Saturday, 15 October 2016

Triskele Bookclub Discussion: Our Endless Numbered Days

Triskele Bookclub’s October novel up for discussion is Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days

I first became interested in this book when I read the review by Triskele author, Gillian Hamer on the Bookmuse review site.

About the Author ... Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative Writing, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It was published in the UK by Penguin, in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and bought for translation in 15 other countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize. Claire's second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in early 2017.

About Our Endless Numbered Days ... Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.

Along with fellow Triskele colleague, Gillan Hamer, reader Claire Whatley and book blogger, Linda Hill joined in the discussion of this book.

Liza: Personally, I found this book a 5-star read, and whilst it has garnered mostly excellent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, it also has a few not-so-great reviews. I put this down mainly due to the novel’s disturbing and depressing themes of mental illness, kidnap and child abuse. “Disturbing … horrifying … just plain wrong… nauseous…” were some of the comments. However, in my view, the author deftly handled these dark themes through captivating, lyrical prose and by creating a sense of realism, despite the apparent incredibility of this “adventure”. For example, the deep forest in which Peggy’s father takes her to live becomes a third, very well-rounded character: a dark and threatening but very beautiful thing. Indeed, the Chicago Tribune’s review states ... Fuller weaves a hypnotic intensity of detail into her narrative that gives every lie the feel of truth.

So, how do you rate something so disturbing but so well-written?

Gillian: I don't think I considered the book disturbing at all, there are worse things out there in routine crime procedurals. The book stayed with me for a long time after I'd read it and I rated it 5 stars. To be honest the cleverness of the writing comes from writing this through a child's eyes so the naivety and perception we see masks the real horror of the situation. As an author I know how difficult this is to achieve so I have nothing but praise for the author and the writing. I'm actually about to read her next book 'Swimming Lessons.'

Claire: Overall, I’d give it 4 and ¾ stars. It’s very much a novel in three acts: one - life before Peggy is taken to the forest, two - the forest years, and three – what happens after. Acts Two and Three are definitely 5-star whereas the first part of the novel (before their years in the forest) has quite a slow build-up and it is occasionally quite hard to see where the story is leading. I think this is to some extent because we’re seeing mysterious adult behavior through the eyes of a child. However, I would say to any potential reader it’s absolutely worth persevering with what might seem a slow start. Fuller’s prose is definitely 5-star and all in all, it’s a brilliant debut.

I found it hard to rate Our Endless Numbered Days highly enough. When I read it I didn't realize that the author had been a sculptor and that doesn't surprise me in the least. The attention to the most essential detail in this pared down novel was perfect. I felt there was a deceptive simplicity in the prose that was almost hypnotic.

Liza: Given the disturbing themes, I would hesitate to recommend this novel to certain friends I know would not enjoy the story, however I would definitely recommend it to most reader friends. Would you recommend Our Endless Numbered Days and why?

Gillian: Yes, I would. Maybe it isn't the book for everyone, but I'm afraid there isn't a book out there to suit absolutely everyone's tastes - and nor should there be! I think you would have to be very thin skinned to find anything about this book distasteful - the six o'clock evening news is probably more graphic! But I think as human beings, we need to explore everything humanity throws at us in order to understand there are so many layers of what it is to be human and how important it is to be open to all of them.

I’m one of those readers who avoids graphic violence, cruelty or abuse in fiction, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Our Endless Numbered Days, perhaps with a caveat that the ending is pretty grim and dark. I loved Claire Fuller’s exploration of both the physical challenges of survival in the forest and even more so, the psychological elements. The ‘dark’ scenes were sensitively handled, in my opinion.

I don't agree entirely, Liza. I would recommend it to all readers, even those who have experienced similar themes in real life as I feel it would help them realize they are not alone and others can understand what they are suffering. For those of us for whom Peggy's experiences are way beyond our knowledge I feel Our Endless Numbered Days provides such emotional insight into these topics and themes that we become better able to understand the world around us and to empathise with those like Peggy.

Liza: Narrating a story entirely from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl might be cumbersome for authors as well as readers. As in Emma Donoghue’s Room, I felt the author handled this expertly. Do you think Claire Fuller handled this well?

Gillian: I thought the author handled Peggy perfectly in all aspects and I think for anyone considering writing from a child's POV reading this book is a must! I found the voice solid and believable throughout and the inner thoughts and feelings of a girl of her age, in that position, were handled superbly. Because of that I found I connected with her, despite the age gap, I understood what she was going through.

Yes, I do. I found Peggy’s narrative voice convincing throughout and at no point did the author lose the authenticity of that. Peggy’s trust, anger, confusion were all very real to me. If anything, I would have been interested in a deeper exploration of how she dealt with the challenges of puberty without any reliable adult to explain or assist her with that. It’s an aspect of the story that was rather skimmed over, I felt.

