Friday, 21 December 2007

This Christmas Life, a poem by Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope's Christmas poem is quite beautiful. I heard it on Radio Four on, I think, Saturday night last. As far as I can tell it was published a couple of years ago, but it is timeless.

I can't post it here for obvious copyright reasons, but you can read it where I found it, on the Guardian's page, here.

I defy you not to cry. I did.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Booking Through Thursday

Today's questions are:

1 What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t
2 What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
3 And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?

1 The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
2 The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
3 The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower

The Gift by Lewis Hyde (I haven't quite finished it, but it just can't go wrong.)

The first two in fiction were published in paperback in 2007, as was The Gift. I hope that's not cheating! And on the copyright page of Sarah Bower's book, Snowbooks write: 'Proudly published in 2007', which is lovely, isn't it?

Am I influenced by 'best of' lists?
Yes, I think I am. Although I'm more influenced by blog reviews and friends saying, 'You just must read this.'

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Happy Christmas

I hope you don't think it's too early ...

but I took this last night, after decorating it on the weekend.

And now for the cumberland sauce, the brandy butter, the smoked mackerel pate (yes), the Dickens reread - or Oliver Twist every night this week on BBC 1? - and, because the presents are wrapped and most of them delivered, there'll even be some time for writing the new new beginning to my third novel which is now, of course, my second novel (because the second one became a short story. See older posts for the saga, if you can face it ... .)

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Soul food

At the beginning of November Canongate said that the first 100 people who registered on THE GIFT site would receive a free copy of Lews Hyde's The Gift. All you had to do in return was pledge to make a gift today. I posted about it here, after finding out about the whole thing on dovegreyreader's blog that day.

The simple idea is that the most important, and the best things we are capable of have no price and can't be bought, so this gift can't be found by braving the crowds in the high streets (what a relief at this time of year). This gift is the antithesis of money and crowds and shopping, it simply requires time and a talent you already possess. The book also suggests - I haven't read it properly yet, so this is a reading-the-blurb-and-an-amazon-review guess - that in our society we have made the mistake of trying to sell things that shouldn't be sold.

Here's part of a review I read on amazon, by Leo McMarley:

Lewis Hyde is not only a beautiful prose stylist but he is a thinker to match, for The Gift offers a challenging and provocative argument about how we value things. He uses wide-ranging examples from across cultures and epochs and leaves you at the end valuing all the more those things that can't have a monetary worth attached to them.

For my gift, I decided to write a love letter to my boyf because writing is what I do, and because it is one of the suggestions on THE GIFT site. (You don't have slavishly to follow the suggestions on the site, obviously, but that suggestion appealed to me very much.) I sent the boyf away with his copy of The Gift and my letter last night (with bossy instructions not to read what I had written until today ... perhaps not entirely in the spirit of the day, but my excuse is that it was late and I didn't want him to read it until Gift Day).

The other thing Canongate suggest you do is pass on your copy of The Gift when you've read it. And I noticed this morning, when looking at THE GIFT site, that there's still room to register for a copy, if you'd like to. This morning 74 people had registered and there's a little note saying that it doesn't matter if you register after 15 December.

Try it. I have a feeling it could be good for the soul.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Lady into Fox ...

... this morning I went out into my garden (small L-shaped plot, actually) to take this picture ...

... because I just couldn't help wondering how they survive in the frost. See here, some cyclamen tolerate frost very well, some not at all ... not sure which mine is.

But before I could take the photograph, I heard a rushing-rummaging sound behind my hydrangea and then saw a huge cat, tiny bear, no ... a fox. Which scrambled up the wooden fence and then turned and stared and stared at me. My knees went weak (with fear, I am a pavement child not a country cousin) and I was rooted to the spot. Afterwards I wished I'd taken its photograph, but my reactions were far too slow: my fear paralysing all thoughts and movements.

I am still shaking inwardly and wonder whether it's because (a) I know nothing about foxes, particularly urban ones, so wondered what it planned to do to me? Was it summing me up for some nefarious purpose? And anyway it was broad daylight, so what a nerve it had ... . Or, (b), was I really wondering what I would do to it ... afraid that I wished it dead? Or (c), in the manner of the ancient sylvan tales, was I afraid that I would turn into a fox ... see Stuck in a Book's review of Lady into Fox by David Garnett here ... and never return to tell the tale?

We are so used, us urbanites at least, to living in our environments without threat from or sight of any other wild living being (those of us who don't live in warzones, I mean) that such an encounter simply paralyses. But when the fox disappeared over the fence into my neighbour's garden I was relieved ... out of sight, out of mind? Or at least out of danger (me).

A reminder that the boundaries are thin ... in every sense. And food for a story, one day, I'm sure.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Booking Through Thursday, on Saturday ...

... This week’s question is suggested by Island Editions:

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again? (I have several…)
Mine is The Agony and the Ego (click on the title for secondhand amazon copies ...) which is an utterly wonderful book (Penguin PLEASE reprint). It is a series of essays by writers of fiction on how it is and what it is to write; on why they do it; where their inspiration comes from; on what they love and what they hate about writing ... and so so much more. And it isn't at all about ego, although it is a bit about agony ... .

Here is my rather hopeless photograph of the cover:

Monday, 3 December 2007

World Book Day, Book Groups and Speaking of Love

My publishers, the wonderful Beautiful Books, say that if you'd like, they will send you a free copy of Speaking of Love because it's been longlisted for the World Book Day/Spread the Word award.

The number of free copies is limited, there are 20 of them, and you need to ask for yours before 1 February. But if you'd like one, email Kat Josselyn at with your name and address.

Beautiful Books say that they're also offering book groups free copies of Speaking of Love because, until February 2008, you can only buy it in hardback, and hardbacks are a bit expensive. Get in touch with Kat if your book group would like copies.

What Beautiful Books say in their Speaking of Love press release for book groups is:

When love is not spoken about, a hole is created into which memories, happiness, relationships, trust and eventually people fall into. Mothers fail daughters, who then find themselves failing their own mothers. Parents abandon children through fear; husbands desert wives.

However, this is not an heroic tale or a memoir of devastation - but an everyday tale of loss and recovery. It takes a special event, a mother's first public speaking event since her breakdown, for the years of silence to make way for reconciliation.

What I say is Indie publishers rock!