Wednesday 15 July 2015

Surrounded by authors...

During June and July I received notifications or invitations to a number of book launches. Suddenly I'm surrounded by new authors! Authors of exciting books; my to-be-read bookshelf is heaving!

Two of these authors are from Greenacre Writers, the Finchley based writers' group I co-founded with Rosie Canning in 2009, and of which I was an active member. Greenacre Writers was set up with four members and Helen Barbour was our fifth. She has now just published her first novel, The A-Z of Normal, that she first brought to our critiquing groups. There was really only one problem with Helen's novel: there wasn't much wrong that needed critiquing so the rest of us frequently made comments such as 'Well, that chapter was great, I can't think of anything that consider needed to be changed. I really liked how you have portrayed Claire's dilemma when ...' You get the picture!
   Helen's book is the story of Clare who has OCD, and the issues this causes. Helen, who blogs about her own OCD and how she manages it, wanted to educate people about this condition which is often misunderstood. She has achieved it in an entertaining way with a novel about Clare who accepts her long-distance boyfriend's proposal only to wonder how she will cope with telling him about her problem, which until now she has managed to keep secret. The course of true love is certainly rocky - will Clare and Tom work it out? For more information read Helen's blog The Reluctant Perfectionist.

The other Greenacre Writer is Anna Meryt who has published her memoir A Hippopotamus at the Table. I think I'd be tempted to pick it up from the title alone - although its origin wasn't what I was expecting - and if you'd like to learn more about that, take a look at this interview.
Anna was originally in GW's memoir and autobiography group co-ordinated by Rosie. I wasn't a member of this group so didn't see Anna's work until she switched to one of the Finish That Novel groups when the memoir group closed. I do however remember reading the first couple of chapters and thinking 'I want to read more.' She recalls her travels in South Africa with her husband and Pascale their eighteen month old daughter in the early 70s when apartheid was rampant. For more information take a look at Anna's blog.

The third author was one of our guest readers at Finchley Literary Festival. Although Irenosen Okojie had only a ten minute reading slot, I was immediately impressed with the vitality of the extract from her debut novel Butterfly Fish. I'm not alone as it is, rightly so, attracting a great deal of attention. For a little more, see my blogpost on the festival about this exciting new author: Irenosen Okojie.

Last but not least is a writer who I 'met' online. I first read some of Joanna Campbell's work when she entered the Greenacre Writers short story competition. Her stories struck me as very original, with a well developed wry humour. I followed Joanna's writing blog and with it the progress of her novel, Tying Down the Lion, which was published this month. The Bishop family drive across Europe in 1967 in a battered Morris Traveller to Berlin divided by The Wall. Grandma, who knows what makes the world go round, blames a lot of the world's problems on the fact that Hitler was a vegetablarian. Take a look at Joanna's website.

As I congratulate these new authors, I know how much hard work went into their successes, and that makes me feel more determined to get my head down and get on with my own writing, much neglected lately. To cheer me on I'm pleased to say I received some very good feedback on my re-write of my WIP's first three chapters.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Travels with books

Just a few book things I've spotted on my travels.   

This little library in Luang Prabang, Laos, also provides book for outlying villages, including those serviced by Laos' two library boats. This is not a luxury but a necessity as many small villages are poor and have no books even in the schools. Visitors can support The Language Project in Laos by buying books for the library, but you can still support them from home The Language Project.

Book crossing has been going on for years under the name of swapping books, but that was generally with people you met face to face. On my travels overland to India so many years ago, we had to travel light (rucksacks were the order of the day; wheeled suitcases didn't exist) and so the books we took were exchanged along the way with other travellers. Now Bookcrossing has become established and it is the books which travel. You release books in the wild and they are captured by other readers and then as often as not released again and so on. It has become especially popular in other countries and I saw this Bookcrossing arch in Wroclaw Station in Poland recently.

Wherever I go if I spot a bookshop I have a look around, even if I can't read the titles because of the language difference. I spot many familiar author names but very often have to guess the titles because covers are often different when a title is published for the overseas market. This bookshop cat lives in a shop in Istanbul. He had plenty of books to sit on and there were lots of customers too to make a bit of a fuss of him.

Not all bookshops have much to sell. This bookshop in Santiago in Cuba back in 2008 had only a few tattered second-hand books for sale,
as books were a relatively rare commodity, with only books approved by Fidel Castro's regime deemed fit for reading. How many of this bookshops were contraband, I don't know, but tourists would often leave books they had brought. I only wished I had some I could offer but coming  upon this shop by accident I had none with me. Things have changed for the better since then and I wonder if this little shop still exists.

Sometimes, even second-hand books are hard to come by and this school for Tuareg children in Timbuktu in 2007 had very few. Those that they did have were for the older children while the younger ones learnt from a blackboard. The desks in this class were for the middle grade children who also had blackboard slates whilst the smallest sat in the sand and took it in turns to use the large board. Chalk was as precious as books. Wren Miller saw much the same picture and as a result set up Send a Book to Mali.