Is it just actually that I read too MUCH?

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tall pile of books

This many! This is how many I’m reading RIGHT NOW!

No, no, of course I don’t mean I read TOO MUCH in general, too many books over the course of the year. There’s no such thing, is there? There’s no better thing than reading lots of books (hobby: no better hobby; obviously it’s better to be running around giving all your possessions to Good Causes and generally doing good, but you know what I mean).

But I haven’t really finished many books recently – my last review was THIRTEEN DAYS ago and I’ve only finished one book since then, which is waiting to be reviewed. I do have gaps, but this seems particularly shocking. So I have started to wonder if it’s the number of books I am reading concurrently that’s messing things up a bit.

Here’s the thing: do you read one book at a time, or many? And, here’s the most important thing: do you think you’re more ‘productive’ if you only read one at a time – do you actually get through MORE books that way?

This is what I’ve always said I have on the go at any one time:

  • One larger or more “special” book (maybe a Persephone or hardback) which I read in the house, at the breakfast table, etc. This sometimes extends into two books, for example I won’t read a Persephone while eating, so I might have a Persephone on the night stand and a political biography, say, at the table.
  • One smaller and more portable book for in my handbag when popping into Birmingham or going on longer journeys. Now I’m trying to actually READ the books I have packed onto my Kindle, this can take electronic or paper form.

That should be doable, shouldn’t it. But the problem is, it doesn’t really work like that. Here’s what I’m reading at the moment …

  • Friday to Saturdayish I’m reading the New Statesman on my tablet at the table. Sunday to Tuesdayish, it’s the Saturday Guardian newspaper. Sometimes there’s a bit of struggling slowly through an Icelandic newspaper going on with the tablet, too, although that’s usually upstairs near my dictionaries. I LOVE the New Statesman and I have not once, in the year I’ve been subscribing, experienced Mag Lag with it (when you are still reading the last issue when the new one arrives), even though it’s an (almost) weekly. I like the e-version of the newspaper because I can skim it more. But these two do take away time from reading at the table.
  • I’m currently reading a big fat 19th century novel on the Kindle, which a friend lent to me in paper form, but I wasn’t doing well with the huge unwieldy paperback, so I downloaded a free copy from manybooks.net. I’m reading this at the table and in bed, and on the bus.
  • I have a book of essays from newspapers that I’m reading at the gym. Often the gym book is the same as the handbag book, but I don’t want to sweat all over my Kindle, so started this. I cycle and read for about an hour to 90 minutes a week, so that’s not going to get through much book, even at my speed of reading (for those concerned about my ability to read and exercise vigorously, I do an odd and self-invented form of interval training whereby I pedal very much harder every 5th page).
  • I have a hardback book on the history of the Tube which I picked off the TBR to look at and haven’t really looked at properly yet.
  • I have the terrible, terrible shame of Iris Murdoch’s book on Sartre, which isn’t very big but is a bit too difficult for me – so it’s “being read” but then being hidden on the back sofa under a pile of handbags …

I think that’s it, and it doesn’t seem too bad. Is it just because I’m reading a  big novel that I’ve got a bit stuck and low on the reviewing front? Should I just knuckle down and read one at a time? After all, I don’t have a problem with “having” to read a particular book, as I read my TBR in acquisition order and don’t get to make many choices based on reading mood there. Or should I carry on as I am?

How do you do it? Have you noticed yourself getting through more books using one method or the other, single or many reads, if you’ve tried both? Or should I just go on holiday or get a cold and get them all finished?

 

A day off

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char wallahOne of the great things about running your own business is that you can (often) take a day off when you fancy it, without having to ask anyone’s permission. So I had a day off with Matthew today – we started off at the Birmingham Social Media Cafe for its fifth birthday, and chatted with regulars and newbies, had lunch at Eat, and then did a bit of shopping – new coats for both of us and my birthday TKMaxx vouchers finally spent. Our friend Ali had told us about a new shop called Char Wallah and so we popped there – do drop by if you’re near the Pavillions, shopping centre. They have a lovely little shop nestling on the basement floor, with a huge range of teas as well as teapots and mugs. A really warm welcome and they have worked really hard on the concept and design, so deserve to do well. I hope to feature them in my Small Business Chats on the Libroediting blog soon, so watch this (that) space.

We’re now finishing our day off with a lovely cup of tea, curled up on the sofa with our books and cats. Hooray for days off. And if you run your own business and don’t take random days like this – why on earth not? We can all do one every now and then!

Well, I’m at home anyway …

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window screenLast summer, we had a load of work done on the house, including having all of the exterior paintwork done and a new front door. Cue anguish, hours of sorting things out, and sawdust EVERYWHERE. Did we (especially I) learn? No we did not. This summer, we had Terry in to hang pictures (only eight years after we moved in), do other bits and bobs (including installing a new floor in the cats’ toilet) and make cat safety window screens. We also had a company in to replace the roof of our bay window.

