Tuesday, 21 November 2017

IGISIRI catch-up - my latest reads

A quick post today about my IGISIRI programme – you may have wondered why things have gone a bit silent on that front! If you remember, IGISIRI stands for I’ve Got It So I’ll Read It and it’s all about tackling those books on your TBR pile, at the rate of two a month. You choose them from your shelves quickly, without too much thought – because if you dither for too long you find you want to read everything you own all at once and you make no decision at all!

I was doing well until the summer. Summer, for me, is all about teaching. So my focus is on useful-sources-for-illustrative-passages for my creative writing students rather than damn-fine-reads-I-can-escape-into.

Here, then, is an update of books I’ve read for pleasure since my last IGISIRI post, taking us through the end of summer and the autumn.

On holiday after the teaching gigs ended, I read a couple of thrillers: Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls, which was in the holiday rental we were staying in and Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear, bought at the airport. The former was, I found, well done but far too long and pretty distasteful, even though I have a strong stomach for the gory end of the thriller market. Peter Swanson’s novel was OK but curiously flat and I was irked by the errors of ‘British’ thought and expression when he was narrating from a British character’s point of view. Both books, I felt, could have done with better standards of editing.

Since then I’ve read Liz Jensen’s The Rapture – extremely dark and scary and I hope not too prescient. Then Michelle Paver’s Thin Air – like her previous ghost/horror story Dark Matter, it makes use of a chilly, inhuman location. In Dark Matter (which is one of my favourite ghost stories ever) she set the story in the Arctic – here it’s the Himalayas. It was excellent, though not quite as good as Dark Matter.

This month I’ve finished reading Michael Haag’s The Durrells of Corfu, which I started back in the early summer. I loved it yet almost didn’t want to know the ‘truth’ behind My Family and Other Animals and its sequels. What was lovely was the recognition of the places mentioned such as the White House at Kalami – we had lunch there twice when we holidayed in Corfu some years back (see my post here). It made me want to return to the island with my extra knowledge not just of Gerald Durrell but of Lawrence Durrell. I have to say that this book has emerged as a result of the popularity of the Durrells series on ITV, which I have watched occasionally because of the gorgeous scenery but find irritating in the way it patronises Greeks as ludicrous eccentrics, though I suppose the original books did that too.

Next, Jessica Bell’s memoir Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel. This is a book that shocks you not only with the events it describes but with its degree of honesty. She lays bare what she did and why she did it in such an unsparing, unflinching way you long to dart forward and tell her to be kinder to herself. What is also extraordinary is that her mother, musician Erika Bach, who suffered from psychosis brought on by withdrawal from prescription painkillers and whose relationship with her daughter was intense and love-hate all the way, writes directly to the reader at the end. Jessica ricochets from depression to alcohol abuse to self-destructive melodrama in her quest to reconcile herself to her family, society, the world and her own self. Searing stuff.

Finally, many readers have waited a long time for this treat – Philip Pullman’s long-delayed new trilogy The Book of Dust. I wasn’t going to wait for La Belle Sauvage, the first in the trilogy, to come out in paperback. I bought the hardback at the Book House in Summertown – see the lovely bag that came with it?! Beneath the dust(!)jacket, the book itself is beautiful with little gold speckles of dust on the binding and a lines from the story inscribed down the spine. La Belle Sauvage is proof yet again that Pullman is a master storyteller. Though it doesn’t pack quite the revelatory punch of Northern Lights, the first of the His Dark Materials trilogy, it is an enthralling read all the same. It is a joy to return to the alternative Oxford he creates and an added joy for me, as an Oxford-dweller, to recognise the landmarks and places he describes, from the Trout and Godstow nunnery all the way down the Thames – a Thames that decides not to flow sweetly in this story, but to inundate the landscape and island the spires of the city. (Not all that unlikely, given that Oxford is very prone to flooding).

Till my next ISIGIRI round-up, keep reading!

Next time, a guest post by Yvonne Lyon, whose story The Hungry Sails appears in Distant Echoes, as does my story ‘Salt’, published by Corazon Books - see the sidebar on the right.

Past IGISIRI posts are here - with links to previous ones at the foot of that post.

Read more about Jessica Bell here: http://literascribe.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/triskele-book-launch-power-of-writing.htmland her website is here. Jessica is a musician too. And a publisher and cover designer ...

Are you a writer - or do you want to be? Visit my website to download your free guide to launching a productive writing life. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Where have I been?

Getting ready to start teaching
 at Oxford University
Summer School for Adults
It’s a while since I last blogged so this is a round-up of what was going on and advance notification of what is coming up!

Summers equate with creative writing teaching: no sooner had I finished running a part time course for Oxford University during the spring, but I taught at Winchester Writers’ Festival where my subject was the power of point of view, then two summer schools on two different programmes for Oxford University. This was my fifteenth  year at OUSSA and my fourth at the OUDCE Creative Writing summer school at Exeter College.

As ever, I was blown away by the quality of work I was assessing and hearing. I loved meeting my students and hearing their stories. Summer schools bring together the most extraordinary mix of nationalities, backgrounds, life experiences and writing dreams.

With lovely tutor and writer
Judy Waite, at Winchester Writers' Festival
By mid-August I was just desperate for a holiday, though! I hadn’t had a break since our holiday in Cornwall in early spring. But before I could relish any down-time, I had to face tasks I had been putting off for months – nay, years! I moved my website host, I created an opt-in PDF, I learned how to use Convertkit and moved my mailing lists to it, I got all the elements talking to one another!

Before we left for our holiday in France in September, I set up my new website landing page. I felt tired but pretty damned chuffed. What would be a walk in the park to some people was like climbing Everest to me, but I had done it – I had got that far.

Roussillon, Provence
We went back to Provence, which we had visited last year. And oh, it was still gorgeous. For two weeks I genuinely unwound and it did me a power of good. I even wrote something!

Back home, I soon got all wound up again. Life has been full on since then. I have been editing, mainly, for long-term clients. I’ve also been the co-ordinating judge of the short story competition Writers in Oxford has been running for young Oxfordshire writers. Now, our choices have been made and sent to Philip Pullman, our head judge. The prizes will be announced next week at the Writers in Oxford 25th Anniversary party, held in conjunction with the Society of Authors.
Being interviewed at Radio Oxford
to publicise Writers in Oxford's
Young Oxfordshire Writer competition

And what about the website, you may ask?

Ah. Ahem … a work in progress still, but progress is being made!

Well, do go and visit: you can download my free PDF on leading a productive writing life!

In other news, I got published!

More of that in my next post too …

Download your free guide to launching a productive writing life by visiting the website here