Book Chat: Ste Sharp

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Ste Sharp is another one of the myriad authors working with Unbound to get his projects off the ground. Earlier this year, he achieved the funding on his debut novel, Darwin’s Soldiers, the first in a trilogy about rapidly evolving warriors. By day, however, you may not suspect him of writing something like this, being a 41-year-old IT developer for a major publisher. After years working on the technical side of book production, he’s decided it’s time to swap sides for a bit.

A family man, he lives in Suffolk with his wife and two sons, and when not writing or taking care of the family, he still finds him to paint, play guitar and sing in indie band Atlas, as well as being, what he calls, an “avid allotmenteer”. Despite this harrowing schedule which I doubt allows for much sleep, he even manages to get a lot of reading done.

I managed to commandeer a few moments of his time to ask about the books he’s currently reading and what books grab his imagination.

What are you reading at the moment?

Spring Tide: a short story collection by Chris Beckett (author of the Dark Eden trilogy and America City), which is a surprising mix of speculative and contemporary fiction. “The End of Time” blew me away!

What were your favourite books growing up?

Anything by Roald Dahl! The first book I read in one sitting was The BFG – I was totally addicted. On the other hand, I was sick over Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator after a marathon reading session during a long journey in a Talbot Horizon.

Which is your favourite book from the classical canon?

I guess this depends on what you class as classical. I loved the Iliad and the Odyssey, which gave some great inspiration for writing battle scenes. I had no idea how graphically detailed they were! As for more modern classics, The Grapes of Wrath would be high on my list.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up? Where, when and what?

A thought-provoking, fast-paced sci-fi paperback in a hammock in the dappled shade of an apple tree just after lunch, with a pot of coffee, which also how I’d like to pass away – preferably having finished the book first.

What genres do you prefer?

You could argue there’s only one genre – science fiction – and everything else is a sub-genre that fits inside the literally limitless boundaries of SF, but I’m sure many people would disagree. Often, what I read depends what I’m writing at the time, but I gravitate towards sci-fi and fantasy novels (nothing beats how they meld well-crafted characters with intricate plots and mind-bending scenarios) but I like to cleanse the palate with the odd historical novel every now and then (fewer robots).

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

Whatever I read tends to be in the same tense as whatever I’m writing at the time. Last year I wrote a first person crime novel set in Brighton in the nineties, so I only read first person novels for ten months. Now I’m back into third person, which is way less intense and much better for head-hopping from character to character like how George R.R. Martin does in his Song of Ice and Fire novels. More importantly, the book has to entice me and make me want to know what happens next.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?

The Good Immigrant taught me a great deal about the UK today and, on a personal level, how everyone has to deal with how they are perceived or judged by their physical appearance in modern society.

Can you tell me about a book that made you laugh?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was filled with genuinely laugh out loud stuff. The main character reminded me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, but Australian, and the story of how he tries to find what he deems as the ‘perfect wife’ is hilarious. Definitely worth a read, along with the sequel, The Rosie Effect.

Do you judge a book by its cover?

Only if it has a so-called celebrity’s name on the front – then I may judge it harshly. Actually, a great deal of pressure is put on book covers, especially these days when many readers just see thumbnails when they’re searching for their next read. The cover for my book, Darwin’s Soldiers, is being designed right now and I have a lot of respect for the designers who manage to attract readers to a book whilst somehow distilling the themes into one image. I know a picture paints a thousand words but cover designers paint a hundred thousand words with one picture. Legends.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Today I’m going to say Cloud Atlas because of the genre switches, range of characters and pleasing structure. But tomorrow, I could easily choose another title… probably something by John Steinbeck.


You can find out more about Ste’s upcoming novel, Darwin’s Soldiers – and pledge your support – by visiting Unbound, or following Ste on Twitter: @SteSharpAuthor.

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Book Chat: Damon L. Wakes

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Damon L. Wakes is a fellow writer and crowdfunder of mine, who has recently used Unbound to fund his murder mystery novella Ten Little Astronauts. The story is said to give a science fiction twist to Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None, but it is far from Damon’s first foray into the world of writing.

Aged 27, he has already published seven other works, most of them collections of flash fiction with compelling titles like Robocopout and OCR Is Not The Only Font. He is also a a game designer, with an impressive collection of interactive fiction published online, as well as Spoiler Alert, a game that you can only complete by playing backwards and in 2014 was declared “Most Promising Game in Development” by Indie Prize Amsterdam.

I took the chance to ask him some questions in between his ferocious schedule of writing for himself and convincing others he should write for them too.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe. It’s an odd sort of book: I don’t think I’m far enough through it to say much else, really.

