Sunday, 2 November 2008

National Identities

I am getting really fed up with people, in books and in blogs, using England when they mean the United Kingdom or Great Britain or using the terms incorrectly. I've recently seen on a blog someone commenting that they have met people from 'the United Kingdom ... Scotland'! Oh and my personal favourite, from a book about the abdication crisis, discussing events at the end of WWI,‘France and England divided the Middle East between them'. Even better, apparently King Edward VIII became ‘King of England and the Dominions beyond'!

Get it right people.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


I've been watching the scandal of Ross and Brand unfold over the week with a real sense of bemusement. Were the calls puerile and offensive? Yes. Should they have been broadcast? Probably not. I say this because its clear that someone at the BBC cleared these for broadcast - as to whether they should have is a whole different issue and we need to wait for the published outcome of the OFCOM enquiry to assess this. Was it right that this whole furore pushed the disastrous news from the Congo, the Indian bombings, the credit crunch and the interminable US elections from the headlines? No.

The wonderful Debi Alper has blogged about this and the bullying of women here . As some of you may know, I work on the business side of the boys clubs that are TV and radio (not on any of the shows presented by Brand and Ross). But, after much thought, I'm not sure that I agree with Debbie in this instance. Apart from the invasion of her privavy, I'm not sure just what Georgina Ballie's hurt is in all of this - of course you don't want your grandparents to know about your sex life and to find out about it in such a puerile and public way, but she seems to have confirmed that she had a relationship with Brand. I've listened to the calls and read the transcripts (the calls are still available on Youtube should you care). In the calls Brand confirms that they had sex and at one point comments it was 'consensual lovely sex'. Neither he or Ross say anything about Ms Ballie's character or morals, so I'm a bit unclear of what she was referring to in her statement on The Sun website when she stated, "Calling me that in public". They didn't even reference her membership of The Satanic Sluts. And, of course, she's so upset about this invasion into her privacy that she has sold her story to The Sun, which I'm sure will include details of her sex life with Brand. In contract, her grandfather, unlike so many in this story, accepted the offered apologies and has now withdrawn from the public debate and is the only person or entity involved in this whole sorry tale who seems to have behaved with grace and dignity.

As for Brand and Ross. Brand has flown off the US to work on a couple of movies ad his career will continue. Ross has been suspended and will return to the BBC one way or another. The most high profile casualty is Lesley Douglas, the only female member of the Radio Management Committee, who has been forced to resign, but as she is a talented and capable executive, she will find another job with a commercial broadcaster and she should get severance package from the BBC.

Friday Night With Jonathan Ross has been cancelled until next year, Brand's radio show has also been cancelled, while the status of Film 2008 is still unclear. All of this means that freelance members of the production teams and associated service companies will be laid off with little chance of securing other work at this time of year. Oh yes they will get some compensation from the BBC and the production company, which I believe is still being negotiated, but the chances are that it won't be the equivalent of the salaries and fees they would have earned if the shows went ahead.

So as The Daily Mail, The Sun, which I would remind you is owned by Rupert Murdoch who also owns Sky, and Georgine Ballie crow their delight, spare a thought for the members of the production team, many of them women, who could be facing a bleak Christmas. Oh yes and please also consider whether or not you want The Daily Mail and the other tabloid newspapers to arbitrate just what we can or cannot hear and see on television and radio, as today's it taste and decency, but tomorrow?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Didn't Mean To Be Away For So Long...

But I am slightly more than over committed at the moment, as I've started a new contract covering a friend's maternity leave and I have a couple of projects of my own to finish off, plus I have the novel writing course, which seems to be going well, although I'm not really getting the writing time I would like.

Of course I haven't stopped reading, I used my time off in September to almost complete the great Agatha Christie re-read - officially there are couple of collections of short stories to go, which I will read over the Christmas break. All I will say is that this has opened up my eyes to just how much ITV is mangling the Miss Marple adaptations, don't watch them and stick with the BBC versions with Joan Hickson as these are nigh on perfect.

One of the books I've read is the new Phil Rickman, To Dream of the Dead. If you haven't read any of Rickman's Merrily Watson series of books, do, the cast of characters is superb - Merrily is a vicar in a village on the Welsh/English border, and she's also the local exorcist. The books are dark, but full of local colour and wisdom and tackle current concerns as well as the echoes of the past - this latest books covers Christian fundamentalism, atheism, floods, archeology, local politics and drugs as they all impact on the murder of a local councillor.

Before I leave you with that recommendation, I believe that I may owe Jeff Housewife an apology. Back in August I posted a review of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, which may have exposed Jeff to some teasing from his parents for his choices in fiction. Encouraged by my friend the book pusher (so called because I tend to leave her house with carrier bags of books) I've now read New Moon and have to say that its a far more sophisticated book than its predecessor as it explores teenager relationships - OK with vampires and werewolves thrown in for good measure.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Queen of the Flat Pack

Yesterday I assembled 5 flat pack bookcases without any tantrums, odd bits and pieces left over or any of the other dramas usually associated with the task. Yes five bookcases, I have a lot of books.

How did I achieve this momentous task? On my own. All the menfolk who had offered to assist suddenly had urgent reasons to be elsewhere. As I still bear the scars, emotional and physical, from assembling the bed - we had three screws left over, and I was assured that these were spares, of course they were and had nothing to do with the bed collapsing when the cat jumped up, no no no - I was quite happy to be left alone with the boxes and the toolbox.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Two Things

The latest release from the master, which is interestingly a non-Discworld book. I will admit that I was concerned that because he has been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's that the book may not be that good, but Terry Pratchett on a bad day is far superior to most other authors. I needn't have worried. He's on great satirical and comic form in this one - set in the Nation, which is one of the Mothering Sunday Islands in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean (held by the British to be an extension of the Bank Holiday Monday Islands). The Nation has been devastated by a Tsunami and now its up to Mau and Daphne (aka Ermintrude, well wouldn't you change it?), who, with the ship's parrot, is the only survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, to create a new Nation. As the great man says 'Thinking: This book contains some'.

