Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Patchwork Pieces

I have yet to finish the patchwork quilt I began in 1975 (one day … ) but I am fascinated by patchwork that other people do and I like reading about it – in fact (all those wonderful patterns, their origins and their makers) and in fiction.

The fifth book I read in February was:
The Aloha Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts Novels)
Jennifer Chiaverini
A Christian Aid book sale purchase from last year.
There are umpteen other titles in this series. I’d read them to find out more about patchwork patterns but not for plot or characterisation. The story was so wrapped around the subject of patchwork that any action seemed like a token gesture, and the people were there principally to relay the history of/how to make Hawaiian patchwork – which sounded gorgeous, pity there were no pictures of it apart from the cover.

My favourite novel in which patchwork plays a part (in fact, one of my favourite novels ever) is (the late lamented) Carol Shield’s Happenstance which I’ve just finished re-reading. Its format is original – it’s in two parts, one from the wife’s point of view and one from the husband’s, each printed a different way up from the other; it doesn’t matter which one you read first but it’s fun if you re-read it to try it the other way round.

Brenda, wife of Jack and mother of two, is making a name for herself as a quilter and leaves her family in Philadelphia for a few days to attend a prestigious craft fair in Chicago, during which time she wins a prize, loses an expensive new raincoat and is almost unfaithful. Jack is left to hold the fort, the fort being complicated by the unexpected arrival of his oldest friend, by the near-suicide of a neighbour, by a crisis at work, and by a snowstorm.

Quaker patchwork featured in The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I heard Tracy talk about the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival – she said she took a patchwork class as part of her research and loved it so much she’s carried on doing it.

I’ve just spent a lovely weekend at the Scottish Association of Writers Annual Conference. Author Linda Gilliard was one of the guest speakers/adjudicators and I had the pleasure of sitting next to her one lunch-time. She is a hybrid author – partly traditionally published and partly (and successfully) self-published. I bought one of her books that I hadn’t read before called House of Silence.

Summed up as ‘Rebecca meets Cold Comfort Farm’ the blurb includes:
When Gwen discovers fragments of forgotten family letters sewn into an old patchwork quilt, she starts to piece together the jigsaw of the past … ’

Really looking forward to reading it.

I’d love to write a story involving patchwork – but I can only hope it won’t take as long to finish as my quilt; not sure I’ll be around in forty years time ...

Friday, 20 March 2015

Five in February

I read five books in February (must do better). Four of them are reviewed here; the fifth will be in a separate post.

The Emerald Comb by Kathleen McGurl

I knew of Kath McGurl through her magazine stories and her very useful blog:
(which she has now handed over to another womag writer Patsy Collins)

Read on Kindle (gorgeous 'cover' – it would seem covers are just as important for e-books as they are for print).

The Emerald Comb is Kathleen’s first full-length novel and an excellent one it is. 

Katie’s tracing her family tree has been just a hobby – but then she and her husband are able to buy a house that belonged to her family two hundred years ago, and she becomes almost obsessed with her researches further into the past. As the story moves between the 21st and 19th centuries the reader can piece together the family’s dark secrets. 

Quite often in a novel with a dual narrative one strand is more interesting than the other – not so here; each was equally compelling. I look forward to reading Kathleen’s The Pearl Locket.

The Alphabet Sisters by Monica McInerney

Three sisters, Anna, Bett and Carrie were childhood singing stars in their local area in rural Australia, managed by their Irish-born grandmother, Lola. But the grown-up sisters haven’t spoken since Carrie married Bett’s boyfriend. In an attempt to get the sisters to be friends again Lola arranges an extravagant party for her 80th birthday and demands that all the girls return home.

I liked the Australian background as it’s relatively unusual to read books set there, and I like reading books about sisters, but as the story turned darker towards the end it felt like too many ishoos were being addressed. Plus I couldn’t help wishing that Maeve Binchy had written it – it strived for her warmth but for me it didn’t get there.

At A Time Like This by Catherine Dunne

Four women, Claire, Maggie, Nora and Georgie, have known each other since university – or think they know each other. Narrated by spoilt Georgie who is about to not turn up for their twenty-five years celebratory get-together; we don’t find out the reason for her absence until very near the end. Well written although in rather a detached way. I didn’t know if we were supposed to cheer for Georgie or not. She was the unworthy sun around whom the others revolved and I’ve never liked the thought of that kind of relationship in real life.

She was unbelievably self-centred all her life culminating – *spoiler alert* – in abandoning (in a note-on-the-kitchen-table-kind of way) her own, albeit grown-up, daughters, as well as her nice husband, to live in Italy with Nora’s twenty-something son. You can see how that would sour the friendship … 

Entry Island by Peter May

This is the first Peter May I’ve read, and having done so I intend to read his earlier books set on the Isle of Lewis.

Entry Island is a real and remote island in the Gulf of St Laurence, 850 miles off Quebec on Canada’s east coast. When a detective is sent from Montreal to investigate a murder he is convinced he knows the victim’s wife – and prime suspect – although they have never met before.

In a dual narrative (my second one this month) we find out about another murder, in another country, in another century, and the twists and turns that have brought these two troubled people together. Loved it – great story and fabulously evoked setting.

Friday, 13 March 2015

The ties that bind

This story is published in Woman’s Weekly (17 March 2015).

I’ve mentioned in a previous post the creative writing class I go to on a Friday morning. Last year, for a term, we wrote on the theme of transport and one class member brought in a prompt of a black and white picture of a young man on a bicycle.

I decided, in the class, in the ten minutes we got to write something on it, that it was an old snap that had been unearthed by a woman and her brother when they were clearing their mother’s house. Because the brother looked like the young man and not like their father the woman wondered if their mother might have had an affair. 

When I came to develop it at home I decided to aim for 1800 words and send it to Woman’s Weekly as I knew they were short of stories that length – plus I didn’t think it was a storyline The People’s Friend would go for … .

I haven’t had a story in Woman’s Weekly for ages so I was delighted to get a quick and positive response to this one.

I love looking through old family photographs. (Reminder to self: use your own photos as prompts.)

I have lots of them. Fortunately, my mum had gone through her photographs and written on the back, but there is a limit to the information you can put on and how useful it’s going to be to future generations. For example, I can read ‘Aunt B, Nairn Beach’ and know who that is but unless I add ‘Kate’s maternal great-aunt Belle’ my children won’t have a clue. And their descendants – if they’re kind enough to have kept the photos – won’t know who ‘Kate’ is, never mind Aunt B.

There is a packet of photographs Mum had labelled ‘Canadian connections’. These had been sent back home to Scotland since the beginning of the twentieth century when a branch of the family emigrated.

One has been labelled by its sender: ‘This is my eldest sister with me’.

Not very helpful eighty years on. Luckily, I was recently put in touch with a current ‘Canadian connection’ who is interested in the family tree. I sent her a scan and she was able to identify the ladies.

The ties that bind.