Author Archives: BookerTalk

Let The Challenge Begin

Only a few months after I declared I would make 2020 a challenge-free year, what have I gone and done but sign up for a challenge. 

In my defence, I’m not embarking on a reading challenge. I know from past experience I am abysmal at those and rarely manage to complete them. My new project is more focused on how we share our love of books. It’s a blogging challenge called Blogging From A to Z.

Book Blog

Blogging A-Z is a month long initiative where the idea is to post a new topic every day during (we get Sundays as rest days) using the letters of the alphabet. It’s going to be quite tough to keep up that schedule but I’m going to give it a go.

Of course I can never do things by half. I’m making this task even harder by blogging on a single theme: tips and tricks on book blogging. So starting April 1 you’ll see a series of posts in which I discuss the challenges of book blogging and suggest ways to get around them. I’ll also pass on some best practice recommendations from the blogging gurus. 

What You Can Expect

Some of the posts will be answers to problems you’ve told me are your biggest headaches. I asked this question via Twitter recently. Here’s a sample of what you told me:

Blog headaches

Some of you talked about pressures of time, others about how to build connections. Some bloggers wrestle with motivation. Others with writing reviews. We may not get to address every one of these but I’ll try my best.

One word of caution. I don’t claim to be an expert or a master. In fact I’m still learning. I try to apply what the experts recommend (though often their advice is more geared to commercially focused sites). But mostly I learn by trial and error and by drawing on the experience of other seasoned bloggers. So don’t be surprised if you find that instead of giving answers and solutions, I’m asking for help myself with some of the challenges I experience.

I’ve been running the Booker Talk blog now for eight years. To mark my recent anniversary I wrote about 3 lessons I’ve learned in that time.

The one lesson that stands head and shoulders above the rest is that there is a tremendous spirit of camaraderie within the world of book blogging. Social media can often be a very judgemental and hypercritical. space. Book bloggers however are invariably courteous and generous, more than willing to pass on the benefit of their experience. A few of these kind souls will be contributing to my posts for this challenge, giving us a “behind the scenes” perspective on how they run their blogs.

If you’re just starting out as a book blogger, I hope my posts will help make the process a little less daunting. If you’re a seasoned hand, I hope you will still find some new ideas and tips. Let the challenge begin……

Join The Discussion

Are you wrestling with a book blogging problem? Have you found a technique that works for you? Do let me know. You don’t need to sign up to the challenge to take part. You can simply leave a comment on each blog or follow the discussion on Twitter using #A2Zbookblogging

An Unforgettable Tale: One Moonlit Night by Caradog Pritchard

One Moonlit Night by Caradog Pritchard

Poverty, sickness and hard labour stalk a Welsh village community in Caradog Davies’ award-winning novel One Moonlit Night. This is the reality of life in a small slate quarrying community as seen through the eyes of a young boy. But though there is also sadness and tragedy, there is also joy; the first sight of the sea; an entire community united in song and a raucous football match.

One Moonlit Night was written as a portrayal of a way of life known intimately by Carodog Pritchard. North Wales is where he was born and lived most of his life with his widowed mother, just as his narrator does.

I think that’s why the book has such a strong sense of the child’s love for the village and its inhabitants. Pritchard’s narrator knows every inhabitant and how they are related. He knows too every inch of his village; each street and lane being but a playground for him and his best friends Huw and Moi.

They’re full of curiosity these boys; forever asking questions and wanting to stay out late so they don’t miss anything exciting. They’re also an adventurous trio, exploring the surrounding hills and lakes and always on the look out for fun even if it’s just picking wild berries on the mountainside or passing on the latest gossip.

Shadows Of Reality

Yet their exuberance doesn’t mask the darker reality of their lives. In just the first chapter the narrator encounters an epileptic fit, suicide, illicit sex in the woods, and domestic violence. These don’t cause the boys any deep anxiety however; a sign perhaps that they are such common place occurrences they don’t warrant any commentary.

At one point for example they hear Moi’s mother scream. One boy asks if they should fetch the local policemen only for Moi to reply: “No, there’s no need for that. He won’t do anything to her. They’re always like that.” Their innate curiosity takes over so they inch closer to the door, to find Moi’s mother fighting with his uncle; one armed with a bread knife, the other with a tuck knife. Minutes later they’re all sitting around scoffing bread and butter as if nothing untoward had occurred.