I went to see this last night, for the first time, although the friend I saw it with was on her third viewing! Unless you are a regular reader of this blog, you may not be aware that I hate musicals, Rent left me cold, The Sound of Music is just plain annoying and there was a bad incident a few years ago in Buddy: The Musical which I won't expand on here in order to protect the innocent.

I've thought about this a lot and essentially my problem is that the genre is basically cheesy and corny but somehow its fans, and the people involved in it, expect the genre ed to be treated with gravitas and reverence that I only give to say Ibsen or Shakespeare - yes I know Shakespeare has its corny moment and yes I have sat through Kiss Me Kate. So its weird that I was quite happy to go and watch this, especially as I am not an ABBA fan either, and I really enjoyed the film. Oh it has its faults don't get me wrong, but it sends itself and the genre up so beautifully - the image of the boys in flippers dancing will stay with me for a while - and the main cast, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Christine Branaksi, Colin Firth, Stellan SkarsgÄrd and Pierce Brosnan (who has more courage than anyone because he can't sing, but still goes for it) are superb - I don't think I've laughed at a movie so much in years.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

'We have seen you from afar and we are dying of hunger'

Is the greeting used by Midnight,the Bushman, who is the title character of this story. I've been waiting to read this novel as I knew it was going to be an enormous treat and I wasn't disappointed, Richard Zimler is that rare combination of a great storyteller who can write in a literary, yet, accessible style, which is emotional without being overly sentimental. John Zarco Stewart, the main protagonist, is an engaging and complex character, whose relationships with his family and friends, Daniel, Violeta and especially Midnight, the African John's father rescues from slavery, dominate his life and the story. I've been on an emotional journey with John as he crossed continents and comes to term with his own humanity and that of those whose surround him.

Zimler's prose and magical mixing of history and fiction is superb, but at the heart of the novel are his characters. Midnight, who, after a long journey, drinks so much that his belly swells to near bursting. John, whose family is destroyed by an act of betrayal

Superb and never mawkish, this novel travels from nineteenth century Porto, to London and then to the US and, the southern US sections of this novel portray the evils of slavery. But the ultimate message of this novel is that redemption that comes through love and the power of freedom.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Did you see this?

From the BBC News Website - Music tastes link to personality .

I live underneath a couple of country and western fans (who also like Daniel O'Donnell, I must have been really evil in a previous life) and the sound of their favourite, 'I killed my dog and my wife left me' album is currently assaulting my eardrums from above - and 'hardworking and outgoing' are the last two words I would ever use in connection with their names.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Underground London

As someone whose spent most of her working life in and around Central London I found this a fascinating account of the various bits of subterranean London, with various historical asides. Smith spends a night with the night workers on the tube - I really don't want to be a patrolman working alone at night 'pacing out the deserted tunnels with his lamp and his walkie talkie and his large box-spanner' - and one who may or may not have had a ghostly encounter in a Jubilee line tunnel.

He also meets, the men disinterring remains from St Andrew's crypt - Smith needed to immunised against smallpox and be cleared by a home office pathologist before joining them - its a full crypt dating back to before the Black Death, which is estimated to have killed half the population of fourteenth century England. I love how Smith describes their respectful professionalism, even those the inhabitants have been dead for centuries, 'They've all got descendants.... 'You'd expect it too, if it was your own family.'

Smith describes the subterranean diverted rivers and culverts of London - the Fleet is probably the most famous - the buried tram lines, the dead tube stations, the mothballed Royal Mail underground railway and tries to discover the miles of tunnels that the MoD have, allegedly, sunk under the capital. All in all its amazing that we don't have more landslips in London.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


In case you hadn't heard the release of the latest Harry Potter movie has been postponed until next July and the movie of this book, Twilight, is being released in its place. I'd not heard of the Twilight books, but having heard that this series is 'the next Harry Potter' I thought I would investigate.

I love vampire stories, yes I am a Buffy and Angel fan, but I am not really a fan of romantic fiction and that caused me problems in reading this book as its essentially an overblown romance peppered with the kind of language I would expect from a Mills and Boon, but without the sex, apparently Mills and Boon allow their characters to have sex now! As tortured lovers Bella and Edward mentioned in the text, Edward has no problems touching or kissing Bella - he can carry her for miles - and his 'family' accept her role in his life very readily.

If you want tortured romance done with depth and emotion watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Angel and Buffy, as vampire and human, had more depth and emotion in their little fingers than Bella and Edward have in this entire book. As I'm not a fan of romantic fiction all the 'I love yous' got a bit wearisome, but I can see why that for certain teenagers and women this novel (and the sequels) have been so successful. But its derivative, Bella and Edward are a younger, less tortured version of Buffy and Angel and the vampire collective of Edward and his family is reminiscent of Lestat, Louis and their little family from Interview with a Vampire, but without the homo-eroticism, or any eroticism for that matter. Also I have to say that J.K. Rowling is a much better writer than Stephanie Meyer, who just doesn't have the finesse to have fun with her characters, in the way that Rowling sometimes does and that Charlaine Harris has with her Southern Vampire series.

Monday, 25 August 2008

OU Anonymous

I'm finished with the OU, honest. I've signed on for this Birkbeck course in novel writing which starts in September and the plan is to spend the next eight or so months trying to find out if I can actually write a novel - a novel that someone else wants to read and, ideally, someone else wants to publish and other people want to buy. So why why why do I keep popping onto the OU course website and keep clicking on the Shakespeare course? And its got an exam and I am hopeless at exams, my school actually drugged me with tranquillisers to get me through my A'levels and I always dropped at least 10 points on my course work on every OU exam I ever took.


Random Book Reviews

Due to the great Agatha Christie reread, 50 down 33 to go, I haven't been posting my thoughts on any books up here recently, although I have been adding my reviews on Library Thing - god I love that website and I have been accused of infecting others with my enthusiasm. Anyway I thought I would post some thoughts on some random books I have read recently, so here goes.