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?

It depends what I’m reading, and where. If I really love a book, I like to have a nice copy for my shelf. However, I tend to do most of my reading while travelling, which means eBooks are preferable to cramming hard copies into my already overstuffed backpack. I read most of The Count of Monte Cristo on my phone: I’ve got a Kindle, but carrying it with me means having another gadget to worry about if I’m sleeping in a hostel or likely to get caught out in extreme weather. A trip to Death Valley once cooked my digital camera.

What book do you think you’ve read more than any other?

Lord of the Flies. It was one of the books I had to read for GCSE English, and we seemed to be stuck with it for several eternities. When we had supply teachers we’d frequently go over the same chapter over and over because that was what was in the lesson plan that had been left for them. It was awful. I don’t think I could read that book ever again.

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

Douglas Adams. He died shortly after I discovered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and since then my interest in his work has only grown. He was writing witty, engaging interactive fiction way back in the early days of the format. I wonder what he’d make of games now.

What genres do you prefer?

I like speculative fiction in general. It’s interesting to see a well constructed world as well as well rounded characters. I’m about as likely to read non-fiction as I am anything with a real-world setting: both are nice from time to time, but I don’t gravitate towards them in the same way I do to sci-fi or fantasy.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

The most important factors probably have the least to do with what’s actually in the book. I won’t shove a pristine hardback into my bag, so I’m more likely to read anything if my copy is a beaten-up old paperback or saved on my second-hand phone. I try and read things that’ll prove useful in some way or another – things that are likely to inform my own writing – which isn’t too hard since those are typically things I’ll probably enjoy anyway.

Have you read any books translated from a foreign language and how did you find them?

I’m a big fan of Walter Moers, who writes in German. The translations are by John Brownjohn. Not being able to read German myself, it’s hard to say how much of what I enjoy is the original story and how much is the work of the translator, though I imagine it’s a bit of both. However, I did manage to identify one bit of wordplay that never made it past the language barrier. In The Alchemaster’s Apprentice, there are bat-like creatures called “leather mice.” I’m reasonably confident that in German, “leather mouse” would be “Ledermaus:” a play on “Fledermaus” (bat).

What were your favourite books growing up?

I really enjoyed Brian Jaques’ Redwall series. Each book stood well enough on its own, but what really stood out to me was the way each one added to the world around it. Strangely, what’s stuck with me most are the inconsistencies between the books (particularly between the original Redwall and the later instalments): one character is Portuguese though no real-world countries are mentioned anywhere else, and an army of rats travels in a single horse-drawn cart even though it’s implied that all the other creatures are similar in size. Although that might be seen as a flaw, I like to think that it’s evidence of the world coming together gradually for Jaques as he wrote it, in much the same way that it came together gradually for me as I read it.

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

When I was about 10, I read a book following the kid who goes missing on the dinosaur-infested island in Jurassic Park III. I can’t say whether or not it was particularly well written, but looking back it’s kind of a neat story to cover: the film has the kid pop out of nowhere and save Sam Neill like some sort of pre-teen Rambo, but this book made him a much more vulnerable character. At one point he finds a pair of roller blades, only to be ambushed by velociraptors while wearing them. That bit in particular struck me as absolutely terrifying, but having got that far it would have been scarier to stop and not know what happened than to push on and finish the book.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Probably Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. It’s the size of a phone book, set in a bizarre fantasy world of floating cyclops islands and talking dogs with antlers, and yet everything that happens makes perfect sense. Reading it as a reader, it’s a gripping story in its own right, but reading it as a writer it’s particularly impressive how Moers manages to set up all the details the plot later depends on. Also, the plot follows the basic structure of a classical epic, which I think is a nice touch.


You can find out more about Damon’s previous books or play his games on his website, seek out information about his upcoming Ten Little Astronauts at Unbound or follow him on Twitter: @damonwakes.

Book Chat: Ben Van der Velde

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Ben Van der Velde is a hard-working stand-up comedian currently flogging his gags across Europe, but is centred mainly in London, where he runs Good Ship Comedy. As if touring and writing his own hilarious material wasn’t enough, he also serves as a Maze Master at the Crystal Maze Experience in London, a job anyone of a certain age would kill for.

I first encountered him thanks to his excellent podcast, Worst Foot Forward, which he co-hosts with friend and actor Barry Brett-McStay. Each week on the podcast, they and a guest from the world of comedy, politics or academia tackle the worst examples of things in history, and in over sixty episodes so far have discussed the worst cocktails, worst board games, worst gadgets, worst haircuts and worst doctors, among many others.

