Nighthawks painting by Edward Hopper

He Says, She Says

When I was writing my latest romance for Mills and Boon, I used the phrase “he supplied” when one character was, well, supplying a piece of information to another character. When I was doing the read through, the phrase “he supplied” stuck out to me on the page like a bright shiny pin. It made me realise how rarely I use expressions like, “he answered” or “she exclaimed”, in fact, I don’t even use “he said” or “she said” when I’m writing a conversation. It’s not that I’m against it, it’s simply not how I write. I tend to supply (see what I did there) reactions or feelings, however, there is a simple beauty about “said” which appeals to me.

It’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy reading Raymond Carver’s short stories. He is the master of “he says-she says” writing!

One of the modules I studied for my M.Litt degree required us to study different authors and the assignments usually required submission of an imitative piece, to demonstrate that we had grasped the fundamentals of a particular writer’s style. Because I was so taken with Carver’s writing, I made Carver the subject of a (gruelling) graded presentation which had to incorporate a critique and a short imitative piece.

The imitative story I read out that afternoon was based on a particular Carver story called, “Boxes”, but prior to writing that one, I’d penned a more generic, Carver-esque story called, “Nighthawks”, titled thus because for some reason, Carver’s writing always makes me think of Edward Hopper’s paintings.

I happened upon “Nighthawks” the other day when I was searching folders on my computer and, just for fun, I’ve decided to give it a public airing. So without further ado, here is my attempt at writing like Carver…

Nighthawks

My sister calls me in the middle of the night. I was already up because I’m not sleeping well at the moment. I’d been tossing and turning then I realised I was hungry, so when the phone rang, it didn’t really disturb me but it did give me a fright. I was slicing up meatloaf and nearly took my finger off.

“It’s Dad. He’s in hospital again,” she says.

“When did they take him in?” I say. I’m thinking that it must have only just happened which is why she’s calling me at this unholy hour.

“An hour ago. I don’t know what to do,” she says.

“Is Celia there?” I say.

“For heaven’s sake, Jack. Don’t you ever listen? I told you last week. She’s in Marbella with the girls.”

I remember now. She did tell me. It’s just that I don’t pay much attention to Celia and her comings and goings because of that thing she said.

Dad has got prostate cancer but he’s been doing okay for so long that most of the time I forget about it. He gets on with things and tells us not to fuss. He married Celia five years ago, before he was diagnosed. He said she was his second chance at love. She said she wished she’d met him when she was younger so that her daughters could have been his daughters. She said it out of love I suppose, not thinking about how Lilian and I would feel about that, because obviously if she’d met Dad when she was younger, he’d never have married Mum and Lilian and I would never have been born. I suppose when Celia said that, even though I know she definitely said it out of love for Dad, it made me think that she was someone I couldn’t care too much about.

“So have you phoned her?” I say. The line crackles and rustles, like she’s crawling into a tent or something. Next thing, I’m shouting into the phone. “Lilian! Have you phoned Celia?”

There’s more rustling and then I hear her blowing her nose.

“No, I haven’t phoned her yet,” she says. “It’s like three in the morning over there.”

I look at the clock on the kitchen wall. “But you called me,” I say. “Is it an emergency or isn’t it? I thought it was critical – I thought that was why you called me – and if it’s critical, then Celia needs to know.” I tuck the phone into the crook of my neck, take a cigarette from the packet on the counter and light it. 

“I don’t know what to do,” she says. “He might rally – he might be fine tomorrow. It’s happened before. Did I hear a cigarette lighter – are you smoking again?”

“What do you mean again?” I say.

“You told me you quit,” she says.

“When did I tell you that?” I say.

“A couple of weeks ago,” she says.

“No. I don’t think I did,” I say.

Two weeks ago I was laid off work. I didn’t tell Lilian about that because she’s had enough worry with Dad, being in and out of the hospital so much. But when a man loses his job, he’s definitely not going to pick that week to give up smoking so there’s no way I told Lilian that I’d given up smoking. No way.

“So what are the doctors saying?” I say. “Is that what they’re saying – that he could be better tomorrow?”

She’s blowing her nose again. I don’t know if she’s crying or if it’s hay fever. She always got hay fever when she was a kid but these days I just don’t know.

“No. They’re not saying that. I haven’t really spoken to them yet, so I don’t know. I don’t know what to do,” she says.

