Where have I been?

I cannot believe that I haven’t written here since April, that’s completely crazy, what have I been doing?!

Well, reading for one thing!  I’m very excited that I recommended a book to my reading group – Lyrics Alley – by Leila AbouLela, and they loved it!!!!  Yay, doing my tiny bit to promote Arab women writers 🙂

Currently reading The Officer’s Prey by Armand Cabasson and (apart from the descriptions of battles which are mercifully few so far!) am really enjoying it.  It’s translated from the original French and I’m intrigued – who did do it!!!?

Got to go and do …. well, something.  I’ll be back tomorrow though, honest!

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Reading and Writing

Just reading the pronunciation pages in the Berlitz Vietnamese Phrase Book & Dictionary is making me feel light headed.  I quote: ‘There are 6 tones used in Vietnamese.  It is critical to get the intonation right as different tones indicate different meanings.’  Not just ‘desirable’ to get it right but ‘critical’ – no pressure there then!

I have found a couple of great blogs written by ladies living in Hanoi and am beginning to get a feel for what we might expect on a visit.  The power of the internet is amazing when used positively eh!

An update on my reading: Wide Sargasso Sea – completed, discussed at reading group and unanimously voted a fabulous read.  Remember Me – a light hearted read that I confess to really enjoying.  A clever outcome/explanation to Lexi’s amnesia and an ‘ahhh’ ending to keep me happy.  When Will There Be Good News? – completed and really enjoyed.

And now I’m reading: A Palestine Affair by Jonathan Wilson.  My husband found this in the library and figured it would be right up my street.  And he was right, I’m enjoying the language, pace and glimpse of life in British-occupied Palestine just after WW1.  Has anyone read this book or anything else by Jonathan Wilson?  I’m also about to start Giles Tremlett’s Catherine of Aragon having just watched the BBC series The Tudors (Bit of a travesty in some ways but hey, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is well worth watching!) and realised how little I knew about Queen Catherine and how incredibly influential and strong she was.

As always, if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned, or have any suggestions or recommendations for future reading – get in touch please!

See you soon.

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Travel Books

In addition to Remember Me which I’m reading for research into the Chick Lit market, The Wide Sargasso Sea which is my book group read and my bedside book:When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson; I’ve also been reading a Lonely Planet book on Vietnam as I’m likely to be paying a visit to the country next month.

There is just so much information to digest when reading a travel guide and I confess my attention wanders off into wild imaginings fairly rapidly.  As food looms large on my list of things that make life wonderful I simply cannot wait to get out there and sample the delights of Vietnamese food – and the range of fruits grown there should keep me happy at any time of the year!

It struck me, watching my husband leafing through the book over the week end, just how much information a good travel guide needs to contain.  He was busily reading up on the history and sport and checking out the hotels while I honed in on food, cultural sights and all the beautiful places to visit.

Enthused and excited we’ve applied for our visas, checked out flight availability and started a list of Things to Do, See and Eat!

Hmm, which books shall I take to read?

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Libraries and Chick Lit

I promised in the last post to tell you about my recent experience of going to the library and Chick Lit.

Firstly,  the library.  The town where I live has a beautiful library which was completely refurbished, along with the council offices around two years ago.  I have always loved going in there as it’s well-stocked, well organised and with really helpful, friendly, knowledgeable staff.  Having not been in for maybe 6 months (I don’t know why but I just got out of the habit of going), I was shocked last Saturday when there was only one member of staff (the others were on lunch apparently) who had to manage enquiries at the council desk as well as serve in the library itself.

The shelves, whilst still well-stocked were completely disorganised with books wildly out of order making it almost impossible to find what you were looking for.  Perhaps a little cheekily I asked the aforementioned sole staff member whether the library welcomed/accepted or tolerated volunteers.  I imagine this is rather a sensitive issue given all the cuts to funding and therefore staff levels and I certainly don’t want to put anyone out of work by providing my labour for free.  However, the librarian was absolutely thrilled that I’d asked, said things couldn’t possibly get any worse with regards to staffing levels and they were in the process of setting up a team of volunteers so the timing was perfect.

My favourite two games as a little girl cast me in the role of either ‘teacher’ or ‘librarian’ so I’m really excited and can’t wait to do my first stint sorting out those shelves!

And now to Chick Lit.  Like I suspect many readers I’ve always steered clear of books with the obvious air of ‘for girls’ that Chick Lit seems to exude and therefore have no right whatsoever to pass any sort of judgement on them.  Watching The Book Show recently though I saw an interview with Sophie Kinsella, a well-known doyenne of the genre, and she seemed eminently sensible and intelligent.  Shortly after I saw a presenter I admire (whose name escapes me!) talking about books she reads and how she’d never have considered Chick Lit but had been asked to review a book of this type and loved it.

