Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Normblog writer's choice

I was very flattered and honoured to be asked by Norm to do a piece for his Writer's Choice series.

You can see it: here

Like I said in my previous post To Kill A Mocking Bird is my favourite book and always will be. For many many years if I have ever been asked if I have a life philosophy, I have always said, yes, I follow Candide's dictum that you should cultivate your garden, ie you do what you can for the people around you. I suddenly realised writing this piece I also follow one of Atticus' which is that you only truly know someone if you try and put yourself in their position and "walk around in their skin".

Is it too much to say this book changed my life? In a way I don't think so, because it really opened my eyes to the cruelty and prejudice which exists in all walks of life, but also the humanity, the courage, the optimism of people.

If there's one book you should read before you die, I'd say To Kill a Mocking Bird should be it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dux Michael

I've just travelled in time.

Well ok, no I haven't, but yesterday I went back to my old school for the first time in fifteen years, and I did rather feel like I'd gone into a time warp.

My alma mater is a school in North London called St Michael's (as an old girl I am charmingly known as a SMOG) and today it is 100 years old.

St Micks was a funny old place when I was there. It's a catholic (very very catholic) grammar school and the order of nuns who founded it were still teaching (just) when I started, though they handed over control to the diocese in 1980. The ethos was therefore a mixture of Christianity and doing good works, and working your socks off to achieve the best you could. You were expected to become a good wife and mother at some point, but the hope I think was that you'd do something intellectual and academic first.

In my time these ambitions weren't always achieved. There were six pregnancies in the sixth form alone (mind you as someone I knew there once said, that's because catholic girls are so naive they have sex, feel guilty, don't take contraception and then accept the inevitable event as punishment. It's a funny old religion, catholicism, for making you feel so guilty about everything and yet it can also be incredibly inspiring and bring the best out of people.)

I'd also say that in my day the teaching could be patchy. My father who taught in a rough East London comp used to be very frustrated with some of the teachers (particularly on the science side) whom he felt had the cream of the crop but didn't always appreciate it.

Luckily for me, I suppose, I was rubbish at science so that wasn't an issue for me. And the arts teaching was in the main very good. Actually what am I talking about? In places it was brilliant.

I have to say I have pretty mixed memories from my time at St Mick's. Being a geeky kid with national health specs did nothing for my self confidence, and looking back, rather assuming I wasn't going to be popular I just skulked around at the edges of the class. I did make friends, but there were a lot of people I didn't even bother to get to know because bizarrely I assumed (on little or no evidence) that they wouldn't like me. This I regret now, as most of the people in the class were really great, very funny, quirky and interesting. And I'd love to see them again and find out what they're up to.

My fondest memories from school are of our English lessons, where thanks to a brilliantly inspirational teacher we were encouraged to think, discuss, analyse in a way that has stood me in good stead all my life.

That English teacher has a lot to answer for actually. Books was always my thing, but he drew out the best of me, and introduced me to stuff I'd probably never otherwise have read. He had us studying (and enjoying) Shakespeare at 12/13 - I can still remember the wonderful Macbeth starring Ian McKellern and Judi Dench which he showed us on the school's brand new state of the art VHS recorder.

We also read poetry - Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, neither of which I appreciated at the time, but I now have Heaney's translations of The Burial at Thebes/Beowulf by my bedside, as well as Hughes' translation of Ovid, and his fantastically moving love letters to Sylvia Plath.

My teacher was very different to the middle class, (and in the main, conservative)teachers at the school, coming as he did from a northern working class background. It was like a breath of fresh air, being taught by him. He made me look at things in a completely different way, and question the values I was being taught. I didn't always agree with him, mind... But that didn't matter either, as he wanted us to think for ourselves, and encouraged us to have our own opinions about things.

The other poetry which he brought me too was the First World War poets. Again, he introduced them to us when we were quite young, but he wanted us to know and understand the "pity of war" - Wilfred Owen's marvellous Strange Meeting and Dulce et Decorum Est remain firm favourites.

