Monthly Archives November 2017

Book review: A Life Between Us

Survivor’s guilt, revenge, memory tricks, childhood friendship and rivalry are at the centre of this family drama. In A Life Between Us by Louise Walters, forty-something Tina visits the grave of twin sister Meg each week and holds conversations with her. Tina has buried a secret so deep even her husband doesn’t know it. Only one other person was there when Meg died, the twins’ Aunt Lucia. But this is a complicated family with so many stories of betrayal, flight, lies, secrets and denials that until the end I was waiting for someone else to appear as a witness. The first half was a slow-burn and I longed to get to the first turning point of the story, which when it came was not a surprise. This slow-burn means this is not a psychological thriller but a study of the long-term effects on children violently bereaved, survivor guilt, misplaced memory and grief. We are told the story via multiple viewpoints: Tina, then and now; Tina’s childhood letters; Tina’s husband Keaton who loves his wife but struggles to cope with her depression and guilt; and Aunt Lucia, then and now. For me, this was too many viewpoints and too many characters,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Autumn

Uplifting, enlightening, funny, clever, depressing, sad and heartwarming. The mischievous Autumn by Ali Smith is an ingenious novel, the first of the ‘Seasonal Quartet’ telling the story of the UK fragmented after the post-Brexit vote in 2016, when ugliness and prejudice rose to the surface setting brother against sister, friend against friend, dividing streets, neighbourhoods and towns, a binary split with each side convinced it is right and the other, wrong. Daniel Gluck is 101 years old and in a nursing home, we see from his wonderful lyrical dreams that he teeters on the edge of death. Smith builds her world around Mr Gluck and Elisabeth Demand who, with her mother Wendy, lived next door to Daniel when Elisabeth was a child. Their relationship starts in 1993. Elisabeth, aged eight, must interview a neighbour for a homework project. Her mother is not keen and tries to bribe her to invent a neighbour instead. The following day Elisabeth meets Mr Gluck and, despite her mother’s misgivings (single man, dodgy, must be gay, might be unsafe etc) they become firm friends. Now he is 101 and she tells a lie to the nursing home – yes, she is his grand-daughter – in
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 25 Orange Railings #writingprompt #amwriting

There are three basic reasons for storytelling; the things which we write about and others want to read. Entertainment, understanding the world we live in, and escape. Sometimes if I am stuck in my own writing, I like to push myself to write about subjects new to me and explore unknown areas. This may mean taking a genre with which I am unfamiliar, which for me is horror, sci-fi, fantasy and military. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC prompt to help you explore your own unknown areas. If you like writing short stories, write something longer; if write long, try a flash fiction story. Consider this picture of an ordinary scene. An empty train carriage. Write a list of the everyday, obvious things about it. As many single words as you can. Now, alongside each word, write another list of opposites. Then add a third column, with the most exaggerated version of the second list of words you can imagine. Be experimental, take a risk. Now use the train carriage as the setting for a short story. Write in an unknown genre and allow your mind to explore possibilities in your sub-conscious. Don’t be afraid to be
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: After Leaving Mr Mackenzie

A slim novel, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is the second novel by Jean Rhys, published in 1931. Semi-autobiographical, it tells the story of a young woman [if a woman in her mid-thirties can be called young] who faces up to the realities of life after a love affair ends. The title is not strictly true because Julia did not leave Mr Mackenzie, he left her. She moves to a cheap hotel room where the furnishings are faded and the only decoration is a poor painting which she assumes must have been left in lieu of debt by a previous tenant. Where Rhys excels is her description of the small details, drawing a picture of Julia’s surroundings and her moods. ‘She found pleasure in memories, as an old woman might have done. Her mind was a confusion of memory and imagination. It was always places that she thought of, not people. She would like thinking of the dark shadows of houses in a street white with sunshine; or of trees with slender black branches and young green leaves, like the trees of a London square in spring; or of a dark-purple sea, the sea of a chromo or of some tropical
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Toni Jenkins

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Toni Jenkins. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. “My sister-in-law heard about a book in early 2008 she thought I might like and gave me a copy of Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. It has become a precious companion and the book that I turn to most. It always spurs me on to make courageous decisions in my life. It’s about an American woman in her thirties who decides her perfectly normal life is unfulfilling and leaves her husband and home to find herself abroad, travelling to Italy to find love in food, to India for enlightenment, and to Bali for love and peace. I re-read it, or at least parts of it, at least once a year. It’s one of those books where you feel as if you’re reading your own thoughts. There’s a real comfort in reading again how Elizabeth overcame her challenges. I also love the way she uses language so I get a double-whammy of the feel-good factor every time I delve back in. I particularly enjoy the first third of the book as it’s based in Italy, my favourite country. It’s also
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: The Blue Flower

