The Crooked Path by Harriet Goodchild: Mini-Review & Author Interview

Today I’m wishing a very Happy Publication Week to Harriet Goodchild, whose gorgeously poetic The Crooked Path is out this week! I’ve previously read and greatly enjoyed two of Harriet’s short story compilations, so when I was given the opportunity to snag an ARC of The Crooked Path, of course I jumped at it.

Harriet was also kind enough to join me today for a mini-interview, during which we discuss the links between poetry/folksong and writing, given the highly poetic feel of The Crooked Path. Keep scrolling for blurb, mini-review, and interview!

The Book


Stories link together. What is done in one time and place spreads out across the world to shape the future: there is never a single beginning, never a simple end.

But, since this tale must have a beginning, let it be when a potter carves a creature from dreams and driftwood.

It carries him to a place where fair faces conceal foul intent, where two kings guard the firstborn tree by night and day, where only a living man’s love can undo a dead man’s hatred.

And where, if he does not go carefully, the choices made in other times and places will cost him his life.

My Mini-Review

As previously mentioned, I’ve already read some of Harriet’s work. Those were all short stories, however; and as much as I enjoyed them (and I really did, despite the fact that some of the themes were not ones I would normally choose to read), The Crooked Path is by far and away my favourite. There are hints and references to the short stories in there, too, so it’s good to read each of them.

Firstly, the feel of it was incredibly evocative. It took me right back to the wonder and excitement with which I used to read The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, with its amazing illustrations and magical adventures, and The Thousand and One Nights, with its alien culture and dark outcomes.

The prose itself was nothing short of gorgeous, as expected. Harriet has only grown as a writer since I read her short stories: she is one of the writers whose work constantly leaves me acutely aware of my own lack of finesse as a writer. Poetic, but spare; not a word wasted or out of place. And every spare, perfectly balanced sentence creates another layer in the dream that is The Crooked Path.

The story? Complex but simple. It’s the faery story of the girl who betrayed her faery lover, and must go through many trials and troubles to gain him back; but yet it’s more. There is an entirely loveable male MC who is satisfying to follow along on his adventures; by turns sensible and rash, and honestly ordinary in a perilously other world. Then there’s the dark female MC who is far from perfect and knows it. Oh, I loved the melody of this book; and I felt the harmony of it deep in my bones.

The conclusion: 5 out of 5 stars. I expected it to be wonderful, but it was even better than that.

The Interview

Harriet, when did you know for certain that you wanted to be a writer?

I was on holiday…

Actually, it wasn’t so much wanting as wondering whether I could write a novel rather than a paper. Scientific prose has to be concise, clear and grounded in what actually happened; it doesn’t lend itself to flights of fancy. Eventually, that holiday, I decided to stop wondering and started scribbling in my spare time. Gradually it got better and eventually it got to the point where I felt confident enough to share it.

Oh, that is not the answer I expected from someone whose writing is so poetical! There’s certainly a clarity of language to your books, but it’s entirely evocative. Speaking of poetry, how does your love of folksong and poetry play into your writing?

The folksongs give a mood, a dominant note for a character, perhaps, or an image to play with in the text. There’s also something of the pattern of folksongs in the way I structure the prose, the use of repetition and rhythm for effect, for instance, or the way one scene echoes another. Some songs have inspired stories, though the finished tale may lie anywhere along the line from a direct retelling to a mere nod in the direction of the original. Each chapter in my books and each short story has a verse from a folksong as an epigraph. Something from that song will be reflected in the following text, and all the songs together could be used as a playlist: consider it a type of cross-form intertextuality.

The poetry is more of an ideal. In poetry, there’s no space for sloppiness of thought: every word must count and every word must fit. One can say the same of prose, of course, but the elision and compression of poetry gives it an intensity and a heightened awareness of the world that prose rarely achieves. There are a few poets – Kathleen Raine and Robert Graves first among them – whose work I consider a touchstone for perfection. Raine’s work is suffused with landscape; reading it one sees the places as vividly as in a photograph and when I was living outside of Scotland I’d read them and wallow a little in homesickness. Graves is, I think, the finest lyric poet of the twentieth century. So much is captured in so little. It was, however, another poet, Michael Roberts, whose The Images of Death supplied the theme for The Crooked Path.

Do you play an instrument/s? If so, what? If not, what instrument would you most like to know how to play?

Alas, I don’t. I had years of piano lessons as a girl but made very little progress. The fine motor coordination it requires is beyond me. If I could play an instrument then it would be the fiddle. And if I could play one half as well as Aidan O’Rourke or Duncan Chisholm I would think I played it well indeed.

