Book Reviews – The Last Picture Show, Northanger Abbey and Exchange

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I’m barrelling through my Month of Rereading with another three done and dusted! I’ve read all of my pile except for “Thunderhead” and “Green Grass of Wyoming” and added one, too, and I’m currently whizzing through a few last non-fiction ones, too …

Larry McMurtry – “The Last Picture Show”

(09 April 2000)

A copy bought in America, although it turns out I first read it before I owned a copy (more of that later). Still an amazing book on its third read. A wonderful, elegiac portrait of small-town America with its heroes and villains, revolving around the high school football team and its cheerleaders even when neither are actually very good. I’d forgotten how graphic it is, but the sex scenes are not gratuitous: it’s about teenagers growing up in a town where your first love object is likely to be a farm animal, and virginity is something to be both prized and got rid of – and there are some terribly embarrassing fumbles which are portrayed in as much excruciating detail as a rather humiliating trip to Mexico which will be built into something quite different back in Thalia.

Who can forget Duane, the football hero, Sonny, the not-so-much-a-hero with the soft heart and Jacy, scheming, adulterous daughter of a scheming, adulterous mother, as well as the cast assembled around them? No one is better at portraying small town love and life and few are as good at writing in a style which is utterly straight and believeable, as if he is literally writing down the facts. No wonder McMurtry went on to write four sequels – I will be rereading books 2 and 3 before launching into my newish copies of 4 and 5!

Here are my reviews from my previous reads:

February 1998 (from library)

“Engaging coming-of-age novel about young and older in a small town in Texas. Appealing, honest and well-written.”

July 2000 (this copy)

“A rereading made more interesting and poignant by my having read the other two books in the trilogy in the meantime. Classic characters and an engaging story line, all told in a confiding, open style that brings you right into their lives.”

Jane Austen – “Northanger Abbey”

(bought pre-1989: sticky backed plastic cover and student pencil notes)

I’m afraid that I have to admit that this is my favourite Jane Austen, and I’m very glad I was inspired by Ali’s revisit to come back to it myself. The tale of young Catherine Moreland, very much not a classic heroine, and her adventures in Bath and staying with friends in the Abbey of the title, getting all overcome by her Gothic reading matter and having all sorts of imaginings, is so mischievous and cheeky, and even the gear change between life in Bath and the gothic misconceptions doesn’t clunk as much as it amuses. Austen has female friendships and sibling relationships down so exactly, and pretty well every page has a jewel: a witty aside, a delicious turn of phrase, a subtle unpinning of the fabric of “polite society” … and Catherine is a lovely heroine, even when she’s being silly.

I do know this one really well (as my detailed student notes testify!) so there were no surprises on rereading, except maybe the balance between Bath and Abbey is rather heavier on the Bath side. It’s interesting having read it alongside “Jane Eyre”, the real gothic novel of the two, of course, and seeing the parallels: most noticeably, two solo post chaise rides across country: but Catherine is careful not to leave anything in the pockets inside the coach!

It was lovely to be able to wallow in this one again – a very worthwhile reread.

Paul Magrs – “Exchange”

(28 April 2007)

Photo

I didn’t quite walk around with my head buried in it, as this photo implies, but nearly …

This was a book that made me contact the author when I finished it, because of this little gem, near the end. They’re talking about setting a load of books free:

‘I’ve heard about this,’ said Simon. ‘Where they leave them in cafes and on buses and you pick them up, read them, leave your message and liberate them again, for someone else to find …

It also contains a sentence which sums up, for me, the style and content of a Paul Magrs book:

He was wooing her with gateaux and frothy mochas and the tender ministrations of his plastic hands …

Down to earth, rooted in reality, but with that twist of oddness. Although, actually, this is one of his least odd books. Simon, a classic orphaned YA hero, is living with his grandparents in a depressing small town. On one of their regular Saturday trips, he and his gran, Winnie, discover The Great Big Book Exchange, its eccentric owner and his Goth assistant,  Kelly. Both Simon and Winnie forge new friendships, and then Winnie rediscovers an old one, too, in the pages of a book. As I said, this is one of Paul’s less magical books: to be honest, I prefer these, as I read even the very vampiry and witchy ones for the great believeable, earthy characters, often rooted firmly in the North East.