I've just written a piece on a favourite book for Norman Geras' Writer's Choice, and it took me a heartbeat to decide which book to write about. It's To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. I studied it for O level and it will be my favourite book till the day I die (I'll post the link here when Norm puts it up so you can find out why then). Along with Lord of the Flies, which my teacher also made us read, it remains a seminal book.

To top it all, I wouldn't have gone into publishing at all without my teacher. When I went back to see him while I was a student, he begged me not to become a teacher (my dad was saying the same thing), and suggested I try publishing instead. So I did. And here I am.

In the sixth form I was disappointed that he didn't teach me for A Level, but I needn't have been because I then had the privilege of being taught by another fantastic teacher who introduced me to Hardy, Eliot, Anthony and Cleopatra, Ben Jonson, Tennyson (see previous post vis a vis the Arthurian legend). She too was inspirational and gave me a much needed boost when I was wavering about studying English. I'd got a better grade for History and was panicking I wasn't good enough to study my favourite subject. At the time I was going back to school to sit Oxbridge, and she persuaded me that I should stick with my heart, which I did. Again, she brought me to writers I wouldn't have otherwise found: Sylvia Plath, Matthew Arnold (one of my favourite poems is Dover Beach), more Shakespeare - including Hamlet which I didn't understand for years until I saw it. She was funny, tolerant and wise and treated me like a grown up when I certainly didn't feel like one. Her influence over my life has been enormous.

As readers of this blog are no doubt boringly aware, History is a bit of a passion of mine. The seeds were sown when I was young thanks to reading the incomparable RJ Unstead, but History O level hadn't exactly set me alight, and I gave it up at A level. But my chosen subject of Biology bored me rigid and after half a term I found myself giving it up and going back to History. My teacher wasn't exactly encouraging to begin with, stressing that I'd missed a lot of work and it was going to take some time to catch up, but within a week of being in her class I knew I'd made the right decision. She was right, it took me till Christmas to catch up, and I have to confess my knowledge of The Italian Wars and Henry VII was never very sound, but once she took us into 16th Century European History I was completely enthralled. I'd gleaned some knowledge of the period from Jean Plaidy, but my teacher brought the courts of Charles V and Francis I, and later Philip II and Catherine de Medici alive. Many many years later I found myself in the Alhambra and was thrilled to be in the place that Charles V retired to, and in so many places in Germany I've been delighted to find a connection with Martin Luther (who remains one of my all time historical heroes).

It isn't possible necessarily to see the effect that a teacher has had on you at the time, but I recognise that my lifelong love of history was fostered 27 years ago at St Michael's, and it's a wonderful gift to have been given. (Mind you no 1 doesn't think so, as she wouldn't have to go to so many castles if I didn't like history so much. )

Going back yesterday was actually rather emotional. The school is thriving under the inspirational management of my old history teacher who's now the head teacher - I suspect it's a much better school then it was in my time. The girls seemed enthusiastic and rather charming, the school buildings hadn't changed at all, and I heard the school song and it sent shivers up my spine. And I was immensely struck seeing a group of the older teachers behind me at the celebration mass, how many dedicated single women taught us. They gave everything to that school, and they're still there in their seventies and eighties, devoted to it.

I was delighted to meet two out of three of my inspirational teachers again, and have the chance to tell them how much they did for me.

But more then anything, I realised that actually(for all my sneering about it at the time) it was rather a privilege having gone to the school.

And I'm pretty damned proud of being a SMOG.

O heros invincibilis,
Dux Michael.
Adesto nostris praeliis, ora pro nobis.
Pugna pro nobis, pugna pro nobis,
Dux Michael
That's the first verse of our school song - can't remember what it all means but it's along the lines of St Michael being an invicible hero and fighting for us (more then he prays for us apparently). You probably had to be there, but I do find it immensely stirring. Though it was quite funny singing it with nos 1&4 who accompanied me, no 1 not learning Latin at her school and no 4 having never come across it before...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rocket Man

Don't know if you caught this on the news last night. As one with a huge flying phobia I cannot IMAGINE what would possess anyone to do this, but on the other hand it was pretty cool. Ironman eat your heart out...

