Reading


I just downloaded The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, a little protest against Virginia’s banning of these two books. It is stupid and makes the task of people like me, who has been fighting all kinds of discrimination since in my early years, all the more difficult.

Nevertheless, thank you Virginia as you brought to mind two books I should definitely read again.

I read Huckleberry Finn as a child – I would guess at 7 years old but perhaps earlier. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the few books I wanted to read as a result of seeing the film, with Gregory Peck, in my early 20s. The only other film which I think prompted me to read the book was The English Patient. Of course the two books were better than the films, The English Patient much, much better.

I’ve only read the first couple of chapters of ‘Huck’ but it’s already given me a few laughs. Delightful!

My anti-discrimination journey

The first discrimination I remember was at primary school age. We had a playing field close to home with swings and a roundabout. Some other children were told not to play with us as we were not Roman Catholic but Anglican. I just couldn’t understand it. Religious discrimination is a terrible thing, as we learned later from, eg, Ireland and Bosnia.

My realisation that women were somehow disadvantaged began when I was working in the research laboratory in the late ‘50s/early 60s. I could not help but notice that all the lab technicians were female but all the researchers, including all section leaders, were men. This was despite the fact that many of the technicians seemed to me brighter than their bosses. Add to that all the new graduates joining the team were male but seemed to know nothing relevant.

When I was a child I never saw a black person nor an ‘Asian’, though there were some in the UK of course. The only thing I knew about black people was that in the aftermath of WWII we received at school oranges sent by children in Africa, black children!

The recent disturbances were not a surprise; if a section of the population feel alienated and know little if anything is being done about it they will eventually revolt.

Most of the black people I have known were Afro Caribbean. I spent a wonderful fortnight in Jamaica way back in the ‘70s. Suffice it to say that, in the days when I could go to Leeds, if I was feeling a bit down I would take a bus from the city centre to Chapeltown, where the majority of of Afro Caribbeans live, as I inevitably found someone to talk to on the bus who, with their infectious jollity, always cheered me up.

Finally LGBT. I worked for a time with a LGBT support organisation and was surprised that, as  the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, I met some what you might call reverse discrimination; some of them didn’t like to have a ‘straight’ working there and made it obvious.

A ‘gay’ man played an important role in my marriage to Petronela twenty years ago.

 Vocabulary

The only objection I have to the LGBT community is, as a one-time teacher of English loving the nuances of the rich English vocabulary, I dislike the fact I can no long use ‘gay’ in it’s true meaning. Worse is although I have not any objection to LGBT people having a wedding, I object strongly to the corruption of the word ‘marriage’. I know there will be objections to this; I’ve heard all the arguments but will not change my mind.

I was waiting impatiently for the BBC to release its series ‘Spooks’ on iPlayer and they did that just in time for it to become one of my principal entertainments during the time my wife and myself are confined to our flat for 12 weeks, at least.

I have seen isolated episodes in the past but now I’ve been enjoying ‘binge watching’ the series, particularly as my favourite actor, Nicola Walker, features in so many episodes (I’ve mentioned her in the past for her roles in ‘Split’ and ‘Last Tango in Halifax’).

I saw a report that the creator of the Spooks series, David Wolstencroft, is suggesting some new episodes. If that happens I hope that although the series so far is of course fantasy, the number of love affairs – ‘adulterous’, ‘illicit’, etc, – is reduced considerably; they are indeed ‘fantastic’ (in its true meaning) to the point of being boring.

Leaves of Grass

Prompted by the most recent blog from my blogger friend Gray, who is an NHS staff nurse in Wales, I’ve downloaded Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ from the Gutenberg Project. It’s years since I read it and even then I doubt I read it all.

Gray is of course fighting on the front line in the current war – it’s certainly that – against coronavirus.

I guess I’ll buy the next in the series of Jack Reacher novels as some light relief.

Twelve weeks isolation

When I’m asked if the 12 weeks confinement to our small flat (3 weeks completed this coming weekend) I have to say that it’s not so bad. I’m old enough to remember the whole family sleeping in a cage (Morrison shelter?). I think this was close to the Fleet Air Arm base at Sandbanks, Dorset, where my grandfather was some high-ranking officer. The shelter was in the cellar (my maternal grandmother refused to sleep in it, remaining outside of it).  Also, seeing rows of houses without their front walls, revealing the lives of the former residents like dolls’ houses with their fronts open except the baths were hanging down on the lead drainage pipes. That was somewhere nearby. I remember few details but those images have remained clearly in my memory. I was probably about 3 years old!

