Elizabeth Gilbert: A Signature of All Things

Some months ago, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Bloomsbury Publishing, London, for the London leg of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book tour to promote her wonderful new novel, A Signature of All Things.

Ar 201uthor Elizabeth Gilbert (l) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013
Author Liz Gilbert (left) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013

Over the Christmas break I finished reading the book and, I have to say, what a wonderful read it is.

Liz has created such a great character in Alma Whittaker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who excels in her chosen field of botany. She is not, however, an attractive heroine who meets the love of her life and lives happily ever after. Instead, her story is one of immense personal strength, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, ultimately, heartbreak.

I am a huge fan of Liz’s work and it was a pleasure to meet her at the event. A friend pointed me in the direction of Eat, Pray Love a couple of years ago and I have never looked back. She writes with a rare eloquence which reads as though she herself is speaking from the page. It makes her stories sound deeply personal and all the more believable. I have since gone on to purchase more of her books and shall read them with great pleasure!

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

So, here we are. I’ve arrived in West Cumbria, chez Mama and Papa, amid severe gales and showers of both sleet and hail. To make matters worse,  the distraught feline on the back seat made her displeasure all too obvious by howling for most of the journey.

So tempers were frayed to start with, before I learned that my father’s broadband connection has been reset and so the network and password data on the back of his router is useless. Cue a phone call to TALKTALK to get it all sorted.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world as it is. So, I consider today to have been a triumph, since I have not lost my temper with anyone yet. However, it’s only just gone dark. There’s plenty of time before bed!

So, as I settle into a Christmas with my family, as I’m sure many of you will be doing, it’s time to reflect on a year of success for my fledgling writing career. And also to look forward to how it will likely leap forward in 2014.

By far, one of the most wonderful experiences was my first week at Swanwick which I shall treasure forever. Meeting so many talented writers and being immersed in a literary world was such an inspiration. Certainly, it gave me confidence and courage to write more than before and with a more determined purpose.

Visiting authors at book tours has also become an inspirational pastime which I look forward to doing much more of in 2014. Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Forsyth have given me food for thought about my next steps into the world of authoring.

I have been writing my short stories which, as many of you know, will be published under my pseudonym sometime in January. One of my tasks over the holidays is to browse through thousands of book covers to choose just the right ones for my stories.

All very exciting stuff for someone who, less than twelve months ago, didn’t know whether this was just a passing phase that I would get bored of eventually. Although I do still get moments of self-doubt, as I believe most writers do from time to time, I believe I’ve made great progress this year.

So, if you’re a dedicated follower of this blog, first of all I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” and also give you a taster of what’s to come in the next few months.

Short stories published for the kindle and available through Amazon only to start with. Watch this space or check my Facebook page () for details.

I’m off to Brittany in France for a writing retreat at Easter, another in Rome in June and then Swanwick again in August to top up on inspiration and meet up with my writing friends.

I also plan to be developing a website for my alter ego to help promote my kindle stories so look out for more on that. So, with that and continuing this blog, I shall be a very busy lady.

Finally, I have this novel which has been swimming around in my head for a while and really needs to get onto the page. So, there’ll be more work on that from to time.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2014!

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go

This critically acclaimed novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2005, is yet another tome which has sat on my bookshelf for some time waiting for me to pick it up. I’m so glad I did; it’s one of the best stories I’ve read in some time.

I was about two chapters in when I realised that, as the narrator reminisces about her childhood, there is never any mention of parents or siblings. From then on, I was gripped with the feeling that something wasn’t quite about right about her and her friends. I simply had to read on to find out what it was.

This is finally answered when the author allows Kathy’s character to pose these questions herself to her former guardians who answer them in a quite poignant fashion. I was genuinely moved by some moments at this point.

Highly recommended for those of you who enjoy something which will challenge your perceptions of what it means to be human and how we judge others.

 

William Golding: Lord of the Flies

Following on from my post regarding books I read as a child here, I have recently re-read this award-winning novel.

