Christmas is Coming

Crumbs. We’re already a third of the way through December. Funny to think that tomorrow it’ll be two weeks since I left New Zealand for home. In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago; in others I still feel in my head that I am there. A sort of bicultural existence. I think it’s called processing. Most days I find myself thinking about Lyn and Malcolm, about Nadia. Nadia and I exchanged a few WhatsApps about a book I gave her; Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. Nadia and I became friends when we attended the same mosaics class, but there is more than mosaics to our friendship. Nadia writes. One of these days I am going to be crowing about her novel, which will be published after she has edited it for the millionth time. OK I exaggerate, but the draft I read years ago was pretty polished in my opinion, and I am getting impatient too see it in Waterstome’s. We share an interest in literature. Good books inform our lives, improve our lives. There was a moment on the train into Wellington when I was telling her about the book group I belong to. Nadia has resisted book groups. Like me, she has felt they are not necessarily A Good Thing. I explained how our book group works, and told her it is particularly good when M, a respected novelist, attends.She is extremely knowledgeable, never patronising, and keeps us on task. Nadia’s eyes widened. It turned out that M is one of her favourite writers. If only she still lived in London she could join us. On the other hand, I shouldn’t have seen Wellington with her and through, to some extent, her eyes.

I am still percolating my New Zealand holiday. Odd things come to mind to be examined and considered from a distance in time and place. Nadia introduced me to a police drama series that one of her friends writes for. It’s called Brokenshaw. It’s dry, well written, funny, but not comical. I loved it. It turns out it’s on here too, on the Drama Channel, a channel I have never watched. So I settled down to enjoy an episode, only to find it was one I had seen in Wellington. It doesn’t seem I can watch others on catch up. Darn. Lyn and Malcolm like a programme called The Chase. It turns out that it’s a British programme, broadcast here on daytime tv. Since coming home I have seen several trailers for it. Funny I had never heard of it before visiting NZ. Continue reading

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Of Margaret Atwood, the Arts, and Why Both are Vital

Margaret Atwood is often described as a difficult interviewee; an intimidating writer of great intellect who can be openly disdainful of a luckless interviewer. She doesn’t play the game, the game that most play when invited onto chat shows or whatever when they have something to promote. I can only think she likes Alan Yentob. He evidently likes her. The result was a fabulous interview broadcast on Monday night but only watched by me this evening.

I’m not sure how I came across Atwood. I know it was in the 80s, and it wasn’t because of The Handmaid’s Tale, though I read that later. I think it was probably that she was published by Virago. Feminism and feminist literature were (and still are) very important to me for a mixture of reasons, one of which being a relationship that fortunately ended with a man with whom I am now mystified why I spent more than five minutes. Make that seconds. Or nano-seconds. So authors published by Virago, or the Woman’s Press – motto: Steaming ahead! complete with a sketch of a steam iron – had a particular attraction. Continue reading

Friday 13th

I have been out and about a good deal this year, mainly work, but some treats including last night’s trip to the pantomime at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and, at the other end of theatrical experience, to see Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams in Mary Stuart at the Almeida Islington. But more about them perhaps in another post.

Now I have a free day, am at home and the evidence of my comings and goings is all around me in unfolded clothes and unread newspapers. Of course I could put those unread papers straight into the recycling, but I have missed quite a lot of the news this week. Octavia filled my astonished ears last night with the Donald Trump/Meryl Streep story as we travelled home from the panto. So actually reading some of the papers this morning seemed a good reason to gather my strength and make a plan.

So I am a bit more up to date with what goodies are on the way in the arts, though I realise I have already missed some. I am hoping SSGB which I saw being filmed in Greenwich at the end of 2015 will be on when I am in Northern Ireland next month and I get to watch it with Cousin. I have flicked through the cookery supplements and consigned them to the scrap heap. The recipes look delicious, but the long list of ingredients for each one makes me tired before I start. In last Saturday’s Guardian magazine I found several gems. Clive James very much on form, quite like the old days; a restaurant review containing the words ‘the food is to subtlety what Trump is to interior decoration, but the effect is blinding’.

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An Urge to Post

I had no intention of blogging tonight. I should be on my way to bed, it’s an early start tomorrow. But I read Outward Hounds latest and it reminded me of why I have stuck this blogging mularky for so long. There are bloggers out there whose writing is sublime. Their pages may not garner as many hits, likes or comments as others, but bloody hell, it’s amazing to be able freely to read their output.

I love the way that the internet has put me in touch with people from the other side of the world, people who I shall probably never meet, never have a conversation with other than via the keyboard, yet with whom there is a connection. Thank-you Tim Berners-Lee. Continue reading

A Good Literary Haul for September

I am halfway through the book group novel for next week. Or it may be the week after. Anyway. It's The Queen of The Tambourine by Jane Gardam. I love Jane Gardam's writing and I have read loads by her, including, I thought, this novel which I thought I had on my bookshelves. I didn't, so I bought a second hand copy which fortunately arrived minutes before I left the. Smoke for das Boot yesterday.

I started it today, and from page one realised I had not read it before. I began by being amused by the Hyacinth Bouquetish character of Eliza. Then that palled, but before I could think I might give up the novel stepped up a gear. Unobtrusively. Jane Gardam is the most understated of writers. Don't expect big scenes; crash bang wallop chapters; shock horror revelations. It's the detail that matters in her books; the tiny shifts in behaviour, attitudes and thinking. Nothing and everything happens. She is not for the skim reader.

