Archive for the ‘books’ Category

The holidays…

And so I find myself on Day 1 of The Holidays. Eight weeks stretch before me. A tatty, untidy, rather grubby house surrounds me. An unpublished novel and unanswered mail wink at me from a pile on what we laughingly call ‘the dining room table’.

I was woken by a solitary magpie doing sentry duty across the skylight at gods know what time (watch strap broken, not wearing watch, must get new strap). In the street I can hear the deafening tinkle of glass being hurled into the bin truck by the recycling men (quick, put bin and glass box out before they get to us).

The phone rings, it is school: can Tall Boy and Lovely J please return their text books today or tomorrow or their results will not be released (don’t be ridiculous! They can’t NOT give results because a few text books are due – YAWN – school never changes, empty threats about nonsense whilst the bullies and cheats go unchallenged).

There is a strange odour coming from under the floorboards, reminiscent of last year when the soil pipe cracked and leaked under us. Please let it not be the same again!

The blue Ikea bags full of ‘to do/to sort’ seem to have multiplied. Tall Boy appears in boxers, his head banging into the paper-sphere light shade (which I keep promising I will change to spare him the indignity of it falling onto his head every time he passes and knocks it) – ‘anything for breakfast?’

Eight weeks? I can get it ALL done in eight weeks can’t I? Get novel published, finish second one, tidy house, paint house, get first year accounts sorted and tax done, MOT car, swap it for bigger one, go on Arvon course, go to Wales for ‘holiday’, keep on top of allotment, rebuild rabbit hutch, phew!
Happy Holidays.

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Running hell for leather into reading for pleasure

I think it would be fair to say that I tend to run headlong into things. Once I’ve decided I’ll do it, I just do it. This has had disastrous results at times – marriage and divorce springs to mind – but something good generally comes of it all – in that case a couple of kids who are pretty good company at times and a bit of wisdom, not to mention some great ideas for poems and stories.

So, at the beginning of the year I applied for a job as Creative Practitioner at a local comp – the remit being to encourage and enthuse year 8s about reading for pleasure. My interview was by a panel of six students, the teacher who heads up literacy at the school and the regional manager of the project as a whole – he’s called the Creative Agent – what a great title.

I was thrilled to be appointed and rushed headlong towards the project as is my wont. However, after our first planning meeting I had to meet with HR – they needed all my details for the enhanced CRB check – now you see where I’m going with this… weeks have passed… 6 in fact. Then I discover that the local council sat on the paper work for 4 weeks before passing it on. CRB reckon to clear applications within 4 weeks of receipt – at this rate the summer term will be over!

I was really impressed with the group I am supposed to be working with, maybe there is hope for the future after all – and I’m not talking about a carefully selected group of high achievers either, the group are made up from a cross-section of pupils, some ‘reluctant readers’ or dyslexic, some may have ADHD etc – although to me they just seemed like regular human beings – which I think is the great thing about outsiders going in to schools to work with pupils.

Given the constraints of the curriculum at the moment teachers seem hard pushed, targets get in the way, meeting guidelines, statementing children in order to gain extra funding bla bla bla.

The thing about what I can do is that I flit in and flit out none the wiser, so if some kid is known as having  some kind of ‘statement’ I’ve no need to know, I just get on with the task in hand.

I have great plans about what to do and how to approach the project. The head of dept wants a reading cafe in the school, I want to get them blogging and writing and to feel free to read whatever they want to read rather than what they feel they should be reading. I LOVE to read, whether it’s the Metro for a good shout or something deep and meaningful.

If only that one piece of paper would come through and allow me to get stuck in there!

Caught up in The Gathering

I have just finished reading Anne Enright’s ‘The Gathering’. What a bloody marvellous book. My good friend Maxine told me it was the best book she’d read in decades and so off I trotted during my lunchbreak to buy a copy (with the WH Smith voucher I bought off Tall Boy – an unwanted gift at Christmas.) I have read it in two days flat – and that with work and family getting in the way – standing waiting for the kettle to boil, stirring spag bol in the pan and sat on the toilet (lid down) whilst curly boy is in the bath.