So, I decided to tackle a Sophie Kinsella first (well, I feel like I can trust her having seen her once, on a TV programme!) and picked Remember Me.  Confession time.  I was hooked right from the first sentence.  The writing style is humorous, rattles along at a great pace and I am absolutely dying to know a) what happens and b) how the whole memory loss thing is going to be explained/resolved.

Right, back to the book …

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To Finish or Not to Finish?

Okay, I’m faced with a dilemma – my current reading book isn’t gripping me and I can’t decide whether to keep going (I’m about 150 pages in) or give up on it on the basis that life’s too short to read books I don’t enjoy?

The decision isn’t quite that simple though because this is a well-respected author and I haven’t read any of his work before.  There’s a huge voice in my head saying that I should complete the book because it might just be a fairly slow burn and all come together satisfyingly in the end.  I’ll be honest, this isn’t my favourite style and I’ve found myself skipping bits.  This started with the odd sentence, line, paragraph and last night was several pages.  After a strong start I was intrigued to identify the mother of Damian’s child but am now finding the back stories tedious.  When the narrator tells us how he knows the woman I find myself just skipping the text, I don’t really care.  There are only two questions I want answered – who’s the mother and what happened in Portugal but frankly, I’m not that bothered about either because none of the characters grips me anyway.

To finish or not to finish, that is the question?  Another voice in my head says that the author has gone to considerable time and trouble to craft the story and the least I can do is to finish reading it but if that were the case I’d read all sorts of dross (not that I’m saying this is dross because it isn’t).

So what would you do?  Are you a ‘life’s too short to read a book I’m not enjoying’ or an ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’?

Chick lit and the library next time, I promise!


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Proof reading a friend’s 15,000 word dissertation took me hours yesterday and reminded me that there’s a huge difference between skimming and reading.

I had to really concentrate and remember references and stylistic details to make sure that the work flowed cohesively, didn’t contradict itself and looked good enough to read!  As it deals with a topic I know nothing about I had to be particularly vigilant to make sure I actually understood what I was reading, rather than just accepting each sentence at face value.

When I returned to my ‘reading’ book in the evening, Julian Fellowes’ Past Imperfect I was conscious that I actually skip bits that don’t completely grip me.  I’m going to pay attention this week to those skips and try to minimise them to ensure a more complete reading experience.

I’m also reading The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, for book group, and loving it.  I’m certain I haven’t skimmed over any of this because the descriptions are just so beautiful that I would feel cheated I think.

This week I’ve also come across a concept called Flash Fiction which intrigues me because I have notebooks jam packed with ideas for stories, scenarios or events that I simply couldn’t work out how to develop into a full novel.  The answer might well be that I don’t need to.  This afternoon, as a treat if I get all my work done on time (!), I’m going to spend some time working one of these ideas into a flash (if that’s the right term for these works?).

So happy reading all, remind me to tell you next time about my trip to the library and chick lit 🙂

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Crikey, where have I been?!  I’m not sure why there’s been a delay in getting back to writing here, no good reason or excuse.  But now, I’m back!

Spain was great and, although difficult, it was good to see my friend and let her talk and share her experience over the last few months.  Thank goodness for her two beautiful children who will keep her going over the difficult period ahead and give her reasons to see that the world is still a wonderful place despite her sorrow.

So, back to books.  I was thrilled at our reading group discussion of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey because it turned out that my fellow group members felt pretty much the way I did.  A great read that was, at times rather too complex and complicated and none of us is sure we entirely ‘got’ it – but hey we enjoyed the read/adventure.

Our next book, somewhat shorter, is The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which I’m really looking forward to reading as the idea of taking a key figure (Bertha – the first Mrs Rochester – from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre) and recounting a potential back story is intriguing.

Outside of book group I’ve just finished reading Sovereign by C J Sansom and whilst I loved it (and didn’t guess the antagonist), there was a bit around the 400-page mark where I was beginning to think the action was dragging a bit.  I was so relieved when the boat left Hull as, like the main characters, I was sick of the North!  A few more twists in the last hundred pages though made up for any slight pause in the action.

I’ve decided to go for something completely different next and late last night read the first few pages of Julian Fellowes’ Past Imperfect which is something of a departure for me as I’ve never read any of his work.

Right, off to do a bit of writing work, an e-newsletter this time on eco friendly promotional products.

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Hablas Espanol?

Not German but Spanish this week as I dig out my vocabulary books to remind myself of useful phrases before a trip to Spain later in the week.

For me the real pleasure of learning a language is not just being able to converse with people in shops and restaurants in their own tongue, great though that is.  No, it’s deeper than that, it’s having more detailed conversations and understanding some of the culture through language.