Now, Terry is pretty self-sufficient and very quiet – but you can hardly give a man 12 pictures and ask him to hang them around the house without being there to tell him where they go. Or expect him to know how tall you are so he can fit the locks on the window screens. And the roofing men, while efficient and good workmen, sang. Constant snatches of popular tunes and TV theme tunes from the 1920s through to now.

It wasn’t M’s fault, it was probably my fault: there was an assumption that because I’m at home all day, I can project manage these things. As I said, did I learn nothing from last summer?

Last week, I did the usual 34 or so hours of paid work. All I can say is, it was handy that M was away for work, because I had the whole of Monday and over half of Tuesday with the roofing men banging and whistling, and most of Wednesday needing to be on hand at various intervals to demonstrate my ability to reach fixings on the frames (I did have tranches of time when I could get on with stuff that day, thanks to Terry’s ability to refrain from singing while working). I had work in which can’t really be done on a laptop, and I certainly needed to be around as the roof men were an unknown quantity and I needed to be on hand for Terry. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up working really late on several evenings in the week, and most of the weekend, two things that I normally pride myself on not having to do any more.

Yes, it’s good to be able to be flexible. No, I don’t feel that I’ve been taken advantage of, apart from by myself. But being flexible because you like a flexible lifestyle or have one dentist appointment at a time unpopular for office workers and working all the hours there are because you’ve booked in too many other responsibilities during the day are two different things.

picture on the landing wall

A picture hanging on the actual wall!

Next time we have work done, we’re going to do this: (a) arrange for me to book some actual time off to look after it, (b) arrange for M to have some time off work to manage at least part of it while I work. I will also try to make sure I have work that I can do with a laptop when I’ve got potentially noisy workmen in.

Well, it’s all part of the learning process, I suppose. How do you manage this kind of thing? Are you put upon, or do you bring it upon yourself?

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A lovely day

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I’ve been making a real effort to take time out for myself and limit the amount of time I spend working on my business to an acceptable level. Part of this plan involves doing more THINGS and spending more time with the people I care about.

On Friday, I realised that a book that a long-term, regular and very nice client of mine, Jude Rogers, has worked on, was being launched at Greenwich Market on Saturday. I was chatting on Skype Instant Messenger with my friend Emma, and it all came together into a beautiful plan …

taylorI booked coach tickets for £18 return and got on a civilised 8.30 coach in Birmingham. I had bought a Kindle copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s “Complete Short Stories” for this very purpose – I have a lovely copy of the book, given to me by my friend Ali, but that’s a bit unwieldy (and lovely) to be shoved into a handbag. So a back-up Kindle copy was ideal, and I managed to get through loads of them on my two coach trips today. Short stories are in a perfect genre for travelling (as are travel books themselves) as you don’t need long swathes of concentration. So, a pleasant journey down.

I’d intended to take a bus journey through Peckham and New Cross, visiting old haunts, but I worried about the time and after asking a surprisingly cheery member of London Underground staff, found myself zipping over to Tower Bridge on the District Line (after my usual procedure of trying to jam a recalcitrant fiver into an Oyster card top-up machine), trotting round to Tower Gateway and confusing myself thoroughly on the DLR. Although I lived in London for 8 years, I didn’t get the DLR very often, and I always either walked or got the bus to Greenwich, so I became temporarily confused and had to do some urgent texting. What did we do before Smartphones?

SAM_0005Anyway, I managed to meet up with my dear friend Emma and her lovely daughters, Beth and Grace (I neglected to take a photo, so this is an old picture of us all from Christmas, but Beth and Grace look pretty much the same while Em and I have different haircuts) at Cutty Sark DLR stop. We then went straight to Greenwich Market to look for the Smoke: A London Peculiar stall.

SAM_0292After wading through the food stalls we found it, and Jude! I’ve been working with Jude since October 2010, so that’s nearly three years, and I’ve done transcriptions for her almost every month since then. We’ve emailed bits and bobs to each other among the professional stuff, as you do, but I’d never even spoken to her on the phone, let alone met her. I think we were equally excited. She climbed out from around the back of the stall to say hello and have a picture, and we had a lovely chat.

SAM_0297And, of course, there was the exciting book. Plus there were back issues of Smoke: A London Peculiar, which is a brilliant magazine with weird and wonderful writing and pictures about London. I bought the first five issues (usually from Foyles) when I lived in London, and I picked up the remaining back issues at the stall, plus the book, “From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea” which looks brilliant. Watch these pages for a review coming soon!