If ever there is a book to persevere with, to have patience with, and to go back and re-read again, it is The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. When I bought it, I didn’t realize it was the last novel by the Booker prize winner; published five years before her death in 2000 aged 83. For someone about to read it, it can seem a trifle intimidating. Set in 18th century Germany, Fitzgerald tells her imagining of the teenage story of real German poet and philosopher Fritz von Hardenberg, later called Novalis. He is a young man so self-contained, so absorbed in his thoughts, that I wondered where the drama would arise. But it does, because he falls in love. The Blue Flower is a short novel, 223 pages. The chapters are concise [mostly only two or three pages each] and this encouraged me to ‘just read another’ and so, gradually, almost without realizing, I fell into the story. Fitzgerald recreates this particular time in German history with a delicacy that, despite the language and sometimes confusing names, makes the people become real. It is 1794 and Fritz, an idealistic and passionate student of philosophy and writer of poems, stays
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Lie of the Land

A simple yet deceptively nuanced story of modern times, The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig is full of the contrasts and comparisons thrown up by ordinary life. The Bredins, Quentin and Lottie, have agreed to divorce after his infidelity but cannot afford to. Unable to sell their London house, they rent it out instead and move to Devon to a dank dark creepy farmhouse where they must manage to live together. What happens over the next year is unexpected and changes all their lives forever. This is a funny, mysterious and sometimes sad story of a city family in the country where, instead of leaving their problems behind, they find they are magnified. There is truth in the old adage, you cannot run from your problems. What happened to the previous tenant of Home Farm? Who is the mysterious tramp in the local pub? And is Lottie really having an affair with a local architect. Meanwhile, Quentin’s father is dying and his mother is stoically coping. Lottie’s son Xan works in the nearby pie factory where, as well as finding himself a Polish girlfriend, he makes friends with Dawn, the daughter of the Bredin’s cleaner. Dawn, who seems
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Walworth Beauty

From the first page, I knew this was going to be one of those reads rich in historical scents and sensations, a story to lose yourself in. The Walworth Beauty by Michèle Roberts is set in the London district of Walworth, just south of the River Thames and part of the Borough of Southwark. It tells the story of Joseph Benson in 1851 and Madeleine in 2011, 160 years apart but experiencing so many similar things. Madeleine loses her job as a lecturer of English literature, as a result she moves to a garden flat in Apricot Place, Walworth. She is delicately attuned to the history of London, walking its streets and seeing Virginia Woolf walking ahead of her, Hilda Doolittle passing her by, and, in a basement kitchen in Lamb’s Conduit Street, a mistress instructing her new housemaid. Just how closely Madeleine is connected to the past becomes clearer in the second half of the story as she explores Walworth, researching its local history and meeting her new neighbours. Joseph and his family live in a rented house in Lamb’s Conduit Street. He works for sociologist Henry Mayhew, researching the working conditions and social backgrounds of prostitutes in Walworth.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Odds Against

Odds Against by Bruce Harris is not an ordinary collection of short stories. All have been shortlisted for prizes. All feature characters fighting ‘against the odds’. The theme is personal: all money raised by sales of the book is to be donated to the UK’s Huntington Disease Association. For Harris, whose partner suffers from the disease, the battle against the odds is personal. The stories are divided into three sections so, rather than review each story, I have chosen one from each. The first third of stories feature women. In ‘Devil’s Evening’, Iana from Moldova is trapped beneath a bed. Asleep on the mattress is her captor, a bulky, boozy man who uses and abuses her. Desperate to flee, she remembers her mother and grandmother and hears their words of advice. ‘Then it was Mama again, telling her to use the opportunity, not squander it in meaningless gesture.’ A tale of modern-day slavery and what it means to escape. In the section titled ‘Men’, ‘One Man’s Paradise’ tells the story of the captain of a patrol boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa, destination of refugees. As they approach a boat of refugees, a boat with dead and alive aboard,
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: Films bring history to life

Film archives are a great boon for family history researchers, as they shine a lens onto life as it was lived in a dusty daily glory. There are many gems, from the Mitchell & Kenyon archive at the British Film Institute with hundreds of short films made in Edwardian England, to the Imperial War Museum’s film archive of war-related footage [below]. The best place to start is with the ‘Britain on Film’ project [above] at the BFI National Archive which is easy to search by region, date and subject. From here you can expand to regional film archives of which there are many including the Yorkshire Film Archive, the East Anglian Film Archive and the North West Film Archive. For images of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, try the Irish Film Institute which includes documentaries, news reels and Irish culture; the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive with 1900 clips about Scotland; films at Northern Ireland Screen include rural life, true stories, and footage lost and found; and National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales has many films about mining. To add colour to your understanding of your ancestor’s life, watch newsreels dating from 1910 to the 1970s at British Pathé
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Categories: Family history research.

Great Opening Paragraph 102… ‘The Cement Garden’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way. And but for the fact that it coincided with a landmark in my own physical growth, his death seemed insignificant compared with what followed. My sisters and I talked about him the week after he died, and Sue certainly cried when the ambulance men tucked him up in a bright-red blanket and carried him away. He was a frail, irascible, obsessive man with yellowish hands and face. I am only including the little story of his death to explain how my sisters and I came to have such a large quantity of cement at our disposal.” ‘The Cement Garden’ by Ian McEwan  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ by Philippa Gregory ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE CEMENT GARDEN by Ian McEwan #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2se
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.