Thursday, 31 July 2008

I'll go down in history ...

I was talking about my antipathy to the Booker longlist with my father, who has been away this week, and so missed the drama when it happened, and was giving my reasons for not liking Rushdie (Don't understand him mainly) and he asked if I feel guilty about this. I replied in the affirmative.

Yes, he mused, it's as if you were Victorian, and said you didn't like Dickens.


I'm doomed. I'll go down in history as the one person on earth who didn't know a good thing when she saw it. Thanks Dad!

Through the emotional wringer

It is not often that I make it through a book in twenty four hours. Agatha Christie, yes - that's easy. And Harry Potter 6 I read in nine hours, having bought it at midnight and refusing to go to bed until I found out who died. But, like I say, it's not normal practise, especially when it's a work day.

So to say that The Spare Room by Helen Garner held me captive and refused to let me go, even when my heart was being ripped out, would not be doing justice to this small and beautifully formed novel. Other blogs, of a more exalted quality than this one, have praised this novel, and I can do nothing but say with sincerity that I concur.

Hilary Mantel describes it as 'a book for grown-up people', and this is true; but there's a brutality to it that makes it as hard for a grown-up to read as for an adolescent. It's beautifully constructed - so simple in it's premise of caring for a friend with cancer - but beneath the almost trivial exterior lies a painful place of warring emotions where the need to pretend all is well clashes with the equally powerful need to tell the truth - and that, for me, is the most brutal part of the book. When Helen rips through the veil of breezy cheerfulness that Nicola exudes whilst crippled with pain, knocks the breath from the body, but it doesn't stop us from urging her to continue.

Susan Hill wrote on her blog that '
THIS WILL WIN THE BOOKER PRIZE' (Caps are Susan's own) ... as we all know by now, it didn't even make the longlist, and my disappointment was based purely on the thoughts of those bloggers who I respect most. Now I've read it myself, I am glad that I put it on my anti-booker list. This is a book with lots to say and it says it whilst trying to come to terms with the most demanding of patients, suffering from a most demanding disease.

Read it, that's all I have to say!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Booker choice, Oxford-Reader style

I'm very sorry if I came across totally vitriolic in my last post ... I'm not feeling particularly happy today, and I was counting on the Booker list to lift me out of myself and make me fired up. When that didn't happen, I sort of lost the will to be cheerful, and then I wondered what right I had to be so against the choices, seeing as how I havn't read any of the list, and how this blog really isn't the most worthy to cast judgement in the first place.

That said, I do want to make my own list ... which is more me saying 'These are the ones I want to read soon anyway'. So, here's my list - there's only 8, because I have to buy six of them, not being totally fantastic and managing to get publishers to send me stuff!

-
The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry
-
Girl in a Blue Dress, Gaynor Arnold
-
From A to X, John Berger
-
The Spare Room, Helen Garner
-
The Behaviour of Moths, Poppy Adams
-
Daphne, Justine Picardie
-
The Bellini Madonna, Elizabeth Lowry
-
Deaf Sentence, David Lodge

So, yes - I've chosen three from the actual longlist, whilst the others are ones that fellow bloggers have recommended very highly. I would have liked
The Bellini Madonna to have made it on to the actual longlist, mainly because the woman who wrote it was the deputy headmistress of my secondary school!

So there we go. Thoughts posted as and when I've located and read books!

P.S. Having reread this post, I realise the first part is a bit, well, doom and gloomy .... sorry about that everyone!

Booker 2008 longlist

Booker longlist is out:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith Child 44
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole


I have to admit, I'm not overly excited by this list. I've only heard of three of them, and haven't read any. The fact that Salman Rushdie is on it does not fill me with great happiness either.

I was so fired up to go out and buy the entire list and get reading at once, but now I feel as though someone's thrown a bucket of cold water over me.

In fact, I feel rather rebellious. I feel like making my own longlist - Oxford-Reader stylee. I can just about hear everyone choke on their coffee at this impudent suggestion .... Watch this space.

Thanks

Have completely forgot in last couple of posts to thank Peta for the wonderful header she made me. We had long discussions over font, and colour, and she even made me one with Jane Austen's handwriting ... I am now rather proud of my blog, and just wish I had some more insightful things to say, rather than just twittering on about random paraphernalia.

Booker 2008

It's foolish I know, but I have been swept up by Booker fever, and have rashly decided to read the entire Booker longlist before mid September.

The fact that I have not got most of the books that are likely to be on the list does not worry me in the slightest - although I can picture my bank manager having a small breakdown in a corner of his office at the thought of me let loose on Amazon.

There is, however, one small point I feel obliged to make. If Salman Rushdie comes anywhere near the long list, that's one I won't be buying. I cannot see what the fuss is about!

Still, anyone like to make a prediction? I can only say that I'm completely biased in Daphne's favour, but judging from what I've seen on others blogs, it probably won't make the list.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Blog of a cosmopolitan woman ...

I feel quite accomplished.

Gone is the month where I have started reading a book, only to put it down through boredom, or the thought that something else might be better. Now, finally, at the end of July, I am back in the swing of things, having read four books in the space of two days.

I have just finished Diary of a Provincial Lady - hence my title obviously, and have been compelled to think in very short sentences about rather trivial matters. Actually, whilst cooking supper, I found myself documenting it for the benefit of absolutely no one, and am rather worried in case problem persists. Also, I sense it is about to rain torrentially, as I hear thunder, but this does not worry me unduly, as I am supposed to be watering the garden, and this will save me the trouble.

