Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

My Morning Internet Routine

As regular readers of either this blog or my excruciating Twitter feed (@CharmedLassie) will know, I'm a stay-at-home research student and wannabe writer. This means I have to scavenge for self-discipline and remind myself that the only person who loses out if I don't get anything done is the idiot staring into space and listening to Radio 2 most of the day. However, I've noticed that my morning routine, before I can get started on any work, is very ordered and specific. Maybe even worth documenting?

  • The first website I visit is Facebook due to the fact I'm playing three games on there at the moment. Yes, a waste of my time, perhaps. But they have the advantage of keeping me at the computer, or getting me there for set periods of time to harvest crops or build up my city. Whenever I'm sat at the computer my conscience inevitably kicks in. Plus, they offer little incentives: work for an hour and you get ten minutes tending to your farm. It actually works.
  • My email pops up in the corner. I check (mostly delete) all that and log into Twitter while I'm sorting out my Facebook games. I'm obsessive; I have to read all the way back to where I left off the night before. I respond to anything directed at me.
  • I visit The Telegraph website. I scan the homepage but I'm mostly interested in the 'Comment' section. I get riled, I respond to articles and I send any interesting ones to my Twitter feed.
  • I go to The Guardian website. I visit the 'Comment' section and then usually the 'Culture' page, again sharing anything I find of interest.
  • The Independent website is my next stop. What I use this for mainly are the headlines on the right-hand side. They're really good for breaking and recent news stories, several of which end up on Twitter.
  • I go to the New Statesman website and check out their homepage.
  • Next port of call is The Spectator Blog page, full of political observations and stories that, while interesting, probably wouldn't make it onto mainstream news sites.
  • Next it's the BBC News site! Local news then most-read stories. I then check out the 'Entertainment' section.
  • It's the turn of my Google Reader page. I scan the updates from the blogs I'm subscribed to and read/respond where appropriate. Then I look at the sites related to articles I may want to write for and plan those into my day.
  • I check my university email.
Is this obsessive? Looking at it like that, I think it might be. However, I do have a severe craving to be well informed. I blog about both writing/reading and current affairs and, though I'm blowing my own trumpet a little, I feel like I'm pretty up-to-date with what's going on around the world. I know people who really don't care what's going on in Westminster or the Middle East and I struggle to understand the apathy. I would just much rather know.

And I do get to work eventually... honest.

Am I the only one with this sort of rigid routine?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Book Review: Staying On by Paul Scott

This was another book I bought during my undergraduate degree (for my Colonialism and Post-Colonialism unit, I believe) and never read for whatever reason. Looking at it now, I can speculate on one probable reason: on the copy I own the female character is named on the back of the book as 'Lily' when you discover on the first page that she's actually called 'Lucy'. Despite the fact this is a publishing error, I think it had a psychological effect. Hence I waited four years to read the book.

Staying On is the story of a couple, Tusker and Lucy Smalley, who remained in India after Tusker retired from the British Army. They live in a small town called Pankot and, it's no spoiler to say so, Tusker is discovered dead on the first page. From there, the novel meanders backwards in time a little and unravels the events and relationships in the months before his death. Towards the beginning of the book it can be a little difficult to put your finger on where you are in time but this soon settles down. Also, don't think that the novel focuses solely on these few months: Scott's characters do that ever-human thing of thinking about their pasts, Lucy Smalley in particular. You honestly do get the feeling you've lived a life with these people.

There are so many strands to this book that it's impossible to separate half of them. Characters like Mr and Mrs Bhoolabhoy, the Smalley's landlords, are faithfully (sometimes even painfully) represented. Mrs Bhoolabhoy is a larger-than-life harridan and dictator, mercilessly ruling her business and her husband, a mild-mannered Christian who loves his little church and his hotel. Mr Bhoolabhoy serves as one of the viewpoint characters of the novel, along with Lucy Smalley and Ibrahim, the Smalley's servant. All of them are easily distinguishable and amusing in their own way.

