Friday 27 December 2019

My favourite books this year.

I often read writers' blog posts about their book reccomendations because it's a great way to discover new books and authors but I tend to avoid those written by very well known writers because I'm sure some pick books they think they should pick rather than the ones that they really enjoyed.

I don't read only books that have just been published because my bookshelves and those at my library contain books published over the last 200+ years.

Neither do I read only books that have been listed for a literary prize, choosing anything that takes my fancy. Sometimes I'm delighted, sometimes disappointed. Here are the ones I particularly enjoyed in the order I read them.

Hanna's Daughters  Mariane Fredriksson. This Swedish novel has been on my bookshelf for ages. It spans 150 years and 3 generations of a family from rural Sweden to modern urban.

Burnt Shadows Kamila Shamsie. Another novel of family links spanning a time frame from the dropping of the Nagaski bomb to post 9/11.

The Killing of Louisa Janet Lee. A reimagined take on the true story of Louisa Collins, the last woman to be hanged in New South Wales. Convicted of murdering her husband there is doubt about her guilt. The first three of four trials failed to convict her. A great find in my local library.

Milk Fever Lisa Reece-Lane. Mentioned in my previous post. Another gem in my library.

Shepherd Catherine Jinks. Also mentioned in my last post and borrowed from my library.

Extinctions Josephine Wilson. Also borrowed from the library and mentioned in my last post.

The Far Field Madhuri Vijay. Another library book, this one set in India is the story of Shalini who travels from her city of Bangalore to find the salesman from Kashmir who regularly visited her home as a child and became a friend. She learns of the tribulations suffered by both Muslim and Hindu Kashhmiris.

The Passengers Eleanor Limprecht. I spotted this one in one of my local bookshops. Hannah travels from the US to Australia with her Australian born grandmother and learns about her life as a war bride.

Nine Days Toni Jordan. Set in Richmond, Melbourne another story told by members of 4 generations of a family from WWII to the 2010s. Yet another library book.

Love and the Platypus Nicholas Drayson. A fictitious take on the real scientist, William Caldwell, who was awarded a fellowship in 1833 to determine whether the platypus, a mammal, did or did not lay eggs. A library book that has taught me quite a lot about platypuses. (NB: Not platipi because the word is not of Latin origin.)

Looking at my list I see there tends to be a theme of family stories and history which was not intentional. Of the 58 books I read, 45 were by women which wasn't intentional either, I simply pick books that appeal. Just under a third were Australian authors, but they made up 70% of my best reads.

I did check out  a couple of library books including the Booker winner Milkman and within the first page abandonned them. It might well be brilliant but it struck me as pretentious writing and I can't just be bothered to read sentences that ramble on forever.

Friday 15 November 2019

Guest post for Cath Barton's blog: Mining for Australian Literature.

I haven't been doing a lot of writing lately but I have been busy reading. I was pleased when Cath Barton asked me to write a guest blog post on my latest finds. Read it here.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

When you feel you've achieved nothing.

Since I relocated to Melbourne just over three months ago, I've hardly written a thing and the outcome of submissions just before I came here or the couple made since have unfortunately come to nothing, so I'm at something of a writing dead end. I had suitable pieces to submit to two competitions that I found online until I read the T&Cs and found they were limited to UK residents so I'm no longer eligible!

Inwardly berating my lack of achivement, a timely email came from the Australian Writers Centre on this very subject and suggested subsribers write down what they have achieved in the past 6 months, not limited to writing but anything new and different.

I made a list. It took a while.

I sold a home in London with all that entails, packed up my belongings, had them shipped. I relocated to Australia, been on endless house hunts and bought a small house. I registered with a new medical system, a new tax system, a new driving licence, dealt with the delivery of my belongings and organised their storage and then moving everything (all 81 boxes and packages) into my new place as well as organising services and buying new items to replace those I left behind - trying to work out which of the unfamiliar companies offered the best deals. I bought a car, and am learning my way round - it would help if the satnav wasn't having intermittent problems (yes, another thing to sort out!)

I don't want to know how much time I've spent on the phone (that, too, had to be set up!) emailing and making visits to the various authorities and retailers to achieve this! Needless to say there have been several phone calls to UK too to chase up things I organised before I left! Even worse to think about is all the bills that have had to be paid!

My list also included visiting a number of new local places, including my nearest library, joining several new groups and meeting lots of new people in order to get myself established here.

My experience may be no different from others who migrate, and I've had great support from my daughter and son-in-law in negotiating the systems of officialdom, to say nothing of furniture and box moving - a luxury many have to manage without, but it's still something to put in the tick box and I don't feel so bad about not having any significant writing under my belt.