Friday, September 26, 2008


Bit late in the day I know (sorry da-aa-rlings I've turned into a bit of a meeja star this week and been doing lots of pr and haven't had time), but tomorrow I am hosting a Strictly Come Dancing event over at the other blog. It's also by way of a Strictly Love online launch party, so do come and say hello otherwise I'll feel like billy no mates playing on my own....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Strictly Love Competition

My very good blogging friend Medium Rob has generously offered to host a competition to win copies of Strictly Love.

Details are here

So dance on over there and get entering!

Merlin, myth and reality...

I am a big fan of the Arthurian legend. DId I say big fan? I mean huge huge HUGE fan. It's the courtly love. It's the fighting. It's the nobility. It's Lancelot and Guinevere, and Gawain and the Green Knight, and the search for the Holy Grail and the tragedy of Mordred, and... well I could go on, but you've probably got the picture by now.

I suspect Roger Lancelyn Green had a lot to do with my original interest in Arthur (he certainly was the reason I love Robin Hood), but the fascination was cemented when I read TH White's classic The Once and Future King. It's got all the classic ingredients of Arthurian legend: Merlin takes the baby Arthur to be brought up by Sir Ector so that no one knows who he is. England is thus without a king until Arthur accidentally pulls a sword out of a stone and discovers his true inheritance. He then goes about setting up his famous round table, marries Guinevere, spends most of the story ignoring the fact that Guinevere is shagging his best mate Lancelot, and eventually faces up to the fact he's got it all wrong just before his last battle, where he dies defeating Mordred.

There was a lot I didn't understand when I read it as a kid (the whole Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur love triangle I found quite baffling frankly), I was fired up by the stories (particularly the ones of Arthur's youth when Merlin teaches him politics by making him visit various parts of the animal kingdom), and I particularly loved Sir Pellinore and the Questing Beast.

My love affair with Arthur was cemented when I studied Tennyson for A level...

So all day long the noise of battle rolled
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur's table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.

Those lines from Morte d'Arthur still make my spine tingle.

It was further enhanced by reading Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur at university - on which TH White based his version of the tale. In fact it's probably fair to say that the majority of modern interpretations come to us via Malory.

As a result I am always keen to read/watch new interpretations of the story.

I think my favourite film version is probably John Boorman's Excalibur, which is nightmarish and mesmerising, with powerful performances from all the cast, but though it was a very different take on it, I also enjoyed the recent version with Clive Owen.

The trouble of course with anyone doing any version of the Arthurian tale it has been so done to death, it's almost impossible to give it a different twist.

So I was really intrigued by the new version the BBC are putting out on Saturday nights for the next few weeks. The adverts looked good, it's a teenage Merlin which is interesting and yet...

I have to say I approached this with some trepidation. The Beeb have done fantastically well with Dr Who in the teatime slot and Merlin is produced by Julie Gardner, which is good news, but Robin Hood, another mythological character has been (in my view) utterly ruined by the absolutely dire modern version which has seen Maid Marian killed (twice), Alan a Dale turn traitor and Richard Armitage's Guy of Gisborne to be far more sexy then Robin himself, who seems a bit of a wuss to me.

I was further put off by reading Richard Wilson being quoted as saying this is a hip version of the Arthurian tale. Good god. Does it haveto be hip? I'm all for it appealing to modern children and firing them up the way TH White did me, but hip? For fuck's sake. The Arthurian legend is part of the fabric of our cultural history. It doesn't need to be hip.

Another negative was the discovery that in this version Merlin and Arthur are the same age, and that Uther is still alive. Sorry? Part of the story surely is the orphan brought up without his parents. And how can Merlin who rescued Arthur as a baby be the same age as teenage Arthur?

I'm not such a purist that I mind the story being reintepreted, if by doing so you throw an interesting light on something we all know, or you have something new to say. But surely in myth there are some givens about how the story goes. And in this instance the story goes: Uther used magic to pretend he was Igraine's husband, seduced her, begot Arthur on her, and then was later killed in battle, so Merlin spirited Arthur away to keep him safe. You can go to Tintagel if you don't believe me. One of the things that really irritates the fuck out of me about modern interpretations of stories we know and love, is that the writers always seem to think they KNOW better. (You only need to watch the Tudors to realize that actually, no they don't).

