February was a good month for reading for me, I finished four books which is the most I’ve read in a month for a long time!

Late last year I took an introduction to creative writing course at The Australian Writers’ Centre online, it was fantastic, and I am starting to try to cobble together a first draft of a manuscript as a result of gaining more confidence through that course. I’m working on a historical novel idea (I may change my mind and start again though!) and so I read some historical novels set in the UK that also have some truth behind them (The Good People and The Witchfinder’s Sister) as research. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to write a piece of fiction longer than a short scene or poem, and I’m finding it quite challenging! I only have just over 2,000 words written so far, so it’s still very early days.

 

The Good People by Hannah Kent

Author Hannah Kent came across a newspaper clipping describing how a woman in Ireland was acquitted of murdering a small boy, because she believed that the boy had been stolen by fairies and a changeling was left in his place. Set between 1825 and 1826, the novel explores that story and provides insight into the Irish folklore that states that fairies, both malevolent, well meaning and ambivalent, walk among us.

On the death of her daughter, Nora’s son in law decides that he can no longer care for Michael. The boy is taken to live with Nora, but he is not the grandson that Nora remembers meeting. The grandson Nora met before her daughter’s death was happy, healthy and able to walk, but the Michael who lives with her now is not the same, he is unwell, unable to walk or speak and in need of around the clock care. Whispers start in the local community that recent unlucky events are due to Michael’s arrival, and that maybe he is not a boy at all.

The Good People has a strong sense of place, the setting in the Irish countryside feels lush, green, damp and dirty. In that setting, the novel gives the reader an unsettling view of the harsh reality and intense superstitions that sick and disabled people often faced in less educated times.

 

The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano

This book is one that I would never have been naturally drawn to. But when I heard Beau Donelly interviewed about the book on the Australian Writers’ Centre’s weekly podcast I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle.

Belle Gibson was an Australian wellness blogger who built her business, including an app and a book, on the basis that she had treated her brain cancer through a healthy lifestyle. Donelly and Toscano were alerted by a contact that something wasn’t right with Gibson’s story, and when they dug deeper they discovered that Gibson was lying.

The Woman Who Fooled the World is riveting, it’s well-paced and not once did I feel like my attention was lagging. Its a well-researched piece of journalism that goes into not just Belle’s story, but the history of the health and wellness industry as well, and the climate in society at the time of Belle’s rise and popularity, to look at how this was able to occur. It really was such a horrific story for so many people to have been fooled by, as it encouraged cancer sufferers to turn their backs on traditional treatment and instead turn towards healthy eating, all based on a lie.

“They thought she might have embellished the details of her upbringing. Maybe she was trying too hard to elicit sympathy. But fake cancer? No. No one thought she would do that. ‘There were a lot of things,’ said one former friend. ‘She would divert her gaze or she would stare right through you. Everyone just thought it was brain cancer. When you look back it’s like, oh that’s not brain cancer, that’s lying. But even if you thought she wasn’t telling the truth, who is going to be the person who turns around and says, ‘Hey that 25-year-old single mother with brain cancer is lying.’?”

The podcast interview with the author can be found here: click.

 

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins was a key figure in English witch trials in the 17th century, and was involved in the deaths of around 300 women executed for witchcraft. This novel is told from the point of view of his fictional sister, Alice Hopkins. Alice has returned to her childhood home Essex, after the tragic death of her husband. As a widow, she is reliant on her brother now, but on her return to Essex she finds him altered, and hears rumours that he is gathering a list of women’s names. Eventually despite her wishes, she is drawn into Matthew’s plans.

This was a thrilling and easy read, I finished it very quickly and enjoyed it very much. It was told from Alice’s first person point of view, which was done very effectively as she felt like a very real character and I felt close to her thoughts and her journey. An interesting fictional spin on real events.

 

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

The Perfect Nanny is on display in every book store in Edinburgh at the moment as a must read. I don’t have a lot to say about this French psychological thriller, apart from that it’s terrifying! Terrifying, claustrophobic, unnerving, and very well written. It begins at the most terrible part of the plot, a working mother coming home to discover that her two children have been murdered by the nanny. The book then backtracks to the events leading up to the nanny snapping, with the reader anticipating the horrific end that they already know is coming.

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