I used music to fuel my writing. As time went by, I discovered I was more easily able to express my feelings that way. The problem was, those feelings were no longer mine. They were those of the characters in my books.
Jessica is probably best known as one of the new breed of Indie Author’s, and a successful and creative cover designer. This though is not primarily that story, but one of her childhood and beyond into adulthood, and her journey to becoming a pop/rock star. It is a story that is told frankly but with periods of reflection. The Dear Reflection of the title is Bell looking at herself and talking to herself about how her life has been, and where she has succeeded, and where she has made mistakes.
From a memory of playing shop with her grandparents as a childhood to observations on life, this is a book that is so full of quotable passages I found myself highlighting something on virtually every other page. It is a joy to read, marred only by the breakneck speed of the telling. Sometimes I just wanted the author to slow down a bit, stay longer, tell us more. Even at the speed that it does take though, here is so much more to tell. Part Five, takes from 2005 right up to the present day, and yet her Indie Author career is barely touched on. I shall look forward to reading about that side of her life in the follow-up to this debut memoir.
This is a gut-wrenchingly open and honest account of a life that, by the author’s own admission, has had it’s ups and downs – or to put it another way has had ecstatic highs and crushing lows – the like of which we haven’t seen that often since Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
Sometimes hardship leads to goodness. Every day of my life, I have to remind myself of this. I have to remind myself to stop listening to my reflection declare her insecurities and scepticism.
It has been a longheld resolution to read more poetry, but it is an ambition for whatever reason I find really hard. In all honesty, whilst I consume novels and stories with a passion, I do find it hard to “get” poetry. Last April, on Shakespeare’s birth/death-day we watched the Shakespeare 400 Live celebrations, and enjoyed listening to some sonnets. Some of the staff and students at work also gave a lunchtime reading of their favourite sonnets. I determined to read more of them – well, let’s be honest – some of them… For my birthday I received the Arden Shakespeare’s Sonnets but I have yet to break into them.
I have however read some poetry over the last year. Melissa Harrison’s seasonal quartet of books – so far I have read Autumn and Winter – includes poetry in amongst it’s prose and nature writing, and some of it has been John Clare. It’s true to say that Clare avoided me during my school and college life, but circumstances have conspired to draw him into my life. On Thursday I listened to BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time in celebration of Clare’s life and work, with my colleague Simon Kövesi, and on Saturday whilst visiting my Mum and Dad we watched the biopic, By Ourselves. I borrowed from the work library, a book of John Clare poetry and I have decided to read at least, and hopefully more, one poem a day.
And I shall read those sonnets, and I shall make a habit of consuming poetry. What is it they say about doing something everyday for 21 days and then it becomes second nature. Can reading poetry become second nature?
This was a rollercoaster of read involving school teachers and aliens, a road trip and wise-cracking dialogue. It was fast and funny but it also lackd none of Mark Haddon’s trademark portrayal of family relationships, some disfunctional and some not.
Where at one point, you thought characters were going to take you (and the story) in one direction there is constant surprise around the next corner as it lurches you on in much the same way as Craterface’s motorbike. I think I might quite like to see a spin-off story about Craterface actually and/or Becky.
Amongst the crazy-fun story, you do get to learn more how not to judge people too quickly and that we all make mistakes, and we can all be a friend to another at different times, but not necessarily all the time.
Like it’s sister book, Autumn, this is not just a collection of poetry, prose, and non-fiction but a narrative of the darkest season. It takes us through the cold winter months through, frosts and fog, and flurries of snow. We feel through the words the hard, frozen ground under foot, and the wildest of storms.
Diary entries keep us locked to natures calendar with its stories of winter survival and migratory escape. There are possibly more contemporary accounts in this volume than in Autumn but the writers still range across the centuries, and with the citations and dates not given until the end of each piece it is sometimes reassuringly hard to tell, and often a surprise!
The last few collected passages gently tease us of winter’s passing, and the promise of the season to come, echoing the hope that we all feel at the end of darkest of seasons.
Tolkein’s The Hobbit aside, I do not often read the sword and sorcery fantasy that involves dragons, but Sophie Tallis’ White Mountain is too beautiful a book not to read. Even in the Kindle version, the illustrations by the author shine through and help you draw you into a world – epic in scale – and under control a dark and powerful wizzard.
The story has the feel of of Elizabeth Kerner’s Song in the Silence in the way that humans, wizards, and dragons co-exist in the world. Whenever I think of dragons I thing big, Tolkien Smaug-sized beasts that dwarf the other characters, and so I did stuggle a bit with placing the size of some of the dragons we meet in this story.
