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Author Talk: Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

We recently caught up with Ayobami Adebayo to ask her a few questions about her debut novel Stay With Me published by Canongate Books.


The majority of your debut novel ‘Stay With Me’ is set in 1980’s, what is it about that time period in Nigeria that you felt your characters should dwell in?


In 1983, a coup put Nigeria under military rule and for the next sixteen years, the country moved from one dictatorship to another. One of the things I find fascinating about that period is that no one imagined that it would take so long for Nigeria to return to democracy. The military ruler in power from 1985 kept unveiling electoral plans that he would then modify and postpone for some reason or the other. He had people hoping and sometimes believing that military rule would soon be over but those hopes were ultimately dashed, over and over again.


I found some parallels between this state of limbo that the Nigerian polity was in and Yejide and Akin’s marriage. For a long time, Yejide keeps hoping and believing that she will get pregnant while Akin thinks that having children will somehow fix the things that are fundamentally wrong with their marriage. When they both get what they want, it’s not quite as they had imagined it would be.  It was interesting to put these characters in a time period when the events unfolding in the country mirror the course of own marriage in some ways.


This wasn’t the first time Nigeria would be under military rule, but from the mid-eighties, we entered a period uniquely characterised by attempts to use language and propaganda to legitimise what was an illegitimate and dangerous government. So, with Akin and Yejide, I was also very interested in the ways they would use language to describe their realities and feed their respective insecurities and illusions.



How long had the story been inside you, did you have it mapped out or did the story occasionally surprise you and tell itself?


I began thinking about Yejide and Akin in 2008 but I didn’t start working on the novel until 2010 and it took some five years to shape it into that even resembles the final draft. I spent the first couple of years trying to map things out and control the narrative but that approach only resulted in failed drafts. In retrospect, it’s funny because I’d written several short stories before I started working on the novel and I’d never mapped out any of them. I was so intimidated by the novel form that I believed everything would fall apart if I didn’t make a plan and stick to it.


It wasn’t until I read what I had already written, tried to figure out how the characters wanted to tell their stories, and finally allowed them to lead the way and surprise me at almost every turn that Stay With Me began to evolve into the novel it is now.


We understand ‘Stay With Me’ grew from a short story you had written, what was it about the story that suggested it wanted to grow?


The characters just wouldn’t go away. I was an undergraduate in the university when I wrote that story and even after I’d completed it, I’d be walking down the hall in my hostel and think – Yejide was living here when she met Akin. The next day, I might look up a statue erected in honour of students who had died in a protest in the eighties and realise that Akin and Yejide also marched in that protest. It felt as though they were both real people who kept following me around and telling me random things about their lives, so I started taking notes.



Akin and Yejide feel so very real, they are touchable relatable people, how did you form their characters and encourage them to reveal their flaws?


They were always quite real to me. Many times, I felt as if I was bearing witness to events that had actually occurred. I had to write myself into their flaws, particularly with Akin, because he’s so reticent, it took several drafts to get him to actually open up.


As I worked on the novel, it was important to make sure that I saw the world primarily from Yejide and Akin’s perspective so that the plot could unfold in a way that is consistent with their personalities and experiences. Every time I went back to edit, I would delete or rewrite sections I could recognise as narrated in my own voice and bits that did nothing but expound my own opinion about an issue. The truth is that because of their own peculiar circumstances, they weren’t always interested in the things that I cared about. I had to learn to make peace with that in order for them to really come to life on the page.



What three words best sum up Nigeria for you and, and when you aren’t there, what do you miss most?


Indescribable, beautiful and perplexing.


I always miss hearing people speak Yoruba around me. There’s something about how its tonality lends  rhythm to the language and the way metaphor is such an integral part of everyday speech that just feeds my mind.  When I’m away, though I hardly watch movies, sometimes I play Yoruba movies on You Tube just to hear conversations play out in Yoruba.


Who is your favourite fictional character? What is it about them that speaks to you?


This keeps changing but I continue to find Sethe from Toni Morrison’s Beloved very intriguing. She is such a strong, flawed and complex character. I love the fact that she isn’t put forward as some ‘ideal’ mother figure, she is just herself in a very real and human way. I find it so remarkable that she is a person who is broken yet undeniably strong.


Who has inspired you the most with your writing and why is that?


My mother. She just believes I can be exceptional at pretty much anything I want to do including writing. I don’t usually feel that way so it’s great to have someone who is so sure about my potential.


