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

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I'm always wary of reading books with a list of fantastic reviews a mile long. That's probably why Wolf Hall languished on my shelves for too long. I finally picked it up last week and, despite the length, I read it fairly rapidly. That's an endorsement if ever there was one.

Briefly, Wolf Hall charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell from a blacksmith's boy to his place as one of Henry VIII's key advisers. A great chunk of the novel takes place during Henry's attempts to legalise his divorce from his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. The characterisation in this novel is exemplary. Mantel has taken characters we know from perhaps a few traits and fashioned them into instruments and human beings. The setting is also magnificent. I can't comment on the historical accuracy, but it certainly gives off the impression of being immersed in the era. We're so far removed from this part of our heritage and yet we're fascinated with it. Mantel surely is and the love of it shows in every sentence. It's a hefty book, yes, but one thoroughly enjoyable in terms of characterisation, setting and plot.

However, a couple of stylistic things grated on me as I progressed. The use of the present tense proved difficult for me personally. I understand why Mantel decided to use it but in a book of this magnitude it kept drawing attention to itself. In a smaller work it might have passed unnoticed. Secondly, the referral of Thomas Cromwell as 'he' almost constantly was a little confusing at times, especially considering the number of men present in the novel. These were personal gripes, though, and I can understand other readers having no problems with them. They didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel as a whole and I look forward to reading the sequel at some point in the future.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Save The Red House!

I was aghast to read this Guardian article suggesting that Kirklees district council are gearing up to close and sell the Red House Museum in Gomersal. This stems from the fact that the wellbeing and communities directive, in charge of museums and the like, have to cut their costs by 19% to £105m. To quote from the article: "Closure of the Red House in September would make a full-year saving of £116,000 with sale of the site an additional, one-off capital receipt, probably of around £750,000." The yearly cost seems negligible compared to what they need to cut. As for the one-off receipt: are they so confident they'll find a buyer? I'll come back to that bit.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Red House last year. Despite living so close, I'd just never got round to it. That seems bizarre, given the Bronte links, but sometimes the heritage on your own doorstep slips by unnoticed. You may pay attention when it's no longer there but my general feeling was that it wasn't going anywhere. Lucky I didn't wait a few more years judging by this. Anyway, although the house itself is quite small, it is wonderfully kept. It is a perfect small replica of Victorian life for those younger visitors who might be interested in history, but not that interested in musty old rooms. There is also an exhibition in the barn - holding, amongst other little artefacts, a card for Emily Bronte's funeral - and a beautiful small garden to admire. There's a little gift shop on the ground floor of the museum and, all in all, the place is a nice little outing. More importantly, it's history. Wiping that away for a few pounds seems silly.

I would be arguing for the preservation of the Red House even if it wasn't for the Bronte connections. It's a gorgeous little place. However, the Bronte links are compelling and rather difficult to ignore. Charlotte Bronte didn't just visit the house - it helped inspire one of her novels. This is taken from the website entry about the museum:

"The stained glass windows, described in 'Shirley' are perfectly preserved in the dining room. And the award-winning recreated 19th Century gardens, with their shaped beds, decorative ironwork and authentic varieties of plants and shrubs, help to capture the atmosphere of this fascinating bygone age. 

Explore Charlotte Bronte's Spen Valley connections and her friendships with Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey in The Secrets Out exhibition in the barn. What did local people say when they discovered that she'd based some of her characters in 'Shirley' on them? And how did Charlotte, Mary and Ellen react to society's strict view of 'a woman's place'?"

Can you see how we'll be losing a slice of history if we let this slip quietly away? The Brontes are a major draw to Yorkshire. The more things we can offer the average visitor, the better. The council seem to think that because the museum drew so few people last year that it deserves to be closed down. It doesn't. It deserves to be promoted. There are plenty of schools in the area so why did less than 1,000 schoolchildren visit the house last year? This is a problem that probably delves deeper into school management than this blog post requires but it's certainly worth looking at. If a property fails, especially when it's free entry, it is usually down to a failure on the part of the management, not a failure of the historic site itself. The Red House is certainly a little off the beaten track but it's survived as a museum for quite some time and I don't see why we should let go of it now.

