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.

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.

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.


Front cover of ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’.My current reading, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, winner of the Costa Book Award for a first novel, has suddenly improved. That is, the writing has improved or, perhaps better said, I am finding it easier to read.

Now on Chaper 29, I’m enjoying it. The writing flows and those interminable similes have mostly disappeared, though when the word ‘like’ does appear it resonates and irritates. Nevertheless, now enjoyable. It’s almost as though I’m reading a different author.

What brought about this change?

Although things did improve a little after the first five chapters, the big change occurred immediately after the author, Sara Collins, introduced the beginning of the lesbian relationship between Frannie and her ‘mistress’.

A lesson?

What really interests me is the lesson I might learn for attempting to finish my first novella/novel. Sara Collins said in the radio interview which introduced her to me (Scala Radio), that she disliked all the research she had to do into anti-slavery campaigns and London at that time. There was for sure a lot of research behind those first five chapters.

I said in a previous post that I was finding research tiresome. Is that affecting my writing? The words are not flowing as freely for me as I am used to.

A lesson: that the necessary research to ensure authenticity should not be allowed to ‘take over’ the main point of the story?

I’m beginning to understand why critics have rated the novel highly (including those from The Times and Guardian and, of course, why it might have merited the Costa award). I could, however, have done without the first few chapters which, had I not heard the radio interview, would have made me give up reading.


I said some time ago that I was changing the basis of my grumpytyke blog. From a general “view from Yorkshire, about anything” to concentrate on my writing, But not only of my writing, that of others too, be it from my reading of commercially published authors, self published authors, or unpublished works from people I know, including lessons learned from reading them. It will include an archive of my stories and ‘poems’ (this in still in progress). 

However, my previous favourite subjects – discrimination of any kind and food/cooking – in fact anything, might creep in from time to time.

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.

 

The only books on display in our home, the complete works of Dickens.

Lurk’ was the latest, yesterday’s, word chosen by my blogosphere friend Iulia, a teacher of English in București among other things. In her regular series of words, she finds a quote to demonstrate its use, together with a beautiful piece of art, and posts them. She sometimes writes thought-provoking, often beautiful, poetry too but it’s today’s word, from a quote by Ray Bradbury, which has prompted this post.

I used to lurk in libraries a lot. The motive for going in was almost always the need to research some feature I was writing as a journalist (I wrote mostly on science and technology, businesses based on them and the management of them).  I wonder how many journalists do that now when Google is just a click away.

Lurking was an appropriate word for my activity. I’d secrete myself away in some dark corner having collected as many books as I could on the subject of interest, hoping to be missed at closing time so I could go and seek out the growing bibliography I scratched on my notebook indicating further interesting reading. Often this ‘further interesting reading’ had nothing to do with the subject in hand. It’s an aberration of mine: I’m interested in anything and everything so am easily led off track, which is why this blog is such a hotchpotch I guess.

Reading fiction

Before I began to read for researching features to write, and omitting the large amount of reading I had to do when studying physics, I was an avid reader of fiction, including poetry. It began at an early age; my mother had taught me to read before I was four years old. Later she had some regrets; I was repeatedly admonished for having my head in a book rather than “go out and play!” It’s probably why I’ve never been much interested in sport (other than walking, though in Yorkshire that’s more something we do, must do, than sport).

Now with rare exceptions I read little other than blog posts from all manner of people on all manner of subjects from many different countries (providing they’re in English or Romanian, the only two languages I read fairly proficiently). The only books on display in our home are the complete works of Dickens into which I dip occasionally (‘A Christmas Carol’ every Christmas). The cupboards are stuffed with books however, mostly on history and teaching English. I am reading a book at the moment, in fits and starts: ‘Carmen Sylvia, Regina poetă’ by Sylvia Irina Zimmerman. Carmen Sylvia was the literary name of Queen Consort Elisabeta of Romania from 1869 until she died in 1916, better known as the first translator of the works of Romania’s most renowned poet, Eminescu, and a poet in her own right. (I said I was easily led off track!)

Libraries being closed, and saved

Where is all this leading? Well, libraries are being closed all over Britain and that in our village was threated. However, it opened again after a brief closure with a team of volunteers. We are having our writers’ club meeting there on Saturday morning to plan our appearance in the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’. During the past year we’ve done two ‘performances’ in another local library, Ilkley, which in some ways was even more satisfying than the bigger Playhouse stage for the fringe. I’d hope soon we might do one in our reopened local village library.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll be lurking in it from time to time.

For Iulia’s blog go to:

https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/engleza-de-joi-lurk/