I haven't read any other reviews of Staying On but I can imagine some of the criticism. Not much happens! Well, maybe that's true. After Tusker's body is found in the opening pages the climax of the novel has already been revealed - what's left to know? I think that's a little short-sighted. What Scott does, to great effect, is invite you into Pankot and into the lives of Tusker, Lucy, Mr Bhoolabhoy and Ibrahim. There is never the sense that he's embellishing for literary merit: the novel feels truthful and authentic. I trusted Scott as I trusted George Orwell when reading Burmese Days: I felt like I was being transported to another country but without cliché-ridden prose and character representation. You can say this for Scott and Orwell: you certainly know they've been there.

Staying On won the Booker Prize in 1977. Scott is perhaps most famous for the quartet of novels beginning with The Jewel in the Crown but many critics seem to regard Staying On as his best novel. Having only read this one, I can't comment on that. However, I can say that the story lingered in my mind for days afterwards, not an easy feat in an age of instant distraction and social media. I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

The book can be purchased here.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Characters Who Stand On Their Own Feet

Whenever I hear the phrase above - or a variation of it - I'm immediately transported back to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Cook and waitress, Millie, soon to be married to her customer, kindly informs Adam Pontipee that her stew doesn't need ketchup, it can stand on its own feet. Although the analogy may seem a little strange, in my head it applies to certain characters of my own creation.

There are various arguments on how you're supposed to craft fiction. Oh, you start with a plot idea, don't you, and take the character from there? Or you get a character and tangle up the plot from there? The apparent rules to writing fiction are both baffling and irritating. But what about those characters, usually secondary ones, who you can lift from one situation and put into another? They're not linked to plot and they just plopped into your head fully grown. You have to use them but you don't quite know where they belong yet. But, it's alright, because due to their versatility you can play around with them until you're satisfied.

I've got two characters like this. One, Mervyn, emerged from a rather amusing train guard I encountered during my trips from Lincoln to Wakefield during my undergraduate degree. He sang, he helped you out: he was the most good-natured train guard I've ever come into contact with, and I knew I had to take his premise and put him into a story. However, I tried him in one short story - about trains, funnily enough - but the story didn't work. Mervyn did, however, along with the little cast of characters I assembled around him. So I gathered all of them up and changed the transport system - they were now working on buses. Hmm, that story stalled for a good two years. Then, quite recently, I had an epiphany. I don't think Mervyn was happy in short stories because he's a much richer character than that. I know him; I know his speech patterns, his background and his temperament. I know his lifelong infatuation with schoolmate and now colleague, Linda. I know that he's a father figure to a younger workmate, although neither of them would admit it. In short, I know how to fit him into a novel. And best of all? I've got the plot as well. I haven't got the time to write the thing but we'll deal with that problem later.

My other character is one who made an appearance in the first draft of one of my (almost) completed manuscripts. Giorgio was universally disliked by the people who read that draft and, after thinking about it, I chopped him. However, unlike my test readers, I liked him. He was a nice old gentleman, obsessed with art and wanted dead by his money-grabbing son, Patrick. I haven't yet found a place for him, but I will.

To return to my Seven Brides for Seven Brothers analogy, I think that characters who are like Millie's stew are pretty rare. How many characters could you take from one story and substitute into another? We weave plots around character, build character from plot. In my experience, those characters who can stand on their own feet are rare and should be treasured as such.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fifty Books A Year, Mr Gove?

This week our darling Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was reported to have suggested that children just hitting secondary school age should read fifty books a year, and not just the one or two novels that make it onto the curriculum. Unsuprisingly, people were quick to jump on the comments. How are poorer children supposed to obtain these books when their local libraries are closing by the dozen? Children's Laureate, Anthony Browne, also pointed out that children should be reading for enjoyment, not to reach some arbitrary target. Personally, I thought this Coalition was all about removing unnecessary targets from life but I may have been wrong.

