Category Archives: General rambling

Venturing into the world of the graphic novel

As a child I never really read comics.  The closest I came was reading two bumper books of Asterix the Gaul stories which I think were probably originally bought for my brother.   I must admit I loved those stories and continued to re-read them well into my teenage years.

I am now at the age of 34, thanks to my husband, expanding my reading to include graphic novels.  No longer associated with socially awkward teenagers graphic novels have emerged and are quickly becoming a part of mainstream literature.  In starting to write this blog I did a little bit of research about what constitutes a graphic novel, according to my findings “to be considered a graphic novel, rather than a picture book or illustrated novel, the story is told using a combination of words and pictures in a sequence across the page.  They can be any genre, tell any kind of story, it’s the format that makes the story a graphic novel – text, images, word balloons, sound effects and panels. “

Having only read a couple of chapters of The Watchmen, I can immediately see why this style of book can be appealing to readers, and in particular boys.  Whilst they are rich with complex plots and narrative structures they are easily accessible, often vibrant with colour and offering a visual experience similar to that of computer games and animated TV.  They’ve also made the jump across to film adaptions easily, the most mainstream one probably being the 2005 film Sin City.  A stranger to the genre I was incredibly taken with this film.  The cinematography was striking, the use of colour to highlight certain objects against the main black and white was something I hadn’t seen before.  I felt like I was watching a comic played out.

But back to the paper copies.   For those not familiar with the style it definitely takes time to become comfortable with it. Naturally the character development is a little slower, the conversations shorter and normally there are few sections of long prose setting a scene.  I say normally because The Watchmen comic strip sections are broken up with extracts from an autobiography written by one of the characters.  This has really helped me to get my head around the background and the context of the main storyline and being a format I am more familiar with it has helped bridge a gap.

I’m not far enough into the novel to say for certain if I would read another one but I am enjoying trying something new and expanding my literary boundaries.

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Can books change your life?

Today I would like to share a blog post from the mental health charity Rethink – here is a link to the original post

https://www.rethink.org/news-views/2016/2/biblioblog

Can a book change your mood, or help you get through difficult times? Mehmood thinks it can. He tells us about a new project he’s part of which aims to help readers discover the healing powers of fiction. He tells us more…

In September 2014 I was running an online children’s book club when I met up with a psychiatrist. As we sat on a park bench having lunch, we discussed the possibility that books, and specifically fiction, could be used to provide support for mental wellbeing. The idea was to offer non-stigmatising support that was low cost and accessible.

Fast-forward just over a year and our service, biblio.life, has a thriving community of curators who offer readers book recommendations based on what readers tell them is going on in their lives.

Reader profiles are anonymised before being shared with one of our curators who enter into a conversation with readers to jointly arrive at a recommendation. We don’t favour any particular type of literature and recommendations range from Bridget Jones’ Diary to The Hobbit. Readers then have the option to close the conversation or to discuss the book with their curator as they read.

Is a book really going to change your life?

For us at biblio.life, a large part of what we do is around empathy. Author Roman Krznaric calls it the process of walking in someone’s shoes. Our curators take the time to try to understand or ‘walk alongside’our readers, and part of the reason our service is anonymous is so that readers can be honest and share whatever is on their minds.

The act of reading fiction encourages empathy in itself, by allowing readers to hear the internal thoughts of characters in a way that isn’t possible in real life. Anna Freud, one of the pioneers of child psychology, said that ‘in the great literary figures you will find people who know at least as much of human nature as the psychiatrists and psychologists try to do.’

Add to this the benefit of being supported whilst engaged in an enriching activity (we like to think of our curators as personal trainers for your mind) or simply just slowing down and we think our service can help a lot of people.

Whilst many, if not all, mental health professionals show empathy on a day-to-day basis, they often then go on to offer a diagnosis followed by treatment options. We believe our service offers an alternative approach to the ‘medical model’ of mental health. One in which being understood by someone thoughtful may be helpful in itself. One in which reading a book recommended with empathy can offer hope, insight, inspiration, or sometimes, simply, an escape. And most importantly of all, one which is completely free of stigma.

We don’t think we’re the answer to the world’s mental health problems but we do think that supported reading could make a welcome addition to a toolkit for coping. We’re accessible to anyone with an internet connection and are offering our service on a pay-what-you-want basis until 31 March.

You can find out more at www.biblio.life.

