Blog Tour/Guest Post: The Reading Party by Fenella Gentleman

The Reading Party Blog Tour poster

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Reading Party, the debut novel by Fenella Gentleman.  I’m really looking forward to reading the book but in the meantime I have a wonderful guest post by Fenella about how the germ of an idea during a creative writing exercise was transformed into the subject of her first novel.

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The Reading PartyAbout the Book

It is the seventies and the colleges of Oxford are finally opening their doors to women. Sarah Addleshaw, young, spirited and keen to prove her worth, begins term as the first female academic at her college. She is in fact, her college’s only female Fellow. Impulsive love affairs with people, places and the ideas in her head beset Sarah throughout her first exhilarating year as a don, but it is the Reading Party, that has the most dramatic impact.

Asked to accompany the first mixed group of students on the annual college trip to Cornwall, Sarah finds herself illicitly drawn to one of them, the suave American Tyler. Torn between professional integrity and personal feelings she faces her biggest challenge to date.

Format: Paperback, ebook (304 pp.)    Publisher: Muswell Press
Published: 14th June 2018                      Genre: Literary Fiction

Purchase Links*
Publisher | Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Reading Party on Goodreads


Guest Post: ‘The Reading Party’ by Fenella Gentleman

Well, this is fun: I’ve never done this before!  One of the great things about being published is getting to know the book blogging world, which is more extensive than I realised, and talking direct to readers and potential readers, who suddenly become real people.  So, a big thank you for this opportunity to do both.

How did I come to write about an Oxford reading party – something so tantalisingly, even infuriatingly, obscure?

Well, I went on one many years ago.  In fact, I went on two reading parties – in my first and third years at university.  It was a batty tradition at my college to invite a group of students for a week of hard work and hard play, in a rambling house on a Cornish cliff top, so they could revise before their exams without getting into a state.  The selection process was opaque, and I was as surprised to be asked on the trip as I was to get into Oxford in the first place.  I thought the whole notion anachronistic, but in the end found it oddly wonderful.

For years afterwards I considered arranging something similar with colleagues or friends, but at the time I couldn’t see how to do it.  Still, it must have stuck in my mind.  When I started writing fiction, I found myself recreating the reading party on paper.

This is where another strand comes in.  I’d been at one of the first male colleges to go mixed, I’d worked briefly for a feminist publishing house, and then I’d spent years amongst the growing number of women trying to hold their own – and often more – in professions dominated by men.  I was fascinated to see how women negotiated their working lives in such unforgiving environments, and particularly how some of them became trailblazers – unintentionally or otherwise.  When I began writing, this theme kept peeping through.

Even so, the real starting point for what became The Reading Party was the central character.  She emerged as a result of a creative writing exercise, in which you had to draft a conversation between two people talking about somebody else.  I imagined a pair of male academics being spiteful about a young female colleague.  This amused people, so I worked her up in a short story in which this woman, at the time called Buttercup and with streaks of blue hair, had to run an Oxford reading party with a tetchy older man.  The feedback was again encouraging, and someone suggested I tackle this scenario in a novel.

I had one big reservation: the connotations of privilege.  So I tried setting my story in a younger university: it lost something.  I sent the students to a rural vicarage: that was too tame.  As for narration, each chapter had the voice of a different student, with a different perspective on this nutty week, but that didn’t work either.

Eventually I realised that the whole point was the archaic set up, and that its oddities could be the source of much tension and humour.  Then things fell into place.  This would be the story of a feisty young woman – a historian with radical ideas – arriving at Oxford in the mid-1970s just when the men’s colleges were beginning to go mixed.  It would be about what might happen if she was asked to host a reading party on the Cornish coast alongside a much older man, and if – against all the strictures about setting a good example – she found herself drawn to someone who was ‘out of bounds’.  She would narrate, betraying the muddled confidence and insecurity of so many women under pressure, but always poking fun at the ridiculous.

I did lots of research – this is not my story and Sarah Addleshaw is not me – but it was easy to imagine myself inside her head and I enjoyed doing so.

Of course a ‘reading party’ doesn’t have to be this rarefied Oxbridge thing.  Nowadays I hold my own version every year with a bunch of girlfriends: we have a ball.  All you need is a place to go, a mix of people, a good book, and some food and drink.  Anyone can be part of that.  I’d love there to be reading parties all over the place!

© Fenella Gentleman, 2018


Fenella GentlemanAbout the Author

Fenella Gentleman studied PPE at Wadham College, Oxford, when it went mixed. She participated in two reading parties in Cornwall. After graduating she worked in publishing, before moving into marketing and communications in the professions. She lives in London and North Norfolk.

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Blog Tour/Excerpt: With or Without You by Shari Low

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for the latest novel by Shari Low, With or Without You.  It’s described as ‘a clever, captivating and bittersweet story of what might have been’, perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes and Marian Keyes.

You can read an excerpt from With or Without You below.  Do check out the other great bloggers taking part in the tour for reviews, interviews and more excerpts from the book.

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With or Without YouAbout the Book

Have you ever made a life-changing decision and then wondered if you made the right one…?

When Liv and Nate walked up the aisle, Liv knew she was marrying the one, her soul mate and her best friend. Six years later, it feels like routine and friendship is all they have left in common. What happened to the fun, the excitement, the lust, the love?

In the closing moments of 1999, Liv and Nate decide to go their separate ways, but at the last minute, Liv wavers. Should she stay or should she go? Over the next twenty years we follow the parallel stories to discover if Liv’s life, heart and future have been better with Nate… Or without him?