I would urge local residents to make their feelings known about this. As the Guardian article says, this is a decision hastily made that will be regretted in the long term. The Red House is a Grade II listed building. This means that a potential buyer would have to jump through all sorts of hoops to make changes to it. Have Kirklees council actually investigated whether there are interested parties in the event of a decision to sell? If not, the building will rest empty for a prolonged period, with the council still responsible for the maintenance. They will be getting all the difficulties of owning a listed building but with none of the rewards of enriching the area and providing access to a beautiful little house.

Savings have to be made. We know this. However, this does not only strike me as rash but also idiotic if they haven't completely thought it through. Can we have some sense please? And not lose a genuine piece of literary history while we're looking the other way.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I Am Good (Possibly)

Today I attended a seminar group about how to teach seminar groups (yes, I know). One of the first little tasks we had to do was think of something we're good at. Whereas a year or so ago I would've dodged the question, desperate not to think of my many shortcomings, this time the answer shot straight into my head. Writing. I'm good at writing. It's actually very difficult to get me to say I'm half-decent at anything, despite people attempting to drum it into me (yes, Nicola, I'm looking at you). Today was a big step forward in my development. I am good at writing. I know I am. I also know there's plenty of room for improvement but I am on the path. It's like answering the tricky question of when you start to call yourself a 'proper' writer (I blogged about this last year). I think you have to be comfortable with whatever label you give yourself and how you measure your own success.

The next part of the task was to think what had made you good at your little something. Practice, that was my answer. Perseverance. Of course, that doesn't apply to just writing. Unless you're naturally gifted, everybody has to put in a little effort to get where they want to be.

Do you think Dorothy agrees or disagrees? I can't decide...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Yesterday I was given a date for my upgrade viva - 27th February. So that's the date this PhD charade comes crashing down around my ears, the day I learn that I'm perhaps not cut out for this academic career I had planned. Nevertheless, I have to give it a shot. The two things I need to accomplish in the next month, then, are to complete my upgrade chapter (currently in the fourth draft of the...third incarnation - possibly) and complete an abstract for the rest of the thesis. I also need to firm up my bibliography but, honestly, that's the least of my problems.

Getting this chapter up to required standard is proving difficult. I've been writing too much fiction lately so I'm having to be ultra-careful with my phrasing and the urge to slip into 'dialogue mode' is strong. I have to say, the pompousness associated with academic standards is really starting to get on my nerves. Alas, it's the way it is. My more pertinent problem stems from the abstract. Since changing my direction late last year, I've been struggling to play catch-up. Essentially, I'm reconfiguring the year and a half of work I've done to match my new focus. Unfortunately, much of the work I've done is no longer relevant. I've read books by authors I'm no longer covering; I've analysed others in a way that now seems to be useless. I'm going to have to read perhaps every novel Edmund Yates wrote to back up my abstract - and that's before I start finding Wilkie Collins novels to compare them with. See how unmanageable it's starting to look?

Then comes the upgrade viva itself. For a girl who has panic attacks walking into town to meet someone she knows well and has stress-related health issues, this is going to be painful. Literally, painful. While I've made progress in public-speaking and raised my confidence slightly, I still tend to suffer meltdowns at critical moments. I just stop talking. It'll be interesting to see how they deal with an oral examination where the candidate won't speak.

All this said, it's obvious something has to give. It has to be the writing, doesn't it? At least for the next month. I have to rewrite one more chapter for a submission somewhere (I'm not jinxing myself with explanation) but, apart from that, I think I have to focus constantly on PhD work. I already know that it'll drive me up the wall but I have to try. Don't I? Do I?

I need a little Judy to cheer me up. The girl she's singing about is the girl I long to be.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Book Review: Judy, A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke

Any regular visitor to this blog will know that I'm a devoted Judy Garland fan. Consequently, when I was asked what one book I wanted for Christmas, this was my first and only choice. I'd seen it in a shop and barely prevented myself from sitting down on the carpet and cracking it open there and then.

This is an overview of Judy's film career, broken down by period and then by each individual film. There's enough biographical information in it to satisfy the layperson but not too much to distract from the focus of the book. Each film is given it's own section with a cast list, synopsis, contemporary reviews, notes on the production and, perhaps most wonderfully, a selection of quotes from people who worked on the film. These quotes range from Judy herself down to contract dancers and backstage personnel and proved to be one of the highlights of the book.

