All shapes and sizes. (In a manner of speaking.) That’s how the blogs I follow appear to me. So here’s where I give a shout out to some of the creative ones, those that attracted me when I was regularly updating Calmgrove’s sister blogs, MyNewShy and Zenrinji. Here you will see the counterparts of these two sites, one dedicated to images and the other to fiction and poetry. (The following blogs appear in no particular order, by the way. To view, just click on the link.)
Alison Croggon: The River and the Book
Walker Books 2015
“All writing comes from the inside,” said Ling Ti. “It burns you with wanting to be written. It’s the writing that matters.”
— From Chapter 25, The River and the Book
Rivers and books have so much in common, don’t they? They each have a beginning, a middle and an end. They’re ever-changing, never quite the same — even a little way further on. If you ever revisit them they are different again, their compositions have somehow altered — either in their elements or the relationship between those elements — and outside influences have meant that your perception has had to permanently adjust. Which is why Alison Croggon’s novella, The River and the Book, works so well, each aspect of the title informing the other and complementing it.
How many blogs do you follow? Exactly how many followed blogs is too many to manage?
I ask this because I’ve been following around sixty sites for a while now. I’ll be talking about why I follow these particular ones in due course, but just for now I’ll mention, first, how much I share the obsessiveness that comes about from pretty much all social media these days: the feeling that I’ll be missing something if I don’t check up regularly. The backlog when I miss a day or two gets pretty unmanageable.
This is compounded by the knowledge of how bereft I personally feel when I’ve put my all (as it were) into a post, only to have a minimal response. How much then must others also feel when there is little or no feedback for their efforts, either in the form of written comments or, at the very least, ‘likes’? Surely my little verbal input or click on a ‘like’ button will make all the difference? Won’t it?
So keeping abreast of followed sites requires a degree of commitment on my part, ideally daily. How to square this voluntary commitment with life’s other tasks? At least I’m ‘retired’ (whatever that means; I still put in some work, mostly unpaid) but how do most people fit in their day job with parenting and/or grandparenting, household tasks and socialising? And that’s apart from quality time with a loved one, not forgetting hobbies, exercise or time spent online? In fact how did I actually fit it all in when I was in regular work? My memories of time-management are fragmenting already…
Anyway, it’s the summer holidays. Commitments such as accompanying for choirs and for instrumental exams are temporarily in abeyance, and Phase III of home DIY and decorating is almost at an end (Phase IV can go whistle for now). I can now get back down to those things I feel a touch of guilt about (like that alpha reading of a first draft that I stalled on several chapters in, sorry Lynn) while racking up my book reading and reviewing quotas.
Oh, and giving more attention to those five dozen blogs.
I promised to write about what blogs I follow and why. As those cheesy TV serials of the mid 20th century said, “Tune in again, same time, same channel!” for more!
Due to come into circulation on 14th September 2017, the Bank of England’s new ten-pound note features, as everybody may know by now, Jane Austen. Previewed back in July 2013 in a Bank of England video, the design was again unveiled to great fanfare two hundred years to the day after the death of the novelist, on 18th July 1817. The brouhaha surrounding the concept of course proves the adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Horatio Clare: The Prince’s Pen, or Clip’s Truth
New Stories from the Mabinogion, Seren 2012
Imagine a dystopian future: most of England is reduced to an archipelago; the world is ruled by some nefarious world order; and only Pakistan and Wales have held out, the latter relying on its geography to mount a guerilla war against the occupying forces — much as it did in ancient times against the Romans and the English. Into the frame step sibling warlords, Ludo and Levello, who assemble a team to plan and coordinate an effective resistance. Barely literate, they rely on hackers and scribes to ensure their success, and thus it is that Ludo’s scribe, Clip, comes to be the narrator of this future history, providing the title and subtitle of Horatio Clare’s thoughtful novella.
Jem Lester: Shtum.
Orion 2017 (2016)
For many of us life already makes huge demands — relationships, health and wellbeing, financial concerns, managing a work-life balance — but when you have a dependent with severe autism those demands are compounded, and can bring one close to breaking point. However much love is given out. Jem Lester’s Shtum is about a man in just such a position; but while it is drawn largely on the author’s own experiences bringing up a son on the autistic spectrum it is nevertheless fiction. Still, autism runs as a major strand throughout. Shtum is also about how its manifestation here fits into a bigger picture involving individuals, institutions and collective responses.
Darkness Visible: Inside the World of Philip Pullman
Wizard Books 2003
Fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy will have been cheered by the announcement of the publication of the (as they say) long-awaiting follow-up entitled The Book of Dust. Like HDM this will appear in three volumes, and the first — titled La Belle Sauvage — will be published in October this year by Penguin Random House Children’s and David Fickling Books in the UK, and Random House Children’s Books in the US, according to the author’s own website.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re past the halfway mark in this, er, interesting year — some would say a tumultuous year. I’ve found that, when successive local and world events each seem to exceed the previous in horror or bizarreness, reading has always been found some sort of consolation, balancing the sense of powerlessness that I sometimes feel at those times.
And then, as an exercise in looking back at my reading habits over the last six months, I compiled some basic stats which, with massive diffidence, I now share with you.
Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea
Edited by Hilary Jenkins
Penguin Books 2001 (1966)
“Great mistake to go by looks, one way or another.”
— Aunt Cora to Antoinette, Part One Wide Sargasso Sea
As a study in disintegration Wide Sargasso Sea is relentless. The main protagonist is forced to watch her mother gradually fall apart, and then she herself follows a similar journey. In fact it’s hard to name a single character who doesn’t follow a downward spiral. There have been many analyses of this mid 20th-century novel that distinguish it as feminist, post-colonialist and postmodern, and describe it as a prequel or an example of ‘writing back’ or rewriting (it overlaps the chronology of its literary inspiration). Many make reference to ‘the madwoman in the attic’, thus bringing the most marginalised figure in Jane Eyre stage centre and turning Wide Sargasso Sea a reconfiguring of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel. No doubt all these things are true, but anything I add to these observations would be superfluous and, anyway, beyond my capabilities.
So I shall instead focus on just three points — madness, fire and poison — and put down my thoughts on how they inexorably lead to the disintegration of the significant actors in this tragedy.
Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Headline 2014 (2013)
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a
king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.
— Shakespeare: Hamlet
Like all good fantasy books, what makes this novel outstanding is not so much the magic (of which there is enough to sate the most avid of fans) but the essential truths that it contains: of human nature, of joy and pain, of choices and consequences, of life and of death. It strongly evokes what it’s like to be a child trying to make sense of an adult world, learning through books and above all through bitter experience. My main criterion when judging a performance, a work of art or a book is: Would I want to experience it again? In this case the answer is unhesitatingly Yes! And why? Because it is life-affirming; while conversely — and, seemingly, perversely — affirming that the inevitable consequence of life is death.
I confess I shall be hard pushed to mention everything that struck me as I read this, so exquisite was the underlay below the equally rich surface details. The unnamed narrator has been attending a funeral in Sussex — for his father, one soon realises — and afterwards drives off to the site of the former family home, and then on to a farm, curious about the pond that he remembers being there. It instantly brings back childhood memories, specifically when he was around the age of seven; and what memories they turn out to be!