I galloped through this book this time, as I remember doing last time. It is a fairly easy read and with such lovely characters. I hope he writes about Simon again one day. Funny point of reference: the author, Ada, reminded me somewhat of Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel! Not such a monster, but a similar modus operandi …

Up next: I’ve finished “How to Watch the Olympics” but will give that its own review as it’s not a reread. I have also realised that I haven’t done any non-fiction, so I’m going to check for a biography or travel book to take me through to the end of this glorious month …

Paper is sometimes best

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Sometimes paper is best!

I was looking at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders website and musing about how I almost never do work on paper manuscripts (once in well over 500 jobs), and then the doorbell rang and my new to do list stationery had arrived … so that’s one thing where I do stick with paper.

Well, one of two things.

With my to do lists, I have flirted with Google Calendar / Tasks and I do put meetings, events and appointments like Skype chats or phone calls in there. But all through my working life, I have had a paper to do list, and, you know what? That’s what I like to have. I had been using one of my few Libro notepads to keep it, but I’ve now bought a special book – appointments on the left hand page and Things To Do Today (why is that capitalised when the name of the book is all lower case, though?) on the right. With tick boxes and everything. There is also room for notes, which is handy for those phone calls.

The other thing I keep on paper is my customer records. Not entirely: I keep a note of people’s pricing and other terms on their contact details in my gmail account. As I do work for people, I either create an invoice for that piece of work, including details of the time spent or word count, depending on how I invoice them, or add the project to their current monthly invoice But I have an A4 spiral bound book with a section for each major client and one for one-off/student clients.  This is where I note down the date, time, word count and charge for each job I do.

I like writing. I like pen and paper. I like using fountain pens with different colour inks. I might do all my editing, proofreading, writing and transcription on the computer, and I might have an online book review blog; I might even have a Kindle … but when it comes down to it, I read real books too (mostly, actually), write my book reviews in a nice notebook first, and keep paper records and to do lists.

You don’t have to do what is most up to date and modern. Everything doesn’t have to be In The Cloud. Do what you feel comfortable with!

Book review – A Stallion Called Midnight

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Lundy Annie, with Jenny's Cove in the background

Photo from Victoria Eveleigh’s website

Victoria Eveleigh – “A Stallion Called Midnight”

(Kindly sent to me by the publishers, Orion)

I “met” Victoria via Twitter as a result of my re-reading of “My Friend Flicka” and was thrilled to be able to publish a guest post on her journey from self-published to published author. She kindly asked her publisher to send me a review copy of her newly published book, “A Stallion Called Midnight” after I confessed my pony book obsession. I had liked the look of her stories, and another reviewer who I rate had also praised the original, self-published, version, so this was a fairly guaranteed good read … but you never know until you get the book open and start reading … and only stop because it’s way after breakfast time and you really do have to do some work!

For all the lovers of traditional pony books out there – i.e. girl/boy meets pony, wants pony, has to struggle to get/tame/rescue pony, learns lessons, some kind of good result comes out even though it’s not quite what was expected (pot-hunting nemesis de rigueur), rather than the current crop of pink / sparkly / magical / talking horse stuff, then this author is for you.

Set in the 1960s on the island of Lundy, this is a charming but realistic story of Jenny. We meet her when she thinks she has already tamed the stallion, Midnight, leader of the wild native horses on the island (remember your Native Ponies Of The British Isles, pony fans?) and is facing up to being sent over to the mainland for school. She’s being raised by her Dad (and the rest of the island) after a family tragedy, and is dreading being pulled away from all that she loves. She’s also a bit worried about what will happen to Dad when she’s away. So, this is a school story as well as a pony story (hooray) as the setting of a girls’ school with its cliques and social positions is beautifully portrayed, too – and lessons are learned at school as well as around ponies, but it is far from being didactic or patronising.

Jenny is a realistic heroine, brought down to earth by her Dad (he tells her she’s not in one of her pony books at one stage, which I thought was a charming touch). There are coincidences, but being set in a small world, these are not unbelievable (I’ve come across so many links among the 1 million inhabitants of my city, that I have no doubts that the world of North Devon and Lundy are even more closely intertwined) and the outcome of the story is believeable and refreshing without being too pat or annoying. Human relationships are real, trying, comforting and understandable, with a hint of romance which is handled deftly and calmly, and it’s just basically a jolly good read.