I have to write about this book because it is probably my favourite Christie novel, and is the perfect Poirot as he investigates a murder in retrospect. Sixteen years ago Amyas Crane was poisoned by his wife - but in her last letter, from prison, to her daughter Caroline Crane protested her innocence. Now her daughter, Carla wants to find out what really happened. The five little pigs of the title are the five main witnesses to the crime, any of whom could have really killed Amyas. The plot twists and turns and is full of information and disinformation. I am not going to tell you who dunnit, because that would spoil this for you, but the plot explores the good and terrible aspects of love and how time and emotion distort memory. Perfection.

Alexander McCall Smith seems to be one of those authors you either love or hate. Personally I love the deceptive simplicity of his writing and Precious Ramotswe is an endearing character whose wise optimism and stoicism is a philosophy more of us should follow. She is perceptive - when she hears of a woman imprisoned for killing her husband, who beat and abused her, Mma Ramotswe acknowledges that her first marriage could have ended the same way - and engaging, her kettle seems to be permanently on the boil ready for a nice cup of redbush tea.

I love the Artemis Fowl series of novels, Arty, the teenage criminal mastermind, and his sidekick and bodyguard, Butler, are the perfect team. One of the things I have really enjoyed about these books is the development in Artemis's character as he grows up and becomes a much more likeable character. This is something explored in this book, as Artemis goes back in time to battle his 10 year old self, and discovers what a maddening little know-it-all he was. Artemis needs to stop his younger self selling the last of a species of lemur to a group of mad extinctionists in order to save his mother's life. He travels back in time with Holly and meets up with old, new friend, Mulch Diggins. This book has come in for some criticism for not being as funny or as good as some of the previous in the series, which I think is a little unfair. I think that Colfer is aging Artemis with his readers, just as J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter. This book is much darker than the first ones in the series as Artemis really seems to have an understanding of the consequences of his actions, whereas in the first books he was determined to save his father no matter what - now he is determined to save his mother but understands just what this may cost.

I'm now off to read the first in the Twilight series of books. Depending on who you talk to these are either rubbish or better than Harry Potter. But are they as good as Philip Pullman I ask?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Small Rant

Why is it that some drivers think that using their indicator is an optional exercise? Grrr.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Huge Decision

Don't you just hate it when events prove that you were right about someone.

My most difficult, demanding client flounced on in a huff earlier this month - it was an early birthday present and I am convinced that the flouncing was caused because I told this person that I wasn't working on the weekend of my birthday as I had other plans, which were lovely - and now this person is refusing to pay my account. Its not a surprise, I've been here before and I know others who've been there, its a sad reality of being self-employed and its seems that it is always without fail the companies and individuals who are very demanding and full of their own importance who have difficulty in making payments. Ultimately I should have walked away from this company months ago, but as this person is a friend of a friend I felt that I couldn't just drop them without finding someone to replace me. I am confident that I will be paid, eventually. But the best news is that since this company flounced out of my life and the daily round of demanding calls, emails and manufactured crises - without I might add any thought or respect for me and the other companies I work with - I've actually had space to breathe and enjoy my life and catch up with my other work.

After the months of cashflow issues and constant work, this is the final straw, so I've decided that I'm finally ready to get a JOB! This isn't going to happen immediately, I have a contract to fulfil which takes me round to next June, and I need to find the right job, one that interests me and pays me enough... Hmmm.

Friday, 1 August 2008


This time last year I was working just as hard as I am now and trying to finish off my degree, but I wasn't as stressed out as I am now. Its been a horrid week, where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The week has been rounded off nicely by the failure of the memory board on my main laptop for the third time in less than twelve months. Somehow I think a new laptop is on the cards, as soon as I can afford one. I've been trying to work just why I am so stressed, apart from the broken laptop of course, and although I am busy I think its down to dealing with lots of difficult and demanding people.

The main effect of all this stress is that I can't read anything new as I'm just not taking it in. So the great Agatha Christie re-read continues - I've read 39 of her books in the last few months, all in publication order. The good newsw is that I've hit Christie's golden period when she wrote classics such as Murder on the Orient Express, Death in the Clouds, ABC Murders, Dumb Witness, Death on the Nile and my personal favourites Appointment With Death, Sad Cypress and Evil Under the Sun.

I'm reading Miss Marple, The Body in the Library, at the moment to be followed by probably my favourite and, to my mind, most perfect Poirot story, Five Little Pigs. I can hardly wait.

Friday, 25 July 2008


Even though it doesn't look sunny in this photo, it was. So who says you have to leave London to go to the beach?

Sunday, 20 July 2008

To OU or not to OU

Well it wasn't much of a week off as I ended up working every day and I am not dealing with very nice people. So I am seriously beginning to wonder if I want to do this any more ... but how else to earn an honest crust? Hmm.

I did have time to sort one thing out though. For a while I've been trying to decide whether or not I want to take another OU course. A few people have been trying to seduce me into taking the new level 3 creative writing course which I have been more than a little reluctant to sign up to for various reasons. Anyway while I've been dithering about what to do, I've been offered a contract which will keep me working in central London for the next six months or so. After years working either from home, or North London, or West London and more successfully recently on the South Bank, I am going home to Soho! Whoo hoo. So I've been able to sign up for one of the many creative writing courses, aimed at potential novelists, which run in Central London.

Yes potential novelists - the real decision is that I've decided to really have a go at writing the novel which has been brewing in my brain for the last ten or so months. Not that writing as a profession is a way to make an honest, or dishonest, crust so I guess I am going to have to keep the day job.

Does this mean I am through with the OU? Well, there is this short course in Ethics starting in October ...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

St Swithin's Day

St Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain na mair

And from the dark clouds gathering outside my window its not looking good...

