Monthly Archives: January 2012

 The winners of the competition have now been chosen and the competition is closed. Thank you to everyone that entered and for putting such effort into your answers, we had a great time reading through them. The winners of the competition were Ellie Poppe and Johnny Fox. Congratulations to the two of you and we hope you have a fantastic time at the premiere!

Boasting a sterling cast including Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is set to hit UK screens on the 24th February. The film, based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggachfollows a group of retirees that are enticed by advertisements for a newly restored palatial hotel in India. Expecting a life of easy leisure, good weather and plenty of mango juice in their gin, on arrival they are dismayed to find the palace is a shell of its former self, the staff more than a little eccentric, and the days of the Raj long gone. But, as they soon discover, life and love can begin again, even in the most unexpected circumstances.

To tie in with the release of the film, a film tie in version of the book will also be released on February 16th - make sure you read this wonderful novel of new beginnings and journeys afar before seeing it in all it’s colour and exoticism at the cinema.

If you just can’t wait for the cinema release, for lucky Tesco Blog readers we’ve got two pairs of tickets to go to the World Premiere of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! You’ll be one of the very first to see this wonderful film in all it’s colourful glory – and may even spot some members of the amazing cast there too! The premiere is on Tuesday 7th February at 6.30pm at the Curzon Mayfair, London. If you want to be in with a chance of winning, just leave us a comment telling us

where your dream location to move abroad to is and why.

We’re looking forward to reading your answers!

Read more

Your follow up to The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, is being published very soon. Could you tell us a little about it?

This is a story that delves into the darker aspects of 20th century Scottish history, sparked by the discovery of a perfectly preserved body in a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis, and explored through the thoughts and recollections of a man suffering from dementia. Of course, there is a murder, a mystery, and a resolution.

The Scottish landscape of the Hebrides plays a major role in the novels, was there something that especially drew you to the islands and Lewis in particular?

I created and produced a television drama series in the 1990s which was shot entirely on location on the Isle of Lewis. I lived there for five months a year during five years while filming and got to know every blade of grass and every grain of sand on the island. When I was looking for a location for a new book to follow on from my China series, it seemed like the obvious choice.

Fin MacLeod is such a fantastic character. Having created detectives before do you find it gets easier as you go along? Do you draw on any of the same sets of experiences you used for previous characters?

Every book you write reflects the accumulated experience of all the others, I think. But characters always take on a life of their own – in a strange way almost beyond the control of the writer. I borrow from people I have met in life, and draw on my own experiences, but the created characters become unique and develop their own voices and vices. I often describe the process of writing dialogue as being like a shorthand typist, listening to characters talk and simply writing down what they say.

Is there anything specific to crime fiction for which you had to adapt your writing process? Or did you find your style was naturally suited to it?  

I always wanted to be a novelist, not necessarily a crime writer. But the commission and investigation of crime provides the opportunity to explore the human condition, often in its darkest form, which is really what the best novels do. I like to think that I write in a genre that the French call roman noir – the black novel.

Did you always want to become a writer?

I wrote my first book at the age of four, so I think it must have been in my DNA. I wrote three books during my teen years (unpublished), and got my first book published at the age of 25.

What books would you say have been the biggest influences on the style of crime you have developed?

I loved the novels of Georges Simenon, beautifully constructed studies of human frailty. Graham Greene was an enormous influence.  The short stories of Somerset Maugham. And, of course, the books which had the most profound influence on my childhood years – Hergé’s adventures of Tintin!

Two of your detectives have had the surname MacLeod, does the name have any personal significance for you?

Hahaha, no. That was an accident. When first written, The Blackhouse was rejected by all the major publishing houses in the UK.  I shelved it and didn’t expect it ever to see the light of day. I went on to write the Enzo Files, with my character Enzo Macleod, which I thought had a nice ring to it. My German publisher, which has bought both series, insisted that I changed Enzo’s name to save confusion, so in Germany he is Enzo Maclean.

In our last interview with you, you spoke about screenwriting and how it honed your dialogue writing. Many aspiring writers find dialogue difficult so do you have any tips for them?

