Sunday, 17 April 2011

Something old, something new, something borrowed....

I have had a week of forced recuperation following surgery. I had promised my children, and many friends, that this time I would let the body heal rather than my normal “I’m fine!” approach where I never actually stop to take a breath regardless of what has been done to me. It also felt like a full stop ending a period in my life. It was a brief moment to take breath before starting the next phase and whatever that might bring. I had planned to write but the brain wasn’t willing. I think the final ultra-stressful last few weeks of intense writing and re-writing in the lead up to submitting my PhD left me with, and as Meg Rosoff has recently highlighted, a writing hangover. So instead of sitting looking at a blinking cursor on an empty screen I decided to read. For the first time for nearly nine years of study and enforced reading (BA, MA and submitting a PhD) I could read anything I wanted to.

So firstly, ‘something old,’ I read Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse first published in 1946 and also the Carnegie Medal winner for that year. It was one of those books which give no clue to the delight to come when you start with a dark journey across what appears to be a gloomy moor. It is a quest story where the delightful Maria Merryweather with the help of numerous animals helps to make amends for the past misdemeanours of her long dead relatives that lead her into all sorts of dangerous escapades and adventures. As a reader you are taken through the rock tunnel to a sumptuous story that is full of colour. It draws you in then wraps its pages around you like a hug. It is a ‘Pollyanna’ of a book. But don’t get me wrong it is not a sentimental book even though every plot and subplot is neatly tied up by the end of story like every perfect ‘shoelace’ aka plotline should be. It is gentle yet thrilling; romantic yet scary. The characters are a delight and fully rounded. In particular, I fell in love with Marmaduke Scarlet and his ability to cook and his insistence on using the longest words possible in every conversation. On that note I should point out it is a ‘wordy’ book but that is one of the reasons I loved it. It is also one of those books I wished I could have written.

Continuing on the note of past misdemeanours the second book, ‘something new’, is one which deals with some very difficult issues. It is Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace, also a prize winner, but this time it won the Costa Children’s Book Award for 2010. It is a good but truly uncomfortable read as it takes us back to Zimbabwe in the 1980s. It is a school story but a school story like no other I have ever read. It is certainly not Malory Towers. The main character, Robert Jacklin, is from England but has to go to Zimbabwe following his Dad’s new job and is sent to a boarding school there. The war for independence is over and Robert Mugabe has come to power. And I think as an adult maybe it is that fact that meant I found it an uncomfortable read knowing what has since happened to Zimbabwe. You know there must have been people like the characters in this book but it doesn’t make it easier to read, it is not one, unlike the previous book, to wrap itself round you. It is a tense book where you often find yourself holding your breath reading rapidly to see what is going to happen next. There is a rawness to the narrative which I believe relates to the subject matter and the author, Jason Wallace’s ability to use language so economically yet so powerfully. It is just as good a read as The Little White Horse but in a different way. It leaves you with many questions and a definite feeling of ‘what if?’

And finally, ‘something borrowed’ or rather something recommend, which I think is like borrowed as it is like this great friend gave it to me to read when she suggested it. The book is a collection of stories by Alice Munro entitled Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage which was first published in 2001 and is a book for adults – things I have not read a lot of in the last four years! Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime of work. She is an outstanding short story writer and like Wallace her economic use of language just holds you tight and leads you through her short stories, each one of which is like a compact novel. It is something you can dip in and out of when you have a spare moment. It was a delight to read. One of my favourites in the collection, possibly in a slightly macabre way, is ‘Comfort’ where we hear how Nina deals with the suicide of her partner ‘Lewis’. It is a story on so many layers that leaves you feeling quite sated yet frustrated by the end. Her ability with words and her tightness of narrative was inspiring and something I will experiment with in my own writing.

Though I have spent the week reading there has been a lot of pre-writing going on, mulling over things, considering changes I want to make to The Book Protectors’ Daughter. I will not be touching Ham & Jam for a while. It is too painful for me at the moment (fear of finding a mistake) plus it is currently with a publisher at the moment who expressed an interest and wanted to see it when it was PhD ready. ‘Expressed an interest’ was a lovely and secure feeling to be able to say but now it is at risk because at any moment there could be that email that says ‘no thanks’ and you are left trying to work out what to do with it next. I am trying not to think about that bit and it is so difficult to type with your fingers crossed all the time.

I have another week of recuperation before back to work and lecturing so will take the chance to read some more and maybe the hangover will be over and I can start writing again.

But finally to complete the saying....'something blue' Here are The Beatles singing 'For You Blue': (Youtube is not allowing you to embed things today so am afraid it is a case of using the link and clicking on it - hopefully)

1 comment:

  1. I love Alice Munro but haven't read that one. And am embarrassed to say I've never read The Little White Horse, though I did buy it for my daughter. Reading binges are heavenly. Seem like the ultimate luxury. And can be done with a hangover....only slowly......