Shadows of Hardship and War

These are kids whose lives are framed by hunger and hardship. The first World War has cast its shadow on the village, creating heroes but also bringing death. The boys go to school but know their childhood will not last much longer. Their families need them to work, to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. So just like their fathers, they’ll head to the nearby slate quarry.

One Moonlit Night doesn’t have a story as such. It’s a series of episodes that spin through different points in time; mixing gossip and anecdote with dreams and recollections. At some points the narrative seems to even leave reality behind, entering the realm of myth with invocations to the Queen of The Black Night and the Queen of Snowdon (the Beautiful One)

Come again my Beautiful One, come again and take me before the sun rises from his resting place, before we are disturbed by the bleating of the lamb; fully possess your chosen one before the withering of the moon’s candle; prepare before me the joy of my afternoon.

Lyrical Yet Ordinary

Caradog Pritchard offers a heady mix of the lyrical and the commonplace but also draws heavily on local dialect and expressions. Few characters have standard names; instead they’re denoted by their occupation, or their relation to another character or their residence. So we have Elwyn Top Row, Little Will Policeman’s Dad, Bob Milk Cart, Johnny Beer Barrel’s Dad and – my favourite – Will Starch Collar.

Seeing these names on the page reminded me so much of the village where my parents were born. Few people there used surnames either. When they spoke about a neighbour or someone else in the village. It was always Jones the Milk or Dai Post or Evan Two Shoes (the origin of which is lost in the mists of time). It’s a practice possible only in a small community where that can be just one post man or milkman,

Won Over By Energetic Narrator

I didn’t take to this book initially but slowly its humour and energy won me over. I loved the narrator who has a zest for life that’s hard to quench and a love for his gran and his widowed mother that is matched only by his love of bread and butter and lobscouse (a kind of lamb and vegetable stew). He even prays for food, inspired by a line from the Lord’s Prayer he’d recited in church that morning:

Give us this day our daily bread … bread.
And after saying daily bread, I didn’t go any further with the others, I just started thinking. I remembered Mam telling me before we came to Church that we had no bread to make bread and butter with, and so I asked God for some more daily bread cos the parish money wasn’t coming till Friday.

That quote is one of many examples of how Pritchard blends humour and darkness in this novel. One moment you’re amused by a small child who takes a very literal interpretation of a prayer and the next you’re jolted into recognition this is a family very much on the breadline. What begins as a narrative of childhood fun and laughter, slowly but steadily gets darker until the final, heartbreaking ending.

It’s an unforgettable book.

One Moonlit Night by Caradog Pritchard: End Notes

Caradog Pritchard

One Moonlit Night was written in the Welsh language and published in 1961 under the title Un Nos Ola Leuad. The first English translation was issued in 1995, followed by a BBC radio broadcast in English the following year.

The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales called the book “one of the most impressive novels to be published in Wales since the Second World War.” with a narrative stye reminiscent of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. It was Caradog Pritchard’s best known work although he was also a highly regarded poet, three times winning the National Eisteddfod crown.

My edition was published in 2015, translated by Philip Mitchell. I read it as part of the Wales Reading Month (called Dewithon) hosted by Paula at BookJotter.

Sample Saturday: 3 Doorstep Novels

My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three of the chunkiest books on my TBR shelves. As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

A sticker on my copy of Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas tells me that I paid £2.50 for this in a charity shop. I have no idea why I wanted it because I’ve never read anything by hi; not even his much acclaimed novel The Slap. Maybe I was trying to expand my reading of Australian authors?

Tsiolkas’ novel is about the hopes and dreams of Danny Kelly, a 14-year-old working-class boy with an immense talent as a swimmer. He and his family sacrifice everything to help him become a golden boy in his sport and put him on a path to represent Australia in the Olympic Games. His selection would also silence the rich boys at the private school to which he won a scholarship. But the plan goes horribly wrong.

I’ve read about 20 pages of the book and it hasn’t wowed me. It feels two-dimensional and too much of a “this happened, then that happened” style. Can I take 510 pages of this especially when I’m not particularly enamoured of sports-based narratives? It feels like it would be a plod.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker Translated from French by Sam Taylor

This 614 page book by Swiss author was a huge it in Europe when it was published in 2014 though its reception in the United States was more muted. Some critics there thought it was cliched and lacklustre. The Guardian reviewer commented:

So many critics seem to have been knocked on their behinds by Dicker’s novel that I can’t be sure I’m not missing something in filing what you might call a minority report. They see a masterpiece; I see a completely ordinary, amiably cartoonish and well aerated page-turner that does nothing interesting in literary terms at all.

