Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Colour by Rose Tremain

"She was a woman who longed for the unfamiliar and strange. As a child, she'd seen it waiting for her, in dreams or in the colossal darkness of the sky: some wild world which lay outside the realm of everything she knew."

Recently, I signed up to a summer reading challenge being organised through my local library service.

To tie in with the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, the challenge is to read 6 books from different continents with the aim of expanding our reading experiences and broadening our horizons.

I must say, that I am almost at the end of this reading journey and I have found it thoroughly fascinating. Some of the books chosen, I have loved and some not so much, but that is the beauty of exercises such as this. They push you out of your comfort zone.

As part of the challenge, I chose to read The Colour by Rose Tremain, published in 2003.

 Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate to New Zealand in the 1860's, along with Joseph's mother Lilian.
Joseph and Harriet have not been married long and it becomes clear very early on in the book that theirs is a marriage of convenience. Both have made the decision to marry and move half way across the world to escape things from their lives back in England.

On their arrival in New Zealand, Joseph leaves the women in Christchurch and heads to a place near the Okuku river to build them a house.
When he has finished, the women join him and experience the full force of a winter in New Zealand. Cracks begin to appear in the marriage and these are worsened when Joseph discovers a small amount of gold- 'the colour'-in the river.

From this point on, the mood of the story begins to change as Joseph, Harriet and Lilian are affected in different ways by this unexpected discovery.

"He had lost count of the hours he'd toiled , the slabs he'd fixed, the load after load after load of dirt washed in his cradle."

I chose to read this book because I was intrigued by the subject of gold prospecting in New Zealand as I had previously linked it to the United States. I was also keen to have a look at one of Ms Tremain's books as she has been on my TBR list for some time.

Ms Tremain's style of writing is very readable and her characters interesting, complex and thought provoking. I particularly loved Harriet as I found her to be gutsy and determined and always looking for adventure. In contrast, I disliked Joseph intensely, with his tendency towards secrecy and his total lack of understanding of the needs of his wife.

The story took a little while to get going but once it did I became totally immersed in it and was rooting for Harriet all the way.There were one or two surprising twists to the story, none of which I had anticipated.
The Colour is a thoroughly enjoyable read and although I wouldn't add it to my top 50 books of all time, I would definitely recommend it.

I give this a rating of 8/10

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Normal Service May (At Some Point In The Future) Be Resumed!

"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."(Mary Heaton Vorse)

I was going to begin by apologising for the length of time that has elapsed since I last posted. Then I was going to give a whole list of reasons why this had been the case before promising that I would try to do better etc etc etc. However, in truth, I can't use the excuse that I have been too busy although I certainly have been finding  lots of things to do-studying, cleaning (which, incidentally I loathe with a passion), ironing, cooking- in fact anything that I 'should' be doing.

 All of this 'busyness' has meant that I have totally neglected my blog and whilst I have felt very guilty for doing so, this has not spurred me on to do anything about it. Until now.
This morning, I woke with a determination to explore the reasons for my procrastination and to find out what I could do to alleviate this annoying habit that I have got into.

I decided to Google the terms writing and procrastination to see if this was normal behaviour for an aspiring wordsmith such as myself and I found that reassuringly all professionals have experienced this at some point in their writing journey

 Amongst the plethora of useful (and not so useful) information out there, I came across some amusing but highly appropriate gems like this cartoon by American author and artist Richard Krzemien

And my particular favourite from Calvin and Hobbes,

I also stumbled across some wise and in some cases amusing quotes by authors who had obviously experienced the same issues as I have but who thankfully got through them and gone on to create some amazing pieces of literature.

“If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done.” 
 Rita Mae Brown

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” 
 Mark Twain

 "He who awaits much can expect little."
-Gabriel García Márquez

Amongst the more serious and useful pieces I stumbled across is this very useful handout from the UNC College of Arts and Sciences in North Carolina which says we procrastinate for a number of reasons including fear and perfectionism. 
Fear of failure: If you are scared that a particular piece of writing isn’t going to turn out well, then you may avoid working on it in order to avoid feeling the fear.
Procrastination and perfectionism often go hand in hand. Perfectionists tend to procrastinate because they expect so much of themselves, and they are scared about whether or not they can meet those high standards.
The part about perfectionism particularly rings true for me as I have always felt that whatever I do in life,it is not good enough,especially when it refers to projects that are really important to me. 