Anyway, the statement got me thinking about reading in our society. Was I the exception to the rule fifteen years ago or were attitudes just different back then? Some of my most idyllic memories involve me perched precariously on a wall above twelve foot sheer drop onto concrete reading until I literally couldn't focus any more. Those were the books of childhood; the Enid Blyton stories and Roald Dahl's adventures. I wasn't tied to conventional authors either. For a painfully short space of time Wakefield had a discount book shop that half-specialised in stocking unheard-of children's novels. I practically ate those. I wasn't adverse to reading books half a dozen times either. I was told off in class for reading ahead in the books we were reading as a group.

But now I come to think of it, people at my school didn't seem as interested in books as I was. Could that be because I came from a relatively deprived area? Maybe. I'm willing to accept that some working class families just don't care enough about reading to pass it on to the next generation. My elder sister freely admits she barely reads now and I'm not sure she ever really did. My brother was a little more interested in books then, but I don't know if he still reads now.

Is that the problem then? Children grow up in households where their parents don't read so they don't see the significance? We live in a society where laziness prevails. Why bother reading a good book when it's coming to ITV1 as a drama in a few months? Or why bother watching any literary translations at all? There's enough on with Coronation Street, Holby City and CSI. Not that I mean to insult anybody who watches those. I'm an avid Corrie fan these days and it makes up an important part of my relaxation for the week. But, then again, so does reading. The last thing I do every day is read for anything between twenty minutes and an hour. It just depends how gripping the book is.

Do I get through fifty books in a year as an adult? Quite possibly, though at the moment my PhD reading figures will be skewing the data (I'm unsure in which direction). Do I love reading? Yes. Am I disappointed that my six-year-old niece seems indifferent to ever picking up a book and avoids her reading homework whenever she can? Yes, of course I am.

But I honestly don't think that Michael Gove proclaiming something will automatically make it so. If he proclaims it won't that just reinforce the idea that books are the privilege of the upper-classes? If I was a family being hit hard by community closures thanks to our lovely Coalition, the last thing I'd do is listen to a condescending, pompous twit like Michael Gove.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Life In Museum Leaflets

As part of my ongoing quest to preserve anything I may want from my grandmother's home as she prepares to move, I spent two afternoons in the last week going through her hoard of leaflets and brochures gathered over the years. When I say it constituted a mountain, I'm not exaggerating. The ones I threw away half-filled the paper recycling bin. I haven't even started properly on the theatre programmes, spanning forty years, which I'm going to have more difficulty being discerning with.

However, the leaflets were my first port of call. My grandparents were very active in their retirement, travelling all over the country and dropping into every museum, gallery and castle along the way, usually several times. As a consequence, I had to sift through everything from those flimsy A4 folded things up to glossy colour magazines on some of the most beautiful castles and pieces of artwork in Britain. Most of the little ones had to go. I came to the conclusion that none of those could be useful to me, and even though I half-wanted to keep them, we couldn't afford the space. My 'office' is already looking like a book depot; I can't actually get to my PhD bookcase without moving a box, putting it next to my desk, then moving it back again afterwards. This isn't mentioning the fact that we're expected to take a bureau, a bookcase and a flipping piano into our cramped abode. Oh, well, who hasn't wanted to edge sideways around a tiny house on a daily basis?

Still, I found it difficult to part with some of the glossier items. I had to come up with some rules. If a book was damaged in any way, it had to go. If it was black and white, it had to be carefully considered. If there were smiling eighties families on the inside cover... well, it was a toss-a-coin moment. As a result, I've ended up with half a huge box of magazines to bring home, along with whatever number of theatre programmes I feel I can't part with.

It's quite sad really. All those memories that my grandparents made, cleared away in one fell swoop. All that money they spent on brochures they barely looked at again. The multiple visits, marked by half a dozen different styles of leaflet, struck me especially. I wonder how many people these days hoard these kinds of things. I keep my theatre programmes and any glossy magazines I buy. That, however, is as likely due to the price as much as anything else. It's only when you consider pamphlets sold for 10p which would likely be several pounds these days, that you realise how expensive exploring our cultural heritage is getting these days.