If you have put in the work on creating your characters, they will speak to you. You will hear their voices. No need to write the dialogue for them. But I think the secret of good dialogue is not that it is realistic (people talk terrible rubbish), but that it creates the illusion of being realistic. And never write a line that doesn’t either further story or develop character.

What books do you like to read outside of the crime genre? Do you have a favourite author?

Most of my reading these days is confined to research books – many of which I thoroughly enjoy as a great counter-balance to the fiction I write. As a young man my favourite writers were Hemingway, Greene, Steinbeck, H.E. Bates and J.P. Donleavy.

What do you think of online writing, blogs, fan-fiction etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?

I think the online world of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and fan-fiction, has given us all a voice, in a way that would have been unimaginable just fifteen years ago. I maintain an author page on Facebook, participate enthusiastically in the world of Twitterature, and have a blog on which I post all too rarely – my publisher seems intent on chaining me to my computer to keep turning out books!

We’re all excited about the third book in the Lewis Trilogy as well as the screenplay you mentioned to us last time, but what does the future hold for you after that? Are you working on anything else?

I am developing a couple of ideas for a new series which I shall start working on seriously next year. The movie of “The Killing Room” grinds slowly towards a shooting date, and I am juggling a number of TV and film offers for the Lewis Trilogy.

Anything you’d like to add?

Buy “The Lewis Man”.

Joanna Cannon: I absolutely loved Before I Go To Sleep and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to ask you a question. I’d like to know how it feels to write your second book? Is it less stressful, because you’ve already proved your writing ability, or more stressful, because you are under pressure to produce an equally stunning novel?

Thank you Joanna! I’m so glad you liked the book. I did think writing the second book would be easier, as one might naturally think that having done it once I now know how to write novels! But I now realize that every novel is different. In writing Before I Go to Sleep I learned how to write that novel, and now I’m learning how to write the next novel. As for the pressure to write one ‘equally stunning’ (thank you again!) – I don’t really feel it in the way you might expect. My challenge is to write a book that I think is better than Before I Go to Sleep. For me writing is a process of exploration and I want to be constantly pushing myself. It’s a learning process, so as long as the next novel teaches me something I’ll be happy. Of course I think and hope the people that have liked Before I Go to Sleep will love it too!

Nancy Chase: I too really enjoyed “Before I Go To Sleep”, so compelling that I finished the book within a week! This has to be one of my favourite books of all time! My question is “What books have you read, that you just cant put down?”

What an honour! Thanks Nancy. There are so many books I’ve read that I’ve loved and haven’t been able to put down. It seems wrong to single one out! I’m actually trying to train myself to put more books down – I hate giving up on a book once I’ve started it, and all too often find myself ploughing through a book that I’m not enjoying in the slightest! Last year I did read two particularly stunning books, though – one is out now and is called Tideline by Penny Hancock, and the other is out in a few months and is called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It’s by Rachel Joyce, another graduate of the Faber Academy, and I think really does qualify as ‘unputdownable’.

Mary Mayfield: I’d love to know where the idea came from. I see it as a scary version of 50 First Dates, so, had you seen that film? did it have any influence? or are you not a rom-com watcher? I loved Before I Go To Sleep and can easily imagine how frightening it must be to have to rely on others for even the most basic information about yourself and your life. Looking forward to your second novel.

I had the idea for the book when I read an obituary of a man called Henry Gustav Molaison. He had died in 2008 but, since undergoing surgery for epilepsy in 1953, had been unable to form new memories and so lived constantly in the past. I wondered how it must feel to wake up every day thinking it was 1953, and was struck immediately by a mental image of a woman looking in a bathroom mirror in a strange house to find that, instead of a teenager reflected there, she had become a middle-aged woman, and the house was her home. I realized that through her story I could explore lots of the issues I’d been thinking about for a while.

