Friday, 22 November 2013

CS Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia

Fifty years ago today, the news bulletins were full of the assassination of President Kennedy, which understandingly overshadowed the death of CS Lewis.
Although I can remember Emergency Ward 10 being interrupted by the news reports about Kennedy, I hadn't yet heard of the quiet Oxford don who wrote those magical stories about Narnia.
Looking at my books now, I can see that my first one, The Magician's Nephew, was a 1964 reprint. They are now all looking a bit tatty, but very well loved because they've been read so many times. Some are covered in sticky-backed plastic, and others not; I can't remember why!
I do remember that I borrowed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from my friend and enjoyed it so much I didn't want to give it back, and the book you see in the photo is the replacement I bought with my pocket money.
I certainly read The Silver Chair and The Horse and his Boy as library books, not realising at first that they were about Narnia, but very pleased that they were.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was one of my favourites after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I bought it on a Saturday morning and went home and read it all in one go. I loved the idea of sailing to the islands and felt right there with Lucy on the poop deck feeding the hens!
So much of the land of Narnia lives on. Who hasn't tapped the back of wardrobe to see if it would melt away to snowy trees? Or watched the snow falling past an old fashioned lamp post, and imagined Mr Tumnus hurrying by with his parcels? Or thought about Edmund and the White Witch when presented with a box of Turkish Delight?
So let's not only remember the awful events in Dallas that day, but also give thanks for CS Lewis and his wonderful Chronicles of Narnia.
Which is your favourite book?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Every Picture Tells a Story

Bands of Gold at Yellowstone
I was lucky enough to be Highly Commended for this photo in a local arts and crafts exhibition. I just wanted to see if I could get anywhere with my photos, so I was quite pleased:)
I think pictures are very important, and in fact, I can't start writing my blog without putting in a photo first!
Recently, I was struggling to write a chapter for my work in progress. In fact I've been putting it off for a long time, because this particular bit is set in France in the First World War. However, I came across a photograph taken at the time of exactly what I wanted, and starting by describing the scene, I found that I was able to continue with the rest.
Have you been inspired to write by a picture?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Take a Look at Me Now (in San Francisco!) with Miranda Dickinson

I've been really keen to read Take a Look at Me Now ever since I got back from a trip to San Francisco and discovered that Miranda Dickinson had set her new novel there!
It's been great to revisit all my favourite places again with Nell Sullivan who loses her job at the Islington Planning Department, breaks with her boyfriend, Aidan, and blows her redundancy on a trip to stay with her cousin, Lizzie, in colourful Haight Ashbury.
It's quite a culture shock for Nell at first, but Miranda has such a way of immersing you in the story, that you are soon out there with Lizzie watching them turn the trams at the  Powell Street turnaround, and visiting the after school club where Lizzie helps out, and where she happens to be in love with the gorgeous principal, Tyler.
Or visiting Pier 39 to see Lizzie's friend Eric on his unicycle!

This diner is actually in Colorado!
A lot of the action takes place in Annie's Diner. Nell has always wanted to run a restaurant ever since a visit to New York with her friend, Vicky, who has also been made redundant, and Annie gives her a chance to get some work experience and meet her entertaining customers.
Life is going well for Nell, until she falls for the delectable Max Rossi.

So questions have to be answered, as the date for Nell's return to London looms nearer.
Should she stay in San Francisco with Max, or return home?
If she goes home what will she do for a job?
And what about all those messages from Aidan that she's been ignoring?

It's been a thoroughly good read, and I've really enjoyed it. I am also excited to hear that a new book is in the pipeline for next autumn, catching up with the story of Rosie Duncan who first appeared in Fairytale of New York! 

Which is your favourite Miranda Dickinson book?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

I Couldn't Put Down The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell!

Hannah Richell's done it again with her new novel, The Shadow Year!

It's 1980 and five graduates decide to spend a year at a dilapidated cottage by a lake in the Peak District: Kat, through whose eyes the story is told; Simon, the self-appointed leader of the group, and the man she's fancied all through uni; Ben and Carla, a couple who are better at growing food and cooking it than the others; and Mac, the quiet one, who at least has some idea of living off the land. Then Kat's sister, Freya, turns up . . .

In the present, Lila is left the key to the same cottage by a mysterious donor. She's just had a miscarriage after falling down the stairs. She can't come to terms with her loss, or remember the details of how it happened, and decides to take some time away from her husband, Tom, and go up to the cottage. After all she is an interior designer, perhaps she could so something with it?
When she arrives, she finds it's been uninhabited for some time and it looks as if the people left in a hurry, leaving everything just as it was.

The two halves of the story are told alternately, each reflecting what happens in the present with what happened in the past. Gradually, the pieces of the mystery are put together, and Lila finds out the terrible secret of what happened during that shadow year.

One of the images that Hannah uses through the book is honesty, the plant with the seed cases like the face of the moon. Honesty grows in the cottage garden, but also forms the theme of the story, about who is being honest and who is hiding a secret.
Another image is the alder trees sheltering the lake. They remind me of the poem by Charles Stuart Calverley called Shelter which mentions 'the wide weird lake where the alders sigh'. (You can find it here. It's worth a read.)
Walden Pond
This in turn brings me to the lake itself. In the epigraph, Hannah Richell quotes Henry Thoreau, talking about Walden Pond: he says that a lake is like the Earth's eye, and in this book the lake sees and reflects the drama that unfolds around it.

Apart from Hannah Richell's emotional descriptions and believable characters, she really has the skill to keep you guessing. I even found myself going through the possibilities, summing up what I knew and trying to work out what had happened, in just the same way I might work at one of my own plots!

This is Hannah's second novel, I reviewed Secrets of the Tides last year, and said that I just had to sit down and finish it! It's been the same with this one too!
I think it's a great book in the style of Jojo Moyes. Start reading it today, but make sure you're sitting comfortably: you won't want to stop!