The novel is a thriller set in a coastal  town in New Hampshire where the young successful Marcus Goldman heads in search of inspiration for his next book. While staying with his college professor, Harry Quebert, the body of a 15-year-old girl is found on the property. She’d gone missing 33 years earlier. Quebert is accused of her murder, Marcus sets out to clear his old professor’s name and to uncover the truth. His publisher sniffs a good opportunity and offers a multimillion dollar advance for a book about Goldman’s investigation.

Do I want to read this? The story moves along quickly – by page 40 we’ve already had the discovery of the body. But that’s not surprising for a thriller. I can live with that providing the quality of writing isn’t sacrificed for pace. But from the pages I’ve sampled I fear this book is nothing special.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

This comes in at a hefty 884 pages but then, as the title indicates, it’s actually four novels published between 1957 and 1960.

Durrell called it “an investigation of modern love”; a novel in which he experimented with a premise that people and events seem different when considered from different angles and periods. So he presents three perspectives on a single set of events and characters in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during the Second World War.

The four volumes concern the same characters, but each of the several narrators tell the novels’ complex tales from their own viewpoint, and they write at different times.

I’m tempted to give this a go, by reading at least the first book. I’m attracted by some reviews I’ve read that say one of the novel’s strengths is the way it evokes the city as a melting pot of cultures.

The Verdict: Reprieve

So that’s two fewer books on the TBR shelves. Did I make the right choices?? What would you save from these three??

At Home With …Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf at home

High on my wishlist of literary destinations to visit, is the weatherboarded cottage bought as a country retreat by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. 

Monk’s House lies in the small village of Rodmell, a few miles south of Lewes, in East Sussex. The couple bought the place on 1 July 1919, paying £700 at an auction. 

Monk House, home to Virginia Woolf

Monk House was a fairly modest sized property dating from the sixteenth century. It had few mod cons but over the years the Woolfs made many additions and improvements. They upgraded the kitchen, installed a hot water range and a bathroom with water closet. In 1929 they added a two-storey extension. At some point they added a large conservatory. 

Monk House, Home to Virginia Woolf

Initially the house came  with three-quarters of an acre of garden including an orchard and a number of outbuildings. In 1928 the couple bought an adjoining field to preserve the beautiful views from the garden towards Mount Caburn.

Monk House had been purchased as a country retreat, a place where they could escape from city life, to read, write and garden. But they spent more and more of their time in Rodmell, eventually living there full-time from 1940 when their flat in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury, London, was damaged during an air raid.

Retreat From City Life

The solitude of village life allowed Virginia respite from the tumult of London. “This place has great charms” she said while noting that Monk’s House had no water, gas or electricity. It was a quiet existence in which she could retreat to write in a small wooden lodge at the bottom of the garden.  It was a purpose-built replacement for the converted tool shed she used in the early years at Rodmell. It was here, and in her bedroom (built as a sanctuary with no indoor link to the rest of the house) that she wrote  Mrs Dalloway To The Lighthouse and Orlando.

But this was not a solitary existence: many of the members of the Bloomsbury Group, including T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry and Lytton Strachey visited the house. Virginia documented their visits, together with other scenes at Monk House Monk’s House in a series of photographs, now held by Houghton Library, at Havard University.

The peace and tranquility of Monk House were not, however, sufficient to counter her concerns about her mental wellbeing. She lived in fear of a further mental breakdown; a return of the severe depression from which she had suffered for many years. On 28 March 1941, Woolf drowned herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the nearby River Ouse near her home.

The letter she left behind for her husband indicates her state at the time:

Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came.

Virginia Woolf’s remains were buried under one of the two intertwined elm trees at Monk House which she had nicknamed “Virginia and Leonard.” Leonard marked the spot with a stone tablet engraved with the last lines from her novel The Waves:

Against you I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!
The waves broke on the shore.

After Virginia’s Death

Leonard continued to live at Monk’s House, playing an active role in village life as manager of the village school and president of the horticultural society.