It's wonderful to have my own front door keys once more, but there are still a number jobs to do before 'organise chaos' and 'start writing.' My reward will be refilling my bookshelves with books old and new. Although I'm still not sure yet where my bookcases are all going to fit.

Thursday 6 June 2019

Getting to know bookish Melbourne.

A selection of my purchases. Others have already been given away. 
Some people get to know a city by visting its architectural icons, others by its cafes and restaurants, but I like to add another dimension: visting its bookshops. Melbourne has a number of them for me to discover.

I made acquaintance with the massive Dymock's in Collins Street, as well as a couple of smaller branches, on my last visit but I'm always more drawn to the smaller independent bookshops. I stayed about a hundred yards from Readings in St Kilda, established in 1969, so I spent quite a bit of time and money there!

Today I made it to Embiggen Books which, sadly, is closing after ten years. Sad for them but good for me in that I made several purchases in their closing down sale.

It is situated right next to the State Library of Victoria where I made a quick stop off, aiming to return for a more thorough visit soon.

Another book shop dating from the 60s is The Paperback Bookshop nearby. This little gem is packed from floor to ceiling with books. Books in every space! It does include a few hard-backs but mostly the books are as its name suggests.

I've also visted Robinson's in Frankston and The Avenue bookshop in Elsternwick. Both shops have other branches but they have the feeling of small independednts with enthusiastic and helpful staff.

There are also loads of charity shops, some of which offer a huge range of second-hand books in excellent condition. I made several purchases on my first visit, many of which have now been redistributed!

There are still lots more book shops for me to discover!

Friday 10 May 2019


This post isn't writing related, it's about moving house. I can honestly say that I've not experienced so much stress as in the past few weeks! For the last year I have been gearing up to this point. I started over a year ago by getting my flat in North London ready to put on the market - remember all those mentions of massive clear outs and re-homing loads and loads of books?

After several let downs from potential buyers (including one who after putting in an offer lower than the asking price then demanded I reduce it by another 35K) at long last I had another buyer and the real packing began. Still more things to be sent to the charity shop. Was I really going to read this book again? No - off it went. What about this one? Yes! Into the packing box. I had twelve book cartons, plus more for stationery and photo albums, (yes, I still have many pre-digital photos in albums.) And yes, Marie Kondo fans, I do need more than one pen pot.

Skip this next paragraph if you hate rantiness. You (rightly) think Brexit is a nightmare? I had my own personal Flexit (aka Exit from Flat.) The only difference was here I wanted to leave. I can't adequately express the massive stress that the conveyancer who acted for my buyers in place of a proper solicitor caused me, my solicitor and estate agent through their sheer incompetency and idiocy. The questions they asked again and again although they had been answered in detail several times previously. The glacial pace they worked at, the mistakes...  In a weird mirror of the nonsense the country was going through, so was I on a micro scale. We were even aiming to exchange on 29th March! The buyers themselves then delayed the process by announcing they didn't have the deposit. It was a very uncomfortable time when I was at the mercy of other people. To pull out, which I seriously considered, was not really in my interests. Then the deposit was sorted out but another potential exchange date was delayed. And another. And then on the day of the 'definite' exchange, which was going to be followed by a quick completion, the conveyancer put yet another enormous spanner in the works because of something she had forgotten to put in the buyers' contract - or more accurately - did not realise she needed to put in the contact in spite of my solicitor having advised her to do so. See what I mean by stupid? And of course it was the day before she went on a week's leave. But somehow we got there.

So goodbye to my quirky flat in North Finchley, which has been my home for over 25 years. It now has a literary past having not only housed thousands of my books, hosted writing groups and literary festival meetings, it has also seen me complete a degree in literature and try to write my flash fiction, short stories and two novels. Blue plaque one day?

I very much doubt it because throughout these last few months my writing more or less disappeared from view. I did make some subs with both reworked stories and some new pieces but when things became really stressful, I could barely put two words together on paper or screen. And the subs, including several for which I had high hopes, resulted in rejection after rejection and not a single appearance on comp longlists. It seemed that nothing would go right and I began to feel that I should give up writing altogether apart from jotting long lists entitled Presents to Leave for House Buyers who Mess You About to alleviate my frustration! (No people or flats were harmed in the making of these lists.)

So what now? Am I settled in my new house? No, that's still on the horizon because I have relocated to Australia (Melbourne) and am currently staying with my daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter. Not forgetting Pounce, the cat. My possessions, including all those book boxes are somewhere on the ocean (I hope not in the ocean - as people have kindly informed me that loads of containers fall off ships) and I am living out of suitcases. But I have all that really matters to me around me as I write. Let's hope my future Australian writing is a little more sucessful.

