Category Archives: Books

Book Junkie

As a writer and avid book reader, I’m often asked who my favourite author is, or whose work influences me the most, or what my favourite book is. All are difficult to answer as I read many genres, many authors, and many books have stayed with me throughout my life. I grew up in a household where books and reading were encouraged at an early age, indeed our mother taught us to read long before we first went to school. She read us exciting bedtime stories, fairytales told German and herself read all kinds of novels. With six of us in the family, the choice and quantity was large and books passed around as we grew older.

My father read science fiction, so I became familiar and enjoyed the work of Arthur C.Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. My older brother loved adventure stories so I soon became immersed in Treasure Island, The Coral Sea, Kidnapped and so on. My two sisters read everything they could get their hands on from Alice in Wonderland, What Katy Did Next, Black Beauty, and the list goes on from there as we grew older to all of John Wyndham (Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos to name but two), Dennis Wheatley (The Devil Rides Out), Alex Haley, and Catherine Cookson. So many good writers, so many books to read, far too many to mention.

And along with all these books there were the comics and annuals we devoured including Bunty, Jackie, the Beano, Dandy, and Hotspur.

However, despite all these great stories, two in particular from childhood have stayed with me. The first is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis. I must have been about 8 or 9 when I read this. I was ill in bed at the time, a frequent occurrence when I was young. I remember the illustrations too, and longed that my wardrobe would open up to reveal a hidden, wonderful world where animals could talk. At that time I had no idea this was a complete set of these magical stories and with so many other books in the house, I didn’t seek out any of the rest. It wasn’t until my daughter fell in the love with Narnia series that I learnt there were more. And of course I was in my element when the film franchise came out. A few week ago I came across The Magician’s Nephew, sixth in the series but a prequel to the whole Narnia world and how it came about. I was engrossed from the first page.

The other story is from a “comic”. I use the word comic in a loose sense as, if my memory serves me correctly, it was an educational magazine for children, the name of which I cannot remember. We didn’t have this at home, I used to read them at my best friend’s house whenever I went to play there. On the back page was always a cartoon strip story of a family who lived under the floorboards of the house and used items taken from the house for their furniture. Cotton reels for tables, matchboxes for cupboards and drawers, doll’s house china. I loved those stories, the magic and wonderment, the concept, the impossibility – or was it? – that there were little people living inside our homes, but in later years I never could remember what the comic strip was called to go in search of the book. You’ve probably realised I’m talking about “The Borrowers”. I found this out when the film came out. I watched it, and was bitterly disappointed. Probably because I’m now an adult, a grandmother, and the film was aimed at children, as was the original book. But the magic in those comic strips lives on in my head. 

So in answer to who influences my writing, it’s all of the authors whose books I’ve read and enjoyed. My favourite author? There isn’t one, because I enjoy many including Rosie Thomas, Nora Roberts, Barbara Erskine, Jeffery Archer, Ken Follett, as well as those writers mentioned above and a whole lot more, but not everything they write. Some of their books I’ve not liked, but these are probably the authors I would go out of my way to read. And my favourite book? Again, there isn’t any one I could pick out because I’ve loved so many.

Kit’s Website and Blog  and Kit’s Art  Site

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Moving On

 

The Big Birthday has passed amidst great celebrations that lasted over a month! Guess what – I feel so lucky still and mysteriously the same person inside as I did at 69! Maybe a bit wiser!!

Food played a huge part as I dined in “different countries” from Spain, France, Mexico, America as well as Britain. Cuisine I mean of course. I’ve eaten fish, tapas, burritos, vegetarian, pizza, pasta and delicious deserts. I have tasted some wonderful wines, cocktails and gins. Now back to reality, lose extra weight and think about the next decade.