They’ve yet to tackle much in the way of the world’s worst books, but since I try and maintain some degree of positivity when online, I asked Ben to swap out the bad stuff for the good, and quizzed him about some of the books that have shaped him and left a lasting impression.

What are you reading at the moment?

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. [A novel of high adventure … and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years in the Bombay underworld.]

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

Ideally that it’s going to introduce me to a way of seeing the world that I haven’t encountered before, either because of the perspective of the characters or the author.  I don’t mind if it’s a big tome, but it better not be lumpen and self-important.  That prose has to zip along.

What genres do you prefer?

Good fantasy that’s rooted in the mythology of this world.  Anything set in and around New Orleans.  Magic, historical, musical and with a bit of philosophy thrown in for good measure too.

What were your favourite books growing up?

Tutankhamen was a Bit of a Mummies Boy – it was a book of comical school reports of famous historical figures which I constantly read and re-read.  Also Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, George’s Marvellous Medicine and all of Robin Jarvis’ stuff – The Deptford Mice trilogy was amazing.

Have you ever seen a film that was better than the book it was based on?

It’s controversial, but I reckon The Princess Bride trumps the book.  Although it was a book written with the intention of becoming a film.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?

I think Kurt Vonnegut is probably the wisest author I’ve read.  The opening twenty pages of Breakfast of Champions made me contemplate quite how childish the history of our planet would look to an objective outsider.

Which is your favourite book from the classical canon?

Frankenstein. It’s so concisely and sharply written, comes from completely unexpected angles, and I love that Mary Shelley saw her husband and his mates telling ghost stories and thought, “I’m gonna scare the sweet bejesus out of you lot!”

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?

Cloud Atlas.  There is a transition from one of the concurrent stories to another where you learn something so breathtakingly tragic about a character in a single line that it left me in speechless pieces for about ten minutes.

If you could spend a day inside a book, which would you choose?

Any book set in Ankh Morpork … or the first half of The Great Gatsby.

Can you tell me some of the books currently on your “to-read” list?

It’s T-minus six weeks till my first child turns up, so I’m trying to cram in as many as I can at the moment. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, the final book of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy, Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott and, if I can fit it in, Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

It’s a toss-up between Twelve Bar Blues by Patrick Neate and American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’m gonna go with the Gaiman as I can’t think of a book that transports me to another place so vividly. He’s from another world.


Ben can be found all over the Internet and beyond. You can learn more about him on his website or Twitter, or have a listen to his brilliantly funny podcast, Worst Foot Forward. You can also visit his London comedy club, Good Ship Comedy.

Book Chat: Sabrina Greenberg

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Sabrina Greenberg manages a London office in her day-to-day life, but has a much more colourful existence once out of the 9-to-5 rat race. She juggles her time between being incredibly sedate – reading, watching Netflix and cuddling her beautiful white cat – and being more active than I could ever imagine. A keen hiker, she also enjoys bouldering, trampolining and weight lifting.

She is also a huge advocate for mental health awareness, and now runs a blog about how she has used exercise to help combat the worst of her anxiety. Sabrina has spoken freely and openly on her blog, on podcasts, and with national newspapers about how she handles her own mental health, and she’s not one to mince words. A staunch feminist, Sabrina has no time for diets, articles that emphasise the importance of weight loss, or people who believe women should look a certain way, believing that all of these things belittle women and create a toxic culture.

I caught up with her to ask a few questions about her favourite books.

What are you reading at the moment?

Brave by Rose McGowan. [It’s the memoirs of a woman who knows what it’s like to live and work in the cult of Hollywood, and how she rebelled against the system instead of keeping quiet and towing the line.]

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?

I love holding real books. I have tried e-readers and audiobooks but the experience is just not the same to me. It feels more impersonal somehow. If my budget would allow, it would always be hardback books.

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?

To say that A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara broke my heart might be an understatement.  There was points when reading it that I had to stop as my reaction was so much stronger than I could have anticipated that it actually shocked me.  It is a beautiful novel, but I wouldn’t advise unless you were feeling particularly robust!

What book do you think you’ve read more than any other?

I think it would be Wild Swans by Jung Chang. This was a book I picked up off my grandpa’s shelf when I was about 17 and just feel madly in love with the true life story of three generations of women battling the institutionalised brutality of China from warlords, through Communism until the opening of their boarders. It is such a powerful book and an excellent historical account.