“Is there someone around you could ask – a nurse or someone like that?” I say.

“No. There’s no one. The place is deserted. It’s so late you see,” she says.

I stub out my cigarette and hold the phone in the crook of my neck again. I fill the kettle and spoon coffee granules into a mug then I light another cigarette. “So where is Dad right now?” I say.

“He’s in a room. They gave him a sedative,” she says.

“What happened?” I say.

“I’ll tell you,” she says and then she blows her nose again. “You know something Jack, I can actually hear you smoking and it’s making me want one. God, I could do with a cigarette but there’s no smoking in hospitals.”

“You could go outside,” I say. “They let you smoke outside – as long as you don’t stand in the entrance.”

“Yeah, I suppose I could,” she says, “But it’s cold outside and besides, I need to talk to you. You need to help me decide what to do – oh! Hang on a second, there’s a nurse coming.”

There’s a clatter and voices but I can’t tell what’s going on so I pour boiling water into my mug and add a teaspoon of sugar, and then she’s back.

“Sorry about that,” she says.

 “You were about to tell me what happened with Dad,” I say.

“He took a bit of a turn,” she says. “He kept asking for Celia. He can’t get it into his head that she’s in Marbella and that’s why he’s staying with me.”

“What did the nurse say?” I say.

“Oh – nothing much,” she says. “She told me to go home and get some rest.”

I look at the clock and light another cigarette. “If Dad’s sedated and they’re telling you to go home, then I suppose it’s not critical then,” I say.

“You’re probably right,” she says.

“I think you should go home and get some sleep. Make yourself a cup of cocoa and forget all about it until tomorrow. Dad’s in good hands,” I say.

I can tell she’s walking as she’s talking. “Yeah. You’re right,” she says. “I’m sorry I called you so late, but I really needed to talk to someone. You always make me feel better; you always know what to do.” 

Unlocking the Tycoon’s Heart by Ella Hayes

So wonderful for my alter ego, Ella Hayes to receive a review like this…
Thank you Anna!

Anna's Book Blog

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m not sure I will be able to convey how much I loved this book but I will try!

The instant I picked this book up I think I was destined to love it. When a book starts with “a signalling fault?” I could feel the panic in Mia’s voice and know that I have felt it before! I was so hooked that I read the entire book in one go, and even forgot dinner I was so engrossed
Mia is a writer and blogger who lives in Amsterdam, her brother Ash is hoping to go into business with Theo, CEO of a major Dutch IT firm but his train is late. Mia has to come up with an idea and fast to try and save her brothers presentation and the story that follows had me gripped!
I loved Mia as a character, she has been hurt badly in…

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Blogging Blues

lip balm beside computer keyboard

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m rubbish at blogging.

Whichever business you’re in, there’s that moment isn’t there, when you think: “Yeah, I could write a blog and it’ll be amaaaazzzinnggg.” Usually you have this epiphany just after you’ve read a great blog post, like say one of Lucy Mitchell’s engaging posts on Blondewritemore Lucy makes it look as easy as pie, but in my experience blogging is hard. You need something to say … something you want to get off your chest, otherwise you just waffle on, watching words fill the screen …

I started a blog for my photography business once. At the time, a well-known blog site provider was taking the photography world by storm because of the scrolling format. Photographers were writing about the weddings they were shooting, showcasing beautiful photographs, full screen! It was like actually being at the wedding. Gorgeous couples, divine locations, fripperies, and finishing touches to die for, everything perfect and lovely. So I thought: “I’ll do that!” But, having just paid a web designer to refresh my website (not using the scrolling format) I hunted down a budget blog that could be linked to my site. My designer was skeptical. I couldn’t actually see him because we were talking about it over the phone, but I could sense his eyebrows inching slowly upwards. “If you start a blog, you’ll need to keep it up,” he said, sighing heavily. “It’s a commitment.” I was like, “Yada, yada, yada. Whatever, dude! Of course I’ll keep it up. Writing is my thing.” So, sobbing into his espresso (I imagine) he linked his beautiful creation—my shiny new website—to my bolt-on-budget-blog and left me to it.