We had a wander around the rest of the market and visited a favourite stall of Em, Grace and Beth – The Fluffy Cosmo (see card in picture below). Even though they only visit once or twice a year, the stallholder clearly recognised the girls and commented on how Beth and Grace grow taller every time, while she herself only grows older! How lovely to have that feeling of community in a big city (mind you, my friends had already proved that by running into an old friend from North London, now living in the Isle of Man, as they waited for me!).

SAM_0296We were a bit hungry by now, so decided to take advantage of the stalls selling food in the market. Em and I had wonderful packed salad boxes from Return to Shashamane, a vegan food stall. Emilia, the stallholder, was lovely, patiently explaining to me what made up all of the different salads – of course, I’m not a vegan, but I do eat vegan quite a lot as I know there won’t be any animal fats in the food. It was absolutely delicious, with pulses, vegetables and carbs, all packed into a cardboard box with a wooden fork, and really good value. We had a chat about blogging (as you do) and I was so pleased to find a lovely lunch I could happily tuck into.

Once we all had picked up some food, we went and sat outside one of the college buildings and chatted in the sun. Em and I have known each other for 20 years now, so we were full of nostalgia and giggles – lovely to just sit and chat and pass the time, no rush and nowhere urgent to go.

SAM_0295Once fortified, we had a bit of a wander round Greenwich. I was disappointed to see that the Greenwich branch of a remaindered bookshop I like had gone, but we had a good search around Casbah Records and chat about music (do I prefer Blur or Oasis? Well, I prefer The Kinks to The Beatles …) and of course I managed to buy a BOOK … well, it’s by another occasional client of mine, so I couldn’t not, could I?

By now we had exhausted Greenwich, so we got the DLR back up into central London and went, of course, to the Charing Cross Road. We had a cuppa in Foyles cafe – Foyles is moving soon, so this was probably my last visit to the old shop. Lots more catching up and giggling and talking about music and books and all sorts. I had a very nice iced latte and then we whipped through the bookshop in search of loos (cafes, bookshops, loos … what’s not to like on this trip?).

SAM_0293I then said goodbye to my friends and wandered down the Charing Cross Road. Can you believe that I only bought two books at Any Amount of Books? To be fair, I didn’t have that much time … I then had a slightly fraught journey to Victoria, catching a very odd bus in the end which was like a modern version of a Routemaster with two staircases and three doors but the familiar narrow seats and lack of headroom of the old buses (I think it was one of these).

After being compelled to eat my salad crouching in front of the parked coach, I embarked for my journey home – more reading and a good journey, arriving 20 minutes early!

What a lovely day. I’m so glad that I have the schedule and the attitude that allowed me to have this spontaneous and excellent day out in London!

Give me a break! Well yes, I will

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Tea! The other month, I had an interesting time with busy-ness and quietness. I’ve been reflecting on it and mulling over this post ever since.  Having been wondering if I’d been overdoing it yesterday, I realised it was time to post this out into the world.

I had had quite a busy week, with one big project and lots of small to medium ones. It involved a lot of juggling, one late night, and a Thursday when I hammered through lots and lots of bits and bobs, to the possible consternation of onlookers. I even had to turn down some work (new work, so as not to let down my current clients) and deflect some other work to my trusty emergency support proofreader, Linda (thanks, again, Linda). Matthew had to cook dinner for an invisible girlfriend, only briefly seen foraging for food and tea …

But I am getting better at taking breaks, honestly. So when it got to the Friday and I’d got through the bits of work I had deadlines for, I then had a lovely long extended lunch break with a friend and her small daughter in the park, and a good long trip to the gym in the early evening, before stopping work for the day. At the weekend, I worked around the rest of my life, working on projects early and when Matthew was out or wanted to watch TV. I even had a good long read in bed after breakfast on Saturday.

The post I wrote about presenteeism has helped me here: I realised that I posted a lot about working on social media, and was perhaps thinking too much about how much I work. I haven’t scaled down what I do, but I’ve been aware of not taking too much on, and have obviously become better at scheduling things in and knowing how long jobs are likely to help. Keeping my reading journal on this blog has helped me to be more aware of making time for reading, and I make an effort to have time for friends and Matthew.

I feel like I’m getting it more right. I look after myself in the busy spells (and can usually predict them so I can work up to them and come to them healthy and relaxed) and don’t panic in the quiet spells, taking that time to have some time out and enjoy myself.

I managed pretty well in the Olympics, watching most of the sport I wanted to see, and fitting my work around it. And I had a holiday in a place without reliable wi-fi at the end of August, and survived, just about, having pre-warned my regular customers that I wouldn’t be very available, and managing to relax about the whole thing.

As it comes up to a year since I left my library job and stopped trying to fit two jobs and the rest of everything into one life, I think I’m getting there with getting the balance. And I’ve also been refining my customer base a bit, which is something for another post.

