THIS is why I LOVE book clubs (aka book people are the NICEST people)

 

I adore book clubs. I’ve intermittently been a member of one for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing quite like the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes through spending time with like-minded people, sipping wine, and discussing the characters, the plot twists, the theme.

In the back of all my books are reading group questions. I love to think of them sparking a discussion and with local groups, I feel privileged when I’m invited along to be part of that discussion.

A lovely American lady called Cheryl, messaged me after her group discussed The Sister and The Gift telling me how much her group loved my stories and that they were planning something very special for The Surrogate. Both a chance to talk about the book and to help a good cause.

I was very intrigued and this morning I was absolutely thrilled to be sent the glowing feedback for my book and photos of ‘The Surrogate themed baby shower.’

The onsie cake looked amazing (I so wish I was near enough to eat a slice), and the ‘It’s a Book’ bunting made me smile.

The games were all ‘The Surrogate’ themed and it was quite surreal seeing my name, and my characters pop up in a word search.

Best of all was the huge basket of baby items collected that is now being donated to their local church where it will be distributed to mums in need.

The power of words bring people together in so many ways. Book people really are the NICEST people.

Thanks so much ladies.

Advertisements

This time last week I was in prison – My visit to HMP Thameside’s book club

Eighteen months ago, when my debut novel, The Sister, was No.1 in the charts, I was invited along to HMP Thameside to meet their book club. Immediately, The Fear hit and I quickly declined. Not because of the environment, but because I had a massive phobia of public speaking. Those who read my blog know that after turning down numerous talks, I was asked to speak at the Althorp Literary Festival last year and eager to attend, I had a course of hypnotherapy to help me overcome The Fear (you can read about that here). I’ve since spoken at, and enjoyed, several events so when HMP Thameside’s librarian, Neil Barclay, got back in touch and asked if I’d reconsider, grateful of a second chance, I said yes.

I had never been in a prison before and my expectations were very much centred around what I’d seen on TV, rowdy tattooed men in orange boiler suits, and as I queued up to be booked in I started to wonder, for the first time, what I’d let myself in for. It was a surprise I had to be fingerprinted before I was granted entry, and not by ink and paper but by a scanner. (‘Mum, did you think it would be like an 80’s cop show?’ my son asked when I told him that later. Umm, yes.) My photo was taken, my ID checked and then I was given a visitor’s pass. After storing my possessions in a locker I was directed to the next room. Here, I was met by an officer who asked me to remove my boots so they could be scanned. As she snapped on blue latex gloves I felt a flicker of unease but the search was soon over and another officer arrived to escort me to the library.

One of my first observations was how many doors there were. Each one needing to be unlocked and immediately locked behind us. Listening to the slam, the twisting of the key, I tried to imagine how I would feel if I knew I would be there for months, or even years and anxiety bubbled.

In the library I was greeted by the prisoners who participate in the book club and the creative writing class and it struck me, as my eyes swept around the room, at the different clothes (not an orange boiler suit in sight) the different ages, races, that these were just people and my anxiety dissipated.

We talked about my books, about writing, but more importantly, we chatted about mental health. I relayed my story of how finding myself with a disability in my 30’s lost me my mobility, my job, my home and caused me to develop clinical depression. I shared how I was at rock bottom, thinking my life was over, my best days behind me. My fears that no-one would employ me, love me. But eventually I picked myself up and overcome depression through mindfulness and forged a new life. A new career. Although, they didn’t tell me why they were in prison, and nor did I want to know, they shared how they felt. How they coped.

Time flew by and after signing some books the men were escorted back to their cells. I ate a delicious lunch at the staff bistro, cooked and served by the prisoners. Later, I had a tour of the prison. I experienced what it was like in both a single and double cell and chatted to the men who lived there. It was heart breaking to visit a room full of toys and books where the men could record themselves reading a story to send to their children and that really reiterated that their sentence isn’t theirs to bear alone.

It’s now been a week now since my visit. A week in which the people I met are still very much on my mind. A week in which I am still trying to process how I feel. Despite my expectations, the images I had built up in my mind, ultimately these men were people, like you and I. Some were anxious, bewildered, depressed and frustrated. All were respectful and polite. There were repeat offenders, that was inevitable but I also met men who wanted an education, the chance of a better life. Hope. There are no victimless crimes but could any one of us take a wrong turn? Although I’ve never broken the law I’ve made bad choices, rash decisions. Mistakes.

I’ve offered to go back and run a workshop on mindfulness. As well as helping with depression and anxiety, imagine if learning to live in the moment, pausing to think rather than having a knee jerk reaction, could stop just one person reoffending? Mindfulness is all about choice. I chose to visit the prison, and I was free to leave at the end of the day, but sometimes I think – what if I wasn’t. It’s a sobering thought.

I was presented with a gorgeous bouquet, a ‘Wish You Were Here’ mug, and a thank you card.

FREE books up for grabs (each comes with an adventure)…

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”
Henry Miller – The Books In My Life (1969)

Books and adventure are two things in life I adore so I’m super excited to have combined the two by opening a BookCrossing account.

BookCrossing is the act of giving a book a unique identity so, as the book is passed from reader to reader, it can be tracked. There are currently a staggering 1,834,453 BookCrossers and 12,253,261 books travelling throughout 132 countries. The BookCrossing community has been active since 2001 and is free to join and take part.

BookCrossing’s online archival and tracking system allows members to connect with other readers and follow their books through tagging and tracking their individual books by marking them with BCIDs (BookCrossing Identity Numbers). Each BCID is unique to each book – once it’s registered on the site, the book can then be followed and journaled forever. BookCrossing is free to join and free to play. So don’t be ‘shelf’ish with your books – read and release!

I’ll be using BookCrossing to give away signed copies of The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate, as well as passing on books I’ve bought and read.  You can follow my account here to see what I’m up to.

The first book I’ll be giving away this week is a signed copy of The Gift and a limited edition bookmark and next year I’ll be popping a book in my bag regularly when I go out so I can distribute books both inside and outside my home county.

As well as giving, I’m also hoping to track a few down and read outside my usual genres.

Do join in!

Book Club Questions – The Sister

sister

I love those stories, the ones you can’t stop thinking about afterwards. Characters you wonder what happens to. Twists you analyse. I often seek out book club questions for novels I’ve really enjoyed so I thought I’d put some together for The Sister as I know some book clubs are reading it (and if you are thinking of reading it the paperback is half price this weekend only).

  1. Grace is a very complex character. How did you feel about her? Did you feel any compassion for her?
  1. Do you think the traumatic event Grace suffered in childhood contributed to her paranoia? Are some people more susceptible to carry guilt than others? Is Grace’s guilt understandable?
  1. Dan has a secret he is hiding from Grace. Is it ever justifiable in a relationship to keep something from someone you love ‘for their own good’? Do you think he should have been more honest?
  1. In part this is a story about friendship and the shifting dynamics between a group of girls as they grow up. Charlie found herself in an impossible situation. How might she have handled things differently while remaining loyal?
  1. This novel alternates between the past and the present. Did you find this structure worked and helped build up the tension?
  1. What did you assume about Anna throughout the book? How did this change by the end?
  1. Do you think Grace and Dan make a good couple or have they outgrown each other?
  1. The Sister is very much about lies. The lies we tell ourselves. The lies we tell other people. Do all people lie to some degree? Can you understand the characters reasons for doing so?
  1. Were you satisfied with the ending of the book? Did you guess?
  1. What do you think happens to the characters after the epilogue?