Whilst I’m very much looking forward to a few days in Vejer de la Frontera, where we have been regular visitors for several years now and are lucky enough to own a small house, this trip will be particularly poignant.  A lady who started off looking after our plants and cleaning and has over the years become a friend, lost her husband earlier this week.

There are several things I love about my Spanish friend.  She didn’t speak a word of English when we first met and never saw any real need to because everything she wanted in life was right there in her little corner of Spain.  She is always cheerful, without fail, even when telling me her husband had lost his job (in the construction industry), or one of the children had failed an exam.  Life was a joy and I always came away from our encounters feeling uplifted.

Despite having no inclination to speak English, she loved and encouraged my attempts at Spanish and never spoke to me as if I was a foolish foreigner.  She didn’t make any particular allowances for my lack of vocabulary just kept going and repeated the point until I either ‘twigged’ or managed to look up any unknown words in the dictionary!

She remembered all our children’s names and kept up to date with their progress – asking about exams and university and their aspirations.  Having only ever wanted to be a wife and mother, she was fully supportive of her daughter’s desire to follow in her footsteps but mindful that her daughter might need to support herself one day and therefore need some form of qualification to fall back on.

Imagine the shock then when her husband became very ill a couple of months ago and then died this week in his very early forties.  How must her world look now?  On the one hand I really want to see her and offer any comfort and support I can in person, and on the other I’m dreading the meeting.  I don’t want to see my friend in a pain that I can do little to ease and my Spanish simply isn’t up to explaining how angry I am for her.  She was not a greedy person, expecting anything for nothing, nor overly demanding of the world.

So I will go and embrace my friend, listen if she wants to speak, speak if she wants to listen and reach out to her – both with and without words – to remind her that she’s loved and valued, even without her beloved husband.

Spanish words this week then.

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Beloved Books

I was so thrilled to be involved in World Book Night on Saturday evening, handing out copies of Beloved by Toni Morrison.  This wasn’t my first choice of book, not because I don’t think it worthy but simply because I haven’t actually read it myself.  It seemed sensible to try to give away a book I’ve read because then I could enthuse about it if the potential recipient seemed reluctant!

However, the event was over-subscribed and I was happy to hand out any book that the organisers chose for me – hence Beloved.  Having only had time to read a synopsis and the prologue I was a little worried that I might be engaged in a conversation that I couldn’t fully participate in and dreaded having to confess that I was giving away a book I hadn’t even read myself.  But no, not one person queried my credentials being instead absolutely delighted to be genuinely given something.  Not as a foot in the door or start of a sales conversation but an honest to goodness gift to enjoy, savour and pass on to someone else.

I just love the generosity of this initiative and cannot wait to be involved next year.  In fact, no, I cannot wait a whole year.  I’m going to pledge to give away a lot more books this year and one idea I’ve had is where a retailer offers two books for £10 or 3 for 2 I’ll get two of the same book – one for me and one to give away.  Yay, I like that idea!

Now I just need to read the final 80 pages of If the Dead Rise Not and I can move on to Toni Morrison.

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Bernie in Berlin

Nearly all my reading in the last 4 days has consisted of German words – in restaurants, on the U-Bahn, in museums and shops.  Not that I spoke any German at all before visiting Berlin but I reckon to have around 50 words or so by now!  At first I found myself skimming over the unfamiliarly long words, some of which seemed to go on forever, but I quickly realised that if you break the word down and tackle it a little at a time it soon starts to make some sense.

I guess this is true for all reading, especially works that challenge us a little.  In this age of instant gratification, sound bites and Tweets I find myself struggling sometimes with the bother of full sentences!

Being in Berlin was a great experience because it’s a fabulous City, with excellent food and a clean, punctual and easy to navigate transport system.  And, what joy, a population who all seem to be avid readers.  Everywhere I looked in cafes and on buses and trains there were readers – of newspapers, magazines and books.  I had quite forgotten the joy of reading in public and seeing others enjoying the same experience.

And it’s no coincidence that my own choice of reading material, having just finished Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi, was If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr.  Having not read any of the Bernie Gunther novels before it seemed fitting to choose this one, set as it is in Berlin.  It was such fun to watch out for references to real places and I’m sure fellow tourists thought me crazy when I excitedly yelled “OMG, that’s Bernie Gunther’s hotel” when visiting the Brandenburg Gate and spotting the Adlon Hotel just beside it!  I had no idea it was a real hotel!   Ah, life is full of such simple pleasures eh!

Arriving back in Manchester yesterday evening the airport and road signs all seemed a little on the short side!  It’s funny how quickly something as seemingly alien as foreign words can quickly become our norm.

Happy World Book Day to everyone wherever you are and whatever you’re reading.

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