Where this story succeeds marvellous is the relationship between the old, wizened Mr Agyk and his apprentice witch, Wendya, and through them their relationship with Gralen. No spoiler’s here, but the closing chapters are heartrending until the end…
By their very nature, collections of short stories will be a mixed bag of winners and losers. This collection stands above that. Most collections are ‘edited by’ someone, but this book is different; this book is ‘curated by’ Abi Elphinson, and you really get the feeling that she has brought together these stories though a love of them much like objects are curated in a museum. She hasn’t touched, or changed these stories, just brought them together in one, beautiful volume.
There are some standout stories in here; A Night at the Frost Fair by Emma Carroll and Michelle Harrison’s The Voice in the Snow – proof if proof be needed that though short it maybe, a story can be big and powerful and perfect. I enjoyed The Magic of MidwinterThe Wishing Book by Piers Torday.
If it were possible to have Winter Magic: Volume II next Christmas, then it would be a treat beyond treats.
Sunday. With no work to get up for (myself), or as yesterday (for Emma), I actually got to sleep through to whenever nature decided was my time to wake. Thinking about it, despite the three weeks off I had, this might have been one of the first days in ages that I have been able to wake up in this way what with family commitments at Christmas and workmen to get up for. It was bliss; waking up to the morning light drifting in through the curtains. I came to, propped myself up and read some fore we finally got up and breakfasted.
Emma’s head/ear is still not right, but she set to cleaning out the fish and seeing to Alice who is currently living freerange in the garage (and I think making some improvement) whilst I cleaned out the bunnies and the other chickens. Around lunchtime, just as we we were thinking about lunch Emma got a callout so I made myself some bread and cheese and settled down to lunch with Gardener’s Question Time on the radio.
This morning, after early rain cleared up to be actually quite nice whilst I worked in the garden, but during the afternoon it came over all grey and murky again, and I retreated to the armchair to read 2017 Book 2 – a book that I have been looking forward to relish reading ever since I found out about it. Winter Magic is a collection of short stories by a number of great authors, and curated by Abi Elphinstone.
I’ve read the first two stories so far. Emma Carroll’s A Night at the Frost Fair was delicious, and Amy Alward’s The Magic of Midwinter was inventive in an Eoin Colfer kind of way. Next up is Michelle Harrison’s The Voice in the Snow…
Next up, all I need to do is find a time to get back to my own writing. I love reading, and I love to make time for reading but I also want and need to make time for writing. Those thirty days of NaNoWriMo seem so long ago. I need to get back to that, and finish my story of The Imaginary Wife.
Christmas is a time for the confort and traditions. Some of these traditions are whole family traditions, and some are more personal and come and go. I was thinking about this today, because I’m making huge progress through Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories. It’s been on my shelf for probably the best part of the decade after I got it for Christmas upon it’s publication – I only read about 70 pages. Clearly something didn’t grab me, or circumstances were not the same as they had been a few year’s previously when I remembered fondly devouring his Writing Home along with two novels, and a nature book whilst also installed on the end of the sofa scanning old slides into the computer. I remember wanting this book and organising my time between Christmas and New Year to try and relive that joy and happiness.
Christmas traditions is something that are brought to life in a short extract from Mr Tumnal which I recorded recently for That’s Oxfordshire television for broadcast over Christmas 2016. For readers not in Oxfordshire, this reading is now online to watch.
This is my first bit of television I’ve done! What do you think?
Only 42 books read this year, but one of those was the clasic of all clasics that is War & Peace, so I reckon that has got to equal about 6 regular books! I’ve also been fitting in more writing, not counting the training that I undertook for the 26 mile Stonehenge Trek back in September which pushed alot of things into the sidelines.
The Shark and the Albatross by John Aitchison
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Song in the Silence by Elizabeth Kerner
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone
The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child
My Pen by Christopher Myers
An English Country House and Garden by Arthur J. Penn
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
My Second Life by Faye Bird
Shepard’s War by James Campbell
When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
Jess the Goth Fairy by Jess Hiles
Shtum by Jem Lester
Hidcote by Helene Gammack
The Spider in the Corner of the Room by Nikki Owen
Day of the Vikings by J.F. Penn
Family, Friendships, Landscapes by Hugh Cecil
Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
The Killing Files by Nikki Owen
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
The Pier Falls & Other Stories by Mark Haddon
Rain by Melissa Harrison
The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison
Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
Broughton Castle by Paul Barker
In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll
The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig
Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
Autumn by Melissa Harrison
Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel
The Trees by Ali Shaw
Under the Paw by Tom Cox
The Plumdog Path to Perfection by Emma Chichester Clark
This is essentially an autobiography of a meadow. In some ways I would have liked this story (for it is the story of a year in life of…) to start in May or June, as being in the depths of winter the January start makes for a bit of a slow start to the story. It’s also the beginning of a relationship with the meadow for John Lewis-Stempel and this all adds to it taking a while to get going.