Format: ebook (pp.)            Publisher: Aria Fiction
Published: 1st June 2018    Genre: Fiction, Romance

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com ǀ Kobo | iBooks | Google Play
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find With or Without You on Goodreads


Excerpt from With or Without You by Shari Low

Prologue

The Last Minute of 1999

There were sixty seconds left of the twentieth century.

Hogmanay. The biggest night of the Scottish celebratory calendar, when we eat, we sing, we dance, and we welcome in the New Year with the people we love. The music was blaring, the revellers were dancing up a storm, and glasses were being topped up with champagne, as I leant close to my husband’s ear.

‘I wish you’d had an affair,’ I said, my voice cracking. ‘It would be so much easier to do this.’

Nate, smiled, leaned in and kissed me, but not with any grand passion. That was part of the problem. We’d been together since midway through uni, and then married the year after we graduated, and since the day we’d danced up the aisle we’d had five years of contentment.

Contentment.

I hated that word. Imagine the obituary. RIP Liv Jamieson – a contented life. Worse, who wanted to be content at the age of twenty-eight? I wanted passion and excitement and maybe the odd little bit of danger, but contentment? It was like a scarf of boredom that got tighter with each passing year, until I could barely breathe.

I loved Nate, but – clichéd as it was – I wasn’t in love with him anymore. There was no-one else, no drama, no big scandal or cataclysmic event. Just a gradual drifting apart. A disconnection. And, in a twisted demonstration of our compatibility, he had reluctantly admitted that – while he wasn’t as far along the road of acceptance as me – he knew there was something missing too.

I loved him. He loved me. It just wasn’t enough.

Nate pulled back and pushed a stray curl of my red hair back from my face. ‘An affair? What if I told you I’ve had Kylie Minogue living in the loft for the last year because we’re having a torrid fling and she can’t get enough of me?’

‘I’d say please tell her I’ll let her have you – as long as she’s willing to trade you for her entire wardrobe.’

Nate’s brown eyes creased at the side as he laughed. It was my very favourite thing about him.

We’d tried. We really had. The previous January, just a day into 1999, we’d talked, and we’d agreed to give it everything we had for a year, determined to reignite the spark between us. We’d had weekly date nights. Lazy Sunday sex. Weekend breaks to quiet country cottages and busy city hotels. A fantastic holiday to Bali where we’d taken long moonlit strolls along the sands. We’d hung out with our gang of mutual friends and we’d laughed, celebrated, partied, and discussed it long into many nights.

Yet, much as it destroyed us to admit it, we were still in that ‘best friends’ zone. My heart didn’t flutter when he entered a room. His gaze made me smile, but it didn’t make my libido throb with lust. And neither of us could shake the feeling that there was something – or someone – else out there for us.

So we’d decided to call it a day. To wish each other well, split the CD collection and move on. That makes it all sound so simple, when the truth was that a piece of my heart felt like it was being surgically removed by a jackhammer.

Nate wasn’t one hundred per cent sure. He didn’t like change. Preferred familiarity and stability to the unknown. But he said he loved me too much to make me stay in a marriage that didn’t make me happy. And if he were honest, our marriage wasn’t making him happy either, not like he should have been. I wanted more for me, for him, for both of us.

Tonight was our last night together. It seemed apt. Fitting. The final day of the century, a chapter closing, and a whole new world out there for us to explore.  And if I kept telling myself that this was a positive move; the right thing to do, it squashed the part of me that was terrified.

I saw his lips move again. ‘Liv, are you…?’

I missed the last bit. It got carried away on the wave of noise that suddenly engulfed the room.

Ten…

The lead singer of the band was counting down the seconds to midnight. Every year we headed to The Lomond Grange, a gorgeous stately manor hotel on the edge of Loch Lomond, about forty minutes from home, to bring in the coming year. Despite our sadness, we hadn’t wanted to bail out on the people who shared our lives, so here we were. One last hurrah. On the dance floor, our closest friends, Sasha and Justin stood next to Chloe and Rob, all of them with their champagne glasses in hand, party poppers at the ready, expressions oozing excitement, braced for the big moment.

Nine… Nine seconds until my marriage was over.

A wave of sorrow.

Eight… ‘What did you say?’ I asked him.

Seven… Seven seconds until my marriage was over.

He had to lean right into my ear so I could hear him. ‘I said are you absolutely sure?’

Six… A stomach flip of doubt. We’d discussed this to death. Yes, I was sure. Of course I was. So was he. We’d agreed.

Five… Five seconds until my marriage was over.

‘Yes. Why are you asking now?’

Four… ‘I think…’ I could feel his breath on the side of my face. ‘I think I want to give it one more try.’

Three… Three seconds until my marriage was over.

A sick feeling of panic rising to my throat.

Two… ‘But Nate, we both know it’s time to move on.’ We did. Didn’t we?

One… ‘One more try, Liv. We owe it to each other to give it more time.’

Noooooo. This wasn’t the deal. We’d tried. It hadn’t worked. We weren’t right for each other. It was time to move on, to take different paths.

A deafening cacophony of sound erupted in the room. Happy New Year. Streamers shot in the air. Bagpipes bellowed out a chorus of Auld Lang Syne to say goodbye to the past and welcome the twenty first century.

We were entering a new millennium.

But was I going to spend it with Nate…

…Or without him?


ShariLowAbout the Author

Shari Low has published twenty novels over the last two decades. She also writes for newspapers, magazines and television. Once upon a time, she got engaged to a guy she’d known for a week, and twenty-something years later, they live in Glasgow with their two teenage sons and a labradoodle.

Connect with Shari

Website  ǀ  Facebook  ǀ  Twitter ǀ  Goodreads

 

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