If you work for yourself, how are you managing with this aspect? Do share!

But … how CAN I be ill?

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I have been asked before “What do you do if you’re ill?” And then I WAS ill, last week. Just a cold, but not very nice.

Obviously I don’t get paid sick days, being self-employed (I have looked into this, with the help of ace accountant, Emily Coltman, from Freeagent and discovered that there is a similar thing to Statutory Sick Pay that you can claim if you’re self-employed). But the odd day or two just get dealt with, basically. Anyway, here’s how I cope with being ill and being self-employed.

Don’t get ill

This is the main one. And it’s not an admonition or a command: it should really read “I don’t get ill”. I had one cold in December 2011 and I’ve had one in September 2012. I honestly don’t recall any in between. The reason must be that I don’t work in an office any more. When I did, I was very careful about not coming in on the first day of an illness, and covering myself liberally with alcohol gel stuff before touching any handles, paperwork, etc. But not everybody was, and so while I didn’t pass all of my bugs on, I certainly caught everything going (once I famously came back from a flu bug only to catch a stomach bug, immediately). Add to that working on a campus full of students from all over the country, and world, or, before that, commuting on the Tube, and there you have it. Now I live in my little home office bubble, and there’s only M to catch things from …

Don’t work through it

When I was employed, if I felt unwell, I’d take the first day of illness off, stay in bed, and would recover much more quickly from the same bug than people who dragged themselves in. Last Christmas, I didn’t do that. I had a fair bit of work on, but I’m sure I could have shuffled it around. But I didn’t, and I was ill for longer than M, who had the same thing but was on holiday from work so not dragging himself anywhere. This time around, I took the first bad day pretty well off, just covering a small bit of work that needed doing urgently. M has dragged himself in with the same bug – and I’m getting over it more quickly.

Do work through it

Well, sometimes there are deadlines that have to be met. But I followed these rules this time, and aim to again:

  • Just do what has to be done. No extras. No blog posts. No spreadsheets, just the work that must be done, then stop
  • Do it at the best time for me – after a decent lunch with some lucozade and painkillers in my case
  • Be kind to myself: it will take longer to do than normal, and that’s fine

This way, I’ve got what needs to be done, done, but have got enough rest, too.

Have back-up

This luckily hasn’t applied this time, but back in the summer I had a somewhat spectacular reaction to an immunisation. Luckily for my clients, I had heroic Linda all set up – literally as a  named back-up for some regulars, but available to have one-off work passed to her, too. There was no way I could work that day, so I let the regulars know to send work to her, and batted any enquiries over to her, too. No loss of professionalism there!

I hope this has helped clear up this mystery. If you’re a self-employed person, how do you cope when you’re ill?

Important stuff for women

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  I was waiting to work out how to pin this onto my topics of working full time, book reviews, e-books or research*. I was trying to work out how the subject area might particularly apply to freelancers, or researchers, or health. But then I thought: what do I do all this for? Helping people. And by talking about this subject, we might be able to help some people. So I’m going to write about it anyway.

Let me introduce you to Anita and Lucy. I came across them in a guest post they did on Alistair Campbell’s blog. He’s well known for being open and honest about – and campaigning about the treatment of – alcoholism and mental health issues. They’re the Soberistas. Alistair, Anita and Lucy have all struggled with alcohol abuse; all of them have kicked the habit; they’re talking about it, and they’re doing something about it, too. That’s the key.

Anita and Lucy have started off by talking about their own battles with alcoholism and are doing so in a straightforward, honest way, with not an ounce of self pity. That’s pretty brave, in my book. Let’s face it, we all know or knew someone who drinks too much; maybe we’ve even been there  ourselves. I know I had a dodgy phase in my 20s where I was in the pub most evenings with colleagues, trying to deal with a difficult work situation by drowning it in alcohol. Luckily I have always been too paranoid about only having myself to fall back on to slip into any addictions, but it’s so easily done. And, like the Soberistas say, there’s an acceptance of middle-class women knocking back bottles of good wine that is rather different to attitudes to a “typical” alcoholic with his bench and meths.

Having fought their own battles, these women then took a good, hard look at how they might have been helped. They were not keen on AA – and while I know that is a great help to many, why shouldn’t people have as many options as possible? And they’ve come up with the idea of the Soberistas website, which will be an online community, a bit like Mumsnet, to support women who are having issues with alcohol.

Soberistas proper will launch in November. I’d recommend following their blog, their Facebook page and/or their Twitter feed – and if you are able, in any way, to give them a bit of support, whether that’s talking about them, sharing this post, inviting them to do a guest blog post, pointing them to resources and resources to them, please do so. I’ve not been asked to do this; I’m certainly not being paid to, but like the other selected causes I support, I think this is a good one and worth a bit of our time and effort. Please join me in wishing the Soberistas well in their laudable campaign.

