Sunday 31 March 2013

Don't Spill your Soup.

I've been too focussed on the ‘Etta problem’, aka trying to make the reader love my unassuming, guilt-ridden, loyal, stubborn, big-hearted, unswervingly ethical, joint main character, just as much as I do, and hiding eggs for the Easter egg hunt (what do you mean, aren’t they teenagers? Well, hubbie’s 42 and he’s never let a pesky little thing like age get in the way of a chocolate scramble) to think about posting. Even though, dear blog, I have missed thee over the past two weeks.
However, I am desperate to tell you about two books which really surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. The first, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, would certainly have passed me by had it not been for the furore I stumbled across over at that large internet book and kitchen sink seller. A reviewer had let out an enormous stinking, howler of a spoiler. The cover has far too many silver stars and sprinkles of glitter for my usual higher echelons of cerebral taste - ok, I'm just not drawn to books with stars on - but the review war had my interest piqued.

Before reading Me Before You, I admit I thought the heated discussion was all a little unnecessary. If somebody was going to get so upset by a spoiler then I wondered if they might prefer to stay away from the high-risk strategy of reading reviews. However, after being absolutely engrossed in and emotionally battered by this tale of a quadriplegic contemplating euthanasia, I was bound to admit that the spoiler really did have the potential to ruin reading and wasn’t one which would be easily forgotten.
Have I hidden the spoiler well enough? I truly hope so!
The second book is The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend. Now, I admit to turning my back on Ms Townsend after devouring Adrian Mole’s teenage hood, his Cappuccino Years and even the hard-backed version of The Wilderness Years after happening upon The Queen and I from many years previously. 
The farce, her usual parallels and satire and her wonderful ability to get away with being delightfully un-politically correct whilst being sub-consciously thoughtful all at the same time are all on top form in the Queen and I. However, this novel was my first taste of feeling used and cheated as a reader. I cannot tell you what happens at the end of the book to cause me to throw it across the room and vow never to spend my precious pennies on a Townsend classic again, for fear of issuing a spoiler of Me Before You proportions. (Happily I hadn’t read her books in order and had snuck in all the Adrian Moles to date before my vow so that I wasn’t forced to renege on my principals on sight of a new launch.) Suffice it to say, never have I remembered the ending of a book so precisely and with so much grinding of teeth.
However, something about the title compelled me to pick up The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year and after laughing out loud at the blurb in the middle of a quiet book store, I decided to give a Townsend novel ‘one more go’. Let’s just say, this book isn’t to be taken too seriously but it makes me smile just thinking about the spilled soup which served as the catalyst to one lady’s decision to turn her back on the world.
I’ve reviewed both of these books over in Chase Magazine, the supplement to the Rotherham Advertiser which you can view here Page 36/37.

Next month I’m reviewing Emma Donoghue’s, The Sealed Letter which has propelled me down a path of literary fiction, so absorbed was I in the plight of the fickle Helen and her hard-done-by husband, and The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler of which I’m only half way through, and totally engrossed so no spoilers please!
What are you reading at the moment? Please share!

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Happy To Judge

At five o’clock this morning I slunk out of bed, gathered up my phone, three empty mugs and a pile of washing and made my way to the only place to go when the small hand is still registering ‘5’: the kettle.

Sometimes I put the washing on while the water boils, occasionally I pair odd socks but today, I read my emails. Skimming past the daily list of price reductions at local hostelries and hairdressers (engaging willpower of pandemic proportions as March is tightening-my-belt month), the daily call from a national blind making company (I’m not sure how many windows they think I have) and the weekly reminder from the French catalogue, of which, beautiful as the little girls’ dresses truly are, I can’t quite imagine my teenage children in white lace and purple velvet, I noticed that BBC Radio Two had been in touch.
I’d been hoping for this email.
‘Congratulations,’ it said, ‘you have been selected as one of our volunteer judges for 500 words 2013’ – which means that I will be scoring a batch of short stories in the first round of judging in Chris Evan’s massively popular children’s writing competition. Excited? I have floated down from the ceiling for a moment to explain why:
1. I was moved to real tears by the poignancy and brilliance of last year’s winning entries so decided way back in May 2012 that I would find a way to be involved this year.
2. There’s something about children, anybody’s children, doing something well that just makes me want to cry. I’m not sure I can explain why that’s a good thing but it’s certainly right up there with the list of happenings in my life which make me feel alive.
3. Because I would feel an irrational sense of pride if I happened to be the judge who put forward one of the eventual winning entries.
4. Because I might read the story of the next Francesca Simon (I think my daughter possibly was the biggest Horrid Henry fan), Anthony Horowitz, Malorie Blackman…
5. Because I am ever so slightly in love with Chris Evans (I’ve always been a sucker for a GSOH and a PMA). And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be one of the lucky winners of the golden tickets awarded at random to 25 of the volunteer judges who get to attend the live broadcast of Chris’ show at the Hay Festival on 31st May. I have a one in eighty chance of being a winner which, put like that, sounds like an odds-on cert, she says, finger hovering over the link for a favoured shopping website with the force-for-good clearing its throat loudly from its place on her shoulder, to remind her that it's belt-tightening-month. It’s ok, I have no time for shopping, I have three stories a day to read until the deadline of 22 March. 
Do you know any of the entrants? I wish every one of them the very best of luck. Whatever the results, I hope they’ll keep writing because winning entry or not, there are few things in life quite as fulfilling as writing stories.

I'm Celebrating The Small Things - click on the link to join us!

Friday 1 March 2013

Small Job, Big Task

As part of sparkly VikLit’s happy bloghop, Celebrate The Small Things, I’ve been challenged to talk about the small things which make us happy. And I happen to have some big news about a small project which took on unprecedented proportions but is today, finally, finished.* It’s my beautiful, re-painted, re-furbished and inflated (it really wasn’t this big before) study. And its wonderful calm and cleanliness is making me supremely happy. Work, you say? Bring it on!
*Ok, it isn’t completely finished, (I only started on the project five months ago and did you ever hear about Rome?) as my notice boards still need to be hung up. Essential as they are, they will make the study seem a little more cluttered again so today I’m going to call it finished and show you a picture before we all start to unpick the good work.
Shameful! Click to see how it got quite so bad.
‘Sorting Out The Study’ had been on our to-do list since we moved into this house eight years ago and finally, we had a date: December 2012. Meanwhile, in November, I would, ‘clear it out’. I took the job very seriously, sifting through the junk, every photo and every piece of paper in my determination to keep only the absolutely essential. The five months the task took I blame on the ‘photo box’, reams of my teenager’s pre-school artwork, my slightly baffling need to keep copies of every freelance project ever worked and several notes to boot and, ah yes, the diaries I wrote between the age of 13 and 23. But all that work! It would be such a shame if nobody read them from cover to cover, wouldn’t it?
New desk beginnings.
There was a gremlin in our plans. With the hugely expensive debacle of the boiler in December, as detailed in A Damp and a Freeze A Damp and a Freeze, I’d put the new study on the *back-burner* for a while. However, my very lovely and equally handy husband, who likes few things more than an excuse to browse an internet auction site which begins with ‘E’ and ends in ‘bay’, secretly sourced some end-of-line wood officially assigned to kitchen work surfaces and set about building a desk and shelving. He paid £400 for the wood. The nice man at the wood merchant’s, who agreed to saw the pieces down to size for a few pennies in the ‘beer pot’, assured hubbie, with much in-taking of breath and nose-tapping, that we would normally have paid five times as much.
Nearly there.
With some careful planning of how to re-use parts of the old desk and re-arrange some of the existing cupboards, and with the purchase of one pot of paint and two packs of dye for the curtains, the entire job came to less than £500. Wasn’t that the budget for Changing Rooms? And not a staple in sight.
Et voila! Note to self: tidy pc cables.
Every day’s a school day, as my French friend frequently quotes and this is what I’ve learnt, or perhaps been reminded of, over the past five months of the Study Job.
Even if the tax man says, ‘Keep This’ with a demonic point of his stubby cigar of a finger, it doesn’t mean you have to keep a record of every pencil ever bought since 1998. Ditto electricity statements, last year’s totally defunct house insurance and the MOT certificate for the car you sold three years ago.
It’s so much easier to discard children’s artwork if it can be left alone for ten years after its production (NB. Factor browsing and cooing time into its disposal).
Photos which do not make it to the photo album do not need to be destroyed and thus should not heap guilt onto the shoulders of the principal house keeper on every sight of the bulging box. Ok, boxes. Indeed, the small house required to store them should be off-set against the great waves of reminiscent joy on their re-discovery. However, easy access is not required, and frankly not conducive to the industrious purpose of a study, so a dusty corner of the loft might be a more suitable place for their housing (loft conversions may be possible).
A4 plastic wallets were of far superior quality in the good old days, as were cardboard index dividers. Gosh, things were made to last in the much maligned nineties!
Notice boards benefit from a clear out, rather than an additional box of pins.
It’s ok not to be able to get rid of cherished favourite novels but they don’t need to be on sight for you to know they’re there. Double rows of books are perfectly acceptable.
Just because something doesn’t have a specific purpose, doesn’t mean it does not have a place in a room where many hours are spent. Although, for the greater good, it is reasonable to fabricate a use to help the husband’s understanding – the door hanging heart, for example, would it double up as a stencil?
I have a lot of notebooks. I’ve spoken of my love of notebooks here before. It will be a sad day for me if I-pads, smartphones, tablets etc. etc. usurp the art of hand-writing. I know I should embrace the times but I’ve always been something of a luddite, way before I reached three score years and something. Besides, they do look pretty, don’t they?
I hope you’ve had a happy week and may all your projects be fun ones which unexpectedly take half of the allocated time!