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Among Giants and Ghosts: Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell in conversation

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing two literary greats talk about their interests, inspirations and writing. So often when authors participate in events like this there is an intellectual chair who has read all of their work in great detail and proceeds to ask what they think are probing questions about themes, issues, and characterisation. But as Mitchell said himself last night, those questions have all been asked before. A applaud Ted Hodgkinson, Southbank Centre’s programmer for their Literature and Spoken Word programme, for having the confidence to simply leave the authors to it.

The evening began with a short montage of clips from the numerous books of both authors that have been made into film. I must admit I was taken aback by just how many of them have made the jump to screen.

In the early stages of their careers both authors experimented with writing ghost stories. It was interesting to hear them talk about this and the different viewpoints they take. Mitchell is clearly interested in the gore of ghost stories, the tales of what these ghouls may do to you and shared a story with the audience about his brother telling him a ghost story when he was four years old which was built around the fear of a dead grandfather coming back to take your liver! Ishiguro’s fear is more closely aligned to my own which is of the supernatural being itself rather than what they may do to you. The gory elements are things we could fear from a human, the madman who breaks into a home in the middle of night is very real and scary but the incomprehensible phantom that we see when waking from sleep in the middle of night is haunting.

I was really intrigued to hear Ishiguro speak of that feeling of being haunted. Whilst he has left ghost stories behind him, I think he still writes haunting tales, echoes of his characters and stories stay with the reader long after you have put the book down. His characters are also haunted within the books. Take his most recent The Buried Giant, Axl and Beatrice are clearly haunted by the memories of old taken from them in the mist. And in one of his more famous novels The Remains of the Day Mr Stevens is consumed with the people and events of his past.

I think for most people the word haunting immediately conjures images of ghosts, eerie dark houses and things that go bump in the night. Yet as an adjective it is simply defined as remaining in the consciousness; not quickly forgotten. A haunting tale does not have to be scary or gory it simply needs to endure, a quality Kazuo Ishiguro captures beautifully in his books.

From haunting the conversation moved on to fight scenes with a cut away to a clip from a Japanese samurai film which Ishiguro used to demonstrate how a real sword fight should take place. The two proceeded to talk about the difference between writing a great fight scene and filming one. It was something I’d never thought about, but then other than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy I don’t think I’ve read many books with large scale battle scenes. Both writers were in agreement that in books it is more important to get the build up to the battle right, conveying the tension, the anxiety, the aggression then leads the reader to feel that within the battle scene whereas in a film all of that can be conveyed through the battle itself. Mitchell talked about a book by Rosemary Sutcliff that he had read as a child in which the battle scene had been superbly described. In his memory that part of the story was 20 pages long with so much detail and information. Re-reading the book as an adult he realised it was in fact a page and a half, but within there so much had been captured.

Another important factor when writing fight scenes highlighted by Ishiguro was perspective and height. Having re-read War and Peace recently it had struck him how important it is to have someone high up observing the fall out, through that character you can provide a micro and macro account of the fight. Naivety on my part but I had never given much thought to how you describe and create a fast paced battle with words that will only be consumed as quickly as your reader can process them. I have a new found respect for authors that include huge battles, well those who do it well.

The evening moved quickly with both authors taking turns to move away from the planned topic, heading off on a tangent with a tale or a question for the other. Did Mitchell play imaginary games when he was little? Why is Ishiguro so obsessed with the county of Worcestershire? One of the most interesting bits of the conversation I felt was when they spoke about areas they do not feel knowledgeable or authentic enough to write about. With success and age both authors admit to becoming more reserved with their writing and less likely to take risks. Mitchell confessed that he would not write an American narrator again feeling he would be a minor tone out but that being enough to make the whole thing sound wrong. Ishiguro spoke of shying away from areas that he feels are still to present, for example avoiding an original idea to set The Buried Giant during the Bosnian war for fear of not knowing enough to be true to it. Mitchell’s solution is to take side steps, don’t use an American narrator use an Englishman who has lived in America for many years, or maybe a Canadian (said with a wink and a smile).

Time for questions from the audience. I won’t go through them all but wanted to pick up on one of them. A lady asked about how the endings are created, her assumption from reading being that Mitchell very much knows his ending at the start whereas Ishiguro finds his way there organically. Having only read Cloud Atlas by Mitchell I could understand where the assumption comes from, to create a book like that one presumes that the ending must be known to create the loop. How wrong both I and the questioner were. Much to the amusement of the audience both authors were quick to respond – Mitchell “I never know my ending” and Ishiguro “that is where I start”. It was also interesting to see how each other’s method amused and possibly baffled the other. What they both agreed on is that sometimes you have an action, an image, a moment that comes to you that you know must be woven into the book. Mitchell described it as being a point C, knowing what F is going to be and using D and E as the vehicles to get you there.