Watch this space.

Wednesday 1 May 2019

The joy of conversations, stories and conversations about stories.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a 16 year old who I used to see for speech and language therapy from the age of three through to secondary school. She had complex speech and language issues compounded by some hearing problems and other factors impacting on her learning. What ever aspects of her communication we were working on stories were used extensivley in our sessions and we always ended each session with a story (or two.)

J has done far better than her parents or I could have predicted back when she was a three year old, mainly because of her own personality and her parents' tireless fighting for what they felt helped her best, and quite a fight it's been over the years.

'I loved the stories we did together,' said J after she had told me her current news of exams and certificates and her college placement for September. 'They were such fun. I loved the stories about the pig family especially the one where the baby sitter was a wolf.'

'And the ones about the Large family,' I reminded her.

'Oh yes, they were my favourites, you gave me a book about them,'  recalled J. 'Five Minutes Peace. I liked another one where they all went on diet and then Gran sent them a cake.'

We chatted about the characters and exploits in those stories from years ago, remembering Father Bear who couldn't get any sleep, a tiger who ate all the food, Mog the cat who scared off a burglar, Lucy and Tom's Christmas day, the mum who bribed her daughter to eat her peas, promising her a host of daft things.

We had moved on to more grown up stories as befitted J's maturing years and she is now reading some of the well known classics like Anne of Green Gables, but as she said, 'those stories were such fun. I wish I could still read them in a way even though I'm too old for them.'

'You know something, J,' I said, 'I don't think we ever get too old for them. And one thing I especially loved about my work was getting to read great books to children and seeing them loving the stories as much as I do!'

Thursday 7 February 2019

Visiting Charles Dickens.

Today is Charles Dickens' birthday. His 207th birthday to be precise. Where better to visit than his house in Doughty Street, London. Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine moved into 48 Doughty Street in 1837 shortly after their marriage. They lived there for three years and it was here that he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby.

Today it is a charming museum with the house displayed much as it was during their time there.

At present the museum is hosting a Dinner with Dickens exhibition, with a beautiful display in his dining room, including personal plates for his wife, himself and guests. I expect no less from my writer friends from now on.

You can explore the rest of the house with the food theme in several rooms, with written and recorded extracts about food from his novels and information about his wife's recipes. There are even some things to smell.

Of course no visit to the home of a writer would be complete without seeing the writer's desk and chair. Dickens had a strict routine of writing, without distractions, every morning between breakfast and lunch.

Meanwhile his wife would be organising the household from the morning room while the servants would be going about the household chores in the kitchens and scullery which are also open to visitors.

The museum displays a number of the Dickens's personal possessions such as handwritten drafts of some of his novels, paintings, ornaments, Catherine's engagement ring, Dickens' smart 'court' suit and, of course, his desk alongside other artifacts from the era.

Even if you aren't interested in Dickens, the house is a lovely museum to domestic life in the early Victorian period. I do recommend a visit.

For more information please see The Dickens Museum

Sunday 27 January 2019

Paddling in Shallow Waters

A few of the publications with my work included.

When you follow good writers on social media you inevitably see lots of posts about success. Whether it’s a competition placement or a win, or the publication of a novel or short story collection, their successes keep coming.

It’s wonderful to share the joy of someone’s achievement because we all know that a lot of hard work has gone before it. It’s also good to know that the publishing industry is alive and well. And when you know someone’s work from competition placements you know that you’re likely to love their novel!

But for some of us there is a slight downside too. It can make our own lack of success seem overwhelming. We have a choice, either to give up and put the notebooks and pens – or the PC – away and learn to knit or do dry stone walling instead, or keep working at our craft and compete with them until we have our own success to publicize!

But when it’s only a small success, perhaps a brief flash fiction on a website, is it worthy of telling all and sundry?  

I’ve just re-read Tania Hershman’s excellent article in issue 78 of Mslexia (June/July/August 2018) Boasting for Beginners. She discusses the issues of women finding it hard to boast, aka talk about their successes. For many of us ‘boasting’ was something we were encouraged as children to avoid, as boasting has a pejorative tone. I recently discovered an old exercise book of mine from school in which I’d had to write about boasting. I cited a family I knew who boasted about all sorts, but their boasts were empty and vain which made them slightly ridiculous, although I did admire their unstinting confidence! Never mind the things they boasted about often never happened, they kept right on.  

