A Year in Books – January to March

I thought I would give a little update on how I am progressing with the challenge, A Year in Books. As I was displaying some of the books I’ve read for a snap-shot Artie came over to give me his approval.

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It was a slow beginning to the challenge. All I read in January was two books. Since then I have managed to read more frequently, even taking the Kindle with me on the bus to work. Reading while travelling usually tires me, which is why I have only just started up again.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

This novella featured as part of a short Open University course I took last year. David kindly bought it for me for Christmas. The theme is of grief and survival. After a sudden death of a wife and mother, two son’s and a father are visited by a crow (personified from the Ted Hughes book of poems Crow.) The narrative is quite fractured and erratic. The story just features short scenes of the family in states of ‘coping/or not coping’. Crow is depicted as a wild, untamed creature with bad manners and equally bad language. I think I need to read the story again as a lot of the message was lost on me.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

In Parenthesis – David Jones

David Jones was a survivor of the First World War. I came across his work featured in a documentary on the writers of WW1. In it’s time, In Parenthesis was hailed as a classic, but now sadly seems to have been forgotten. I managed to get a cheapish copy on eBay. The writing can be difficult to understand at times as Jones dips into Welsh and Arthurian legend. The narrative is his own experiences in the British Expeditionary Force and of one attack during the Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood. Some of Jones’s writing of trench warfare can only be described as lyrical, even his depictions of disemboweled men and decapitated heads smiling back from the crook of trees like Cheshire Cats is somehow horrifyingly captivating. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history.

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Yet another book on grief, though totally different in it’s approach to Max Porter’s book. I think this has been one of my favourite reads so far. I thoroughly enjoyed Macdonald’s description of Mable and how her relationship with this wild bird became cathartic to her wound gaping grief at the loss of her father. The chapters featuring her inspiration, T.H.White made me feel a little uneasy in his behaviour to his Goshawk, though he was writing from a different time period, still doesn’t make the reading any the easier.

Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas

One of Thomas’s last works, commissioned for BBC radio. This play for voices is a day in the life of a small Welsh village. An omniscient narrator introduces each character and a second narrator tells more about their hidden thoughts and desires. Each character has their own vignette, though written in prose the language is poetic, sometimes lewd, often humorous and occasionally poignant. I found though that my reading lacked the power of a TV or radio production. Perhaps I would benefit from a second read?

The English Girl – Katherine Webb

I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #24.

The Haunting – Alan Titchmarsh

All I know of Alan Titchmarsh is from his gardening programmes and his Saturday show on Classic FM. When I saw one of his books, The Haunting on the shelf in WHSmith I was curious. The story is a dual narrative, historical drama set in 1816 and 2010 respectively with a hint of ghosts and a splash of romance. The book is an easy read but the narrative won’t tax the mind. The story is a little contrived and could have been better but it is what it is. I enjoyed it enough to buy another of his novels. Folly.

The Red Letter (short) – Kate Riordan

If I had known this was only 30 pages long I wouldn’t have bought it, however the writing was good and I enjoyed it. The characters were from a previous novel by Riordan, The Girl in the Photograph. Though reading the novella I couldn’t remember the original novel. I had to read the blurb to get any recall. Set in the 1930’s the story is of Marjorie who finds out her husband is having an affair. During the too few pages Marjorie awakens and becomes self aware. The novella ends with Marjorie riding on her bike with her future stretched out with many possibilities.

Birdcage Walk – Kate Riordan

If I like a book by an author I usually seek out other works by them, this was the case with Birdcage Walk, Riordan’s first published work, and you can tell it is! It’s very different in style to that of her later works, The Girl in the Photograph and The Shadow Hour. The story is based on a true tale of murder, mystery and a possible miscarriage of justice. Sadly, Riordan spends too long setting up the back story. Both protagonists are rather quarrelsome and two dimensional, and I didn’t bond with either of them. The narrative only improved after the subsequent murder and trial. There wasn’t much evidence of a miscarriage of justice, but that’s up to the reader to decide. The inevitable wasn’t much of a surprise when it finally arrived.

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David has chosen the next book for me to read. Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, I have no expectations on what to expect within it’s pages.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

 

 

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Challenging expectations!

I’ve been a bit erratic with my studies this week. I have been worried about Artie having to go for a routine castration. Thankfully he is now home safe and recovering from the anaesthetic.

This week’s writing task was to write about a stereotype character and change the role. I found it really difficult to achieve and what I have written really shows no sign of stereotyping but I’ve tried and it is all I can achieve this week. I am very tired.

As always feedback is extremely valued. Thank you!