St Swithin was Bishop of Winchester back in Saxon times. When he died in 862, as was the custom of the time, he asked to be buried humbly outdoors close to the entrance to the old Minster so that people would walk across his grave as they entered. Nine years later on the 15th July, Bishop Elthelwold (love those Saxon names) arranged for St Swithin to be disinterred and moved to a shrine within and St Swithin is said to have shown his displeasure at the proposed new arrangement by bringing down violent storms and rain for the next 40 days and 40 nights.

Monday, 14 July 2008


I'm not really here, I am somewhere else.

I know I know, but as far as most of my clients are concerned I am working today, just for someone else.

Its been non stop recently, with deadline has following deadline, and they just keep on coming. The thing is, no one will die if I don't meet these deadlines and I just need one day of truancy. If I try and work today my head may just explode. Seriously. And that would not be good.

So if anyone asks, you've not seen me, I'm at my desk and working hard.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Love This

OK so I work on the Southbank and I can't believe that I didn't know that this was outside the Royal Festival Hall until yesterday. As Meltdown is over I think it will be off soon, so watch this from its time at the V&A. Beautiful.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Not around much but still reading and working...

And the Agatha Christie challenge continues. I've now read twenty five of the detective novels all in order of publication - it should be twenty six but one is out of print and I can't track down a copy. This looks impressive until you realise that I'm only in 1936 (she was first published in the UK right up until 1976 - with a couple of collections not published until the 1990s) and I've still got fifty nine books to go.

I am reading other books as well, one is Debi Alper's Trading Tatiana. Like Debi's previous book, Nirvana Bites, this book is set in South London and its full of local colour and we do end up back at the Nirvana Housing Co-Op, which is wonderful. The book is fast and furious, Debi has a great sense of humour, the scene where Jo first meet's Bare Botty Man's botty (you have to read this) is wonderful. What is also fantastic is that, as anyone whose met Debi or has read her blog knows, she has a very strong sense of social justice which comes across in this novel. If you can get your hands on a copy of this and read it, do, you will be entertained, terrified and ultimately moved.

This is an amazing book, part fact, part fiction, although the two are woven together so closely that it is hard to see where one begins and the other ends. Richard Zimler had a chance encounter with Sana at the Perth Writers' Festival, autographing a copy of his first book The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon for her. The next day Sana committed suicide, an act witnessed by Zimler, and he is propelled into an obssessive investigation of her life in order to try to understand why. He uncovers the story of Sana's friendship with Helena, a remarkable relationship which endures across the divide - Sana is a Palestinian and Helena an Israeli Jew - a relationship which opens the book up into an exploration of the personal issues at the heart of the conflict and atrocities, big and small, committed on a daily basis in the name of politics and religion. I couldn't put this amazing book down and ended up reading it in one sitting.

Monday, 9 June 2008

I should be working, but...

I couldn't put this book down. I read and enjoyed Kate Morton's previous book, The House at Riverton and as this one takes a similar format there wasn't much chance of me disliking this one.

This is another sprawling saga spanning a hundred years, it starts with the discovery of a little girl abandoned on the docks following the sea voyage from England to Australia. A little girl who doesn't remember her own name. Ninety years later she bequeaths a Cornish Cottage to her granddaughter, who slowly discovers the just how and why her grandmother ended up alone at the docks. I particularly loved the use of fairytales, written by one of the main protagonists, as a device revealing some elements of the story. I did guess quite early on who Nell, as the little girl is named, really was, but I didn't guess why she was abandoned.

This was absolutely perfect reading for my current state of mind and if you like this kind of book, one I would recommend.

Sunday, 8 June 2008


That's me. My pleas for payment have all been ignored, yet again. Grr. I feel some begging phone calls coming on tomorrow... What is really annoying is that I am still working flat out but my bank account feels like I have been unemployed for months. My bank manager is being understanding but his patience will be exhausted if some money doesn't arrive in my account soon.

The good news is that I managed to get to Milton Keynes on Friday, thanks to a loan from my generous friend Wonderful, so I could hand in my ECA before the midnight deadline. I've been so busy with work that it amazes me that I've actually finished, I nearly dropped out in January for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I wasn't enjoying myself. But thanks to some support from the OU I got there and I actually enjoyed writing my ECA - which doesn't mean that anyone will actually enjoy reading it! But its all over and I've got the first summer for four years free of study and I can hardly wait.

I have of course been reading all the way through this, mainly old favourites as my brain couldn't cope with anything new - I've added to the list at the side of the blog. But my reading has slowed down, which is never a good sign.

I have to particularly recommend one book, The Helene Hanff Omnibus. I was prompted to pick this up by Table Talk's reference to 84, Charing Cross Road in her blog. If you have never read 84, Charing Cross Road, do. Its a wonderful collection of letters, showing how friendships can form from the simplest thing. The other books in the Omnibus include Underfoot in Show Business which details Hanff's attempts to become a playwright in New York, as she says of producer's '...if they take you to lunch they don't want your play.' 84, Charing Cross Road is just superb. The Duchess of Bloomsbury is Hanff's diary of her first visit to London following the success of 84, Charing Cross Road, she met Frank Doel's wife, Nora, for the first time and I love how Nora insists on calling her 'Helen'.

My particular favourite in the Omnibus is Apple of My Eye, as Helene and her friend Patsy explore New York. It's hard not to be moved when Helene describes their visit to the World Trade Center and how she 'gloried in the high-handed, high-flying, damn-your-eyes audacity that had sent the Trade Center's twin columns rising impudently above the skyline at the moment when New York was declared to be dying, and so deep in debt it couldn't afford workers to dispose of the Center's trash, police its plaza or put out its fires.' Long may that audacity reign!

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was, via his writings, Helene's mentor and a champion of plain English and Q's Legacy is her tribute to him and also narrates her adventures on two later trips to London. She describes an encounter in Winchester Cathedral, which I recognise '... I started down a long side aisle ... with one eye on the stone graves I was walking on. That's how I came on Jane Austen's grave. To look down at a spot in a stone floor and know that Jane lies buried beneath can shake you.' It does. But only when you know just who Jane Austen was and what she achieved in her short life.