Yes. Fiddle is the best (I play the violin, but this conclusion should be considered in no way biased…) Music is a huge part of my writing, whether listening to it while I write or daydreaming along to it and sparking ideas. Music or no music for you when writing?

It depends. I used to listen to music as I wrote – folk music, of course, but also classical; Bach’s violin concertos and Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony were especially important when I was writing The Crooked Path. These days I tend to write in silence. If I’m editing a scene, though, I might have a particular song on repeat to help create the mood I need. Antisocial, I know. Fortunately I can put on headphones to avoid driving those around me to distraction. Right now, that song is John Doyle’s Farewell to All That. As its name suggests, it’s inspired by Robert Graves’ biography. It seems apposite.

Ah. I, too, love to isolate myself in my headphones when I can’t listen to music aloud. If we choose to call it ‘creative’ instead of ‘antisocial’, who’s to know the difference? *nodnod* A typical writing day will be kickstarted by any one of my favourite writing playlists. For you, what is a typical writing day like?

I write fiction round the edges of the rest of my life, fitting it in where and when I can. As such, there isn’t really a typical day. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an hour or two in the evenings. Sometimes I can write a lot in that time but it’s usually only a few hundred words – I write very, very slowly, rewriting and backtracking as I find my way through the story.

Making the adjustment from being an unpublished novelist to being published has been difficult and, lately, I’ve been struggling with writer’s block. The Crooked Path was more or less complete by the time After the Ruin was published but right now I’m revising the final book in that series. Writing it was very, very hard. I ended up forcing it out, like toothpaste from an all but empty tube, gritting my teeth in face of the self-doubt that comes with writer’s block. I’m past the worst by now and thanks to a few months distance, and a couple of good readers, I can see how to revise it but it’s going to take a long, long time to see the light of day. The up side of taking the time off from writing is that I could read a lot. Reading is as important as writing as it enables one to look out rather than in.

Harriet, thanks for joining me today, and happy publication week!

You can find Harriet’s books on Amazon UK/Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. Harriet herself, you can find on Twitter and her website. And you can get your copy of The Crooked Path by clicking on any of the links above.

Happy reading, people!

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things: THE HILLS IS LONELY by Lillian Beckwith

I found a book in an opshop one day. That’s not unusual, of course. I’ve found many books in many opshops around Australia (and a few in America). It was in one of my book-binge shops, where I ended up with a whole plastic bag full of books at 10c each, paperback and hardback alike.

That book was THE HILLS IS LONELY by Lillian Beckwith. I picked it up sheerly because I liked the title, but the blurb on the back really sold it. The blurb read:

The Hills Is LonelyWhen Lillian Beckwith advertised for a secluded place in the country, she received a letter with the following unusual description of an isolated Hebridean croft: ‘Surely it’s that quiet even the sheeps themselves on the hills is lonely and as to the sea it’s that near as I use it myself everyday for the refusals…’

Her curiosity aroused, Beckwith took up the invitation. This is the comic and enchanting story of the strange rest-cure that followed and her efforts to adapt to a completely different way of life.

It sounded wonderful, and I’d been meaning to read more non-fiction anyway. THE HILLS IS LONELY seemed like a good place to start.

It was. I’m not sure exactly how much of it is from Lillian Beckwith’s actual experiences and how much of it is made up (she writes fiction also), but whatever the breakdown is, the whole of it is enchanting. She has such a way with words, and such a fine hand for characters that you can’t help feeling that you’re there, and that you never want to leave.

“I like the way you townfolk seem to be able to dance on your toes,” panted my partner admiringly.

“You’re dancing on them too,” I replied with a ghostly chuckle that was half irony and half agony.

“Me? Dancin’ on me toes?”

“No,” I retorted brutally, “on mine.”

“I thought I must be,” said Lachy simply, and with no trace of remorse; “I could tell by the way your face keeps changin’.”


photo from

I’ve a link here for the Kindle Version of THE HILLS IS LONELY, though I really recommend getting the paperback. This is one of those books that you’ll want to feel in your hands and smell the scent of as you read it.

But whichever format you prefer to read, just read this one. I promise you, you’ll want to go on to the next, and then the next…

Adventures In Reviewing: To Review Or Not To Review….

If there’s anything a writer understands, it’s another writer’s search for reviews. We need them. We need them to propel sales, we need them to garner interest around the book blogosphere, and if we ever hope to enter the hallowed halls of Bookbub-advertised authors, they are indispensable.