If you could choose anywhere in the world to sit down and write, where would it be and what would you like to write?


I’d pick a house somewhere in Jos, Nigeria. I would want to write another novel. Though I’ve carried some of the characters around with me for a while now, I don’t know what the novel would be about. Maybe they’ll reveal that while I’m writing it.

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Hurry – Entries for the 2018 Wicked Young Writer Awards close on 12th March 18


Now in its 8th year, the Wicked Young Writer Awards is a chance for young people from across the UK and Ireland aged between 5 and 25, to write on a theme or subject of their choice, so absolutely anything! It’s your chance to get creative and write on any theme that interests you. Young people are free to submit entries written at home or at school, and teachers are encouraged to enter writing on behalf of their pupils. The judges want to hear your voices through original writing and stories.

FICTION categories – any creative writing will be accepted including a story, play, or poem with five age ranges – 5-7 years old   •   8-10 years old   •   11-14 years old   •   15-17 years old   •   18-25 years old

NON-FICTION categories – enter the Wicked: For Good Award for Non-Fiction and write an article, essay, biography, review or letter, to name a few! – 15-17 years old   •   18-25 years old

Launched in 2010, the free-to-enter, annual creative writing competition for 5-25 year olds raises money for, and awareness of, the National Literacy Trust who campaign to improve public understanding of the vital importance of literacy.  The Wicked Young Writer Awards was established by the long-running musical WICKED to link the important messages of the production with a competition that would inspire young people to use creative writing to look at life a little differently. Since its launch in 2010, over 20,000 entries have been received.

Deadline for entries is  MONDAY 12th MARCH 2018. Entrants can submit their writing by visiting, where they will also find writing tips and resources from the Award judges.

JUDGING PANEL – The acclaimed WICKED YOUNG WRITER AWARDS, created and sponsored by the award-winning musical WICKED in association with the National Literacy Trust, are delighted to announce that author, award-winning journalist and former Labour MP Ed Balls is returning to join on the judging panel, alongside acclaimed Young People’s Laureate for London, Caleb Femi and Editor-in-Chief of First News, Nicky Cox MBE. Author and illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon books, Cressida Cowell, returns as Head Judge for the fourth consecutive year, together with long-standing judges Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust and Michael McCabe, Executive Producer of WICKED.


  • 750-word limit (not including the title words)
  • Entrants must be aged between 5-25 years old when entering the Wicked Young Writer Awards
  • Entries can be hand-written or typed
  • Writing must be original and your own ideas
  • Judges criteria: originality, narrative, descriptive language, characterisation.
  • Ensure that all students include their name, surname and age on the entry form
  • Open to UK residents only

Full Rules can be found at Wicked Young Writer Awards


  • 120 finalists from across the UK will see their work published in the WICKED YOUNG WRITER AWARDS Anthology, which will be published in association with Young Writers ( The 120 finalists are also invited to an exclusive ceremony at London’s Apollo Victoria, home to the musical WICKED since 2006, where judges and members of the WICKED cast announce who has won in each category.
  • The overall winners from each category will win £50 book/eBook tokens, and the 5-14 year old winners will receive £100 worth of books for their school library kindly donated by Hachette Children’s Group.
  • Winners in the 15-17, 18-25 and FOR GOOD categories will also win an exclusive writing experience with one of the Awards’ literacy partners.
  • The three schools that submit the most entries will also win a Creative Writing Workshop for their school for up to thirty students delivered by WICKED’s education team.
  • Winners in all categories receive a VIP family experience at the West End production of WICKED, including tickets, an exclusive backstage tour and a meet-and-greet with members of the cast.


NATIONAL LITERACY TRUST – The Award is proud to partner with National Literacy Trust.  One person in six in the UK lives with poor literacy. This holds them back at every stage of their life. As a child they won’t be able to succeed at school, as a young adult they will be locked out of the job market, and on becoming a parent they won’t be able to support their child’s learning. Lacking these vital skills undermines their well being and stops them making a full contribution to the economic and cultural life of our nation. The National Literacy Trust is a national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK. It works to improve the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities, where up to 40 per cent of people have literacy problems. Its research and analysis make it the leading authority on literacy. Because low literacy is intergenerational, the National Literacy Trust focuses its work on families, young people and children.