 

The wind slapped at his hairless head like an insult. He closed his eyes to the driving rain that threatened to blind him, while his fingers strained to keep their hold of the cold, bare rock. He was hanging hundreds of meters from the relative safeness of the ground, and close by someone was shouting. ‘Geoff, get a move on! You’re holding the rest of us up!’

‘I can’t!’ he shivered.

‘Just think why you’re doing this!’ And then he did. Of Hannah. Little sick Hannah lying in a hospital bed attached to multiple drips, with her grandmother sitting beside her reading fairy stories to chase away the fears. Since his wife had died it had just been him and Hannah. And now Hannah had become sick with the same rare genetic condition as her mother. Geoff was clinging to the side of a precipice as if his life depended on it, and in some way it did, maybe not his life but others. If he was successful in his conquering of Ben Nevis, Geoff would raise in sponsorship almost £100,000! His friends and family had been generous to a fault, but it was the donations from the public after he had featured in the local press that boosted his funds to astronomical proportions. Geoff remembered standing rosy faced before a TV camera and being humbled by the generosity of anonymous people. However on this ‘dreich’ autumnal day Geoff’s resolve faltered. It fell away from him like the lose rock that has fallen headlong down the slope as he tried to hoist himself up.

As his foot had slipped, it seemed to Geoff that his life flashed before his eyes. He recalled the look of his mother when his father left them. Of playing kiss chase in the school playground, and only chasing the girls with fair hair. He preferred blondes, so much so that years later his wife too had been a blonde. Geoff had met her at a friend’s 18th birthday party. Geoff wasn’t 18 until the coming January while Belinda was still only 16! He remembered they had ‘hit it off’ straight away. They were ‘soul mates’, Geoff always thought. After that night when they shared their first kiss under the stars, they were inseparable.

Geoff married Belinda when she was 21. It was a small registry office affair, but he remembered Belinda dressed in white, looking the picture of beauty. A year later and the perfectly formed Hannah with her big brown eyes, (inherited from Geoff) and blonde curly hair (like her mother) arrived.

He didn’t like what came next in his mind’s eye. Of Belinda falling sick. Of the long days and nights in hospital, and ultimately standing before an open grave with the priest prattling on about ‘the shadow of death.’ Flowers, that was his lasting memory of Belinda’s funeral. Lots of flowers. Large gaping lilies and pale, lacklustre roses. That was not how he remembered her. Belinda was vibrant and fiery like blooms of Birds of Paradise!

Some two years after Belinda’s death, Hannah started showing signs of becoming sick. This was the reason why Geoff was clung to a rock like a mollusc. He had agreed to climb the mountain to raise much needed funds for research. Somehow, his own discomfort sweetened the pain of what was ultimately to follow. ‘Come on Geoff!’ someone called. With teeth clenched he loosened his grip and raised his hand to the next crevice. He would achieve this for Hannah’s sake!

Week Four – Writing Course.

I’m in the fourth week of my on-line writing course with the Open University and the latest task was about plot, though we were not told to write anything new, the below example got me thinking.

‘A woman on a bus today carried her Pekinese dog inside her handbag. It had a red bow on its head that matched her sweater.’

So here is my story: It is a bit long winded. I fear it started off strong and then ended weak. What do you think???

 

She got on the bus, she had always hated the smell of them, but today, she didn’t notice the stench of sweat and disinfectant laced with the vomit of last night’s revelries. She was going to see Sheila. It wasn’t a visit she relished but it had to be done. If she was to protect what she had with Josh she had to do it! She may have been the ‘other woman’ but she knew that what she and Josh had, stemmed from more than a few marriage vows before a skirted vicar. He had told her much the same the previous night.

‘Jane, I love you. I will find a way for us to be together.’

‘Really Josh? You will tell your wife about us?’ She remembered he nodded and they had made love again in the dingy hotel room. They had once started out in four star, luxurious rooms but now had resorted to cheap thrills in ultra-cheap rooms.

‘Pleasing two women is getting rather expensive,’ Josh had said. Jane shrugged. She couldn’t have cared less where they made love, so long as she got her man! But months later, the seedy looks from hotel proprietors and the damp infested rooms, were enough for Jane to go off the whole affair!

‘I’ll tell Sheila about us as soon as I get home,’ Josh had promised, kissing her goodbye. That was why Jane now called Josh’s bluff.

She sat on the bus with butterflies fluttering in her stomach, she hardly ever had nerves. Jane reached into her bag in search of lip gloss and her hand touched something soft, furry. She cooed into the bag at her beloved Pekinese who peered up from the detritus of her bag with forlorn brown eyes. ‘Good luck always seemed to come to her while she had Rod nearby.’ He sat alongside the mascara and powder. The red bow on his head (rather gay, Jane admitted), matched the colour of her sweater. The colour of love! The colour of success!

