Blogs I follow (1)

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!

Austen mania

New specimen £10 banknote featuring Jane Austen © Bank of England 2017

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.

Early version of the design of the £10.00 banknote © Bank of England

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A tale told anew

The red dragon and the white found fighting under Vortigern’s castle

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.

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Drowning sorrows

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.

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Dust off those cobwebs

Frederic Edwin Church’s 1865 painting “Aurora Borealis”: Wikipedia Commons

Nicholas Tucker
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.

Eager to revisit HDM in some shape or form, especially as the series has been around a score of years since I first read the three books (rather less for the two slim spin-offs that appeared subsequently) I looked at Nicholas Tucker’s brief study as a kind of refresher course and to see if it duplicated or complimented Laurie Frost’s encyclopaedic Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials: The Definitive Guide first published by Scholastic in 2006.

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Retrospective

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.

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Poison pen

The Sargasso Sea, from a chart by O Krummel (1891)

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.

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