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*There is a tenuous link. I found out about these brave and inspiring women from an interview on Alistair Campbell’s blog. I wouldn’t have been subscribed to his blog had I not found out what a jolly decent chap he is when I reviewed his book, “The Happy Depressive”. Oh, and Iris Murdoch’s conception of the Good in her novels centres on being actively good and helping others. So it does tie into my main interests on this blog, really!

Iris Murdoch Society Conference – Kingston, 14-15 September 2012

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Paperwork and book from the Iris Murdoch ConferenceI’ve decided to move all my Iris Murdoch stuff over to this blog, so look out for more news on my research project coming soon. But first, let me tell you about my wonderful two days at the Iris Murdoch Society Conference.  At the 5th Conference in 2010, I’d told people about my project reading all of IM’s novels in chronological order, and at this one I was presenting a paper on the research project that has come out of it – so there was a lot riding on this one, but I was looking forward to immersing myself in a Murdochian world for a couple of days, too.

Getting there

I got up at 4am – reminiscent of my trip to see the Olympic marathon!) and was safely on the 5:50 train from New Street station. It was one of those Pendolinos, so it took almost no time and there I was at London Euston. I’d chatted to a chap who was going to a trade show on the way down, so no chance to fret about my paper. I was in London by 7.15, and got the Victoria Line down to Vauxhall. I didn’t love my eight years living in London, but it does come in handy when it comes to knowing how to get around the place! I was in Vauxhall by 7.30 and popped to the overground station, getting a Kingston train at 7.46 and arriving in Kingston at 8.15. Map out, striding down the road, and there I was at the University of Kingston, Penryn Road by 8.35. Not bad for having left the house at 5.00!

As soon as I arrived I saw my friend Pamela behind the book table – she was the person who encouraged me to come to the last one, and we’ve been in touch ever since, so it was lovely to see her again. I set all my stuff down, took a few layers of clothing off (it turns out to be colder in Birmingham at 5:00 am than it is in Kingston at 8:45 after a brisk walk!) and said hello to a few people. A couple of the first people I met were artists, Carolyn Bell and Carol Sommer – Carolyn does marvellous drawings of Murdoch characters, and Carol was in my panel, Oblique Approaches, talking about her art installations (more on that later). I chatted to them and a few other people, and settled in. Oh, and bought a book: “Iris Murdoch: A Literary Life” by Priscilla Martin and Anne Rowe. Well, it was on special offer and I couldn’t have justified it at full price …

Friday morning – plenaries and panels

First up was a welcome from Meg Jensen from the School of Humanities at Kingston, and Anne Rowe, Director of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies at the University, who welcomed us on behalf of the Iris Murdoch Society (of which I am, of course, a member). This led straight into a fascinating lecture by Professor Charles Lock on the novelist John Cowper Powys and Iris Murdoch. Cooper Powys wrote his own baggy monsters of novels, which I am now desperate to read, and we learnt a lot about such large, realist novels and IM’s love of Cooper Powys novels, which worked their way into her own. He also shared some memories of knowing IM, which was lovely.

After a tea break, it was time for the first panel sessions. What a nightmare choosing! There were 5, of which only one was a scary philosophy one I couldn’t understand. Pamela and I had decided not to go to each other’s, for fear of making each other nervous (and we have swapped papers now anyway), so I plumped for “The Comfort of Creatures: Animals in Murdoch’s Late Fiction” – and what a good choice that was.

Priscilla Martin started things off with a lovely run through various cats and dogs in the fiction, and their relation to the moral development of the characters. Paul Hullah then basically redeemed Jackson’s Dilemma, the upsetting final novel, for me, with a beautiful poem of IM’s on horses and a talk about the horses in the novel. Beautiful – and really made me feel better about that novel. Marc Keith rounded things off with his first ever conference paper, a well-organised and very enjoyable run through dogs in IM, particularly as an initial step in overcoming one’s Self and moving towards goodness. There were some great questions at the end, too.

Friday afternoon – more panels

Having had a slight panic over the lunch (all sorted out by the excellent conference assistants and redeemed by a lovely young lady in the canteen downstairs) I was getting really tired, and sat quietly with Pamela instead of going to the next plenary – which I feel awful and stupid about, as Anne Chisholm was absolutely lovely when I spoke to her later on, and I had read a fascinating article by her in the Guardian a few days previously. I was worried I wouldn’t have the stamina for the two lots of panels afterwards. And at least this way I did, and I’m glad I did.

