Sunday, 30 May 2010

Book worm reviews

In each 'Book worm' post, I review all the books I have read the previous month, no matter how varied. I am looking forward to discovering what takes my attention in a year. Coming up are the books devoured in April and May 2010:

Calvin and Hobbes - Scientific Progress Goes ‘Boink’
Mr Toppit, by Charles Elton
The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells
Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie
The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
The E Before Christmas, by Matt Beaumont

APRIL 2010

Calvin and Hobbes - Scientific Progress Goes ‘Boink’, by Bill Watterson
First published in the USA by Andrews and McMeel 1991
This edition published by Warner Books 1993

Calvin and Hobbes, the comic strip drawn by Bill Watterson from 1985 to 1995, explores very human foibles and dreams through the eyes of the protagonist, six-year old Calvin, and his tiger Hobbes, a toy to everyone except him. It can be poignant yet very funny, and Bill’s artistic talent shines through the panels, almost drawing on German expressionism for the use of shadow and and strange angling. He also is a brilliant poet and executor of words – you don’t often get alliterative haikus within cartoons - and has a very original way of thinking that perfectly suits the nature of Calvin. I absolutely love this comic strip, and although I am sad that Bill Watterson ‘retired’ Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, I am very pleased he didn’t sell out as he surely could have done, and plastered their images on everything plastic that could sell. Very commendable, and I admire his principles.

Mr Toppit, by Charles Elton
First published by Viking 2009
This edition published by Penguin Books, 2009

This is Charles Elton’s debut novel and the idea is excellent – a father writes a fictional book based on his child which becomes a cult way-of-life, but causes destruction for the author's family. There are obvious parallels with how the book of Winnie-the-Pooh affected the life of the real Christopher Robin, and perhaps even how Harry Potter took the world by storm, but although the parallels are there this story stands up nicely on its own, and gives an eye-opener into the book publishing world, as well as a fantasy glance as to how a child might cope with their father immortalising them forever on paper.

But someway along the line this book seemed to morph into something else completely, almost if it was unsure of the original audience/intention and thought it needed to insert a bit of Jackie Collins / chick-lit to liven it up. I didn’t believe in the metamorphosis of one of the characters, Laurie, and actually she was more interesting a character in the first rendition. Likewise Rachel’s character was drawn too paper-thin, and I couldn’t believe (nor care) about her either. Some of the characters’ reactions seemed a bit off to the situations around them; they would say or do things that made me wonder if a real person would really act that way. Sometimes I couldn’t quite tell what year the situations were set in – the surroundings were modern yet the reactions seemed to belong to a much earlier age.

This is me being awfully picky of course, probably because I loved the idea, and as I was reading I was disappointed when the focus seemed to slip and change. But I will read this again at some point, and think perhaps my liking may grow on a second read-through.

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
Published by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan McMillan Ltd, 2007

As I finished this book I immediately thought of the film ‘Atonement’ – adapted from the 2001 bestseller book by Ian McEwan. It is an unfair comparison in many ways as this book does stand on its own but there are similarities – however, this could be purely because both are set in the same era in a grand house, and both use water (pond/fountain) as one of the main plot settings. So let’s put that to one side for now.

The sheer size of this book put me off at first – I have not read this author’s work before and to plunge in for 393 pages was a big commitment. I was very glad I did though, as it is a skilfully written book that was a pleasure to read, and definitely helped transport me from the commute to an earlier age of innocence, class, and posh houses in the country. There are a lot of divisions in this book – the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ aspect of life in the grand house, the flicker between present and past as the main protagonist, Grace, tells her story. But it is seamless – nothing jars, everything flows as it ought to, and you find yourself caring about the characters, especially Grace.

My only note of criticism would be that the main plot device - the crux of the actual ‘secret’ - isn’t big enough for the build up. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but I was expecting a bigger secret as the pay off for the length of the book.

