Archive for November, 2009

Birdwatching thriller wins over Berwick’s bookworms

What a great turnout for this month’s book group! The big draw for the November meeting was the visit by the author Sally Hinchcliffe, who came to talk about her first novel Out of a Clear Sky. This book not only received great critical acclaim when it came out but was also a Radio4 Book at Bedtime last year. So as readers we were expecting great things – and we weren’t disappointed.

Sally’s talk gave us some great insights into the writing and the publishing process. She began by telling us the source of her idea for the dark and highly literary thriller, which began with her image of a raven with its carrion. A keen bird-watcher herself, she had been struck by the idea of how twitchers effectively ‘stalk’ birds and how interesting it would be if someone was also ‘watching the watcher. ‘ The novel was started when Sally was doing her Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck and although she wrote the first draft in just five months, it took a further three years of revision and rewriting before the final draft became the novel on the shelves today. 

For anyone who hasn’t read it, it follows birdwatcher Manda, whose life begins to unravel when her boyfriend leaves her. Not only does she lose her circle of friends but she discovers that she is being stalked.  We soon learn that Manda is an unreliable narrator with a very troubled past.

The questions then flowed for a good hour! Readers were interested in how the character of Manda was formed into this untrusting person who the readers in turn cannot trust. Sally told us how readers often tell her that they worked out who the real ‘baddie’ was early on – which she finds interesting, because she herself hadn’t worked it out until quite a long way through writing the book! We enjoyed the bird imagery and the way these were used to form the chapters. Sally Hinchcliffe has shown quite a rare talent in being clearly very knowledgeable about bird-watching, but not allowing that to intrude too far into the narrative itself. For some of us, Manda’s back-story, of her troubled childhood and relationships with her parents, worked particularly well.    

“Really enjoyable” an “a real page-turner” were just two of the comments about the novel  – and any regular readers of this blog will know that the Berwick readers are not always easy to please!  When I e-mailed Sally to thank her for her visit, she replied to say she had enjoyed it very much and found the questions and discussion “insightful and fascinating.”

We were delighted to welcome yet more new members to the Berwick group and hope they’ll also become regulars. Next month’s choice is another ‘literary thriller’ – the acclaimed Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. Set in 1950s Stalinist Russia, this has also attracted hugely favourable reviews and should be an ideal December read. Put the date in your (Advent) calendar!

Next meeting: Tuesday December 1st. 6.30pm. Doolally’s, Marygate, Berwick. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith.


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

November 2009
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