At the age of 12 when I first read it, I remember that I didn’t particularly enjoy it. However, I couldn’t quite remember why. Now, I do.

A group of school boys, some quite young, become stranded on a desert island. The book takes the reader on a journey into the psyche of Ralph, one of the older boys. He assumes the role of leader and goes about creating a crudely democratic society in which decisions are taken by voting. He even adopts a method of ensuring everyone has a turn to speak their minds by using a conch shell found on the beach.

Ralph is homesick and longs for his quintessentailly English life. In order to try and secure a rescue as soon as possible, he builds a fire on top of the mountain top and assigns boys to take it in turns to keep the fire alight to produce smoke.

The antagonist and, by the end of the book, Ralph’s sworn enemy, is Jack. He has no time for this peaceful existence and becomes obsessed with hunting the wild boar which inhabit the island. He and his followers gradually descend into a tribal existence, painting their faces with the blood of the creatures they hunt.

There are some gruesome moments when one of the boys is killed in an accident by the beach and a second loses his life towards his end. For that reason, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book for younger children.

Having said that, it’s a thought-provoking story which explores political themes in a graphic fashion, along with giving us a well-deserved reminder that without our creature comforts of modern life, we may not be so different ourselves.

Alan Bennett: Smut

I never had Alan Bennett down as a writer of prose. An accomplished playwright, certainly. Something of a national treasure here in the UK, one could even argue.

My local library is fast becoming somewhere where I test out things that look interesting but might be from an author I’m not yet familiar with, so it’s a good way of making discoveries, both positive and negative, before committing to purchasing a book. In this case, it was not the author that was new but the genre he had chosen.

In both stories, the central characters are middle-aged women and both these women have sexual experiences which some would consider unconventional. Bennett writes not in the erotic style, but instead chooses to use specific language to infer what’s happening, rather than graphically depict it.

In an excerpt of an interview with Mark Lawson for the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/0/21870866), the writer reveals he could only have written this book until after his parents had died.

“You can’t write to the notion of what your parents of you,” he says. Which is good to bear in mind for me. I’ve thought from time to time about writing some erotica, but my mother would never forgive me. I suspect if I ever do, I shall use a pseudonym.

Certainly a literary lesson for me, this book. I shall look out for more of his work.

Paul Christopher: The Templar Conspiracy

I do love a good thriller, it must be said. And so do a lot of other people, it would seem after Dan Brown hit the bestseller list with The Da Vinci Code. 

Many have trampled in his footsteps and some have created works with, in my opinion, better plot lines and better characters, thereby making up altogether better stories. This is one of those stories.

I picked it up at my local library in Wellesbourne in Warwickshire – http://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/wellesbournelibrary. I liked the title, having been somewhat fascinated by the occult from my late teens when I found my mother’s copy of The Satanist by Dennis Wheatley sitting on a shelf at home. The whole Templar idea being drawn into events set in the present day was intriguing so I picked it up and brought it home.

The pace is good. Not so quick you find yourself out of breath before the end of the first chapter, which is good. I think, as a writer, it must be difficult to maintain a pace like that throughout a novel, which must be difficult.

Instead, the author here has measured events such that they seem to hot up at just the right times. An enjoyable read to the very last page.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love

Every now and then, you come across a book which, quite literally, changes your life. Maybe not a huge shift but it does make you see things differently. It gives you a new perspective, perhaps. This is one such book.

As a result I now have a new favourite author: Elizabeth Gilbert. This woman is amazing! I first heard of her through a YouTube video where she was giving a wonderful talk about the elusive nature of the creative genius. I was completely hooked and wanted to read her work instantly. So, off I went and bought this book.

I found it, eventually, in the travel section at Waterstones. Having now read the book, I can only surmise that the person who put it there has not, for this is not a travel guide at all.