Sadly the Omnibus is out of print, but copies are still in circulation, try Helene she's amazing...

Sunday, 11 May 2008

All work and no play makes...

River a very dull girl. Very dull indeed.

What is really annoying is that although I am working flat out and have been for the last three or so months, I am really impecunious. Its the peril of self-employment as I can never quite tell when the money is going to come, although from the silence following my last set of cost updates (which are usually greeted with a resounding chorus of 'send us your invoice'), it won't be soon.

My only solace is reading and its when that stops I am really in trouble. I've had days recently when I thought my head might explode, so I've been limiting myself to reading old favourites and undemanding prose. Stuff meditation, yoga etc., 30 minutes with a good, fun undemanding read is all that I need to prevent my brain overheating.

One book I would really to recommend everyone interested in detective fiction (as I am) is The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House
by Kate Summerscale. This is an examination of the Road Hill House Murder in 1860 and how this murder and its investigator, Jonathan Whicher, captured the popular imagination and inspired Dickens (Inspector Bucket in Bleak House) and Wilkie Collins (Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone). The Afterword is particularly salutory and stunning.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

If Hell exists its not other people...

Its having a cold. Seriously. I caught the cold from hell at the beginning of the month from a generous friend. The combination of the constant cough, the inability to breath or clear my sinus and the headache was torture, in fact so much that on a couple of days death was a viable cure - no it wasn't flu, I had that once and on the midst of the horror death was the only cure. And this cold goes on forever.

I've also been working like mad, this is generally my busiest time of the year as everyone wants to film in the summer so I've been trying to get everyone set up with everything that they need. We don't film because the weather is good, no one here is that stupid sunny days are always a bonus, its for the long hours of daylight, although its not really daylight when you can't see the sun and the rain is beating down. People wonder why I chose an office based job! I know the world thinks that the British are obsessed with the weather, but as on any day you can easily see three or four different weather conditions, its always a debate as to how to dress in the morning!

I have been reading constantly through the month, although the cold slowed me down somewhat and there are a couple of books on the list that I need to shout about:

I love Zimler's writing and this book is no exception as it is superb evocation of the events before, during and after the Lisbon massacre of 1506. But atrocity and its aftermath are only part of this story, what Zimler is really concerned with is humanity, however it is expressed. I am really looking forward to reading the other books in this series.

If you only ever read one book by Agatha Christie read this one. It is rightly considered her masterpiece as she subverts the genre without comprising the narrative. I don't want to give too much away, but read it and enjoy!

I read this in one sitting. This is a superb memoir as Ballard recollects aspects of his life. The descriptions of his childhood in Shanghai are evocative and I found his feeling of alienation from Britain when he arrived here in the late 1940s fascinating. The passage about the death of his wife is moving without being sentimental and what is particularly lovely is that as much as Ballard reveals he conceals - it is clear that his children are important to him, but he doesn't feel the need to reveal all about them.

I'm spending today catching up with the news by reading everyones blogs I usually read and am really looking forward to seeing how you all are.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Breaking the silence...

Sorry for the long silence, I have, as usual, been busy working. Its one of the perils of self-employment that after four long relatively quiet months on the work front things kick off all at once and its been so quiet I won't turn anyone away. But I am really annoyed because I am still waiting for the money I am owed to land, and am living from cheque to cheque and on handouts from friends. But so the cash flow should start to err, flow, once the gigantic stock-exchange listed company I've been working for starts to pay me weekly, as they promised ro do several weeks ago, but an HR cock-up means that I am still waiting, but once the money starts to come in my friends will be able to stop crossing the street to avoid me.

Its been a busy few weeks. As some of you know Cailleach stayed with me the night before her poetry reading at the Pipe and Slippers, it was a lovely evening full of chat and tea - oh yes and hares, my latest obsession, well it is March after all and I have a feeling there will be a hare immortalised in clay soon, I bet you can hardly wait, did you know that you can see Irish hares racing aeroplanes on the runway in Belfast, oh the ambition... Also the fox and phantom rider stayed away, so a good night's sleep was had by all. Then we set out for Debi's...

OK so first of I can I say that I so know where Debi lives, I've been there before, but somehow on Sunday morning I drove off confidently in absolutely the wrong direction and we were a couple of miles around the South Circular before I realised my mistake. So I turned around, tried to make a sneaky pass past a car at a junction and hit the kerb.

How you react to a flat tyre shows the true worth of the woman, Cailleach started rummaging in my boot for the tool thingy that releases the spare tyre, while I, truly being my father's daughter, called the RAC - 45 minutes they said, but we needed to be at Debi's, now. So Cailleach called Debi, to get someone to pick her up while I rummaged in the boot until I found something black and tool like which I wafted in the air in triumph. C grabbed it out of my hand and proceeded to release the spare, unpack the jack, pull out the tiny spare tyre that 'looks as if it came off a go cart' that comes with all Peugeots apparently, and changed the tyre, whilst I floated around getting in the way. OK I did make a contribution, I slung the spare in the boot and we proved the rule that just because someting came out of a tiny space it doesn't mean its going back in - so we left the jack bouncing around in the boot. The only offer of help came from the local launderette, after she'd tightened the last nut of course, just in case, 'we could go in and wash our hands if we liked' - so we did, with enough washing power dispensed in each hand to destroy the entire eco-system of SE London and wash the dirty football kit of the entire Premier League, twice over. Oh yes and then we got lost two roads from Debi's, OK I was still driving so it was me, just what you don't need before a poetry reading.

But Debi's was lovely as always, and one of the benefits of my high pitched piercing voice was that the deaf one could hear me, oh yes and Minx told a story that I cannot repeat here, but means that I will never ever look at hedgehogs in the same way again. Debi's lovely husband, um, tightened my nuts... so that I stopped having visions of my tyre bouncing down the road ahead of me, which I am sure was an offer he could have refused, but didn't, so when the cashflow starts to flow, fingers crossed, I will be sponsoring him in the London Marathon for SOS Africa

Oh yes and how many Kwik Fit fitters does it take to change a tyre, five, seriously, I counted. Oh yes and they couldn't get the jack back into the box either!

