Thursday, 24 November 2011

Penguin Novel Give-away

Amanda Hodgkinson, author of the hugely successful 22, Britannia Road, has kindly dropped in to share some of her experiences of interacting with readers and reading clubs.

The publishers, Penguin, have 50 reading group sets of 22 Britannia Road to give away to reading groups and book clubs. The Reading for Everyone 22 Britannia Road Book Give-away 

Writing 22 Britannia Road, I spent a not insignificant chunk of my life living with my characters.  As I worked towards finishing the novel I found I didn't want to talk about my characters any more as they were, for me, real people who lived and loved and managed in their world as best they could.  I could only talk about them as people I knew and cared about. And I questioned them as I would real people. Was Silvana a good mother? What does it mean to be a good mother anyway? Were her wartime actions understandable? Was what she did an act of maternal love? Would I have done the same thing? And Janusz; was it possible to forgive him for his inability to talk to his wife about the war and their pasts?  Was he a good father to Aurek, the boy with wild ways and habit of calling Janusz ‘the enemy’?

When the novel was published a wonderful thing happened. I received letters from readers who also talked about Silvana and Aurek and Janusz and the other characters in the novel. I went on book tours in the UK and the USA and met incredible people I would never have normally met, simply because they had shared the world of my novel with me.

I met readers who told me they had cried for the Nowak family, been angry with their actions, understood them, loved them, forgave them and hoped for them.  Just as I had done as I wrote the novel.

Reading a novel is essentially a solitary act, just like writing one is too. But then, as you close the pages of a novel, something happens.  Through the reading of a book, you connect with other people.

You and I can read the same book; me here in France, you in Britain, America or even, let’s say, Peru – geography doesn't matter a jot. We can be separated by so many elements, not least distance, but when we ‘share’ a novel we become as close as the pages within it. 

As an avid reader, one of my greatest pleasures is being able to discuss novels with others. I am a member of a book club and the joy of being able to raise my voice excitedly as we discuss the motivations of characters and the consequences of their actions is something I can never tire of.  Discussing novels with others is an essential part of reading novels. To me story telling is a deeply human endeavour. Getting together to discuss a book can be, and often is, the moment where our own stories, our own experiences, are given a voice too. 

Who hasn't attended a book club to find the subject matter of the book generates whole other discussions? A shared novel can make us look at ourselves and our friends, and the world we inhabit, differently.  Over tea and cake or wine and olives, whatever your fancy is, a group of friends discussing a good book can find themselves in conversations they might never otherwise have had.

When my book club met a while back, to discuss We Need to Talk About Kevin, we started talking at 5pm and were still talking at well past midnight...

The other day I read a reader’s blog which I printed out and stuck on the front of my computer.

Let me just say: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I thought 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson was beautiful and heartbreaking and the writing was fabulous and I practically ran in to the book club meeting, clutching this book, saying, “I can’t wait to talk about this book!!”

I just can’t think of a better way to react to a novel…

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