As for 50 First Dates, I didn’t watch it until after the book was finished and people started making comparisons, so no, it didn’t have any influence. I wouldn’t say they were my favourite films, but I do like the occasional Rom-Com – I think they’re a good way to unwind. In a way I think Before I Go to Sleep looks at what might happen to someone in that situation when she has gotten older, and the people around her can no longer pretend that nothing is wrong and she hasn’t lost her memories.

Cesca: Loving book, will be reviewing for Novelicious soon. My question is: “Do you ever write in unusual places?”

I don’t think I write in places that are that unusual. I was working for the NHS as I wrote Before I Go to Sleep, and part of my job involved visiting hospitals around the UK, so a lot of that book was written in hotel rooms and on trains. I remember I wrote one section on a flight to Amsterdam, as I was going there for a conference about hearing aids, and another chapter was drafted on the Eurostar on my way to a training course in Belgium. But most of the book was written at the dining room table, with occasional trips to coffee shops or libraries when I needed a change of scene.

R Khatun: I loved the book, especially the ending. Very creepy, hard to put down. Well done on such an outstanding book. Looking forward to the next book. My Question: What tips would you give when writing description?

Thank you. Writing description is so important, yet so easy to get wrong. I think less is most definitely more. One of the joys of books is that the reader pictures the scene themselves, they decide what the characters look like and sound like, and also what the setting for the book looks like. So we only need to tell them enough to create the scene as it needs to be. It’s all about the telling details. For example, we don’t need to describe a whole bathroom, the colour of the tiles and what’s on the floor, the fact that there’s a loo roll holder and some towels and a bathmat, a bottle of shampoo and one of conditioner. Most bathrooms have all that. We just need to tell the reader enough to understand the kind of bathroom it is. The fact there are hairs in the soap, the linoleum is peeling and the whole room smells mouldy. The reader will create the rest of the scene, and do it far better than you can!

Amanda Saint: Excellent book, I read it in one day non-stop! My question is: When you finished writing it, in your head did Christine’s memory survive her next sleep so that she remembered her family the next day?

Ah, Amanda! That’s the million dollar question! The thing is, I don’t know. Like most people I expect, I’d like to think that she woke up the next day knowing who and where she is, but I don’t know any more that you do. Christine’s amnesia was caused at least in part by psychological trauma, and my understanding is that that can be reversed, but she’s been suffering with it for many many years. So I’m afraid we just don’t know…

If you’d like to find out more about S J Watson, you can follow him on Twitter

Fans of Stephen King have the opportunity to have their face feature on the front cover of his new book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, part of his much celebrated fantasy series, The Dark Tower. 

If you want to get involved, head over to the Stephen King Facebook page and upload your image to the app. Unfortunately, not every photo that is uploaded will make it onto the cover, but Hodder will contact you to let you know if you have made the cut or not. The closing date for the app is the 23rd January, so make sure you get your entry in before time’s up!


Rachel Simon - The Story of Beautiful GirlIdeas can, and do, come from everywhere, but never fully baked. They are only the ingredients, and they cannot blend together without the actual process of writing. A perfect example of this is my most recent novel, The Story of Beautiful Girl. The novel follows a couple, Lynnie and Homan, who have fled from The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, where their freedom has been cruelly snatched away because they have intellectual disabilities. Lynnie is captured and taken back to the School whereas Homan escapes, and the novel follows each of their journeys, as well as that of the newborn child they have left with a stranger in the short period after their escape.

My sister Beth has an intellectual disability. When she was born in 1960, it wasn’t uncommon for doctors in America to recommend to parents that they place children like my sister in institutions. These were not the more commonly-known psychiatric institutions, but institutions specifically for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, my parents never considered that option, and I had little idea about the way people who lived there were treated.

Many years later, I wrote a memoir about my relationship with Beth, Riding The Bus With My Sister, and started getting asked to do public speaking around the country at disability-related conferences. There I met people whose personal or professional experience involved institutions, and who were eager, sometimes tearfully so, to share their stories with me.

Over and over, I returned home, reeling. The reality of institutions had obviously been widespread and affected millions of people just like my sister—yet no one outside of these conferences spoke about such things. In fact, the only institutions most Americans even seemed to be aware of were psychiatric institutions.  I began wondering if I could write something, fiction or nonfiction, that dealt with the material, but the subject seemed so massive, I put the idea to the side.