So... Merlin with Uther alive in. No. Does not compute.

However, I DO think it is quite an interesting idea to bring Merlin and Arthur together as young boys, particularly as this Arthur is so extremely unlikeable, which is quite a neat subversion of the myth. I'm tickled to see that Morgana is Uther's ward (presumably to water down the incestuous side of the story - though it is his half sister Morgause who's the mother of Mordred, not Morgan le Fay as if often thought), and it was also a neat twist to have Guinevere as the servant (though technically she is King Leodegrance's daughter). Of course it's a bit of a sop to our go getting times - wanna be famous? You can be! - that Guinevere says she'll never be queen and Merlin tells her she can be, she just has to change her destiny.

Despite my reservations vis a vis Uther, I did actually really enjoy this. The main characters were all pretty good, though I found Anthony Head's Uther a little lacklustre, and I enjoyed Richard Wilson no end. Not sure I was all that wowed by the dragon (again WHERE in Arthurian legend is there a prophesying dragon, hmm?), but I liked the tussling between Arthur and Merlin, and there was one incredibly chilling scene at the end which really raised this above the norm.

So I'll certainly be giving it another look, and hoping that in their quest to make it different the makers of Merlin don't forget the core of the story.

Legends and myths have a purpose, to remind us where we've come from and who we are. The Arthurian myth, with it's nobility and sense of purpose, is aspirational in the sense that it shows us who we can be, and is also very human in the sense that Arthur's weaknesses are ultimately his undoing. When I reread TH White recently I was struck (as I hadn't been as a child) how completely of its time it was - White was writing during much of the book during World War II, so a lot of notions about fighting (Might versus Right) make their way into the book, and Arthur experiences the full horrors of communism in his time in the ant kingdom. TH White used the Arthurian myth to hold up a candle to his own world and expose its frailties. I rather hope the makers of Merlin, have done the same.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's all go go go....

... from hereon in.

Strictly Love will be in the shops as off tomorrow. Hurrah.

Today I had my first interview with a national newspaper (which was very exciting) - article will be in the Express soon I hope.

And I also had my first online article published.


Am planning something over at the Other Place shortly, will keep you all posted.

School Daze

I'm going to a school reunion in a week or so. And I've only just seen St Trinian's, so I thought I'd post this. Sadly my school was nothing like it...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Here's something I prepared earlier.

But no sticky back plastic in sight...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An irresistible Meme

I was tagged for this by Persephone before I went on holiday, and blow me down with a feather I STILL haven't got to it yet. Am still very very badly behind because though the kids are now back at school, Spouse has been off work for three days with a vile cold and no 2 was also off yesterday. Between visits to the GP, phone calls to the GP (on mil's behalf) and trips to the chemist I am beginning to feel like Florence Nightingale, so this meme should help me refocus...