I am compelled to quote two short passages, which amused me greatly:

Firstly: 'Letter comes by second post from my dear old schoolfriend Cissie Crabbe, asking me if she may come here for two nights so so on her way to Norwich. (Query: Why Norwich? Am surprised to realise anyone ever goes to, lives at, or comes from, Norwich, but quite see that this is unreasonable of me.')

Secondly: 'Question of books to be taken abroad undecided till late hour last night. Robert says, Why take any? and Vicky proffers Les Malheurs de Sophie, which she puts into the very bottom of my suitcase, whence it is extracted with some difficulty by Mademoiselle later. Finally decide on Little Dorrit and The Daisy Chain, with Jane Eyre in coat pocket. Should prefer to be the kind of person who is inseparable from volume of Keats, or even Jane Austen, but cannot compass this.'

To which I reply; firstly - even having spent a year in Norwich, I can also be surprised that anyone comes from Norwich (to go anywhere else) and secondly, actually, she does seem to be the kind of person who is inseparable from Jane Austen. Who would take Dickens on holiday with them? .... Actually cannot really cast judgement, as my own father shows tendency to take complete Remembrance of Things Past by Proust each time he goes to Greece, and always seems to read them.

Suffice it to say I like the Provincial Lady very much, and will no doubt end up seeking her other outpourings out when I should be saving money for a rainy day (which is upon us, so it seems ...)

I will leave you with pictures. Nothing particularly beautiful, or noteworthy. I thought you'd like to see the shoes I bought.





I'm off to read some more of Ferney - Dovegreyreader asked recently what books were captivating their readers even when they are away from them, and this is certainly one of them ....

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The best sort of weekend

This has been the sort of weekend I like best. Calm, wonderfully sunny and totally relaxed. I intended to read and possibly write, but other than that had no fixed plans.

Saturday turned out to more sociable, as I had lunch with my Godmother, and drank a glass or two more than I intended, and so ended up in a wonderful bookshop and bought three Jean Rhys novels, whom I'm not sure I even like .... I won't bore you with my drinking exploits, except to say that I did something I wouldn't have done when sober: namely push an annoying tourist out of the way. Usually I 'tsk' at them under my breath.

Today, was an altogether better day, reading wise. I walked into town

There's Magdalene tower which is on my way into town.

Anyway, I sat in Starbucks reading A Boy of Good Breeding until I thought Borders would be open, where I went to return The Glass Blowers which I'd bought a few days previous and then found a first edition in Oxfam (I am rather good at this!). I swapped it for The Road which is the book for September's book club. I also got tempted by a Miss Marple omnibus.

From there I wandered to Hobbs. I'd been in there the day before, but didn't trust my drunken judgement ... I used to work there, and so know their persuading techniques very well, and yet I still came out with two pairs of shoes and a skirt. Needless to state, I don't trust my sober judgement either!

I ambled over to the castle and sat outside Pizza Express, and finished off Boy of Good Breeding and also Hons and Rebels which I'd started on the New York trip and had put to one side. This was rather lovely, as there was a woman singing somewhere, and it was rather hot.

Sadly, sitting nursing a glass of water wasn't winning me any favours, so I moved on to Chequers pub, where I'd arranged to meet friends a little later, and sat with Miss Marple, until I got chatting to a few guys from Stoke, and then said friends arrived.

I got home at about 6.30, and have been reading in the hammock ever since

Not a bad way to spend a weekend methinks. How did yours go?

Friday, 25 July 2008

Coleridge beneath the earth

Today, 1834, Coleridge gave up the ghost.

Here is a poem entitled 'Youth and Age' to remind us of him.

Verse, a breeze 'mid blossoms straying,
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee -
Both were mine! Life went a-maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
When I was young!
When I was young? -Ah, woeful When!
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then!
This breathing house not built with hands,
This body that does me grievous wrong,
O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands
How lightly then it flashed along,
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,
On winding lakes and rivers wide,
That ask no aid of sail or oar,
That fear no spite of wind or tide!
Nought cared this body for wind or weather
When Youth and I lived in't together.

Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O the joys! that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
Ere I was old!
Ere I was old? Ah woeful Ere,
Which tells me, Youth's no longer here!
O Youth! for years so many and sweet
'Tis known that Thou and I were one,
I'll think it but a fond conceit -
It cannot be that Thou art gone!
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet tolled -
And thou wert aye a masker bold!
What strange disguise hast now put on,
To make believe that thou art gone?
I see these locks in silvery slips,
This drooping gait, this altered size:
But Springtide blossoms on thy lips,
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes:
Life is but Thought: so think I will
That Youth and I are housemates still.

Dew-drops are the gems of morning,
But the tears of mournful eve!
Where no hope is, life's a warning
That only serves to make us grieve
When we are old:
That only serves to make us grieve
With oft and tedious taking-leave,
Like some poor nigh-related guest
That may not rudely be dismist;
Yet hath out-stayed his welcome while,
And tells the jest without the smile.

Makeover

I decided that all that green was getting me down, and in actual fact it didn't make the blog look very serious .... What do people think? Is it now a bit spartan?

Also - the font ... I've been using large Times ... Oh dear, this is the problem with makeovers, they are so confusing!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Jewel in the literary festival crown

I adore Dartington, with it's beautiful grounds, halls with high ceilings and fantastic vistas. A literary festival is about the books one goes to hear about, but to have places to retire to and mull over what has been heard is also an essential part of the experience.

Here are some of the many pictures that I took in this magical place.






















Also, here is a picture that should surprise no one: The books that I bought:

It's lacking a few though - the wonderful Waterstones staff very kindly agreed to post four that I wanted signed but couldn't be at the events myself .... Claire Tomalin, Helen Rappaport and Katharine Whitehorn will all join the collection soon!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Alert of things to come

I am currently in the process of writing a post about the works of Justine Picardie.

Anyone who has read this blog for longer than a day will know that I have been knocked over sideways by Justine's work, Daphne in particular, and I feel the time has come to talk seriously about why this is, instead of just raving like a lunatic.

I set up this blog so that I would be able to have the kind of conversation about books that I so enjoyed at University and that I miss having, now that I've left that world, if not for good, then at least for the considerable future.

Depending on how much detail I go into, I will either put it all on one post, or split them up so that I talk about each book in turn ....

Master of all I survey

On friday of last week, I donned some robes designed by Cecil Beaton and walked across a stage to accept my destiny as a Master of Arts at the University of East Anglia.

Here I am!

I also graduated at the same time as Stephen Poliakoff was getting an honorary degree!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Dates for your diary

I'm just about to settle down to reading My Cousin Rachel, and thought I'd just have a look to see if dates for next years Oxford Literary festival are up, and well - they are!

So, if you feel like a week amongst dreaming spires rubbing shoulders with the great and good, make sure you've booked the week of 31st March - 5th April off work and head over to Oxford.

Never let it be said I don't do some things well in advance!

Poem of the week

One Dartington Wondermentalist poem for the world to share ....


Windmills… what are you like?

Do you mind how I wind the windmill will?
Gyratory, vibratory, mistral–seeking blades
Sentinel shifters of airy semaphore
Windmill nimbys, nimwill wind me, spin me
Whisking up clouds for a sunset soufflé
An un-winged plane, going nowhere fast, forever…
Turbine be forever mine
Swish, swoosh, swish, swooshhhhh!!!
Oh how revoltingly Dutch.
Wind mills – (on) tall hills – (are) modern ills – (with) fancy frills
Puffing, blowing, huffing, flowing
Ghostly forms, foolishly arrogant in your ridiculous white attire
Why do your wings wave like a waffle?
A pickled onion spinning with its stick
A Spiro-graph of air-borne flight, fights…
Wind grinding pepper-pot, slow sail stew
Scarecrow comedian making a point
A lighthouse on the land, warning of approaching corn
Making flour by wind power, takes about 59 minutes! Doh!
Big sails waiting for wind kiss, sky caress, open arms
Sail this steeple across swollen sodden swamps
Slender blades generating “power”, strong stems – 3 turning petals
She loves me, she loves me not, “she loves me”
Whooshing, whirling, wheeling
Web, windy, wild, westerly
Focused on flour or flux
Though the mills of god grind slowly, they grind exceedingly small
Revolving doors
A Mandela milling the wind
Ranks of slim white sentinels saving our skins
No ill winds please, keep it sweet
The sails on the mill go round and round…
Who can mill the wind?
And, once ground, what kind of cake would it bake?
Something light and airy? Self-raising? Or f-air-y?
Windmills – do they always wind with time?
Do wind farms really make all the wind?
There once was a windmill in old Amsterdam
Where mice loved to dine on bran flakes and spam
The slow wave of the giant’s arms
Not waving, but drowning.

Dartington day four: Tuesday 15th July

My final days at Ways With Words started out in a relaxed manner. I didn't have any events in the morning and so walked to the Cider Press centre in search of a cheapish bag in which to deposit all my newly bought books. I found one (with a Puffin on one side), and a present for my father, and ambled back to the hall, glorifying in the bright sunshine that really did bring out the best of the countryside.

Today seemed to be centred around women who were intensely creative, but had periods of their lives when they were often vulnerable and miserable, if not depressed, too.
First up was Agatha Christie, whose new biography was written by Laura Thompson, was an intriguing insight to a woman, who for all her wealth and fame remained essentially disappointed with her life after the collapse of her first marriage to dashing Archie. The infamous event of her disappearance was covered how in essentials it had been a desperate ploy to get her husband back (who was having an affair) only to find that her actions made sure she never would. Her second marriage to a man fifteen years younger than herself, was by all accounts a very dependent relationship - on Agatha's side at least.
The fact that Agatha wanted to be an opera singer surprised me, because the image of a heavy set old woman is always the one that sticks in my mind, whereas she was, when young, very beautiful who probably would have been a smash hit had she ever ventured on the stage.
So, she wrote her books - including a number under a different name - and created two very different, but equally ingenious literary detectives - people who probably knew who the culprit was right from the beginning, even if the author herself rarely did. Here was a woman who didn't meticulously plan her plots, who changed her mind more often than dead bodies appear, who has come under criticism for not developing her central characters well enough, but who is still one of the most widely read authors today and who Laura Thompson felt brought people to life not deeply but vividly.

Out into the sun (yes, really!) for a quick book buying and signing session (glad to find that Laura agreed with me about Peter Ustinov being much better than Albert Finney in his presentation of the Belgian Sleuth) and then back to my (It's mine, I decree it so!) bench to hear all about Dorothy Wordsworth.