As the bus rattled along, Jane could imagine her mother shaking her head disdainfully at the thought of her 22 year old daughter tearing through the streets of the city towards the suburban home of a middle aged man and his wife. Her friends from college had all said she was ‘stupid, silly, out of her mind!’ when she told them she was in love with a man in his 40’s!

Jane didn’t care! She knew she loved Josh the moment he stepped into the office. She loved his dark wavy hair that had started to go grey and his smile that was always beaming, even if he had had a bad night with the wife. They both worked at a rather successful law firm, he a solicitor, and she a lowly secretary. However she knew it was not love at first sight for Josh. It took a lot of cajolery, of making lots of coffee (with three sugars, just how he liked it) and being at his beck and call whenever he needed her.

It had been at the last Christmas party that Jane finally saw the fruits of her labour. She had been sipping rosé wine all evening, and nibbling on the odd samosa when Josh came up from nowhere and started a conversation with her. Jane remembered how wound up he had been. ‘A hard day at the office?’ she joked.

‘Not office, no.’ Josh rubbed his temples. ‘Having hell with the wife at the moment, where we’re going for Christmas/boxing day, her parents or mine, etc…’ Jane recalled rolling her eyes sympathetically. She was consolingly doe eyed all night.

‘Must be awful for you?’ He’d nodded.

They had talked utter tripe all night, while listening to bad Christmas hits and watching their fellow office workers dance badly. Jane remembered Josh had worn a green jumper with the face of Rudolf knitted on the front. ‘The wife, made me wear it!’ It made Jane think.

‘Did Josh have a mind of his own or did Sheila own that too?’ As fairy lights twinkled off the festive tinsel adorning the hotel function room, they found that they had both drank too much. Jane saw her opportunity disappear with every shot Josh swigged back. So she embraced the spirit of the occasion and held a sprig of mistletoe above her head. ‘Kiss me?’ she winked and was blown away by the force of his lips on hers. He didn’t even apologise afterwards. He just held her hand, looked into her eyes and mouthed.

‘Want to go to bed?’ Jane gulped. This was her moment.

‘Yes,’ she heard herself say and what happened in that hotel room that night, and every following Thursday afterwards, was the reason Jane was on that bus, with Rod itching to escape her bag.

When she alighted at her stop, the young bus driver gave her a coy smile. That kind of look from a man, always made her glow, so she smiled back. Rod was now on his lead. He had been fed up of the restriction of her handbag and had snapped at Jane as she tried to get the piece of scrap paper with Josh’s address on.

New Foundland Crescent was full of new builds on the outskirts of town. Rod pulled on his lead to smell the blue Salvia heads that lined the gardens but Jane pushed forwards to number 12. She found that the house was a detached, three storey with at least four bedrooms, a garage and driveway. Jane knew that there was also a huge garden to the rear where Josh said he used to tan himself under the summer sun. With high heels clipping on the stone pavement, Jane walked with back straight towards the front door. She already knew how she was going to break the news to Sheila if Josh hadn’t already done so. That he was going to leave her and go live with Jane, until the divorce was settled and then they would look for apartments together.

Jane had walked halfway up the driveway when the front door of the house opened and to her surprise two children waltzed out. One was aged about four, the other ten perhaps? They both carried little suitcases. ‘Going on a holiday?’ Jane asked them.

‘Yes, we’re going to Disney World!’ the older of the two answered.

‘For how long?’

‘Two, whole weeks!’

‘Just with your Mum?’

‘No silly, Daddy is coming too.’

‘Daddy?’ Jane bit her lip thoughtfully. ‘Josh never said he had children.’

‘Can I help you?’ called a voice. It came from the open doorway. It was Sheila! Jane stood gazing at her beautiful face and elegant clothes.

‘She looked nothing like Josh had described.’ A niggling doubt tickled at the back of her mind.

‘Can I help you?’ Sheila asked again, her smile faltering. ‘Are you here to deliver something?’

‘I’m Jane. I work with your husband.’

‘Jane?’

‘Has he not mentioned me then?’

‘He tells me so many stories about people at work. I rarely get to meet them, so putting names to faces is difficult.’

‘So he’s not said anything about the two of us?’

‘The two of you?’ Jane’s determination faltered under the scrutiny of the older woman. It was clearly obvious that Josh hadn’t told his wife about their year long affair. Jane realised that what she had thought she had with Josh had only been a young woman’s fancy. It was never going to be anything serious, was that why hadn’t told her about his children? Jane stoically steeled her face while inside she seethed. She heard herself lie unconvincingly.

‘We’ve both been short-listed as employee of the month.’

‘And you came here just to tell me that?’ Sheila looked perplexed.

‘No I was just passing and was hoping to collect a file from Josh. Is he at home?’

‘No he’s still at work.’

