Friday, 17 August 2018

Edinburgh International Book Festival poem

I wrote this years ago – I doubt it would win any poetry prizes but it's from the heart about one of the highlights of my year, the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square:

Charlotte Square

From a dictionary unravelled
words take wings, soar in the blue,
around America and France,
Spain, Africa and England too;
like homing birds drop from the air
– and come to earth in Charlotte Square.

For two blissful weeks of summer
prose and poetry take the stage
new plots and images enthrall us
ideas pour from page to page;
as poems are read we stand and stare
– and catch the rhymes in Charlotte Square.

Writing workshops, cappuccinos,
chocolate brownies, books galore,
queues to see our favourite authors
it’s all here, and much, much more;
it’s raining words, but all is fair
– the Book Festival’s in Charlotte Square.

Sad end of August, skies are bare
– the words have flown from Charlotte Square.

And if you want to know who I've seen so far at the 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival visit the Capital Writers' website.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Six in July

I read six books in July, four fiction and two non-fiction.

From Christian Aid Booksale. From the back cover blurb: ‘Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties to enter the pantheon of American girlhood.’ But the story of how the books were written is even more exciting than the girl detective’s many adventures. The ‘author’ Carolyn Keene <spoiler alert> did not exist.  Instead, Edward Stratemeyer thought up the storylines and formed a syndicate of writers to whom he farmed out the work; when he died his daughter Harriet took over.

This is really Harriet’s story, and that of one of the writers, Mildred Wirt, who (long before word processors) could turn in a manuscript in a matter of days. It was many years before Carolyn Keene’s non-existence was admitted to by the Stratemeyers and there had to be many subterfuges (eg when answering fan letters) to keep the secret. And in telling the history of Nancy Drew, the author has also given an engrossing account of women’s history over the decades.

The Wonder Spot by Melissa Banks
Sophie Applebaum feels a bit of a misfit. We first meet her when she’s about twelve at her cousin’s Bar Mitzvah and go with her through various (unsuitable) jobs and various (unsuitable) boyfriends, visit her beloved brothers and not-so-beloved grandmother, until we leave her in her early thirties, still not really sure of her place in the world. I liked the episodic way this was told so that with each chapter we have to fill in the gaps. I enjoyed the writing very much too.

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland
I read Lost for Words by this author last July and absolutely loved it, one of my favourite books of the year. So I was very keen to read her new one and while I didn’t fall for it quite as much I would certainly recommend it. Ailsa was born with a serious heart defect; now, in her twenties, her life has been saved through having a heart transplant. In part the book is told through a blog she has kept during and after her days in hospital. Ailsa lives in Edinburgh and she finds herself involved in the production of a Fringe Festival event, Romeo and Juliet with tango … At the same time she is getting used to her new heart, she’s wondering about getting in touch with her estranged father, and there’s an unexpected new man in her life.

A Mother’s Goodbye by Kate Hewitt
I do like Kate Hewitt (who also writes as Katherine Schwartz). This story is told in alternate chapters, in the first person, by two women: Heather lives in a too-small house in downtown New Jersey; her husband is injured and unable to work and they have just found out that their fourth child is on the way; Grace works for an investment bank, lives in a minimalist flat in New York, and is realising how empty her life is. Under normal circumstances the two would never meet but … well, find out for yourselves and remember to have a box of tissues handy.

I usually avoid Jane Austen spin-offs and the title of this one did not appeal but when I flicked through I liked the look of it – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. ‘Jane Mansfield’, a gentleman’s daughter in England in 1813, wakes up in Los Angeles in the 21st century in the body of Courtney Stone. As she tries to realise what has happened and who she really is, she must quickly get to grips with the dizzying new world she finds herself in – I found it all very convincing. In Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict Courtney finds that she has gone back in time and is now Jane – look forward to reading that at some point.

Edited by Mary F Williamson and Tom Sharp

Christian Aid Book Sale purchase. During the days of the Second World War when children were being evacuated from cities to countryside, and from Britain overseas, Marie Williamson in Toronto and her family welcomed into their home two boys they had never met, children of a distant cousin in England. During the four years they stayed – and they weren’t the easiest of lads – she faithfully wrote long letters to their mother, which were found just a few years ago.

 I found the whole story fascinating. The boys could not have had a better foster family – the editors of the book are, respectively, Marie’s daughter and the younger of the evacuees. It was also a revelation to me that Canada too had wartime rationing – in part that was because they sent so much in the way of food over to Britain.