The Big Read (whatever that is) reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or for whatever reason loathe.
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen And yes, though purists might hate it, I am loving Lost in Austen.
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien. Read and reread many times, not sure it counts as a loved but one I'm very fond of.
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte. Read and totally misunderstood aged ten, but was freaked out by the red room. Reread it last year and fell in love all over again.
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling Love love love them. Wish I'd been her editor (and I so nearly was, sigh...)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee . Still my no 1 read after all these years. Am just about to explain why on Normblog's Writer's Choice series. THIS is my seminal life changing book, which I read first aged 14 and have never ever stopped loving.
6 The Bible Well no one can have read the whole thing, can they? But with a catholic background I've read alot. But wouldn't go for the wishy washy modern version they foisted on us, The King James Version is the one to read. And Song of Songs is probably one of the most beautiful (and erotic) love poems ever written...
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte Not as much a fan of this as JE. Mad Twin and I have decided you go for one or the other. She's gone for the other...
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell. Not sure I could love such a dark book, but I think it's essential reading for anyone with a soul.
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman. Fell in love with this when I was at Scholastic. I was lucky enough to read an early version in ms form, and Spouse had to tell me to stop reading and come to bed I was so hooked. We all knew then it was a classic. Great, fabulous, brilliant read.The man's a genius.
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens. I pretty much love all of Dickens,, and this is no exception. Such a wonderful story, so gothic and scary. And ultimately a brilliant dissection of greed, and avarice and how it can all go awry.
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott We used to joke about this as children calling Mama, Marmalade for some reason. In honour of no1 having just discovered it, my WiiMii is called Marmalade. Little things etc..
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy. Completely ott as this book is (but then which Hardy isn't?) and much as I can't stand Angel Clare, Tess's tragedy is just so brilliantly conveyed, and the cruelty of the fate of so many women in 19th century England. I love it for its wonderful descriptions of English countryside, for the characterisation of Tess, and the starkness and brilliance of the lines, And she returned a maiden no more.
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller When I was a student, one of my lecturers told me that the staff had a joke about books you should have read and haven't. This is one of mine. Haven't seen the film either. Will do one day...
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - don't be daft no one's read ALL of them, have they? I just did a quick count and reckon I've probably read about 25. My favourites are Macbeth (read at the ridiculously precocious age of 8 simply because I liked the cover. I only understood and liked the witches then), Hamlet, Othello, Midsummer Night's Dream, A Merchant of Venice, and most of all Antony and Cleopatra. Just read Bill Bryson's brilliant book on Shakespeare as well. If you're a fan of the Bard, that's a must read too..
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier. Oh god yes, how I love this book. I write romantic fiction, what do you expect? The first line, Last night I dreamed of Manderley again... always sends shivers up my spine. It's gothic, scary, romantic, thrilling. She was a genius. I also love some of her lesser known stuff - The House on the Strand, a wonderfully spooky time slip still haunts me though I read it years ago. If I ever get to write my parallel universe story that will definitely have had an influence.
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien. Read a lot and enjoyed, but not sure I love it. And not sure why....
17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks - er this is one I want to strike out but I can't quite work out how to do that. Have tried Mr Faulks and we don't get along. So have no desire to read this.
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - This is another of my embarrassments. Everyone's supposed to have read this in their teens, right? Wrong in my case. And I'm not quite sure why.
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger I absolutely adored this book. The pathos of Clare and Henry's situation, the bizarreness of it, the love story, the tragedy. And a time travelling hero to boot. It was always going to press my buttons and is the reason I got fired up by the idea of writing a parallel universe story of my very own. If I could create even a tenth of the reaction I had to this in anyone who is good enough to read any of my stuff, I'd be ecstatic.
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot This is a book I studied at uni. Final year at Liverpool went something like this. Here's a 700+pp book to read by next week, AND write a 5000 word essay on. It could have killed my interest stone dead, and I remember sitting up at night and really grappling with bonkers Dorothea and the insane self sacrificing impulse that leads her marry Casaubon,but oh by the end I was completely hooked in. The world of Middlemarch is so compelling and real, the social history aspects of the book alone make it worth reading. But Dorothea's journey of discovery, and Lydgate's fall from grace are brilliantly realised, while Eliot has the ability to engage our sympathies in the unlikeliest of places , I even feel sorry for Bulstrode at the end.
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell Seen and love the film, never got to this though. Don't really know why!
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald I came to Scott Fitzgerald quite late, and enjoyed this without loving it.
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens Fog on the river.... Oh the beginning of this book is sublime - the description of fog weaving its way to the heart of Chancery. Like a lot of nineteenth century fiction, this is concerned with the wisdom or otherwise of seeking to resolve disputes through the law - the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce destroying whole generations of a family as it remains unsolved. I loved the recent adaptation of this too, and though the characterisation of Esther is sometimes wincemakingly nauseous, the social conscience that drove Dickens is hear in full cry , particularly in the scene when Joe dies, and he berates his society for allowing such things to happen - as the poor are "dying thus around us every day". Always sends a shiver up my spine,t that...