The material, however, didn’t stop coming my way. One day, as I was wrapping up a talk, I came across a book at a vendor’s table, God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24, by Dave Bakke. In 1945, I learned, a deaf, African American teenager was found wandering the streets in Illinois.  No one understood his sign language so no one knew who he was. A judge declared him “feebleminded” and he was put away in one of these institutions.  There he remained, despite the suspicion of many staff that he had no intellectual disability at all, until he died fifty years later. The tragedy of John Doe No. 24 haunted me.

Yet I still couldn’t figure out how I might present such an emotionally fraught topic.

Then in 2007, the creative writing department where I’d taught for over a decade decided to restructure the department and I was let go. Grieving the loss of a job and students I had loved, I set about trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was sure of only one thing: I wanted to keep writing. Though what I wanted to write about, I didn’t know.

In this vulnerable state, I sat down with a blank pad of paper, waiting to see what would emerge. Instantly, there it was. The novel I’d been vaguely thinking about all this time.

It is 1968. Night. A rain storm. An elderly widow is reading a book. Who is she, I asked myself, and without hesitation, I knew: she was a retired schoolteacher, in a state of grief.  Unlike me, her grief was for a child and a bad marriage; like me, she had stayed in touch with her former students. A knock comes to her door. Who is it, I asked myself. Again, I knew. Standing before her is someone who has my sister’s disability—and someone who is like John Doe No. 24. She is the love of his life. Although I don’t know it for another fifty pages, he calls her Beautiful Girl. They have just escaped from an institution—and Beautiful Girl has just borne a baby girl. I continued writing, and the whole first chapter spilled out. When I reached its ending, I was as shocked as my readers have been. I had no idea she would say to the widow: “Hide her.”

That’s where The Story of Beautiful Girl came from. It was only bits and pieces of ideas, but they got alchemized by the process of writing.

When I started meeting people who’d lived in or worked at institutions, I became interested in collecting books and documentaries about the history and reality of those places. I wasn’t actually planning to use them for research so I could write a book; I was simply curious about the material, though I was also sad about how little material I could find, and just how abysmal the conditions turned out to be. Indeed, one of the details that kept sticking in my mind was the connection between low funding from the state and the quality of life, leading to, in one book I read, a situation where the forty residents in each cottage had to share the same toothbrush every morning. Such details made me think I had to do something with this material – but that it would also be about justice and hope and freedom and love.

When I began writing The Story of Beautiful Girl, I created a fictional institution that was a composite of several real places that I learned about from these conversations, books, and documentaries. I also set up a visit at a closed institution a few hours from my house, where a compassionate former staff person drove me around and related memories about the people she’d cared for there and what daily life was like.

Many things surprised me about institutions, and not all of them were horrific. One was that there were devoted, loving staff people, like my guide at that closed institution.  Another was that friendships developed among the residents that went on for decades and helped sustain both individuals. Of course, there were chilling details, like the stories of families who were told to stop visiting their sons and daughters, or the abuse suffered by residents (which, in my book, I decided to keep off-stage). But there were also real relationships that formed and made a huge difference in everyone’s life. This is part of why I created the character of Kate, the dedicated staff person. It’s also why the whole book is a love story between two residents, and their lifelong quest to live ordinary lives where they can be together, living not behind stone walls, but free, unhidden, out in the world.

Your novels always have a powerful romantic theme at their core and Me Before You especially has an incredibly moving love story its heart. What is it about this subject that inspires you to write such beautiful tales?

I suppose I just love being moved myself. I love music that alters your mood, films that take you somewhere else, or make you cry, and I just try to write books that really take you out of yourself in the same way. I’m also – like half the world – fascinated by love; why it works and why it doesn’t.

Me Before You is receiving very good reviews – how does it make you feel?

Oh it’s an indescribably good feeling. Writing each book is such an act of faith – you never really know until you’ve finished whether it’s any good or whether anyone else will respond to it. Reviews like this are the stuff of a writer’s dreams. I know some writers don’t read them – or say they don’t – but it really matters to me that people enjoy what I do.

