led us alongside the same train tracks that had transported prisoners from Poland and other parts of Europe via overcrowded cattle trucks into the camp. We then walked the same route to the “shower blocks” that on arrival, most of the elderly men and women, and women with young children believed they were going to, with the promise of a hot meal and a bed afterwards. History tells us otherwise though, and we now know they were in fact marched straight to their deaths via the gas chambers, their bodies then burned in the nearby crematorium.

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As our tour ended, I took stock for a moment and looked up, feeling the heat of the sun on my face. I wondered how the prisoners of the camp must have felt on the days the sun shined for them, if they found the energy to notice or enjoy it—even for a few seconds? I concluded that what I found most difficult to believe about Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the many other camps like it, was that its mass extermination of ordinary people took place very recently, less than eighty years ago to be exact. And it wasn’t just Jews that were targeted, many non-jewish artists, writers, journalists, teachers, politicians, Romas, communists, homosexuals, and mentally and physically disabled people met their death––anyone basically, deemed unfit for Nazi Germany. Sadly though (although perhaps not on the scale of the Holocaust), our history books are littered with accounts of genocide, both before and since World War II.

However, there have been many inspiring accounts of survival since those terrible events took place. Stories about people that never gave up hope, who went on to live full lives, many of whom married and had families of their own. Ten years ago I was privileged enough to meet Eva Clarke, one of the Holocaust’s youngest known survivors. After spending time in Auschwitz, her mother, Anka, gave birth to Eva on a wooden cart in the shadow of the prison gates of Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria in April 1945. Eva explained how her mother once told her that before her incarceration she would never have predicted being able to withstand such an experience, but when it happened, and for no real logical reason, she just assumed she would survive, attributing a bit of luck and the overwhelming love for her unborn child as one of her greatest motivators to keep going.

So, as long as there is good in the world, and love, there is always, I believe, hope.

 

Eva Jordan reviews… The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris Published by @ZaffreBooks

EJ Reviews The Tattooist of...

 

“Hope begins in the dark,

The stubborn hope that if you just

Show up and try to do the right thing,

The dawn will come.

You wait and watch and work:

You don’t give up”

–– Anne Lamott

 

Having recently visited the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration camps in Poland I knew it was time to read a book that, due to the subject matter, I’d been putting off for a while. However, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, despite the horror and sadness surrounding it, is in fact a love story. One that shows, where possible, even during the most wretched of circumstances, you should never give up hope.

The author’s note at the beginning of the book reads, “This is a work of fiction, based on the first-hand testimony of one Auschwitz survivor”. She suggests reading some of the many detailed accounts available about the holocaust for those that would like further information on the subject. This story, however, in the main, concerns the experiences of survivor Lale Sokolov, a 24-year-old Jewish Slovakian who arrived at Auschwitz–Birkenau in April 1942. Lale becomes the camp tattooist, a position that affords him slightly better food rations and sleeping conditions than most. He hates what he does, “Tattooing the arms of men is one thing; defiling the bodies of young girls is horrifying”, but he does as he’s told because—well, what choice does he have? One day he spots a young woman waiting in line with her number written on a piece of paper. Shaking, she is obviously terrified but Lale takes her hand and begins tattooing her arm. Bravely, she doesn’t flinch, and when he’s finished she smiles at him. Lale discovers her name is Gita, and for him it is love at first sight. With a renewed sense of purpose Lale knows he has to survive Auschwitz, if only to ensure the survival of the woman he loves.

Written in close third person, this is an unsettling story. Having researched the holocaust whilst studying for my degree I am no stranger to the horrors that took place in the Nazi concentration camps. However, I’m also pleased to say, despite my initial trepidation about reading it, Heather Morris has written a tale about friendship and love, and above all else, a story of hope, which, unbelievably, even amongst the everyday occurrences of death, starvation and brutality, people still managed to hold on to. Well-written, honest and brave The Tattooist of Auschwitz doesn’t skirt the atrocities of the holocaust but neither is it too graphic. An engaging and powerful read including a beautifully written afterword by Gary Sokolov – Lale and Gita’s son – who growing up remembers a home filled with “love, smiles, affection, food and my father’s sharp dry wit”––testimony to, if it was needed, the shining strength of the human spirit.

 

Publisher: Zaffre

Paperback: 320 pages

 

The Deepings Literary Festival

If you like going to Literary Festivals but don’t have the means, money or motivation to travel to more established ones that take place throughout the UK literary calendar, you’d do well to remember one that started three years ago.

Following on from the enormous success of the first festival in 2017, Deepings Literary Festival this year was a 4-day event running from 23-26th May, and I was one of the authors invited to take part.

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For those of you who don’t know the area, The Deepings are a series of settlements in the south of Lincolnshire near the River Welland, some 8 miles to the north of Peterborough and 10 miles east of Stamford. The Deepings include: Deeping St James, Deeping St Nicholas, Market Deeping, and West Deeping. The area is very low-lying, and as a Saxon name is translatable to either ‘deep places’ or ‘deep lands’. 

 

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My event took place on the Saturday in Market Deeping but my first stop was Coronation Hall to hear best-selling author Barbara Copperthwaite give a talk. Barbara explained how, although born and bred near the seaside resort of Skegness in Lincolnshire (a location slightly north of The Deepings), she more or less regards herself as local. She discussed how her journalism background has helped her writing and how the flat, rural setting of her childhood has influenced the settings of her psychological thrillers. I had a quick chat with the author afterwards and bought a signed copy of her latest novel The Perfect Friendwhich I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying.