However, the main highlight has to be the pictures. There are hundreds of them packed into this book, many never seen before and all of the best quality. You've got Judy and Doris Day meeting up on the set of A Star is Born; Judy helping prepare Liza for her little appearance in In The Good Old Summertime; and the cast being instructed by Victor Fleming in the specially-extended picture album for The Wizard of Oz. Every time I turned the page I was faced with yet more wonderful pictures. They complimented the excellent analysis of each of the films without overshadowing it.

Some of the films naturally get slightly more coverage than others - The Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade - but I was gratified to see the attention given to Judy's last film, I Could Go On Singing. When I watched this film I was struck by Judy's intense performance, along with her beautiful yet heartbreaking renditions of several songs. There's a gorgeous picture of Judy in discussion with director Ronald Neame on a bench while young co-star Gregory Phillips (who played Judy's son in the film) looks on with evident admiration in his eyes. It was Phillips's words on working with Judy that stuck with me when I closed the book:

"When Mr. Neame took me into Miss Garland's dressing gown...[she] gave me a big hug and said, 'Hello, darling!' It was marvellous, and so quick I forgot to be frightened. 'Come and sit down by me,' she said, and the next thing I knew, we were discussing the part, and I felt as if I'd known her all my life. All through the film, [she and Dirk Bogarde] were both wonderful to me. They are so completely natural, with no 'side' at all. It was the most friendly job I ever had."

I adored this book. It doesn't go into excessive detail for each of the films but it reveals fresh information and is worth buying for the pictures alone.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Thoughts on Video File Sharing

Let me preface this by saying that, while I don't claim to be an authority on this issue, I do have some valid experience. In the past I've resorted to what some would call 'illegal methods' to get hold of clips for various reasons. Some of these were British shows (most of which I'd purchased on DVD anyway) and some were American and impossible to get hold of any other way. Do I consider what I did to be contributing to a larger piracy problem? Not really. I paid for the British shows, either via my licence fee or via the DVD costs. I wanted the clips on my computer to watch and make music videos for my own pleasure. I'd already paid once - twice for those programmes I'd watched on the BBC and then bought the DVD of. As for the American shows (I might as well say we're talking specifically about Guiding Light, the now defunct soap), there was no option for me to watch it any other way but on YouTube or by downloading the clips. There was no way I was going to miss out on the storyline that had gripped me. Equally, a current Spanish show, Tierra de lobos, has caught my attention. If I don't watch the clips via the Internet then I don't see how I can watch it. Is that just hard luck on my part? Well, with the Internet as powerful as it is, companies need to start using their brains.

Let me take an example of a show that's doing it right. Venice: The Series is a web-series currently showing its third season. Unlike many Internet-based shows I've come across, Venice charges a subscription for each series and did this from the start. It ruffled some feathers but since the fee is only a few pounds in UK money, it's more than affordable. For that you get ten or so episodes of, I'd say, average twenty minutes each. (Another good thing about a web-series is that it isn't constrained to tell a story in so many minutes - the time variants always fit the arc of the episode.) I've been paying for Venice from the start and, as far as I can tell, Crystal Chappell and her team have done everything right. They established there was a market for the show (building on the success of Chappell's last storyline in Guiding Light), they assembled a fantastic cast and they created a business model that meant the show would effectively pay for itself and guarantee it a chance at longevity. In a recent interview for the Lesbian News blog, Chappell explained: "We’ve sort of cultivated an audience that needs to come back, thankfully, and we use a lot of social media to promote it -- like Facebook, Twitter. They seem to be there. Originally it was supposed to be, and it still may be, a dual platform show with sponsorship and subscription but it’s enough to cover…it’s covered itself, it’s paid for itself for the past three seasons and it’s a show that costs about $125 thousand dollars a season; so it’s not an inexpensive show." There you go: it's working and people are happy to pay for it.

There is one main reason why traditional media is failing to battle piracy: they're not making enough of their content widely available or, when they do, they're being too greedy about it with extortionate fees. The Venice model is a good one to follow because they're focused on the quality of the show and what the viewers what. I realise that for bigger companies there has to be a profit in there somewhere, but I think they've lost sight of the fans and what they want. It's why the future is wide open for people like Crystal Chappell.

