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Books & Writing


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The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

April 30th, 2019

The intoxicating story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world for ever.

This is an unforgettable piece of chilling and gothic historical fiction, the debut from Elizabeth Macneal, set in the Victorian era. She writes an atmospheric and beautifully constructed story of art, ambition, a deranged obsession, love and horror, amidst the poverty, class divisions and entrenched inequalities, squalor, culture, scientific developments, and the prevalent social norms and attitudes of the time. Iris and her sister, Rose live humdrum lives painting dolls for the laudanum addicted Mrs Salter. It is 1850, the year of the Great Exhibition, and Iris has what is for her an inconsequential encounter with the odd and strange Silas, a troubled taxidermist with his shop of curiosities, visited by the medical profession and artists. For the lonely Silas, it is to mark the start of an all encompassing obsession.  Iris also encounters the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Louis Frost, who wants Iris to model for him, and which provides Iris with the opportunity she has been seeking to escape her suffocating life and social class to realise her dreams. Iris begins to have increasing feelings for Louis, but the disturbed Silas has other plans.

The author skilfully captures this historical period with her rich and evocative descriptions, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, the science, and in her diverse cast of characters. Her characterisation of Silas is stellar, he feels like a real and authentic character in all his madness, and I adored the young bright street child, Albie, with his understandable desire for a set of teeth. A gripping story, part thriller, part pure historical fiction. It is an unsettling, disturbing and immersive read.

Elizabeth Macneal will be in conversation about her novel at Book-ish on 8th May at 7.30pm. Tickets are £7 and include a glass of wine on arrival. Visit www.book-ish.co.uk to book tickets

More Stories

Abergavenny Writing Festival 2019

April 11th, 2019

Lots of possibilities to learn something new at the Abergavenny Writing Festival this month! Some intriguing and enlightening talks from local writers, including Phil Madden’s session on Friday 12th April where he will share his experiences of writing to an inmate on Death Row. This session will be followed by a talk from the film […]

Christmas Book list

December 6th, 2017

Emma from Bookish in Crickhowell gives us her top 10 Christmas gift book ideas. The Greatest Magician in the World Matt Edmonson Written by former professional magician and TV and radio star Matt Edmondson, The Greatest Magician in the World is an incredible interactive novelty gift book featuring a brilliantly witty and exciting quest story […]

Abergavenny Writing Festival

February 25th, 2017

Focus Magazines is delighted to be a Media Partner to the Abergavenny Writing Festival this year. Organiser Lucie Parkin tells us more about the event in April The Abergavenny Writing Festival is back for its second year. With events over three days and evenings on Thursday 20th, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd April at the […]

Book Review : Swimming Lessons by Clare Fuller

January 11th, 2017

Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house […]

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donohue

November 4th, 2016

Room author, Emma Donoghue, returns with her new novel The Wonder, a historical novel with a premise which is equally interesting and extremely atmospheric. It is a story riddled with secrets, superstitions, faith, rituals, myth and tradition. The novel is set in 1859 in the Irish hamlet of Athlone. Eleven year old Anna O’Donnell celebrates […]

Libraries launch Big Friendly reading challenge

August 12th, 2016

Local youngsters are being encouraged to visit their local library over the summer holidays to take part in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. Libraries in Powys are launching the Big Friendly Read this summer as part of the Summer Reading Challenge, which is aimed for children aged 4-11. The theme for 2016 is centred around […]

Book Review: Addlands by Tom Bullough

July 11th, 2016

In celebration of all things Welsh, Emma from Bookish in Crickhowell has selected this stunning fourth novel by Tom Bullough who lives locally in the Brecon Beacons. Addlands (i.e., headlands): the border of plough land which is ploughed last of all. The patriarch of Funnon Farm is Idris Hamer, stubborn, strong, a man of the […]

Book Review: ‘The Muse’ by Jessie Burton

June 10th, 2016

The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – from the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist. On a  hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled […]

Book Review: ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ by Claire Fuller

March 29th, 2016

Winner of the 2015 Desmond Elliot Prize The heat of the summer in 1976 is evoked in the opening pages as well as the way we all became listless and bored after the initial euphoria of the endless sunny days. Peggy is an eight year old and her parents are an odd combination, though their […]