Immediately, I ran into a technical problem. My images wouldn’t upload in the correct order, which is obviously important if you’re telling the story of someone’s wedding day, and the cheap-as-chips blog site I was using didn’t offer much in the way of technical support. But even after I had worked out the Feng shui of image placement, I found it totally impossible to write regular pithy, witty but respectful, anecdotes about the weddings I was shooting because by the time I’d got home from the wedding, downloaded the files, backed them up onto five separate hard drives (additionally sending a bulk ftp transfer to a cloud storage facility on Mars) the last thing I wanted to do was to write about my day. What I wanted was a very large glass of wine!

No surprise that my photography blog withered on the vine, and when the time came to refresh my website again, I quietly asked my designer to sever the link.

In 2018 I studied for a master’s degree in Writing Practice and Study at Dundee University (highly recommended by the way). The “publishing writing” module incorporated a blogging element with helpful guidelines, like: “Posts shouldn’t be more than 650 words long”; “Writing style should be friendly and engaging” and, “Pictures are great but forget metadata at your peril”. We were tasked with writing regular posts for the department’s blog, and on that first day we were given fifteen minutes to write an “About Me” piece and post it online. A tsunami of panic ripped through the room. Tubes of lip balm were whipped out to soothe shredded lips (I still keep a tube on my desk at all times) and when the final post was uploaded, we trouped silently to the Union bar, dazed and disorientated. Needless to say that my “regular” contribution to the department’s blog amounted to a paltry four posts.

So you see, I suck at blogging, and I truly admire all those perky bloggers who plan their posts weeks in advance and remember to reply to any comments. All I can promise is that I will try to do better in future. In the meantime, I’m working on my fourth romance title for Mills and Boon. My third book, Unlocking the Tycoon’s Heart will be released on Kindle on the 25thJune. My second, Italian Summer with the Single Dad came out at the end of January. Click the link if you want to find out if I’m better at writing romance than I am at blogging!

#BookReview Italian Summer with the Single Dad @EllaHayesAuthor #TuesdayBookBlog

You make me proud to be a romance writer! Thank you Lucy Mitchell!

Lucy Mitchell

Sound the Character Crush Klaxon please!

I have such a crush on Ella’s Haye’s male character, Zach Merill, from her new book, Italian Summer with the Single Dad.

Send tissues, soothing herbal tea and an electric fan!

One of my 2020 resolutions:

To not fall helplessly in love with male characters in books. 2020 is going to be the year where I remain as cool as a cucumber with male characters. They are not going to seduce me between the pages and they are not going to leave me feeling like a hot mess after several chapters. I am not going to fall for them. I am going to stay DISTANT!

On the 4th January: throw resolution out of the window and shout, “Zach, come and get me, darling!”

For goodness sake I lasted 4 measly days without experiencing a crush!

All blame lies with Ella Hayes.

Here’s the…

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Some words about opening lines …

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

Thus begins John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. In his introduction to the novel, Irving acknowledges the power of his opening line: ‘I may one day write a better first sentence to a novel than that of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I doubt it.’ He goes on: ‘What makes the first sentence […] such a good one is that the whole novel is contained in it.’ Maybe that’s why that line has stayed with me. Certainly it’s one of the very few opening lines to a novel that I actually remember.

Writing a good opening sentence is something of a preoccupation for writers but opening lines don’t have to be memorable. Opening lines are barbed hooks. Launchpads! The function of that first sentence is to get the reader past itself and into the story. Even so, I do love a good opening line, and I love it even more if it stays with me. Here are three that have:

Book stack,

‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.’

From Louisa M. Alcott’s, Little Women, this opener has probably stuck because Little Women was my mother’s favourite book from childhood, and because we’ve jokingly quoted this line to each other over the years when we’ve been doing the Christmas shopping. But looking at it again, I can see that whilst this line might not contain the whole novel, it does a lot of work. We immediately know that this Christmas is unusual, that in previous years there have been presents, so we can infer that for some reason Jo’s family has fallen on hard times. Not so hard that the floorboards are bare (she’s lying on a rug) but hard enough to make her grumble. The fact that Jo’s grumbling (not weeping), and the fact that she’s lying on the rug gives the reader the impression that Jo is a tomboy, and that despite the absence of Christmas presents, she’s at liberty to grumble and be herself. Immediately the reader senses that Jo is with her family, at home.

‘Mrs Dalloway said she’d buy the flowers herself.’

From Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs Dalloway. The first time I tried to read this novel, I failed miserably but I did remember that opening line. Ten years later, I attempted the novel again and whipped through it, basking in the glow of a newfound admiration for and appreciation of Virginia Woolf’s writing. The line is short but weighty. It’s emphatic. It kindles curiosity about Mrs Dalloway. Would she usually leave the purchasing of flowers to someone else, and why, on this occasion, is she taking charge? Why is she buying flowers at all? And who is telling the story? The concise opening statement is a seed ready to burst into life. It’s kinetic. Maybe that’s why it’s memorable.

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’

From Dodie Smith’s, I Capture the Castle, a brilliant opening line, the kind of opener that makes you stop and re-read, just to check you got it right. Writing while sitting in the kitchen sink? Why would anyone do that? It’s a short, sharp, rap on the knuckles. Straight away you’re invested. You want to know everything! When I was little, and we had a proper big sink – not one of the half-bowl affairs that everyone has now – I’d sometimes be bathed in it. Maybe that’s why this opening line has stayed with me; the image it provokes blends with my own sense of nostalgia.

Do you have a favourite opening line of your own?

In the Still of the Night …

illegible writing in a notebook

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m awake.

I realise that I’ve been awake for a long time, running a dialogue in my head. It goes something like this:

“You might as well get up …”

“Nah … it’s warm and cosy under the duvet.”

“But you’re awake, thinking about your plot/characters/structure … You might as well get up and write it down.”

Tugging duvet tighter. “But it’ll be cold downstairs. And won’t it be weird, getting up to write at this unholy hour?”

“Err … no! This is exactly when you should be writing; when the ideas are coming. And you know how you always say you’ll remember it all in the morning but never do—”

“But I will remember this time.”

“You won’t.”

“Will.”

“Won’t!”

“Will!”

WON’T!

Sound familiar?

It’s not that I never sleep, but I’ve come to the conclusion that writing and sleeping are fundamentally incompatible. The thing about writing is that it fires up the synapses, gets the brain cogs turning, and once that engine’s running, it’s very difficult—I’d go so far as to say it’s impossible—to switch it off again. Yes, you can dampen things down for a while with worthy distractions like a great movie or any kind of cake, but the minute you switch off the light and snuggle down, that engine starts to rattle and hum. And I’m not even talking about eureka moments, the nocturnal epiphanies and ingenious plot twists that no writer minds being woken up for. It can be the darnedest little details that prod you awake, nag you until you find yourself having that familiar, merry-go-round conversation with yourself.

Sensible writers keep a notebook and pen on the bedside table. I’ve tried that because I’m all for sensible solutions, but deciphering my handwriting is tricky at the best of times so trying to make sense of my nocturnal scribblings come breakfast time is generally a fruitless exercise … I mean, do the words “chin breaking, fave, mns blloomnsinds” make any sense to you? You can see my problem!

At three a.m. this morning, I might have been scribbling this note to myself: “You’ve got her leaving from the wrong place you idiot!! She wasn’t living in the flat then; she was staying with her Mum and Dad!”

Needless to say, I didn’t reach for my notebook and pen. For once I gave in to my know-it-all alter ego. I got up, put on my dressing gown and creaked down the stairs. In the kitchen I filled a tall glass with warm water and a squeeze of lemon then tiptoed into my office and fired up my computer. I added an edit note to my manuscript, and then bizarrely, I had the notion to write a blog post about sleep and writing because I’m up anyway, and it’s kind of peaceful in the still of the night.

New Year, New Decade

extinguished candles smoking

New Year’s Day, 2020. I’m moving round the house taking down the Christmas decorations, little bits of tinsel shedding onto the carpet, and it strikes me that I’ve never taken down the Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day before. It’s not traditional is it, and isn’t there something about it being bad luck to strip the halls before Twelfth Night?

Bad luck …

I don’t want to invite bad luck. Who does? But I’ve been thinking about tradition quite a lot lately, the hallowed rituals we follow, blindly for the most part, and maybe it’s because today isn’t only the start of a new year, but the beginning of a new decade in an increasingly fragile world, that I’m scrutinizing tradition.

This Christmas (which is now “last” Christmas) I called time on the time-honoured tradition of crackers. Christmas crackers have bothered me for years. The cheap ones feed landfill straight away. The fancy ones feed landfill a week or two later when you realise that you already have three small sets of screwdrivers in the drawer and you prefer your cardboard bookmark to the sharp silver plated book clip or whatever it is that fell out of your luxury, embossed, hand-finished cracker. This year, I got everyone a lottery ticket instead. Nobody won (damn!) but at least the money goes into the lottery fund which hopefully helps to finance good causes and worthy projects, and the five paper lottery tickets can be recycled.