Instead, this is an intrepid journey of a different kind. Ms Gilbert chooses to share with us the trauma of her divorce and the subsequent quagmire of depression which leaves her a mere shadow of her former self. She then sets off on a trip during which she travels into the depths of her soul to discover true happiness.

Having been through a divorce myself, there was a great deal in this book which I could relate to. I never had the courage myself to deal with it in quite the same way as this lady has done, and I applaud her bravery.

This is a book that will move you to tears, both in happiness and sadness. I loved it so much that I went out and bought the sequel the day after I finished it, and read that in two days flat!

Lesley Glaister: Chosen

I have to say, this is a compelling read from start to finish.

The story starts with Dodie, a young unmarried mother with a clinically depressed mother and a history of post-natal depression herself. Her brother, who still lives with their mother, takes off to America to join what turns out to be a religious cult so Dodie leaves her partner and baby behind to bring him home. What she discovers when she gets there sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

I love it when a book evokes strong emotions inside me. Often, they are feelings of sadness or happiness. Occasionally, like this book, I get angry at the characters. “Why doesn’t she just leave?” I found myself screaming.” How can she be so stupid?”

What this means is that the author has created strong characters who I can identify with. I am now taking time to learn from these authors so I can employ their techniques myself when I write stories.

The story then switches to another point of view; that of Melanie, Dodie’s long-lost aunt. Her story collides with Dodie’s in such a way that neither of them will ever be quite the same again.

Highly recommended!

Mario Puzo: Six Graves to Munich

I picked up this little book in my local library which I joined last week.

Puzo wrote this novel before The Godfather but the manuscript was lost for over forty years before it was finally published.

It tells the story of Michael Rogan, a secret agent during World War Two who was captured and tortured along with his pregnant wife.

The seven Nazis who tortured him presumed him dead after they shot him in the head (who wouldn’t?) but, in fact, he survived. Thanks to a metal plate in his skull and ten years of rehabilitation, he is seeking vengeance over the men who destroyed his own life and took that of his wife and unborn child.

After he finds and kills the first Nazi in Hamburg, he meets a prostitute by the name of Rosalie. She, too, has her inner demons to live with and they manage to support each other.

This is a well-written story with explicit descriptions of the murders and their effects on Rogan and his relationship with Rosalie. I was only sorry that it didn’t last longer.

Sue Townsend: The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year

I don’t think there’s a Christmas I can think of where my mother hasn’t bought me at least one book. Some years there are several. They are carefully purchased throughout the year and kept in a cupboard or the back of a wardrobe until I visit during the festive season.

Occasionally, I get one a few months later with a comment such as “Oh, here’s the book I meant to give you at Christmas, but I’d forgotten where I put it, so here it is!” This was one such book, carefully wrapped and handed over in February!

I raised my eyebrows when I saw the author’s name.

“Is this the same Sue Townsend who wrote Adrian Mole all those years ago?”

“Yes, I think so,” my mum replied.

I was intrigued but in the middle of two books at the time already. Adding a third to the mix didn’t seem like the sensible thing to do. Instead, I put it to one side until such time as I was ready. I managed to finish it just the other day.

In the main, this is a funny book. Eva is fifty and has just sent her naive but extremely clever twins off to university, where they meet the infuriating Poppy who has huge social and emotional issues of her own.

This life-changing event is what tips Eva over the edge and she decides to go to bed, fully clothed for a little while to think. The ‘little while’ turns into days, weeks and months and, during this time, we learn a great deal about life in Eva’s household (and indeed her life in general) which she has faithfully tried to maintain to the best of her ability since her marriage.

Her assessment of the world from between her sheets as she slowly descends into mental illness is comically portrayed by the author and it’s not until the last couple of pages that you realise how ill she has become.

I was disappointed in the ending of this novel which is a shame as the rest of the book was engaging and funny with rich characters. I really wanted there to be a happy ending but it never comes. It felt as though there should have been more, as if the novel was somehow unfinished.

An entertaining read, all the same. Especially if you’re a Sue Townsend fan.