The first panel after lunch was on “Chaos and Comedy in Murdoch’s Late Fiction”. I’d already met Josh McCall, one of the presenters, at the tea break, and couldn’t resist the discussion of The Book and the Brotherhood and The Philosopher’s Pupil that was promised. Up first, Tanya Bennet talked about history and the personal being in opposition, and about Jenkin’s scapegoating in the former novel. Donna Gessell talked about the way The Green Knight constantly undermines its own structures with disruptions. Then Josh gave a great paper on the ending of The Philosopher’s Pupil and how it plays havoc with notions of the author/reader/narrator. This book is apparently discussed as a failure – well, I like it a lot, and I saluted Josh for being another person working on his IM projects as side projects to a full, busy other life. We had a nice chat about the Cambridge Latin Course (as you do!) afterwards. Pamela did a great job of chairing this panel – a nerve-wracking undertaking in its own right.

After a short break, more treats, with a shorter, two-person panel. This time I chose “Agents of Power and Morality”, with Michelle Austin, a stalwart Facebook friend of mine, giving an excellent paper on ghostly agents of morality in Jackson’s Dilemma and The Green Knight, with a wonderful mention of Mary Poppins and the strange role of Mir and his “belligerent mysticsim”. Then Adriana Ruta talked about the books being constructed on melodramatic principles, which pull readers in with their appropriation of genre conceits. I was mightily cheered about my own research when I realised that I do understand more about the German reception theorists than I thought I did, and I had some good chats with Adriana about this.

Friday evening – food and drink

After the panel sessions it was time for the wine reception – had some great chats with various people, and met Rivka Isaacson’s (very) small daughter, Netta, properly – the youngest delegate by, oh, 20 years or so! Pamela, Monica from Brazil and I ended up going to Wagamama for our dinner, after popping by my hotel to check me in first (this taking longer than expected because the guy at the reception desk had his arm in a splint and found it hard to write!). I was so tired by the time they dropped me back at my hotel; I had a little catch-up online, thus justifying dragging the small laptop down with me, and a very short read and a chat with Matthew then slept quite well.

Saturday morning – the fear, the fear!

I hadn’t been feeling The Fear too much about my paper, but started to get nervous. What if it had somehow dissolved in my folder and disappeared? (Never mind the fact that I also had it on a pen drive and had emailed it to myself!) I had my breakfast-in-a-box gubbins at the hotel (lots of stuff I shouldn’t eat but I know I can manage this stuff just about, having had it before) and then walked down to the University. I was so nervous by this point that I convinced myself that I’d gone the wrong way when I really hadn’t! Carol and I had a moment of worry but then reassured ourselves. I couldn’t have been with a better panel, with Carol, Rivka and lovely, calm Frances White doing the chairing.

But before we had to face our fear, there was another plenary, this time by Sabina Lovibond, who was talking about whether the Baggy Monsters are “realist” novels. This was very interesting and I was pleased I was managing to follow it all. Then a cup of tea, another trip to the loo, a hot cross bun in case of fainting, and it was time to drag ourselves round to Room 2011 for “Oblique Approaches to the Work of Iris Murdoch”.

I was lucky enough to be up first. Frances introduced us all to an audience of the great and the good – a decent turnout including Chris Boddington, one of the contributors to my research as he’d submitted a review of The Bell for me to look at, as well as Anne Rowe, whose encouragement has meant so much to me. Giving the paper is a bit of a blur. I know I stumbled on occasion but used Marc’s tip of running my finger down the side of the text so I could look up and not lose my place. I know I ad-libbed a bit and got a few more laughs than I’d perhaps expected. People seemed to enjoy it as I ran through my Murdoch-A-Month reading group, the questionnaire I applied to them and their thoughts on the Baggy Monsters, plus some initial findings from my 25 book groups that read The Bell. It was a relief to sit down and know I’d got through it!

Sketch of Liz presenting

Liz presenting – with kind permission of Carolyn Bell

We then had a fascinating presentation from Rivka about synthetic biology and the way it could be brought to bear on the networks in The Book and the Brotherhood, ending with the assertion that arts and sciences are not as far apart as we think. There is always plenty to think about and of interest in Rivka’s presentations, and we were all touched when a Japanese delegate came up to her at the end to shake her hand and tell that he was a neuroscientist! Then Carol Sommer gave what was undoubtedly the coolest paper of the conference, introducing the art works she has made in response to IM’s novels. These were just amazing – text-based pieces with a wry humour that raised chuckles of recognition. I particularly liked her business cards, which included statements by various IM characters on one side, but it was all just marvellous. There are some examples here on her website.  Then it was question time. I got a few, but nothing I couldn’t handle (thank goodness!). Frances’ delightful Mum noted that when first married, they couldn’t afford many books but bought several of IM’s novels from their book club and read them together. Someone asked if I was going to look at the response of male as opposed to female readers – interesting question indeed! Oh, and Carolyn drew a sketch of me presenting, which she kindly photographed and sent over to me!

Saturday afternoon – plenary, goodbyes and hats

What a relief it was to sit down and eat a lovely lunch with all that worry gone. Then it was time for an update from the Archivist, Katie Giles (I always like to go to this one, as an ex-librarian) and a reading from IM’s letters to Philippa Foot, beautifully done by Priscilla Martin, then the last plenary of the day – Philip Hensher on Iris Murdoch as a 1980s writer. This was really well done and interesting, and he raised a point I’d never thought of – having loved IM’s novels as a teenager, he then never thought to discuss them in his English degree. I did exactly the same, but didn’t realise until I heard him talking about it. I bravely asked a question at the end of this one, feeding in to my study of people reading IM for joy rather than study. Then Anne Rowe rounded up the day (mentioning our panel!) and said goodbye.

There was a pub trip, but I thought I’d better get myself across London so I said goodbye to friends new and more established, looking forward to seeing them next time. A quick walk up to the station, then Friday’s journey in reverse. So sad that it was all over – and I was missing the walk in London on the Sunday, as I had too much work to get home for. I had quite a long time at Euston in the end, but got some dinner before getting on the 18:45 train home, getting in at 20:15.

Liz in Murdochian hat I remembered to take a photo of myself in a rather Murdochian hat I happen to have, but had forgotten to show Pamela. On the train, with the world whizzing by me. And then I was home, and it was over for another two years.

Final musings

I had such a good time, and it was made better by feeling I had validated myself by having some research to present on. I was also cheered to see how far I’d come with my research in the two years since I mentioned my reading group at the last Conference – I must remember that when I think it’s going slowly. I understood the sessions I attended, asked questions, talked IM, IM, IM with a load of other enthusiasts, and had some time out for me. All good. Roll on the 7th Conference in 2014!

Please note: this blog post is made up of my own impressions only and has no relationship to any formal account of the event which may be put out. I apologise if I have misrepresented anyone’s research or missed anyone out who I met and spoke to!

Back to school …

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Ink pots on a deskThe autumn is a traditional time of renewal and change for me. Decisions are made, changes are implemented.  In the past I’ve bought a flat (and sold it) and made plans to move in with my partner in the autumn, left jobs and started jobs. Of course I also made the big decision as to when to go full time with Libro last autumn! It always feels like the start of something; not the slow decline into winter, the ageing of the year, but a time of renewal, warmth indoors and frosts outdoors, time in my head, not time with the sun soaking into my skin …

I think this is probably more to do with the UK academic year than anything else. And, in connection with that, this Autumn feels more than a little odd.

I did some pondering about this and I realised that there have been very few years in the 40 I’ve been on this earth so far in which I haven’t had some kind of “back to school” feeling. And yet I don’t have that this year. To break this down …

  • 1972-1975 – Too young for school!
  • 1975-1992 – At primary then secondary school, then University, then working at the University Library.
  • 1993-1995 – No back to school! Working in various jobs
  • 1996-2004 – Working at EBSCO. Our renewals period was Sept-Oct each year, so that felt like the start of a new year all over again
  • 2005-2011 – Working at the University Library. No, contrary to popular opinion, we didn’t have the summer off, but of course back came the students after the pause of the summer vac, and it all started again …

So that’s, what, 7 years out of 40 when I haven’t been somehow going Back To School in one form or another. No wonder I feel a bit odd!

Back to work

In some ways, this autumn does feel like going “back to” something. We had quite an odd summer, all in all. We had workmen in through the summer, not just lovely Terry the decorator, but a door man and a hedge man. This meant a change to my routine – as I am by default “The one who’s at home” I had to be dressed reasonably normally, able to answer questions, and making decisions on all sorts of things. I had some time off work for the Olympics, but because we had a “real” holiday booked, I couldn’t be as unavailable as I’d have maybe liked to be, so I ended up scrabbling around working between TV viewing, and it wasn’t as satisfactory as it might have been.

Then we DID have our holiday, and that was lovely, and I learned that I CAN have an actual week away from the internet connection (and even phone connection) and Libro wouldn’t dissolve into nothing.

And then I had my Iris Murdoch Conference (more of that later) and now I’m back and starting into the run of working life up to Christmas.

So, what’s changed?

It’s still my time of change and renewal, and I guess it always will be. Fine – some people’s season and renewal is the spring, some the summer (what’s yours?) and mines’ the autumn. In a way, this feels like the start of Libro full time, more than January did. I’ve been able to reflect on the past 9 months, see what’s worked and what hasn’t, and have a think about the way forward.

There are no big changes coming, nothing exciting, nothing shocking. I do know I’ve been working a bit too hard, a few too many hours. Some of that is unavoidable – other people’s deadlines slipping, and crashing into work that’s already been booked in. I’m getting good at batting away all other small new jobs when that kind of thing happens. I’ve also built up a good roster of people to whom I can refer work I don’t have time – or don’t choose – to do, which means I can say “no”, but, crucially, I can say, “But I can give you the name of a person who might be able to help” – and that makes me feel better.

I’m lucky enough to have a good set of regular clients. Over this year, I’ve become more choosy over who I add to my client list – clients I think will become regulars, the kind of work I enjoy doing, the financial aspects that make it worth doing – or with the less well-paid gigs, other factors such as enjoyment of the actual work.  I’m looking at the areas of work I do and paying attention to what I like doing and what I don’t enjoy so much. Some aspects of my work will diminish in importance as a result of this sifting. And I’m glad to have people, as I said, to refer new prospects on to if they come to me. For example, I don’t think I’m going to take on many Master’s coaching students this year. They are interesting to work with, but the unpredictability of the inevitably urgent work makes it hard to plan my week and be able to support the students. Luckily I know a great woman who is brilliant at taking students through their academic year, so off they go to help her build her business!

Autumnal balance

Autumn’s a time of balance, isn’t it. The year on the balance, tipping into the end of the year, towards the depths of winter. So there’s going to be more balance here. Watching those autumn TV programmes with Matthew.  Taking advantage of our new RSPB membership. Spending some time on my research project. Relaxing a bit now I’m half way through the financial year and know how I’m doing …

It might not be back to school for me this year, but it is back to a more balanced life, after a frankly odd summer.  How’s it going for you?

Book reviews – Summer Daydreams, Toute Allure, All in the Mind, Almost French

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Here is the rest of my holiday reading from August (I had to review Losing my Voice and Finding Another earlier because it was a review copy) …

Carole Matthews – “Summer Daydreams”

(Kindle August 2012)

I bought this cheap on Kindle because Carole is lovely on Facebook and I know other people who like her books. Although this is a genre (chick-lit? woman-lit?) I rarely read, I enjoyed this fun tale of Nell, chip shop waitress turned handbag designer, her husband, Olly, nicely portrayed, especially when he gets his own slice of the action (which is hilarious), their delightfully written small daughter, Petal, and various other chip shop colleagues. Light and nicely done – an ideal holiday read, and some good laughs. Some bad editing let Carole down, but it is being resolved (I have to mention this in case anyone else has read it and noticed the editing issues and thought I hadn’t done!).

Karen Wheeler – “Toute Allure: Falling in Love in Rural France”

(BookCrossing 07 July 2012)

Promoted up the TBR so I could take BookCrossing books on holiday and leave them there. Memoir of life in a French village, centering around men, line-dancing expats and a small black dog. Obviously a sequel (to Tout Sweet), it would be ideal to read that first, but you pick things up, and it’s a nice, long, satisfying read about her life and adventures, even if a bit man-obsessed. I have to admit that this was a slightly odd read on a Scottish holiday, as I kept thinking we were in France (and I read another book set in France, too!).

Alistair Campbell – “All in the Mind”

(BookCrossing 25 February 2012)

I picked this up because my friend, Meg, pressed it upon me, and because I’ve already read Campbell’s “The Happy Depressive” and was interested to read his novel on the subject. I was not disappointed. Martin Sturrock is a top psychiatrist, entrusted with the care of a range of people, from a Kosovan refugee to a Cabinet Minister, and his favourite patient, David, who expresses his own and Martin’s depression in a way that is both lyrical and precise.

Over the course of a long weekend, several lives appear to start to unravel, including Sturrock’s own, spiralling into boundaries being overstepped in a variety of ways, both positive and negative. Thoughtful, very perceptive about men’s and women’s experiences, and with a surprise denouement that is part of a schema or process of surprises that leave the book with a hopeful and positive ending, notwithstanding the somewhat brutal events along the way.

Recommended, especially for the eloquent portrayal of depression.

Sarah Turnbull – “Almost French: A New Life in Paris”

(BookCrossing 28 April 2012)

Another one promoted up the TBR so I could read and leave, although I have realised to my absolute horror that I was meant to send it back to the original owner – sorry, Sandy!

A really well done expat book written by an Australian woman who falls in love with a French man, only to have to transform herself from a shorts-wearing, direct and friendly girl into a composed, well-dressed and distant almost-Frenchwoman, complete with groomed and whitened pet dog. It’s honestly put, with no self-pity and a lot of humour, and naturally structured rather than in themed chapters. Social gatherings and both people’s friends and families are particularly well portrayed, and it feels like it truly is a reflection of life in France.

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