And talking of recycling, I gave the glittery Christmas cards a miss this time. Like most people, I’m sending fewer cards these days anyway, but anything with glitter or lurex (don’t get me started on why “festive” PJ’s and slippers seem to require lurex thread and sequins) can’t be recycled. I did the “brown paper packages tied up with string” for the few presents I did buy. Curmudgeonly? Miserly? Not at all, but as a family we agreed that this year we’d focus on the joy of being together … and if that all sounds a bit Little Women, I should add that we spent a jolly afternoon malt whisky tasting!

The traditional New Year’s firework displays around the world also trouble me. Sickening to see Sidney going all out while bush fires ravage Victoria and New South Wales … but every city is to blame. Year on year the spectacle grows more and more spectacular. In Edinburgh the firework display went on for ten whole minutes … money going up in smoke, smoke choking an already asthmatic world. Going forward into this new decade, I would like to see governments around the world curtailing these displays. Mark the New Year, yes! But a three minute display would suffice, wouldn’t it?

So, as I tuck my decorations away for another year, on the “wrong” day, inviting goodness knows how much bad luck, I suppose what I’m trying to do is to unhitch myself from the wagon called tradition because whilst tradition is laudable in so many ways, it can also bind us to outmoded ways of thinking and doing. As we stand at the edge of a new decade, in a world on the brink of catastrophic, irreversible change, it’s time I feel, to hit the “refresh” button on some of our traditions.

What do you think?

“Reading Stress” is a Thing!

I suppose we all have a picture of what “being a writer” looks like. Your visions might include a cute little writing nook. Instagram is great for feeding this fantasy … you imagine yourself in an isolated cottage somewhere, tapping away at your typewriter, warming your toes on the stove and feeding your inspiration with huge pots of tea and warm scones dripping with butter and bramble jam. Or, perhaps your writerly daydreams tend to the exotic … a tropical island! You see yourself on a cool balcony overlooking the sparkling sea, laptop whirring softly …

As we all know, the reality is rather different. Most of us fight for a bit of laptop space among the toast crumbs and utility bills on the kitchen table, or we might head off to the nearest café where we’ll settle ourselves at a too-small table with a coffee large and strong enough to bring on a migraine.

I’m lucky enough to have an office but it’s not very Jane Austen. As I write, I’m surrounded by cameras, hard drives, chargers, printers—all the black, chunky, ugly accoutrements of my day job. When I find myself wishing for a more “conducive” writing space, I force myself to remember what Annie Dillard wrote in her writer’s companion, The Writing Life. ‘One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.’ Addendum: years after publishing The Writing Life, Dillard disowned the book, so maybe she was seduced by a pretty view in the end.

Ideal writing spaces aside there are other aspects of the writer’s life that have come as a shock. Other writers, feel free to put your hand up when you see where I’m going with this …

I’ve always been an avid reader. Each month I get through whichever book my book group has selected, as well as any number of other books, short stories, poems and essays. I buy books all the time. Recently, Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn because it’s a novella in flash (I’m working on my own novella in flash so I thought it would be useful to read someone else’s) and, Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley because Riley was recommended to me by Sara Baume (Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither and A Line Made by Walking). Riley’s novel features a twenty-year-old protagonist, as does my own work in progress, so I thought it would be interesting to see how Riley handles her subject.

Of course, I don’t only read books to inform my own writing. Like all writers, I simply love to read. Long, tall, short, epic. Fiction and non-fiction. I have shelves of books I’ve yet to read, stories I can’t wait to devour, but what no one told me about being a writer is that establishing wonderful friendships with other writers effectively doubles your “to read” pile.

Suddenly you find yourself battling a condition I’ve come to think of as “reading stress”!

It’s not just that I want to read the books my writer friends have written. I also want to read their blogs … and blogs contribute to even greater “reading stress” because blog posts often cite articles, other blogs, other writers and other books which I absolutely have to check out as well.