Upon his death in 1969 the house was bequeathed to his close friend, the artist Trekkie Parsons, who sold it to the University of Sussex in 1972. It was eventually turned over to the National Trust in 1980.

Visitors to the property today find a house filled with the Woolfs’ art collection as well as personal items including a collection of 39 Arden Shakespeare plays that Virginia hand-covered and her portrait painted by her sister Vanessa.

Monk House, Virginia Woolf's final home
The sitting room at Monk’s House

Monk’s House is closed at the moment as a Covid-19 protection measure. But when it does re-open you can be sure I’ll be writing my name in that visitor’s book. Anyone else care to join me??

if this has whetted your appetite, take a look at the National Trust website for Monk’s House and drool over the photos of the garden. Or watch this short video

What I’m Reading: Episode 26, March 2020

Time to share with you all what I’m currently reading, what I recently read and what I plan to read next. 

What I’m reading now

For the first time ever I purchased a book in advance of publication. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies so much, I just had to have the final instalment in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy. I wasn’t expecting The Mirror & The Light to be so big. Huge in fact and because it’s in hardback, it’s heavy. Which makes it very difficult to read in bed….

Hilary Mantel

But that’s only part of the reason why my progress through this book is at glacial speed. The main factor is that this is a book which takes a good amount of concentration. Mantel’s narration is slippery. You have to keep on your toes to be certain who is speaking. Plus there are a lot of characters (the list at the front of the book is five pages long).

But I’m not complaining. This is a book of sheer brilliance. It is absolutely meant to be savoured. I suspect I’m still going to be reading it when it’s time to do my April edition of “What I’m Reading”.  

What I just finished reading

WalesReadingMonth (otherwise known as Dewithon 2020) has been running throughout March. As you’d expect I’ve been participating in the event hosted by Paula at Book Jotter by reading a few books by Welsh authors that were on my TBR shelves.

I posted my review of one of these – Turf or Stone by Margiad Evans – a few days ago. It wasn’t great. Far more to my taste was One Moonlit Night by Caradog Pritchard. It was written in the Welsh language in 1961 as a portrayal of life in a small slate quarrying town in North Wales. The narrator recalls his childhood in this community, a life in which joy, sadness and tragedy are seldom apart.

Caradog Pritchard

Pritchard’s novel is written in a poetic style but also uses the local dialect. Once you’ve tuned into this, and got accustomed to the oddities of character names (Will Starch Collar is my favourite), the book is tremendous. I’ll post a more considered response in the next few days.

Incidentally the photo was taken on what turned out to be my very last trip to a coffee shop for some considerable time. No prizes for guessing why coffee shops are no go areas right now.

I also just finished The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves, a debut novel which comes out in April. It has an interesting twist on the theme of relationships because it focuses on a married couple who have not spoken to each other for six months. I’m on the blog tour for this mid April so will share my thoughts in a few weeks.

Abbie Greaves

What I’ll read next

I said at the beginning of the year that I was pulling back from reading challenges that involved making lists of books to read or goals for the number of books to read. But I am joining in short reading events where I can and where I have a suitable book/s on my TBR.

There are two coming up fairly soon. One is ZolaAddictionMonth hosted by Fanda and the other is the 1920club hosted by Karen and Simon.

I have one book lined up for each.

For Zola Addiction month I have His Excellency Eugene Rougon/Son Excellence Eugène Rougon which is book number two in Zola’s Rougon-Macquet cycle. I’ve been reading them out of order but am now trying to fill in the gaps.

For the 1920 reading club I have Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. This will be the final book on my Classics Club project (woo hoo….)

I turned to Twitter to help me decide which to read first. But it didn’t help. Because it was a draw… So I shall have to rely on my instinct instead.

In the meantime there is the (not so small) matter of the Mantel to finish, and The Binding which is the next book club choice. And a library loan of Actress by Anne Enright (not that it needs to be finished soon because libraries have gone the way of coffee shops). And more than 200 other books on my shelves.

I shall be busy.


Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

Passion and Cruelty in Turf or Stone by Margiad Evans [book review]

Turf or Stone is an “amazing, fantastical, invigorating reading experience” according to Kate Gramich in her foreword to the Library of Wales edition of  Margiad Evans’s novel. 

Turf or Stone

That was a long way from my experience. I find it hard to accept that such a dark, troubling and uncomfortable novel about the extremes of human emotion could be invigorating. Passion, violence and cruelty are ever present, with only a few moments of unexpected tenderness to lighten the darkness. 