That being so, when someone suggested that I join a non-reciprocal review group on Goodreads (non-reciprocal meaning that authors strictly don’t review authors who have reviewed them), I thought it was a great idea. I mean, it was foolproof! No-one could be accused of the kind of I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine kind of review, and all the reviews would be fair and unbiased. And there would be, yanno, reviews.

So I joined a non-reciprocal review group, eager to see who I’d come into contact with, and ready to review the books of others. I knew there was a chance that people wouldn’t like my book and would rate it low (after all, that’s the chance we all take), but I was feeling good about the whole thing. I’d even been able to find a ‘clean’ round within the review group. No sex scenes to watch out for, and nothing I wouldn’t really like to read. I couldn’t go wrong!

Then I got my randomly-assigned read-to-review books, and had my first unpleasant moment. It hadn’t really occurred to me in the lead-up to signing up with the review group that I might end up with any really badly-written books. Unfortunately, I did. Oh boy, was it a doozy! No plot, dreadful writing, unbelievable and cardboard characters, and a level of political hackery that made the entire books seem like a fantasy manifesto of what politics should be like. That was reckoning without the grammatical errors, wrong and missing punctuation, and wrong homonyms. I read it through and took notes anyway, growing more and more anxious about having to review it. It wasn’t even up to a standard of three stars, and I hated to think that I was going to have to give another author less than three stars. Much to my joy, the next book was much better, and my third, although I was conflicted about it and found a little to criticise in it, was very well written.

My second unpleasant moment was when, having read three of the four assigned books in three days, the moderator of the group very sweetly and cleverly insinuated that both I and another member hadn’t really read the books. I was taken aback and more than a little sickened at the veiled accusation. Surely we were all readers as well as writers? In my mind, there is no lover of books who can’t read at least one book a day when in the mood. When I’m in the reading mood, I read anywhere from 1-3 books per day. I pointed out to the mod that two of the books had been very short, and tried to put the nastiness out of my mind. I already had the impression that this wasn’t the group for me, and that the unpleasantness of such a group made the possible profits not worthwhile. I was soon to be proved quite right.

In the end, I gave the dreadful book two stars (and thought it generous). Since it didn’t seem fair to give a fellow author’s book such a low rating without justifying it, I went into some detail with my review. After all, it had already been suggested that I hadn’t read the books, and I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t be accused of that again. Feeling sick and anxious about the whole thing, I uploaded the review to the required sites.

I woke up the next morning to find a message in my Goodread inbox. You can insert your choice of dum dum daaaaaah! music here. The author had seen my review, had taken exception to it, and was demanding that I start a dialogue with him about the thing he found most offensive about my review. It was also suggested, though not outright said, that I should be changing my review. To make a long, nasty story quite a bit shorter, I replied, indicating that I wouldn’t be changing my review, stating my reasons for giving the review I had given, and closing with a gentle reminder that it wasn’t professional to harass a reviewer for their review. The author sent back a shorter, nastier message, and contacted the moderator.

I then had the joy of receiving a message from the moderator that accused me of personally attacking the author in my review (amongst other things) and suggesting that I would be happier in another review group. By this time I was regretting that I’d ever taken the advice of joining a non-reciprocal review group. It was also at this point that I began to think that non-reciprocal reviews, earned in such a manner, weren’t exactly non-reciprocal. If every author going into this group was going into it with the attitude that they had to be kind and careful in their reviews, and expected the same in return regardless of the quality of the book, how was that different from reviewing the author who was reviewing you? They would feel constrained to review in a certain way, and with a certain amount of stars–thus making the review essentially reciprocal.
I had begun to feel exceedingly squicky about the whole thing: almost as if I’d bought and paid for reviews. And though a second message from the moderator indicated that they had spoken to the author about the inappropriateness of not contacting reviewers, I was still left with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Fortunately, as with all things in life, every cloud has a silver lining and two lovely things have come out of the experience. I’ve met Loralee Evans, who was honest and truthful in her reviews, and who helped me out with invaluably sensible advice when I didn’t know what to do. (She’s also recently guest-posted for me: check it out!)
The other thing that made me exceedingly happy was meeting Dan Buri, whose book I was very conflicted about and rated 3 stars. He was a gentleman about it from start to finish, and never harassed or pressured me to change my review, though I know from experience that getting a lower-starred review isn’t at all pleasant. He was such a breath of fresh air after the nastiness with the other author.

Will I ever join another non-reciprocal review group? Heck no. It’s not my thing, and I hate the horrible feeling when I have to rate a book lower than I’d like to be rated myself. But the experience wasn’t all bad, and for those strong people who go into it with the determination of being truthful and accepting truth in return, it’s both useful and honourable.

In the end, as an author, it’s all up to you. To review, or not to review?