By the time you reach November and December you realise why the the end of the year also has to be end of the book. It is sobering tale about where farming has got us over the years – the technical developments may not be for the best.
His picture in July and August of the toils of making hay was a brilliantly painted one, and from a personal point of view, I’ve been exposed to yet more of John Clare’s poetry (after reading Melissa Harrison’s Autumn immediately before it) to the point where I think I’m going to have to properly discover his work.
Autumn has always been my favourite season – even over and above that of Spring – the quality of the light, the temperature, and the smells of autumn make it the best ever. Melissa Harrison’s anthology, Autumn, is a beautiful and inspiring miscellany of poetry, prose, and non-fiction both collected from past writings, and specially commissioned for this collection.
We are taken on a series of personal journies that are about, inspired by, or are rememberances of how Autumn is. This is a book about Autumn to be read at Autumn.
There are sister books to this for all four seasons which I intend to read, in sequence as the year progresses.
When I originally read the Swallows and Amazons series it was not in chronological order so I am uncertain as to when I read this book. Being a Lowestoft boy (bred not born), I think this book already existed in the family library.
It stands alone from the rest of the cannon because it is truly neither a S&A book and nor a Coots one. It is Peter Duck’s tale, invented by the Swallows and the Amazons during a winter holiday. It is obviously a fictious story, whilst the other invented tale, Missie Lee reads like it is a true story.
I don’t remember much about my first reading of this book except that I was decidedly non-plussed by it. This time round though, I enjoyed it much more, particularly revelling in the descriptions of Lowestoft and the Suffolk coast I know so well. I did still find a jarring disconnect with it, in the speed at which they travelled. The adventurers seemed to reach Crab Island in the Carribean a bit too quickly and easily for a sailing vessel.
This is the sequel to the outstanding (if disturbing) Fire Sermon. Unlike a lot of sequels which assume you to have intiminate knowledge of (or have only just read) the previous book, this book picks up the story and gently reminds you of what you need to know. Francesca Haig does not re-explain in an annoying fashion, and nor does she expect to remember but reveals details of backstory as you go.
The Map of Bones is clearly the second in a trilogy and it is by its nature not altogether a story of its own. It is the continuation of something that has come before, and unlike that one which had an end of its own, you can tell that this book is the bridge to the bigger ending.
None of that spoiled my enjoyment of this story though – if ‘enjoyment’ is the right word – for a story that holds a mirror up to own world and shows us what kind of future our descendants could face. Where the first book focussed on the world in which people live as twins who can each only survive whilst the other lives, and where one is healthy and one deformed in somew way, this book takes that idea further. It introduces the idea of an ‘un-twinning’ procedure – genetic modification of us to right the wrongs of the past, except of course there is no way to ‘right’ these wrongs. This trillogy is absolutely all about how we have to live with each other as equals irrespective any perceived superiority.
It’s that mirror that Francesca Haig holds up to our world which makes this book the disturbing read that it is, but is also why it is an utterly brilliant and powerful book.
A lot of the books that feature can portray as either mischievous and evil, or flights of fancy and fun. This book is neither. When Alice is sent to stay with a grandmother she barely knows who lives in the middle of a dark, foreboding wood, she is at first alone, and the ancient trees only seem to strangle the light and the hope from her.
Then she meets a new friend who seems to be living in the woods and her own modern day drama of her brother fighting for his life in hospital collides with a tragic past revealed in letters that goes back to the war, and also the reasons for her Dad leaving her gran’s house all those years ago.
The fairies connect the stories together, and although we never actually meet one, they seem a lot more real than lesser-fairy fiction and more like the real huldufolk of Norse mythology. With dark woods, fairy magic, and a very twenty-first century threat this is a powerful story to enjoy and make you think about.
I remember reading this as a child and loving it even more than the original Swallows and Amazons, maybe because it was even more Titty’s story than the first. When John’s recklassness leads to the sinking of Swallow, it is Titty who finds the valley they call Swallowdale, and the stories of Peter Duck – the sailor that they made up over last Christmas but who we won’t meet until the next book – and Titty who makes the holiday that they had originally planned so meticulously even more exciting and enjoyable than they could have planned.