Linda: Absolutely. In fact, as I read I completely forgot Peggy's age, but just immersed myself in the narrative. This wasn't a character of any age, this was a real human being to whom I felt an emotional attachment. There is a clear 'voice' behind the writing, but it isn't Claire Fuller's, it's Peggy herself, regardless of age. I loved the fact that Peggy's voice wasn't a contrived childish one, but was simply that of an individual who had a story to tell.

Liza: Throughout the story, we flit back and forth between Peggy as a child before the “event”, her time with her father in the woods, and 1985, when she is found, an adult back home with her mother. I enjoyed reading each timeline as it gave insight into Peggy’s life before, during and after, as well as the consequential effects of the kidnapping and abuse. Did you enjoy it too, or did it disrupt the rhythm of the story?

Gillian: I thought it added extra depth to the story and I had no problem keeping track of the story. I think flashbacks, if handled correctly, work really well - and the author got it spot on here.

Claire: Hmm. Initially I found myself having to keep up with the time swaps but once I was engrossed in the story I accepted them and had no problem with them. However, I think it could be argued that a more straightforward chronological narrative might have worked just as well and would have given fewer clues to later outcomes.

I'm not usually a great lover of novels that switch between different time scales, but I loved this in Our Endless Numbered Days. I felt I was being given real insight into the characters - and indeed into a psychological world I'd never normally encounter. I also think that the iterative image of music helped draw the strands together so that transitions felt seamless and fluid.

Liza: There is one scene towards the end of this book that I won’t forget in a hurry, but I don’t want to give anything away! Was there any particular scene that remained with you, after you finished reading?

Gillian: Not so much one scene maybe for me - but the location in the woods. It was so vivid to me, maybe because it was Peggy's whole world for so long that she knew every tree, every knot of wood in the cabin. It became very real to me and I think that was one thing I recalled long after I finished the book.

Oh yes – the scene you’re speaking of! Grim as it was, it needed close and careful reading to be sure of what was going on as the author clearly wanted to retain a degree of ambiguity. It’s a clever piece of writing, but I won’t say any more than that…

Linda: There isn't an individual scene that sticks in my mind especially, rather a resonance of feeling and emotion that is still with me some 18 months after I first read Our Endless Numbered Days. I can still picture the cabin and the woods in my mind's eye incredibly clearly.

Liza: And lastly, the end of this novel had me wondering whatever became of Peggy. How could anyone mature into a “normal” functioning adult after this kind of experience? Any thoughts on that?

Gillian: I think it probably very much depends on the person. It's amazing what a human being can go through and come out again the other side. I would like to meet a grown up Peggy actually. I feel she would be a very determined and driven person as an adult, who would find it hard to trust anyone but when she finally did give her heart, she would give it for life. I think some people (and I'd probably include myself here) have a way of packing away the 'bad stuff' and 'bad memories' into a far corner of their brain - and if Peggy was able to do that I think she would mature into a good person who refused to be a victim of her past and went on to achieve great things.

Claire: It’s a good question. And of course, it begs another question: what is ‘normal’? Over the years there have been several real life cases of young people being kidnapped and locked away from society for years. As far as ‘normal’ functioning is concerned I suppose it depends on a) the individual’s predisposition, b) on the quality of counselling they receive, and c) most importantly, the support network they have around them. It would be a long hard adjustment but I think anything is possible.

I think it's surprising just what the human psyche can live through and still behave and appear 'normal'. We are incredibly resilient. Had I been Peggy, I doubt I would have dealt with the situation so well, but then until we are in certain situations we don't know just how we will respond. I certainly have taught youngsters whom I can't believe are so well balanced when I've discovered their past and their home lives. I could see Peggy developing problems in the future, perhaps having difficulties with relationships, but equally I could see her becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist to help counsel others!

Liza: Thanks everyone for your comments! If anyone else would like to say anything about Our Endless Numbered Days, please feel free to comment below.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Triskele Literary Festival Highlights

Our first Triskele Lit Fest TLF16 took place last Saturday, 17th September at Lift in Islington. A great success! A free-entry festival, it attracted readers, writers, bookclubs and booksellers: all those who love the adventure of reading.

Triskele Books' Gillian Hamer and Jane Dixon-Smith on the till

JJ Marsh and the Triskele books

We offered a whole afternoon of exciting author panels focusing on Crime and Thrillers, Sci Fi and Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance, and Literary Fiction, where trade, indie and small press shared the same platform.

Historical Fiction Panel
Crime and Thrillers Panel
Romance Panel
Sci Fi and Fantasy Panel
Preserving the Unicorn Literary Fiction Panel

Alongside the panels, in the pop-up bookshop, 40 authors showcased a diverse range of books where attendees mingled and chatted with authors, and discovered new books.