We’re only a few pages into the book when this becomes evident. Mary Bicknor, a servant cum companion to an eccentric lady, is to be married. She has hitherto enjoyed a comfortable existence but falls from grace when she discovers she is pregnant by Easter Probert, a groom at a local farm.  The vicar hurriedly pushes the pair into marriage. But this is a relationship clearly doomed never to work. 

Disastrous Start to Marriage

The bride cries all the way through the marriage service. There are no witnesses or guests. Mary is presentably dressed but Easter turns up in old and dirty clothes. He’s forgotten a ring so at the last moment has to take a thick twisted one from his hand that is far too big for the woman. On their way home, he snatches the ring back and pushes her over into the mud

Easter continues to be a cruel husband. He’s a serial womaniser who takes pleasure in hurting and humiliating his wife. Mary is driven to despair. She contemplates suicide but finds comfort instead in an affair with her husband’s employer, a married man with three children. She applies for a legal separation order so she and her young son can start a new life away from both men. The novel ends with Easter on the receiving end of a form of poetic justice. 

A Monstrous Womaniser

n Easter, Margiad Evans has devised a protagonist who has few redeeming qualities. He is sullen, insolent and brutish. Appropriately Easter is described repeatedly in nightmarish, animalistic terms. When his employer’s daughter Phoebe hears him knocking the door one night, she’s confronted with the grotesque vision of a man peering through the window looking “livid, the upper teeth were showing and a large spider’s web, really on the inside, seemed at that distance to be hanging from his mouth. 

Enough to give you the creeps. Yet he has no trouble persuading women into his bed. He seems to have a strange and perplexing hold on them; they recognise the danger he presents and are repelled by him but they still don’t walk away.

Moral Complexity

However much he bears a resemblance to some brooding Gothic figure, Easter is not a caricature. Evans invests him with moral complexity, particularly in his relationship to women. We’re told he “loved women who were sad and gentle, and suffered him,” That word “suffer” is central to understanding his constant swings swings between sexual desire and hatred, between a desire to be loved and violence when he isn’t. 

He’s hoping that Mary will be kind towards him but when she doesn’t “suffer” him, he takes revenge in brutish behaviour. One of the most terrible scenes in the novel takes place when his wife is five months pregnant. He comes home with “a surprise”: a dead rat he puts into her bed.

And he pushed it deeper and deeper into her flesh, till, hanging round his neck, she dragged herself up, and with the poisonous little carcass crushed between them, seized him by the ear and tugged.They struggled furiously in the darkness.He did not strike her; he half carried, half dragged her across the room and poured a jug of water over her head. 

The details are horrific. Told that the “rats eyes are running, there are flies’ eggs in the fur, the tail’s half off,” Mary crawls away “like a thrashed animal in snarling despair” to cower with her face against the wall. The scene ends with Easter swamped by ‘voluptuous tenderness’ sleeping with her in his arms. 

Childhood Influences

Turf or Stone suggests the reason for his Easter’s appalling cruelty lies in his neglected childhood. Which created in him a deep seated desire for human warmth. I’m no psychologist but can’t see how violence will get him what he most desires. Even if I understood his motivation, it didn’t make me warm to him in any way, particularly when you see the predatory way he creeps around his employer’s fifteen year old daughter. 

This is a novel thick with misery and strife. Too much of it really for me to enjoy. If it had come with more light and shade, and if we’d been given more access to Mary’s side of the relationship, I think I would been more interested. I’d been looking forward to reading this having heard for years about Margiad Evans but in the end it was a disappointment.

Turf or Stone by Margiad Evans: Endnotes

Margiad Evans
Margiad Evans

Margiad Evans was the pseudonym of Peggy Eileen Whistler who though born in England developed a lifelong affinity with the Marches, the area on the English/Welsh border.

She became aquainted with this part of the world when she was a child and visited her aunt and uncle’s farm near Ross on Wye. Her family moved to a house just outside Ross when she was aged 12. After her marriage she went to live on a nearby farm.

Margiad Evans wrote extensively throughout her life: novels, short stories, autobiography and poems. She kept a journal, often written on scraps of paper or in exercise books. After her death her husband Michael Williams donated many of her letters, journals and diaries to the National Library of Wales.

Turf or Stone was her third novel, published in 1936.

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