Friday, 12 September 2008

Did you miss me?

Well, it's been a while - and I apologise for being away from this blog for so long! Initially the hiatus was caused by being on holiday - we went to the south of France and had a totally gorgeous time there (somewhat marred by the mosquitoes - my younger son woke up one morning with no fewer than 28 bites on him!). Since our return we've had the exhausting task of clearing my late mother-in-law's house, to a deadline, because it had at last sold. I could have written a blog just about that - the enormous amount of 'stuff' was unbelievable and it has made me determined not to leave my own sons such a trial in the future. (How? Think of all the stuff you own, Lorna ... Maybe a little light arson would do the trick ...)

Plus, there's the start of term both for my boys and for myself as a teacher of English at A level. So, I've been distracted, in every sense of the word.

This means there's a shedload of things I want to talk about, including topics that have sent my blood pressure soaring. It'll take a few posts to catch up with myself - and I do hope some of you are still out there listening. I've been doing a lot of taking stock (the kind of thing I do when the academic year starts and I'm still teaching, not celebrating winning the Booker and a Hollywood script deal. Strange how waiting for literary success bears a strong resemblance to being a tramp waiting for Godot. And we all know how prompt HE was.) I may be branching out in new directions - so watch this space.

Before I left I posted about the holiday reading I was taking with me. I always have a panic about whether the books I've taken will see me through the trip - this is because, if I'm left to myself without interruptions, I read very quickly indeed. During the holiday there were blissful sessions reading by the pool - the joy of hours passing, pages turning ... However, the villa we'd rented (and if I can ever figure out how to get photos I've taken onto this blog, I'll show you it) was owned by a Dutch company. Loads of books there, in Dutch - interesting to see how familiar English authors were translated - but also English, so my book bank was bigger than I'd expected. Of the villa books, I enjoyed Steven Saylor's 'A Mist of Prophecies' - I'd read one of his before, 'Roman Blood', and I think he's very good: he writes mysteries set in ancient Rome, at the time of Cicero, Caesar and Antony. They're very well researched with convincing characters and a nice ironic tone. Also read Martin Cruz Smith's 'Stalin's Ghost' - already I can't remember anything about it. Honestly. He's good at the melancholy of Russian life, though, and I do recommend the earlier 'Gorky Park' and 'Polar Star', which also his investigator Arkady Renko. Of the books I took with me, I read Sophie King's 'Second Time Lucky' - an excellent holiday read of the light and heart-warming variety, written with great energy, humour and at times pathos - expecially near the beginning when the break-up of a marriage is powerfully described in its practical and emotional consequences. I met Sophie, whose real name is Jane Bidder, at the Writers' Conference at Winchester in June, so was delighted to read one of her books.

Also read Joseph O'Connor's 'Redemption Falls'. Now, I absolutely loved and often recommend his previous novel, 'Star of the Sea', so I had been saving this one up for a good wallow. Ended up not waving but drowning. It was not a good choice for a holiday read - it's beautifully written, but it's heavy duty. I think it's just overloaded, clotted with fine writing, and for most of it I couldn't figure out what the point of it all was. He's done an enormous amount of research on the American Civil War and its aftermath. I'm all for research. As a reader I need to believe in what the writer's telling me - but the danger is that it overwhelms the story - and I felt it did that here.

First prize in the holiday reading stakes goes to C.J. Sansom's 'Sovereign', which I'd also been storing up with relish and anticipation. This one didn't disappoint - this is the best of his Tudor mysteries yet - especially the terrifying episode in the Tower of London. I'll say no more - just read it.

Finally I've been meaning for ages to mention a short story competition run by The Yellow Room magazine - the closing date is 30th September, if you're interested. The editor of the magazine, Jo Good as was, now Jo Derrick, used to edit QWF (Quality Women's Fiction) Magazine, which she eventually sold as the pressure on her time was too much. But you can't keep a warm, encouraging, lively writer/editor down, and she's back again. Years ago, I gave a workshop in Rugby as part of the QWF conventions that used to run and had a great time there. Go to and also to read more. And wish all success to Jo's new enterprise.

And I promise I'll be back soon!

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