Telegraph Book Club: Reading Matter

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Emily McGlashan is a 19-year-old living in Shiregreen who has just had her first novel published by Olympia. I catch up with this seriously impressive young woman, and find out what living and working in Sheffield brings to her writing.

And now the summer is over and we’re turning the heating back on (or is that just me?) I have a great fireside read of the fortnight to welcome in the autumn from the writer who would probably be my desert island choice. I also have a brilliant reader review of Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

Read of the fortnight: The Master Of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer and the weather is getting (even) grimmer. What better to read than some Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Master of Ballantrae was written three years after Stevenson’s masterpiece Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and covers many of the same themes. The duality of man; what is good and what is evil; can either win out in the end?

It tells the story of the aristocratic Scottish Durie family in the period following the 1745 Jacobite rising.

The Lord Durrisdeer has two sons (who are essentially Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde reinvented) and apparently as many families did at that time, they took the decision for one to join the rising and one to join the forces loyal to the crown, so that whichever side came out on top they could claim allegiance.

The older son, James Durie, or Mr Hyde, joins the Jacobite forces at Culloden, and is thought to have died in that battle.

Stevenson frames the story in such a way that we know he will be coming back, so the tension is around when, how, and what havoc will be wreaked upon his return.

James is a great character, vile but charismatic, and predictably much more enjoyable company than the mild-mannered and considerate younger brother, Henry Durie, or Dr Jekyll.

But Henry is the perfect counterpoint to his brother’s immorality.

Their adventures take us across several continents to an ending which is nothing short of stunning.

This book contains a moment that sums up the dark, far-fetched, melodramatic adventure of some of my favourite stories.

James Durie buries some treasure in an unfamiliar landscape, and finding himself inconveniently without pen or paper, he does what any of us would do under the circumstances.

He draws a treasure map in his own blood in the lining of his hat. Brilliant.

If I were to be marooned on a desert island and could take the works of only one writer, I think I would choose Robert Louis Stevenson.

I love his plots; the layers of exposition of how they came to be documented; the way he takes you by the hand and addresses the reader directly to guide you through the story.

This is an absolute corker.

Light your fire, get yourself a blanket to snuggle under, and enjoy.

Reader Reviews: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Cath says: As a fan of dystopian fiction, I was so excited to read this book.

I was drawn right into the story of a world in which young women are beginning to find that a new electrical power to cause pain and death is awakening within them.

I was reminded of Margaret Atwood, as for me Alderman is able to take you on a journey through complex, thought-provoking issues without making the story clunky or forced.

The writing has a lightness of touch which reminds you of a holiday thriller, sucking you into a world which you believe in and characters who you care about.

At the same time though, this is a subtle exploration and analysis of the nuances of power and gender.

It asks you questions you don’t always have the answer to.

The main characters explore the ways in which organised religion, organised crime, politics and the media affect the flow and balance of power. As the power spreads, the world the characters are negotiating becomes more fragmented and unreal, and the reader’s reaction to the atrocities happening to men shines a light on very real acts of violence that are happening to women in this world today.

Acts that we have possibly become more complacent with than we think.

But this book is also about love in all its variations – romantic, familial, friendship. Love which often leads to ‘weakness’ and potential downfall, but is also when these characters are at their finest and most strong.

Literary City: The Sheffield Connection

Emily McGlashan is a seriously impressive young woman. At the age of just 19, this Shiregreen resident has had her first book, The Gazebo, published by Olympia.

The Gazebo tells the story of teenager, Lola Tarapachii, for whom life is far more complicated than just the usual adolescent angsts. With an alcoholic mother and a severely depressed older brother, Lola has to face responsibilities far beyond her years.

An unexpected fire in the school dining hall leads to Lola forging life-changing relationships with an eclectic family of youths who accept her for who she is, and share her troubles.

But what does living and working in Sheffield bring to McGlashan’s writing?

“I think being based in Sheffield brings an element of warmth to my writing.

“Sheffield has a mostly friendly atmosphere and so when I write, a lot of my background characters reflect my experience with passing strangers.”

“And a lot of my geographical inspiration comes from Sheffield.

“Quite a few of the places in my book are subtly based on places I’ve visited in Sheffield.

“For example, people who know St Mary’s Academy in Walkley might be able to recognise it.”

And has she had a lot of support from the people around her? “I think Sheffield has a supportive community of creative people, and people who love to read.

“When I first revealed my book at work, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people actually wanted to read it and took genuine interest.”

“I went to King Edward VII school, and my favourite subject was English.

“ I was greatly influenced there by my favourite teacher.”

McGlashan wrote the first draft of The Gazebo when she was just 15.

It is a story about the difficulties of growing up and trying to be accepted as part of a crowd, when you are in a minority.

But McGlashan hopes her readers take away more than just a standard coming-of-age tale.

“One thing I hope readers get from reading The Gazebo are its themes of mental health, especially depression and suicide. I think it’s important for these things to be talked about and written about as often as possible.”

So what’s next for this high- achieving Sheffield teenager?

“I would like to take part in National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a book of at least 50,000 words in the month of November.

NaNoWriMo meet-ups happen in Sheffield, and I know from attempts in the past that it’s great fun.”

And she has high hopes to publish more of her work in the future.

So watch this space to see what McGlashan does next.