Friday, 24 July 2015

Six in June

I read six books in June, half May’s number. But I wrote two instalments of a People’s Friend serial and a short story. Writing/reading – sadly, it seems I can’t do lots of both at the same time.

Her Forget-Me-Not-Ex by Sophie Claire.
Read my interview with Sophie here.

Wonder by RJ Palacis
Read for book group. This is an American YA novel about a boy born with a severe facial deformity:
'My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.'
But ‘Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things – eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside.’
It’s written from Auggie’s point-of-view and various others such as his sister and his classmates. He’s been taught at home but now that he’s twelve his parents decide he should go to high school.
In places it’s more cheesy than a pound of cheddar but, yes, of course I cried when Auggie won through to be voted the most popular boy in the school. 

As I was buying Wonder, From the Mixed-Up Files came up as ‘customers who bought this … ’ When I read that it was about two children who run away from home and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art I had to have it.
It was originally published in 1967, won the Newbery Medal, and ‘has rightly become one of the most celebrated and beloved children's books of all time.’
Claudia and Jamie aren’t badly treated at home or anything like that – the wonderfully resourceful twelve-year-old Claudia is just rather bored in the suburbs of New York. She plans their escapade to the nth degree while her entrepreneurial younger brother looks after their (not very much) money.
The new edition is lovely (paperback with flaps). I loved the characters and the setting, and the story is quirky and charming and I really liked it – I expected to love it though, not sure why I didn’t.

Debs at War 1939-1945 by Anne de Courcy
What upper class young ladies did in the war, from factory workers and land girls to decoders, ambulance drivers and pilots. For most of them it was the first time they’d mixed with the hoi-polloi – but one had to do one’s bit.

Beauty Tips for Girls by Margaret Montgomery
Blog post about this book here.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
The second in the private-investigator Cormoran Strike series (after The Cuckoo’s Calling) – did not disappoint. I would enjoy these books even if it were a previously unknown writer called ‘Robert Galbraith’ who’d written them.
In The Silkworm:
‘When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.’
Strike’s enquiries take him into the murky word of … London publishing. The author must have had great fun writing it.
Can’t wait to read the next one.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Go Set a Watchman

As just about everyone in the world knows, Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee is published today, 14 July.

To get in the mood, and to prepare for reading it, I thought I’d speed re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. I found I didn’t want to do that – speed-read it, I mean. I wanted to take it slowly, no skimming. 

There is nothing original I can add to the massive weight of words that have been written about this book since its publication over fifty years ago. For me, as for millions of others, the character/voice of Scout, the sense of place, the story and the way it’s told, all come together as more than the sum of their parts.

Can Go Set A Watchman repeat the experience? Its UK editor has said, 'There will be those who'll say: you have spoiled Mockingbird for me by publishing this book.'

I hope that's not the case. I don’t intend to read any more about it before I read it for myself.

A few weeks ago when I went into the West End branch of Waterstone’s in Edinburgh to order my copy I saw that they had planned an event for the night of the 13th – a showing of the film of To Kill a Mocking Bird, preceded by refreshments and followed, at midnight, by picking up book orders. I put my name down.

It was a lovely idea – I remember the terrific atmosphere around the midnight launch parties for Harry Potter.

This wasn't on that scale of course but the second floor had a cinema screen; about sixty people squished into the space and although my view of the screen wasn't terrific I was quickly engrossed. Oreo cookies and mint juleps were served (bourbon, sugar syrup, crushed ice and lots of mint). I kept my paper cup.

There was a countdown to midnight and then we were able to pick up our copies.
As someone who (so far) has written serial-length stories but not an ackshull book, I don't know whether I would rather (if it was possible to have the choice …) write just one that becomes much beloved, critically acclaimed and stands the test of time, or several that – don’t.

The jury's out on that one.

Now, excuse me, I have a book to read.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Beauty Tips for Girls

One of the books I read in June, of which more anon, was Beauty Tips for Girls, by Scottish writer Margaret Montgomery. A blackly funny contemporary novel (highly recommended), it’s told in three voices – Katie, a fifteen-year-old girl; Corinne, Katie’s mother, who has descended into drink following the death of her young son; and Jane, Katie’s teacher.

Katie reads Misty, a magazine aimed at girls her age, which includes advice on sexual positions, really cruel comments about celebrities, and advertisements for cosmetic surgery. It is one of these small ads that drives Katie to tell her dad she’s staying with a friend when she’s actually made an appointment with a London plastic surgeon.

It made me think about the advice doled out to girls and young women over the years, as chronicled in my various book/magazine collections. For example:

‘Girls of this age [fifteen or sixteen] are particularly apt to look untidy if their dresses are not chosen properly for them. … Nearly all young girls will look well in Magyar blouses and quite plain skirts.’
Article in Woman’s Weekly 1911 (in The Woman’s Weekly Keepsake Book of Vintage Childhood, available now in newsagents. This is a great series – to read and for writerly research.)

‘Why it is necessary for women to powder and paint and black their eyes between the courses [in a restaurant] is one of the unsolved problems of these unhappy times.’
The Girl’s Own Annual (no date but probably the late 1920s)

‘Thick ankles cannot be slimmed overnight but perseverance and patience for a couple of months will work wonders. Olive oil rubbed in every night is invaluable … ’
Aunt Kate’s Household Companion (1938)

‘It is comforting to know that however shy and awkward a girl may feel, a boy of her own age is likely to be still less composed.’
The Girl’s World (1950)

‘Horizontal stripes make fatties look wider than ever.’

‘Fussy prints, button, frills and bows make fatties look bitty and lumpy.’


‘You’ve got your little eye on this fanciable fella, but as far as he’s concerned, you just don’t exist! … 21 ways to make him notice you:

Drop the ice-cream you’re licking all over his sleeve. Then you have to clean it off, don’t you!'
Jackie Annual 1975

‘Twenty Ways to Make Him Come On Strong: How to put back the sparkle into a love affair that’s gone flat:

 Force him to look at you. Do the vacuuming in bra and pants.

Amaze him by turning up for a date dressed totally in violet – turban, lipstick, dress, tights, shoes, with undies dyed to match.’

I wonder how many Cosmopolitan readers took those pieces of advice.