Although possibly a little awkward to start once Mitchell and Ishiguro found their stride I think both could have continued well into the night. It was a relaxed and fascinating evening and a format I hope more authors participate in. Following the event the authors were doing a signing but sadly we had a train to catch the queue was already a hundred plus long by the time we got down to the ballroom. Maybe next time.

 

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Book four: The Magician’s Nephew #Lewis

Set in the 1900 The Magician’s Nephew is the first sequential story in the Chronicles of Narnia series, although it was the sixth of seven novels published. The book follows the adventures of Polly and Digory as they find themselves magically transported to other magical worlds and witness the birth of Narnia.

I intend over the coming months to re-read all of the books and will write my full review on completion of the series as I feel there are wider themes to be discussed which traverse all seven books.

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A year in review

This year I set myself the target to read 65 books, to date I have read 29.  Whilst I have been known to be a fast reader at times, with 36 books still to read and only 38 hours left of 2015 (of which I am having to spend 13 in work) I don’t think I’ll reach my target.

For some having read 29 books this year would be an achievement, on average it’s still nearly 2.5 books a month but for me it’s a disappointment.  Why? Because I have a heaving bookcase at home full of books I want to read.

But I’ve struggled this year.  I don’t know if it has been my choice of books, my method (switching between Kindle and hard copy depending on commuting transport), or something else entirely but I’ve failed to get hooked.

So what have I managed to read this year…

The year started well with the Fareer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, I loved those books and couldn’t put them down.  These were quickly followed by Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronvitch – an enjoyable book but not as good as the previous ones in the Peter Grant series, I hope in the next he brings the story back to the streets of London.  Blacklands by Belinda Bauer and The Woods by Harlan Coben were next, both quite dark and following them I needed something a little lighter so I turned back to free books on my Kindle.  March saw me read Mixed Signals by Ivy Raine (don’t ask), Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, Double Dare, Rhonda Nelson and If I Break, Portia Moore.

At the beginning of April I got engaged, I didn’t realise at the time but my life must have become over taken with wedding planning that month as I didn’t read a single thing!  And then I made possibly my biggest error of the year, my choice to get me back into reading…Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  I know so many people who love this book, my husband Alex being one of them, but I struggled so much.  Given the choice I think I would have walked away after a few chapters but Alex had enjoyed it so much he pretty much begged me to stick with it.  I wish I hadn’t.  I found it so hard going and broken up that I never got into the flow of reading.

The year progressed with The Taxidermist’s Daughter, Kate Mosse, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins – possibly the most overrated book of the year).  The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald, another heavy hitting book followed by The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith. Hmmmm as I write this list I can see clearly where I went wrong this year.

The summer saw me reading The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch and Police by Jo Nesbo.  I think took an usual turn for me and read a non-fiction book.  I love learning about the areas where I live and work and a friend in work recommended Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden by Rachel Lichtenstein to me.  It was a very interesting read, told in a story-telling manner which made it easier to work through than some history books.

August I returned to the books of Scott Lynch with the 2nd in the series of the Gentleman Bastards, Red Seas under Red Skies.  It didn’t have the same appeal as the first although definitely worth reading.  With the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman I went back to my teenage years and re-read To Kill a Mockingbird followed by the new one.

God’s Spy, Juan Gomez-Jurado, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman guided my through September and in October I escaped to the continent with Us by David Nicholls.  The last two months have been slow going, having loved Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro I picked up his possibly more famous book The Remains of the Day.  Whilst I did enjoy the book I didn’t find it as captivating as his others and found myself reluctantly reading which is never a good thing.

The year has been rounded off with the 3rd book in Scott Lynch’s series The Republic of Thieves and a festive tomb in the form of A Christmas Tail by Cressida McLaughlin.

My aim for next year, to read more than I did this year and not to trouble myself with completing books I’m not enjoying.  To give me a boost I’m actually starting the year with a book I’ve read before and loved.  Going back to the beginning it’s Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin, the first in the John Rebus series.

 

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Lovers of #London (and #magic) read these books! #Aaronvitch

Back in 2011 my brother recommended a new novel to me, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.  From the first few pages I was hooked and the book along with the others in the series: Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes and Foxglove Summer are now firmly on my recommend to everyone list and are probably absent from my bookshelves the most as I lend them to friends.