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy. Eek. Another not read. Must be the size which puts me off. And the fact that my mother read it while I was in utero in the six weeks she was forced to have bedrest before I was born. I think it's had a subliminal effect.
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams Wish I could write like that.
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh Like I am sure many women of my age, BR first came to my mind as a result of the TV show which was entirely responsible for my misplaced desire to go to Oxford. It didn't help that my brother was actually at Christchurch at the time, so I completely fell in love with the place (and still am). Read the book after seeing the TV and still love it. Am going to boycott the new film thoug, even though it's got Emma Thomson in it, because it looks as though they've mucked about with the story shockingly. And there is no bloody need to. They should have gone and watched the TV series again. Then they'd see perfection...
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky Read this and struggled. So I can't say I love it.
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck Not a huge Steinbeck fan, but did enjoy this.
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll was part of the fabric of my childhood. Definite love here.
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame Ditto. Can still remember my mother reading it to me. Her voice was so soothing I didn't realise till I was ever so old how deeply scary and unsavoury the Wild Wood was.
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy Eek another non read. Must be the length again. And I'm sure I'll love it.
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - Saw this first on TV as a kid and was totally hooked, though I never got the tragedy of Emily till much later.
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis What do you think? Course I love this. And yes, I was disappointed not to find Narnia in my cupboard too. Still am actually...
34 Emma - Jane Austen I love this for the journey that Emma takes, for Mr Knightley being so damned Mr Knightleyish and for the wonderful and sometimes wickedly accurate characterisations. The great thing about Austen is her characters still exist today.
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen Not my favourite Austen, though I have to say Rupert Penry Jones in the TV adaptation last year certainly helped.
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis My favourite by a long chalk.
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini Not sure that love is the right word to apply to this book, it is so brutal in places and utterly heartbreaking. But I was completely swept away with it and loved especially the scenes when the boys were young and kite running. The betrayal of Hassan by Amir is too much to take at times, but ultimately this is a book about redemption and I found the end incredibly uplifting.
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres This should be struck out. I tried. I really tried. But this is one of those rare books I couldn't finish.
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden Strike out too. Don't know why but it doesn't interest me at all.
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne Ah how can you not?
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell Another must read. When I first read this aged 12, the fate of Boxer had me sobbing into my pillow. A brilliant briliant expose of dictatorship and totalitarian government.
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown otherwise known as the biggest literary con trick of the last decade. Great page turner I grant, and I did enjoy it, but oh dear. What a lot of piffle... And if you try any of his other stuff, he really does write the same book over and over.
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez Another book I should have read, and somehow have never got round to.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving Not always a fan of John Irving, but dear god do I love this book (Mad Twin loves it so much she gave it to me twice). It is also the most real and true depiction of coming to terms with bereavment I have ever read. "we don't lose people all at once, we lose them in bits and pieces" - I think that is utterly brilliant. As is the character of Owen Meany himself, who somehow shouldn't be likeable and yet is.
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins - otherwise known as the first detective novel in the language. This book is probably single handedly responsible for making me love crime and horror fiction - especially gothic horror.
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery As a ten year old I couldn't get enough of this book. Unlike her fictional contemporary Pollyanna ('I'm so glad, glad, glad to be here' - yuk), Anne is a great character to love for children, far from perfect, always in trouble. Boy I could relate. (Much like Katy in What Katy Did). I read all of the books and was cheering when she eventually married her childhood sweetheart. Maybe she's responsbile for my career...
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy I love this book, for the images of sunshine and haymaking, the pictures of an English summer, for Bathsheba's wilfulness and Gabriel's steadfastedness. It is not entirely unrelated that my current hero is a shepherd named Gabriel...
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood A bleak dark dystopic vision of the future. Margaret Atwood is my favourite living author (along with Terry Pratchett). This book is harrowing in the extreme, but like 1984, everyone should read it.
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding I was introduced to this book by a very brilliant English teacher. I had never read anything like it, and was distraught when Piggy died. No 1 has just read it too and reported the same reaction.
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan. I've seen the film. Enough said.
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel Not read and not sure why. Must do better.
52 Dune - Frank Herbert Oh god I loved this book when I first read it. All that stuff about the sandworms and prophecies and the evil Bene Gesserat or whatever they were called. Later books lost there way, but Dune is fabulous.
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons Never read this. Probably should
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen I love this for Elinor's stoicism, and Marianne's totally ott reactions to everything.
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth Don't know why but have no desire to read this.
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon Never heard of it.
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens Oh I love this - "Tis a far better thing etc" - that kind of noble talk (especially from a previous ignoble character) is always going to get me...