Oh, and one final thing: Venice offered the first episode free as a taster. Try before you buy is definitely worthwhile and it will usually champion quality.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Book Review: The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

From the prologue onwards, The Poison Tree was a riveting read; both atmospheric and enjoyable. The story is told from the perspective of Karen and straddles two periods a decade apart. In 1997, having just finished her degree, Karen encounters a young actress, Biba, and is quickly drawn into her bohemian lifestyle. She spends the summer living in Biba's ramshackle house and growing closer to Biba's brother, Rex. It's no secret to say (since the blurb reveals as much) that two people end the summer dead, changing Karen's life forever. In the more recent timeline, Rex is released from prison and struggles to adjust to his new life with Karen and their daughter, Alice. Karen is also on edge, having been on the receiving end of silent phone calls recently.

There's not much more I can say about the plot without ruining it. But I will say that the twists and turns certainly kept my attention. Throughout the 1997 story there are hints about what's to come but since Kelly piles discord on top of discord, it's impossible to see where the eventual danger will emerge from. I enjoyed just following Karen through the summer and trying to work out exactly what was going to happen. I couldn't and that's exactly how a good novel should be.

Karen is effectively an average, though talented, student when we first meet her. Her foray into Biba's world works because we experience the new and bizarre as Karen does. We can understand why Karen's so intrigued by the odd brother and sister pair and their associates. However, I think the reader has more reservations about Biba from the start than Karen does. Entranced by her new friend, Karen seems content to be allowed into her world, however she's treated. Biba is actually a complex and surprising character. Whatever she does feels real and her actions are always foreshadowed. Rex, I have to say, is a lovely but troubled man and was possibly my favourite character, despite the fact I didn't like him much at the beginning. All of the supporting characters are well-rounded, from Karen's parents down to the tutor we only meet once.

What struck me particularly about this novel, though, was the evocation of 1997 London. The accuracy of detail along with the sights, smells and noises discussed help to create a place - and therefore novel - that leaps from the page and feels real.

As you can probably tell, I loved this book. Several days after finishing, I'm still thinking about it. I look forward to reading more of Kelly's work in the future.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Inappropriate Music

Yesterday I went climbing for the first time in months. As I was halfway up the artificial wall, I became aware that I was singing a song under my breath. What was it? 'You Don't Need a Licence For That' by George Formby. Perhaps not the best motivational song for climbing, particularly the lines stuck on repeat in my head:

"You need a licence whatever you do,
One or two things they've exempted, it's true,
Lumbago, the gout, or a touch of the flu,
You don't need a licence for that."

Is it any wonder I was disconcerted? I've blogged previously that I've got through climbing sessions before by singing songs from Sweeney Todd under my breath, but that was a choice. I picked something angry that would fire me up. Maybe George Formby made me angry, although it was more in the 'cut the rope now' manner. He's just so damn catchy!

Inappropriate music disturbs me when I'm writing as well. I need some music on in the background but, if I'm into some serious editing, I need something bland and not the musical showstoppers that I usually favour. I have two playlists that I really shouldn't listen to while I'm writing - 'Loved Songs' which has about a thousand songs that have received fifteen plays or more on iTunes and 'Musical Favs Etc' which is exactly what it says on the tin and has over seven hundred songs on it. If I let those loose during 'work time' I invariably end up singing along.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who suffers with the compulsion to play their favourite music as opposed to the music they can work to. Although I may be one of the few who doesn't mind George Formby - when I'm not climbing walls.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Book Review: Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue

I picked up this short story collection after reading Donoghue's novels Landing and Slammerkin. There are nineteen stories in this collection, grouped under the headings 'Babies', 'Domesticity', 'Strangers', 'Desire' and 'Death' - all certainly touchy subjects. There wasn't a story in the collection that I didn't enjoy although, of course, I had some favourites!

'Expecting' examines the way a lie to a stranger can spiral out of control. I particularly enjoyed the way this contained very little dialogue but I didn't notice until afterwards because it was so well written. That was the case in 'Good Deed' as well, when a man stops on the street when he suspects a homeless man might be seriously ill. In both of these, the narrative voice is strong enough to make dialogue redundant.

There are a couple of LGBT themed stories in the collection which I really enjoyed. 'The Cost of Things' is about a lesbian couple and their sick cat, while 'Team Men' looks at young man discovering his sexuality while on his father's football team. 'The Welcome' is another excellent story which I won't ruin for anyone.