Frances Wilson was a wonderfully collected and informative speaker and spoke about the less celebrated member of the Wordsworth family. She had me captivated from the beginning with her reading of the journal entry from the day of William's marriage to Mary Hutchins.
I have to confess that when I read the journals during my Masters, I very quickly cast them aside, getting exasperated with the constant headaches and pining for letters from her brother. This talk helped me to understand why these events occurred. Separated when Dorothy was six by the death of their mother and not reunited for over ten years, when they finally met again, the bond between them was so strong that it was as if they were one and the same person.
Dorothy's headaches where borne out of the devotion she had to her brother. He suffered ill health too, and Frances suggested that sometimes it seems like Dorothy took on his ailments as well, in order that he might create great works. Not that this stopped her from being of use to her brother in the creative process too. One only has to look at her description of daffodils to realise that it was from this that William had been inspired. The journals were designed to be read by her brother, to provide him with sources of inspiration. However, Frances also made the point that they were designed to show Williams how much she depended on him. In the first entry she declare they are 'to give him pleasure' - but surely descriptions of headaches, bouts of crying, waiting for the post everyday - these could only be meant to bring pain, to show to this brother that has so callously left her to go and propose to another woman, that no one would ever need or love him as much as she did. They are meant to be manipulative.

This dependence and manipulation raise some uncomfortable questions about the nature of their relationships. There is an undoubtedly erotic bond between them. Before Frances could delve further into this, however, a wailing was heard in the distance. Was it Dorothy making her presence known, showing us how miserable she could be? Err, no. The fire alarm was going off in the adjoining part of the building. What were we to do? It certainly confused the stewards for a moment, although the rest of the audience stayed firmly in their seats. We're British. We're not going to let a small thing like a possible fire get in the way of hearing about this slightly mad and dependent woman!
Thankfully the alarm stopped after a few minutes and Frances picked up where she had left off. Incest. Did Dorothy and William ever actually consummate their intense relationship? We shall never know, for it was never written down - although one gets the feeling that Dorothy would probably have written of the experience in dream like detail. What is certain is their especial closeness and Frances drew on the parallel of Heathcliffe and Cathy and Cathy's reasons for why she couldn't marry Heathcliffe. They were already one body in as much as their soul and minds are united. To unite their bodies too would have been too powerful. Dorothy spent the last thirty years of her life in the grip of madness, the prices which she paid for the extreme devotion to her brother.

After the event I was gripped by the thought that all three of the women I was hearing about were in some way on the brink of their sanity, and all for love. Agatha was clearly deluded when she disappeared for eleven days and then spent the rest of her life wondering if she could have done something else to retain her husband's affection. Dorothy, as outlines above, went completely mas as a result of her passion. And Daphne? I already knew the answer as I sat on my bench thinking about these troubled women. Daphne never went completely mad, but as far as Justine's book shows, she not only teetered on the edge, but fell over the precipice of madness, only managing to cling on and pull herself up by the sheer force of her willpower.

So there was the theme of the day - not strong women as I had originally thought when I was booking tickets, but vulnerable, and so susceptible to the hold men had over them that it caused them to act rashly and feel the frail hold they had on sanity slip through their fingers altogether.

So, leaving Dorothy in her pain induced opium haze, I dashed out into the bright sunshine to get my copy of the book (who is keeping count of the number I bought over the four days?) and back into the hall for Justine in conversation with Lynne and chaired by Rachel Kiddey.
Justine started by declaring that in the morning she had been wandering the footpaths of Menabilly in Fowey, something she'd been doing since childhood. Thinking she'd been down every single one, this morning she'd come across a new one that crossed the old drive, and which looked just like it had been described at the beginning of Rebecca, completely overgrown and totally impassable.
Justine began by reading the beginning of her novel, which continues to bewitch me and make me want to dive into Daphne's world all over again. She also talked a little about the motivation for the novel and what was going on in Daphne's life that made her want to write a biography of Branwell Bronte - possibly the most famous failure in all literature.
Justine told her captivated audience that Du Maurier was very interested in the way fact and fiction could be blurred and how this influenced her own decision to write fiction rather than biography. Thus the scene was set for a conversation about the darkness of Du Maurier's life combined with the darkness of her fiction.

Lynne confessed herself nervous when the book arrived on her doorstep, mainly because loving both Daphne and the Bronte's work for so long, that she felt a little protective over them. Reading it, however, she loved it and thought that the fact and fiction combination was a clever way of getting the personality of this person across. The spectre of Rebecca glides through the narrative and we find ourselves very much accessing Daphne's thought processes.

Justine spoke of the magic that was a part of Du Maurier's work. Linked as she was to the
Llewelyn Davies' and Peter Pan Daphne couldn't help but recognise the malevolent nature magic sometimes has, and this crept into her novels at times. Also the unusually close relationship she had with her father created a tense atmosphere, and there is an element of incest in her novels that seems to spring out of that.

Justine was also affected by the magic, and the sense that writers can be haunted by those writers of the past. Justine bought books on the Brontes which had Daphne's own notes in them, and when researching Menabilly had stayed in the Gamekeeper's cottage with her son and dog, both of whom felt the presence of the two old ladies that had lived there .... ghosts are all part of the everyday when one gets involved with Daphne it seems.

I havn't dwelled on the questions part of any event thus far - mainly because it was impossible for me to listen and take down the essence of what was said at the same time. There were a couple of questions this time around, however, that really stuck in my mind.
Someone, presumably after hearing about the du Maurier connotation of 'menace' asked whether Justine thought pink a particularly dangerous colour ... which sort of brought the whole panel to a standstill ... until it transpired that this woman thought the cover was pink. Hmm - it's not really, it's a very deep red, which anyone who was read Don't Look Now will know is a particularly poignant colour. Lynne then came out with an interesting aside, which was that she often looks for patches of colour so she can quilt something that has a particular link with the book she's read. She can't find the red of the cover of Daphne for love nor money. (This question about red also answered a question I had had upon seeing the American hardback cover, which has a picture of a woman walking through some gates with a red umbrella. I couldn't for the life of me see the relevance of this, but I certainly do now!)

The other question that stuck out made me exceptionally glad that I was out of reach of the microphone ... a woman struck up with the fact that she had a deep mistrust of fiction that uses biography as its base, thinking that there was a terrible danger of creating a person very different from the one that existed. She wondered why an author couldn't just come up with a character of their own. Justine answered that it was what Daphne has herself done in quite a few of her novels, and even some that aren't direct biographical lifts have an element or two of biographical fact in them.
As I said, it's fortunate that I wasn't anywhere near a mike, or I might have launched into a rant that would have done nothing to help, and would have probably ruined the event! Having done a Masters in Life Writing (biography and autobiography) I know that the purest way of writing about a person is to write a factual account. However, I think there are times that this doesn't work. Some people have lived too full a life to make a full cradle to grave biography work (Henry James is a prime example). This is where fiction comes about .... if you're writing a novel about an actual person, it frees you up to focus on a small portion of a person's life, and you can create a whole new myth around them, so that people will go to the biographies. Fiction doesn't ruin the idea of biography, it merely enhances it.

Anyway, enough of my ranting. I didn't say any of this, not even when I heard the woman outside having the same conversation with a group of other people in deckchairs. I'd have probably frightened her!

Meanwhile, I had my last supper and then there was just time to have a last wander around the grounds before going to bed.

Ways With Words was a wonderful event, I've fallen in love with Dartington and you can bet I'll be back next year!

Dartington day three: Monday 14th July (part two)

Appologies for the weekend lapse. Graduation went well, and I'll post some pics later on. For now, it's back to Dartington, and after the brief respite with carrot cake on Monday afternoon, I was thrown back into the great hall with Kay Dunbar talking to Rebecca Abrams and Poppy Adams .....

Kay kicked off proceedings by sending a frison of alarm running through the hall by announcing that one of the worst jobs of festival director was when people had to cancel. Fortunately for us it wasn't the event we were waiting for, although people who came to hear Sandi Toksvig's desert island books must have been a little surprised to find that she has morphed into John Sargeant. Such is literary festival life!

So, happily ensconsed in my window seat again, I espy Ian Mortimer and Simon Montefiore happily chatting in the third row. I like it when speakers come to other events.

This was an interesting talk where two first time novelists had merged their great scientific knowledge with fiction and produced works that were bound to get people thinking. The notion of being able to trust the narrator came into conversation fairly early on, with Poppy Adams describing how that security is taken from us as the novel progresses and how her English readers are more willing to forgive being mislead than her American readers - used as we are to eccentrics.
Rebecca Abrams' novel focusses on a flawed character too - a doctor so wrapped up in his career that his home life suffers. As the mothers who have just given birth start to die at an alarming rate, it is hiw world, rather than his narration that starts to become unreliable. Both authors have a responsibility to the fact, but the way in which they are presented doesn't always have to be the way that people would automatically see them.
Book buying time again, and by this point I was feeling disticntly guilty about this, so could only justify buying both by having one signed to my mother. It'll end up on my shelf after she's read it anyway!

By the evening my brain was completely wiped, and so a little relaxation was called for. Off I trotted to a poetry music caberet called 'Wondermentalist'. Who could fail to love something like that, when people come out with lines like 'I lost my heart by the river Dart', 'Where would we be without laughter...? Plymouth', and my ultimate favourite 'I've got nothing against Totnes. Anywhere twinned with Narnia is great.' There was also an audience poetry collaboration ... Kay has put it up on her blog and it will be my poem of the week, because it's wonderful!

Thus ended a very long, but exceptional day. Looking forward to tomorrows with Justine's events - now there's one book I won't have to buy!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Dartington day three: Monday 14th July (Part one)

There are days at literary festivals where the events are so brilliant that the general mood seems to lift higher and higher - even if the weather doesn't hold up its end of the bargain.

Today was one of those days. I knew it would be busy - and likely expensive too - but what I didn't know was that I'd come away from every event with the sense that if every other speaker had cancelled, these people could have gone on for hours and nobody would have minded in the slightest.

The morning kicked off with Medieval bloodshed, as we listened to Ian Mortimer talking about The Fears of Henry IV. I don't know about anyone else, but the period between Edward II and Richard III is one of my absolute favourites. The Elizabetheans and Victorians run close seconds and thirds, but no other period of British Monarch quite manages to match the Plantaganets for their blood thirsty natures combined with the romantic chivalric code that ended up with a LOT of illegitimate children. As Ian Mortimer said, it's more than 99% possible that most Englishmen are descended from Edward III in some way. That's got to be an awful lot of infidelity going on around the castle!

So, there I was sitting in my corner of the window nearest the stage on the left, with my rug for extra cushioning, completely enthralled by what this man had to tell me. The power struggle between two cousins both born on religious feast days, thinking they were therefore especially blessed by God. One who was second in line to the throne, and the other to whom the throne would be entailed should his cousin die childless. Not a situation exactly conducive to friendship really.

