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The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas about authors

Julian Barnes - February 2017

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester on 19 January 1946. He read for an honours degree in modern languages from Magdalen College at Oxford University.

He worked as a lexicographer, then a reviewer and literary editor, followed by a television critic before estabishing himself as an author.

Julian Barnes has received an impressive list of awards and honours, simply too many to name in a brief review of his career to date.

He won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending and was nominated a further three times, no mean feat. He has won awards in France, America, Italy, Germany, and Austria including, in 2016, the American Academy of Arts & Letters which elected Barnes as an honorary foreign member, and the Siegfried Lenz Prize for outstanding contributions as a European essayist.

So far, Julian Barnes is the author of ten novels, two books of short stories, and also three collections of journalism, with his work translated into more than thirty languages. He has proven himself to be an exceptionally highly skilled author producing novels, short stories, and essays that are well worth reading.

Peter Carey - January 2017

Peter Carey is an Australian novelist, science graduate, and the author of two collections of stories, nine novels, a children's book, and several short works of nonfiction.

He has focused on fiction, with only brief forays into non-fiction, and explored a range of genres including both science and literary fiction. Australian identity and historical context are a recurrent topics in his work.

At university, he first planned to be an organic chemist then a zoologist but according to him, "he had no aptitude for either, started faking his science experiments and then failed his exams anyway" and writing was a fall back option with no firm plan.

Carey has won the Miles Franklin Award three times and is one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice, in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and in 2001 with True History of the Kelly Gang. Jack Maggs and The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs both won the Commonwealth Writers Prize winner.

Barbara Kingsolver - December 2016

Barbara Kingsolver was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa. As an adult, she lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands.

Kingsolver has a bachelor's and a master's degree in biology, and worked as a freelance science writer in the mid 1980s, before she began writing novels.

Kingsolver has won multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association. The Poisonwood Bible was a Pulitzer finalist. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won prizes like the James Beard award. The Lacuna won Britain's prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction.

Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally. Each of her books since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't" and in 2007, she discusses The Poisonwood Bible with James Naughtie and an audience on the BBC. She has created her own website to compete with a plethora of fake ones"

Alexander McCall Smith - November 2016

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, starring Mma Precious Ramotswe in Gabarone, Botswana. With 17 extremely popular books about the Detective Agency, it is more of a phenomenom than a series, and has made him a household name having sold over twenty million copies in English alone.

The appeal of the No. 1 Ladies series, appears to be the gentle and affectionate portrayal of the people of Botswana, along with the kind wisdom of the central character, Mma Ramotswe, who solves numerous mysteries improving the lives of the people with whom she interacts.

Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific author of fiction, with several series to his credit including the Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street series. For many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the UK and abroad before turning his hand to writing fiction. He has an insightful and witty style that makes his books appealing and entertaining. His style is engaging and his characters are credible. This, along with plots that combine humour and interest, makes his books are a good read.

David Sedaris - October 2016

David Sedaris is an American best-selling humorist and radio contributor. He has written plays, short stories and essays, with humour frequently at his own expense covering his upbringing in North Carolina to his life in France with partner, Hugh Hamrick.

Through his satirical tone, he examines human experiences and feelings in an honest and unreserved way blending sharp wit with empathy. His work has universal appeal with themes like work, education, and family.

Sedaris made his comic début on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, reading SantaLand Diaries, which recounted his strange but true experience working as a Macy's elf clad in green tights.

His first collection, Barrel Fever, was published in 1994, followed by Naked in 1997, Holidays on Ice in 1997, Me Talk Pretty One Day in 2000, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim in 2004, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames in 2008. He contributes to The New Yorker, and has sold over 7 million copies of his books each of which has become New York Times Best Sellers.

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver's career took off with We Need to Talk About Kevin. It won the 2005 Orange Prize, and provoked considerable controversy by examining the impact of an ambivalent mother in her son's killing spree.

She was Margaret Ann Shriver in North Carolina, to a deeply religious family. She did not like her name and thought that as a tomboy, a boy's name would suit her better. She started calling herself Lionel at 15.

We Need to Talk about Kevin was not her first book, in fact, she wrote seven novels and published six before this one. While We Need to Talk about Kevin is extremely well crafted, so are her earlier books.

She is an experienced journalist, having written for The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Economist, and many other publications. In July 2005, Shriver began writing a column for The Guardian.

Shriver studied at Columbia University, and has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast. She now lives in London with her husband.

Alan Hollinghurst

Hollinghurst was born in 1954 and grew up in Faringdon, a market town twenty miles from Oxford surrounded by farms and chalk hills.

Hollinghurst established himself as a skilled author when he won the Man Booker Prize in 2004 for The Line of Beauty, the moving story of James, a young student, beguiled by the glamorous life of a Tory family. The novel is set in the Thatcher years when deaths from AIDS were at a peak.

Hollinghurst moved to London in his twenties where he discovered an active gay scene. In his first novel, The Swimming Pool Library. William Beckwith, a promiscuous young gay man, learns what being gay was like for an earlier generation, with graphic descriptions of gay sex.