My absolute favourite was probably 'WritOr'. It follows the unnamed writer-in-residence in his year-long role at a college. He has to deal with intimidating parents, students who mask their own life badly in fiction, poets who spew word vomit onto the page during a first draft and refuse to change a word of it. All sound familiar? I guarantee 'WritOr' will bring a smile to any writer's face.

All in all, I loved this collection. Short and snappy stories with distinctive voices and little jolts of surprise scattered throughout. If I didn't already adore Emma Donoghue's writing I'm sure this would've converted me.

I read this collection as part of the Library of Clean Reads 2012 Short Story Reading Challenge.  

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Classics Challenge: January Prompt

For my first book in this challenge, I read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (reviewed yesterday). The prompt for this month is "The Author". That struck me as amusing to say the least. What do you say about Dickens that hasn't been said before, especially during his bicentennial year? Well, let me quote The Monthly Review on Oliver Twist from January 1839:

"We have already expressed an opinion in regard to the power and combining talent of Mr. Dickens, and of the easy yet artistic manner in which he can work up his pictures by a diffusive and copious command of a great number of accessaries. He seems to have made himself master of human feelings and actions in so far as they are developed in the lower or middling walks of London life; and what is more, he cherishes a good natured sympathy with all, entering as it were into the condition of his most immoral characters so as in his portraiture to give heartily a perfect image, a rotund flesh and blood embodiment of each, - becoming thus the creator of new personages; but yet in all respects so natural in their lineaments that one feels convinced he has actually met with them in the streets and had more or less intercourse with them. He is a humane satirist; he is free from all bitterness; he never indulges in invective of any kind. His language is natural and happily wedded to his vivifying conceptions; and last but not least, - he is quite unaffected and far above attempts at imitation, - that is, he is a true originalist."

A little wordy but the points are clear enough. Dickens seemed to write this novel as a true representation of people he had observed and he's content enough to observe and allow his characters to pass judgement. His narrator's voice doesn't impede much in the novel, aside from scene setting. The characters tend to speak for themselves, with limited interference, in a manner that adds to the realism of the story. The Monthly Review was right - Dickens shows himself to be a master of human feelings in Oliver Twist, which perhaps explains the novel's enduring success.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

This has been sitting on my shelf for years. So long, in fact, that the spine has been bleached horribly by the sunlight streaming in through the window. Oliver Twist was always a book I was ashamed never to have read. I'm glad I've now altered that fact.

The story of the young orphan is well known, primarily due to the stage and film musical about him. However, the book is much more than the story of the Lionel Bart musical. The humour is much more pronounced, Dickens's ability with secondary characters is brought to the fore, and the grime of Victorian London seeps into the reader's consciousness. You can replicate those things in film but I don't think a visual representation can ever have the same impact as the images conjured up by words on the page.

My favourite parts of the book revolve around lesser characters and situations. For example, I adored chapter twenty three and Mr Bumble's flirting with Mrs Corney followed by his inventory of all her possessions. Although pompous and self-righteous, Mr Bumble remains perhaps the most vivid concoction in the novel. Beside characters such as Fagin and Bill Sikes, that's quite an achievement. Lesser characters also make their impact. The doctor who attends Oliver after he's been shot, Dr Losberne, is memorable, as is Mr Grimwig with his repeated threats to eat his head. There isn't a named character in the book who can't be distinguished from the throng.

Although over 170 years old, Oliver Twist is still very readable and, I would say, a fantastic introduction to Dickens for anybody wondering where to start. I sped through it once I'd started and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. The title character is, perhaps, a little too good to be true but the novel's about much more than young Oliver. Heartily recommended, especially during this special Dickens year!

I read this book as part of A Classics Challenge hosted by November's Autumn (see sidebar for details).

Friday, 6 January 2012

Eve Arden & Me

Although I'm a relative novice when it comes to Eve Arden's films (I've only seen five to date), I've recently encountered her in two small roles that utilised the best of her caustic wit and damning facial expressions. Ziegfield Girl (1941) and Stage Door (1937) are pretty good films, even if you take away Arden's contributions, but she's the actress who makes them as far as I'm concerned. Not bad for a woman who invariably played the side-kick in Hollywood movies.