Over 40 authors participated in the festival, so we asked them the best thing about TLF16. 
Here are some of their answers…

A.E. Rycart: Meeting other authors. The event was very friendly.

Jon Stenhugg: Chance to speak to other authors.

Lynda Young Spiro: Meet interesting, lovely and helpful people.

Katharine D’Souza: Lovely atmosphere, good to meet people.

Elizabeth Woodcraft: Meeting other authors. Discussing their experiences as indie authors, being able to Tweet, Blog and Facebook about the event.

Helene Halme: Interesting talks; networking.

Anoushka Beazley: The opportunity and idea of it.

Kevin Booth: Networking with other authors; seeing what they are doing; innovation…

 And of course, a Triskele Books' event wouldn’t be the same without an après-fest party…
Gin cupcakes
 If you’d like to hear more about the Lit Fest and Triskele Books, listen to Triskele co-founder, member, JJ Marsh live on BBC radio at 22.51 minutes here.

Also at the festival,we asked the authors to recommend one book, and next Friday we’ll be posting some of their answers … watch this space!

Photos courtesy of Julie Lewis.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A Fleshy Tale

In the rural French village in which I live, late August-September is pêche de vigne (bush peach) season. Traditionally, this flavourful fruit with flesh the color of blood was grown next to the vineyards. Easy to grow, they were susceptible to many of the same diseases as the local vines, but the signs of disease were quicker to develop and more obvious on peach trees than on the vines. Hence vine growers would plant peach trees next to their vineyards to warn them of potential problems.


But even with its questionable history as martyr for the cause that dates back to the 17th century, the humble bush peach can certainly hold its head high as a separate identity.

Jams (one hour cooking time), stewed fruit (40 mins cooking time and don’t peel the fruit, I was warned!), chaussons (slippers or turnovers), pies, nectar, ice-cream, sorbet, wine even, the mouth-watering list goes on…

Vive la pêche de vigne!

Monday, 15 August 2016

#Mont Blanc –– the Cursed Mountain?

Mont Blanc or the “White Mountain", at 4,808.73 m (15,777 ft) above sea level, is the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest in Europe after the Caucasus peaks.

“The Cursed Mountain” or “La Montagne Maudite” legend says that during Roman times, Mont Blanc was far greener than today, with cattle grazing on the hillsides.

However, ice devils invaded the hillsides, gradually gaining more and more land.

Perched on the summit was an enchanted kingdom where the queen of the fairies, the “White Goddess” lived amidst foliage and flowers. This highly-respected White Goddess had the power to decide upon the fate of all people, so it was named “The Cursed Mountain’.

Pic of La Montagne Maudite in the background (me rather than the White Goddess!)...

In Blood Rose Angel, the third standalone novel in my French historical trilogy: The Bone Angel series, set during the Black Plague of 1348, Mont Blanc is still known as La Montagne Maudite.

The book is currently available at the special promotional price of only 99c/p at the following retailers:



Barnes & Noble


Extract from Blood Rose Angel…

The baker was still calling out to anyone there to listen: housewives, chickens and geese, the clouds in the sky, the hills. His happy cries pealed out over the market-place, echoing across field and valley, and to the east a rainbow haloed the Montagne Maudite. Raoul imagined how Héloïse must feel at such heavenly moments: seeing how the birth of a healthy babe brought out the best in everyone. Even in the worst of times.

The baker came striding towards Raoul, holding his new son under an arm like one of his loaves, his grin still wide and silly.

‘A miracle, Raoul Stonemason,’ he said, thumping him on the shoulder. Raoul smiled, but took a step backwards. Sibylle’s husband might be recovered from the pestilence but he was still wary.

The baker carefully laid the baby down on the drawing floor and grabbed Raoul’s hand. He flipped it palm-up and began pouring coins into it from his leather scrip. ‘However can I pay you enough?’ he said. ‘Truly a miracle.’

Raoul kept trying to pull his hand away, but the baker’s grip was, surprisingly, stronger than his own.

‘Stop!’ Raoul said. ‘Why are you paying me? It wasn’t Héloïse who midwifed your Sibylle.’

‘But your young Morgane did just as good a job,’ the baker said. ‘Since that yard-brained Captain

locked up your wife, your girl came instead. And a fine––’

‘Morgane birthed your son?’ Raoul said. ‘But she’s only into her eighth summer. How could she …?’

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

How to Make #socialmedia #book teaser images

Teaser images can be one of the best marketing tools at an author’s disposal. Studies show that Facebook posts and tweets containing images result in at least 87% engagement. Compared to about 4% engagement for posts that are all text, and taking into account how simple the concept, you might wonder why more authors aren’t using them.