She writes with such embarassing honesty. Maxine said it was so good it almost made her want to give up writing, I do hope she won’t. For me, on the contrary, it made me rethink how I am writing. I am resolved to write as honestly too, no holding back, cut the gentility. I have no aged relations who may take offence at what I have written. She says stuff that all of us must think some of the time, or at least some of us think, some of the time, or at least wish we could think. She doesn’t bang on about being Irish (sorry Frank McCourt – loved Angela’s Ashes, but ) it is just who she is. I didn’t feel excluded from a special club, ‘well you’re not Irish..’ ‘ well you’re not Catholic..’ she deals with men and sex and marriage and children and love and grieving and held me in limbo along with Veronica, who waits for her brother’s body to be shipped back to Ireland. Memories floated around, tangled and confused, much as they do in my own family, ‘you weren’t even there,’ ‘that wasn’t Summer, that was Easter,’ ‘it was a blue car,’ ‘ we never even had a car when we lived there,’ you know how it goes. It made me cry like funerals of virtual strangers can make me cry, because I’m afraid next time it will be someone closer to home, and because I know one day it will be somone closer to home. It made me cry because on some days that’s exactly how I feel, except I’d never even get as far as Gatwick airport, I only get as far as wanting to run away. It made me cry because I run around being indispensable too, when actually if I stopped doing it, it wouldn’t matter at all, because most of it is pointless in the greater scheme of things.

And look what it’s done as well – I’m back blogging – can’t be bad – just had to have something worth sitting still to write about.

Lovely, Lovely Bones

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Well – I’ve finished it – and it didn’t take long at all. The start was a bit gruelling and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know the detail of events  – but I kept going and was rewarded with a gentle, honest story. Alice Sebold clearly remembers exactly what it is like to be a young child, and a teenager and understands how it feels to be a parent and married and alone. Even Mr Harvey was written with tenderness and clarity. Each character’s reaction was thoroughly believable as was the community they moved around in. I do hope the film (whenever that gets made) can capture the delicacy of it all as well as the book -if only Frank Capra and Tim Burton could co-direct I would be happy. I will definitely be reading her new book now. And from a writerly perspective, her prose is simple and uncluttered – right up my street. If you haven’t yet read this – give it a go.

Lovely Bones

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I noticed today that Alice Sebold has a new book out on 16th October – The Almost Moon. Such cheery topics she writes about! Why then do people urge me to read her? So – armed with a copy of The Lovely Bones I picked up in the local charity shop during the summer, I am off to bed to start to read it. It seems to be one of those books that ‘everybody’ has read and yet when I mentioned it earlier today nobody actually had. I seem to recall Dovegrey Reader mentioning it sometime last month. I’m not too keen on reading gritty stuff, Lucky is a memoir/account of her rape and recovery, Bones about a murder and now Moon about a daughter’s struggle with her mother’s dementia. It’s not that I deny that atrocities occur, or don’t believe they should ever be discussed, but I do find that writing/airing such events can trivialise the impact they have. If Ms Sebold can handle this like Toni Morrison, I’ll be fine, but if it’s a bit of a Dave Pelzer I won’t. I’ll just have to get stuck in and see. Anyone read it?

GENTS

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So – I finished Atonement and got stuck into GENTS by Warwick Collins – discovered whilst reading Scott Pack’s (The Friday Project) blog. I’ve always had a thing for toilets – genetic I reckon – from my mother’s side. Descriptions of her travels and excursions were often reduced to ‘lovely toilets’. I do recall a long conversation with a man in the LADIES at the bottom of Lansdown Hill in Bath, circa 1975 – they were gleaming porcelain with classic brass fittings – my mother commented on how lovely his brass looked and we were treated to a discourse on the merits of bicarb, Brasso, etc etc. He took such pride in his work and wore a long brown coat, like a technician.

So to GENTS – ‘Ezekiel Murphy, a West Indian immigrant, takes up a new job as an attendant at a large London lavatory. The supervisor, Josiah Reynolds, and Jason, a third West Indian, explain that their main problem is the casual sex which takes place in the cubicles. Under pressure from the council authorities to reduce such behaviour, they expect Ez to help them in ‘cleaning out the swamp’. 