I’m going to be ordering Victoria’s Katy Trilogy, which is available now, and looking forward to her new trilogy, centred around a boy hero, coming soon. I’m so pleased to have found a new pony book author, and one who is still producing books, and I can’t wait to read the rest of them!

Book Reviews – My Friend Flicka and Jane Eyre

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And another pair of books from my Month of Rereading

Mary O’Hara – “My Friend Flicka”

(1980s)

A comforting reread of an old pair of Green Dragon volumes I’ve had since I was a child (I have “Thunderhead” and “Green Grass of Wyoming” in slightly more modern though equally well-loved editions; this one is from the 1960s, judging by the date by which you have to send in your “Win a Pony” competition entries in). Anyway, I say it’s a comforting read, even though the themes and descriptions of uncomfortable family life, ‘loco’ horses, farm life in general, illness and death are not particularly cosy!

The story of a dreamy boy longing for his own colt from the crop raised on his parents’ farm is a traditional pony story (wants pony … struggles to get pony … gets pony … struggles to tame pony … crisis … ) but with a boy as the main character and set in the open wilds of Wyoming. It’s oh-so-familiar to me as a beloved childhood favourite, although when I last read it, I was of Ken and Howard’s generation, whereas now I am the age of their parents! But this gave an extra dimension to my read, as I enjoyed the portrayal of Nell and Rob’s marriage and relationship, although I was somewhat surprised to read this scene between them, which I find rather beautiful, but which I do NOT recall from my childhood and teenage readings! It comes amid worries about a mountain lion which might be haunting the creek.

  Always at night her fatigue was a positive pressing thing. She could feel it all through her, a heavy, sweet aching. And yielding to it was like sinking into a sucking depth.

Her thoughts began to scatter into grotesque formations like pieces of broken glass. She felt Rob’s cheek on her hair. He was kissing her softly, all over her cheek and temple and down to the corner of her mouth.

He thinks I’m asleep, she thought, and breathed more evenly and deeply, her eyes closed. So – dead – tired – the deep place drawing her down into unconsciousness – Rob getting her all into his arms and the curve of his body – something moving in the thick foliage of the trees over Deercreek – a branch stirring gently – shadows – wind rushing through with a sound –

And that competition: oh, these were more innocent times. I wonder if anyone DID win the pony!

Charlotte Bronte – “Jane Eyre”

(pre-1989 as covered in sticky backed plastic)

Another book as familiar to me as the back of my hand and still, thankfully, as utterly marvellous as I wanted it to be. I haven’t read it for over a decade, but my reactions to it were not much different from last time. I had forgotten, however, how sweet and romantic the middle section of the book is, an oasis amid the gothic horror. No wonder I react so strongly when they try to do a version on the telly and Mr Rochester is all wrong yet again!

It was like revisiting an old friend. Dear Jane, dear Helen, dear Mrs Fairfax, St John Rivers’ dreadful ego … At one point there was an amusing exchange:

Me – Oh no, I’m going to get to the horrifying bit just before bedtime. But I have the terrifying bit to go first. Ooh noo!

Matthew – How can it be terrifying when you’ve read it a million times before?

Me – Because it’s so bl**dy well written, dear!

This is what the month of rereading is all about: having time off from the treadmill of new books to wallow in an old favourite.

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Next up: Larry McMurtry and I think maybe a more recently read book, too. I’m not sure if I will read the other two Mary O’Haras, as I would like to get through “Northanger Abbey”, too … I am reading two new books, as well – “How to Watch the Olympics” has to be read before the Opening Ceremony, and I’ve just been sent a lovely looking new pony book by Orion Publishing, so look out for those reviews soon!

How’s your Month of Rereading going? Ali has posted a great half way through review

Book Reviews – The Europeans and The Diary of a Provincial Lady

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More books from my Month of Rereading, which is still going strong and very enjoyable!

Henry James – “The Europeans”

(25 April 1999)

It turns out that this is the first Henry James I read when I originally started on him. A society tale of two Europeans of slightly doubtful aristocratic descent who visit their austere cousins in Boston, and the effects of their rather different way of going about things. There is a lot of commentary on the constraints placed on women in society, even unusual and strong ones like Eugenie (which echoes Hardy’s “Hand of Ethelberta”, I felt) and the equal constraints for men, and some perceptive comments on the relationships with the next generation up, the parents, and their views on the pair-bonding going on.

