Monthly Archives July 2018

‘Home’, a short story

Demerara was Joey’s favourite. She wasn’t the colour of sugar but her nature was just as sweet, the sweetest pigeon in the loft. The least sweet was Darth who was almost completely black except for a flash of green on his left shoulder. He was the fattest pigeon, he ate the most and flew the least. Actually Darth was a pigeon version of Joey, a fact that neither recognised. Joey would spend every moment in the pigeon loft at his allotment if he could but he worked in the other direction, near enough home to walk or cycle. Two miles northbound, a straight road but a bit uphill. Two miles southbound at night, downhill, straight as an arrow, no map required. Every morning Joey pulled on his old fleece and got into his rusty blue Escort, carrying a pack-up made by Gill. It was because of Gill’s baking that Demerara was called Demerara. And Bakewell, Muffin, Drizzle, Battie [for Battenberg] and Simnel. Even Darth had originally been named Parkin but the name never stuck. It was the beginning of Spring and change was afoot. The pigeons were restless, strange birds were appearing at the bird table from the south, finding
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Book review: Fred’s Funeral

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Vanishing Acts

This is the first book by Jodi Picoult which I have read, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I would describe Vanishing Acts as long, intriguing, multi-layered. Is it the greatest? No, but it makes me want to read more of her books. Her multiple-perspectives mean you get a 360° view of a situation and see how different people view the same thing, something we are not always privy to in real life. Delia Hopkins lives in New Hampshire with her widowed father Andrew and her daughter Sophie. She works with her own search-and-rescue bloodhound to find missing people. She is about to marry Eric, a friend since childhood. Everything seems happy, except for strange dreams which she cannot explain. ‘I am little, and he has just finished planting a lemon tree in our backyard. I am dancing around it. I want to make lemonade, but there isn’t any fruit because the tree is just a baby. How long will it take to grow one? I ask. A while, he tells me. I sit myself down in front of it to watch. He comes over and takes my hand. Come on, grilla, he says. If we’re going to sit
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Beneath an Indian Sky

Women’s ambition, women’s capability to lie and manipulate, and women’s ability to love, cherish and recover. Beneath an Indian Sky by Renita D’Silva is the cautionary tale of Sita and Mary and how their lives, from childhood to old age, are entwined in India. It is a symmetrical story, but the permutations of its angles and consequences are not clear until the end. Be patient, relax into the story, because the ending is worth it. 1925, India. Sita’s parents despair of her acting like a girl so, to encourage more restrained behavior, they arrange for her to become friends with Mary. Mary’s parents encourage individuality, freedom and learning, but Mary secretly envies the rules and ordered life of Sita’s home. And so the two girls become friends. Until in 1926 something happens which splits them apart. This is a tale of opposites; two little girls who, despite being different, become friends. What happens when they grow up turns into a darker more difficult story about friendship, honesty, betrayal, loss, anguish and regret. Renita D’Silva takes you to another world, India pre- and post-partition, with all its scents, colours, flavours, wealth and poverty. She is a magical writer of the setting
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Fiona Morgan

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller novelist Fiona Morgan. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Client by John Grisham. “The book I have picked for Porridge and Cream is The Client by John Grisham.  I first read this book in 1995 whilst studying my higher English.  I had tried other books, but none were catching me, so much so I can’t even remember what ones I tried.  My aunt recommended John Grisham, so I bought The Client and loved it, from then on I was hooked. “When I feel I haven’t had a book grab me in a while, or if I’m in a reading slump, I turn to this book, which is normally about once a year or more if I need it.  One thing that draws me back to the book is the emotions in the book and how they have changed as I grew.  What I take from the book and how I relate to the characters has changed over the years, it is a brand new book every time I read it. When I first read it I identified with Mark, the main character, but as now that I have my own family I identify with
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

How Gail Honeyman writes

Gail Honeyman “I thought it was important that Eleanor was never self-pitying, because I think as a reader that is when you lose sympathy for a character. Even if [a character] has been through horrendous experiences, if they are seen as self-pitying, it’s a very distancing thing. She’s broken but she’s not destroyed. She’s a survivor of it all.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 10, 2017] I read this quote by Gail Honeyman in The Bookseller, not knowing either her or her debut novel. But the quote chimed with me. I was making slow progress with the book I was reading at the time and couldn’t pin down why. It was well-written, not overdone or wordy, not rushed, but I wasn’t connecting with the main character. Gail’s comment made me realize I wanted to shout: ‘If things are so bad, do something.’ This is a fine line to tread as an author. You want your characters to be tested, challenged, to face difficulties, and you want to explore their emotions, but the last thing you want to do is turn off the reader. Gail Honeyman again: “I guess what you want is not to notice the plot
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Winter