A common reason – “I don’t know how to make them." Read the rest of this article on how to make social media book teaser images, by Courtney J. Hall, on Words with Jam here.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Huge congratulations to the six shortlisted entries of our ‪#‎Big5‬ Competition: Su Lynch, Linda McLaughlin, Diane Stadhams, Gill Thompson, Janet Wright and Sophie Wellstood. Well done ladies!
Full details on the Triskele Blog.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Happy #Bastille Day! #FrenchRevolution #Bookpromo Celebration

Today, 14th July, France celebrates the storming of the Bastille on 14th July, 1789, an important event in Paris during the revolution that had begun two days beforehand. Celebrations are held all over the country, and it is a public holiday.

Last night, the rural village, at the foot of the Monts du Lyonnais, in which I live, put on an impressive fireworks display. We enjoyed it, but the poor cats were growling and hid under the bed!

For my own celebration, I'm running a limited time promotion of 99c/p on my novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, part of which takes place during the French Revolution.

 Extract from Spirit of Lost Angels...

Empowered by the strength of our numbers, I felt my anguish fade for a brief moment, as we marched into the overcast morning of July 14th.
By six o’clock, our seething arms-hungry crowd had reached Les Invalides, and I was relieved when the French Guards peacefully seized the guns, pikes and sabres, and several pieces of cannon from the arsenal within the old veterans’ hospital. Nobody was hurt.
‘There is no ammunition!’ Aurore shouted, along with several others.
A la Bastille!’ people began chanting. ‘A la Bastille!’
Aurore’s eyes gleamed with that potent combination of resentment, patriotism and the desire for change, as the excited mob propelled us down the rue Saint-Antoine.
‘We want the Bastille!’
While their shouts fuelled and thrilled me, they sent bolts of terror through me too, as I moved with the crowd, like some carousel abandoned to centrifugal force, towards the old fortress.
‘Surrender the prison!’ the people shouted, gathering before the Bastille as early daggers of sunlight sheared the dirty brown underbellies of clouds.
‘Remove the cannons!’
‘Release the gunpowder!’
‘Get the Governor to withdraw the cannons!’
Two men chosen to represent the mob entered the fortress to negotiate.
By mid-afternoon, when nothing had happened and people were pawing the ground like restless horses, the crowd hacked down the drawbridge chains and streamed, unimpeded, into the undefended outer courtyard.


I heard shouts from the roof. The panic rose in my chest.
‘They’re going to fire on us, quick run!’ I grabbed Aurore and tried to push our way back through the crowd, away from the prison, but we were trapped, unable to move any which way.
The garrison began firing. I shut my eyes and held my breath.
I expected, any second, the hot burn of a bullet would throw me to the ground. Flambeaux blazed, fanning the shrieks of terror and pain as more and more bloodied bodies crumpled around us. Clouds of gunpowder smoke burned my eyes, almost blinding me. I clutched Aurore’s dress, whimpering like a child as we crouched and cowered in what were the most terrifying moments of my life.
As much as I had yearned for things to change––for an improvement to the commoners’ lot––never had I wished for that change to wash in on such vast rivers of human blood.
It was over quickly. Our brave French Guards massacred the garrison and the Governor of the Bastille, de Launay surrendered, his face an ivory-pale mask of terror. The crowd tore and spat at de Launay in his grey frock-coat, clubbing and kicking him to the ground.
Faint with horror, my mouth dropped open as a man stepped forward and drove his bayonet into de Launay’s stomach. He withdrew the bayonet and the Governor staggered upright, only to stumble onto the point of another weapon. 

Someone hammered at the back of his head with a lump of wood, another dragged him into the gutter. I glanced around wildly, helpless to stop the grisly attack. I grabbed Aurore’s arm again as a third man fired shots into the Governor’s smashed body, and when he finally stopped twitching, a wild-looking man flicked open his knife, strained the corpse’s head back, and began hacking at his throat. I turned from the gruesome scene, clutching my heaving belly.
I tried again to find a way through the crowd; away from the sickening butchery. It was impossible, and besides, I was certain Aurore would never agree to flee. Her eyes shining, she seemed bewitched, energised, by the bloodthirsty recklessness.
‘The Bastille, symbol of our intolerable regime, has fallen!’ the people shouted, parading the Governor’s head around on a pike.
Our revolution had received its baptism in blood, and I felt too shocked to cry; too stunned to feel anything. I did not even know what I should feel––joy, triumph, sadness? Perhaps a mixture of all of those.

If you would like a copy of Spirit of Lost Angels at this discount price, it is available at the following retailers:

e-Book at all Amazon stores, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.