FIRST NEWS – First News is the Media Partner to the awards and is the UK’s only newspaper for young people. It was founded in 2006 by Sarah and Steve Thomson with editor Nicky Cox. It has always been independently owned and have no political affiliations. It is published both print and digital editions every Friday. Ten years on, over 2 million young people nationwide read First News each week with over half of all UK schools subscribing to the paper.

LOVEREADING – We have just joined the Awards as a partner for 2018. LoveReading is a unique family of websites including and Lovereading4schools, and media channels which helps to connect writers, readers, publishers and organisations with an active and enthusiastic audience of book lovers.

THE LITERACY SHED – a unique online resource for teachers, home to a wealth of visual resources collected by primary school teacher Rob Smith over 10 years as a teacher. The Literacy Shed has over 24k followers on Twitter.

PRIMARY TIMES – over 18 million copies of Primary Times magazines distributed every year through primary schools in 59 regions across the UK and Ireland.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Gregory Maguire that ingeniously re-imagines the stories and characters created by L. Frank Baum in ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, WICKED tells the incredible untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two sorcery students. Their extraordinary adventures in Oz will ultimately see them fulfil their destinies as Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.  Now in its 12th year in London and acclaimed as “one of the West End’s true modern classics” (Metro), WICKED has already been seen by over 8.5 million people in London alone and is the recipient of over 100 major awards worldwide, including ten theatregoer-voted WhatsOnStage Awards (winning ‘Best West End Show’ on three occasions) and two Olivier Audience Awards in the UK.

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LoveReading Expert on Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year Judging Panel

The Romantic Novelists’ Association has announced the judges for this year’s Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year. Among the judging panel this year is our very own LoveReading Expert Reviewer, Liz Robinson. Liz is joined by Fiction Buyer Matt Bates, editor Alex Hammond, and writer Elizabeth Buchan on the judging panel.

300 books have been submitted by hopeful writers to this year’s Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. The submissions are narrowed down, with a shortlist to be announced on the 8th February. The winner will be announced by Richard Coles at the RoNA Awards in London on the 5th March. This prestigious event will be hosted by a familiar face, the Reverend Richard Coles. Rev. Richard will present the winner with a trophy and a cheque for £5,000 at The Gladstone Library in London. The event’s host first became famous as a part of the 80s chart-topping bands Bronski Beat and The Communards. Following his musical success, Richard became a Church of England priest. However, he remains a popular figure, most recently appeared as a contestant in the latest season of Strictly Come Dancing.

There will be seven awards up for grabs at the Romantic Novel Awards: Contemporary, Epic, Historical, Paranormal or speculative Fiction, Romantic Comedy, Young Adult and the RoNA Rose Award for Shorter Romantic Novel. The four independent judges will read the winners of each category and then decide the overall winner of the Award. The RNA Chair Nicola Cornick has said that they are “thrilled to have such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable panel of judges with such a commitment to the romantic fiction genre”.

We look forward to finding out the winner of the Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year!

A Bit More About the Judges

Matt Bates is a Fiction Buyer for WH Smith Travel. He featured in the Evening Standard Top 1000 most influential Londoners. Aside from his work, Matt has also contributed to book-related articles for The Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and The Bookseller. The RNA awarded Matt Bates the Bookseller of the Year Award in 2015, and he was a judge for the Novel category of The Costa Book Prize and The Booksellers’ Association Debut Fiction Category Prize in 2016.

The editor, Alex Hammond holds a BA (Hons) in American Literature with Creative Writing and an MA in Creative Writing. Alex is also currently working towards his PhD in Creative Writing. With a CV that includes working with literacy agency Rogers, Coleridge & White, with a number of different authors such as Zadie Smith, Phillip Henser and Joe Dunthorne, Alex is now an editor, mentor and scout as part of the Cornerstones Literary Consultancy in 2014.  

Elizabeth Buchan had a job in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. Consider the Lily won he Romantic Novel of the Year in 1994, and Middle-Aged Woman not only became an international bestseller but was transformed into a CBS Primetime Drama. The author was also the chair of the RNA, the Betty Trask and Desmond Elliot literary prizes. Elizabeth has also been a judge for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the 2014 Costa Novel Award. Her vast judging experience will mean she knows exactly the quality required for an award-winning book.