Why do I love Eve? Well, I have a great affection for sarcastic women in films. Think of the wonderful Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) or Virginia O'Brien's underrated role in The Harvey Girls (1946). Bea Arthur stole my heart in the television series The Golden Girls (1985-92) for the simple reason that her outlook matched my own - even at a very young age. Sometimes the world is just so stupid that you need characters played by these wonderful actresses to point it out. But there's something else these roles (and those portrayed by Eve) have in common: the characters have a underbelly of emotion that they release to those that matter when it matters. I'm talking about Dorothy Shaw's (Russell) affection for her friend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, whom she would defend to the hilt in spite of her flaws. I'm referring to Dorothy Zbornak's mask slipping as she confronts the potential loss of her mother in series one of The Golden Girls. And in The Harvey Girls, Alma helps out her new friend the blacksmith, giving rise to one of my favourite songs (see clip below). As for Eve Arden, her role as Eve in Stage Door was full of sarcasm until she felt compelled to comfort her friend, played by Andrea Leeds, who had just lost out on a part. These characters are fully-functioning human beings but they like to cover it up with a barrage of sarcasm. That's me all over.

Like many people, my first exposure to Eve Arden was in her role as Principal McGee in Grease (1978). But since then I've seen Cover Girl (1944) and Tea for Two (1950). It was the latter with Doris Day that beguiled me. What's not to like about a smart-talking, strong-willed female?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Book Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

I picked this up in the shop because of its length and purchased it because the blurb made it sound so interesting. I was looking for a lengthy and engrossing read and, luckily, that's precisely what I got.

The 19th Wife recounts two tales separated by a century but both revolving around polygamous marriage. In modern America, Jordan returns to Utah when he discovers his mother is in prison after being accused of killing his father. However, the family life was more complicated than that - Jordan used to live amongst a secretive Mormon sect before being excommunicated. He sets out to prove his mother's innocence and encounters the distortion of 'family life' he left behind years ago. The other story in the novel is that of Ann Eliza Young, nineteenth wife of the second Prophet of the Mormon Church, who caused a sensation when she strove for freedom from her husband and tried to end polygamy in the US. The tale is about much more than merely Ann Eliza, however. It looks at the origin of the Mormon Church and details some of the key moments in its history.

Ebershoff creates historical 'sources' to illuminate the text but states in his author's note that these are mostly inspired by actual sources. He adds, 'The mighty lens of history has enabled me to see Ann Eliza's life as she could not, and I have used this perspective to tell her story in a way that perhaps broadens it and connects it to our day. All of this is a longwinded answer to the original question, is The 19th Wife [the historical section] based on real people and real events? Yes. Have I invented much of it? Yes, for that is what novelists do.' (p601)

This work really is mammoth, although it did leave me wanting more. Both eras were depicted in resonating detail and the entire novel is well-written. The murder mystery that sparks the 'front' story is only the catalyst for an excellent examination of polygamy in modern-day America. Jordan is a likeable protagonist, a little free and easy with his profanities but a very realistic character. He's also gay - although that's not the reason he was excommunicated from his sect. During his quest to prove his mother's innocence, he encounters several characters from his past and makes some new friends, accompanied by his dog Elektra. He picks up a stray teenager, Johnny, and garners a boyfriend, Tom, along the way, all the while promising himself he's only in Utah to clear his mother's name.

I'll leave the conclusion of the novel for you to discover. I really would recommend this book. It's fluid and enlightening, but also tells a very gripping story. If I had a complaint it would be that there was no consistent flipping between the present and the past. Chapters of Ann Eliza's 'memoir' and other 'documents' were placed in blocks throughout but there was no guarantee how many you would encounter at any one time. It threw me off a few times. Equally, there was just one point in the novel where I noticed startling repetition. Something had been told in Ann Eliza's memoir to the reader and then repeated by another character for the benefit of the protagonist. While I understand why Ebershoff chose to impart it that way, perhaps a brief summary would've been more practical for the reader.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I picked up this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

... Onwards to 2012

It's much easier to dissect the year just gone than to predict what lies in store for 2012. It's a year of fear as far as the political and economic situations go, but also a year that should inspire pride in Great Britain. I hope it does. And, on a more personal level, I hope I can build on the successes of 2011. But let's cut this down into manageable goals.

I've signed up for two specific reading challenges this year (see the links on the sidebar). I aim to complete them. In addition, I want to read some of those books I've been meaning to for a while - Wolf Hall, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister and Nella Last's War to name but three.