The last thing I drew from this experience? That I want to visit as widely as my grandparents did. They already gave me a good grounding in British history: the number of National Trust and English Heritage properties I visited in my youth isn't worth counting. I remember my first visit to Skipton Castle and going to an extremely odd little museum on cats which baffled the three of us. I remember visiting The Royal Armouries before I went with school and I can easily recall my numerous trips to the National Media Museum, as it's called now.

I owe my grandparents for the starting push. But I have to do the rest of it on my own I think.

Friday, 18 March 2011

100th Post

Well, here we are. Eleven months after starting this blog I'm hitting my hundredth post. To be honest, I'm amazed. This is the longest I've stuck at anything I'm not being paid for! So, in order to celebrate, I've decided to share a couple of lists and facts about me. They may be uninteresting, they may cause you to edge away slowly. Either way, I'm sharing!

Five Things I've Learned From Blogging
  • That getting my thoughts out, even if nobody is actually reading, is an excellent way of clearing my mind. You write it down, you move on.
  • That there are many fascinating people out there who are willing to teach you whatever they can (more of that later).
  • Opinions are worthwhile, even if you don't agree with them. And, for crying out loud, be polite about them! What's the point in making enemies? Freedom of speech is a novelty many people in this world don't enjoy!
  • That writing about my progress spurs me on to actually... well, progress. No more sitting on my hands and singing along to musical ballads.
  • Bloggers are an excellent resource for finding about out new books. Generally, their opinions are sound (and they disclose any bias beforehand!), plus you get to know the book bloggers who have similar tastes to you. Much better than Amazon recommendations!

My Five Favourite Posts On This Blog
Five Facts About Me
  • My favourite film is The Harvey Girls. I may say that it's The Wizard of Oz but that's just because I don't think you'll have heard of The Harvey Girls.
  • I am a Gleek. I may find the plots ridiculous and the characters flimsy but I like the songs. Where else on mainstream television could you have a gay character singing 'Rose's Turn' from Gypsy?
  • I get very heated over political matters. In order to stop such posts clogging up this blog, I created one especially for politics and current affairs:
  • I started off my writing as a fan fiction writer. While it's much derided as stealing other characters, I appreciate the chance to study sentence structure and plotting before I moved onto creating my own characters. Baby steps, that what was needed.
  • While my faith in other aspects of my life wavers daily, I don't think I could ever stop writing. It's in my blood. And, even if the only people who read it are my best friends, at least it's being read. If nothing else, I'm reading it.

Five Bloggers Whom I Adore
  • The Victorianist: Far more than just a resource, this blog is a wealth of odd and involved information. It both helps me with my studies and entertains me.
  • Steven Chapman: Even if zombies creep you out, the posts on this blog are hilarious and thought-provoking. They always bring a smile to my face as I edge away from Steven quite quickly.
  • Book After Book: An exceptional book reviewing blog which I'm grateful to for enlightening me about the LGBT Book Challenge 2011.
  • Becky's Book Reviews: Another prolific book reviewing blog. Many a book added to my wish list because of this one.
  • Scandalous Women: What it says on the tin. Every post is intriguing, particularly because half of the time I hadn't heard of what's being discussed.

So, here's to another hundred posts. And maybe beyond! I'd like to thank all the visitors to this blog and bow at the feet of everyone who has commented on it. Allow me to leave you with some images from my favourite film.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Book Review: Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah

There are only two authors whose books I would rush out to buy on the day of release. Generally, I can starve myself until the paperback comes out but not with Sarah Waters or Sophie Hannah. I got very excited when I saw Hannah's latest was coming out, so much so that I pre-ordered a book for the first time in my life. I wasn't disappointed.

Lasting Damage springboards from this premise: a woman looking at a virtual tour on a property website sees a dead woman on the screen. When her husband comes to look he doesn't see what she saw. There begins a tale that races towards the finishing point described in the short prologue.