‘Mummy, come on we’ll be late for meeting Daddy at the airport,’ one of the children spouted.

‘I’m holding you up,’ Jane apologised, wanting to get away as quickly as possible.

‘I’ll tell Josh you passed by.’

‘You do that!’ Jane smiled. She pulled Rod away from the two children who were petting him. ‘Have a nice holiday!’ Jane waved as she walked away. She did not look back.

‘Is that Daddy’s friend?’ Jane heard one of the children ask. ‘She’s very pretty.’ Jane’s only consolation was the hope that Josh would have a rather frosty welcome from his wife at the airport.

‘Disney World,’ Jane thought. ‘He never mentioned he was going off on bloody holiday for two weeks! The bastard!’

As she turned the corner and was firmly out of sight of the matrimonial home, Jane lent against a wall. She tried mightily to stop the flood of tears that streamed down her cheeks, but they overwhelmed her. She felt betrayed, humiliated and stupid for believing the love she had with Josh was genuine. She pulled every inch of composure she could muster and made her way to the bus stop. Jane knew that come that evening in-between bouts of self-pity she would be hard at work updating her Curriculum Vitae and trawling through the job sites for a new position. She would never let Josh see what his lies had made her feel, both angry and sad simultaneously. Jane fought the temptation to send him a hateful text message but she rose above it and fumbled for loose change for her fare.

When the bus finally arrived after an agonising 20 minute wait, Jane had dried her tears and powdered her nose. For the last five minutes she had been ‘chatted up’ by a man in his 70’s who appreciated the colour of her jumper. Climbing the steps of the bus, Jane noticed that it was the same young driver at the helm. She flashed a smile at him and noticed he blushed. She was young and resilient and would soon get over her recent disappointment.

‘Men were like buses’, so her grandmother was always at pains to tell her. ‘If you miss one, there’s always another not far behind.’

Ideas for a Story

As you may know I have embarked on a short, free creative writing course with the Open University.

This is the second ‘large’ piece of writing I have been tasked to do. It was inspired by a short video introducing the course and I have tried to pull a story from one of the images featured. Of a young woman sitting, awaiting a bus with an over night bag on her lap. Let me know what you think of the first 500+ words and if it has any promise for me to continue with. Thanks. Christine.

 

I remember… how he looked the morning he walked into the class room. The bright spring sunshine flowed into the room, touching the heads of twenty four rowdy teenagers and me. I sat gazing out of the window to the park below. The trees were heavy limbed with pink blossom and daisy heads interjected the green grass of the playing fields. I watched as an elderly man walked his dog, a young mother pushed her baby in a pram while talking into a mobile phone. All life was going on before me while I sat stifled and bored awaiting the new form teacher to arrive and to begin another day of endless classes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved studying, was always in the top 5% of classes but life at present seemed an endless chore. Mother had just remarried to a pig of a man, Dan and my older sister Melanie, had started her first semester at Manchester University studying politics. So it was just ‘little old’ me in a house far too large for three people, (two of whom I tried to avoid at all times,) and Jake the Border Collie. ‘Perhaps I’ll take the dog for a walk after school,’ I thought and then the door was flung open and in he walked!

It was his confident swagger that gripped me first. He didn’t look much older than 25, but his poise gave him the air of a much older man. I think I half envied him then! Confidence was never a strong character trait with me. Indeed that was why I was sitting alone while the rest of the girls in class were all huddled at the back chatting to the boys, the good looking boys I may hasten to add. He breezed in and demanded such attention that everyone fell silent. ‘I’m Mr. Blake and I will be your new class teacher.’

It didn’t take long for the brassy ones of the class to pipe up, ‘sir, which school have you transferred from? What subject do you teach?’ The latter was voiced by the girls who were suddenly sitting alert like animals in anticipation of food.

‘Poor Mr. Blake,’ I thought. ‘He’s a carrot dangling before all these hormonal girls, many on the verge of womanhood,’ He bent over his desk and peered into the class register. He patted his shirt pocket, looking for something.

‘I’ve forgotten my glasses. Forgive me if I get your names wrong. I’m rather short sighted.’ His voice was rich and soft like the wind sighing through the trees. If I closed my eyes I could picture his voice coming from the radio late at night, announcing some relaxing piece of music. I smiled as I thought I wouldn’t mind lying in bed listening to his voice all night. ‘Olivia Edwards,’ he was saying my name. ‘Olivia Edwards is she here?’ and then I opened my eyes. He was scanning the sea of faces before him looking for someone he thought resembled an Olivia.

‘Here,’ I managed to squeak. His eyes rested on my face and I half envisaged a slight turn up of his lips.

‘Nice to meet you Olivia Edwards,’ and inside my heart pounded.