Liz Robinson has been a part of the team at LoveReading since the start of 2014. Liz is an integral member of our panel of expert reviewers and the editorial team. Before this Liz worked as a Police Civilian for twenty years. During this time, one of her roles was a Criminal Intelligence Analyst. Her well-honed scrutiny will be perfect when working to choose the Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year. Liz enjoys all genres from crime, mysteries and thrillers to romance, family dramas and relationship tales.

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The Choice, by Tim Woodbridge

By Staff Writer

The Choice delves into the tormented psyche of Henry Hoare II, the fabulously wealthy 18th-Century English banker whose world-famous gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire, are among the National Trust’s most celebrated attractions.

Drawing on new (and highly compelling) research, Woodbridge’s fascinating debut reveals the tragic events that may have led to the creation of Stourhead’s iconic Great Lake – one of the most photographed spots in Britain – and the dark, grief-stricken demons that plagued its creator.

Most experts have until now agreed that Hoare created the Great Lake in memory of his late wife, Susan, and as a legacy for his son and sole heir, Henry Hoare III. Woodbridge, however, posits a different hypothesis. He argues that Hoare, one of the richest men in England at the time, spiralled into depression following Henry’s untimely death (he died of smallpox at the age of 22). With no wife nor heir, the garden he lovingly created for them was a painful, epic reminder of what could have been. Instead, Hoare chose to flood the original garden and all that it represented, thereby creating the Great Lake we know today.

The Choice is part biography, part family saga. It weaves historical fact with fictional colour to create a superb account of what may have really taken place behind the doors of one of England’s finest stately homes. In his introduction, Woodbridge provides an insight into his own passion for, and knowledge of, Stourhead. Indeed, this book could only have been written by somebody with a weighty knowledge of the subject. Based on his own research and that of his late father, Kenneth (who was widely regarded as the leading authority on Henry Hoare), and drawing on the findings of the 2005 Stourhead Lake Project (a collaboration between the National Trust and the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS), The Choice offers interesting suggestions for some of the other more curious aspects of the garden: Why was a temple housing a statue of the goddess Ceres named after the goddess Flora, for instance?

Backing up his text with highly detailed references and helpful illustrated maps, Woodbridge has created an illuminating tale of 18th-Century life in the upper echelons of society. It draws the reader into the world of social climbers and begins with an argument over, (fittingly), money: As Hoare gathers family members around and unveils the less-than-warmly-welcomed nature of his will, the scene is set for an engrossing account of the politics at play in the Hoare household.

It is to the author’s credit that he has packed such a lot into a concise tome – the book comes in at little over 150 pages, not counting the impressively-lengthy appendices that illustrate the weight of the research involved.

The Choice, then, will appeal to those with an interest in gardening, social history and architecture. But it is a gripping, emotional read, in its own right and a niche bestseller in the making.

The Choice (Dotesio Publishing) is out now, priced £8.99 in paperback and £7.99 as a Kindle eBook. It is available on Amazon UK

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Looking for Something Thrilling?

Dirk Kurbjuweit's Fear

A new thriller is on it’s way and is set to be the most original of 2018. Dirk Kurbjuweit is a German writer that is making his American debut with this exciting new novel Fear that has received a lot of attention already. Due to be released on the 25th January, everyone who has previewed this book has been #GrippedByFear.

For those who can’t wait to get their thrills, you can read an extract of the book here. The book follows Randolph Tiefenthaler, as he claims that he had a normal childhood, despite the armoury kept in the house. While the story covers the cruel and unusual events that led to his father’s incarceration. This twisted tale has been hailed by reviewers as a great success and a psychologically complex crime story. However, the plot line still manages to maintaining a moral and ethical core. A moral dilemma that questions just how far you would go in order to protect your family.

Others that have been #GrippedByFear

With the teaser for the book posing the question ‘You’d die for your family, but would you kill for them?’  and ‘Your neighbour is threatening you Family. Nobody will help. Not even the Police. There’s nothing you can do. Is there? This highly anticipated thriller could be your favourite read of the entire year. Fiona Barton, the bestselling author of The Widow feels that Fear is ‘Brilliantly done to play on every parent’s deepest fears – including mine’.

Fiona Barton of Fear

Reviewers have compared the novel  to We Need To Talk About Kevin, and the Guardian has said that the thriller is ‘Something we’ve not seen before in contemporary crime fiction’, with the Independant saying the book is ‘Addictive’

Head over to the LoveReading page for this book in order to read more of the fantastic comments made about this spectacular book. Our page also has the free pre-publication extract, so you can be gripped by fear too.

