Friday, 23 May 2014

In which I acquire twenty-five books

I went to the Christian Aid book sale in May with a long wish list. I took home twenty-five books, only two of which were on the list …

Maisie Dobbs is a private investigator. Love this series which begins just after the end of WW1.

A Quiet Year by Derk Tangye
Heard an interesting radio programme about him the other week

Was on wish list; the reviews have been brilliant

At Times Like This by Catherine Dunne
Irish writer; haven’t read her before

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
I blogged about Geraldine Brooks here. This one is set in Martha’s Vineyard in 1650.

Cross Country with Grandma by Karen Testa
Great title

Dear Life by Alice Munro
After reading The View from Castle Rock I’m looking forward to this

Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymot
Sounds very intriguing

Girls will be Girls by Arthur Marshall
Arthur reviews girls’ school stories and other titles in his own hilarious way. The other title I’ve read of his was called Giggling in the Shrubbery.

Homeland and other stories by Barbara Kingsolver
Love Barbara Kingsolver’s novels and essays but have never read her short stories

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler
One of my favourite authors

Night Music by Jojo Moyes
Always good for a page turner

Yipee, another Geraldine Brooks – this time set in Vienna in World War II

Was on wish list; have loved her other books

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves
For when I feel like a spot of crime

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Anything with patchwork quilts catches my eye

An Anne Tyler I haven’t read; what a treat

My Antonia by Willa Cather
First published 1918; set in the American West

The Hour Before Dawn by Sara MacDonald
A family mystery set in New Zealand

The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
More crime. Hope I like it as I see there are other titles with the same main character.

The Long Weekend by Victoria Henry
And a long book to get lost in

The Red House by Mark Haddon
Have started this one; don’t care much for the characters but his writing is stunning

True Grit by Charlie Ports
Loved both the 2010 version of the film and the John Wayne original so will be interested to see how they compare with the book

When the Children come Home by Julie Summers
Non-fiction, about children who were evacuated in WW2

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
A lovely Virago edition

Plus five girls’ annuals for my collection including one printed in 1948 when paper was still rationed. The board cover is counted as page 1.

I think that will keep me going in reading material for a little while. Have you read any of the titles above?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Six in April

I read six books in April.

The Physic Garden by Catherine Czerkawska, published by Saraband. Set in Glasgow in the 19th century. Young gardener William Lang forms an unlikely friendship with botanist Dr Thomas Brown while working in the university physic garden. Around them, City life is never short of drama: poverty and pollution preys on all but the lucky few and resurrection men prowl the streets to procure corpses for anatomists to experiment on. Atmospheric, full of fascinating historical detail, but above all a great story.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I first heard of Geraldine Brooks (Australian-born and now living in the States) when she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 with March, the story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy’s father while he is away as a chaplain on the front line in the American Civil War, which also tells us something of his early life and how he met and married Marmee. March is faithful to the spirit of Little Women while being very much its own self and is one of my very favourite books.

So I was keen to read something else by this author and her first novel (2001) Year of Wonders did not disappoint. It is set in a different century and country from March and is based on a true story, as it is set in 1666, in Derbyshire, when the Great Plague reached Eyam and the decision was taken by the villagers to isolate themselves to prevent its further spread. Events are seen through the eyes of an eighteen-year-old widow, Anna. No less a person than Hilary Mantel said of it ‘It has a vivid imaginative truth, and is beautifully written.’ With which I can only agree and urge you to seek out Geraldine Brooks right now.

Take My Breath Away by Sally Quilford. My Weekly Pocket Novel: a murder mystery on the set of a remake of the film Cleopatra.

Treasures: What do we treasure most? published by Scottish Book Trust to celebrate Scottish Book Week 2013. Contributions from some famous folk eg Richard Holloway, Mairi Hedderwick, Denise Mina and John Barrowman, plus a host of others, ‘these items tell the stories of the people of Scotland’.

Truly, Madly, Deeply, an anthology of stories by members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, some huge best sellers such as Katie Fforde and Adele Parks, others at various stages of their writing career. Many different settings and eras – I particularly liked the Indian setting of the stories by Jenny Harper (The Eighth Promise) and Louise Allen (Head over Heart). Other favourites were a contemporary story that harked back to ‘Summer '43’ by India Grey, and a contemporary story set in London, The Fundamental Things by Heidi Rice – lots of good reading here. I got the e-version which has eleven more stories than the paperback.

The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson – a good yarn and, along the way, a look at the history of the 20th century as our unlikely hero inadvertently meets President Roosvelt, Mao Tse-tung, Stalin and de Gaulle amongst others. A note on the front of the book says it is soon to be a ‘major motion picture’ – whether this refers to the one made in Sweden which came out at the end of last year I don’t know; it sounds as if a Hollywood one is in the offing too maybe. Very cinematically written so I feel as if I have seen the film already.

Monday, 5 May 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you to Juliet Greenwood for tagging me in the My Writing Process blog tour. See Juliet’s post here (and check out her two terrific books Eden’s Garden and We That Are Left).

I’ve been on this tour before here. I enjoyed it first time round and have come up with some different answers this time.

1) What am I working on?

(a) A new serial for The People’s Friend – currently writing Instalment 5.

(b) Three short stories in various stages of completion. One to be aimed at The People’s Friend and two for general competitions.

(c) One novella, two-thirds of the way through.

(d) Bits of a longer novel.

I’ve started so I’ll finish … I hope.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write ‘women’s fiction’. I also write more generally eg I had a story called Hattie in New Writing Scotland a few years ago which was a kind of stream-of-consciousness from an elderly man with dementia. Was he imagining his mis-treatment at the hands of one of his carers or not?

Another World in the anthology Work (the short-listed stories for the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award in 2006) was about a Gulf War veteran recuperating in the Highlands.

So I like to think that I’m versatile. I enjoy doing both types of story but I concentrate largely on women’s fiction because, frankly, it’s more sellable.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’ll answer the question twice.

Why do I write?
I write because I love words, because I love stories. I write because I can create people and (mostly) make them do what I want …

Why do I write what I do?
Because I can.

4) How does my writing process work?

I am the world’s best procrastinator, looking at each email as it pings in, checking Facebook, daydreaming about potential writing projects, reading other people’s writing. So to discipline myself I’ve started setting a timer (an online one http://www.online-stopwatch.com/countdown-timer/) for twenty-five minutes and forcing myself to type without editing for that time. Five minutes off, and then set it again.

Many of my stories have started from prompts in the creative writing class I’ve been going to for the last ten years.

And inspiration is all around in everyday life – for me usually in the form of a setting or situation eg a university open day, mature lady having swimming lessons, holiday cottage, guests at a wedding table …

I can’t keep up with the material in the ‘Story bits’ file on my computer: currently 142 first few paragraphs waiting to be pumped into life. Not to mention the other files: 56 one-line entries in a ‘Character file’; 23 one-line entries in ‘Settings’; 199 one/two-line ‘Ideas’ and 49 ‘Titles’.

To use them up perhaps I could take a handful of ‘story bits’ and put them together in one story. Or maybe I should have a rummage sale and offload some of them. Any offers?

I’m passing the Writing Process baton on to Anne Stenhouse. Anne is an Edinburgh-based award-winning playwright and Regency novelist – in the last year Mariah’s Marriage and Bella’s Betrothal have been published by MuseItUp. Read about her Writing Process here.