This story has adventure, shipwrecks, mountain climbing, epic trails, charcoal burners (again), dastardly great-aunts, secret caves, and of course sailing in the Lake District. And yes, we still get pales of milk, fresh eggs, shark meat (perch), bun loaf, and (indestructable) seed cake.
This was the first full-length novel that I read on my own as a boy (much to the disappointment of my Mum) and I have read it periodically ever since. It is, to me, a truly timeless classic. Yes, they communicate with telegrams, spend pounds, shillings, and pence in the shops, and involves four your children sailing off to camp alone on an island for the summer holidays – but it reads just as much as the now as I think it ever did.
Probably because of her imaginative, story-writing side, Titty has always been my favourite character, and it is through her that most of the exotic place names and fantasical portrayals of actual events come about. They get lost on a desert island, fight pirates, discover buried treasure, and solve crimes, and all without needing to rely on the help of the ‘natives’.
With all it’s grog, eating shark meat, magical charcoal burners, seed cake, bun loaves, and pales of fresh milk, this is an adventure to savour, to enjoy, to remember, and to come back fondly.
After a weekend in which Emma and I completed another 12 mile training walk I’ve used up a couple of last days of annual leave to make a nice 4 day weekend, and some genuine me time to get back to the novel. I’ve spent most of the last three days outdoors on the patio, writing, and reading, before heading indoors in the evening to watch some more Olympics.
If 13 Treasures was the story that brought Michelle Harrison to us as a storyteller, and Unrest was the book to show how powerful, scary, and disturbing a storyteller she could be, then her latest novel, The Other Alice, is the book that shows she has truly come of age.
There can be no doubt that Lewis Carroll’s classic was in Harrison’s mind when she named the title character as the threads of the real, the unreal, and the might-be-real run through this book. With characters coming to life out of people’s imaginations I was always going to love this book, as it shares so much with my own stories, but Michelle’s approach is as always unique.
I loved the sneaky references to her 13 Treasures series, during a story that kept you guessing right to the end. There might be no fairies in this, Michelle Harrison’s sixth book, but it is a world in which fairies and fairy magic could exist. Indeed a writer who has their world’s come real, and and a musician who can lure people in with his music owe much to the ballads of Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin, and the fairy magic thereof.
If I could have rated this book 6 or 7, or even 10 stars I would, and I feel sure that this story will become one of my treasured favourites to read, and re-read, again and again. Magic.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book – the autobiography of a young woman struggling to overcome her alcholism. Within the first few pages I was proved wrong. This is a beautiful, poignant, funny, and thought-provoking story that moves between city life in London to island ways on Orkney like the sucking sea on the distant shore.
It’s the story of how nature and a simpler way of life can reconnect with what is important; a story that captures that feeling that lots of us who grow up in out-of-the-way places have at times during our lives. We might strive to leave the place but only We are allowed to criticise it.
You don’t have to know Orkney to be able to picture the environment that Amy Liptrop finds herself suddently back in, making sense of her life. With evocative descriptions of landscape, forna, and flora, I fear that by reading The Outrun I am going to have to travel to the Orkney Islands.
Amy’s story is not always an easy read, weaving her alcoholism with her father’s mental illness, but it is inspiring and uplifting too with well-observed insights into human nature. I chanced on this book in a local bookshop having heard nothing of it before, but I am so, so glad to have discovered such an engaging read.
For anyone who has read the first book in the Project Trilogy, The Spider in the Corner of the Room (now Subject 375), it is not a surprise if this is the very next book that you read. For me, the finishing of one, dove-tailed with the publishing of this and like this, the story follows straight on from where the first installment leaves us.
This is a fast-paced, explosive, thriller never lets up as it flits between a recent past and an uncertain future. Dr Maria Martinez might have thought that she had escaped from the twin threats of MI5 and the mysterious Project, but as she continues to piece together the mysteries of her life to discover that she has not been more in danger.
Maria has been lied to – all her life. She also is a high-functioning adult with aspergers and she really can’t deal with lies. Hers is a world where truth is everything, and when she is robbed of that it only serves to confuse her.
Nikki Owen succeeds in bringing a main character with aspergers into our lives, and as both a writer and reader with aspergers I know how hard a thing this is to do successfully. Whilst at times I find Maria’s own dialogue around a condition a little too self-aware, the theme works best in the narrative description of Maria’s journey as you find yourself plunged into a world which seems only out to confuse and baffle you as the lies keep mounting up right to the very end.