Moving on is necessary for many reasons. One year on from my breast cancer I  had my first check up and all seems well thank goodness.  I have had time to reflect on the events of last year helped by a week house sitting in Bristol, which remains one of my favourite cities. Peter stayed at home so I had lots of time to think and work out what next.  I made a list of priorities which I hope to tick off as I put them into practice. Number one is to use what time I have left (who knows what time any of has?) to live my life to the full but in ways that may not seem to be achieving all the time. Small things like walking, seeing friends, yoga, my choir and my family are valuable experiences in my tapestry that I weave and expand daily.  Some of you might wonder why I talk about these as achievements but it is easy to take things for granted so I plan to improve therefore achieve. I realise I was in danger of being in a rut. Fatigue is a lasting side effect of radiotherapy and it has become easier at times to say to myself I feel so tired I can’t be bothered but when I try I always feel better – small steps maybe but good.  Not great achievements but an important lesson. Learn to value what one has particularly oneself.

So in Bristol I did some things I have wanted to do for a while. I took a trip around the Docks in the sunshine and viewed the city from a different angle. The Matthew replica of John Cabot’s ship that sailed the Atlantic in the 15th century and “discovered” Newfoundland, now part of Canada, was especially interesting from water level.  The Docks, many converted to museums, galleries, cafes and apartments echo with the bustling commercial wealth the city.  Now technology rules but a sense of community was essential for daily life and is part of the area just different. The SS Great Britain, one of Brunel’s great developments, is now a museum but it was huge when viewed from water level.  An interesting commentary was provided by a young man in charge of the boat which brought past events and people to life.  One thing that was pleasing about the trip was the number of different nationalities just in a short hour who shared the experience with me.  Despite some of the awful events over past weeks we all enjoyed being together sharing a good time.  I revisited Bristol Gallery to see a few of my favourite paintings, also the Red Lodge parts of which are Tudor with a replica knot garden. I walked back through the city streets, multicultural, busy, varied and interesting.  A fascinating cityscape.

One guilty secret of my time: I “binge read” a series of crime books by Peter May known as the Enzo Files, 6 books! Home now I look forward to the challenges ahead.

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Thriller Short Stories

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Jillian here.  Hope everyone is having a great July so far. I belong to the Thriller Writers Association. One cool thing about them is they don’t have dues, you merely have to be published in the genre to join. I … Continue reading

Flaming June

June has been a surprising month not at all what I had anticipated.  Finally, Peter and I managed another 3 night break away after months of me suggesting places from Spain, Croatia, France, Scotland and back to Wales.  On Monday 12th we sat having a “sundowner” when I mentioned an apartment I had found in Bowness-on-Windermere in The Lake District, Cumbria.  “Book it” says Peter, the only available date was Friday 16th for 3 nights, yes the following Friday!  It was available so I grabbed it.  Well someone was guiding us as it was a beautiful, attic conversion in an old house in the woods above Bowness with a great view of Lake Windermere from the sitting room window.  With stops the journey took over 5 hours (nothing to our friends in US) but to us Brits it’s a long way!!  Everything is comparative, we never thought about 6 hour round trip to airport when we lived in Spain.  It was well worth the effort. Friday evening we had a superb meal in a local bistro with good wine. Suitably relaxed we walked the half a mile uphill back to our retreat.  It took a long time but a comfy bed awaited so a good incentive!

Saturday morning we woke to brilliant sunshine which lasted the whole weekend.  Hot but fresh – perfect.  After a breakfast of fresh Danish and good coffee in a local bakery we got a boat (cruise boat) across the lake (one mile across) to Lakeside.  A steam train then runs alongside the lake for about 5 miles which was a real treat.  We stayed on and made the return trip, full of nostalgia for me as I remember steam train journeys as a child.  Boat trip back to Bowness, much busier now with tourists of many nationalites.  We managed to find a wonderful deli run by a young couple with a range of meats, cheese, pickles, olives etc but we decided on pastrami sandwiches, the best I’ve had since I was in Manhattan over 10 years ago – well worth the wait!  We found a secluded sheltered spot and ate our picnic over-looking the lake.  We were unsure what to do next but decided on a movie, air conditioned theatre and friendly staff.  Popcorn too.  The movie was Churchill starring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson which has had some bad reviews but we enjoyed it.  We could have booked a three course meal at a local restaurant  for afterwards (including the movie ticket) but saw the deal after we had seen movie!  I was tired so maybe not best time for a big meal but I thought it was an enterprising idea for cinema and restaurant.  We had an Italian instead which was just right.  Up the hill again and another great night’s sleep.

