Saturday, 21 January 2012

In Memoriam

So many years have passed now, but you are still loved, still remembered.

George Johnston Fergusson
Elizabeth Hay Findlay


Saturday, 7 January 2012

The To-Be-Read List - Tyranny and Temptation

During 2011, I read a heck of a lot and enjoyed some wonderful books, as I reported in my last post. However, I start 2012 with a familiar sense of guilt about my level of literary consumption. I keep a record, you see, every month, under two headings: Books Bought and Books Read. No prizes for guessing which list is longer! As we move into the new year I feel the anticipation of reading books which will be published during the course of it, but there's also the awareness that I need to catch up on my To Be Read list, a list of almost unassailable proportions, growing like the national debt. Last year I even moved my desk in the study so as to turn my back on the wall of bookshelves there, because every time I looked at it that guilt would wash over me, that hunger to grab and read the lovely stories I brought home from bookshops, stories I was desperate to read in the way you want to put on a new item of clothing as soon as you've bought it, stories which I'd been drawn to by enticing covers, intriguing blurbs, fascinating subjects, familiar voices. It's like the best friend you always mean to ring, the location you always mean to visit, the diary you'll faithfully keep, the diet you'll never deviate from - we all tread on that path paved with such good intentions.

The new books are unwrapped, stroked, turned in the hands, the first few paragraphs or pages read. Then something happens. Life happens. The dinner needs cooking, the clothes need ironing, the tax accounts need compiling. Earning a crust takes precedence. Vegging out in front of the TV after a hard day seems an easier way to deal with exhaustion. Children have exams. Bus-stops must be waited at, the telephone must be answered. Shopping must be bought, unpacked, consumed, renewed. Lists are made and checked off and yet like the overflowing pot in the fable, endlessly restore themselves. When you wake you wake with the vibrant anticipation of all you will achieve in the day ahead. The day rolls to its close and all that grew was The List. The next day follows and the next and the next ... Life happens and keeps happening. 'What are days for?' Philip Larkin asked. 'Days are where we live.'

So, in January, that ambivalent ambiguous month, that junction of looking back and looking forward, I hear myself making the same promises to the god within my head, the god of getting-things-done. I will eat less, do more, write more, read more. Before 2012's To-Be-Read list starts to grow like Topsy, here's a selection of last year's - if you like the sound of these books you can add them to your own TBR list (and I know you've got one!) - hah!

This is just a selection, mind ...


James Shapiro: Contested Will (people who were drawn to believe in that farrago of nonsense, the film Anonymous, need not apply) - about the debate about who wrote Shakespeare's plays arose, the various schools of thought on that vexed question.
Don Paterson: Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets
Matthew Hollis: Now All Roads Lead to France - about the poet Edward Thomas. This book has just won the Costa Biography Prize.
Andrew Turnbull (ed.): Dreams of Youth - the Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Brian Cox: Wonders of the Universe
Claire Brock: The Comet Sweeper (about Caroline Herschel)
Siddartha Mukherjee: The Emperor of All Maladies
Marie de Hennezel: The Warmth of your Heart prevents your Body from Rusting - subtitled 'Ageing without Growing Old' - now there's a promise!
Candia McWilliam: What to Look for in Winter
Jeannette Winterson: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (which also gets my vote as the best title of the year)
The last two are memoirs so I'll deliberately deny myself the pleasure of reading them as yet because I'm still working on my own.


Judith Allnatt: The Poet's Wife
Adam Foulds: The Quickening Maze (both of these deal with the life of the poet John Clare)

David Vann: Caribou Island
Elizabeth Speller: The Return of Captain John Emmett
David Almond: The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean
Stef Penney: The Invisible Ones (I got distracted from this one when I was a third of the way through it last November so am now getting back into it)
Jane Harris: Gillespie and I (I loved her The Observations so expect this one to be excellent - I just wish they hadn't given the paperback a virulently pink cover!)
Kathryn Stockett: The Help (one of my students is writing about this for coursework)
Karen Maitland: The Gallows Curse (I met her at the Goldsboro books event in the autumn - she was absolutely lovely. I highly recommend her previous books, The Owl Killers and Company of Liars)

On Kindle, as I said in my previous post I'm looking forward to reading Linda Gillard's Emotional Geology and Untying the Knot, and also Lycopolis by Ali Luke. I've just finished Louise Voss's sparky To Be Someone, which rang the changes of tone between comedy and pathos very well. The coming week sees the book launch for Catch your Death which she co-wrote with Mark Edwards, landing a four book print deal with HarperCollins after very successfully self-publishing to Kindle (my interviews with them are herehere and here).

Finally, I'm delighted to announce that Lynn Shepherd will be guest-posting on Literascribe later this month: she'll be talking about her use of location in her forthcoming novel Tom-All-Alone's, inspired by Dickens' Bleak House.

Succumb to temptation - get reading!

Fictionfire in 2012: 

Focus Workshops: Cracking Openings 2 (Jan 21st); A Sense of Place (Feb 4th); The Inner Lives of Characters (Feb 18th).

Fictionfire Day Courses at Trinity College: Write It! (May 19th); Edit It! (May 20th); Publish It! (May 26th); Market It! (May 27th)

Full details of these and of the mentoring, manuscript appraisal and editing services I offer are on the website: