Telegraph Book Club
Thank you so much to all your enthusiastic suggestions for the new Literary City section. It's great to hear from so many Sheffield-based writers, and people working in book-related industries in the city. We will be featuring many of these over the coming months.
Today we hear from a writer who lives in Sheffield but visits locations all over the world in her work.
Next fortnight our book club read will be Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. This is an enormous book, so I’m giving you plenty of notice for those who’d like to read along. The deadline for reader reviews of The Goldfinch is March 23. The deadline for reader reviews of Go Set A Watchman is March 9.
Read of the fortnight: Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman
It is almost two years since this book was published, in what became a worldwide literary event.
For 55 years, the 1960 classic To Kill A Mockingbird had been Harper Lee’s only published work.
But then, in a whirlwind of controversy, came Go Set A Watchman.
It was shocking; it was exciting; it was emotional.
This is the story of Scout Finch’s return to Maycomb 17 years after the events of To Kill A Mockingbird.
The relationship between these two books is a unique one, to my knowledge.
It’s not a sequel, because events that happened in Mockingbird have been changed.
And although there are a few passages that are lifted almost word for word, presumably from this into what later became Mockingbird, it can’t be accurately be described as an earlier draft either.
The whole story and its focus are completely different.
It seems that the Finches, and Maycomb, lived inside Lee’s mind for a long time, and that she played with different situations, and different nuances to her characters.
It’s like Picasso with his guitars.
What struck me most about Go Set A Watchman is how perfectly suited to its situation it is.
This is an unexpected book published more than 50 years after its predecessor, and giving a new take on one of the most well-loved characters in the history of fiction.
But it is as if Lee knew the way many people would grow to feel about Atticus Finch, and tackled the hero worship head on.
This is a book which asks us to imagine a world where our heroes are not heroic.
What do we do with only our own moral compass for guidance?
It is challenging, but ultimately it is a message of self-empowerment.
Lee does have a tendency to tell as well as show here.
And I know some critics have said that it needs a good edit. But I have a soft spot for books that are less than tightly plotted.
There is undoubtedly something impressive about a novel where every word advances the plot, but I’m not sure that they’re always the most enjoyable to read.
There is a sense of hope at the end of the story, despite the heartbreaking changes to Atticus.
This book divided opinion, and not everyone thought it should’ve been published.
But I loved it, and I would love to know what happens next.
If only there were a sequel…
Literary City: The SheffieLd Connection
Katherine Blessan is a Sheffield-based writer, and author of the novel Lydia’s Song about a British expat living in Cambodia who is thrown together with a young Vietnamese girl. The book tackles the difficult issue of child sex trafficking, and is told from a Christian perspective.
Katherine is also a contributor to the recent Patrician Press short story anthology Refugees and Peacekeepers.
Her story Travels by Wheelchair tells the tale of a young Afghan man’s journey pushing his wheelchair-bound grandmother across Europe.
So for someone who writes about far flung places such as Cambodia and Afghanistan, what does Sheffield mean to this local writer?
Katherine says: “Sheffield is a place to come home to, a place that surrounds and nurtures you, whatever the location of your imaginary worlds.
“I love the multicultural nature of the city, as well as the fact that it has such a thriving literary scene.
“I have been part of the published writer’s collective Sheffield Authors for around 18 months now. It is a supportive group. I liken it to being one segment of an orange rather than a tiny plum out jostling against other fruit.
“It is great to be a part of something bigger than myself when it comes to promoting my writing.
“Only last week, I organised a regional launch event for the refugee anthology at Sheffield’s very own Mugen Tea House.
“I can exclusively reveal that I am also writing a novel set in Sheffield at the moment. But this one is far from ready to see the light of day!”
Fiona says: I am a doting mother and grandmother.
I have spent the last 40 years looking after my children and my grandchildren, and have only had the time and concentration for easy-reading books.
This September my youngest grandson is starting school and I am both excited and anxious anticipating the extra time I will have.
I would like some more in-depth books to read; some meaty classics, or even non-classics, to get my teeth into and fill my days.
Anna says: This is how I imagine I will spend my retirement.
Reading all day, sitting in a comfy chair by the fire, accompanied by coffee in the morning and gin and tonic in the afternoon. I can’t wait.
My first recommendation would certainly fit into the category of meaty classic.
It is a behemoth of a book, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
The protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, is a former student who is constantly soul-searching; analysing himself and his place in the world.
Raskolnikov decides that it is not only acceptable, but perhaps even necessary, for him to kill a ruthless pawnbroker in his native Saint Petersburg.
We follow every nuance of his thoughts and feelings as he commits the crime, and then attempts to deal with the psychological consequences of his actions.
This book is extraordinary, and far more easy to read than you might expect from a gigantic classic of Russian literature.
I was absolutely blown away, not only by the gripping story and insight into the strange and dark recesses of the human psyche, but more than anything by quite what a page-turner it is.
My second recommendation is very different, but I hope equally engrossing.
I have only discovered the nature writing genre myself relatively recently, but I find it so soothing that I imagine this will be the perfect way for you to while away a relaxing day with your feet up.
Roger Deakin’s Waterlog describes his journey across Britain wild swimming in a variety of weird and wonderful places.
You don’t need an interest in outdoor swimming to enjoy this beautiful book.
Even if, like me, you recoil at the idea of spending long hours swimming in freezing cold water of sometimes dubious cleanliness, it’s a cracker of a read.
Deakin has such an affinity with the landscapes and wildlife that surrounds him, that the writing is almost mesmeric.
If you haven’t read much nature writing before, this could open up a whole new genre of reading.
And I hope its calming effect will reduce the anxiety you feel about long days to fill, and make them an absolute joy.