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Help the CLPE Build a Literacy Library

The CLPE Fundraising for Literacy Library

Childhood brings back memories of fairy tales, bedtime stories and the beginning of a lifetime love of the written word. The books that we read as children shape our opinion of reading for an entire lifetime. Here at LoveReading, we are passionate about all books, as are The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). The CLPE promotes raising the literacy achievement of children, ensuring quality children’s literature is at the heart of learning.

However, the CLPE are in need of help. The registered charity is working to guarantee a home for their enormous, permanent collection of books. The team behind the charity currently occupy a beautiful library space which is located in Waterloo. This  building is in need of refurbishment, so the charity is working to build a brand new Literacy Library to house their 23,000 children’s books and continue to encourage more school children to get excited about literacy.

The CLPE’s plan would create more space for teachers, with 2,000 already working with the organisation each year. This new space will also make the organisation’s resources more available to other literacy charities and literature organisations. This will be beneficial for those who unfortunately don’t have access to an event, library or training space. The project will create a resource that will benefit the work of literacy charities in England and the learning of millions of children.

The Story So Far

So far, the CLPE has completed the first phase of the work, which has cost £150,000. The charity has also raised £50,000 towards the second phase of the project. To find out more and donate, head over to their crowdfunding page.

Those wanting to help protect the literacy achievements of primary school children in can do so by buying a shelf (£100), bookcase (£500), or alcove (£1,000) in the new Literacy Library. Those who support the charity’s work will be permanently remembered, with their name on display in the new library. So far the charity has seen a tremendous amount of support from all corners of the literary world. Anderson Press and Knights Of have bought a bookcase and a shelf respectively, with further interest shown by Bonnier, Simon and Schuster, Usbourne.

The new Literacy Library will be able to support the work of a large number of charities and organisations who work to ensure that quality children’s literature is located at the heart of all learning. Get involved by visiting their crowdfunding page.

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True Love: Love Explained by Science by Dr Fred Nour

They say love is blind but here’s a new book that for the first time offers a clear and clinical view of that most fundamental of human experiences.

A science-focused analysis of love that reduces every amorous sensation and feeling to a practical biological function might sound like it would shatter any romantic ideals, but in fact it offers fascinating insights into our behaviour that could actually help us find, and hold on to, a true love that lasts a lifetime.

And it couldn’t come at a better moment. With divorce and separation rates soaring, couples seem to be finding it harder than ever to form bonds that stand the test of time.

Unlike other books on the science of love, True Love is actually written by a scientist. Respected US-based neurologist and neurophysiologist Dr Fred Nour, himself happily married with children, thinks the reason why many partnerships dissolve is that individuals have enshrined unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.

Over the course of the book’s 300-plus pages he carefully deconstructs love so, by the end, we understand the whole process in the same way that a magician might explain his tricks. His hope is that armed with this knowledge, people will make better choices and enjoy the rich rewards that science shows comes with true love.

Beginning by outlining the evidence that the concept of ‘love’ exists in all human cultures and has existed since time immemorial, he goes on to explain in simple terms why we experience love in the first place.

This is on account of the evolution of the human brain, moving beyond the basic mechanical responses of the primitive reptilian brain where the concept of a loving relationship is impossible, and past the more advanced avian mind, to our multi-faceted grey matter.

What may come as a surprise is that love is, actually, comprised of four distinct phases, all determined by changing chemical interactions within the brain.

Drawing upon extensive and carefully cited research, Dr Nour addresses each phase in turn, outlining its purpose and the mechanisms at play in the body.

The first phase of love is mate selection, and it’s interesting to learn that exactly whom we ‘fall for’ is based on our own genetics and brains. There are a whole number of ways someone unconsciously determines if another is potentially ‘the one’, such as the pheromones they give off, but this is hard-wired and can’t be influenced by potential beaus to any substantial degree.

This is followed by the romance phase, where the brain produces a potent mix of neurotransmitters called monoamines that are responsible for those giddy feelings of joy and exhilaration.

The bad news, Dr Nour reveals, is that this is only a passing phase and can’t last more than two to three years. It’s the next stage – the ‘falling out of love’ phase – that leaves many couples crashing on the rocks just as the levels of monoamines coming crashing back down.