Sunday back to the lake but we crossed this time on a small ferry which pulls itself over on wires, I don’t understand how it works but it was a great way to cool down!  On the other side we walked up to a restored Claife Viewing Station originally built in the 1790s which had wonderful views of the lake. Next we walked 4 miles (and back!) alongside the lake through woods,  families were picnicking on the “beaches” generally enjoying the rare sunshine.  It all reminded Peter of Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie, Ohio, where he attended a conference.  Some of you will be familiar with this place.  Back to the deli and we stocked up for evening meal in the apartment after packing so much into 2 days.  One treat awaited for the next morning before returning home. (Note the rare photo of the Smiths together!)

My book club read this month is Haweswater by Sarah Hall.  Coincidentally, Haweswater Reservoir was 20 miles north of us so Peter was happy to divert.  A valley was flooded to create a new reservoir to supply water to Manchester and a dam constructed.  The work commenced in 1929 and was completed in 1940. Inspired by the building of the dam the book is a fictional story about the village of Mardale that was originally in the centre of the farming community, their lives and the impact of the dam.  I was so overcome with the beauty of the place I forgot to take a photo! Peace and tranquillity with all that history under the water.  It was an emotional experience, I have discovered my family originally came from this area in the 1790s so Cumbria remains in my genes.  I recommend the book which is a well researched first novel by a sensitive writer. I’ve also read and enjoyed The Wolf Border Sarah Hall’s latest novel which was also set in Cumbria but begins in Idaho about the re-wilding of wolves the Lake District.

I always feel I’ve been away ages following one of these breaks and think I enjoy them more than longer breaks these days.  Just to note the weather has returned to “normal” for summertime which makes the whole weekend even more special. Another June Surprise was an unexpected lunch with friends at their house. Two added guests arrived which I think will make you smile!

Book Review: BIG MAGIC

Big MagicWe are all creators, or at least have the potential to be. That’s one of the messages behind Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC, Creative Living Beyond Fear. As a shameless believer in magic, with an interest in the nature of creativity, I couldn’t resist this book. It didn’t disappoint.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

The author digs deep into her own experiences to offer an interesting, unique and witty take on the nature of creativity and how we can harness it for success in whatever endeavor we choose. It’s a chatty style, and you don’t have to wade through loads of heavily scientific or esoteric ideas to get to the heart of the book, which is basically that we all have the right to live a creative life, but have to accept that doing so will bring challenges.

There is much reference to courage, and how we have to make space for fear. Fear is inevitable on the creative journey, and where some people say you have to conquer fear to move forward, the author says to make space for it because it will never go away. She says that the less you fight fear, the less it fights back. To give it its voice, then tell it to simply sit back and enjoy the ride. And then there’s the importance of giving ourselves permission to create, and not to worry whether our work is good or bad, if it’s high art or low art, whether or not it gets stellar or woeful reviews, etc. etc. We just need to put our best work out there and celebrate our own courage at having done so. Gilbert says we “can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That’s a hard enough job” and that we should refuse to take on any additional jobs such as policing people’s opinions.

Another interesting part of the book was the notion that ideas are all around us, floating in the ether waiting for someone who is open and ready to receive that particular idea. If that person refuses to run with it for any reason, the idea will simply float back into the ether until it finds another willing, and ready,  mind. Fascinating stuff, and it certainly gave me and my tendency to procrastinate some food for thought 🙂

I very much enjoyed this book. For me, it’s a keeper.

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Take Me With You

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Goodreads rates this story 4.12 stars and has excellent reviews for it. I found it by a recommendation from a friend. Fortunately Catherine Ryan Hyde has a backlist because I just ordered two more of her books. So give me … Continue reading

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Lots of Things Afoot at Chez Chantal

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Jillian here!  It’s been a busy time here at Chez Chantal. One of my staff had a stroke on Christmas Eve and, even though she is on the road to recovery, it’s been pretty stressful at the office since things … Continue reading