I would love to see a film of this book as I think it would be shot so beautifully, but I wonder if that is impossible because of the success of Atonement. It would be a clever director to highlight the differences between both stories on screen. However, as a debut novel, Kate Morton certainly delivers a good story, and I would definitely look out for her name again.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

In which it turns out I am, as suspected, a hippy at heart

A small mini round-up of recent holiday exploits, which feels like inviting you around for tea on the pretence of talking about writing and then just when you are comfy I pull down a screen and proceed to bore you with holiday snapshots.

Stonehenge. Gosh you’re a big rock, aren’t you? And you. And you.

It is hard to see the majesty of this site in-between a hoard of over excited school-children released from various sweaty coaches. They were all much more interested in taking pictures of their friends on their mobiles, and Stonehenge was almost like some sort of giant accidental rockery in the background. In fact, the ‘information wand’ (pre-recorded thing that you hold to your ear and listen to as you walk around) solemnly told many theories of why the stones were there, but never hit upon the idea of a rockery for gardening Druids. I am a genius.

Glastonbury. Ooo crystals and dragons and faeries! Repeat ad nauseum.

My first glimpse of the town of Glastonbury was entrancing. I had found a place where it is perfectly acceptable to grow old wearing fluffy fairy wings. What more could you want in life? The shops are charming and I can well see why it draws open-minded people, however there was a creeping ‘business’ sense drifting on the conversational wind that made me wonder a little – like the men sat in the vegetarian cafe discussing a crystal workshop ‘money-spinner’, and the women angrily discussing how a tarot reader’s advertising board was obscuring their own sign. I know places have to make money – you can’t live just by skipping around holding a daisy – but the world of wonder makes a strange bedfellow with the world of business.

More Glastonbury images...

Love the fact the shadow makes it look like Batman has appeared in the doorway of the church below.

The Chalice Well. Ommmmmmmm....

This is one of those holy spots where holy things happened a wholly long time ago. It is also blessed with a lovely well-kept garden and obviously is run by people who take a great deal of care in keeping it that way – benches are placed at thoughtful interludes for moments of calm reflection and peaceful meditation. I lay under the cool green canopy of trees and just revelled in the quiet. I also had a moment of pretending to be the Blackthorn Fairy, but thankfully for other visitors it didn’t last long.

Some Barrow Thing. The hillside around these parts has Mumps.

There are lots of lumps and bumps on the landscape in these parts, mostly because they were all ancient burial mounds, or natural watch towers from when the lower ground was long-ago covered in water. At the top of this one was a ruined church, guarded by sheep of an uncertain disposition. I went into complete city girl panic – it’s a sheep! It is looking at me! It has horns! It’s a ram! It looks a bit pissed off! Will it eat me? But I survived, climbed the hill, admired the view, and pondered the church. It had curious wording – something like it has been given in case local folk wanted to use it to commemorate people who died in the Second World War – not that it ‘was’ a memorial, but in ‘case’ they wanted it to be in the future. Odd, but nice.

Avebury. There’s a rock! And another. And another.

It was a sweltering hot day to land up in Avebury, the site of a large henge and several stone circles around the village. The white dust from the road mixed with the atmosphere, making everything a little dust-blown and hazy as I followed the circular trail from large stone to big rock. I wanted to be grabbed more by Avebury, but the picnicking tourists and midday heat didn’t make me feel any awe, apart from ‘awe I really need to find the loo’, and ‘awe can we sit in the shade’, and ‘awe does this shop serve ice-cream?’

I think Autumn would probably suit me better, towards sunset. Wearing some sort of flowing gown with a pint of ale waiting for me in the nearest brewing establishment. And after that I could skip around holding a daisy to my heart’s content, slightly sozzled.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Gone Surfing

I love that sign! But in the spirit of 'gone surfing', 'gone fishing' etc, I have 'gone exploring' for a few days, so am unplugging and am off to see green hills, groovy shops (maybe), country walks, and, finally, the sea!

I'll catch up on all comments when I am back - thank you for the comments on my last post, and for being excited for me! I really appreciate it. And a big hello to new followers! Comment here and I'll pop over to your blogs when I am back.