I'm loving it. And it was a tough gif after The Tidal Zone which introduced me to Sarah Moss. I think she has written about five novels so far. So I have been a bit slow on the uptake. I blame the library service. If you know me and my hobby horses, this will not come as a surprise.

Time was I'd go to our local library, small but with an admirable stock of books. I'd prowl the shelves and come home with a haul of novels by people of whom I had never heard. My horizons were widened. Then someone in some library service somewhere decreed that libraries should stock best selling novels by best selling authors and any book not borrowed n a six month period should be cast into outer darkness. So suddenly we found ourselves with libraries that stocked the same books as our supermarkets. Writers who I had discovered before the six month rule disappeared from the shelves. I am grateful that my reading was widened by earlier more enlightened library administrators, but it's a bugger these days. Continue reading

Wonderful Words

Some great reading this week. At the weekend I finished Penelope Lively’s Ammonites and Leaping Fish, A Life in Time. It’s a memoir, but being Penelope Lively she bypasses all the clichés. It’s a social history as well as her history; beautifully written which is a given with her as an author, and absorbing. It’s perceptive, observant, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. There is a little impatience with the ageing process but never self-pity. The only time Penelope Lively has disappointed me was Spiderweb, which I think was written not long after her husband Jack’s death, so might be forgiven as a potboiler.

I won’t go into all the structure of Ammonites and Leaping Fish. There are lots of reviews you could read. I rather like this one. But this is how the book begins:

This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age. And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise – ambushed, or so it can seem. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now, and know what goes on here.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but there is so much in it that I want to return to it will soon be on my shelves. Continue reading

In Praise of Literacy

Jeanette Winterson. Amazing. Have you read her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? If not, I am almost jealous of you, because you still have it to savour for the first time. An extraordinary book about an extraordinary life.

 

I’m glad she chose happy.

She certainly looked happy on Thursday night.

Celia and I trekked from the wilds of Se17 where we have only recently stopped painting ourselves blue, to the self-consciously sophisticated quarter of Notting Hill to hear JW talk about her new book, The Gap of Time, a reimagined version of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

It was more than a talk, more than a reading, it was a performance. At first the sound system was overwhelmingly loud, but fortunately they got it sorted.

Naturally I want to read the book now, having passed up the possibility to buy it along with my ticket. The trouble is, my bookshelves are groaning. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I cull them, how much I try to restrict my book habit to library copies, there are always disorderly piles of them on every surface. Continue reading

Loving My Book

There was something about her face in the programme that made me want to listen to her talk. Her name seemed vaguely familiar, but I may well have been thinking of someone else. Anyway, I knew nothing of her books.

Cousin’s Friend had chosen the two events at the John Hewitt International Summer School for which I had had the task of buying tickets in advance. She has more elevated tastes than I have, so on the Monday we went to the Seamus Heaney/ Dennis O’Driscoll Memorial Lecture, delivered at some speed by a third poet, Bernard O’Donaghue. My guess was he had prepared an hour, and only realised at the last minute that he needed to allow fifteen minutes for questions.

I may be being generous. Cousin’s Friend, who doesn’t hear so well these days, went to sleep.

We had hoped to arrive in time to get tix for Ian Sansom, but we left home too late, and then couldn’t find a parking space. Everyone we spoke to later told us how wonderful he had been. I bared my teeth in an attempt at a smile.

However we did have time to investigate the bookstall, and I picked up and read the first page of every book they had by Christine Dwyer Hickey. They confirmed my desire to hear her on the Wednesday.

We made it by the skin of our teeth. I bought the tix and hovered anxiously in the foyer while Cousin’s Friend found a parking space. We rushed in and found two seats together about two minutes before the event began.

Now some people are good at reading aloud and some are not. Christine Dwyer Hickey falls into the first group. We were enthralled (though Cousin’s Friend again nodded off). Afterwards we rushed to the bookstall and bought books. I bought her latest, The Lives of Women, which I really really want to read.

When I reached the front of the queue, nobly giving way to those holding tickets for the next event which was about to start, CDH, pen poised, asked me my name. I told her, but explained I had bought the gift for Cousin, and gave her name and spelling.

Cousin’s Friend bought Last Train from Liguria. CDH signed her copy and said it was the favourite of her novels. She was also very pleased that the shop was selling the American version as she prefers the cover.

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A Load of Trollope

For the last couple of months I have been spending chunks of my time in Barchester. It was Radio 4 that started it. There was a serialised adaptation, a very good one of the last chronicle, and I loved it.

This year work has taken me to Salisbury several times, and as I have walked through the cathedral close, I have felt guiltily aware that while I have enjoyed BBC television adaptions of Trollope, I have never read the books.

Well that’s changed now. He wrote a lot, so I still have opportunities to read more but the for the moment, the Grantlys, the Dales and dear Johhny Eames can get on with their lives without me peering over their shoulders.

Trollope’s frequent references to womanliness and manliness grated at times, but he also made me laugh, something Dickens seldom manages with this reader. His writing is less sentimental, more forgiving. I get the feeling he liked people more than Dickens did. Certainly I know which of the two men I’d prefer to spend a day with if I could time travel. Continue reading