But bitter as it may feel, falling out of love is actually essential to allow us to properly assess a potential mate before committing to starting a family. From a Darwinian perspective this makes total sense: parents need to be able to form long-term bonds to care for their offspring.

The changes in the brain during this stage allows the final phase, and proper biological goal of love, to come into effect. Dr Nour calls this ‘true love’ and it is determined by the level of nonapeptides (oxytocin and vasopressin) in the brain. Unlike the intensity of the romance period, true love is gradual and effortful but can last forever.

The book may sound dry and scientific but it’s anything but. Nour writes with an admirable clarity and personality that carries the reader along without any danger of being swamped by science, while he illustrates his points through sharing personal experiences — both from his own life and those of associates — and constant call-backs to pop culture such as love songs and romantic films.

Ideal for fans of popular science or anyone who is curious about how and why Cupid shoots his arrows, True Love is a book you will quickly find yourself falling for.

True Love: Love Explained by Science (Niguel Publishing) by Dr Fred Nour is available now, priced £14.95 in hardback. Visit

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Feel Better this Blue Monday with LoveReading

Blue Monday at LoveReading

“Good Morning, Pooh Bear” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it IS a good morning… Which I doubt”- A.A Milne

We will relate to one of the gloomiest characters ever created today, according to scientists. January 15th 2018 has been named as Blue Monday, calculated to be the most depressing day of the year, with New Year’s Resolutions left in the dust, the January pinch growing ever tighter and the distinct lack of any festive cheer while the weather reminds us it is still winter. Depression is not dictated by the date, and the seriousness of such an illness is not to be overstated. However, the middle of January can leave a lot of us looking for distractions while waiting for temperatures to rise.

While we hunker down and wait for the rain to stop, according to our favourite sad donkey “it always does. Eventually.” we’ve had a look at things that could brighten Blue Monday, the gloomiest day of the year.

Of course LoveReading recommends curling up with a good book, a blanket and a warm drink on this miserable Monday. Why not try one of our weekly staff picks, like the heartfelt ‘Three Things About Elsie’ by Joanna Cannon? For those wanting a peek in to the past, how about Alison Weir’s ‘Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession’? We also have a wide range of non-fiction, encouraging you to have another crack at your New Year’s resolutions. For the health-conscious we have Roger Frampton’s ‘The Flexible Body’, Tom Kerridge’s ‘Lose Weight for Good’ or ‘James Duigan’s Blueprint for Health’.

It is vital that we all remember Depression isn’t reserved for one day each year, despite how much we relate to Blue Monday. For those of you wanting to be more mindful and less anxious; or perhaps wanting to be more of a glass half full kind of person, why not have a read of ‘The Little Book of Happiness: Live. Laugh. Love’ by Kim Quadrille, ‘Calm’ by Fearne Cotton, or James Cowart’s ‘The ABCs of Coping with Anxiety’. Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert’s self-help book ‘Boundaries’ has transformed a long known genre for today’s world. The book offers a four step programme could help to change your life for the better.

Another great way to feel better is to support those who suffer with mental health issues no matter the date. One option is to perhaps make a donation some fantastic charities such as MINDCALM or the Samaritans.


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Author Talk with Jake Arnott

We recently caught up with Jake Arnott, author of The Long Firm and The Fatal Tree to talk more about his books and his writing.

1: You create a mesmerising time and place in your novels, how do you research different time periods?

Well, that does depend on the period. For ‘The Fatal Tree’ I had lots of primary sources: court reports, criminal narratives, pamphlets, slang dictionaries as well as modern histories of the period. It’s always good to start with what has been written at the time – it doesn’t just give you the hard facts, it gives you the language and intonation, maybe even how people spoke. So it’s always good to look at the fiction of the era you’re working on too, you sort of enter into a conversation with the authors of that time, they keep you company. I was lucky to have Daniel Defoe and John Gay as companions.

2: Where has your interest in the light and shade of the underworld, and criminality come from?

The ‘underworld’ is merely a shadow of what lies on the surface. I’m interested in how a ‘legitimate’ world is so often rife with corruption. Jonathan Wild sets himself up as ‘Thief-Taker General’ whilst operating a massive criminal racket. This contradiction happens all the time in history it’s worth bearing in mind when we look at our own times.

3: What is your earliest memory of reading and the feeling it evoked in you?