Ian was a wonderful speaker - who could fail to warm to a person that invites you to look up at the beams of the ancient hall in Dartington and then claim that to a historian, this was like speaking at the Royal Albert Hall? This is a man whose opening sentence to his book is 'Shakespeare has a lot to answer for' Fantastic!
Over the course of forty minutes, Ian wove the tale of the many trials that lead to Henry's ultimate usurpation of the thone. (It was usurpation because by the time it finally became necessary for a change of monarch, Richard had altered his grandfather's will and had entailed the throne on Edward Mortimer - no relation, said Ian, although Roger Mortimer had even more illegitimate children that Edward III, so you never know!)
Henry appears to us a warrior prince - someone who outshone his cousin in every way (although ultimately just as ruthless and murderous as Richard). His main claim to fame - which perhaps not many people know - is that he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and is the only member of the royal family to stand at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Richard I (that infamous crusader) never made it.
Henry finally made it onto the throne in 1400, but although he was put there by an overwhelming majority it didn't mean that he was safe. Henry survived ten rebellions and attempts on his life during his thirteen years reign, which is really rather impressive. We put you there, we can take it from you too, seems to be the message. None of the divine right of kings, for a nation who had decided who they wanted for their king (not that that stopped future generations of course!)

So - after a quick romp around the middle ages, there was just time to dash and buy the book before hurrying back into the hall, climbing up the benches and settling down for James Long's talk on the republication of his novel Ferney. For me, this was slightly less absorbing, but only because I'd never read the book. James Long (frequent speaker at Ways With Words, in fact having been here a total of 114 times) was in conversation with his son Ben, a historian, with who he collaborated on a book about Pepys, and who rewrote the first few pages of Ferney after his father tried, and then realised he might well go on to rewrite the whole thing. Which would defeat the object entirely.
Telling the tale of a man reincarnated and appearing in the same village many times through the ages, Ben thought that even though the novel was set in one place, it still had an epic quality to it, seeing as how it had travelled 800 years of history.
And this seemed to be the most important thing, because the epic nature reflected the fact that people don;t change - values and culture shift about us instead.
There was a comfortable feeling to this talk - almost as if the audience had wandered in on a home chat. James did provide a useful bit of information for any would be writer. If ever you want to do some research for a novel, take a Labrador puppy along for the ride. Everyone will talk to you then!

Book buying time (I'm becoming well known at the Waterstone stall by now) and then a much needed pause for lunch - which I wasn't going to have, but having actually used my mind during the course of the morning, I needed the soup!

After lunch it was back to the great hall to steep myself in all things Russian. Simon Sebag Montefiore is another man who one felt could talk all day and all night and you still wouldn't tire of hearing him. Although here to talk about his first novel Sashenka, Simon instead dwelled in the foothills of his past and spoke on his journalistic days and his peculiar ability to arrive in places and have a war break out, once phoning his mother from a president's office, just before the same president was overthrown. Returning fire against some Armenians and hiding in a ditch when shells were exploding round the bus he was using only to find he was sharing the ditch with some deserters who kept him hostage for a few hours were all part of the daily adventure.
All this created a backdrop for the books he wrote about Catherine the Great and Stalin - which created more stories about the intricacies of the Russian archive system, and how being in favour with the Kremlin after the publication of his first book suddenly made the archives 100% more accessible.
Simon's talk was fascinating in its complexity, but also because he may have solved my problems regarding a title for my novel .... If it becomes the title, will I have to credit Simon, I wonder?

I had a slight pause between events, which was very welcome and settled in a chair to read. I quickly discovered upon reaching Dartington that the books I had brought with me were superfluous - strangely it had slipped my mind that the books I'd buy would be enough to last me two months at least, never mind the four days I'd be here!
I had a piece of carrot cake from Van Rouge - a food stall run out of two french fire engines - and after that twas time to go back into the hall, this time to hear Poppy Adams and Rebecca Abrams in conversation with Kay Dunbar.

...... I was going to write up the entirety of the post tonight, but I have to be up with the dawn to go to Norwich. Tomorrow, I finally get the piece of paper that proves I can add the letters 'MA' after my name. Graduation time is upon us!

Dartington day two: Sunday 13th July



I write this sitting in a deckchair. Yes, I'm in one again - I don't think you'd ever find me out of one, except for the necessity of going to talks! Today has been my calm day - how suitable for a Sunday. With only three talks to take in, I could get to know Dartington better.

The day dawned extraordinarily sunny - given how cloudy it had been the evening before. Out I bounded and into breakfast and then sat (guess where) with The Telegraph on my lap, browsing through it and having to dig my sunglasses out of my bag for the first time in a long while, before heading off to find The Duke's room for Lynne's talk at 11.30.

Lynne spoke eloquently about her life before blogdom, and what made her start in in the first place. She also divulged her tricks of the trade, and showed us her very heavily annotated copy of Daphne. I was flabbergasted by that - as someone who regularly writes little notes in her books, or underlines certain passages - the front page was literally covered with tiny handwriting. Lynne is (as if I didn't know this from reading her posts) someone who puts a great deal of thought into what she writes about the books she reads.

Question time came about and Kay Dunbar (chair of Lynne's talk and Ways With Words director - see her blog for WWW details) suddenly decided to introduce me and ask about my own blog. Needless to say this wasn't planned, and annoyingly I was a bit thrown and didn't actually say anything meaningful and only afterwards thought of all the pertinent things I could have said. The main one being that my prime motive for creating this second blog is because after four years of higher education, I really miss the discussion of books that was such a frequent occurrence during my university years. I would be the first to admit that this hasn't really gone according to plan, but I'm working on it!
Lynne finished with showing us proof that she really does what her blog description says, and brought out a couple of quilts, and some really cool socks. Neglected to take pictures, but they really were beautiful. She'd also brought along some books, and charged us to take one and send a review if we wanted. Needless to say, I took one, and will be reading it in the following week.