Wharfe Valley

Mind you, we are lucky. Our sitting room window overlooks a park. Our kitchen and bedroom windows look over Yorkshire’s Wharfe Valley to the hills beyond.

The dawn chorus is now unspoiled by passing motor vehicles or planes from the nearby airport, and the air coming through the open widows is noticeably cleaner.

Writing

Of course I’m continuing to write, for the fortnightly virtual meeting of our writers’ club, for no reason at all other than I enjoy it, blog posts and attempting to get nearer to finishing my ‘novella‘.

So, what are you watching, reading or writing?

 

 

 

Our local Sainsbury’s supermarket has a charity book table. The idea is you take a book, make a donation (and perhaps return the book, as I intend to do). Having got myself in ‘reading mode’ recently, seeing the name Tom Clancy I picked up the thick paperback, ‘Command Authority’, as when I read his first, ‘The Hunt for Red October’, more than 30 years ago, I was gripped from cover to cover.

A half way ‘review’

I’m only a bit more than half way through this novel now (page 409 of 772) but I’ve decided to do another ‘half novel’ review, as I did in my post before the previous one. One reason is that I think I’ve learned an important lesson, maybe two lessons, for my own writing.

Another is that I’ve been bored by the majority of what I’ve read so far, so I may not finish it. However, the Tom Clancy I expected began on page 332 and may well have finished now, after keeping me gripped for 69 pages (but having skipped two chapters, 14 pages, as  I was certain they would add nothing to the story. I’d done this earlier too).

Lesson one – information overload

One of the things which made the majority of the book boring for me was the information overload: information which added nothing to the story. I think it is there only to demonstrate the author’s knowledge. I wonder if that came from Clancy’s collaborator on this novel: Mark Greaney.

I’ve come across this closer to home and it always makes me shut off.

Linked to this are the chapters I skipped, prefaced ‘30 years earlier’. I’m sure I missed nothing which added to the story.

One lesson learned.

The second lesson

The second lesson is do not waste words stating the obvious. There are so many instances of this that they became irritating.

Other dislikes

I really disliked the appearance of diagrams showing layouts of, eg,  buildings. I believe that, for any worthwhile writer, words should be enough.

Another irritant for me is the long list of characters prefacing the novel.

Would Charles Dickens have needed such things? I don’t think so.

Cover of The Mermaid and the BearIn my previous post I commented on the first half of Ailish Sinclair’s first novel, describing it as “having all the charm and magic of a good children’s story, wrapped up in an adult fairy tale.”

I do like a novel which surprises. The Mermaid and the Bear had plenty of surprises for me.

Sexy

Not far into the second half it became pretty sexy! I didn’t expect that, not from the first half of the story nor from Ailish’s blog posts. She slipped easily into an insight into an eighteen years old young woman’s discovery of the urgency of physical love when prompted by ‘true love’. I suspect few eighteen year olds experience that now.

The role of women deftly interwoven

Another surprise was how the author managed to get so much modern thinking about the role of women in a story set over 400 years ago, without it jarring. It will be no surprise to anyone who has read my posts for some years that this was a pleasant surprise for me; it’s been a regular theme for me (how little far we’ve come in 400 years!).

Stone circles

The stone circles of Aberdeenshire, of which I’ve learned a lot from Ailish’s posts, feature. I’m not sure whether Ailish really believes they are magical but she’s pretty much convinced me.

Witches’ from fact

I liked the way Ailish wove the Aberdeen witch trials of the 1590s in to the story without it becoming a ‘historical’ text book, fictionalising real people and events, mixing them up with invented characters (as I am wont to do).

Enjoyable

I really enjoyed this novel on multiple levels. It’s not the kind of story I’d usually read, detective thrillers are what usually tempt me – my Kindle library has a few of those and my physical bookcase contains only the complete works of Dickens.

The historical notes at the end of Ailish’s book are really helpful but I’d urge you not to read them until after you’ve read the story.

The Mermaid and the Bear is published by GWL Publishing and available on Amazon and in some book shops.

 

 

I finished the Costa first novel award book. Not an easy read.

In my previous post I said that the writing seemed to have become better and I was beginning to enjoy it. Then, suddenly, it was back to forcing myself to read. The similes began to jump out at me again.

(One of the advantages of reading a Kindle version – despite my love of real books – apart from taking no space in our small flat, is that some analysis is easy. The word ‘like’, the majority as part of a simile, occurs no fewer that 600 times. I’m surprised that none of the editors picked that up.)

The author seems to have had difficulty writing some chapters. Apart from the early chapters, the most obvious is when she introduces S&M. At the time I couldn’t see why it had been introduced but that becomes clear as you approach the end, though I’m still not convinced it was necessary.

Slavery

What I did like is that I learned quite a bit about slavery and that the ending was hidden well, at least from me. However, parts of the story were not believable for me, eg the court scenes.

Maybe my first novella/novel will not sound believable (if I ever finish it); though it’s fictional, most of it did happen, though not quite in the way I relate it.

Mermaid and bear

It was a relief to escape into my current reading, also a first novel, by a blogger I’ve followed for quite a while: Ailish Sinclair. I’ve got only about half way into it but already I can say that it has all the charm and magic of a good children’s story, wrapped up (so far) in an adult fairy tale.

I’ve always enjoyed her posts having learned a lot from them, which I why I bought her novel. Also the promise of some real history of witches, which I’ve yet to get to. Another draw was that she is/was a ballet dancer. I’ve been a lover of ballet since I was seven years old and some time ago I wrote a short story around a visit to Covent Garden and another visit there plays an important part in my unfinished novella/novel.

Ailish’s blog posts, especially about stone circles and castles, determined me to spend some of last summer in Aberdeenshire. It has been no surprise to find stone circles occurring in the book, momentous events happening within them (I don’t want to give too much away). Unfortunately, ill health prevented my visit. Maybe next summer.

A big surprise is that, halfway through the story I’ve been confronted with how I thought it would end. So I’m intrigued by where it will go now.

So, if you want a relaxing read, with all the ups and downs of a Catherine Cookson tale, this might be a book for you. But I’m only half way through so who knows what is in store.

Ailish’s novel is called The Mermaid and the Bear, published by GWL Publishing and available on Amazon and in some book shops.

After I’d heard Sara Collins interviewed on Scala Radio (one of many fascinating interviews I’ve heard on this station since I abandoned, most of the time, the ‘other classical music station’) I just had to read her first novel, ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’. The story is just as fascinating as I’d hoped but it has made me equally fascinated to know on what criteria the Costa prize in awarded.

The writing, in my opinion, is terrible.

Too many similes

I struggled through the first five chapters, much of the time not knowing what the author was talking about. From there it became easier but the overload with similes continued as did the often tortuous metaphors (the word ‘like’ seems to occur on almost every line – now it irritates me every time it occurs).

Nevertheless, I determined to keep going as the story seemed to be becoming as fascinating as the interview promised. As I write this I’ve reached the eighteenth chapter, having recently read at least a chapter a day.

During the interview I was interested to hear Sara Collins say she “hated” the necessary research into 18th/19th century London. I’ve been surprised to find that I’ve disliked my necessary research into 60s/70s London as I try to finish my novella/novel subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London’.

Disliking research

I’ve been surprised because before this I’ve really enjoyed research, first in a research laboratory, then as a journalist. Perhaps now it’s just frustration that my memory fails so often as my novella/novel is based on real experiences. An example: I was at Covent Garden the first time Margot Fonteyn danced with Nureyev; I remembered much, including the 23 curtain calls and, of course, the balletGiselle – but I  could  not remember the precise date (easy to find – 15 February 1962) or details of the environment inside the opera house at that time, vital for my story. I’m still having problems with the latter.

One of the things I often dislike about the writings of ‘indie’ authors is that, as someone who has travelled a lot, it is obvious to me they have never set foot in the place in which they have set their story or action nor done the necessary research.


More on Scala Radio

I’ve found it worth listening to Scala Radio just for some of the interviews (not all, some of the ‘celebrities’ are, as usual, tiresome but not all: Howard Shelley talking about Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto was wonderful).

However I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy much of this station’s output, exceptions (as I’ve said in a past post) being programmes about film music, video games music and pieces from many ‘modern’ musicals. What is certain is that Scala has introduced me to quite a bit of classical music which I don’t recall having heard before, a pleasant surprise as I’ve been listening to classical music for about eight decades.

Unfortunately Scala is not on FM as we cannot get it on DAB at home and don’t have DAB in the car; I listen at home on the app. For the regular listening in the car, school runs morning and afternoon, the Classic FM presenters are two of my favourites: Tim Lihoreau and Anne-Marie Minhall). The third is Alyd Jones but unfortunately he usually shuts down on a Sunday morning at ten in favour of that gardener, just when one of the other Scala programmes I don’t like comes on.

A photo of the working cover showing a mini-skirted girl 'with attitude'

My first attempt at getting my story going again was to format it as a book (https://wp.me/pkm0h-1G9)

I’ve often said I cannot write (fiction) to order, only when my characters hassle me to be heard; getting up early, or staying up late, to write 1,000 words come what may, as so often advised, is a pointless activity for me. So my first novella/novel(?) – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London’ – has lain untouched for several months.

Yesterday morning my two protagonists demanded that I pick up my fountain pen and give them a voice again. Why, I do not know. They did not say much, half a chapter from only one of them before I had to leave home, but they were clear what they wanted to say, each demanding a new chapter to give more details of a close friend, a friend who had a major influence on our lovers’ relationship. More than that I do not know.

It’s not writers’ block

Some time ago I felt I had not let them say all they wished to say but their tale had stopped at around 30,000 words. I had the idea that they each wanted to say more about a friend mentioned in passing but they wouldn’t say more at that time. I put the idea of filling out two other characters to my blogging writer friend Kristina Steiner, who has just published the second novel in her trilogy; despite her support for the idea my characters wouldn’t say more. Until now.

Beginning as a short story

The tale began as a short story, prompted by a theme set in our writers’ club: ‘what if?’ The story resulting, no more than two or three hundred words, became a chapter as one character began to speak. Shortly after the other of the couple demanded to be heard, so another chapter flowed out of the pen. They each now seem to be settled on allowing one to speak to me without interruption, for a chapter, then keeping silent while the other speaks.

Initially, each chapter finished with ‘what if?’ but that became tiresome and was deleted. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the idea of a story having more than one ending – ever since reading ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ when it was published during the era in which my tale is set. So my complete story became a ‘what if?’

Will my protagonists continue to speak? I don’t know but I would like to learn what happens to them. Hopefully, so will you if they do continue to speak.

 

 

 

 

It’s a long time since I bought paper copies of fiction books; it was more convenient to buy kindle editions and read them on the iPad. But my recent reversion to writing on paper with a fountain pen brought to mind the delight of turning real, physical pages.

Second edition of a “contemporary romance”

First a blogging writer I now regard as a distant friend launched the second edition of her “contemporary romance”, Equinox. This genre of novel is not my cup of tea (though it did appeal to my ‘feminist‘ side) but as she said that she’d made some changes (I read the first as a kindle edition) I wanted to read it to see what those changes were so I bought it on paper. I haven‘t had time to read this second edition yet; I don’t feel I can ‘review’ it as it’s not my kind of book.

From the cover notes: ‘But everything changes when they lay eyes on each other and their attraction takes them by storm. Soon, they find themselves in uncharted territory, their comfort and idea of selves threatened by needing what they’ve never wanted.’

Even if this genre of novel is not your cup of tea either I can recommend Kristina’s short short stories, published fairly regularly on her blog.

The Girl on the Train – ‘top notch’ thriller?

The second book recently added to my bookshelf is a novel I’ve wanted to read for some time: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I bought it for £1 in a charity shop. Said to be a ‘top notch thriller’, it should have been very much my cup of tea.

However, as the plot is interesting it should have been intriguing but I just found it confusing. I didn’t like the way the story is structured; I didn’t like the writing; there is very little about the characters so you never feel you are beginning to know them so try to work out what will happen next – surely one of the appeals of a ‘thriller’; it is for me.

It is highly recommended by Stephen King but that probably puts a nail in the coffin for me – I cannot stand his books, even being bored by each one I’ve tried to read so didn’t manage many pages.