The Cactus Surgeon – An Interview with Hannah Powell

From the blurb

Thanks to Random Things Tours, I got the chance to interview Hanna Powell about her book, The Cactus Surgeon.

INTERVIEW WITH HANNAH POWELL

  1. Hi Hannah, Congratulations on the release of your new book. What made you decide to write a book about nature, that isn’t wholly about nature?

Nature has been such a big part of my life, that it was always going to feature. I grew up living next to a garden centre (where I now work) and studied for a degree in horticulture. Nature has been the backdrop to my life, and my health journey, and the two together made for an interesting memoir.  

2. You have grown up around flowers, and plants have always been a part of your life. What’s the story behind the title, The Cactus Surgeon? Why did you choose the cactus instead of any other plant?

I fleetingly wanted to be a Cactus Surgeon, when I was six years old! I used to gouge out rotten pieces of cactus, or try to reattach fallen limbs with cocktail sticks.  Whilst writing the book I was part of a writing group and they all said I had to go with that title – because it is so unique!

3. How challenging is it to write about nature? Do you write about the things you see and perceive, or do you study specific plants in detail? How do you strike a balance between personal experience and research?

The majority of my writing comes from personal experience, from memories or by revisiting photos of the nature I want to talk about. Normally I talk about plants or animals which have either had an impact on me, or which are the backdrop to a significant event. I generally find the writing flows onto the page, but then I have to come back and work hard to add in the additional language, the metaphors, to ‘show not tell’. I had some great feedback from beta readers and from my editor which helped me to improve this aspect of my writing.  

4. A nonfiction book about plants is a very distinctive genre. What kind of readership did you have in mind for this book?

Nature writing has exploded in the UK in the last five years, and accounts of health experiences are also popular. I particularly wanted to reach readers who were struggling with their own health, because my story is one of hope and recovery. I’ve been pleased that it has been described as very relatable by a wide range of readers.

5. As a reader, who are your favorite writers? Any books you would recommend, about plants or otherwise?

I love non-fiction, and I read a lot of nature and health memoirs whilst writing mine. I would highly recommend Wintering by Katherine May, Still Life by Josie George and Seed To Dust by Marc Hamer. They all tell stories about life, discovery and the healing power of nature. 

6. What advice would you give to city dwellers in high rises who are disconnected from nature?

Buy a houseplant (or several!). They are wonderfully calming, and it’s good for your mental health to have something to care for. Outside of your high rise, seek out routes which take you past nature. Become friends with the local trees or wildlife. Enjoy the changing seasons. Find a botanic garden, park or community garden. Don’t wait to be invited, seek out the green spots. 

7. If you were a plant – any variety of flower, herb, fruit-bearing, or cactus – which one would you choose to be?

It would have to be the sunflower. From a tiny seed grows a very tall stem, bearing a flower which brings smiles and joy to all, and keeps on stretching, up, up, up to the blue sky.

Thank you, Hannah, for taking the time for this interview.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Powell (née Bourne) is Communications and HR Director for the Perrywood Garden Centres she runs with her dad and two brothers. When she was six years old, she wanted to be a cactus surgeon.

Before coming back into the family business, she had a successful career in PR and marketing, running high-profile campaigns for clients, including Barclaycard and Domino’s Pizza. She was part of the team that launched Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual campaign to encourage young people to set up businesses worldwide.

She now lives in North Essex with her husband, daughter and many plants.

thecactussurgeon.com

Mum’s The Word – Book Review and Blog Tour

When Ann-Marie Ross murders her abusive husband and feeds him to the pigs, she thinks she’s got away with murder and secured the future of her Scottish cider farm. But she soon finds herself having to keep more than one deadly secret to protect those closest to her.

As four women embrace their new-found independence, Ann-Marie is tormented by the threat of discovery.

A darkly comic tale of murder, friendship and love.