Reflections on rereading: I didn’t remember much about this novel or James in general – I had a flurry of reading him and Edith Wharton in 1999, culminating in taking “Portrait of a Lady” on holiday to Tunisia that year, but I remembered that I liked him, and I like him even more on re-acquaintance.

My original review from July 1999:

I really had not expected to like this author, so this sort novel came as a very nice surprise. A witty comedy of manners, with a light touch and none of the turgid sentence structure I’d expected. Much like Edith Wharton, and very well done.

E.M. Delafield – “The Diary of a Provincial Lady”

(some time late 1980s)

Another sticky-backed-plastic-covered, “Elizabeth” labelled book, so dating from 1989 or before. I am sure that I’ve read this more than once already, but there’s a gap in my records between when I stopped keeping up my card index to the reading journal and when I started reviewing books on LiveJournal, so I can’t be sure.  Charming, acerbic and semi-autobiographical diaries, published in the 1930s up to 1940 (oh, the poignancy of war novels published before the war ended) in Time and Tide, then gathered into books then this one volume of all four (in the Introduction, Nicola Beauman counsels against reading all four in a row in one big gulp – but if you’ve got them there, how can you not?).

The first is the classic Provincial Lady at home in her Devonshire village, and is probably the bets, but all have their charms as she becomes more well known for her novels and gets a pied a terre in London, then goes on a lecture tour in America, and ends up in trousers in a wartime canteen. Mademoiselle and Lady Boxe are marvellous supporting characters as are the more satirically portrayed ones whose ridiculous speeches are presented in an effective and droll way.

Thoughts on rereading: familiar as a comfy armchair. I have read a lot of books set in wartime since reading this last, but this does not pall and stands up well – you can imagine her encountering the ladies in “To Bed With Grand Music” and not thinking much of them, for example. Eminently readable and rereadable.

I amused myself by noting instances of other Virago books and Persephones being mentioned (there is a thread on the Virago Readers LibraryThing group on this very matter): here is what I found without looking very hard:

February 28th – Notice, and am gratified by, appearance of large clump of crocus near the front gate. Should like to make whimsical and charming references to these, and try to fancy myself as “Elizabeth of the German Garden”, but am interrupted by Cook, saying that the Fish is here, but he’s only brought cod and haddock, and the haddock doesn’t smell any too fresh, so what about cod? Have often noticed that Life is like that. (Provincial Lady; p. 37)

September 5th – … dine on sausage-and-mash at Lyons establishment opposite to pallid young man who reads book mysteriously shrouded in holland covers. Feel that I must discover what this is at all costs, and conjectures waver between “The Well of Loneliness” and “The Colonel’s Daughter”, until title can be spelt out upside down, when it turns out to be “Gulliver’s Travels”. (PL Goes Further; p. 169)

October 17th – … I say that I have enjoyed nothing so much as “Flush”, but Miss Paterson again disconcerts me by muttering that to write a whole book about a dog is Simply Morbid. (PL in America; p. 289)

November 27th – … Miss Ramona Herdman and I then proceed to book-store, where we meet head of department, Mrs. Kooker. Talk about Vera Brittain – “Testament of Youth” selling superbly, says Mrs. K … (PL in America; p. 347)

October 3rd … What, I enquire in order to gain time, does Mrs. Peacock like in the way of books? In times like these, she replies very apologetically indeed, she thinks a novel is practically the only thing. Not a detective novel, not a novel about politics, nor about the unemployed, nothing to do with sex, and above all not a novel about life under Nazi regime in Germany. Inspiration immediately descends upon me and I tell her without hesitation to read a delightful novel called “The Priory” by Dorothy Whipple, which answers all requirements, and has a happy ending into the bargain. Mrs Peacock says it seems too good to be true, and she can hardly believe that any modern novel is as nice as all that, but I assure her that it is, and that it is many years since I have enjoyed anything so much. (PL in Wartime; p. 434)

October 3rd … Finally retire to bed with “The Daisy Chain” wishing we were all back in the England of the ‘fifties. (PL in Wartime; p. 434)

And rather amusingly, given that Persephone now publish this book, Nicola Beauman in her Introduction, written in 1984, when talking about how The Servant Problem loomed large in people of this era’s lives, says:

“How to Run your Home Without Help”, a book my mother used at the end of the 1940s, is exhausting even to read, with every moment timetabled wtih tasks that modern women think perfectly futile. (p. x)

Next up is Jane Eyre, which I have already started and am pleased to find I still love, even if my copy is littered with my pretentious University era notes on “Freudian” readings of the text!

