Carol Birch is the award-winning writer of twelve novels, including Jamrach's Menagerie, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. Her first novel, Life in the Palace, won the David Higham Award for Fiction (Best First Novel of the Year), and her second novel, The Fog Line, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Born in Manchester, she now lives in Lancaster.
Author Photo © Johnny Bean
I loved this atmospheric, coming-of-age novel, with its ghostly and tragic undertones. Shadow Girls explores the fragility and intensity of teenage friendships in the mid-1960s. The book instantly conjured up memories of my own school days in the 1980s – adolescent emotions, rebellious behaviour, first relationships and cliquey peer groups. The characters leapt out of the page, thanks to the stunning, highly descriptive prose and believable dialogue. The first half of the book is a slowburn, building up the tension and feelings of nostalgia; the second half is unsettling and much darker. The supernatural element of the book worked well for me too, sending a chill down my spine, and with an unreliable narrator it was very difficult to know what was real and what wasn't. Shadow Girls is also a beautiful written novel about mental health and the psychological impact of grief. It's a haunting read, and one that stayed with me long after I turned the final page.
Fusing the ghost story with sharp, psychological insight, this is a brilliant and timely novel about loneliness, buried secrets and the havoc they play on the mind from Booker-shortlisted author Carol Birch. Did you hear? Big landslip over by Ercol. Last night. The road into Gully's closed off. They found a body. Got police tape. All that stuff. They only do that for murder, don't they? Murder! A body has been uncovered in a mudslide just outside the village of Andwiston. In the pub they talk of murder, but Dan - sometime mechanic, constant drunk - is finding it hard to sift through his jumbled memories. Watching him from the dark is Lorna, a lost soul living in the woods, haunted by ghosts and a vision from her childhood: a cold boy standing alone in Gallinger's field.
Young Jaffy Brown never expects to escape the slums of Victorian London. Then, aged eight, a chance encounter with Mr Jamrach changes Jaffy's stars. And before he knows it, he finds himself at the docks waving goodbye to his beloved Ishbel and boarding a ship bound for the Indian Ocean. With his friend Tim at his side, Jaffy's journey will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits.
Fusing the ghost story with sharp, psychological insight, this is a brilliant and timely novel about loneliness, buried secrets and the havoc they play on the mind from Booker-shortlisted author Carol Birch. Did you hear? Big landslip over by Ercol. Last night. The road into Gully's closed off. They found a body. Got police tape. All that stuff. They only do that for murder, don't they? Murder! A body has been uncovered in a mudslide just outside the village of Andwiston. In the pub they talk of murder, but Dan - sometime mechanic, constant drunk - is finding it hard to sift through his jumbled memories. Watching him from the dark is Lorna, a lost soul living in the woods, haunted by ghosts and a vision from her childhood: a cold boy standing alone in Gallinger's field. Fusing the ghost story with sharp, psychological insight, Cold Boy's Wood is an arresting, timely novel about loneliness, buried secrets and the havoc they play on the mind. 'A naturally literary writer who can, with a simple image, evoke the deepest emotion' Guardian 'A haunting murder mystery, Cold Boy's Wood is also a double portrait of damaged souls' Sunday Times Crime Club 'Fusing the supernatural with the psychological, Birch's story is, at its heart, a human one' Big Issue 'Her prose has an irresistible vigour... Her words sing on the page' Financial Times
A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden. Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico. She is heralded across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her unusual looks. Yet few can see past her freakish appearance to the ambitious woman within. Orphans of the Carnival sweeps us from the music halls of Vienna to an attic in modern-day South London, playing out an epic tale of grit, love, music and the triumph of the human spirit pushed to extremes.
One of our Great Reads you may have missed in 2011. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. Shortlisted for the Galaxy UK Author of the Year Award 2011. A Richard and Judy Autumn Read 2011. March 2011 Book of the Month. A touching, charming and funny account of how friendship can develop between the strangest of companions that has been receiving some absolutely incredible but well deserved reviews, one of which particularly stands out from none other than A S Byatt - ‘One of the best stories I’ve ever read . . . A completely original book’ . It's the story of Jaffy Brown who comes face to face with an escaped circus animal as he's minding his own business on a street in London's East End. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach.This bears all the hallmarks of a book that will end up on various book prize shortlists...
Kinnaird Buildings, a tenement block in Waterloo, was once quality. Now ancient and blackened, it houses a fringe community of the feckless, the light-fingered, the addicted, who ignore the thuds and screams, and try to patch something together out of the rags and tatters of their lives. At the centre are Judy, resting from emotional entanglements with men, attempting to resist romantic, wayward Jimmy Raffo; and Loretta, fighting poverty and the brutality of her surroundings.
Anita's mother was the mermaid in the Belle Vue Fair Freak Show. Into their lives came Paddy Riley, a young Irish lad whose motto was 'the only crime in life is not to take up a good opportunity'. The opportunity was Anita's mother - hungry for love and romance. Their secret is safe until young Anita, their go-between, spins a jealous lie that tragically catches them all. Now grown with children of her own, Anita has found a kind of peace with a sweet husband, and the past is past. Until that is, a man not unlike Paddy Riley comes to their town. It's an 'opportunity' that Anita cannot, for the life of her, seem to resist.
She's come to steal my thunder again, hasn't she? Dying, my foot. She's probably just being dramatic. Dying for dramatic effect. She would.' Cathy Wren, aged 37, lives alone in a small northern town, surviving on waitressing and piano teaching. She nurses her quiet drab life, keeping memories of a tumultuous earlier time at bay, until one stray remnant of that old life knocks on her front door. There, standing on her doorstep, in the rain, is Stephen, ex-boyfriend of her younger sister, Veronica Karen. He's come with bad news about her sister and a dogged determination to find her, and he wants Cathy's help. Cathy, who hasn't spoken to Veronica Karen - that thorn in her side - for ten years, is about to find herself on a weird and haphazard journey that turns into much more than a search for her little sister. 'It is in its delicate exploration of the murky ground between objective assessment for life and irrational affection for a person that the novel compels' - TLS
This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.
This is an extraordinarily haunting novel, inspired by a true story. In the late 1960s, in the hollow of an ancient oak tree beyond a derelict cottage in Cork, were found the bones of a three-year-old girl. It was thought that they dated back to the time of the great potato famine of the mid 1800s. The bones were discovered by an American woman, who had inherited the cottage which had lain empty and broken for forty years. Local searches reveal that the house had originally belonged to The Quinns. Eliza Quinn was their baby. This is a story that speaks of generations and of landscapes: abandoned villages, famine graves, old potato ridges sinking back into the earth, traces of a population that fell by two and a half million in less than ten years. It is also about hunger, both physical and emotional. But above all, it is the story of the Quinn family. And it is Carol Birch's tour de force. 'Deeply rooted humanity and highly intelligent understanding of the simulataneous complexity and simplicity of individual lives' Alex Clark. TLS