And I have been reading, and writing poetry as well as working, but more of that later.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

One of those moments

Walking home tonight across Hungerford Footbridge I had a moment when I saw my Dad walking towards me. Hungerford Footbridge is not somewhere I would expect to see my Dad especially as he died nearly five years ago. But for a heartbeat it was as if he were still here and all the pain and suffering of his last few months on earth were erased. Just for a heartbeat.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

More reading!

On reading, commuting is not necessarily conducive to good or easy reading - being short I spent one journey this week protecting my neck from the elbow of the tall man determined to read his paper in a packed train - yes I am that short - he was, of course, completely oblivious to my plight, so my reading time has been curtailed, but here goes.

I love the VI Warshawski novels and this one is no exception. VI's cousin Boom Boom has been found dead floating in the Chicago docks, VI believes he was murdered and sets out to find out why and how. This book was originally written in the early 1980s and has dated a little because of the advances in technology. VI is an engagingly driven character, almost a female Sam Spade, and, unlike some, I like her feminism and her toughness. Also the narrative skips along nicely to the resolution and there are some interesting surprises and plot twists along the way - I certainly wasn't expect the final scene in this book.

Back to Agatha Christie. This is the first collection of published short stories. The stories are all narrated by Captain Hastings as Watson to Poirot's Holmes. They are an interesting bunch, mainly because they herald themes, such as natural justice, as well as some of the plot twists, that Christie reprised in her later work. Its not the best of her collected stories but still a worthwhile read.

This is another Christie that is slightly off piste. This is a fun frothy novel and is everything that The Secret Adversary wasn't. It is very much a novel of its time, and very concerned with the upper classes, and is a reworking of the country house murder mystery but with strong romantic overtones. This is a novelist coming into her craft and having fun with characters and story. Its an interesting break from the true detective story, especially when you know about the novel that came next, that in its time transformed and subverted detective fiction!


Sorry for not being around much at the moment, having had a very quiet few months workwise everyone of my clients seems to have woken up and want my services, which is fantastic for my bank balance, but is killing the rest of my life - somehow I need to write 42 lines of poetry by the end of the month, I have fragments but not a lot more and I am definitely not a poet, Cailleach is staying with me over the weekend before her gig at the Pipe and Slippers hmm, run Cailleach, run while you can.

While I've been away I received a couple of awards from the lovely Belle:

Which came with the following It’s a big kiss, of the chaste, platonic kind, from me to you with the underlying ‘thanks’ message implied. I really do appreciate your support and your friendship, and yes, your comments.’ Ahhh...

Which also came with something: I love being a part of the blogging community and part of all the friendships that I've formed so I wanted to give a blog award for all of you out there that have Excellent Blogs. By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10.

So this is going straight back to Belle and to Cailleach and Brunhilde because they are all putting up with my whingeing about not having enough work/having too much work etc etc oh yes and having to read my poetry. Debi Alper, because she is a great writer, activist and all round wonderwoman; the Inner Minx as I love her book and want the sequel NOW; Tina because her blog makes me laugh and because forty is the new thirty; to Rainbow because, well I've said it already, but CONGRATULATIONS; Chief Biscuit who doesn't even know I read her blog but because she is a poet who lives in a part of the world I adore and want to live in, and because I'm not holiding it against her that the albatross were out when I visited the sanctuary she works at, if you ever visit Dunedin go its worth it, even if there isn't a single albatross in sight; to Mid Lifer and Single Mother on the Verge just because.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

More Comfort Reading...

I'm afraid that I had to give up on The Book Thief, its rare for me to abandon a book, but I found the interjections from Death really annoying. If you want a literary version of Death, try Terry Pratchett's, sheer heaven! I'm aware that this book is riding high in the bestseller charts and I do wonder if part of my problem is that I was trying to read another book about Germany during WWII too close to my reading Richard Zimler's superb The Seventh Gate . I haven't completely abandoned The Book Thief as I never walk away from a book, I will have another go, when I am in a better mind set - more of that later.

So I turned to this,the follow up to Silent as the Grave and just like its predecessor its a fun novel that doesn't take itself too seriously and sends up various literary conventions, especially Gothic romance. Every chapter is preceded by a quote from Shakespeare - Lady Julia's father is a Shakespearian scholar - which just adds depth to the fun. I love novels like this.

I've working as a locum for three or four days a week at a large company for the next month or so. Its a welcome boost for my finances, but its going to be a hard couple of months as my other consultancy work has also increased, so I may not be around as much as I have been over the last few months, but I am still around. The big bonus of this locum work is that its on the South Bank and, as the weather has been so good, I've spent every lunchtime sitting by the river watching the world go by, whilst avoiding the Book Market, as I used up my monthly book buying quota on Saturday buying far too many books, including two collections of poetry I have lusted after for a while, Sylvia Plath Collected Poems and Frank O'Hara Collected Poems, sheer bliss.