Now, where's my surfboard?

Monday, 17 May 2010

The End is Nigh

I am so excited! Over the weekend I finished the main bulk of redrafting. Hooray! I’ve already explained my revision process in an earlier post, so those of you familiar will know that it has really been an epic learning-curve for me.

The first thing I did was attempt to print out the whole thing on my clunky breezeblock of a printer. Of course it ran out of black ink halfway through, and I didn’t have a new cartridge, so printing was delayed as I got on a bus to dash to nearest town for supplies. Dash probably isn’t the right objective when placed alongside the word ‘bus’, come to think of it. ‘Rumbled slowly with much deliberation’ is a better description. But once I was home again printing resumed, apart from the inevitable pause for the printer to take full advantage of the spotlight like a hammy actor - ‘agh I’m choking, I’m going to die, take this paper out of my throat agh agh’.

Eventually, despite the drama, my manuscript was printed. I beamed at it in delight. Shiny, thick, real... heavy! I am going to have to plant some trees to atone for this one day. This is the first time I have seen the whole thing printed out since I finished the first draft of the story back in March 2008. Yes I know – March 2008! My revision period has been long, but I felt I had a lot to learn to improve. I also have The Fear (of course – the fear of failure, of it being crap, of rejection – I think every writer has this. But we have to conquer it!)

So now I’m in the last stages of redrafting. Woohoo! Yesterday I took myself to a different part of the house, and settled down for the Grand Read-Through.

As you can see, the grand read-through needs some sustenance! You can also see the list I make as I read, headed Anomalies. Underneath it is another page I am compiling of acknowledgements – my story references a few quotes that need full citation. As I read through I am also editing anything that leaps to the eye – a comma here, a word change there – nothing major so far, I am pleased to report. The rigorous redrafting has helped so much – I can’t begin to describe how much the story has improved.

There are still things to do in this last stage – mainly sort out the anomalies! I am also going to create an audio file of the whole thing. I hate listening to myself but it will be fab to hear the rhythm of the words. After that any further changes will be updated, but then it will be ready to go. By the end of this stage I will have got this story as perfect as I possibly can – for now my talent goes no further. I feel I am holding the manuscript high above my head and it will need a professional agent higher than me to take it and swing it further. Can’t wait for that day! Until then I have my two furry writing coaches...

You aren't still reading, are you?

Don't mind us. We'll just sit here waiting.

Your first novel? Impressive. Now shush while I clean my backside.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Happiness is being let loose for an hour or two in a second-hand bookshop, with nothing but a determination to find something groovy.

Happiness is doubled if the bookshop in question comes with bonus ladders for customers to continue searching by the rafters for the book of their dreams.

Happiness is finding a Graham Oakley book that is affordable, a Daphne du Maurier with an interesting cover (it will be the subject of a book worm review one of these days when I get my act together!), a 'photo-mag' of The Beatles filming 'A Hard Day's Night', and a 1959 edition of children's book The Borrowers Afloat.

Happiness is my cat Ginger, a beautiful boy with soft fur who likes his creature comforts as much as he likes his dinner. He is very sure of himself in the world as long as he gets regular cuddles. He has the loudest purr in London. His nickname is Mr Big Paws (AKA the Ginger Whinger).

Happiness is my cat Abigail, a beautiful girl with an inquisitive nature (see her staring past me at the window) and the gentlest paws. She goes into raptures of delight at being the highest in a room, preferably balanced around my neck. Abi is my little shadow, and where-ever I am in the house she loudly brings me her favourite toy, a long snaky piece of fluff we call The Wiggly. Her nickname is the Naughty Tortie.

Happiness is exploring somewhere new, preferably somwhere with a classic plane/car show. I will examine every car, nodding knowledgebly but if coaxed into conversation will reveal that I know nothing about cars, and my only scale for car liking is whether it will suit a wicker picnic basket. Deciding which classic car best suits a picnic basket is something that I will happily ponder for hours. I also rather like pointing my camera in the sky at these things, as you can see.

