Last Monday we held our very first Piatkus Book Group. At 5 p.m. we all migrated to a bar near the office, books clutched to our chests, anticipating a lively discussion about the two books that we had chosen: What Doesn’t Kill Us by Professor Stephen Joseph and The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke.
The book group includes a range of people who work on Piatkus titles from across the company and we are aiming to meet every three months. Each time, the group will read one upcoming fiction and one non-fiction title from the Piatkus list. We think that this will be a really enjoyable way to engage with the books we are publishing and come up with new and creative ways to bring our books to life. After each book group meeting, we will feed back to you so that you can join the discussion too, as well as see what books you have to look forward to.
We would love to know which books you have been discussing in your book groups and anything you would like to hear more about from ours, so do get in touch!
For the past twenty years, Joseph has worked with survivors of trauma and sufferers of posttraumatic stress. In this ground-breaking new book, he boldly challenges the notion that trauma scars us for life, wreaking psychological havoc that affects everything from our sleep cycles to our relationships to our very will to live. His studies have shown that a wide range of traumatic events – from illness, divorce, separation, assault and bereavement to accidents, natural disasters and terrorism – can act as catalysts for positive change strengthening relationships, changing one’s perspective and revealing inner strengths.
Post-traumatic growth is a fascinating topic and What Doesn’t Kill Us has already started to accumulate some fantastic advance reviews:
- ‘We live in a world in which suffering is endemic. In this book Stephen Joseph sounds a hopeful note. Suffering need not destroy’ Terry Waite CBE
- ‘In this fascinating book, Stephen Joseph maps out the rarely explored positive consequences of trauma, reminding us that growth is possible even in the most adverse circumstances’ Richard Bentall, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool
- What Doesn't Kill Us – indeed does and can make us stronger as brilliantly presented by Professor Stephen Joseph and lived throughout my every day’ Dr Gill Hicks MBE, survivor of the London Bombings, July 7, 2005
Senior Commissioning Editor Anne Lawrance acquired the book for the list and was really keen that this should be a book suitable for both the academic community as well as the general reader. When introducing the book to the group, she explained that:
‘Stephen Joseph’s work reminds me in some ways of Irvin Yalom. He has the same ability to draw the reader in and share his experience engagingly and warmly. He is definitely an author to watch!’
Anne also felt that her reasons for buying this book could be summed up in the following quote from Professor Robert J. Wicks:
‘Psychology at its best: honest, hopeful, helpful, and based on sound serious research. Reading it makes me proud to be a psychologist’
What the Group Thought . . .
At first we thought that this would be the type of book that would appeal exclusively to counsellors, psychologists and those who had suffered post-traumatic stress, but we quickly realised that the way Stephen Joseph describes each step is accessible and interesting for anyone interested in the way the human mind works.
Everybody agreed that the way Stephen Joseph explains the process of post-traumatic growth is incredibly fascinating. One of his most powerful analogies of the process is his comparison of the traumatised mind to a shattered vase. That, when rearranged and adapted, can be transformed into a beautiful mosaic, rather than a more fragile, slightly different version of its original form. When we go through a traumatic experience the mind is forced to change and adapt and it is this process that can bring growth to the human mind and create something even stronger than what was there before that traumatic event.
We were all really inspired by this idea that positive things can come from traumatic events and several members of the group felt that this was a book they would have really benefitted from after their own traumatic experiences. We loved the way unique and sound research was interwoven with case studies of individuals who had been involved in traumatic events whether divorce, death or an event on a large scale such as the bombings in Northern Ireland.
There is a reassuring element to What Doesn’t Kill Us. We may all be involved in a traumatic event at some point in our lives but this can be used as a positive force – to reaffirm our relationships, better understand ourselves and so on. We might be fragile but the strength of the mind is a powerful element.
I first met my demon the morning that Mum said Dad had gone.
'My name is Alex. I'm ten years old. I like onions on toast and I can balance on the back legs of my chair for fourteen minutes. I can also see demons. My best friend is one. He likes Mozart, table tennis and bread and butter pudding. My mum is sick. Ruen says he can help her. Only Ruen wants me to do something really bad. He wants me to kill someone.'
‘Beautiful and captivating’ Ulster Tatler
‘Incredible. Fabulous’ Sun
‘High-octane, funny and cinematic’ Sydney Morning Herald
Editorial Director for Piatkus Fiction Emma Beswetherick was really excited when this book first landed on her desk and she quickly received amazing feedback from everyone in the office – especially because of the strength in Alex’s wonderful narrative voice.
Emma explained that the wonderful thing about working with Carolyn Jess-Cooke is how open she is to the editorial process.Together they were able to discuss different aspects of the story and develop on the key themes that Carolyn had created. Both Emma and Carolyn discovered that it was just as much about following their heart as being careful about a structured plot!
What the Group Thought . . .
We started off our discussion by talking about the cover. The design had been through so many changes to ensure we got it just right so it was really great to see the final image. We all agreed (and hope you do too!) that it perfectly positions the book in-between commercial and literary fiction, with a nod to its unique, quirky story through the intriguing illustration around the edge – the onions, musical notes, spotlights and cars will make perfect sense when you read it!
The narrative alternates between Alex’s voice and his counsellor Anya’s. It can be tricky to keep the momentum of the story going when using more than one voice, but everybody thought that the pace of the narrative was perfect – it kept everybody hooked throughout – so much so that one member of the group was so engrossed that she almost missed her train!
The twist at the end leaves the reader in suspense and we all agreed – without giving anything away – that the ambiguous nature of the ending works really well as each reader could take what they wanted from the final scene.
We all really appreciated the subtle and evocative manner in which Carolyn depicts the way the Irish Troubles reverberated through subsequent generations. One of our team remembered watching the scenes of violence on the TV as she was growing up and explained how those memories have stayed with her. Reading of Alex’s experiences through his own voice brings these events into a new and startling light.
Carolyn Jess-Cooke has been a fantastic author throughout the editorial process and we are all so excited about The Boy Who Could See Demons hitting the shelves!
Final Thoughts on Both Books:
Although these books were chosen separately we discovered through our discussion that there were many themes that overlapped between the two:
- Both books had roots in the conflict that took place in Northern Ireland during the 1980s. Throughout The Boy Who Could See Demons Alex is dealing with the repercussions of trauma he experienced as a child growing up in Northern Ireland throughout the and in What Doesn’t Kill Us, Stephen Joseph frequently refers to his own upbringing in a Northern Irish community that was ravaged by fear.
- Both books also lead us on a journey of transformation. In The Boy Who Could See Demons the reader watches as Alex battles with his memories and his demons and transforms his life through this struggle, and Stephen Joseph guides the reader through their own transformation from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth in What Doesn’t Kill Us.
Keep an eye out for our next book group and do feel free to get in touch with us about your book groups and any ideas or tips that you have!
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