How long did it take you to write Me Before You? Do you find some books easier to write than others?

Despite the difficult subject matter, Me Before You was one of the easiest books I’ve written. I ‘knew’ Will and Lou from the very beginning, which meant that I knew how they would react to each other in any given situation. That doesn’t always happen – but when it does, it makes writing positively joyful. I loved writing their banter, and the changes in their relationship. The only problem came with the ending – until the last chapter I honestly wasn’t sure which way I wanted it to go.

Writing is a passion but do you find that sometimes you need to find extra motivation to get writing? If so, what motivates you the most? 

My mortgage! No – I do actually love writing, so I’m also motivated by the fear that one day I won’t have a writing career. I think of how long it took me to get published, and how easy it would be to throw it away, and that usually is motivation enough. Just plugging on and keeping the faith is very important for a writer, I think.

How do you come up with ideas, characters, plots? Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

Most of my ideas come from snippets of news, or stories I hear from people around me. I never worry about running out of ideas, because if you sit and talk to anyone long enough you will find something in their history that could inspire a novel. Me Before You came from an item on a radio news bulletin. My previous book – The Last Letter From Your Lover – came about after eavesdropping in a pub.

Tell us more about your next book - have you written it yet?

It’s called The Girl You Left Behind. It’s an epic love story, set partly in France in World War One, and partly in the modern day, and it revolves around a portrait of a young woman and two couples whose lives are affected by it. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever written – and halfway through I deleted 70,000 words of it and rewrote them. It’s a very different book to Me Before You, but hopefully still revolves around the same themes – love, and loss – so I’m just hoping people respond to it in the same way.


Hello Tesco Books Blog readers!

First of all I want to take a line or two to wish you, your families and loved ones a very happy and most importantly a peaceful new year

2012 is going to be a very exciting time. My autobiography, Over the Moon, is coming out on March 1st, just in time for Mother’s Day.

I have enjoyed writing the book – I hope you enjoy reading it. I’ve covered my tough early days in London’s East End right through to Eastenders, so many adventures, stories and anecdotes in a life full of music film and theatre. I’ve also featured some of the great people I’ve had the pleasure to work with – from Richard Burton to Ringo Starr, meetings with Bob Dylan, Carey Grant, John Lennon, Little Richard and many more. I’ve talked of “Essex Mania”, my family and friends, travels in the developing world and a unique insight to a career lasting over four decades.

But I also have some other news! I am so pleased to tell you that we have a fantastic competition for all you Tesco Books Blog Readers! We have one pair of tickets to see me on tour in the hit musical “All the Fun of the Fair” to give away to one of the first fans who orders my book! Good luck and I look forward to meeting the winner backstage soon.

Remember to keep checking back for more exciting and exclusive offers, and to hear my answers to the questions you’ve sent in. Take care for now!


When S J Watson enrolled in the first Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course, we’re willing to bet he had no idea how successful his first novel, written while studying, would become. Now sold in 34 languages worldwide and acquired for film by Ridley Scott’s production company, Before I go to Sleep also picked up the Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year and the Crime Writers’ Association Award for Best Debut Novel. Not bad going!

Now in the process of writing his second book, S J Watson has opened the floor for our readers to ask him questions. His answers will be posted to the blog next week, so leave your questions in the comments and we’ll pass them on to the man himself.

We look forward to hearing your questions!

We recently had James Corden over to our Tesco Extra Store in Watford for a signing for his new book, May I Have Your Attention Please? Hundreds of fans turned up to meet James and get their copy signed, and it was great day for all involved. However, not wanting to disappoint fans who couldn’t make it all the way to Watford, we also held a Q&A for our Twitter followers so they could ask James anything they liked, just like we did with Lee Evans only a few weeks before. James kindly answered ten of the questions from our Twitter followers, and here are his answers. Thanks James!

I’ve seen you pull some mighty fine moves, if you could be in any dance film, which one, and why, please? – @k_saunders1

Step Up 2: The Streets – in my head I’m already in the film!