Winter by Ali Smith is second in her Seasonal Quartet but unconnected to its predecessor Autumn in terms of character and location. Like all Smith’s novels, it pays to read with patience. The story is at times choppy and sections seem unrelated; but have faith, it will make sense, connections will link up, characters will coincide and small details laid down early will connect to something much later. And simmering beneath the words is Smith’s anger at our unjust messed-up modern world where we don’t notice what’s going on around us and don’t seem to care. So much fiction today looks back at our history, Smith’s Seasonal Quartet is so modern if feels as if she is writing a page ahead of the one I am reading. First we meet two sisters, Sophia and Iris who are as unalike as sisters can be. Art, Sophia’s son, has had his Twitter identity stolen by his angry girlfriend. Charlotte is posting incorrect tweets about Art’s ‘Art in Nature’ blog and these untruths are now trending. Art, who has committed to taking Charlotte to his mother’s house in Cornwall for Christmas, instead invites a girl he sees sitting at a bus stop. Lux,
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Movies’, a short story

‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.’ Jarek locked the doors, engaged first gear and nudged the nose of his black cab into the stream of traffic. His passenger didn’t acknowledge the stab at conversation. A pick-up on Regents Street at 6pm, the week before Christmas, it was going to be one long crawl, a back-double, then baby steps over the bridge to Waterloo. He sneaked a look at the passenger. A man. Dark business suit, smiling to himself, teeth as white as his shirt. Jarek studied him; no not a smile, more of a grimace. He tried his usual banter. Football. Stock market. State of the roads. Cyclists. Skyscrapers ruining London’s skyline. Whether Boris should be PM. No answer from the back seat. ‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,’ Jarek muttered to himself. He didn’t like driving in silence. He paused, then waved at the silver and gold flashing lights, the red and gold streamers, people carrying bursting carrier bags. ‘If you build it he will come.’ No answer. Was he asleep? ‘I mean the shops.’ He hated that his voice sounded apologetic, hated the need to explain himself. ‘You build the
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Categories: My Short Stories.

First Edition: The Hundred and One Dalmations

My first memory of the iconic children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith, is actually the Disney animated film. This was quickly followed by a Puffin edition, which I sadly no longer have. That films are still being made of the story, and there is demand for old copies of the novel at rare booksellers, is, I think, testamount to the longevity of the book. Long may it continue, even if it includes no fight scenes, no dragons, no magic, no vampires or spaceships. First editions At bookseller Peter Harrington, there are three first editions available [at time of going to press].   A special edition by Heinemann 1956, £1,500, bound in white morocco with black onlay patches to resemble the coat of a Dalmation dog [above left]. The second example for sale is also a 1956 Heinemann first edition, £975, including black and white illustrations by Janet and Ann Grahame-Johnstone [above top right]. The third book, a pink leather first edition by Heinemann, 1956, £2,000, features an onlaid Dalmation on the front cover plus paw prints above lower right]. The story Pongo and Missis are a pair of spotty Dalmation dogs which live with Mr and Mrs
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 30 How Thirsty Are You #writingprompt #writetip

Do you know how it feels to be thirsty? Really thirsty? Your mouth is dry so your lips are gummed together, the insides of your cheeks cling to your teeth. Your sharp-edged teeth cut into your tongue. You cannot count from one to five. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this #writetip to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel. First create a world for your character. Where is he/she? Stranded on a mountain peak surrounded by rock? Adrift in a boat on the sea? On an unknown planet without a water source? In a drought when the taps run dry? Or is water available, but with-held or poisoned? Imagine severe thirst. If it helps, go without a drink for a few hours and note how you feel. Not just the physical changes, but how does it make you feel mentally? Are your thoughts as clear as usual? What is happening to your vision and your pulse rate? Now take a stressful situation, and put your thirsty character into it. What happens next? If there is a questionable water source available, what would your character do? Would he
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Family history: understanding your ancestors’ baby name choices

Naming a baby can give you clues to all sorts things about your ancestors. Time of birth [Christmas or Easter perhaps], religion, hobbies, the place of birth, for maternal or paternal grandparents, and for the royal family. Modern day babies may be named for the star of a hit television show, or the father’s favourite footballer. This style of naming choice is not new. Finn, meaning fair, or white, originates from Fionn mac Cumhaill [below], the mythical hunter-warrior of Irish mythology. Names can be traced in families through the generations, not only first names but sometimes a mother’s maiden name too. Many second names amongst 19th century gentry were the mother’s maiden name, it was a way of keeping a surname alive if the male line died out. At least ten American presidents have their mother’s maiden name as a middle name. Sometimes this led to the use double-barrelled surnames; in the 18th and 19th centuries, the mothers of illegitimate children would give them their father’s full name and their own surname. So if one of your relatives from that time has a surname for a middle name, it is likely he was illegitimate. Names go in and out of
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Categories: Family history research.