 

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Next up was my event, Read Dating, along with fellow authors, Ross Greenwood, Jane E James, Tony Forder, Helen Claire Gould, Tony Millington, Margaret Castle and Sarah Bennett, which took place at Deeping Library.

 

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Based on the popular speed dating format, Read Dating is a big get together of local authors and readers in one fun-filled event, inviting members of the public to spend ten minutes with eight local authors so they can find out about their books, writing, work in progress and inspiration. The event was extremely well organised, the location perfect, the staff friendly and helpful, and the public, just brilliant. All in all it was a very pleasant, entertaining afternoon, and I even sold a few books to boot.

 

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Other authors that took part in the four-day festival included Sophie Hannah, Milly Johnson, Cathy Cassidy, Cathy Bramley, Lizzie Lamb, Darren O’ Sullivan and Louise Jensen, to name just a few. The festival also incorporated live music including the brilliant, The Bookshop Band, not to mention a plethora of mouth-watering homemade cakes offered for sale (the cheese scones and coffee cake were sublime).

However, if you missed out this year, I am reliably informed that preparations are underway for the next festival which at present is a biennial event, so will take place in 2021.

Put it in your diary folks!

 

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Talking and laughing with writers Graeme Cumming and Esther Chilton

Eva Jordan reviews…To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Published by Arrow @penguinrandom

Eva reviews To Kill a Mockingbird

 

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

It’s a long time since I read a classic and having read a lot of contemporary books of late, I decided I’d like to add a few more classics to my repertoire. Books I’ve promised myself I’d read but have never got round to. This month I chose Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. An instant success when it was first released in 1960, widely read in schools and a Pulitzer Prize winner, it has become a classic of modern American literature. Therefore, it’s safe to say my expectations were high… I’m relieved to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in the sleepy fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression of 1930s America, this story centres on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Narrated in the first person by “Scout” real name Jean Louise Finch, across three years of her life, beginning at age six, the story’s main protagonist looks back in retrospect an unspecified number of years after the events of the novel have taken place. Scout, who also has an older brother, Jeremy “Jem” (a constant playmate and companion), is the daughter of one the town’s well-respected lawyers and hero of this story, Atticus Finch, also defence lawyer for the accused Tom Robinson. Atticus, a widower with a droll sense of humour, has instilled in his children his strong sense of ethics and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality and when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, he exposes himself and his family to the anger and prejudices of the white community. However, with his strongly held beliefs, wisdom and compassion, Atticus serves as the novel’s moral backbone.

Beautifully descriptive, with a court scene that evokes all the senses, this is a humorous, nostalgic, innocent, and, as the novel progresses, increasingly dark and foreboding critique of society, including the era it was written in (there was a lot of civil unrest in America during the 1960s) and the time it was set in. To Kill A Mockingbird was a story of its time, however, it was also, in my humble opinion, a story ahead of its time… one that resonates as much now as it did sixty years ago.

 

Publisher: Arrow; 50th Anniversary edition (2010)

Paperback: 320 pages

 

Eva Jordan reviews… Truly Madly Guilty By Liane Moriarty Published by @PenguinBooks

Eva Jordan Reviews Truly, Madly, Guilty

“This story begins with a barbecue…”

I thoroughly enjoyed Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and the TV adaption was pretty good too, so I was really looking forward to reading Truly Madly Guilty. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. Easy to read with well-written dialogue and deliciously flawed characters, it hooked me from the start.

Set in Sydney, Australia, and centring on a group of friends at a barbecue, it quickly becomes apparent something troubling has taken place, something, which has deeply affected everyone, and keeps you guessing to the end, adding to the suspense and pace. The plot and chapters are character driven with each chapter either flitting back to the day in question, or forwards to the days and weeks that follow it. Written in close third person, the characters are likeable and annoying in equal measure, like real people. Marriage, childhood, parenthood, and friendships are some of the themes explored, and although each character comes with their own set of middle-class, suburban baggage, they are all authentic, well-rounded, and sympathetically drawn individuals. Moriarty uses wit, which is devilishly acerbic at times, and close, almost psychoanalytical observation to show us the three faces of her characters, namely, the face the world sees, the second face, reserved for close friends and family, and the third face – usually the truest reflection of an individual but also the face no one else sees, except, of course, the person themselves. Like all good writers, Moriarty allows the reader access to all these versions of her characters, whilst at the same time observing what makes them tick, including guilt, loneliness, PTSD, and difficult childhoods. When tragedy strikes, Moriarty’s brilliant prose sums up the thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding the event in a way that feels both genuine and relatable via the inner ramblings of one of her characters, Clementine — “This is what it feels like. You don’t change. There is no special protection when you cross the invisible line from your ordinary life to the parallel world where tragedies happen. It happens just like this. You don’t become someone else. You’re still exactly the same. Everything around you still smells and looks and feels exactly the same…”

Brilliantly observed characters with a plausible plot, Truly Madly Guilty has enough twists to keep you turning the pages and enough depth to keep you immersed.

 

Publisher: Penguin (28 July 2016)

Print Length: 320 pages