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

Margaret Atwood.  She is one of the most prolific and uncompromising writers.  Alias Grace was perhaps the first book that etched itself onto my subconscious. I come back to it every couple of years as a result. I also read somewhere that she can read two books everyday, which is astounding! 

Which is your favourite book from the classical canon?

100% Jane Eyre. I always felt an empathy for Bertha Mason. She is described as violently mad, a strange wild animal and at one point, simply ‘it’ – an inhumane thing. I never saw that. I saw a mentally unwell woman who was rejected and punished as severely as one can be. She loses her home, her husband and is vilified for desperately trying to retain some of the brief elements of normality that she understands.

Can you tell me some of the books currently on your “to-read” list? 

I am going through quite a big non-fiction phase at the moment.  I am writing on the blog a lot about how modern fitness and diet culture can negatively impact your mental health, so my book shelf is a reflection of this: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh are next on my list.  I have also just pre-ordered Bryony Gordon’s new book: Eat, Drink, Run: How I got Fit Without Going Too Mad, which I am very, very excited for.

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

The Shining! I decided to read it last year whilst going through a severe period of insomnia – definitely not my smartest move! I was a huge fan of the film, but was aware that Kubrick and King had disagreed on the final outcome and was interested to see what was missing from the story. My fiancé eventually only let me read it during the day as it was only exacerbating the situation.

What were your favourite books growing up?

The Nancy Drew Mysteries! I was enthralled by her red hair and general sass. I think I must have read them all at least twice.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

My favourite book is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It may not be considered to be a work of literary prowess by some, but to me it’s like reading water. It flows so elegantly and continually draws me back to its story of love in the winding cobbled streets of Barcelona.


You can learn more about Sabrina at her amazing blog Anxiously Active, or follow her on Twitter: @anxiouslyactive.

Book Chat: Sarah Dunsworth

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Sarah Dunsworth of Walnut Creek, California is something of a polymath away from her administrative day job. A talented storyteller, poet, singer, songwriter and painter, there doesn’t seem to be a creative outlet she can’t turn her attention to. I grabbed a few minutes with her to ask her about the books that mean the most to her.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. It poses, quite possibly, the most difficult question in the world for man to answer: “is life worth living when there is no proof of purposeful existence?” I’m still in the early parts of the book, but decided to read it when a friend of a friend said reading it saved his life.

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

Harlan Coben, as he was someone who encouraged me in my writing as a teenager. After reading two of his books, I contacted him by e-mail to thank him for his work and also to request he read one of my poems and give a critique. He wrote back, to my shock, and said though poetry wasn’t his forte, he thought it was very good and told me to keep on writing. I’ll always be grateful for his time and kindness in responding so thoughtfully.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up?

At home on a quiet Sunday morning, on the couch with a blanket; a steaming mug of Earl Grey in hand, and two cats curled up at my feet.

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

The Shining by Stephen King was terrifying. I was shaking at one point. Being able to create that level of horror with words is mastery. Seriously, the man wrote about topiary coming to life and had my palms sweating…HOW?

Which is your favourite book from the classical canon?

That’s nearly impossible to say! My initial thought was Nineteen Eighty-Four by by George Orwell, but could very well change tomorrow. Actually, I’d say Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I read it fifteen years ago and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think on it.

Hardback, paperback, eBook or audiobook?

Is it strange to say hardback at home and paperback everywhere else?

Can you tell me about a book that made you laugh?

I’m just now realising I haven’t read many funny books. Shamefully, I’ll admit I laughed at I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by (the painfully vile) Tucker Max. It’s so gross. Please don’t read it. If you have, I’m so, so sorry.

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?

When I finished Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, I held the book to my chest and wept.

Can you tell me about a book that taught you something, either about yourself or the world?

Every book I read teaches me something about the world by experiencing it through new eyes. I can’t think of a single book that hasn’t taught me something, even if that something is that some men are horrendous (I’m looking at you, Tucker Max). George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four taught me to never dismiss the possibility of fiction spilling off the page and into the real world. I wrote a report in school where I said Orwell’s dystopian creation could never exist. My bad.

Have you read any books translated from a foreign language and how did you find them?

I have and do often, actually. I don’t find it difficult to understand, but I think the text must lose a bit of its original sparkle in the process of translating.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Don’t do this to me. I refuse to answer.


You can peek into Sarah’s personal life and read her poetry over on Instagram: @tinyquill.

