Telegraph Book Club

Slip of a Fish
Slip of a Fish

In the summer I paid my first ever visit to one of the biggest crime fiction festivals in the world, taking place up the road in Harrogate. It is a fantastic celebration of all things bloody and murderous, and the festival has just announced a superstar name for its 2019 programme. This fortnight I also review the first winner of the Northern Book Prize, Slip Of A Fish by Amy Arnold. And I have a reader review of former read of the fortnight, the beautiful Petals and Stones by Joanne Burn.

Read Of The Fortnight – Slip Of A Fish by Amy Arnold

Petals & Stones

Petals & Stones

Slip Of A Fish is the winner of the inaugural Northern Book Prize from Sheffield-based publisher And Other Stories.

It tells the story of Ash, an unconventional woman with a very unconventional perspective on the world, but a deep and conventional love for her daughter, Charlie. And it is this combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar that gives Slip Of A Fish its power.

Charlie is growing up and becoming more independent. Arnold’s writing on this is some of the best I have ever read: a moment where Ash plays pooh-sticks alone with one stick for her and one for Charlie, letting Charlie’s go a second early, had me in absolute bits (reading on a car journey, with my children in the back getting increasingly alarmed as I asked between sobs if they would always play pooh-sticks with me.)

But this aching familiarity is subverted by Ash’s response to the well-known problem. This is brave and disruptive writing; uncomfortable to read at times, but powerful.

Along came a spider

Along came a spider

At its heart Slip Of A Fish is a novel about the passage of time. Ash reflects that ‘Nobody wants to know the real time… They want to count to twelve and then count again.’ And it is certainly true that nothing makes us face up to the ‘real time’ in our lives more vividly than our growing children. Our own mortality is nothing compared to the terror of knowing that one day the people that are the centre of our universe will move away and exist independently of us. A horror story indeed.

Ash understands the artifice in our attempts to pin down time with a clock that shows just twelve hours, but that doesn’t stop her trying to pin other things down as she attempts to make sense of a world she finds baffling: not only her daughter, but also a list of words that she collects and claims as her own.

She is obsessive about the sounds and the spellings of words, as much as their meanings. 

And there is a real poetry to this book. Arnold’s language is mesmerising; like a literary fugue, phrases are repeated, looped and returned to as we follow Ash’s stream of consciousness.

Slip Of A Fish is not always an easy read, and at times it’s downright disturbing. But the vivid writing on the obsessive love of a parent for a child is extraordinary, as is the depiction of time passing relentlessly and horrifically in those twelve hour chunks that take our children further away from us. A shocking and desperately moving book.

Reader Review – Petals and Stones by Joanne Burn

Renuka says: I loved this book! When Uma discovers her husband’s infidelity just hours before his untimely death, the carefully woven threads of her life begin to unravel. Struggling to manage the grief of those around her, she escapes to a remote cottage by the coast where she swims in the winter sea, cooks the forgotten Keralan dishes of her childhood and begins the search for her husband’s lover.

Joanne Burn weaves this story with the fine thread and colourfulness of a silk saree. The writing pays exquisite attention to detail and the story is delicately and beautifully crafted.

Uma is Anglo-Indian and connects with her mother's heritage through traditional Indian cooking. You can almost touch and smell the food through the author’s use of descriptive language and it leaves you wanting more.

A cracking good read, with engaging characters and a well-paced plot, but at the same time Petals and Stones allows us to ponder some really deep questions: the differences between overt deceptions versus the denial of feelings, relationships that are "good enough" versus

the risk of relationships which might never work out. Of pride, acceptance and evolving friendships. The inevitability of change, either dramatic (as in a sudden death) or the more insidious change that creeps in quietly - the change we often try not to acknowledge as the truth it brings can make us uncomfortable and challenge our status quo. Finally, the beauty change brings when we welcome it into our lives.

Reading Matter: Crime superstar to headline Yorkshire festival

One of the world’s bestselling writers will be paying a visit to Yorkshire next year.

Superstar of crime fiction, James Patterson, has been announced as a headline act at the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

Patterson has sold more than 375 million books worldwide and he has been the most-borrowed author of adult fiction in UK libraries, for the past 11 years in a row.

Mari Hannah, herself a successful writer of crime fiction, has taken over the mantle of festival Programming Chair from Lee Child for 2019. She says: “What some people may not know about James Patterson is how much he cares about reading, how much he gives back, 

donating books and offering financial support to independent bookshops, ensuring that his reading legacy lives on. As the festival’s Reader-in-Residence for the past three years, announcing James Patterson in my year as Programming Chair is a huge honour.”

Mari added: “Crime fiction is a gateway into reading for many. I toured libraries this summer with our annual Big Read. This year’s title was James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider and readers loved it. Harrogate has featured some colossal names when it comes to giants of the genre, from JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith to Lee Child and John Grisham. I’m thrilled that James Patterson will be joining us in 2019.”

The son of an insurance salesman and a schoolteacher, Patterson grew up in New York and worked in advertising, before publishing his debut in 1976. His 1993 novel, Along Came a Spider, his first to feature Alex Cross, was also his first New York Times bestseller in fiction.

James Patterson said: “I’m really looking forward to coming to Harrogate next year and meeting my UK fans. I was thrilled that Along Came a Spider was chosen as the Big Read at last year’s festival and taken on the road by Mari Hannah to libraries across the North. I firmly believe that better readers become better thinkers, and libraries and book festivals play a key role in spreading the joy of reading.”

A renowned advocate of reading, Patterson has donated millions to reading initiatives, schools, colleges, independent bookstores and libraries. He is also founding partner with the Duchess of Cornwall of the Children’s Reading Fund (UK).

Mari Hannah, is best known for her Kate Daniels series which is in development for TV with Sprout Pictures. She also writes the Ryan and O’Neil thrillers and the Stone and Oliver series of police procedural novels.

The 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate 18-21 July. For tickets and more information go to www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com