Book Reviews – Angel and These Old Shades

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I’ve been getting on well with my Month of Rereading, as I discovered to my joy that I had actually read this month’s Elizabeth Taylor before. Hooray! I’m reviewing my Month of Rereading books in pairs, as I’m trying to put down some stuff about the actual rereading aspect as well as my review, so they’re a little bit longer than usual.

I’m currently reading the E.M. Delafield and the Henry James, so watch out for those reviews next!

Elizabeth Taylor – “Angel”

(30 June 2012)

I had to buy this one new (well, from Green Metropolis, so new to me) as I had managed not to acquire my own copy over the years. So I didn’t think it was a reread, until I came to a bit about the somewhat monstrous teenage Angel insisting on writing in hardback exercise books with marbled covers and having a tortoiseshell comb, at which I had a flashback to my mid teens and procurement of the same! So this must have been an early Virago read for me, under the influence of my neighbour who introduced me to Virago and Taylor.

A marvellous portrayal of a bad novelist – a monster, but portrayed humanely and with understanding. As the introduction says, is this a portrayal of the monster that lies within all writers? The tiny details are amazing and hilarious, as Taylor really goes to town and appears to be enjoying herself greatly: of particular note was Angel with a dress cut so low that you could see the top rows of her ribs; sitting up in bed with her apricot armpits; and walking across her acres accompanied by a troupe of cats. And the creative process is minutely described, even if what she is writing is more akin to the works of Marie Corelli, on whom she is based (is she an early E.L. James, of “Fifty Shades of Grey” fame, I wonder!) than to the works of Taylor herself. The pathos, of course, comes in, too, particularly in relation to her publisher, although there are some delightful scenes with the publisher, too.

On rereading: I didn’t remember much of the plot, but did remember the atmosphere of the book – and obviously admired Angel more in my own teens than I do now!

Georgette Heyer – “These Old Shades”

(12 Dec 2011 – leaving gift from Heather)

One that I didn’t remember all that well, but then the plots of the Heyer Regency Romances are fairly similar in many respects. Delicious as ever, with cross-dressing and people recognised by their hair galore – you know how it’s going to come out, but it’s great fun getting there. And even though she is ruffled and called “Infant” a great deal by a man twice her age, we have a lovely feisty heroine who is plucked from obscurity and poverty at the whim of an English Duke and set on a path to fame and fortune, as well as great supporting characters who are just as lively and beautifully drawn. Beautifully drawn, too, are the period details of dress and personalities, including the French King himself: reading this, you’re in for a well-researched extravaganza of quality escapism.

On rereading: I know jolly well that I read all of Heyer in lovely hardbacks with mint green covers from my school and village library in my early to mid teens (did everybody have a wild urge to read SETS of books then? I worked my way through all the Heyers, all the Agatha Christies, all the James Bond books, all the Tanith Lees …) and so even if I didn’t remember the details of the plot, it was a comfortable book to sink back into.

The First Six Months

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Wow – the end of June on Saturday marked the end of my first six months running Libro full time, with no safety net of an office job (but plenty of safety nets in terms of savings and experience!).

I thought I should mark this in some way, so I’ve changed the photo on my Facebook page to give myself some flowers, and I’m writing this to review the past six months. Has it gone as expected? Has anything surprised me? Am I actually doing OK? Am I happier? Am I enjoying myself? What have I learned?

Has it gone as expected?

In a word: no!

But in a good way. Each time I dropped a day at the office job in 2011 I experienced a small “slump” where the work coming in, and the profit made, dipped a little, just for a month. So I expected a big drop, a fallow period, especially as I had Jury Service to contend with at the beginning of January.

In fact, to tell you the truth, I was quite looking forward to a little rest. I’d actually finished my library job on 12 December and had worked solidly since then, gaining a new client and working over Christmas, including through a cold! But … it didn’t happen. I had obviously gathered a good number of regular customers, and adding a new one into the roster made a big difference. Also, some of my regulars increased the work they sent to me, as I had told them I was more available now, and having more hours available to work made me able to, well, do more.

Basically, the work ramped up right away, and I’ve been working pretty well full-time hours ever since!

Did anything surprise me?

I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that I’m sitting here, working full time on my business, keeping busy and earning well.  I didn’t think I was going to FAIL as such, because I had planned everything out, and by the end of March I knew that I was earning enough to keep myself going. But I’m actually doing better than I’d expected, in terms of busy-ness and in terms of income.

I think I’ve surprised myself with my success – a few years ago, I could never have dreamed I’d be doing this! I’m not being smug about it and it has come with a LOT of hard work, and I should have had the faith in myself not to be surprised at this point …

Have I surprised anyone else, I wonder? Friends who’ve known me for years and newer business friends? I’d love to know!

Am I actually doing OK?

In terms of income, I’m happy to admit that I’m earning more than I have in any other job I’ve had (only a little more than the highest-paying one, but still). And now I’ve got through the double tax year and out the other side with my tax payments safely set aside, knowing what I owe and what I could take home, I am taking home enough to live on and to treat myself (and my patient friends who graciously accepted cheap / badly planned / cheap AND badly planned Christmas and Birthday presents for a few years). I’m not rolling in it, and I have turned into neither Richard Branson nor Mrs Thatcher, but I’m doing well enough to be happy with it.

In terms of clients, I have a fairly full roster of regular clients of various kinds, keeping my work varied, from editing non-fiction and fiction books to transcribing international conferences and journalists’ interviews to localising web and marketing text for all sorts of companies.  My website and blog are getting more hits every month, and I do like looking at those stats!

Physical health wise, I’m eating well and getting to the gym a lot more, walking to meet Matthew after work, etc. Mental health wise I am a lot less stressed and I thrive on working on my own but having virtual colleagues via social media and business contacts and friends via various networking groups. I also have more flexibility and time to see friends and spend time with family.

Another important thing for me is helping people and giving back. I’ve been able to put together some great resources for students, Word users and other small businesses – OK, they bring people to my website, but I also love being able to help people out. My Saturday freelance/small business chats are going well, with a year’s worth done so we’re onto a combo of updates and new interviews. I love being able to showcase other small businesses and share our stories with people thinking about making the leap into self-employment or business ownership. And I’ve been able to help out other businesses and groups at the Social Media Surgeries, etc., too.

Am I happy / enjoying it?

Yes, I am! I’m so much happier and relaxed than I was even before I was working part time and running the business part time. This kind of lifestyle really suits me, and I genuinely enjoy the work. It’s great to be able to use my abilities and stretch myself, and I love knowing I have those regular clients out there and hearing how they are getting on and interacting with people all around the world, from China to Canada.

Specifically related to the full-time aspect of it, I love the fact that I do have more time for other projects, reading, Matthew and friends now. It might not look like it sometimes, but I am working fewer hours compared to when I was employed and self-employed at the same time. And I’ll admit that it’s nice to have a bit of money after a few years of hard saving and being very frugal indeed.

What have I learned?

The most important lessons I’ve learned are …

  • Embrace new opportunities, whether that’s new kinds of client, new kinds of work, presenting at training days or whatever
  • Don’t worry if it goes a bit quiet: it will pick up again and I can use the time to recharge my batteries
  • I can do it – and I must trust in myself and my relationships with my clients that I can
  • Eat a lunch made of more than one food group before 2pm and go outside every day and all will stay reasonably well and healthy

Thank you!

I’d just like to put out a big thank you to …

  • My clients, regular and one-off
  • Those clients who have been able to give me references and recommend me on to new clients (some of you can’t do this owing to NDAs, I know!)
  • My readers of both my blogs – whether you comment or not
  • The people who have kindly shared posts on Facebook, retweeted on Twitter or even featured me on their own websites and blogs
  • My online friends who I’ve never met but are there for good times and bad
  • My patient friends – it’s much better now, isn’t it!
  • Matthew, for putting up with me, for embracing and celebrating someone who’s changed an awful lot since you met them 11 years ago, and for tech support, of course!

Here’s to the next six months … and onwards!

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