Flash Fiction: Ära ava

venice-fatima

Sometimes he took a box home, a perk of the job. Bottled water when the supply went bad, live crabs for Feliks his Estonian friend, ice-cream for his nephews.

Ära ava*, was printed on the box’s side. An exotic fruit he thought; too heavy for herbal tea. When Feliks came around with the Friday night vodka and blood sausage, he put the box under the table.

In the morning he remembered the fruit: oranges, maybe, to cure a hangover. The box was open and empty on the kitchen table, Feliks’s glasses smashed upon the floor.

(*Estonian for Do Not Open)

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This is a 100-word (exactly) flash fiction story, inspired by the picture above, provided by Fatima Fakier Deria. Click here to join in and here to read other writers’ stories.

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My American publisher, Tin House, is offering US readers the opportunity to join their ‘Galley Club’ for my third novel, Bitter Orange. Galley Club readers receive an early copy of Bitter Orange, in exchange for answering a questionnaire, and leaving a review of the book. Sign up here by June 27.

Flash fiction: Bird of Paradise

meep-by-the-window

She wears a hat she’s made herself. No so much a hat, more a creation of feathers, net and fluff on the side of her head, as though an exotic creature is about to take flight. Understanding her place she hangs back behind the other mourners, his white wife and his sad children. She remembers the eleven years of Tuesday afternoons when he’d whisper my bird of paradise in her ear and tuck the money under the pillow. Now, after everyone’s gone she holds the hat over the coffin in the ground, pauses, and then re-pins it to her hair.

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This is a 100-word (exactly) flash fiction story, inspired by the picture above, provided by Jean L Hayes. Click here to join in and to read other writers’ stories. It’s a long time since I’ve written a Friday Fictioneers story. I’ve missed it.

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My third novel, Bitter Orange will be published in less than two months in the UK by Penguin. You can read the first paragraph here.

Bitter Orange published in two months

Bitter Orange jacket: Oranges and dark leaves, with smashed plate

 

In two months, Bitter Orange, my third novel will be published in the UK by Fig Tree / Penguin. Lots of proofs have gone out, and reviews from booksellers and quotes from other authors are starting to come in, and suddenly it feels very real. Exciting and terrifying.

In anticipation of the publication, I thought you might like to read the first paragraph, and if it tempts you, links for pre-ordering are below.

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They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in. Perhaps they are right, although this day feels no different from yesterday, and I imagine tomorrow will go on much the same. The vicar – no, not vicar, he has a different title, I forget – is older than me by a good few years, his hair is grey, and his skin is flaky and red, sore-looking. I didn’t ask for him; what faith I’d once had was tested and found lacking at Lyntons, and before that my church attendance was a habit, a routine for Mother and me to arrange our week around. I know all about routine and habit in this place. It is what we live, and what we die, by.

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I’d love you to go into your local independent book shop and pre-order Bitter Orange, or your local chain book shop. But if that’s not possible, you can pre-order here online:  here (UK), here (US), or here (Canada).

 

The Oddest Thing Found in a UK library book

Reading agency

I’ve recently had the good fortune (or perhaps misfortune) to judge the winner of the oddest thing ever found in a library book for the Reading Agency, and it was an illuminating experience.

It seems readers are a mucky lot. Librarians found a lot of unmentionables, that I’m not of course, going to mention, as well as a great deal of food. Bacon rashers – cooked and raw – featured prominently, as did chocolate bars, or their wrappers, orange peel, a chicken bone (we hope!), and mummified pizza. One librarian even found a fried egg, while another came across a kipper (luckily still in its vacuum-packed plastic).

A few readers were more considerate of those wonderful people who look after our books, and inserted between the pages ‘A Note From Emily,’ saying why she’d enjoyed the book, and in another, a letter saying how much that borrower loved their library.

But people can be forgetful, clearly grabbing the closest thing to hand to use as a bookmark, including postcards, a ‘herbal’ cigarette, train tickets, receipts, hairclips, loo roll, ribbons, spooky tarot cards, and quite a bit of money. Some of the money was reunited with its owners, as was the baby scan photo found in a parenting book.

However, librarians aren’t completely blameless when it comes to forgetfulness. Staff at one library found a debit card in a book and just as a particular librarian started criticising the stupidity of the debit card owner, she looked at the card and it was hers. Another library found a red sock in a fiction book which was claimed by an ex member of staff. When she was asked about it, she said she couldn’t find anything else to use as a bookmark.

But after sifting through all the entries, I’m pleased to announce that the winner is the entry from Rachael Smart (@smartrachael) on Twitter, who runs the book club for The Motherload. She found the sinisterly beautiful and appropriate, pressed cabbage white butterfly, ‘fragile as lace, tucked inside the pages of The Silence of the Lambs’.

Thank you to everyone who entered. You have given me a great deal of entertainment, even if that did include quite a bit of squealing in disgust.

And to read about the oddest things that Americans found in library books click here.

Bitter Orange UK Cover Reveal

Bitter Orange jacket: Oranges and dark leaves, with smashed plate

I’m very excited to be able to let you see the UK cover design for Bitter Orange. The book will be published by Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin on 2nd August. I absolutely love the oranges design and the broken plate (very relevant to the story), but I’d really like to know what you think. I’m also very grateful to Gabriel Tallent (author of My Absolute Darling), for his wonderful quote.

The book is already available to pre-order from your friendly local independent book shop, or from those online places (you know where).

Here’s the jacket copy for the proof (the final wording is likely to change)

Description of what Bitter Orange is about.

If you’d like to see what the US cover will be, click here.

 

Cover Reveal for Bitter Orange (US)

Bitter Orange_cover hi-res.jpg

I’m absolutely delighted to reveal the cover for the US version of my third novel, Bitter Orange, which will be published on October 9th by Tin House. I’d love to know what you think!

From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them―Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious. The couple is spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. But she’s distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.

Before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes until the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled. But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up, and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever.

Bitter Orange is available to pre-order from your local independent bookstore (please consider using them first), or Amazon.

(The UK cover will be revealed in the next few weeks.)

Three Years Since Our Endless Numbered Days was Published

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I can’t believe it’s been three years since my debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was first published. The book has introduced me to some wonderful people, and has given me amazing experiences. Here are 10 things you might not know about me and this book:

  1. I can’t play the piano (there is a lot about piano music in the book), but I can just about read music thanks to a year of oboe lessons when I was fourteen.
  2. My mother is German, but like the mother in the book she never taught me German. (That’s the only resemblance my mother has to Ute.)
  3. The book was originally going to be called The Great Divide, and then Briar Rose (after Sleeping Beauty), until I decided on Our Endless Numbered Days (from the album by Iron and Wine whom I listened to while writing).
  4. I chose the name Reuben for one of the characters because that’s one I had on a list of possible names for my son before he was born. (He ended up with Henry.)
  5. When I was writing the book a friend shot me a squirrel and kept it in his freezer so I could see what it would be like to skin it, cook it, and eat it. (It went rancid when it was defrosted and I never even saw it.)
  6. As a child I was as obsessed with the film of The Railway Children as Peggy is. My sister had the album and I listened to it so often I can still quote it.
  7. The book was inspired by the real-life story of a teenager who turned up in Berlin saying he’d been living in the German forests for the previous five years.
  8. At the UK launch we had a chocolate cake in the shape of a cabin. It all got eaten. (Very Hansel and Gretel.)
  9. I am much more aware now of disaster preparedness and will sometimes buy more cans of beans than we actually need.
  10. I didn’t go to Germany for research, but I did walk the woods near where I live in England. I wanted to spend the night alone in them, but when it came down to it, I was too frightened.

 

Buy a copy of Our Endless Numbered Days via these outlets.
Read an article about what I’d learnt a year after Our Endless Numbered Days was published.
Watch a video of me drawing the cabin from Our Endless Numbered Days.
Contact me to ask me about the book, or if you’d like a set of book club questions.

Flash Fiction: White-out

dale-rogerson-snow-photo

Petersen tensed, peering. The headlights showed snow coming down thick and two feet of white road. He felt the wheels skate, and he braked without thinking. Beside him, Julius slammed his hands against the dashboard and swore, while the car turned in a circle, graceful even in its gliding. And then a hard, heavy lurch forwards into a ditch.
‘Christ, oh Christ,’ Julius cried.
‘It’s alright,’ Petersen said. Calmness he’d feigned for so long he almost believed it.
‘We’ll be too late!’
‘We’ll walk.’ Petersen took his doctor’s bag from the back seat and clambered out into the storm.

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This is a 100-word flash fiction, inspired by the picture, provided by Dale Rogerson. Click here to join in and read others’ stories.

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This week my second novel, Swimming Lessons, was selected by YOU Magazine in the UK as their Reading Group book. Click here to buy it at a discount, to see some book club questions, and to read an exclusive piece by me about what’s true and what isn’t in the novel.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever found in a library book?

Reading agency

Win a reading set of Swimming Lessons

Following on from the US competition about the oddest thing ever found in a library book, a UK version has now been launched. The Reading Agency and Penguin want librarians and UK book groups to tell them the oddest thing they’ve found in a book, for a chance to win a reading set of my latest novel, Swimming Lessons.

The book is partly about Ingrid, who writes letters to her husband and hides them in the books that he collects. And he collects books for their marginalia and the things that previous readers have left behind in them.

It’s always fascinated me – what gets left in a book. It makes me think about the person who read it before me and what they thought of it, or perhaps where they were when they were reading and what else they were doing, because I suspect that not everything left behind in library books should really be there, not even as bookmarks. The American competition turned up many instances of food and other things that people put between the pages for safe keeping and forgot.

To enter, either email your entry to kathleen.ktorides@readingagency.org.uk or tweet it using #SwimmingLessons and tagging @ReadingAgency. The competition closes on 8 March when I’ll judge the weirdest entry. The winner will receive 12 signed copies of Swimming Lessons for their reading group or UK public library.

If you’d like book group questions for either my first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, or for Swimming Lessons, drop me a line.

And if you’re in a book group, I’d recommend you joining the Reading Agency – it’s free and there’s lots of information on books that make good book group reads, as well as the occasional giveaway.