Well, I took more of a blog-break than I'd intended to! Christmas was good but January has been one damn thing after another. I hope all of you have managed to dig your way out of the snow and ice by now. My escape was to spend hours and hours on the internet in The Great Annual Holiday Search. This was made more difficult than usual because we couldn't decide at first where to go! In the end, though, we've settled on Corfu - and I have to say that during the gloom and the frost it's been wonderful to gaze at photos of azure and turquoise Mediterranean waters! We went to Crete some years back and enjoyed that, but I'm looking forward to Corfu in particular because when I was a child one of my favourite books was Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals' (many years later I met the man himself at a Blackwell's Literary Lunch in Oxford and he was far more agreeable than the strutting egotistical ('Bankrupt? Go write a novel and make a million! Nothing to it, m'dear') Jeffrey Archer who also appeared.
I went on to read most of Durrell's books but it is 'My Family' that I have fondest memories of - at the time, in my wee fishing village in the north of Scotland, a Greek island was an entirely alien but extremely seductive landscape. I had no real idea what a cicada or a gecko was but I was enchanted by the beetle man with his whirligig of iridescent beetles round his head, each tied round the centre by a thread, I loved the notion of lying under olive trees, I found the descriptions of the various villas the family lived in, daffodil yellow, pink and white, magical. I laughed at the extreme eccentricities of this utterly English, utterly barking mad family as it interacted with equally insane locals. The melodramatic rituals of veneration of saints were to me as fascinating as tribal beliefs in Borneo - as someone brought up a Methodist with dour Plymouth Brethren traditions among some relatives, the notion of Catholicism was very much 'the other'. I envied the near-total freedom Gerry had to wander the island and pursue the passion that would always be his for natural history.
So, I'm going to read it - and also Lawrence Durrell's 'Prospero's Cell' as well - before we go. And if in the paragraph above, I got any details wrong, it's because I'm bringing to the surface memories of a book last read forty years ago!
In my last post, I mentioned Borders closing and how sad that was. I'm doing my tax accounts just now (bleghh) and my God, the number of Borders receipts I have! So, sad though their demise is, it'll probably do my bank account some good! Some wag in the shop left a notice by the door when they shut a few days before Christmas, which said 'Elvis has left the building.' What we have to watch out for now is that he doesn't leave the Waterstone's building too. Waterstone's didn't do well over Christmas, apparently, and have got rid of their CEO - if we lose yet another chain, it'll be disastrous. This is because all bookshops - both chains and independents - are crucial to us as readers. If all we are left with, ultimately, are the supermarkets and Amazon, how will we ever browse? I don't know about you, but browsing electronically is not at all the thing - electronic outlets are where you go with a definite idea of what you want: you find it, check prices and possibly reviews, click buy. Bookshops are where you wander from shelf to shelf, from book to book, where you lose all sense of time, where you find what you want and trip over what you didn't know you wanted, where, quite simply, you ought to be able to enjoy yourself in a way you never can online.
Now, fictionfire: I'm delighted to announce that the next day- courses I'll be running are these:
May 1st: Character Building - a course showing you how to invent and develop characters for your fiction. How to bring them to convincing life and make your readers care about them.
May 15th: Essential Editing - learn the skills of effective editing of your work in order to pitch it successfully to agents and publishers - or even to self-publish!
Both these courses will be held at Trinity College here in Oxford and I would be so pleased if you could come along! I'll be posting full details of course content on my fictionfire website within the next few days. In the meantime if you want to register an interest in attending prior to making a full booking, do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll add your name to the list.
Finally, I'm going to be speaking about my novel 'The Chase' at the Anchor Book Club in Jericho, Oxford, this evening, and am very much looking forward to that!