Book Chat: Anwen Kya Hayward

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Cardiff-based PhD student and author Anwen Kya Hayward is my inaugural interviewee in this new blog feature. Her passion for literature and mythology has led to her penning a novella called Here, the World Entire giving an alternate interpretation to the Medusa myth, which I ranked as one of the ten best books I read last year. When not obsessing over mythological heroes or with her nose in a book, she can be found baking or, and I quote, “gently touching cats’ noses until they do the blinking thing and an unbreakable bond of trust is formed”. I quizzed her on some of her favourite and most memorable books.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am only on page two of my current read, so there’s not a whole lot I can say about it! It’s Nowhere to be Found, a novella by South Korean author Bae Suah. All I know is that it’s a bildungsroman of sorts, but a very compact one, following the noteworthy events throughout the life of an unnamed narrator. I’m aiming to read ten books by female authors of colour in January – you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to find books that aren’t by white authors until you actually specifically look for them – and this is number eight.

What were your favourite books growing up?

Listen, it was Enid Blyton’s entire back catalogue. I’m not proud of it. I held tea parties in my garden with my dollies and supped lashings of ginger beer with them. I pretended that the oak tree down by the stream was the Faraway Tree. I ate cucumber sandwiches. Then I grew up and learnt about things like ‘why golliwogs are bad’, and reassessed my entire world. Still like ginger beer, though.

Which fictional character would you most like to go for dinner with?

Oh man, can you even imagine going to dinner with Voldemort? I bet the waiters wouldn’t dare bring your food cold or late. You’d get the best service in the entire restaurant. Definitely Voldemort.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

Honestly, I’m kind of a fanatic for books. I’m not what you could describe as ‘choosy’. However, I prefer either smaller books or weighty tomes; go hard or go home. I like a book that I can finish in one sitting or completely live inside for a month. I also tend to go for books written by authors who are underrepresented in the literary community; authors of colour, disabled authors, LGBT+ authors, etc. I think it’s important to read books written by those whose voices have not historically been amplified, and if we show the publishing world that it’s not an insurmountable risk to publish books by marginalised voices, then hopefully the tide will turn.

A book with fewer than ten Goodreads ratings is probably an instant win, too. It’s like discovering a new planet.

What genre(s) do you prefer to read?

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. Give me a book about pirates, or rebels in seventeenth century France, or Roman senators, and I’ll probably lap it up.

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl contains one particular scene involving a demonic twin which gave me nightmares and made me shower with the door open for about a week, just in case a monster crept into the bathroom with me and I needed a quick escape. The book itself isn’t a horror – and I’m not easily scared, even when it comes to horror media – but it has some deeply unsettling passages, and that one really got to me.

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?

I feel personally attacked by this question, because I read a book last week that had me practically bawling in a Caffè Nero: Trail of Broken Wings, by Sejal Hadani. Broadly, it’s a semi-autobiographical account of a family marred by their abusive father, and the novel uses multiple perspectives to show how abuse ripples through the lives of those it touches. Some of the lines were so heart-breaking that I had to highlight them. It’s truly the kind of book that lives in you once you finish it, as corny as that sounds.

It also helped me understand my own family a great deal; my grandfather was raised by an enormously abusive man and we still feel the effects of it today. Seeing something I knew so well rendered so beautifully in fiction really got to me.

If you could spend a day inside a book, which one would you choose?

So, probably not the safest or sanest answer, but it would be Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Imagine being surrounded by that level of change! We live in a world that always seems to be changing for the worst, spiralling downwards and downwards towards a ceaseless void of bigotry and doom, and the world of Metamorphoses isn’t like that. It’s a world changing towards progress, towards civilisation and self-awareness, and sure, a lot of people end up getting turned into trees or bears or goats, but the overarching message is one that I can get behind. Avoid the gods, though. At all costs, avoid the gods.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up? Where, when and what?

Honestly, it’s a long train journey in the evening. I have to travel a lot; my university is based in London and my partner lives near Bath, whereas I am located quite happily in Cardiff and don’t drive, so there are a lot of train journeys in my week. There’s nothing else you should be doing on a train. No laundry, no cooking, no cleaning your cat’s sick out of the rugs. It’s guilt-free reading at its best.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Not so impossible for me – it’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, by Patty Yumi Cottrell. It’s just an absolute masterclass in narrative voice. Cottrell’s protagonist is deeply flawed but reflective of that part of us that we all like to pretend doesn’t exist; the neuroses, the bodily functions, the complete lack of self-awareness. On top of that, the plot absolutely floored me. The revelation at the end made me put the book down slowly and just sit still for a long while. If I can ever write a book with a voice half as strong as Helen Moran, I’ll die happy.


You can purchase Anwen’s first novella Here, the World Entire via the link, or follow her on Twitter: @kyatic.