Thanks to author Lorraine Turnbull and Rachel’s Random Resources for having me on the book tour of Mum’s The Word, and for providing an advance review copy.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: Mum’s The Word

Author: Lorraine Turnbull

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Dark humor

I picked up this book hoping for something light between serious reading, and it turned out to be a greater surprise than expected! The story kicks off with a blast, as the middle-aged Ann-Marie whacks her abusive husband with a pan and leaves him in the barn for the pigs to feed on. She calmly returns to the house, and goes out to the barn several hours later on the pretext of wondering why her husband hasn’t come inside for lunch, only to “discover” him dead. That’s the story told to everyone – an unfortunate farming accident. The only people privy to the crime are Ann-Marie, her best friend Elaine, and the reader. But then Ann-Marie’s mother finds out. And the octogenarian is not only happy to keep the secret, but also personally does away with other abusive husbands in the area. The elderly neighbour Sadie’s husband tumbles down the stairs; Elaine’s husband falls from a cliff. Who would suspect the gang of old widows?

Mum’s The Word has a little bit of everything – humor, crime, suspense, horror, romance – the contemporary Scottish fiction is such a delight! A lot of the dialogue is in Scots, with many characters, especially Elaine, speaking in the dialect. The narrative wonderfully transports you to the farmland in Scotland, with its plethora of animal characters- cocker spaniels Bracken and Bramble being the stars of the lot; Archie too, in his limited page time; and of course, little Troy. The old-timers and animals are the most endearing characters, bringing life to this dark comedy with their wit and antics.

Author Lorraine Turnbull addresses themes of domestic abuse, grown up children taking advantage of elderly parents, elders taking care of those even older than themselves, the grandparent-grandchild bond, human-animal interaction, the business of farm life, the naming of puppies, forging new relationships after widowhood, the significance of friendships across all ages. I liked how she brings in a range of topics, and neatly arranges them all in a compact narrative that’s as hilarious as it is heartwarming. There’s something for every reader in Mum’s The Word, and it’s enjoyable in every way. Wickedly concocted and superbly written.

The only drawback I felt was that the humor wasn’t consistent throughout to excel as a dark comedy. It’s a riot in places, but interspersed with regular contemporary fiction. A wonderful read nevertheless.

My rating: 4.5/5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author Bio – Lorraine Turnbull was born in Glasgow where she lived until 2005 when she and her family moved to Cornwall to run a smallholding. She relocated to France in 2017 where she continues to make cider, writes books and learns French.

Social Media Links – https://www.facebook.com/LorraineTurnbullAuthor

Twitter – @LorraineAuthor

Purchase Links for Mum’s The Word

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mums-Word-Lorraine-Turnbull-ebook/dp/B093C6YXJH

US – https://www.amazon.com/Mums-Word-Lorraine-Turnbull-ebook/dp/B093C6YXJH

Crossfire – Book Review

Title – Crossfire

Author – R.D. Nixon

Genre – Crime fiction

Crossfire is the first book in the Clifford-Mackenzie crime series, set in the fictitious town of Abergarry. The narrative follows three timelines – a prank gone wrong in the eighties, the murder of a local shopkeeper in the nineties, and a curious child unintentionally caught up in it all in the present day. The PI team of Maddy Clifford and Paul Mackenzie try to unravel the mystery that ties up these seemingly unrelated decades, and dig up old wounds in the process.

Although the place of the events is imaginary, the story is based in the Scottish Highlands, wherein lies the actual charm of the book. Away from picturesque mountains and postcard-perfect locales, the author takes us to the other side of nature – dodgy weather and curtains of gigantic mounds of green and black that can intimidate just as they inspire. After reading Sarah Pearse’s The Sanatorium earlier this year, Crossfire is definitely high up on my list of atmospheric novels. The fear of being left to the elements is palpable; how much nature can do by just being there. From walking on freezing bogs to sleeping on loaves of bread, Nixon knows how to set a scene that transports you to the place.