But publicizing successes is a whole different game. We should be proud of what we have achieved. We all know that placement in a competition let alone getting a novel published is no small matter. But where does that leave those of us who are still paddling in the shallow waters of success? Sometimes so shallow it’s just the ebb and flow of the tide on the sand? Those of us who have had perhaps the occasional competition placement, or one article published? Our writing isn’t earning us a living or even enough to fund many competition entries.

A technique I used to explain to my speech and language therapy patients was to not measure  themselves against only the best, but against everyone. It works well in the writing world too.

There’s always going to be someone who is more successful than we are. If we measure ourselves against only published novelists, we may feel ourselves lacking, but if we measure our achievements against those of everyone in the world who has ever uttered the words, ‘I’d like to write,’ then anyone who has actually entered a piece for a prize or publication is already way ahead. Because they have created and finished a piece of writing. If we are long-listed in a competition, or had a flash published that’s  more than many who are writing but not entering their work, or haven’t yet managed that step yet.

But singing our praises is still difficult for lots of us. I know that some people who might read this have several novels out, some have won literary prizes. Others have had numerous wins in competitions, or stories published in magazines so they are all way ahead of me. When I was in Australia I met up with some people in a local writing group. After chatting for a moment one asked me the ‘Have you had anything published?’ question. I mentioned that I’d had a few flash fictions and short stories published, expecting to hear ‘Oh that’s nice’ but what I got was ‘Oh, wow, listen, everyone, Lindsay’s been published. That’s fantastic.’ It felt nice, but even as someone else said ‘Well done,’ I found myself saying ‘It’s only a few small pieces…’

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Lit Ward 10 Expands Owing to Government Incompetence.

Dr Read was jubilant that his ward had the best outcomes in the out-patient department but as a result he was under increasing pressure to find space for all the referrals to Lit ward 10. The room adjoining the old office of the Chief Exec’s now departed Bright Ideas Manager was now a second day-room and a smaller office next to it that once homed the BIM’s largely redundant secretary housed two much needed beds for the more serious cases. The patients didn’t mind that it was cramped, so long as the reading light was good and the book supply constant.

In the past few months referrals to Lit Ward 10 had soared with people all over the country suffering from a new condition diagnosed as Solliciti Esse in Exitus, known as S.E. Cases affected people of all ages and from all demographics. There was not yet a cure, but Dr Read’s lit therapy kept the worse symptoms at bay be they poor sleep and depression or anxiety and anger issues, with all the physical symptoms that tend to accompany these disturbances including appetite and digestive disorders, hypertension, headaches, to name but a few. 

To ensure everybody's need could be met, books in a variety of languages, as well as a number of auditory materials had been added to the ward’s library for the benefit of those for whom reading was difficult. A few of the most popular books were now being presented on video in sign-language. They were so stretched with referrals they had also set up a helpline and a web page, with instructions on how to make Letta’s Jamaican hot chocolate and how to mix a perfect G&T as well as a selection of reading material. 

It was notable that a high number of referrals came from within NHS staff members, and even the Chief Exec had agreed that Occupational Health department should have a Lit Ward outreach suite where staff could have some down time with a good book, even though he'd limited it to half an hour at a time. You couldn't have nurses and therapists lolling about all day reading. But to show he was committed he'd even donated a comfortable chair in the hope that it would to stop staff from having to take sick leave. 

If only the Chief Exec would allocate more funding, thought Dr Read, as he submitted the week’s outcomes. Dr Read found himself using the forbidden word when he muttered that the Chief Exec with his inept management skills, was a complete Br***t. He wondered if the term would become common parlance one day. 

On the day ward, Nurse Gorgeous, (now Mrs De Licious but she was keeping her own name for professional use,) was doing the blood pressure checks and keeping an eye on the reading matter. Occasionally patients sneaked in unsuitable books. When she gently removed one such item from a young man wearing an earnest expression and a man-bun, he accused her of censorship and that she had no right to interfere with his freedom of reading material. She explained that on this ward reading was medication and that she was quite sure that if he had been self-medicating with the wrong pills, he wouldn’t object to his doctor prescribing the correct ones. He agreed and let go of the inflammatory tome. She gave him a selection of books to choose from that would soothe his soul and the other item, which had the name Aaron on the cover, was deposited in the incinerator. Half an hour later he was smiling at the antics of Don Tillman PhD and his approach to romance.  

Dr Read’s article in The Lancet on Reading to Alleviate the Symptoms of S.E was well received and all over the country people were finding some relief through turning the pages of their books, swiping their e-readers or plugging in their headphones. Everyone undertaking the therapy agreed it helped although it could not entirely prevent S.E. 

This article recommends that you too read if you are suffering from S.E.