Letters and words fascinated me from a very early age. They appeared to be alive for me. I remember first seeing the letter ‘g’ and thinking how much the shape of it looked like a goose. In many ways I was a lonely child and words kept me company. They still do. When I read ‘Treasure Island’ as a boy it felt like the best game of pirates and one that I could play on my own.

4: How have your writing habits changed since your novel ‘The Long Firm‘?

My writing habits change all the time. Each book determines its own routine, as it were. It’s just got more and more complicated, I’m afraid. If I look back at my at ‘The Long Firm’ there’s a single notebook, with clear clues of how the novel came into being. Now I have box files of stuff I don’t know what to do with.

5: What did it feel like to see characters from your mind end up on the screen?

Immensely privileged. I’ve been lucky enough to have great actors embody my characters. Mark Strong did amazing things with Harry Starks -he found a deep sadness I merely hinted at. Rafe Spall played Frank, the corrupt detective in ‘He Kills Coppers’, with such astonishing range –going from a cocky, ambitious 20-year-old to a cynical, world-weary middle-aged man.

6: You use real life figures in your novels, such as the fascinating Jack Sheppard from ‘The Fatal Tree‘, do you already have a time period in mind and find the characters, or do you know them already?

I knew about Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild as they’ve been written about and fictionalised many times, most notably in John Gay’s The Beggars Opera. Then I found Elizabeth Lyon, Jack’s mistress, the notorious Edgworth Bess. I had a story that hadn’t been told before and an intriguing one. Jack said of her: ‘a more wicked, deceitful and lascivious wretch is not known in England’ -so here was a 18th century femme fatale, or so it seemed. But when I found out more about her and what little remains of her testimony in court reports I discovered a more complex and sympathetic story. This is what led to ‘The Fatal Tree’.

7: Which two characters from history, either real life or fictional, who have never met in life or on the page, would you like to meet each other, and where would you set their meeting?

I’d love to sit on a meeting between William Shakespeare and Jorge Luis Borges. Somewhere quiet where I could earwig their conversation and maybe ask a few questions.

8: If you could travel in person to one moment in time, when would it be, and what is it about that moment that resonates with you?

That moment when humanoids came out of the trees and started to walk on two legs, just to try and see what drove us to make such a risky move. And maybe pick up a few tips about posture.

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The Boy from the Wild, by Peter Meyer

By Staff Writer

The Boy from the Wild needs a health warning:

‘Caution, this book may lead to wanderlust and adventure-envy’.

If Peter Meyer’s fascinating new autobiography doesn’t inspire you to see the world and follow your dreams, then nothing will.

Meyer’s memoir about growing up on the Karkloof Valley Nature Reserve, a 1,000-hectare reserve in ‘Valley of Heaven’ area of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is told with charm, wit and honesty. His book recounts boyhood adventures with an infectious glee and a terrific knack for scene setting; readers are transported to the expanse of the African bush, where days are joyful, tear-jerking and terrifying in equal measure.

Meyer’s father, a successful British property developer, purchased the reserve in the early 1980s. Several years later the reserve was reborn as ‘Safari World’, the first wildlife theme park of its kind and a major international attraction that could be described as a real-world Jurassic Park.

Meyer’s life was dramatic from the outset. Born to a South African mother and British father, Meyer survived a traumatic birth that almost killed mother and child, and a near-fatal unobserved plunge into a swimming pool as a baby. Before he was eight years old, Meyer had fended off rhino attacks, had survived “uncomfortably close” encounters with buffalo and wildebeest, and twice been bitten by seriously venomous snakes. With a baby elephant, warthogs and friendly ostrich among his childhood ‘pets’, his early years nurtured a lust for adventure and excitement.

Meyer clearly inherited his father’s adventurous streak, along with a rebellious nature (there’s a healthy sense of mischief and self-deprecating humour throughout, which is wonderful). But the book is immeasurably sad at times, too. The deaths of his loved ones – both human and animal – are told with a raw and brutal honesty that is both refreshing and heartbreaking.

Meyer is now an actor, who has starred in films alongside Brad Pitt. His attributes his success in adult life to the freedom he was given to grow – physically and emotionally – as a youngster.

If there was ever a book that lends itself to the Big Screen, then The Boy from the Wild is it. But forget Brad Pitt as the lead – that role should fall to Peter Meyer.

The Boy from the Wild by Peter Meyer is out now, priced £9.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook. It is available for sale on Amazon UK. Visit

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