The reason for the watermark is I am debating doing something 'proper' with my favourite photography - more than likely some sort of mixed media collage thing as a bit of an Arty creative diversion when the book is done. Gosh - when the book is done! Oh fateful day!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Seven Things and an Award or Two

A while ago I was given the Beautiful Blogger award by the lovely Wendy over at On ‘n’ On ‘n’ On, and part the fun with this award is sharing seven things about myself. Oo-er.

One. When I was little I wanted to be a cat. I truly and honestly thought that was possible and that one day I would morph from small girl to tabby just by wishing hard enough. To put this in context, I also thought I could fly if I only I could flap my arms for long enough, and would tap the back of my wardrobe looking for Narnia. I also believed me and my friends could call thunder from the sky by chanting ‘We want thunder!’ round and around the playground... we only ever tried this when the skies were already dark and a bit rumbly. So yes, I could call thunder. But I never became a cat, dagnabbit.

Two. I say words like dagnabbit. And gosh. And blimey. And, in times of severe stress, panty-ola’s. I’m really not proud of making that word up. Although I am rather fond of making up stories.

Three. My first story was written in a Brambly Hedge notebook. The story was called ‘Let’s Slink into Space!’ and was about four children who lived in a village with a mad professor (a pre-requisite of villages, I believe). He said he could turn anything into a time machine, so they gave him their toy slinky, and he made it a giant slinky time machine. And where did they want to go – but into space! So off they zoomed in the giant slinky. At the time of writing, I was about seven years old and had a slinky. Not quite aware of ever having a burning desire to go into space, though.

A slinky.

Four. I spoke to the author of Brambly Hedge, Jill Barklem, sixteen years after writing my first story in that notebook. She found that really sweet! We chatted by phone and it was interesting to hear how she came to write Brambly Hedge. You can read more about her here.

Five. I interviewed a few authors and illustrators for my Illustration degree course, but none so warm and friendly as Martin and Tanis Jordan. They are a husband and wife team – Martin is the artist, Tanis the author, and between them have created many marvellous books. They love wildlife, exploring strange uncharted lands, and have always been incredibly encouraging with my dreams. Click here to see some of their books.

Six: As well as being an avid reader of books, I am also an avid collector. My book collection probably wouldn’t make Sotheby’s as it is an eclectic mix of Stuff What I Like, but Agatha Christie books (1920s – 1960s), and children’s books feature highly. Currently the majority of my collection is in boxes from the last flat move, and I really miss them. My books are my friends.

Seven: I am also incredibly lucky and blessed to have some amazing friends of the human variety. I can’t say enough good things about them – they are funny, kind, thoughtful, supremely supportive, wonderful people. My chosen family. I hope you all have such folk in your lives!

So now to the award!

I’d like to give this to the newest followers who have commented on my blog, as I would like to find out more about you! (Only if you want to of course, the award is yours anyway!) So without further adieu (see how I milk speeches!), the Beautiful Blogger award goes to (drum roll)...

Julie at Being Ruby
Lola Sharp at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword
Elegant Snobbery at Elegant Bloggery
Creepy Query Girl
Ange at Signed By Ange

I also have an Awesome Sauce award (which kind of makes me want to check my chin for stray ketchup) from another lovely Wendy, who also goes by the name Quillfeather.

This is for the following folk, as their blogs are all sorts of Awesome!

ChristaCarol Jones, for passing her classes!
Musings of a Palindrome, for it almost being her birthday!
Justine Dell, for having a 100th follower (now at 111) contest!
Elana Johnson, as she is just awesome, let’s face it!

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Five years

Jane, from the lovely blog Plain Jane, gave me this little tag that has been bouncing merrily around the blogosphere. Thank you, Jane! (Incidentally - the word ‘blogosphere’ does not get flagged up in Word as something strange. How quick language adapts!)

Where were you five years ago?