Great front cover, annoying BIG print and spacious type set which made me feel like I was reading ‘young adult fiction’ for lapsed readers. Nice enough story, some good phrases and feelings but why can’t I make my mind up about this book? The cover says it is ‘quietly establishing itself as an international literary classic’. I find myself wondering if it should have been a short story? A play? Radio or TV. A film even? Something about the precision of his narrative jarred with the dialogue. If this was a screenplay his exact description of the way the men move a mop across a floor, scrub urinals, fill and empty buckets, glance in mirrors, would be fantastic. The spartan dialogue captures the mood of the men, the unspoken in a lot of what they say, shrugging as they speak when they clearly have so much more going on in their minds. The relationship between Reynolds and Jason is only hinted at, the relationships with the wives too, and Steve, Ez’s son. If I had seen this as a Play for Today (whatever they call that now!) or heard it on Radio 4 one evening, or seen a film version (very Kinky Boots, Bend it Like Beckham, East is East) I would have been telling everyone to see/hear it if they got the chance – but in this form I doubt whether I would. I reckon the Friday Project should commission a screenplay and get the movie made. It does raise the question of genre and form though, what happens if you have a great storyline but can’t decide the best way to present it? I suppose that’s where an agent comes in to a certain extent. If you’ve read it I’d be interested to know what you made of it, and I will send my copy on to be read by friends to see how they react.

Atonement all round

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Well – I finished it last night. Don’t know if you’ve read it? I never did shift the image of Kiera Knightley, but she is very beautiful and has a fragile strength about her if that is at all possible, so, great casting for Cecilia. It is written with a real sense of ‘past’ – hard to believe it wasn’t written in the 1930s. I found myself irritated with Part One and wanted to throttle Briony (perhaps that’s the whole point?) As I said before he really gets the mindset of a young girl off to a tee. Once we got to Part Two – the war, he had me. I found the passages written in northern France very moving (awful phrase I know, but I literally had tears in my eyes). Likewise Part Three back with Briony seemed very real and the change in her was marked – she still irritated me though (again perhaps this is the point?) The ‘twist’ if you can call it that – was strange and again I was irritated by Briony’s continued ‘writerliness’. After all that she still thinks her writing is more important? I’m with Cecilia and Robbie on this one – I couldn’t forgive – not because she did it in the first place but that she never had the guts to ‘fess-up’ in time. I’m with the ‘what really happened mob’. The other thing that strikes me is that Bloody Briony wrote this, not Ian McEwan – and I want to read him, not some repressed middle class child! Again – I suppose this was the whole point – but I would have liked a little more of him to show through and less of her.

Saturday morning – back to the laundry – except I’m on strike today – and so will only be doing what’s in my laundry basket. Despite repeated ‘requests’ last week the children’s laundry (yes the clean stuff) lies scattered across bedroom floors – so they can b****y well do their own from now on.

Bedtime reading..

It’s no good – I’ve had to give up on ‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova. Laurie recommended it as it had stuff about ‘vrykolakas’ the Cretan vampire, in it. My character Korakas is a bit of a shape shifter (or is he?) so I’ve been reading up on various vampire myths. I just couldn’t get to grips with the fact that we jump straight into vampire stuff without much of a preamble – no setting of the scene, no planting seeds of a story to come. I will go back to it, but Jules gave me a copy of ‘Attonement’ this weekend – so I’ve made a start on that. Unfortunatley I keep seeing Kiera Knightley as I read (and I haven’t seen the film yet) – must try and shift that image as I have a problem with Ms K’s lips and the way they pucker – most disconcerting. It’s very gentle so far, he’s captured the mind set of the young girl brilliantly. But then I came into work this morning to find a package on the desk – it’s from the Friday Project. A FREE copy of ‘GENTS’ by Warwick Collins. Scott Pack (of the project) offered bloggers a free copy to review. Now I’m tempted to start that, but I can’t do that reading more than one book at a time thing – I’m afraid I prefer to be fully immersed before drying off and moving on.

I’ll crack on with IAn McEwan though before I launch into the tale of misdemeanours in a public convenience.