I daren't make any predictions about my PhD for the coming year. I just hope that I'm still studying at the end of 2012. Whatever happens, I've already learned a lot from my research. That'll never go to waste.

I want to complete some revisions of all four manuscripts I've got floating about. Two are in the later stages of development and two of them are first drafts. I will also aim to have at least one short story published this year and try and complete a few of the unfinished projects I've got hanging around.

I will continue working with 2020UK and hopefully attract more people to the ranks.

I'll continue being there for the people who need me (for babysitting or a chat) but I'm making no predictions about where I'll end 2012.

My inspiration for the year ahead has to come from the Matilida soundtrack and the song 'Naughty':

"Just because you find that life's not fair 
It doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

Even if you're little you can do a lot
You mustn't let a little thing like little stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top 
You might as well be saying you think that it's okay
And that's not right."

Farewell 2011...

At the beginning of 2011 I posted my hopes for the year. Let's see how I did with the things I wanted to change or improve on.

1. I have decided to work at my PhD until my eyes blur and give in from over-use. I will not try and figure out ways of getting around the work and I will be the most coherent and widely-read student I can be. I love my subject and I'm not half-bad at it. Come 2012 I will have been upgraded from MPhil to PhD status.
Well, I haven't upgraded yet! I've been up and down the research rollercoaster in the last twelve months and feel no closer to the final loop. However, I'm assured I'm edging towards it. I still enjoy my subject and I still appreciate the works of Edmund Yates, even though he's been getting on my nerves most of the year. 

2. I have decided to focus on revising the unpublished novels I have waiting around before starting something new. One in particular has tremendous potential and with a restructure of plot I think it could really be something. By 2012 I will have revised this and (hopefully) submitted it.
I'm a little closer on this one. I've revised each of the two novels I had at the beginning of the year at least once and submitted them once apiece. Without anyone telling me, I realised they needed more work and I'm revising them again. I have also - despite my little focus point above - written two more complete first drafts. Well, I had to participate in NaNoWriMo, didn't I?

3.I have decided to continue with my good form of the last few months as far as submitting short stories goes. I will submit at least two a month to various competitions and aim to write a new one at least once a month. (I realise that doesn't add up but deal with it)
I fell down a little on this one. I made fourteen submissions of various formats throughout the year. One short story was shortlisted, one television drama was longlisted and one short play script was produced in September. I'd say that's progress enough for now. With the exception of the tail end of the year, my submissions were pretty regular. Meaning that I didn't have any major head-bashing periods.

4. I have decided to be the best friend I can be and be there for people who I know would be there for me in a heartbeat. I've got some great people around me and I need to appreciate them more. Also in this area, I will contact some old friends and family members I've neglected for too long.
Maybe I fell down on this one too. Or maybe I didn't. The fact is, there is no point surrounding yourself with people who don't want to be there and don't help when they are. That does neither party any good. The friends I've ended the year with are the ones that are sticking - and have stuck - for quite some time. Equally, why should I chase after old friends and family members? They could easily contact me. I shouldn't be the one doing the chasing all the time. There's nothing in life that makes you feel quite so unwanted.

5. Finally, I have decided that 2011 is the year to let go of the dreams that cannot be and focus on the dreams that can. I envisage this being the difficult one but I'm up for the challenge.
This one I toyed with. I took one step closer to being a strong person and simultaneously took one step back. My personal life has been sketchy this year but I've survived it. Given what other years have brought me, 2011 wasn't too bad in this respect.

So what else did I achieve that I didn't put in my goals last year? Well, I've started working with a political group called 2020UK whose aim is to discuss what form governance should take in the UK. We're eager for guest bloggers, article writers and anybody willing to retweet our stuff and gain us some more readers so please do take a look at the website. I spent a good portion of the year writing for a lesbian news site,, and I've discovered many new acquaintances, bloggers and funny personalities on Twitter. I am still into musicals and I swear that's never going away and I will never ever forget seeing Liza Minnelli at the Royal Albert Hall in June. That made my year and, quite possibly, my life. I must thank Claire for talking me into it. I should also thank Sal and Nicola for keeping me sane in various ways this year. It can't have been easy!

It's been a year that deserves mixed reviews on the whole I think. My great uncle died towards the end of it. I didn't know him as well as I should have but I knew enough about him to miss him. Let the final word on this post go to him: RIP Ken.