The sensation I always get when reading Hannah's books is that I'm running along behind a bus trying desperately to jump on. Like John Truitt in Meet Me In St. Louis, if you don't mind the analogy. Except that each time I get reasonably close to leaping on the bus swerves away. That's what following Hannah's plots feels like. After reading five previous books I feel I should have a good idea of where things are going, or at least be able to decipher probables, but I find it impossible. Hannah is a master at leading you in one direction, only for you to realise later on that she led you that way for a reason, though not the one you thought at the time. Her first-person narration from Connie's perspective certainly helps this effect. Connie Bowskill is another of those characters who you want to trust and like but she's a bit on the unstable side. Hannah takes the unreliable narrator, as she does in all her books, and utilises it to its full potential.

For fans of the series there are plenty of serial elements in the police chapters to interest, which doesn't alienate new readers. Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse are as dysfunctional a couple as ever and, although they begin the novel on their honeymoon, it's almost inevitable that they don't stay there. Further complications are thrown into the mix with the brief return of a face from an earlier book and a subplot involving Charlie's sister, Olivia, which causes all sorts of problems. If I've one complaint it's that this subplot dominates the early portion of the book then peters off. I understand why - at that point the main storyline is so complex that nothing should distract from it - but it was still something I noticed. However, I don't doubt that it'll definitely come up in the next book.

Are there parts of Lasting Damage I didn't like? To be honest, no. Hannah's got such a grip on her police characters (and an amazing knack for portraying unbalanced people) that characterisation wasn't a problem. The resolution to the main storyline leaves you thinking back over the entire book. Now, that's not a bad thing, but it does mean at some point I'm going to have to satisfy my urge to read all six books again! I'm always torn between reading slowly and absorbing everything or galloping ahead in order to reach the conclusion. Re-reading is a good option to add to those.

Again, I would recommend that anyone unfamiliar with Hannah starts at the beginning of her fantastic series, but the book is accessible to those who don't. I started at book four and worked my way backwards and I'm okay!

A previous review of Hurting Distance, the second book in series, can be found here.

I've blogged about reading the series backwards here.

Lasting Damage is available to buy here.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Characters and Phobias

As I'm supposed to be going for my first proper blood test in the morning I've been dwelling on the idea of needles. I hate needles. One of my most embarrassing memories is my mother taking me to have my meningitis jab at the local doctor's, only for me to start screaming uncontrollably when the nurse came anywhere near me. I made a complete fool of myself and even emotional blackmail from the nurse didn't help. I was well aware, even at that age, that I was stopping someone else getting the medicine, but I still couldn't force my body to stay still. Needless to say, tomorrow is not going to be pleasant and, truth be told, I don't know if I'll be able to go through with it.

All this dwelling on my own fears brought me round, as most things do, to my characters. One of my current protagonists has been through a huge trauma and as a consequence avoids crowds. As her emotional state stems directly from a major plot event elsewhere in the book, it isn't too difficult for me to remember it exists. The inconsistency should she suddenly feel at home in a packed shopping centre would be striking and any readers I hope to have would instantly lose faith in me. I'm not saying it has to be a feature of every trip into the outside world for her, but it needs to crop up whenever the unexpected does. For the most part she can regulate her response as long as she knows what's coming.

One book I dip in and out of as my work dictates is the fantastic Writer's Guide to Character Traits. I'm fairly sure I've mentioned it before on the blog because it's a really helpful book to refer to when you're unsure of how a given character may react. The section on phobias is brief but does give several traits as starting points for exploration of character. As with most descriptions in the guide, it's a platform to jump from. If you know your characters well enough then you can fill in the rest of their symptoms for them.

There are a couple of things I'd cautious about though. When looking at a blank character sheet you might get the urge to fill it up by tossing in a debilitating fear or two. Beware: these are things that will affect your characters. If you include it, if you mention it, be sure to follow it up. The second point relates to the first: although not everything about your character has to be fuel to your plot, phobias are one of those things that cause an obstruction in some way or other. If your character's phobia is barely pertinent then perhaps it can be discarded.

And, just for the record, if you want fireworks, make someone with a needle phobia go for a blood test. The results are hilarious, in a dark kind of way.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Permanent Spring Cleaning

My paternal grandmother is currently in the process of moving into sheltered accommodation. My thoughts on the matter are quite redundant but, suffice to say, I'm getting quite emotional as we gradually clear the house of things she can't take with her. I've been blessed with two huge boxes of my late grandfather's books, of which he had a great selection. I've discarded some of the duplicates - including five versions of Shakespeare's sonnets and three copies of To The Lighthouse - but mostly I decided to hang onto a load of old books I'll probably never read. Sentimentality? Maybe. But I'd rather have them than not.

Several years ago we were in this situation with my maternal grandmother. The big difference in that case was that she wasn't able to help us move her out so it was completely hit and miss about what was saved and what wasn't. I hold a great deal of guilt for not managing to save several things I know she would've loved to keep in her final months, such as her late husband's WWII bag. She'd shown me it several times over the years. It smelled like hell but it was a fundamental part of him, one of the few things she had left.

Another item was a typed manuscript that she brought out of a drawer one day. Apparently my grandfather (who died before I was born) had written this story and sent it off somewhere. It was rejected and, from what I can gather, he didn't try again. It sat in a drawer, misplacing pages over the years, until it was purged from the house as we cleared it out. Two of my biggest regrets? That I didn't save it and, more damningly, that I never took the time to read it. Yes, that's right, I never read it.

Something evidently put me off at the time, whether it was the fact that several pages close to the beginning were missing or maybe that the premise of a cowboy story didn't really appeal to a teenage girl. It could've been more fundamental than that: perhaps I didn't want to judge a man I hadn't met on his literary merit and risk coming up with bad conclusions.

However, I regret it massively today. You should grab every piece of your heritage you can, even if it seems unimportant at the time. That's why I've filched the two boxes of books - I'm well aware there are likely to be notes in the margins and newspaper clippings slotted in at the front. I'm looking for a history, something to give me some sense of belonging in a family I feel distanced from.

Perhaps this just reeks of sentimentality. But it's something I feel I need to do.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Book Review: Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I have to admit, before I bought this book I'd never heard of Sylvia Townsend Warner. Retrospective research tells me she was a regular writer of novels, short stories and poems in the early-to-mid twentieth century. She was also a confirmed lesbian, living with poet, Valentine Ackland, until death parted them. That's the brief biographical sketch out of the way.

Summer Will Show is a sumptuous novel. The best way I can find to describe Warner's writing style in this particular book is that she has the eye of Charles Dickens and the flow of Edith Wharton. The two marry up quite well. While a small but diverse cast of characters appear through the novel, Warner manages to individualise them in a way that reminds me unavoidably of Dickens. The worst thing is, I can't pinpoint why! It's probably her eye for important detail, her method of filling the cracks with what should be known as opposed to what needs to be known. When I say that Warner flows in a manner similar to Edith Wharton, I mean it as a wholehearted compliment: I've found Wharton to be one of the most deceptively simple authors to read in literature.

The basic plot is this: Sophia Willoughby lives alone with her children in England as her husband, Frederick, and his mistress, Minna, enjoy life together in France. Sophia is content with her existence until her children die from smallpox. Then she follows Frederick back to France with the vague idea of having another child with him before leaving him to his own devices. However, she stumbles upon Paris as revolution takes hold and finds herself in an unlikely partnership with Minna as Frederick retreats to safety. The novel trundles along to its climax which, although almost inevitable, still leaves a powerful sensation behind it.

One review I read suggested that the anti-Semitism and racism within the novel was greatly off-putting. I won't lie, it can be a tricky read if you're not used to it. However, you have to remember that the novel is set in 1848. As a connoisseur of Victorian fiction, the discrimination didn't bother me so much. It's a representation of the times and to ignore it would remove realism from the book. Another criticism seemed to be Sophia's attitude towards Minna, which is derogatory even as their relationship progresses. I would argue that it's a good representation of character and shows the difficulty of shedding prior opinions after getting to know someone. But it's also actually refreshing - Sophia recognises the negative qualities of Minna as much as she recognises that their lives are now inexorably entwined.