As I am so busy, its comfort reading all the way. Although can I hear you cry 'not another Agatha Christie', well there are 84 of them, not including the plays and the Mary Westmacott's, so Christie's will be liberally scattered through my reading over the next couple of months. This book was directly inspried by an Empire Tour taken by Agatha and Arthur Christie, and colonial South Africa and Rhodesia take centre stage in the novel. Its also surpising that this was first published in 1924 as its heroine, Anne Beddingfield, is depicted as a modern, liberated, adventerous woman, who falls in love with a man who is best described as a combination of Heathcliff, Rochester and Darcy. This is an adventure story rather than a detective story and really is a ripping yarn.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Comfort Reading

This is my ultimate comfort read, and, heresy that this may be to some, is far more satisfying, and better for you, than a box of chocolates. I haven't yet read a Georgette Heyer novel that hasn't had fully realised characters, interesting plots, fully realised characters and sparkling, witty dialogue. This one is a classic, with reason, and is just sheer bliss from start to finish. I don't want to give the plot away, but Heyer transcends and transforms the conventions of romantic fiction and produces a scintillating and exciting novel. Try one. If you don't believe me fans such as A.S. Byatt, Margaret Drabble and Stephen Fry (yes really!) can't be wrong.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

And another book

I'm on a comfort reading binge, this doesn't mean that I don't also comfort eat, but in times of need nothing can beat rereading an old favourite and The Murder on the Links is an old favourite. It has a quite complicated plot, which is apparently based on a real case, and is very French in its feel. Unlike The Mysterious Affair at Styles Poirot is completely at the heart of this book and you can feel his character and his 'little grey cells' developing. There is a slightly ludicrous, romantic subplot involving Captain Hastings, but this does not detract from the novel in the least, which is vintage Christie.

Saturday, 26 January 2008


I loved this book as a child and I have to say that I love this book as an adult. Garner's writing is multi-layered and there are nuances to his writing that I am sure that passed me by as a child such as the differences between those who speak English and Welsh and the class barriers between the children which divide them. The story feel both fresh and as ancient as the myths it encompasses. Why Alan Garner is not as popular as JK Rowling I don't know as he should be.

Not My Favourite Christie

This is the first Tommy and Tuppence novel, they are not my favourite Christie characters as I do find all the 'old thing' and 'old bean' stuff cliched, but on first release this book sold very well, so it may be that the book has not stood up to the passage of time. It certainly is very much a book of its time and the annoying over exuberance of the characters does reflect a certain post WWI attitude. One nice thing about this book is that Tommy and Tuppence are characterised as equal partners in their adventures, which for 1922 was very progressive.

This is a spoiler if you haven't read the book, so stop here. But its interesting, especially if you follow Laura Thompson's idea of looking for clues about Christie's life in her texts, to note that in this book one of the characters pretends to have amnesia and sustains that deceit for a period of time. This book predates Agatha Christie's breakdown, disappearance and only memory loss by some years, but it is an interesting parallel.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


I would have loved to have been able to read this in the original Italian, but as I can't I have to celebrate Ann Goldstein's translation which is beautifully delicate, just like the material it describes. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but just as a silkworm spins its thread, this book spins the tale of French silkworm merchant Herve Joncour's obsession for a Japanese concubine.

This is definitely a book where 'less is more', the chapters are extremely brief, the longest runs to four pages the shortest is just two lines and, like a poem, every word, every chapter break has been carefully considered. Its been made into a film, but, like Brokeback Mountain, the prose is so evocative that I find it hard to believe that any film adaptation can capture the essence of this book, without giving way to mawkish sentimentality, so its not a film I will be rushing to see.

I've got another of Alessandro Baricco's books, An Iliad, lurking in my tbr pile and I am so pleased, as if its half as good as this I am in for a treat.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The beginnings

This is the first book Agatha Christie published and the one that introduced Hercule Poirot to the world. The story was inspired by her experiences working at the Torbay Dispensary during WWI and of all the criticisms that could be thrown at her stories, no one could accuse her of not knowing her poisons. This is especially true of this book where an understanding of how two chemical compounds interact is key to solving the murder. But this book uses Christie's key device of misdirection, as well as the assembling of all the suspects for the denouement, are there. What is interesting is that Poirot's moustache, which in later novels almost becomes a character in its own right, is not described as luxuriant, but as being 'very stiff and military' and isn't referred to again.

Harper Collins have been issuing facsimiles of the first editions which are wonderful. The back of the dust cover has given me hours of pleasure, did you know that in 1920 a book cost between 7s 6d net and 10s net?

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sweeney Todd

I have a confession to make, I hate musicals. This is completely my Dad's fault as whenever a musical was playing on television over Christmas or on a Sunday afternoon, he would growl, rustle his paper and point out every cliche of the genre. Many of my friends have tried, and failed, to get me to appreciate the various nuances of the genre. I can just about cope with 'Once More with Feeling', the musical episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as this really doesn't take itself seriously and is very clever. However I had to see Sweeny Todd as its been directed by Tim Burton, who is one of my favourite directors. I am so glad that I did because the film is wonderful, gory and doesn't follow the standard musical conventions. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman are, as always, superb. Go see it, you'll enjoy it.

Silent as the Grave

I have to start this with a quote from the back of the book, 'To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor...'. This is a marvellous and fun detective novel set in London 1886 and in creating Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane Deanna Raybourn has created two fun, convention busting characters, in a detective novel that doesn't take itself too seriously. I shall definitely read later instalments in this series.

I, Lucifer

The basic premise of the book is that God offers Lucifer a second chance if he can live one month as a human. Declan Gunn is depressed London novelist contemplating suicide so God puts his soul on ice for a month and Lucifer takes control. This is an at times hilariously funny novel as Lucifer immerses himself in the pleasures of the flesh. The descriptions of Lucifer's reactions to smelling the various odours that make up a walk through the London streets are particularly vivid. The ideas that Duncan raises in this novel are not new but the first person narrative helps to create a compelling portrait of a fallen angel, who may or may not be ready to return to the fold. My only criticism is that Duncan's prose is very dense and I had to stop reading at regular intervals in order to assimilate the events narrated.

I understand that a film of the novel is proposed, starring Daniel Craig as Lucifer and Ewan McGregor as Declan Gunn. I suspect that this is not an easy novel to adapt to the screen and I look forward to seeing the final film with interest.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Agatha Christie

I am a fan of Agatha Christie's books and this book is an interesting and informative insight into Dame Agatha's life. There is a chapter about the famous 'disappearance' which feels psychologically sound, but, because Agatha Christie refused to discuss this incident, no matter how much Laura Thompson tries to illustrate her theory by using possible hints from the books, this is interesting speculation. What I really enjoyed about this book is the fascinating analysis of both the detective novels and the novels written under the pseudonym, Mary Westmacott, which forms part of Laura Thompson's argument that Christie's writing is, on the whole, of literary merit and value. She also, very fairly in my opinion, criticises some of the latest adaptations for their tinkering with the plots, ITV take note. I am now planning and scheduling a major re-read of of all the detective novels as this book has whetted my appetite.