The Folding Star and The Stranger's Child, reflect the rural England of his childhood, and both The Folding Star and The Spell feature a man who falls in love with someone much younger. The ways in which the present is shaped by the past is a theme in all his novels, including the last, The Stranger's Child.

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter, probably best known for the novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, for which he was awarded the Booker Prize in 1993. He has written in a number of forms including novels, children's books, and short stories.

Doyle's first three novels, The Commitments (1987), The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991), centre on the Rabbitte family, and are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. The Van was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize and all three have been made into succesful films. In 1993, Doyle published Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which portrayed Dublin through the eyes of a ten-year-old in 1968. His vivid portrayal of the time and convincing use of colloquial language, resulted in a passionate and challenging novel.

The Woman Who Walked into Doors is the story of a battered wife, The Last Roundup series follows Henry Smart through several decades, and The Guts continues the story of the Rabbitte family from the Barrytown Trilogy, focusing on a 48-year-old Jimmy Rabbite and his diagnosis of bowel cancer.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, born on 7 February 1812 in Portsmouth, is an English writer and social critic. He is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. He was very popular during his life, and his novels and short stories continue to be read and studied.

When his father went to prison, Dickens left school and took a job in a factory. Despite not completing his formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas, many short stories, and several non-fiction articles. He also lectured and performed extensively, and was an active campaigner for social reforms, especially children's rights, and education.

The Pickwick Papers launched Dickens' writing career, with his novels published in installments, the Victorian mode of publishing novels. He quickly became popular internationally because of his satire laced with humour. His plots and characters were carefully constructed to reflect topical issues for which he campaigned, and his writing is thus as much entertainment as it is social commentary.

James Kelman

Midway through our interview, James Kelman is relaxing into an acutely knowledgable exposition of 19th-century land clearances across the north-west of Scotland, and the resulting suppression of local language and culture, when it strikes me that the role of schoolmaster suits him far better than that of guarded, watchful subject.

He has recently returned from a term's teaching at California's San Jose State university. Does he enjoy it? He takes a long pause: "It depends," he says. "Usually it's upsetting for students." There is a hint of the imp in his tone.

James Kelman

Thomas Keneally

Tom Keneally won the Booker Prize in 1982 with Schindler's Ark, later made into the Steven Spielberg Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List. His non-fiction includes the memoir Searching For Schindler and Three Famines, an LA Times Book of the Year, and the histories The Commonwealth Of Thieves, The Great Shame and American Scoundrel. His fiction includes Shame and the Captives, The Daughters Of Mars, The Widow And Her Hero (shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award), An Angel In Australia and Bettany's Book. His novels The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize, while Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers For The Paraclete won the Miles Franklin Award. The People's Train was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia division

Thomas Keneally

Ernest Hemingway

"The writer's job is to tell the truth," Ernest Hemingway once said. When he was having difficulty writing he reminded himself of this, as he explained in his memoirs, A Moveable Feast. "I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say."

Hemingway's personal and artistic quests for truth were directly related. As Earl Rovit noted: "More often than not, Hemingway's fictions seem rooted in his journeys into himself much more clearly and obsessively than is usually the case with major fiction writers.... His writing was his way of approaching his identity of discovering himself in the projected metaphors of his experience. He believed if he could see himself clear and whole, his vision might be useful to others who also lived in this world."

Ernest Hemingway

Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy did not begin writing until she was in her mid-thirties. At that time there was little written about the black British experience in Britian. After attending writing workshops Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read - entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, that look closely and perceptively at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean. In her first three novels she explored - from different perspectives - the problems faced by black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants. In her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994), the story is of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s. Never Far from Nowhere (1996), her second, is set during the 1970s and tells the story of two very different sisters living on a London council estate. In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown and discovers a previously unknown personal history.

Andrea Levy

Zadie Smith

There is a scene in the BBC's adaptation of Zadie Smith's acclaimed novel NW in which a character listens as her old school friend holds court in her tastefully decorated north-west London home. The talk is of children and schools and house prices, and in that moment the gulf between the two is seemingly laid bare, one listening in disbelief at how far the other has travelled from the council estate they once called home.

Yet behind that confident facade, the other woman is no less unsure about her place in the world, about the increasingly white and upper-middle-class world she moves in, about the part of London she still calls home that is inexorably changing day by day. It's both a painfully acute dissection of how the bonds of old friendship bind us and a sharp commentary on race, class and modern London life. It could only have been imagined by Smith.

The Guardian

Turkish author Asli Erdogan's detention 'breaches convention on human rights'

The novelist's pre-trial imprisonment on terror charges has been condemned by lawyers and academics, who say there are no grounds for this extreme measure.


'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.


Sexism in publishing: 'My novel wasn't the problem, it was me, Catherine'

Author reveals that submitting her manuscript to agents under a male pseudonym brought more than eight times the number of responses.


The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.


Leonard Cohen: Canadian singer dead aged 82

Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen's death was announced on his Facebook page.


Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.


Beryl Bainbridge was nice as well as naughty - and a brilliant novelist

The fictions of Beryl Bainbridge's life were as important to her as the facts. As a novelist, she knew the dramatic exigencies of telling a tale.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

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