Not Without You, Harriet Evans

Having devoured, Happily Ever After just two weeks ago, I was thrilled when HarperCollins sent me a copy of Harriet Evans’ latest page-turner, Not Without You.

Through carefully weaved chapters written from the perspectives of both female leads, Sophie Leigh and Eve Noel, we see each character become victims of their own glamorous success in some dreadfully painful ways. Despite living their dream decades apart, the reader soon learns of the connection between them as the plots of each are intricately threaded through the use of carefully placed, indicative narrative clues as well as Evans’ superb use of language and form.

The book is opened by a very well-crafted prologue, which is unlike that of any ‘Chic-Lit‘ I have read. From the perspective of 1950’s icon, Even Noel, we are thrown into the catastrophic event that haunts her life for decades to follow. I was in awe of Harriet’s writing style here, as she builds an opening from complex sentences, deliberately creating a sense of the past through her use of language and her ability to employ a traditional tone to her writing. It is a result of this prologue, that the narrative voices of each character are so easily recognisable throughout the novel, as this skill is perfectly and expertly employed throughout.

We are taken on to the life of Sophie Leigh, Hollywood A-Lister with the glamorous lifestyle, attentive assistants and executive meetings we expect. We learn, throughout her chapters, that she has hidden depths in her character, which draw us in and cause us to anticipate change. She idolises star of the 50’s, Eve Noel and we see her spending her solitary nights watching ‘old films’, in the emptiness of her seemingly enriched life, in Eve’s old house, which she purchased almost in tribute. It is through Sophie that we learn of the disappearance of Eve Noel, under mysterious circumstances given her popularity and fame.

As Eve Noel’s chapters progress, we see how the industry has damaged her…hurt her in ways that no one outside the world of film could possibly empathise with. She is used and abused by the ‘big guys at the top’, who, despite recognising her talent for acting, cannot fail to take advantage of their power and her natural, young, innocent beauty. In a powerful scene, we witness Eve at one of her most vulnerable times: alone in a car with, Mr Baxter (the Head of Monumental Films). The scene is intense, as we expect Eve to suffer an incredibly brutal attack, but Harriet Evans carefully uses the opportunity to highlight Eve’s strength of character as well as her instinct to detach herself from the painful truth of situations that may cause her emotional or physical pain…this links perfectly to the prologue.

As the lives of the two actresses weave carefully together, the narrative begins to move in deep and sinister directions, becoming mysterious and dark in places, taking on the pace of a mystery or thriller. I was drawn into this very quickly, snatching each spare minute of my day to read on in anticipation. Under the mystery and tension however, remained the burning sensation of romance, which contributed hugely to the emotional depth of the novel. Both characters had long spanning romances, drawing through from the beginning to the very end of the novel in Eve’s case; this was a wonderful and refreshing change to the ‘come and go’ romances of other literature within the same genre that I have read.

I can say, with utter confidence in the statement, that throughout my degree in English, my role as a teacher of English and Literature and throughout my love of reading that I have simply never come across a novel that was so engaging and enthralling on so many levels. The narrative was crafted and layered so superbly, that no aspect suffered at the success of another. The development of characters, use of language and ability to weave together the intricate lives of the women and their co-stars were evenly exceptional, bringing the characters together for the splendid resolution, during which the depth of character created throughout could be truly appreciated.

I would recommend this book, as well as Harriet Evans as a writer, to anyone who enjoys chic-lit, romance, mystery, suspense or, quite simply, a well-written narrative developed with the use of expertly employed skill.

It is within Not Without You that I have seen Harriet Evans not only as a writer but as an artist.

The First Chapter!

I wanted to post this last night, but was so incredibly tired that I slumped off to bed! Yesterday, I wrote and edited the first chapter of my book…it is still to be given it’s title.

After four redrafts/edits, I’m fairly happy with the end result and I’m glad that I decided on offering two characters’ perspectives on the events that unfold – it was the right move!

It’s made me realise that this dream is finally happening; it’s becoming My Story and will hopefully make a huge difference to people’s understanding of Children with Cancer. Not only do I plan to make a large donation to Leukaemia research at the NECCR, but I’m hoping to take inspiration from Alesia Shute over in the States, visiting parents, hospitals, schools and the patients themselves – why only do a job half-heartedly?

So it’s in the process, 1730 words in and counting!!! I’m excited to begin contacting agents soon and would also welcome anyone who would like to read my writing and offer their thoughts/critique.

The Big Project: Surviving Childhood Leukaemia

At the age of 7, I stopped playing with friends. It was no longer my wish to run outside, play on my bike or even walk to the shops to buy sweets. My rosy, pink cheeks turned to chalk dust, scattered over my skin and drawing in my eyes; my legs ached, my chest throbbed and my skin began to bruise at the faintest of touches…

Leukaemia does that to a girl, apparently.

I was diagnosed after blood tests, a bone marrow test and a lumbar puncture and together, as a family, we began the biggest journey any of us had experiences before…now comes the time for me to tell that story.

I’ve been writing notes of memories for years; I suppose it’s been therapeutic when my mind becomes distracted by the seriousness of it all, paired with the possibility of its eventual return. But now, it’s time to tell the whole story, from diagnosis, treatment plans and chemotherapy to emotional breakdowns, school bullies and the lasting emotional and psychological impact of the illness 20 years after being given the all clear.

It will be 20 years on April 19th since I started my recovery. The aim is to give back to those who helped to treat my illness and I’ve began to raise funds for research; a huge part of the donation will hopefully come from the book that tells my story.

So watch this space! Currently in the planning stages, I’m now working as hard as I can to raise awareness, break down those barriers and help as many people as I can…

I’ve taken great inspiration from Alesia Shute who I came across while researching other survivors who have written about their experiences, please take a look at her website at the inspirational work she does…it’s incredible. You can find her page here