The summer holidays offer a blissful opportunity to extend reading time beyond that snatched half hour on the bus on the way to work or that half conscious period before lights out. Without the pressures of work and the usual humdrum routine, suddenly there is time to bury your nose in an engrossing read. We asked three leading Ulster writers what they read this summer. By Helen McGurk
The Co Tyrone author has penned more than 50 short educational films, plays and musicals as well as nine novels, including the top 10 Kindle bestseller The Legacy of Lucy Harte (Jan 2017).
‘I had the pleasure of a week in the sun in late June, just after exams were done and dusted. When I was there I devoured three fantastic books by the pool - a luxury I definitely wouldn’t be able to do at home.
First up was Daisy Jones and the Six by American author Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’d been looking forward to reading this after the synopsis caught my attention earlier in the year and it didn’t disappoint.
‘The Six’ are a fictional band of the 1970s and the book tells in diary type entries from various band members, media and crew, their story from how they were formed until their break-up after reaching the dizzy heights of fame.
The star of the show is the enigmatic Daisy Jones (I read somewhere that the character is based on a young Stevie Nicks). She joins the band on stage one night, barefoot and beautiful, and everyone falls for her, including the reader.
It’s a well paced, unique story that I was sad to finish and was left wishing that I could go and listen to Daisy’s dulcet tones for comfort after - maybe someone will record a soundtrack? I’m definitely a fan!
Next of all was a change of pace with the wonderful A Thousand Roads Home by Wexford’s Carmel Harrington. Carmel writes so warmly and with great emotion, so I found this book very soothing and a perfect holiday read.
It tackles the theme of homelessness with great sensitivity and I enjoyed getting to know Ruth, her son DJ and Dr O’Grady who are all faced with homelessness for very different reasons. The cast of A Thousand Roads Home are an endearing bunch, and once again, I was left thinking about them when I turned the last page. It was a very satisfactory read that definitely will warm the cockles of your heart!
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen which takes a clever look at life through the eyes of Augusta, who we meet first as a child, and how she doesn’t fit in with her family’s ordinary existence. Parallel to her story is that of young Parfait who escapes a life of trauma and torture in Burundi to live in Spain. The story weaves through both Augusta and Parfait’s journey into adulthood, their similarities and the stark contrast of their existence - while I more or less predicted some of the ending, I was left with tears in my eyes as each of them found their way in life.
This is a very special and magical story and I immediately passed the book on to my sister when I got home. She loved it too.’
The international bestselling author from Londonderry wrote her first novel in 2006, and Rainy Days and Tuesdays was subsequently published in 2007 and reached number 2 in the Irish Bestsellers chart.
‘My first recommendation is The Chain from Belfast writer Adrian McKinty which has been making waves around the world. The premise is first class – your child has been kidnapped and the only way to get them back safely is to kidnap another child…
It’s fast-paced and breathtaking in places – and has quite rightly catapulted McKinty, a familiar figure to Northern Irish readers,into the public consciousness. A movie deal has already been signed.
The most beautiful book I’ve read this summer, and perhaps this year, is The Girl At the Window from English writer Rowan Coleman, who has become a must-read author for me.
The book is set against the backdrop of Ponden Hall, where Emily Bronte penned most of Wuthering Heights, and it is an exquisitely written story of love, loss, hope and strength – with a ghostly twist or two.
This summer I have also devoured the DS Maeve Kerrigan series of books by Irish author Jane Casey. The latest instalment, Cruel Acts, was released earlier this year but I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series (The Burning) and reading them all in order.
Casey has created a brilliant narrative, compelling characters and isn’t afraid to pull the rug out from under her readers’ feet. Just brilliant – and a further instalment is due in early 2020.’
Born in Belfast, Lucy Caldwell is the multi–award winning author of three novels, several stage plays and radio dramas and, most recently, two collections of short stories: Multitudes (Faber, 2016) and Intimacies (forthcoming, Faber, 2020).
‘A perk of my job is reading books in manuscript before they’re published – and I’ve recently been lucky enough to read Inventory (Chatto & Windus) and Where Are We Now? (Head of Zeus), forthcoming books by Darran Anderson and Glenn Patterson, respectively; the former a searing memoir about growing up in poverty in Derry, the latter the writer’s latest, and I think best, novel to date – if you liked Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Less, you’ll love this even more. You heard it here first – get them on next summer’s reading list!
In the meantime, I loved Sweet Home (Stinging Fly/Picador), the debut collection of short stories by East Belfast writer Wendy Erskine, and I can’t wait for If All the World and Love were Young, the already-lauded debut poetry collection by Belfast poet Stephen Sexton, out later this month.
One of my books of the year has been the strange, elliptical and haunting Territory of Light, recently reissued by Penguin Classics; a slim novel in twelve parts by Yūko Tshushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt.
And for sheer sentence-by-sentence joy, you can’t do better than Kevin Barry’s Book Prize-longlisted Night Boat to Tangier (Canongate).
My comfort-read this summer has been a much-loved book of short stories that I go back to every couple of years, The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks (Viking), for which the old adage rings true - it was done a disservice by its cutesy, girly, pastel cover when it was first published.
And I’ve just downloaded Adrian Tchaikovsky’s sci-fi epic Children of Time onto my Kindle for my wakeful hours with a teething toddler. I can’t yet vouch for it, but it comes highly recommended by trusted readers so far…’