A warning here: anybody looking for explicit lesbianism within this novel will be disappointed. Remember, it was written in 1936, not exactly a flowering period in the acceptance of homosexuality. However, the signs are definitely there. The odd kiss is mentioned, the fact that Sophia and Minna share a bed is made clear. Perhaps one of the greatest qualities of this book is that it demonstrates a connection between the two women without saying anything overly inflammatory which would've hurt the publication of the book. You're forced to read between the lines and, with Warner's luscious prose, it's not a chore to need to do that.

There is one practical point for readers which I feel I should mention. The novel is just over three hundred pages long and split into five parts. However, within the parts there are no breaks, just continuous prose. As someone who pauses a lot when reading I found this difficult to engage with, especially because I desperately wanted to carry on reading. I understand the logic in relation to this particular novel: everything is interconnected and the flowing prose gives the impression of life drifting by. It's overall a very absorbing text, but that may not be a great thing if you've got something else to do!

A couple of my favourite scenes, just to finish. The novel opens with Sophia taking her children to be hung by their ankles over a kiln in the belief that it will heal their ills. However ridiculous that concept may seem now, the scene is bizarre, intimidating and beautifully crafted. Later, during her first meeting with Minna, Sophia hears a story about her hostess's childhood in Lithuania. The vividness of that tale would've made the book worth reading had nothing else stood out. As it is, though, I can barely find fault with it.

I do believe some people would struggle with the style and the fact that so much happens so quickly. Admittedly, this book isn't for everyone. Even so, I can't wait to read it again. I get the feeling that I'll enjoy it even more the second time around.

This book was read for the LGBT Book Challenge 2011 (see sidebar for details).

Summer Will Show is available here.

Learn more about Sylvia Townsend Warner here.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Flashing Smoke Alarm

My weekend away was marred by an multitude of issues from the weather to illness to stress monkeys flapping around my head like something out of a Disney cartoon. However, by far and away the most irritating aspect of the break was the fact that in my hotel room there was a smoke alarm. And it flashed. All night. At ten second intervals. It was right above the bed and on the second night I resorted to wrapping a sock (clean, before you ask!) around my eyes to better block it from view. Still, I was aware it was there, and it permeated everything.

That got me thinking. I've had a few false starts with the writing in the last few weeks. The desire to swiftly mould a new idea into a novel came and was partially repressed. Then PhD stuff took absolute precedence, which it may need to do for a while. However, I've now realised what my inner flashing smoke alarm is: publication, or fear thereof.

Don't get me wrong, like most aspiring writers being published is the Holy Grail for me. But I'm normal (so I read) in that it scares the hell out of me. And, while I'm sat at my computer trying to force magic words from my fingertips, it transforms into a little voice which repeats my doubts to me, annoying in my own rational voice. I find it hard to argue with that voice because I'm forced to trust it on so many other things. But, in order to push myself forward, I have to ignore it. Otherwise this fourth draft will not get finished and I then have no hope of getting published. That's simple and that's fact. Everything else my own personal alarm is telling me is rubbish.

It whispers that I'm not good enough to write. Okay, well, I need to let other people decide that because I've come to this point and I wouldn't have got here without a little encouragement and self-belief. The last thing I need to lose at this point is the self-belief.

It tells me I haven't got time to do this. Funnily enough, I already know that. I'm balancing precariously on the edge here, but, short of falling off the precipice, there's nothing I can do about it. If something has to give then it will have to be forcibly taken from me.

I don't want to fail. But I might. One thing's for sure though, I shouldn't let a niggling flash of doubt keep me up all night and plague me with headaches the next day. If a sock doesn't suffice to keep the doubts out then I'll find something thicker. Perhaps a piece of carpet?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

RIP Jane Russell

Another sad day; another announcement of the loss of a great entertainer.

I absolutely adore Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It's definitely on my list of top films, and that's mainly down to Jane. I don't think it's a secret that I prefer the sarcastic and caustic characters. Throw in a beautiful actress, a smoky voice, and some amusing scenes alongside Marilyn Monroe and you've got a hit on your hands. When we lost Rue McClanahan last year I counted down my favourite legendary performances and Jane made the list.

As ever, I'm relieved that at least I can watch the film over and over again. And to remind you who she was...