An amazing meditation on grief

If you are in the fortunate position of never having to witness someone you love die then this is not a book for you to read ... yet. However if you have ever grieved, or are in the process of grieving, please read this book, death and grief are the greatest taboos in western society and this book carefully deconstructs this taboo in moving and unself-indulgent prose.

If you don't know the story, on the 30th December 2003, Joan Didion's and John Gregory Dunne's only child, Quintana, was desperately ill, possibly dying, in a New York hospital. Her parents spent the day with her at the hospital. Later that evening, as they sat down to dinner, John suffered a fatal heart attack. Although Quintana recovered from her illness, two months later, following a collapse, she underwent life saving brain surgery and in this book Joan Didion tries to make sense of these events. The result is an intensely moving and graceful meditation on all the emotions of grief, incredulity, anger, sadness, depression,etc. which is both personal and wise.

In one extremely sad footnote to the book Quintana died just after the book was completed.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Yet Another Book

In this novel Mr Watts tells Matilda, the main protaganist, that 'you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.' So true. But sadly not me when reading this book. Its a shame as I loved the idea of a group of children on a South Seas Island enchanted by Great Expectations. Essentially the narrative is just too detached from the events depicted in the book, terrible things happen, some as a direct result of reading Dickens, but as a reader I was completely undisturbed. But having said all of that, Lloyd Jones is an author I will look out for again as I like his ideas. The good news is that having made it to the 2007 Booker shortlist with this novel his other works (past and future) should be published in the UK.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008


I've had a lovely day, playing hookey from work - I'm self employed so I gave myself the day off, which was not sensible as I need to keep the money flowing, but I couldn't miss this opportunity - as the planets aligned to grant me a day of peace. You see I have a very annoying neighbour who watches television for around twenty hours each day, and at top volume just in case anyone in the vicinity can't quite make out what she's watching. I agree that compared to some annoying neighbours, one friend has neighbours who are tone deaf yet persist in loud howlalongs around the piano every evening and don't get me started about my friends under siege in their South London Estate..., its not really that bad, but its been going on for four years now night and day with only a few days off. Polite requests to turn the sound down are greeted with either "I'm ill you know" or "How dare you, we've lived here for five hundred years" or my personal favourite "We've got rights you know" all accompanied by a wobbly lip and followed by the slamming of the front door and the turning of the volume up to maximum. After four years of 'This Morning', 'Loose Women', 'Richard and Judy' and the output of UKTV Style blaring into my home, I have realised that the only escape route is to move and take on a bigger mortgage(unless I win a large prize on the lottery that is)and that means returning to the world of employment, as bigger bills need a more regular income. In the meantime, you will understand, that on the very rare occasions that she actually leaves the building, rather than work I indulge myself by loafing around with a good book enjoying the silence.

And this was a good book. I love Alexander McCall Smith's books because they are deceptively simple and not at all overwritten, Ian McEwan take note. This is the fourth book in 'The Sunday Philosophy Club' series which is, for some reason beyond me, not as popular as his other books. The series is centred around Isabel Dalhousie, Edinburgh resident and editor of the 'Review of Applied Ethics' as she struggles with the ethical and moral dilemmas that life throws at her. I know that McCall Smith is a prolific writer, but I can assure you that he's no Barbara Cartland, his writing is deceptively gentle but, as he is lawyer and philosopher, his writing is far from superficial.

Monday, 7 January 2008

One of the best books I have ever read

This is one of the most powerful and moving books I have ever read. The book is comprised of two parts of unfinished four or five part novel that Irene Nemirovsky conceived as a 'symphony' about war. The first part deals with a disparate group of Parisians as they flee Paris following the fall of France in 1941, the second part follows life in and around a small village in rural France under occupation. Nemirovsky's characters are vividly drawn and complex as they try to come to terms with their changing situation and her greatness as a writer lies in her detachment, her German characters are just as vividly drawn and compelling as her French characters. This is a book which depicts war and how it changes everyone, oppressed and oppressor, for good or evil. Although this is a work of fiction there is a poignancy to reading this as Irene Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942. The second appendix to the book reproduces the frantic letters and telegrams her husband sent to the authorities and her publisher following her arrest, sadly he was also to die at Auschwitz, in the gas chamber, later that year.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Something missing

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago but was so unsure of my reaction to it that I decided to wait a couple of days before reviewing it and I am still unsure. It was an OK read, Jim Stringer is still a railway detective out of York and the mystery element kind of worked. The best I can say about this book is that it passed the time, but I won't be in a hurry to read any more books written by this author.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

First book of 2008...

This is a better read than either of the first two books. Firstly there is much less about trains, which is good news for me, as Jim Stringer is now a railway detective working out of York. The mystery part of the novel works well and is actually thrilling as Jim gets entangled in a series of crimes that may or may not be linked. We also get to meet a wide spectrum of characters as the mystery gets solved and, for the first time, the solution made sense to me, which is always a bonus in this genre. The novel is set in 1906 and Andrew Martin certainly seems to really evoke the feel of the period. Oh yes and we get to see more of Jim Stringer's family, which is always a bonus.

Last book read in 2007

This book is just as bonkers as the first book as Brenda and Effie settle down in Buffy The Vampire Slayer style on the edge of a hell mouth in deepest darkest Whitby. I don't want to give too much away, except to say that even more shenanigans ensue as they deal with the various beings and entities drawn in by the hell mouth. I love how Magrs mixes up the genres, horror, fantasy, detective fiction all take their turn in this fun book. Although I enjoyed this book, I have to say that on balance think that the first book is better than this one. But I really want to find out just what is going on at the Christmas Hotel so will definitely read the next instalment when it comes out.