The storyline interweaves three different timelines and features a plethora of characters, but Nixon deftly constructs an edgy thriller that holds the reader’s attention even as you navigate through a complicated set of interconnected stories. Crossfire takes off right from the beginning – the reader knows who the guilty party is, and the beauty of the writing lies in how Nixon gets us caught in the crossfire ourselves, as we move along with Clifford and Mackenzie to solve the mystery. Highly recommended for readers of crime fiction, murder mysteries, thrillers and police procedurals, the novel can be enjoyed by anyone who loves good writing.

My rating – 4/5

PS: I had conducted an interview with R.D. Nixon as part of the international book tour of Crossfire. The Q&A feature can be accessed here.

International Tiger Day – Book Recommendation

A book recommendation on the occasion of International Tiger Day, which focuses on tiger conservation and protection of their natural habitats.

“Living with Tigers” by Valmik Thapar is about the author’s journey with the elusive big cats from his first trip to Ranthambore at age twenty-three, to his continued association with them over the next forty years. While being a memoir of the writer – a renowned Indian naturalist – the book can also be considered as mini biographies of some of the tigers who had a profound effect on him, each one named and with a dedicated chapter. One of those books where both the writer and the subject keep you hooked, every page on these magnificent animals is worth reading, offering a breathtaking foray into one of the largest wildlife reserves in India known for its Bengal tigers. For wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists, those with an interest in nature and jungle lore, Valmik Thapar’s documentaries and books come highly recommended.

116445405_10160106339839937_7391897961486040626_o

Snakes by A.K. Ramanujan

A.K. Ramanujan was a poet, translator, folklorist and philologist from Mysore, India. He wrote in both English and Kannada, his poetry known for its themes of modernist transnationalism, hybridity and transculturation. His writings contributed to a wide range of disciplines including linguistics and cultural studies. He earned his PhD from Indiana University and taught at the University of Chicago, where he developed the South Asian studies program.

Here’s one of his poems titled “Snakes”, which appeared in the July 1961 edition of Poetry magazine – a monthly devoted to verse in the English language.

download

“No, it does not happen

when I walk through the woods.

But, walking in museums of quartz

or the aisles of bookstacks,

looking a their geometry

without curves

and the layers of transparency

that make them opaque,

dwelling on the yellower vein

in the yellow amber

or touching a book that has gold

on its spine,

I think of snakes.

 

The twirls of their hisses

rise like the tiny dust-cones on slow-noon roads

winding through the farmers’ feet.

Black lorgnettes are etched on their hoods,

ridiculous, alien, like some terrible aunt,

a crest among tiles and scales

that moult with the darkening half of every moon.

 

A basketful of ritual cobras

comes into the tame little house,

their brown-wheat glisten winged with ripples.

They lick the room with their bodies, curves

uncurling, writing a sibilant alphabet of panic

on my floor. Mother gives them milk

in saucers. She watches them suck

and bare the black-line design

etched on the brass of the saucer.

The snakeman wreathes their writhing

round his neck

for father’s smiling

money. But I scream.

 

Sister ties her braids

with a knot of tassel.

But the weave of her knee-long braid has scales,

their gleaming held by a score of clean new pins.

I look till I see her hair again.

 

My night full of ghosts from a sadness

in a play, my left foot listens to my right footfall,

a clockwork clicking in the silence

within my walking.

The clickshod heel suddenly strikes

and slushes on a snake: I see him turn,

the green white of his belly

measured by bluish nodes, a water-bleached lotus-stalk

plucked by a landsman hand. Yet panic rushes

my body to my feet, my spasms wring

and drain his fear and mine. I leave him sealed,

a flat-head whiteness on a stain.

Now

frogs can hop upon this sausage rope,

flies in the sun will mob the look in his eyes,

and I can walk through the woods.”

98fcbc2174ab2f5c6b459898ab4e74c8eab9301e