The whole handout is very useful and I have saved it to my "to be read pile "- I am not procrastinating, honest, I just need to finish this post before getting involved in anything else!

As I was writing this,I suddenly remembered that I had a book about this very subject lurking somewhere on my overcrowded bookshelves. So I went hunting and found it -

I vaguely remember buying this a few years ago in an earlier attempt to stop procrastinating and guess what?- I never read it because I was too busy doing other things.
Flicking through it now, I can see that it is full of very useful tips and strategies to help overcome this most irksome of tendencies, like this one on page 9. Ms Lively writes

Challenge the "shoulds", those insidious guilt trips that drain your psychic energy. Don't let other people's expectations govern your life. Examine your own heart and mind to decide what you want to do, find necessary to do or will no longer worry about.

Wise words and ones which I am going to try very hard to take on board in my battle with procrastination.

Writing this post today has been a very useful personal development exercise. The main thing that I have learnt is this-I am proud of my blog and I get a great deal of pleasure out of the whole blogging experience. I am making a promise to myself that I will stop procrastinating by always finding other things that I "should" be doing and just write. if I don't, I will never know what I can achieve.

 As the brilliant Dr Wayne Dyer says "Don't die with your music still in you." 
I don't intend to. How about you?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Book Review: The Martian Chronicles

"It is good to renew one's wonder," said the philosopher. 
"Space travel has again made children of us all."

Having just finished Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and with it fresh in my mind I thought I would write a book review which is something I haven't done in a while.

Science Fiction isn't something that I read regularly- in fact I have probably only ever read a handful of books from this genre in my life so far.
However, this book has been on my TBR pile for some time now. This is because I remember the 1970's TV adaptation starring Rock Hudson from when I was a child. The story fascinated me a great deal and I watched it several times, but it was many years before I realised that it was an adaptation of a book.

The book was written in 1950 by American author Ray Bradbury who was responsible for other classics such as The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451 and  Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The blurb says
The Martian Chronicles tells the story of humanity's repeated attempts to colonize the red planet. The first men were few. Most succumbed to a disease called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a fist. Those few who survived found no welcome on Mars. But more rockets arrived from Earth, and more. People brought their old prejudices with them-and their desires and fantasies and tainted dreams.
 The book is written as a series of short stories linked together by the common theme of man's exploration to and eventual colonisation of Mars.
The stories are set in the future (from Ray Bradbury's perspective,obviously) beginning in 1999 and are told from both the point of view of the human interlopers and The Martians. They contain a mixture of sympathy for the Martians  and distaste for the way that the human invaders treat the planet. Having destroyed Earth with their greed and wars, they seem destined to make the same mistakes all over again.

Being a budding writer myself, I am always interested to know where an author gets his/her inspiration. In an interview, Bradbury said that he was inspired to write the book when as a 12 year old boy he saw photographs of the planet Mars and Schiaparelli's drawings of the canals on Mars. He also said  that he read  The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs as a boy but couldn't afford to buy the sequel and so he wrote The Martian Chronicles to fill this gap.

I enjoyed all of the stories but my favourites are 'The Third Expedition' which is sinister and  'The Martian' which gave me shivers down my spine as I read it.'The Martian' begins with an elderly couple, LaFarge and Anna, who live in a remote area of Mars. It is a windy and rainy night and they have just gone to bed when they hear a noise. 

He put on his robe and walked through the house to the front door. Hesitating he pulled the door wide, and rain fell cold upon his face.The wind blew.
In the dooryard stood a small figure.
Lightning cracked the sky, and a white wash of colour illumined the face looking in at old LaFarge there in the doorway.
"Who's there?" called LaFarge, trembling.
No answer.
"Who is it? What do you want?"
Still not a word.

I love the simplicity of the prose which nevertheless builds suspense and spookiness. It flows along and you find yourself drawn into an alien world of craters and barren landscapes.

 I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone, even those who do not usually read this genre. I will definitely be adding it to my Top 50 favourite books of all time.
 The only downside of this is I absolutely have to read his other books and so have now added  his entire catalogue of works to my TBR pile! Will it ever get any smaller? Sigh :)

I give this a rating of 10/10

Have a good weekend everybody


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Do you judge a book by it's cover?

