Any writer can attest to the unpredictable nature of ideas and inspiration. Regardless of genre, from the slice of life contemporaries to intricately plotted thrillers, the most mundane aspects of everyday life may spark a thought which is suddenly well on its way to becoming a full-length novel. However, if these everyday aspects of life find their way into the narrative there is enjoyment to be had, for both writer and reader, in creatively twisting the norm. Personally, I’m excited to spot these norm twists in a synopsis and I’m intrigued by an author’s ability to incorporate them regardless of genre.
I’m writing this straight after reading Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions (Raven Books, 2018) and I want to give it an honourable mention for basing so much horror and suspense on wood. I haven’t read a horror or thriller title which has picked up on basic material and run with it throughout the narrative and character construction quite as Purcell did. The only reason I haven’t included it on this list is that I’m going to write a piece solely focused on The Silent Companions and this use of wood.
An unexpected angle, for example, can turn the typical London experience of flat-sharing into a romantic comedy of near misses, décor clashes and surprisingly heartwarming notes discussing bin day… if the two twenty-somethings sharing the flat have never met. That additional fact may seem small, but it opens a world of creative possibilities which keep writers having fun and readers turning pages. These creative angles may also become the synopsis, sales pitch or memorable twist which keeps it in the reader’s mind long after the final page.
That is certainly the case for these five books. If you’re looking for some creatively charged slice-of-life contemporaries, mysteries or historical fiction, here is a list of extraordinary books which play on the norm.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press, March 2020)
Everyone knows the name William Shakespeare. The majority of his thirty-nine plays are still performed today and he is the bedrock of every stage of the curriculum. However, when writing the life and death of Hamnet, the son of this most-famous playwright, the name William Shakespeare does not appear once. Instead, he is referred to as the son, father, and husband as his family, Hamnet, Agnes and Judith most notably, are given long-overdue attention.
To summarise O’Farrell’s reasoning, given during the Hay Festival (2020), William Shakespeare has simply garnered enough attention from historians and biographers for hundreds of years. In contrast, his son’s death has been lucky to receive a one-line mention in these biographies accompanied by the context of high-infant mortality. By intricately omitting a single name O’Farrell steps away from William Shakespeare’s omnipresence and the resulting emphasis on Agnes and Hamnet is a powerfully haunting depiction of endurance through grief.
Check out my five-star review of Hamnet here:
Before I can say anything about the content of this book, just look at how gorgeous it is! I know the old saying, “never judge a book by its cover”, but I have been making a conscious effort to be more aware of book design this year and this is the perfect example of how…
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (Quercus, April 2019)
Tiffy and Leon share a flat.
Tiffy and Leon share a bed.
Tiffy and Leon have never met.
I will be the first to admit that this hook worked like a charm in convincing me to pick up The Flatshare. It may sound crazy but for night-working nurse Leon and 9-to-5 working Tiffy it’s a perfect, economic, solution. Despite initial differences in décor taste, this unusual living arrangement thrives when conversational post-it notes or, in Tiffy’s case, letters allow them to get to know each other still without meeting.
This romance delivers a play not only on relatable Londoners traversing affordable living but also a couple kept apart by more than simple coincidence. If you’re looking for romance look no further than O’Leary’s heartwarming bed-sharing strangers.
The 24-Hour Café by Libby Page (Orion, January 2020)
Many students and Londoners can advocate for the numerous benefits of 24-hour cafés. Best friends Hannah and Mona waitress at Stella’s café whilst dreaming of lucrative performance careers. Everyone is welcome at Stella’s and Hannah and Mona meet the eccentric, lonely and lost.
However, Page plays on the title of her novel by setting a slice-of-life contemporary across exactly 24-hours. Time frames are an interesting way to play with a story, setting or character arc and leading you to discover the fun, mysterious and vital aspects of your idea. By including multiple perspectives across just 24-hours Page demonstrates the value of these hours as just one day might just be enough to change your life.
Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (Faber & Faber, March 2020)
Blogging about books is one of the most popular ways to engage with fellow booklovers, review the latest releases and create lists of favourites. Individual bloggers have established their book blogs as businesses and, on the flip side, many bookshops, especially independents, encourage their staff to contribute blog posts. It’s no surprise then that Boston’s Old Devil’s bookshop also incorporated a blog to engage customers in their speciality of mystery novels. However, Malcolm Kershaw is cast into suspicion when a series of unsolved murders each bears an eerie resemblance to the perfect crimes from classic mystery novels listed on his online article titled ‘My Eight Favourite Murders’.
If you love to read books about books, or are looking for an interesting mystery spin on this popular cross-genre theme, Peter Swanson’s thrilling creativity in a book blog coming to life, if in the most deadly fashion, will have you gripped.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (Vintage, August 2019)
Professional nannies have been in demand since Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw in 1898. However, Ware’s current adaptation sees Rowan take up a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly good salary, in a luxurious smart home. Ware imaginatively combines the features of James’ classic ghost story with the unavoidable constant advances in-home convenience technology connected to most tablets and smartphones. Rather than making Rowan’s life working with the picture-perfect Elincourt any easier she becomes embroiled in a startlingly modern ghost story as her employment ends with a dead child. She maintains her innocence, but the complications of nannying in a smart home prove too gripping for any reader to put down.
Check out my review of Turn of the Key here:
I have been dying to read this book. Plain and simple. Now that I have read it, thank goodness, I’m so excited to finally talk about it! I was first introduced to Ruth Ware through BooksandLala as she gave The Death of Mrs Westaway a positive review and put The Turn of the Key on her Best Books…
Have you read any of these titles? Do you notice fun twists on normal or mundane experiences in books? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter! If you have any recommendations be sure to let me know so that I can add them to my Goodreads list.
The titles of all books mentioned in this article link to Waterstones as an option to purchase these books. These are not affiliate links and I have no financial, monetary or business/professional connection to Waterstones, and they are not aware of the publication of this blog. Similarly, I have included details of publisher, however, no publishers or authors are aware of the publication of this blog prior to it being published.
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