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Monthly Archives: February 2013

On Not Reading But Writing

I’ve been spending more of my free time writing and performing than usual this month.
Admittedly, that’s not a very long time in measurable terms, but it has made me think in terms of a word-producer rather than merely a word-consumer. It’s as though I’ve broken through the fourth wall and am looking at the inner workings of the art form.

I’m not claiming that my few words thrown onto the page are necessarily any good, that I’m ever going to be the next ‘Big Thing’, or even that more than a few people will hear or read my words; but I have been encouraged to keep throwing those words down, challenging myself to express and experiment, to find my written voice.

The discipline of a fortnightly writers’ group has been instrumental in this experimentation, as have been a few sessions with a group of amazingly talented and inspirational performance poets. I have been involved with two performance events in the past week – one in a church, the other in a gallery – and produced pieces specifically for these events. Hearing one’s words performed by actors in a splendid setting is transformative; both for one’s words and for one’s view of oneself as a writer.
I AM a writer!

Most of the pieces have been poetry but I enjoyed the challenge of writing a prose piece, creating a character based on an artwork. The resultant piece – read by an experienced actor in front of the Victorian painting- owed much to my formative teens obsessed with the Bronte family and was probably not wholly original, but I relished the time to create and explore a moment in someone’s life, a person who only exists in my own head.

Detail of a reworking of this picture ( in London's V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for a piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

The Poor Teacher by Richard Redgrave (1849) Detail of a reworking of this picture (in London’s V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for my piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

And so, I continue to find brief moments to write, enjoying the challenge of wringing out the words to express something, I also continue in my reading quest: themed and reflective, (self-)directed and disciplined.
Now, excuse me, I have another Regency romantic hero to fall in love with…

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Posted by on 18/02/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Joy of a Quick Read

Tonight I read a book in one sitting. Admittedly, it was a Young Adult title, it was only 230 pages long, and I had nothing better to do tonight. But I loved it: the thrill of ‘gobbling up’ a book, the intensity of the experience, being screen free for a couple of hours, and the book itself.
I was prompted to read, My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, tonight because I’m meeting the author, Annabel Pitcher, at a library event in the morning. But I’d also heard great thing about it, and had received a free copy from those lovely folk at New Books Magazine months ago.
I don’t often read Young Adult novels, there being enough Adult novels for me to read when I’ve finished reading the preschool and junior favourites with my children earlier in the day. This title has reminded me just how good writing can be, regardless of the potential audience.

(The following is my brief review from goodreads.com)
An honest, funny, moving story of how his older sister’s death five years ago affects Jamie Matthews, his sister Jasmine (dead Rose’s twin), his mum and dad. He hasn’t cried about Rose’s death in those intervening five years, not because he doesn’t care, but because he was too young to remember Rose well, realise the impact on his parents, or understand what it feels like when someone you love is senselessly taken away from you.
Through Jamie’s eyes, over only a few months, his perspective alters: his mum leaves them, he moves from London to Ambleside, he faces bullying and shattered hopes, falls in love, and scores the perfect winning goal.
Pitcher ‘pitches’ (sorry!) her story just right: not too mawkish or gloom-laden, but honest and real, balancing the natural ups and downs of a child on the cusp of adolescence with those of one facing the reality of random, nonsensical death.
I read this in one sitting, with both laughter and tears. Highly recommended.

So, try something new. Try it in one sitting even. We don’t seem too daunted by spending two, three or more hours watching a film from start to finish (Les Mis anyone?), so why not spend an evening reading a book?
I know I will be doing it again soon.
Watch this space.

 
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Posted by on 06/02/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Viva la Revolution!

To ring in the new year, I though I’d go back more than 200 years for January’s theme: the French Revolution. Partly inspired by the film everyone’s talking about, Les Miserables, I thought I’d tackle a few novels set in an era I know little about. It shows how little I knew about both the story and history that I thought it was set in the Revolution, when it’s actually about a century later… To be honest, what I know about the French Revolution could fit onto a small, lacy handkerchief: Marie Antoinette, ‘la Guillotine’, Bastille, cake or bread, lots of flag waving. So, when I opened Hilary Mantel’s first novel, A Place of Greater Safety, I was all at sea, without any meaningful reference points. Her mighty tome explores the lives of three major players in the Revolution: Maximillien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulions, Georges Danton. (no, I’d not heard of them before now either)

I had to restrain myself from reading much else; I needed to focus my time and energies on getting through all 878 pages. Interestingly, I ended up reading both a paper copy from the library and a paid-for version on my Kindle. By the end, I’d probably read it twice as I skipped through both copies to find where I left off and thus realised how little I remembered from day by day or hour by hour. Mantel writes in an interesting, unusual style; at times conversational and gripping, other times confusing and overwhelming. There is a very long list of characters (helpfully listed at the front; difficult to flick to it on the Kindle) and Mantel doesn’t always refer to her characters by name when conversing.

It has certainly whetted my appetite for the magisterial Wolf Hall, at least I am familiar with the Tudor court and main events of the period; I am less likely to read this one alongside Wikipedia as I did with A Place of Greater Safety.

Once half way through, I couldn’t give up; all those hours spent reading would have been to naught. So I continued, persevered, often feeling as though I had an assignment deadline looming. So why did I continue? Simply, I don’t like giving up on a challenge; I felt as though I should continue to the bitter end. And I now have a soft spot for Robespierre, Camille and Desmoulins. And am looking forward to reading Wolf Hall. My appetite is now whetted. I know I won’t be reading this one alongside Wikipedia as I hope that A level history has stood me in good stead and I’ll at least be familiar with the main characters and events.

As A Place of Greater Safety was just so long (over 870 pages), it’s meant I haven’t read much else. Can I ask that this novel counts as about 4 novels towards this year’s novel count?

On the subject of other novels, I shall continue to read Les Mis (on the go on my Kindle) but at 1000 pages, it’s likely to be on the go for a while. I might also find the chance to see the film everyone’s raving about.

I struggled to find other novels about the Revolution; anyone know any more?

I’ve ordered a copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy from our library. It is full of ‘derring do’ by those rascally ‘Eeeenglish’ aristocrats smuggling French aristos from the embrace of ‘Madame Guillotine’. I am now quickly rattling through this, enjoying another perspective on the Revolution.

And I still haven’t got round to reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; another month perhaps…

As a segueway between the Revolution to February’s Regency Romance theme, I have started Cynthia Harrold-Eagle’s The Tangled Thread(the 10th installment in The Moorland Dynasty, not that I’ve read any of the earlier stories); It’s almost as though I’ve planned this…

Here’s hoping that February’s Regency Romance theme will allow me to rattle through novels at a much faster rate. Georgette Heyer, Mary Balough, and timely enough, Jane Austen; heaving busoms, strict conventions and even tighter trousers, arch observations, here I come…

 

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