What really happened between Uncle Bryn and Jason?! – @hellocutethings

I really don’t know – we know as much as you do!

Were you always the funny one of your friends at school, or is comedy something you’ve learnt? – @Jenni000

Everyone was funny at school, in fact all my mates are much funnier than I am. When we’re all out together I can barely compete!

Is it likely that there will be a return of Gavin and Stacey? – @isonit

Yes I think so – Ruth and I would love to, it really just comes down to timing. I’d be shocked if we didn’t!

What does Matt Horne smell like? – @deffomyflavour

He smells like summer in a bowl!

What was Corden’s favourite moment when filming Gavin & Stacey? – @atfc95

Every minute of filming the Christmas special was amazing – especially singing with Matt – that was brilliant.

James can you please bring out an instructional dance video? I would LOVE it if my husband could burn up the floor like you! – @HRHCassandra

Yes we’re currently in talks about it but probably won’t be shooting it until next summer – watch this space.

What is your favourite film or programme you have played in and why? – @twin_1_katie

Definitely History Boys, I’m extremely proud to have been part of that.

Are there plans for One Man Two Guvnors to come out of London? Saw it at the weekend it was brilliant #mustsee – @K8_thomas

I’m not sure. The play may well tour the UK but not sure it will be me and the current cast. We will be on Broadway next year and by then we will have done around 500 performances. A new cast will probably take over.

What has been your proudest moment or achievement? – @LookToTheSky

Becoming a father!

Jodi Picoult - Sing You HomeAs I write this, the snow is coming down thick and fast and the landscape is white, and I hope you have an equally pretty, if a bit warmer, start to the new year. 2012 is going to be a very exciting year, with the paperback publication of a book that turned out to be so personal to me and one that I had such fun writing, Sing You Home, and then the publication of my new novel, Lone Wolf – the first book that I have visited the UK to research, so it is also very special to me. Then there is the surprise I have for you in July – but you’ll have to wait for that one!

When I started writing Sing You Home, I wanted to create a lesbian character that readers could truly get to know. Which is why Zoe Baxter is so – well, normal. She has a failed marriage and countless attempts to have a baby behind her when she meets Vanessa, a guidance counsellor at the school where she works as a music therapist. Their relationship moves from business to friendship and then – to Zoe’s surprise – blossoms into love. But as they start to think of making a family – something that ‘normal’ couples do naturally, they bump up against the rigid prejudice of Zoe’s ex.

After college, I had a friend who, like me, was naturally, and whole-heartedly attracted to boys. His name was Jeff. A friend and I spent a lot of time with Jeff and his partner Darryl, catching the latest movies and dissecting them over dinner afterward. Jeff was funny, smart, a technological whiz. In fact, the least interesting thing about him was that he happened to be gay.

Something happened during the writing of Sing You Home that truly made the subject hit home. My son Kyle, a brilliant, talented teenager, was applying to colleges while I was working on the book. One day, he brought me his finished application to read. The essay was about being gay.

Did I know Kyle was gay before he came out in his essay? Well, I’d had my suspicions since he was five. But it was his discovery to make, and to share.

Gay rights are not something most of us think about – because most of us happen to have been born straight. But imagine how you’d feel if you were told that it was unnatural to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender. If you weren’t allowed to get married; if you couldn’t adopt a child with your partner, imagine being a teenager who’s bullied because of your sexual orientation; or being told by your church that you are immoral.

Learning that Kyle was gay didn’t change the way I felt about him. He was still the same incredible young man he’d been before I read that essay. I didn’t love him any less because he was gay; I couldn’t love him any more if he weren’t. His boyfriend is a smart, sweet guy who has accompanied us on vacations and who makes my son incredibly happy. Still, it breaks my heart to know that, unlike Kyle, there are teenagers today who cannot come out to their parents because of deep-seated prejudice – which is too often cloaked in the satin robes of religion. Gay teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide as straight teens. I wish they knew that there’s nothing wrong with them; that they are just a different shade of normal.