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley LIke 1984 not sure I could say I love it, but a must read certainly, and so incredibly prescient.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon Like Northern Lights, this was edited by my ex boss, and I absolutely love it. Apart from anything it was a bold move to put a child with learning difficulties at the centre of a novel and depict his take on the world so brilliantly.
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez Nope but I should
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck Yes but not a huge Steinbeck fan, so probably wouldn't again.
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov Love the original version of the film should read it.
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt This blew my mind when I read it. Was totally gripped by the story and shocked and disturbed by turns. Her follow up book The Little Friend wasn#t nearly as good.
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold Despite the bleak subject matter, I found this an incredibly uplifting and wise book. I loved it.
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas No I should. I know I'd like it.
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac. Tried and failed. Too self indulgent for me.
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy My least favourite Hardy. Such unredeeming awful gloom. How can he treat his characters so badly? No wonder he gave up writing novels after this one...
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding The book that launched chick lit. Of course I love it.
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie I love Rushdie when he binds myth and reality and for his lyrical style. Much much better then a lot of his later stuff.
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville. I know the plot. I don't much care for whales.
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens. It's Dickens. It's brutal. It's got Fagin and the Artful Dodger. What more do you want?
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker Another reason for liking gothic horror. I certainly got my liking of all things vampiric from this book. The scenes in Whitby are still hair-raising, as is the race to beat the sunset at the end.
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett Another favourite from childhood. I just loved the whole idea of a secret garden that no one knew about. It's a beautiful brilliant book, which captures the loneliness of childhood and the inability of some adults to communicate wtih children.
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson This book still makes me laugh out loud. I know he's a Yank, but Bill Bryson is fast becoming a National Treasure.
75 Ulysses - James Joyce. Never never. Ever. Tried this at uni and thought it the biggest load of twaddle ever.
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath Whereas this will always make my top ten. Sylvia Plath is one of my literary heroines and this fictional account of dealing with madness and depression still has the power to shock. When I was a student I came across a little book by her flatmate at uni which described the real events that led to Plath writing The Bell Jar. It was quite hearbreaking and made the book resonate with me even more. It's not all doom and gloom though. I still think her description of men's genitalia being like " a turkey between two gizzards" one of the funniest things I've ever read (sorry boys).
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome Read but never got on with for some reason.
78 Germinal - Emile Zola Probably should read this sometime.
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray You can probably detect that I am a big fan of nineteenth century novels. I love this book so much on so many levels. Becky Sharp is possibly one of the greatest anti heroines ever, Rawdon Crawley become an unlikely hero, Dobbin is just bloody wonderful and Amelia is such a wussy wet she gets exactly what she deserves by the end.
80 Possession - AS Byatt No great desire to read this.
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens Have you got a heart? Everyone has to love this don't they?
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell Enjoyed it as an interesting concept, but not sure I love it.
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker I do love this though, but haven't read it for years.
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro Oops another to go on the tbr pile.
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert And this.
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry Never heard of it.
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White I fell in love with the tale of Wilbur the pig who escapes the knacker's yard with the help of Charlotte the spider who saves him by writing messages in her web. I am still heartbroken when Charlotte dies. It's a great heartwarming tale and a very good way of teaching children about life and death.
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom I loved this. Quirky and unusual and very moving.
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Can't say I've read them all, but am a big fan.
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton Have never read this. My childen have made up for it though, they read it endlessly...
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad Read but don't like it as much as The Secret Agent. But amazing to think he wrote it in English.
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery Find it a bit nauseating to be honest. But was rather put of St Exupery doing Vol de Nuits for French A Level.
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks This is a book like marmite. You either love it or hate it. It is not possible to be indifferent. I love it, but can understand why others don't.
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams Possibly the most overrrated children's book of all time (is it really a children's book? Discuss). I hate it. Can't stand those bleeding rabbits.
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole I was leant this by a friend who reads this blog. Sorry, but I hated it. Couldn't get on with the narrator at all.
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute Probably should read this I suppose...
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas Again haven't read, but I know I'll like it. All that derring do.
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare Hamlet shouldn't be read, but seen. I only got it when I'd seen Mel Gibson play him. And soon I shall see David Tennant do the same. Be still my beating heart... (sorry Persephone)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl I can remember my brother being given this one Christmas and loving the descriptions of Charlie eating/smelling chocolate. So mouthwatering. Roald Dahl is still the best children's writer ever. No contest. Not even from JKR.
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo oops. Ended on one I should read. So many books, so little time...