1. Interviewing bands like Level 42, and actors like Josh Hartnett
2. Just started writing a regular quirky history article for a London-based magazine
3. Directing an online team of fifty freelance writers, mainly beginners who loved writing, encouraging them with their dreams
4. Thinking seriously hard about giving up smoking
5. Scribbling story ideas when no one was looking

Where would you like to be five years from now?

1. A published author, whose stories leave people with the slightly warm fuzzy feeling a good yarn can bring
2. Helping with the casting for the film of the first book (heeheehee, rubs hands with glee)
3. Owning my own home, somewhere with hidden nooks and book-filled crannies and a garden for my two cats (who will still be with me as my elderly furry advisors)
4. Happy and confident in my abilities, slightly slimmer and healthier but fully at peace with myself
5. With a man who loves me

What is on your to-do list today?

1. Work stuff (day-time)
2. Redrafting stuff (evening - chapter 22)
3. Blog-skipping (a merry game to play whilst at work doing Other Things)
4. Puzzling over the ending of Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’, and wondering whether every story I read by this marvellous author will leave me scratching my head and desperate to know more
5. Finding the cat basket in order to take the Naughty Tortie for her Expensive Teeth check up tomorrow (we are both so looking forward to it)

What five snacks do you enjoy?

1. Chocolate (Cadbury’s Twirl)
2. Madeira cake
3. Chocolate (Cadbury’s Buttons)
4. Wasabi peas
5. Chocolate (Cadbury’s anything)

What would you do if you were a Billionaire?

1. Give half of it to various charities – no one seriously needs to be a billionaire
2. Buy property in London, Cornwall, France and New York (okay – will I need to be a billionaire to do that?!)
3. Give money to my friends/family so they can achieve their own dreams
4. Hire Sir Paul McCartney to play a gig on my birthday (and I choose the play-list)
5. Organise an all-expense-paid get-together party for all the people on my blog-list! It would be so great to meet you all.

Tag! You’re it... (as I would love to read your answers!)

Rose over at A Rose Beyond The Thames
Kit over at Kit Courteney Writes
Linda over at Wanna Be A Writer
Karen over at Get On With It
Fran at Being Me

And now for Awards!

And, as you have no doubt surmised by my sequins and best gown, I also have a One Lovely Blog award to give away, awarded to me by the lovely Alex at Friends and Crocodiles.

Without further ado, and with a sultry flick of my feather boa, I award it to:

Ev over at All This and Heaven Too
Christine over at Inwardly Digesting
Amy over at Bring Yourself
Pamela over at From the House of Edward
Joanne over at Whole Latte Life

I also have another Award to give away, given to me by the fabulous Carol, at Under the Tiki Hut, and the fantastic Julie at Silver Lining. I am an honoured soul (and a hoarder).

So, squinting in the spotlight, I would like to give the Sweet Blog award too:

Lydia at The Word is my Oyster
MissKris at A Shelter From The Storm
Old Kitty at Ten Lives and Second Chances
Milton over at KittyChat
Lilly over at Stuff I Make, Bake and Love

More awards coming up over the weekend! But don’t worry, I will change my frock.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Thought Process of Elderly Hot-Pant Wearer as Seen during Lunch

I wonder what to wear to collect my pension?
Bit chilly out there.
Let me just rootle in my wardrobe – ah, what’s this?
My purple satin hot-pants!
Not seen these for a while.
I wonder...
Perhaps if I...
Now try to...
There. I’m in!
What’s that hanging out?
Oh. It’s my butt.
And what’s that hanging over?
Breathe in, Doris!
Sod it. Never mind.
Hey, I look good!


I would love to have even half of the confidence these eccentric souls possess. Apart from being bonkers, what makes them wear such odd things and actually step out of the house? Do they have a magic mirror? If so I’d love to peer in it over their shoulder and see what they see.

Incidentally, I have to stop my lunchtime fascination with health food shops. I keep thinking I will find the answer to Slim Legs and Flat Tum lurking inside, but I negate the healthy qualities of whatever I buy by guzzling the entire packet in one go. I also have to stop eyeing up herbal teas. They all have delicate pictures of leaves and nature on the front, and taste like Green Mud, or Gravel and Peppermint. I now have four packets on my desk, and am not sure about any of them!