How many of you are drawn to a book by how it looks? Does this method of choosing a book work or are you more often than not disappointed?

I am very drawn to the look and feel of a book, hence my apathy toward e readers. I get very excited when I go into bookshops and see the rows and rows of beautiful  booky possibilities. Some ladies get excited by clothes shops- (which I do occasionally) but I get much more of a thrill from a well stocked bookshop.

Many book covers are extremely beautiful- works of art in their own right. I love this Penguin Classics series of 20 Food Titles, including Eliza Acton's The Elegant Economist and Elizabeth David's A Taste of the Sun.

I love the Vintage range of books too. Many of their designs are simple but elegant and my intention is to build a collection from these as there are so many to choose from.

Top of my list are Westwood by Stella Gibbons

On the Beach Nevil Shute

Of Human Bondage W Somerset Maugham

If money was no object, then I would have to have a collection of Folio Society books.
These are incredibly beautiful but also a tad expensive for my pocket at present. I would love to own these gorgeous specimens!

At the Back of the North Wind


The Handmaid's Tale which incidentally has the most amazing illustrations- I have added a few for you to see

If you are interested in book cover art then take a trip over to  Book Cover Archive which has an amazing collection of book cover images which can be searched through by categories such as designer, photographer, title and author.

I will leave you with a few more book designs that I particularly like. Let me know your favourite book covers. I would love to see them.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Literary Round-up

Hi all

As today is Friday 13th, I thought I would do something to distract your minds from the sense of impending doom that seems to be present on this date and have gathered together a few of my favourite book related discoveries to share with you all. If my literary round-up proves popular, I may even make it a regular feature and would be pleased to hear what you think.

On Wednesday, the excellent Guardian Book Blog  featured an interesting post about Twitter and how it is being used by authors to communicate with each other- "a virtual literary salon" as it is described in the post's title.
I have been using Twitter for quite a while but it is only recently that I have become a fan.- I love its immediacy and its brevity and I know that many users love the fact that it allows them to communicate directly with their favourite celebrity.

My new book blog discovery of the week, Life Between Pages is written by Sophie who has similar literary interests to myself. Her blog is attractive to look at and her posts insightful and interesting. I look forward to reading more and wish her well with her blogging adventures.

Something that has got me really excited, is Sharing the Passion- A Celebration of Reading and Writing which is going to be taking place in my local arts centre. I live in a small town in rural Dorset and to have an event of this nature is quite something. Needless to say, I have already booked my ticket and am counting down the days!

An exciting forthcoming TV event happening very soon is the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulke's Birdsong.
I have read this book several times and it is probably in my top 20 favourite books of all time. I am intrigued by the casting of Eddie Redmayne in the lead role as he isn't at all how I imagine the character to look. However, I am a fan of Eddie's from his previous roles in The Pillars of the Earth and Tess of the Durbevilles and think he is a talented actor so I am sure he will be able to pull it off.

Finally, my absolute favourite online booky highlight of the week has to be this video. I am sure many of you will have already seen this piece of genius created by the owners of Type Bookshop in Toronto.
If you haven't then you are in for a treat. I have watched it several times now and can't stop marvelling at how clever this is and how much time it must have taken to do.

I really hope you have enjoyed my literary round-up and that it has gone a little way toward making today a bit brighter.

Hope your weekend includes some quality reading time. I am sure mine will.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

“I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of  a work of fiction should be to tell a story.” 
― Wilkie Collins

This year, I am making it my mission to find out more about the authors of my favourite period in literature- The 19th Century. Most people are aware that 2012 marks the 2ooth anniversary of Charles Dicken's birth and there are countless blog posts being written about the great man. In the interests of variety,  I thought I would give another of the great 19th Century writers a chance in the spotlight.

William Wilkie Collins was born on the 8th January 1824 in London. His father, William Collins was a well known landscape artist and member of the Royal Academy and at one time, Wilkie himself considered a career as an artist.

However, fortunately for the world of literature, he began to write and became prolific producing 30 novels, more than 60 short stories as well as 14 plays and 100 works of non-fiction.

Perhaps his most famous works are his novels The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

 The Woman in White, which was published in 1860 is a "sensation novel", a genre that includes other literary classics such as Great Expectations, East Lynne and Lady Audley's Secret.Sensation novels were popular with the general public in the 1860's and 1870's, but were scorned by academics of the time. Today, these works are generally viewed as the forerunners of detective novels.

In March 1851, Wilkie Collins met Charles Dickens and they formed a friendship that lasted until Dickens death in 1870. This meeting resulted in Collins working as an editor on Dickens publication 'Household Words' which featured serialized works by Collins including 'The Dead Secret' and 'A Rogue's Life.'

It seems to be a prerequisite of many of the successful  19th Century writers that their personal lives were almost more complicated than the fictitious ones they created.Wilkie Collins was no exception,  never marrying but instead enjoying two relationships at the same time.

 The first, the beautiful Mrs Caroline Graves was a widow who Collins lived with from around 1858 until his death in 1889, with a two year break in 1868 when Collins had a relationship with the second significant woman in his life, Martha Rudd. During this time, Mrs Graves remarried to a Joseph Clow, but this marriage ended in 1871 and she carried on where she had left off with Collins.

Martha Rudd was a girl of nineteen when she met the then 40 year old Collins in 1864 in Great Yarmouth. Four years later, Wilkie bought her to London and put her in a house in Bolsover Street. Rudd and Collins had 3 children together- 2 girls and a boy.

It seems that despite resuming his relationship with Caroline Graves, Collins was still committed to Martha and their children and left them well provided for in his will.

Until I began researching the Mr Collins for this blog post, I knew little of him and of the complicated romantic life that he led. However, I am intrigued to find out more about this man who was described in his obituary of 1889 written by Francis W. Halsey as 
..... a man of small stature, stooping somewhat in the shoulders, but with large eyes and a round, genial face, framed in by heavy hair and beard, that ill late years were almost white.

  I have added the biography by William M Clarke to my TBR pile as well as all of Collins works, beginning with The Moonstone.

2012 is going to be a busy reading year me thinks!

A belated Happy New Year to all my readers.I hope this year is a good one for you.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What the Dickens?

2012 is going to be an exciting year for literature fans everywhere as it marks 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens.

For me, Dickens is one of the most imaginatively brilliant and clever writers that has ever lived. His characters are fascinating and his stories are both tragic and heart-warming.
Admittedly, his books are not easy to read and many people find the old fashioned language hard to cope with. But if you can get past that and allow yourself to be immersed in his world, the effort is truly worth it.

To mark the special occasion, there are lots of activities planned throughout 2012 -have a look at the website for more details. Sadly I'm not sure I will be able to enjoy any of them as most of them seem to be taking place in London. However, I am looking forward to the season of Dickens on TV and Radio.

The BBC has this year filmed a new version of Great Expectations. It stars Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham and Ray Winstone as Abel Magwitch and apparently  has a new ending. I am looking forward to this greatly as no-one does Dickens like Aunty Beeb.

Top of my Christmas list this year is Claire Tomalin's Charles Dicken's- A Life. I already know that Santa is going to be bringing this to me and I can't wait to get started on it.I am really interested to find out more about the man behind the books although I have a feeling I am going to be surprised by what is revealed about him.

As part of  my own celebrations, I have decided to set myself  the challenge of reading at least 6 Dickens novels throughout 2012.
I am cheating a little as I have already made a start on the first on my list- Little Dorrit- but I am sure no-one will hold it against me.

The others on my list are

Bleak House
Our Mutual Friend
Dombey and Son
The Old Curiosity Shop
Nicholas Nickleby

If time allows, I also hope to read some of his short stories, in particular, this collection of Ghost Stories,

If you would like to join me in this challenge, feel free to add a comment to this post. I would love to hear your choices.

To me, Charles Dickens is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as mince pies, carol singing and falling asleep in front of the TV whilst watching The Queen's speech.

A Christmas Carol is one of if not the greatest Christmas story of all time and there have been many excellent versions. However, my favourite ( if not totally accurate) one and the one that is always watched in our house over the festive season is A Muppet Christmas Carol.

I will leave you with one of my favourite songs from the film and would like to wish you all A Very Merry Christmas and A Peaceful and Prosperous New Year

Take it away Kermit