Well that was really enjoyable. Not sure if I am supposed to tag people or not. But Mad Twin, do hop in and tell me where you diagree with me... I'm sure you do.

And anyone else - feel free to comment here or pick it up for your own blogs. It is after all, an irresistible meme...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Another Reason to Celebrate

Apparently my husband has now been a dentist for 20 years. He thinks yesterday was his first day working, which is remarkable for him as he is generally useless with dates.

His first year of working life ended up rather fraught as within three months of being qualified he was accused by a nutty patient (and he was truly truly bonkers) of having crowned the wrong tooth. Said patient bombarded the local healthcare trust with letters talking about Spouse's "rouged lips" and the way he "comes at me from behind wearing a buff coloured mask". He also roundly abused the good constabulary of the Weybridge area where Spouse was working at the time, all of whom were apparently gay. Despite the obvious timewasting crap of his letters, the healthcare were obliged to investigate and Spouse ended up going to a tribunal where Loony Tunes discovered that yes, in fact, he had had the right tooth crowned. It was a total waste of time for all concerned, and caused Spouse a considerable degree of stress at the time.

I was of course a loving supportive wife, etc, etc (oh actually we weren't quite married then,but you know what I mean). But the writing bit of me never goes to sleep apparently, and the genesis of Strictly Love was formed then. I really loathe the litigation culture we have here now, which Spouse had a first dismal taster of twenty years ago, and so I wanted to write about it. While undoubtedly, there are people who do things wrong in all areas of the medical profession, it is my belief that the majority of them are trying to do the right thing, and the threat of being sued does no one (least of all the patient) much good.

So my hero dentist, Mark, gets sued by one of his zedlebrity patients for breach of trust, and I hope I've shown the devastation that an action which she takes relatively lightly can cause. As this is romantic fiction, I hope it's not too heavy and message laden - you do get lots of dancing thrown in, I promise - but I also don't see why you can't mix serious stuff into popular culture too.

And as Spouse has spent twenty years at the coalface (how the fuck did that happen anyway? Yesterday we were twenty), I'd just like to raise a metaphorical glass to him and all the teeth he has drilled, filled, cleaned and extracted over the last two decades. Someone's got to do it...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Squee! Squee!!

I am not yet quite back in the living after my hols, as I have been away again and had visitors for the last few days. But I hope normal service resumes shortly.

Just dropped by though to say Squee!!! very loudly as my advance copies of Strictly Love arrived on Saturday and it looks absolutely fantastic. I am as ever indebted to my wonderful editor and the fabulous team at Avon who have done a fantastic job. The book will be available in the shops on 18 September (two days before the next series of Strictly Come Dancing about which I hope to be blogging periodically).

I'd also like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my blogging friends Political Umpire, who was immensely helpful about the legal stuff in the book and Marie Phillips, who was brilliant on the dancing, as well as making me laugh out loud when she was blogging about SCD last year.
Amazingly second time round it feels just as exciting holding a book wot I wrote in my little sticky paws. Am hoping to do some publicity stuff here when I get my head back into gear (the kids go back on Thursday. That should help).

And I will be at some point blogging here about my holiday, and over there about (among other things) dancing in the rain and fending off dancing cows in Derbyshire.