So, where next? Why, a walk about the gardens listening to poetry of course! This was a great treat, because the gardens are so beautiful, and we walked round parts I'd not previously visited. The sun shone out, Lucy Lepchani and Miriam Darlington declaimed wonderfully and a good time was generally had by all.

From this point I had nothing scheduled, so ambled to the box office. Jonathan Dimbleby had sold out, but Jonathon Fenby was talking about 2 millenia of Chinese history, and I thought that might be interesting. This still left me with a couple of hours, and oh dear - the second hand shop whispered to me, and within I found a few more things to tempt the pocketbook. Thankfully they were only £1 each, and one was the Claire Tomalin biography of Katherine Mansfield which i had been eyeing up in Waterstones. I saved seven whole pounds!

The Jonathon Fenby event was interesting, but it didn't grip me, and I don't suppose I was in the mood for Chinese ruthlessness after the splendour of Dartington all day. Still, there's usually one disappointment when one goes to so many events, and I'm glad it happened early on.

I am now ensconced in the bar, outside unfortunately, as the inside is all booked up ... Fade to black and jump forward an hour ... Ok, I just got a bit sidetracked by people sitting at my table. Hey - this is what makes literary festivals great (apart from the events obviously). Striking up conversations with whomever is beside you at the time seems to be a form of extreme sport here. Sit down, and talk. Or stand and talk if you're in a queue. Whatever you do, don't sit in silence, because you never know who you might meet. Take my previous hour lapse for instance. The person that sat down was none other than Sam Leith, editor of the book section of The Daily Telegraph, and we've just spent an hour talking about books in general, blogs, writing techniques (pen or laptop) and the greatness of this festival. Thoroughly fascinating and it only came to an end with Sam and friend rushing off to see Paul Kingsnorth.
It's half nine in the evening and I'm going in search of the sunset and then back to my room - I've got an especially busy day tomorrow!

Oh ... here's a link to Sam's blog ...It's partly ego that causes me to put this up, but I'm so proud to have been linked to by a proper journalist!

Dartington day one: Saturday 12th July

Snatching a few minutes from work, here are my thoughts on my first day at Dartington - it was written that day, and I'm keeping it as such, so that even though the days have gone by now, you still get a feel for what I was doing and when!



As someone who has never been to a literary festival apart from Oxford, the idea of taking a few days off (or ten, if your hardcore and have nothing else in the way) and travelling to Devon (or anywhere else in the country) is a new one to me.

Yet here I am ... sitting on a Penguin deck chair (The Garden Party, not The Big Sleep) being ever so British and forcing myself outdoors in the threat of rain. I can hear the whistle of a steam train as it makes its journey past the river Dart, and having found my accommodation - by a swimming pool no less (why didn't I think of bringing a cossie?) I have ventured out to explore. And I love it.

Not knowing when I would arrive - trains being what they are - I didn't buy any tickets for today, but am now happily in the possession of two to hear about Lydia, Bloomsbury Ballerina and Idina Sackville - The Bolter, which I'd seen reviewed on Lynne's blog, and was fascinated by. I'm trying to resist the temptation of the Waterstones bookshop to my right and I'm going in search of food. Breakfast was a long time ago!

*****
Food was found and proved to be both delicious and expensive ... I added to my cash depletion by going into the second hand bookshop and finding a first edition of Enchanted Cornwall amongst other things.

Off I went to join the queue to the barn, and ran into someone I'd met at Port Eliot. I then spent two hours listening to the tales of women who were both strong and yet lacked the ability to stick with their lives when the going got tough. Frances Osborne's talk about her maternal grandmother, Idina Sackville was both fascinating and moving, and you could tell that she was in danger of being overly moved whilst in the middle of speaking. I bought her book, although Lydia was left where she was - a good move as it was about the size and weight of a couple of bricks.

It was then about six pm, and since I'd got a ticket for the evening event, I sought food. I ordered a salad (cheapest thing on the menu, although that was the only time I used that rule!) and pressed myself on two ladies who had a spare seat. Which turned out to be rather a good move. They were chatty and friendly and if I hadn't already bought my ticket I might have been tempted to give Robin Ince a miss. Off I trotted though, and was very glad I'd followed my instinct.
I had decided to sit in one of the windows, climbing up the bench steps without the grace of a mountain goat. This perhaps wasn't the best move, as I was in danger of repeatedly falling out of my seat as Robin gave us a variety of readings from strange books he had picked up in charity shops. Everything ranging from Mill and Boon to pet guides on rabbits (which included advice on the best way to kill it when the time came). This was all truly bizarre, but great fun too.

The end of the first day had come, and I walked back to my room. Dartington really is a great place to hold events like these - the history of the place combined with the wonderful stories that are told make it truly magical.

I lost my heart by the river Dart

I'm back from Dartington, full of stories and laden with books. It was such a fantastic time, and I'll be writing it all up very soon - although this weekend will be manic, as I go to Norwich to graduate tomorrow, and then have a busy weekend celebrating with friends.

Have no fear though - I will be writing all up, not least because I met Sam Leith, book editor for the Daily Telegraph, who said he would link to my blog from the paper's website. I've got to live up to that now, havn't I!

In the interim, go over to Lynne's blog to read all about the events so far - she's been racing around like the busiest bunny on earth, and has already written some fantastic posts.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Heathcliffe's dead.

Ok, so we all know that a certain Prime Minister has likened himself to a certain wild Bronte hero (if a murdering, manipulative brute can be called a hero of course), but it amuses me to see that it was on this day in 1989 that the definitive Heathcliffe - Laurence Olivier - died. Some things are just too strange to be coincidences.

I'm sure this is being asked around the blogs, but given the amount of mockery Mr Brown has created for himself, who else can we liken him to? I think he's more of a Mr Collins character myself .... what do you think?

Off to Way With Words

There's a place in Devon called Dartington Hall,
Where the things you hear are bound to enthrall.
I'm off on a train to be there with delight,
To sample the pleasures by day and by night.
Dovegreyreader is there - she's a bookworm, by gum
And once more Justine is giving 'Daphne' a run.
So drop what you're doing, come one and come all,
And get stuck in to the Way With Words Festival!


With deep apologies to anyone reading this .... It goes to prove I'm not meant to be a poet! If all goes well, I may be reporting from the festival, but if not, I shall write up after the event, and make sure to take a shed load of pictures!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

In Memoriam

On this day in 1822 the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died. Here's a little piece from him:


Bereavement


How stern are the woes of the desolate mourner
As he bends in still grief o'er the hallowed bier,
As enanguished he turns from the laugh of the scorner,
And drops to perfection's remembrance a tear;
When floods of despair down his pale cheeks are streaming,
When no blissful hope on his bosom is beaming,
Or, if lulled for a while, soon he starts from his dreaming,
And finds torn the soft ties to affection so dear.
Ah, when shall day dawn on the night of the grave,
Or summer succeed to the winter of death?
Rest awhle, hapless victim! and Heaven will save
The spirit that hath faded away with the breath.
Eternity points, in its amaranth bower
Where no clouds of fate o'er the sweet prospect lour,
Unspeakable pleasure, of goodness the dower,
When woe fades away like the mist of the heath.


Also: Vivien Leigh died today in 1967. The plaque in the Actor's church in Covent Garden states:

Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies
A lass unparalleled.

Poem of the week

In the wet-faced hours of the night

considering love, or the lack of it;
on-the-one-hand-this,
on-the-other-hand-that—

in these steep and solitary hours
come the raw questions.
And sorrow surfaces as tears,
and moonlight finds me, stretched
like some trussed Gulliver, among
the little, scampering, bossy needs of life;
the pinpricks of the new day’s coming cares.

And yet.
The day will dawn. A bird will sing.
A hundred different clichés spring to life.
Even in this January,
light, unstoppable, will show
the old camellia, up against the wall,
a shout of lipstick red.

by Ann Alexander

Monday, 7 July 2008

Why did I start on this?

Does anyone else embark on projects that they can't possibly hope to finish in time, but because they are for other people you break your back trying to get it done?

I am in this situation. I decided that for my friend's 50th I was going to produce a scapbook of different poems, sections of prose, photos etc that represent her tastes.

I had the idea last year and have been putting things together for a few months. Her birthday was actually last month, but happily I was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so wouldn't have been able to give it to her, even if I had finished it!

Still, it needs to be done by 19th July, which is when she arrives for the weekend, and in actuality it needs to be done by this Friday night, because I am NOT lugging it all the way to Dartington!

I'd best get back to tea staining and burning the edges of Keats' last letter ...

Sunday, 6 July 2008

That was the week that was

So, I'm sorry for no 'real' posts this week. It's been total tennis madness.

With the exhausting final this evening, I will hopefully have time to write of bookish things. Perhaps I will even managed to read some books this week.

I'm off to Dartington on Saturday, and I'm not sure if there is free wifi there, so will probably be incommunicado for a few days ... and then I come back home, and go to Norwich for my graduation, and then have a mad weekend with a lot of friends round to help me celebrate my masters with a BBQ!


Saturday, 5 July 2008

BAFAB draw!

Hello everyone and welcome to the BAFAB draw!

I had three very willing helpers for this momentous task:

From L to R they are Sminty - my adopted Polar Bear, Andrex and Bert, who bravely lost an ear when the family puppy needed something to chew on.

And on to the draw:

The winner of the Virago Modern Classic 30th Anniversary edition 'A Game of Hide and Seek' by Elizabeth Taylor is .... MADHU!


Second prize of 'Where Two Roads Meet' by Sally Vickers is ..... PETA!


Third Prize of 'The Princess Bride' by William Goldman is ..... OFFMYTROLLEY!So congratulations to those who won .... if you can email me (mistressdickens@gmail.com) and let me know your address, that would be great!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Poem of the week

Here's a small thing from Rumi:

If thou wilt be observant and vigilant, thou wilt see at every moment the response to thy action. Be observant if thou wouldst have a pure heart, for something is born to thee in consequence of every action.


BAFAB competition continues until midnight tonight. If you've already entered, send more people my way, doesn't matter if I've never met them, or they don't blog, or where in the world they live, the more the merrier!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Letter to Miss V Williams

Dear Ms Williams,

I know this is Wimbledon, and you're hoping to get to the finals with your sister, but would you mind giving Dementiva at least some chance to stay alive until the end of the match?

Many thanks.

A worried Wimbledon watcher.


P.S. to blog readers: Sorry for no actual posts this week. Wimbledon (more specifically Andy Murray) has taken any opportunity to read, or write about what I've been reading, which is most frustrating.

Also, it's the last 24 hours to put your name into the BAFAB draw, and you've got more of a chance of winning, because I'm doing two runners up as well!