One of the many things I love about Twitter is how it introduces me to books and authors I might never have come into contact with otherwise. One of these is the wonderful Like Bees to Honey by the equally wonderful Caroline Smailes.
I hadn’t read Caroline’s previous books (In Search of Adam and Black Boxes) when I started following her on Twitter but I loved her blog, and as she tweeted about preparations for the publication of Bees, I made a mental note to pick up a copy. Honestly, I was doing it to support her, and had no idea whether or not I’d like it. I suspected I mightn’t, as judging by the blurb it wasn’t exactly my usual fare:
“Nina, her son Christopher in two, flies to Malta to visit her aging parents one last time. Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house. This will be her final chance to make her peace with them. But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine. What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them. Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them. And, in return, they help Nine come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself. Like Bees to Honey is a story of family, redemption and ghosts. It is a magical tale that will live with you long after you finish reading.”
I bought a pile of books the same day I brought home Like Bees, and I intended to save it for another day when I less tired, less distracted by the books in waiting and able to devote all of my attention to it. But after picking it up to admire its beautiful cover, I flicked through the pages (wondering why some of them were edged in black; I was intrigued) and started to read the first chapter…
I finished it hours later, misty-eyed and thinking, wow, wow, wow.
Like Bees to Honey is a truly haunting book in every sense of the word. Caroline writes beautifully and lyrically and her imagination seems to hold no bounds. Despite its supernatural elements I never once doubted the authenticity of the world she’d created, and when a ringing phone or knock on the door forced my eyes to lift from the page, it took me a moment to remember I wasn’t actually walking the baked, dusty streets of Malta with Nina. The story is told through more than mere words: certain pages are edged in black, different fonts are used and Maltese words are sprinkled throughout the text. The overall effect is practically hypnotic. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I plan to pass it on to a few friends who I know, like me, wouldn’t have chosen to read this book. I only hope that its unusualness or subject matter doesn’t stop anyone else picking it up because they will be missing out on a memorable reading experience.
Q: What inspired you to write about Malta?
My grandma and granddad met in Malta during WWII. My grandma was a Maltese Catholic girl and my granddad a non-Catholic British soldier. They fell in love and this resulted in a very messy situation and my grandma being told to leave her family home with only the dress she was wearing. She did and my grandparent’s love for each other was something truly unique and beautiful. Years went by and my grandma reconnected with her Maltese family, so I grew spending long summer holidays on the islands, absorbed in the culture and tradition, learning snippets of language and feeling like I belonged. The inspiration to write ‘Like Bees to Honey’ comes from those extended summers, from my grandparent’s love story and from my own searching for roots and identity.
Q: I love how in Bees you acknowledge the physical presence of the book and use it to tell your story – you use different fonts, some of the pages are edged in black, etc. What made you decide to enhance the book in that way?
The use of white space is something that has threaded through all of my novels to date. I love that the placing of words, the altering of fonts and the design manipulations can all vary the reading experience. The black edgings in Like Bees signal that something ‘different’ is occurring, but I guess the overall aim was to give the words life and breath on the page.
Q: I enjoyed Bees so much that I can’t wait to get my hands on your previous novels, In Search of Adam and Black Boxes. But then what will I do?! Please tell me another novel is in the works…!
Like Bees was book one of a two book deal, so yes there is another novel currently emerging! It’s about three rather bad psychics who work from a lighthouse in North Wales and one of the main characters is Martin the psychic, who is a minor character in Like Bees to Honey. I also have a top-secret digital project that’s just about finished, but if I told you about it then the world might explode… possibly.
I’m off to buy Caroline’s other books. And Google holidays in Malta.