Sunday, 2 May 2010


There comes a time when you must choose
About the path you're gonna take
And you must take it win or lose
And if you lose it's your mistake

Rooting through my dwindling pile of VHS tapes to see what to take to a charity shop, I came across the animated 1980 film Animalympics.

The film spoofs the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, with animals from all over the world competing for a gold medal. It has some great characters – Dean Wilson, a swimming Californian dude otter; Bolt Jenkins, a high jumping crocodile; Tatyana Tushenko, a slinky gymnastic sable… but my favourites were the marathan runners Rene Fromage (a French goat) and Kit Mambo (an African lioness). Both are determined to win their race, but fall in love along the way.

However the main reason I remembered Animalympics was for the stunning soundtrack by 10cc bassist Graham Gouldman, and for the beautiful short song below. I am a somewhat melonchony soul and have always been drawn to songs that say hello to this sort of sadness. Sometimes songs attach themselves to your skin and become part of a personal soundtrack whether you want them to or not. This is one of the songs that has somehow ended up on my private playlist; such simple and yet haunting imagery of how it can feel to pursue a dream, all my greatest hopes and darkest fears.

It feels very personal sharing this with you, but I am sure you won't mind. I guess I just feel a bit sad today. It'll pass.

It's a beautiful song, and I am so happy it, and the film, can be found on youtube. Sorry I have been slow replying to comments, but I appreciate each and every one; it is lovely to read your thoughts on my posts.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Playground superstitions

White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits!

Apparently you have to say it three times before midday on the first day of a new month, and it means good luck! Either that or I was just really gullible as a child…

There was also the charming ‘A pinch and a punch for the first day of the month, no return’.

By saying ‘no return’ it meant (in playground code) that you couldn’t retaliate back... unless you replied ‘A punch and a kick for being so quick!’

The power of ‘no return’ was like the power of Grayskull… oops, slight digression into He-Man. Of course what I meant to say was like the power of Fainites.

Anyone remember calling out fainites to announce a truce, accompanied by crossing fingers? We pronounced it ‘fay-nights’, and it was usually shouted just before an exhausted small person was about to be tagged ‘it’. Shouting fainites meant an instant shut down of the game, and so It and Soon-to-be-It would stand eyeing each other, panting, until Soon-to-be-It declared they were fit to run again, in which case they were swiped by It before they managed three paces.

Fainites is a curious word to be handed down the years – according to the Collins English Dictionary it dates from around the 1870s or earlier, and is from the Old French ‘se feindre’, in the sense of meaning ‘to back out of battle’. Okay… but what was it doing in my 1980s school playground? I don’t remember anyone teaching us to shout fainites; it was just a word that was waiting for us on the shimmering tarmac.

Wouldn’t it be great if fainites worked beyond the playground? As well as for the really big things (wars, etc), it could be put to good use during meetings.

Work: Jayne, what do you think of Boring Involved Topic?
Me (holds hand in air, crosses fingers): Fainites!
Work (respectfully): Oh, of course. Next person?

Or with tidying up:

Significant Other: Jayne, is it your turn to clean the cat litter tray?
Me: Oh it is but fainites. (Displays crossed fingers)
S.O. (impressed by my knowledge of Old French): Ah. Righty ho then.

Sadly I don’t employ fainites quite as much as I should, but I do still salute solitary magpies, all thanks to the rhyme:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
And seven for a secret that has never been told

I actually use this rhyme in the novel-to-be, but the superstition goes if you see a solitary magpie you have to salute it to ward off sorrow, while saying the words ‘Hello Mister Magpie’. You can hold your salute (if you want to look like a nutter) and look around for a second magpie, as then you have turned ‘sorrow’ into ‘joy’ (or perhaps into ‘embarrassment’.) My salute these days may be more of an ashamed rub of my forehead, but I still do it!

Are there any childhood superstitions that you still follow? And I wish you the good luck of three white rabbits!

Image taken from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland