Tag Archives: books

The Pleasure of Books

The Pleasure of Books

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane

The woodcut cover of this short essay on gifting the pleasure through books hints too at the other theme of the book, that of journeys trodden on foot – a subject that Robert Macfarlane covers more in his book The Old Ways. So from the cover onwards, this is a small, pocket-sized volume to tempt you on, down a journey of physical paths, and tempting books.

It may only be 34 small pages, but it’s epic in scale, and has resulted in me adding another two books to my to read list. It’s also not a collection of words that leave you with poignancy. It’s a perfect volume to celebrate the joy, and the importance of reading, fitting for it’s purpose of celebrating Independent Booksellers.

Twenty years on: rekindling the JK Rowling magic

Twenty years on: rekindling the JK Rowling magic

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

It is scarcely credible to think that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is 20 years old this year. It is just as incredible to realise that in all that time I have only read it the once. Until now.

I figured that it was time for a long overdue re-read, and I was right. Reading the first adventure ten years after the last, and with all the films having gone between it was surprising how much of the detail of the book I had forgotten. It was near to halfway through the book before Harry had even arrived at Hogwarts, met Hermione, and been ‘sorted’ (still longer before he and Hermione became friends) but the pace was perfect througout.

I have always thought that some of the longer, later books could have done with more of an edit, and a tightening up of the story, because I think that this, the original, had that, and it shows.

The only question that remains for me now, is when to re-read book two? Sooner rather than later or pretend that it was as it was at the beginning and treat myself to one a year as Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up and go through the Hogwarts years. After all, that, I think, is how they should be read by everyone rather than binging on them in almost one sitting.

A Cathedral of Books

A Cathedral of Books
Today I have discovered my new favourite bookshop and it’s going to take some beating! For somewhere so local, it is criminal that I have never been to Banbury’s Books and Ink before – they’ve been there for 12 years already! Nestled at the back of an old coaching inn behind the high street, this award-winning independent bookshop is an Aladdin’s cave of books and joy. I’d heard of this bookshop before from other friends and fellow authors, and I’ve been meaning to visit for years. It’s a scandal that it’s taken me this long…
I’ve recently noticed teens and young adults taking a particular interest in building up their book collections. I’m delighted to see this. A personal collection, however large or small, new or old, displays  your personality  and interests so that your personal home space resonates with you and there’s something quite tactile and reassuring about a real book. Samantha Barnes, Owner
In the same way that my visit to Snowshill Manor was like walking through my brain with the eclectism of interests, browsing the shelves of the 25,000 books housed in the cavernous Books and Ink was like seeing my every interest and enthusiasm reflected back at me. I can see myself making return visits to this emporium of joy frequently and making it my new best friend.

A book of Meta: The Time Traveller’s Wife meets Mark Haddon

A book of Meta: The Time Traveller's Wife meets Mark Haddon

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

This is at its heart the book about a writer, Meg, who is (unsuccessfully) writing her novel. She’s a successful ghostwriter for an author who doesn’t exist, and occasional journalist, but she is her own worst editor when it comes to writing her own book with more false starts and aborted attempts than she can count.

This is a book that is as curiously wonky as Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife and with characters and situations as disfunctional as a Mark Haddon novel (The Red House, A Spot of Bother, but it is also absolutely a meta book.

Meg struggles to write her book at the same time as she struggles with her own collapsing relationship. And it is this tumbling mix of events that gets confused with a “popular science” book she is reviewing about time and the universe, a device that serves to confuse us (and Meg) about the nature of truth and what is really happening to a point where us, the reader, like her, the writer within the book start to doubt our own existences.

Adventures under sail up and down the Norfolk Broads

Adventures under sail up and down the Norfolk Broads

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome

If Swallows and Amazons is the childhood classic to remember, Coot Club is its equal. We first encounter Dick and Dot in the book that comes before it when they are with the Swallows and the Amazons up in the northern lakes. In this story they holiday on the Norfolk Broads and we encounter the Coot Club.

I will always love the original story in this series but this is a story with more action and danger, and dare I say it, plot. When the Hullaballoos park their motor cruiser over the No. 7 nest of the Coot Club, Tom Dudgeon is forced to take matters into his own hands and casts the cruiser adrift so that the mother coot can return to her nest. As Tom evades the Hullaballoos he teaches Dick and Dot how to sail, with the help of fellow Coot Club members, the twins, Port and Starboard.

If characters ever needed a follow up story it is Port and Starboard. Whilst Dick, Dot, Tom and the Death and Glories get to have more adventures on The Broads in The Big Six, sadly this Port and Starboard’s only story.

Cosy-mystery or Comic-mystery?

Cosy-mystery or Comic-mystery?

Best Murder in Show (Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries Book 1) by Debbie Young

Debbie Young’s debut novel (she is the author already of various anthologies of short stories and non-fiction) is billed as a cosy-mystery – I would suggest the term comic-mystery – there are so many slight, humerous moments to this story that get you smiling.

Perhaps unsurprising for a novel that comes from the pen of an author who is also active in the Alliance of Independent Authors (I half-expected there to be a direct mention at one of the many village meetings!) and who is the founding director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, this is a murder mystery that exudes literary and other bookish references. Take the Sophie Sayer’s name for instance. I’m really hoping that Hector Munro might become her Lord Peter Whimsy.

The story begins at the village show, a highpoint in any yearly calendar, and in the shocking discovery of murder in a manner reminiscent of those pre-opening titles moments that anyone who has watched Death in Paridise will be be familiar with. The story winds back two months to Sophie’s arrival in the village to live in the house she has inherited from her aunt (has another murder taken place here too?). If I can leverage any criticism of this mystery is that much as I love reading the excentricities of the Cotswold village life I did at times want to move on to the murder and solving thereof the mystery a little bit quicker.

Sophie though, is a character with her own backstory that is not as simple as you might think (don’t all detectives have a troubled backstory?) and she must grapple with her own insecurities and life as she she stumbles through her own over-active imagination about what the villagers might be like and be capable of before she can solve the mystery at hand. Surely Carol, the gossiping proprieter of the village shop who is every bit a Susan Carter out The Archers, is capable of killing people, or if not has the motivations to do so.

I shall look forward to seeing where Sophie’s next adventure takes us.

A traditional tale of childhood adventure

A traditional tale of childhood adventure

The Fossil Hunters by Betty Salthouse

Who didn’t have a fascination for a fossils and dinosaurs as a child? This is a delightfully traditional tale of childhood adventure. Andy and Darren are two boys who dream of making a big archeological discovery in the woods near where they live.

As it says on the backcover, this is a book that “is set in the days before the internet when children looked for adventure out of doors rather than online”. Anyone remembers the 1980s TV summer holidays programme, Why Don’t You? will know exactly what the author means by this. The downside to this admission, and to little observances throughout the book, is that what could be a beautifully timeless tale is somewhat dated. For the most part this could be a story that happens now, with mobile phones and the internet just shelved as something not needed in the adventure much like Deborah Shepherd does in her book, The Underhill Buttons, but instead Betty Salthouse has decided to set it in I would guess the 1980s. The reference to fax machines jarred for me but then again, for those growing up as children now, maybe the description would be entirely appropriate as it is a technology that has all but vannished as quickly as it arrived.

These are small quibbles though to an otherwise excellently told adventure of children discovering something big. There was a brief glimpse of something fantastical but it was a dream sequence, and there was an all too current reference to something that might have been a climatic threat. A refreshingly traditional children’s tale.

We are the same / but I am different

We are the same / but I am different

Silent Voices: A Selection of Poems Written by Those Not Always Heard by Jo Allmond (Editor), Joy Thomas (Editor)

This is quite simply an outstanding anthology of poetry however you look at it. Every poem had me gripping the page and brought to tears. This is a book formed out of the friendship of two amazing people who met at a literary festival and found that they had a message to get across. What they have achieved in just one year is collecting together a set of poems that speak directly to the reader about what it’s like to care for, and be cared for, people of ‘difference’.

This is a book that should be pressed into the hands of every elected individual as to why we need more NHS and more social care. It is as the title says, the voices of the silent – those who are not always heard. Jess Hiles probably puts it the simplest, “We are the same / but I am different.”

Some of the authors included in this slim volume may only have one poem to tell; and some may never have considered that they could tell their tale in this way. This collection proves that everyone has a voice and should be heard and listened to. It is a book that I will be recommending to everyone I know.

Spring: the beginning of things

Spring: the beginning of things

Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons by Melissa Harrison (Editor)

The calendar year may start in January in the depths of winter but for most, the year begins with Spring. This is the first in Melissa Harrison’s stand-out series of anthologies based around the four seasons. I started reading it with the seasons, having started with Autumn which was outstanding. This one doesn’t quite reach that level of perfection.

Like the other volumes in the series, Spring is a miscellany of poetry, prose, and nature writing by both contemporary and past authors. The format remains the same, of keeping you to the end before revealing the author and the date that it is from – often with surprises in store when you realise that something you thought was of the now, is actually from the nineteenth century.

The biggest joy of this book, is the last item in the anthology, featuring as it does a place which exudes the very essence of Spring from somewhere that I know and love very, very well.

Giving Voice to the Silent

On Saturday I took part for the second time, as author and panellist, at the 3rd Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. I reprised my role from last year for the talk on Writing About Difference.

Writing About Difference panel 2017, from left: Dan Jefferies, Debbie Young, Thomas Shepherd, Dan Holloway, Joy Thomas, Jo Allmond and Jess Hiles. Photograph by Joanna Penn.

Writing About Difference panel 2017, from left: Dan Jefferies, Debbie Young, Thomas Shepherd, Dan Holloway, Joy Thomas, Jo Allmond and Jess Hiles. Photograph by Joanna Penn.

This is a discussion that, just as at last year’s festival, was something very special, and for my own small part on it is something that I am very proud of being part of. One of the proudest achievments over the last year is meeting Joy Thomas, and Jo Allmond and Jess Hiles. It was because of last year’s festival and the panel discussion that we were all on together that Jo and Joy put together Silent Voices, an anthology of poems written by those who are not always heard.

This is a collection of poems written by authors, some of whom have preferred to remain anonymous who are directly affected by seen or unseen difference, or who are the carers of people with mental or physical disibilities. My only part in this project was to typeset the book for print and ebook, but I gladly gave this time in order that Joy and Jo could have the book ready to launch at this year’s festival – back where it all began a year ago.

The paperback edition is released on 1 May 2007, but you can download Silent Voices to your Kindle now.

Had a brilliant time yesterday at the 3rd Annual @HULitFest yesterday. Enjoyed mingling with authors and readers, and reprising the Writing About Difference panel from last year #books #amreading #HULitFest #literaturefestivals #democratisationofreading Top photo copyright @jfpennauthor

Had a brilliant time yesterday at the 3rd Annual @HULitFest yesterday. Enjoyed mingling with authors and readers, and reprising the Writing About Difference panel from last year 
#books #amreading #HULitFest #literaturefestivals #democratisationofreading

Top photo copyright @jfpennauthor

Had a brilliant time yesterday at the 3rd Annual @HULitFest yesterday. Enjoyed mingling with authors and readers, and reprising the Writing About Difference panel from last year
#books #amreading #HULitFest #literaturefestivals #democratisationofreading

Top photo copyright @jfpennauthor

Crows: the harbingers of death

Crows: the harbingers of death

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I confess that when I first found out about this book – struck by the cover in a bookshop window – thought it was a beautiful tale of nature writing. That, it definitely is. I should have known really, after all, crows are the harbingers of death.

This is a book about grief, and loss, and adjusting to the death of your wife and mother to your two boys, and it is powerful reading. Half poetry, half prose, the witing is spartan and every word is carefully chosen. The honesty of it and lyrical, simplistic style reminds me of David Almonds books, but this is anything but a simplistic story.

This is definitely not a story for the faint-hearted. It is a story to make you think though.

Rediscovering the Old Ways

Rediscovering the Old Ways

The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert Macfarlane

This book is not quite what I expected. Not that I really knew much of what I did expect. I imagined that it might be travel writing by a man walking the old ways (the tracks, roads, and laylines of the past) and discovering are flora, fauna, culture, and history along the way. I wouldn’t say that its not that, but its not that imediately.

In fact it’s fair to say that Robert Macfarlane’s writing style took a little getting used to but by the time I got the chapters on walking across the Broomway or sailing in Scottish waters I was in love with the rhythm and movement and stories of the chapters; each one and essay of not just the old ways that we have trod, but the old ways that we have lived.

This is a book to inspire you to get out in the country and get away from the towns and cities and the rush of life and reconnect with the land and learn more about it and our history in the process.

Mr Tumnal, Aspergers, and Me

Mr Tumnal, Aspergers, and Me

Today sees the start of World Autism Awareness Week. Autism and aspergers are hidden conditions. At their most pronounced autism is a condition that can isolate people from the world and make it hard for them to cope, but even at it’s mildest it is a challenge to live with in a world where other people don’t consider to be a problem what they can’t live. Just because they appear to be normal, hold down 9–5 jobs, and appear to have normal family lives, does not make their day to day lives any more of a struggle.

It took until I was 30 and put through workplace bullying before I discovered I probably had aspergers and it was another couple of years before I had a semi-official diagnosis and 1-2-1 coaching to overcome some of my biggest challenges. Since then, I have had progressed in my career and found my one-true love (and accompanying menagerie of furry, feathered, and fishy beasts), and I am so much better than I was at understanding the world and those unspoken cues. Sometimes I think I understand too well, and that it makes it all too easy for other’s to forget that sometimes Thomas, through no fault of his own, just doesn’t get as quickly as you might expect him too, what others understand straight away.

In my writing life, the thing that I struggle most with is showing not telling. Considering that probably the single-most lofted criticism at a writer is that they tell not show, this is unfortunate thing to be lacking in. The fact that I pull off the very personal story of Mr Tumnal is something that I feel very proud of, and if I can do the same with it’s forthcoming sequel, then I will be extremely lucky in deed.

Mr Tumnal is outwardly a story of a man who married his imaginary friend. How much that imaginary friend has to with fairy magic is something the reader must discover. At a more personal level it is a story of a man who is not friendless but without that one close friend; who is not alone but is lonely. It is a story of a man illequipped to deal with the complexities of ordinary social situations that most people take for granted. He finds comfort in his own company because that is where he is understood. Some might brandish him a weirdo. I would argue he’s just different. And like everyone who is ‘different’ from the norm he has his own gift to bring to the world.

In supporting World Autism Awareness Week and the work of the National Autistic Society, I would like everyone to find out a bit more about what makes some of us different, and the challenges we face, and to give us a bit of space of understanding in the world.


TE Shepherd is the author of Mr Tumnal and The End Of All Worlds. In support of World Autism Awareness week, from 27 March to 2 April 2017, he will be donating 50% all profits raised from the sales of his book to go to help support the work of the National Autistic Society.

The Book that is absolute and honest and filled with the disfunction of human nature

The Book that is absolute and honest and filled with the disfunction of human nature

The Book by Jessica Bell

Wow! Just wow! This is fast-paced, powerful story that grabs you at the first page and carries you to the very last page. Half pages of a journal (The Book) written by Bonnie’s mother and father, and half Bonnie’s own story in her own words it leads you through her conception, birth, and life. It is also interspliced with transcriptions from her meetings with her psychiatrist

We never discover exactly what Bonnie’s condition is, but I suspect that she has Aspergers or otherwise on the autism spectrum. She is ferociously intelligent and quick-witted but absolutely literal.

Jessica Bell’s writing is similarly, and absolutely, honest. It is reminiscent of Mark Haddon at his very best as she draws the nature and behavour of a cast of disfunctional but all too real and believable characters. Just make sure you’re sitting down for the ending when it hits you.