If you are a writer friend, it’s likely that I already have your book on my e-reader. I might even have a signed copy if I’ve attended your book launch! I will read your book, and yes, I will leave a rating and a review on Amazon and Good Reads … I just can’t say exactly when that will be because you see, I’ve come across this rather interesting link to …

#BookReview Her Brooding Scottish Heir @EllaHayesAuthor #TuesdayBookBlog

It’s such a lovely feeling to get a reaction like this. Thank you Lucy Mitchell.

Lucy Mitchell

Not only was this book my first reading experience of Ella Hayes, but also it was my…..FIRST EVER Mills & Boon. I feel like I have come of age as a romance reader.

Before I read this book I was going through a reading bad patch; I was struggling to fall in fictional love with the male characters in the books I was reading. *All romance readers looking at this blog take a sharp intake of breath* Yep, tough times! It had been weeks since I’d had a satisfying fictional relationship with a handsome male character and I was starting to question whether this genre was for me. *All romance readers looking at this blogs shake their heads in disbelief*

So I wandered aimlessly into the book wilderness, feeling incredibly frustrated and wondering whether I would ever fall head over heels in fictional love with another male character ever…

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January Book Group

A Review of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Book cover of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles … how the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.

Last month’s Book Group choice was The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad. Having only a scant knowledge of Homer, Ancient Greece and Greek mythology, I was grateful for the potted version of the story cited in the front matter and quoted from The Human Stain by Philip Roth. Achilles and Agamemnon are at loggerheads: ‘It’s as basic as a barroom brawl. They are quarrelling over a woman. A girl, really. A girl stolen from her father. A girl abducted in a war.’ Briseis is that girl and in The Silence of the Girls, Barker gives her a voice.

The story opens with a Greek invasion. Women and girls have been incarcerated for their own protection. Briseis describes the heat and fetid atmosphere of the rooms, her own attempts to help the other women, and then she describes what she sees from the roof of the citadel as the invasion unfolds.

I saw the flash of the upraised spear, I saw my brother lying on the ground wriggling like a stuck pig. And at that moment Achilles, as if he had all the time in the world, turned his head and glanced up at the tower […] Then, with a kind of fastidious precision – I wish I could forget it, but I can’t – he put his foot on my brother’s neck and pulled the spear out. Blood spurted from the wound, my brother struggled for a full minute to go on breathing, and then lay still.

After such a dramatic opening, I anticipated being drawn into the story, but although the writing is engaging and often vivid, I found it difficult to connect with Briseis. For me, her voice was too restrained. For example, when Achilles cannot be comforted after the death of his best friend, Patroclus, she considers her position in a cool, measured way:

Returning to the women’s huts, as early as this, would let everybody know I’d fallen from favour […] Nobody would be nasty, but everyone would take note […] I told myself it wasn’t too bad. He hadn’t hit me, hadn’t lashed out in frustration – in fact, he hadn’t done any of the things he might well have done.

Briseis cares nothing for Achilles but fears that falling from his favour will propel her into the lowest form of slavery. She frequently references the fate of female slaves but there’s a detachment about her that keeps the reader at arms’ length. The opening lines of the book suggest that Briseis is spirited and disdainful, but sadly, we don’t see those qualities in her as the story progresses.

I experienced other frustrations with this book. I struggled to picture the camp and other settings because they are never fully described. Perhaps the author assumed that her readers would know already, or maybe she was deliberately using a tight frame to underline how restricted women’s lives and viewpoints were. Certainly, Briseis knows little of what goes on in Achilles’ head. This might explain why there is an unexpected narrative switch which has Achilles taking up the story.

Whether Achilles should have been given a voice in what Emily Wilson has called “a feminist Iliad” (The Guardian, 22nd August, 2018) is a question beyond the scope of this review, but for this reader, after Briseis’ somewhat unemotional narrative, I found Achilles’ thoughts refreshingly fiery, especially those concerning his friend’s death. Barker convincingly evokes a depth of feeling which borders on the sexual…

… all the time thinking about Patroclus. Not thinking, craving. The shape of his head, that little dent just below the bridge of his nose, the lopsided grin, broad shoulders, narrow waist, the biscuit-brown smell of his skin. The way they were together.

To conclude, in spite of my frustrations I did enjoy reading this book. It was educationally satisfying and might prompt me to read The Iliad in future. In the meantime, I just can’t help thinking that with a title like The Silence of the Girls, the author should have given Briseis a much louder, more stroppy voice.

Next Month: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn