Tag Archives: Helen Dunmore

Zennor in Darkness

Zennor in DarknessZennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore

Penguin: paperback published 2007: 315 pages

Spring 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories.

Into this turmoil come D.H. Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London. They befriend Clare Coyne, a young artist struggling to console her beloved cousin, John William, who is on leave from the trenches and suffering from shell-shock.

Yet the dark tide of gossip and innuendo means that Zennor is neither a place of recovery nor of escape…

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and DisappearedThe Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Hesperus Press: paperback published 2009: 387 pages

You’re never too old for an adventure…

Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not…

Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window, into the flowerbed, Allan makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century. Continue reading

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Keep it Short

Short storyThere seems to be a flurry of affection for the short story of late. Between the inaugural Costa Short Story Award and the revived publicity for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, we’re having a grand love affair with that small and mighty type of writing. Continue reading

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Neil Gaiman and Meg Rosoff: A Reflection

After the haphazard previous blog post, I have realised that, with reflection and a fortnight’s distance, I would much rather write a full post on the wonderment of the Neil Gaiman/Meg Rosoff talk, the way I imagined it before I crumpled the front of my car … Continue reading

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A Spell of Winter

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Penguin Fiction: paperback published 2007: 313 pages

Catherine and her brother, Rob, don’t know why they have been abandoned by their parents. Incarcerated in the enormous country house of their grandfather – ‘the man from nowhere’ – they create a refuge against their family’s dark secrets, and against the outside world as it moves towards the First World War. As time passes, their sibling love deepens and crosses into forbidden territory. But they are not as alone in the house as they believe…


Did I mention that Helen Dunmore is my favourite author? No? Well, she’s my favourite author. She began her writing career as a poet, and then went on to short stories and novels (both adult and children’s). And it shows in her writing – each novel I have read is almost lyrical, and when describing Dunmore, I prefer the term “wordsmith” rather than “novelist”… it seems to fit her poetic descriptions and way of writing.

And A Spell of Winter is no different. I found the blurb didn’t really match the story – the First World War, though featuring, isn’t as heavily implicated as much as the blurb suggests, and the grandfather is rarely referred to as “the man from nowhere” at all. But the story is beautiful nonetheless. Cathy gives a dreamy narrative, tinged with grief and also a sense of dissociation, which is a peculiar mix at first, but you soon become familiar with her voice and learn to roll with it. Dunmore’s novels are very character-heavy as opposed to plot-driven, so if you like lots of action, her writing is definitely not for you. I will admit, however, that this novel is not my favourite of hers (Talking to the Dead is, though her children’s Ingo series is pretty close). Cathy is not overly likeable, and neither are any of the other characters, so I found it hard to relate to anyone. The story is beautiful in that you hope for the best, but like real life, it doesn’t always happen that way. It’s hard to review this book properly, because it’s so dreamlike, it’s hard to describe. The best bit – by far – was Dunmore’s descriptions of the seasons. When she talks about the winter, you feel cold to your bones, and when she describes the roses in the summer you can smell them and feel the heat on your skin.

Rating: 8/10

Next book: I’ve chosen The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – a Young Adult novel – because there’s a film of it coming up, and they’ve FINALLY done an “adult-suitable” cover. Also, I figure it could be a quick read.

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Story Cubes

Tuesday was Tea with Bits Day. We did the usual – meet in Caffè Nero in Waterstones and put the world to rights, and then spend the next hour browsing to our hearts’ content. I had a couple of books in mind that I wanted to get: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (in the posh new cover, not the teen one) and Ulysses by James Joyce (after a long discussion with E at work, who happens to be a bit of a Joycian). Well, I failed on the first point, but managed to nab a copy of Ulysses and also a copy of The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore – because after my last post I was too overwhelmingly excited to wait. Standing at the till – waving loyalty card and stamp card and money at the bookseller with too much enthusiasm – I noticed THESE little bad boys. Have you ever had those decision dice that you rolled to decide what to do (“homework”, “eat”, “sleep” etc.)? These are almost the same – dice with little images on that help you decide what to write a story about. You simply start with Once Upon a Time and use the upward facing pictures for the rest.

Okay, so they’re a daft little game to pass the time (and procrastinate) and I’m pretty sure most of the stories I can come up with are surreal humour pieces, but I really fell in love with them. Just think of the possibilities!

So I’m starting a blog game… Each week I will roll the dice and write up the short story for all to see. However, before that begins, I thought I’d let you lot have a go.

Here’s what the dice have given you today!

Crescent moon
Shooting star

Let me know what you come up with – I will be posting my own short story from this soon.

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The New Horror

Be prepared – with the bitter winds comes terrifying stories. And I can barely contain my excitement for this!

One of my favourite authors of all time, Helen Dunmore, is heading to horror fiction!

The Greatcoat, published by Hammer Books, is set in the 1950s and has been described as a spectral romance. But it’s not only Dunmore (the mistress of the word, in my humble opinion) who is heading for horror. Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, will have a horror novel published this summer, telling a story based on the Pendle witch trials in 1612. And Judy Finnigan’s Eloise will be published by Sphere in Autumn, whilst Melvin Burgess’ novel is headed for bookshelves early next year.

I’m not a great horror reader, but I am so excited over Helen Dunmore’s foray into the genre. I literally own every single book she has ever published – her children’s books, poems and adult novels – and I have never once disliked any of it. Of her new venture, Helen Dunmore says:

“Elizabeth Bowen’s work influences me a lot, particularly The Demon Lover. I also love Daphne du Maurier… I was drawn to the genre because it is intensely dramatic material. To some extent it is a psychological playground. You wonder what is the match between the ghost and the person who is haunted. What is there in the past that has driven them to this point?”

Are you an avid horror fan? What do you think of new horror writers? (And how many Dunmore fans are there out there!?)

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