The books centre on the adventures of Peter Grant, an officer in the Met Police; who following an unexpected encounter with a ghost, is recruited into a small branch of the Met (The Folly) that deals with magic and the supernatural.  What is not to love about that premise?  My other half is in the Met and he informs little old excited me there isn’t such a branch, but would he know if there was…

Navigating the supernatural world of London is not easy.  Under the guidance of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, Grant becomes the first English apprentice wizard in over 70 years and sets about trying to solve his case.

Our leading star is supported by an awesome cast, I won’t name them all but you can look forward to meeting the aforementioned DCI Nightingale, head of The Folly and last officially sanctioned English Wizard; Mama Thames, Goddess of the River Thames; Dr Abdul Haqq Walid, world renowned gastroenterologist and cryptopathologist; Beverley Brook, “daughter” of Mama Thames and goddess of a small river in South London and PC Lesley May, Grant’s ‘partner in crime’ so to speak in the MET police.  All of the characters featured in Rivers of London and Aaronovitch’s subsequent books are so cleverly created.  They come with a depth and history that intrigues and you can’t help but believe in them and for some of the more magical ones wished they existed in real life.

The non-magical world’s acceptance of “the less than normal side of policing” is for some people less than believable but we must remember in the world of The Folly there was a time when magic was recognised as a skill and used within law enforcement and beyond. This is not the magic of David Blaine, Derren Brown, Dynamo or even Paul Daniels, magic in Rivers of London is a science taught in Latin and studied at the highest level.

I have a particular love for books set in places that I know.  On moving to Kent I immediately looked up books based in my new area using them as a way to understand the lay of the land, the links between towns and villages.  For anyone who loves London then you will love Aaronovitch’s books.  You are taken into a world you know so well, to streets you probably frequent on a regular if not daily basis, to pubs and restaurants you drink and eat in.  In using real places, like many authors before him, Aaronovitch connects his reader to the story.  We might struggle to picture magic but we can all picture Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.  Creating a world within a world is magically in itself and like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Rivers of London will leave you with a sense of a hidden world within London.

Whether it’s the geography, the magic or the intriguing and rounded characters Ben Aaronovitch’s books are compelling, once you start turning the pages it is impossible to put the books down.  I only wish he could write them faster.

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Making up #stories going on #adventures

Five Children and It; a flash back to childhood.

There are certain children’s books that I challenge you to read and not find yourself with a smile on your face.  The simple sense of adventure and the innocent nature of the characters is for me the equivalent of a jolly good hug.   Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Secret Garden, Swallows and Amazons, anything by Enid Blyton the list could go on.  There is something about these books which is quintessentially good for the soul, like a spring day with the sun out.  Although we know the children will conqueror there is no greater thrill than when the adventure turns sour.  As a child I feverishly turned the pages needing to read more and as an adult, having recently re-read Five Children and It, I still found myself caught up in the fun wondering how the next wish will go wrong and how the children will fix it.

As a child I like to think I was as adventurous as some of my friends from books, I certainly climbed enough trees looking for houses in their trunks and gateways to magical places at the top.  I had the freedom to roam spending many holidays on a family farm in Ireland and my cousins and I could lose ourselves for hours in the make believe and imaginary worlds we created.  The old lady down the road was probably unfairly cast as the wicked evil witch on far too many occasions and like in many of the books one of my younger cousins would always get scared and want to go home when they feared we strayed too far from the set boundaries.  On reflection to be fair nine times out of ten we had strayed too far, it took a lot longer to get home than we planned and we missed more than one dinner!  If I’m honest I still have an over active imagination at times, there is a house near us which for no specific reason I have nick named “The Great Train Robbery House” I’m convinced it’s the sort of place a gang of thieves would use as a hide out and cycle past it as quickly as possible as I don’t want to catch their attention.  It’s silly, I’m sure a perfectly normal family live there, but it brings excitement to my cycle home.

This freedom to roam and to make up stories is something I want to be able to give to any children I have in the future.  I want them to get muddy, to scrap a knee, to see pirates and bank robbers and spies in the people around them going about their daily activities.  But how do I do that? How do you foster a sense of adventure and freedom?  I may have to change tact when the time actually comes around but for now I believe my tool will be books.  A first step to taking their own adventures will be to join other children on theirs.  They’ll learn to be scared, they’ll learn that not every adult can be trusted; they’ll learn that sometimes things wrong.  And hopefully they’ll learn to open their eyes to the world around them and to explore and create the dreams and escapades they want.

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