State of the TBR March 2015


March 2015 To Be ReadWell, here’s the current state of the TBR and I have chipped away at it a bit since February’s excesses, even though some books have come in (more on those later) and I didn’t feel like I’d been reading much this last month. The front row ends with Dolly Parton. At least I was fairly frugal with my acquisitions last summer, so I’ll be on September’s books soon, which feels a bit better.

I’m currently reading Karen Armstrong’s “The Spiral Staircase”, which is about her post-nunhood life, and is OK although there were a few themes I wish they’d highlighted in the blurb. Not getting into the trigger warnings debate, but when there are two main themes and the blurb only mentions one, it’s a bit annoying. I’ve also finished but not yet reviewed Iain Sinclair’s “Edge of the Orison” which was Quite Hard but makes a nice mental-health related pair with the Armstrong, and Vita Sackville-West’s “The Edwardians”, recently also read by Ali, which has intersections with the world of the Forsytes, handily enough.

March 2015 upcoming readingComing up on the TBR, I have two books about the Vikings – the first one is a biography of Snorri Sturluson, who collected many of the sagas together in manuscript form but was also a bit warlike himself (I’ve been to his house, which was very exciting), and a more picture-book style one on the Vikings in general. This will be good preparation for our upcoming return trip to Iceland (I also have that lovely book of sagas to continue dipping into. Then I have Nick Hornby’s reading diary, what I’d call some “easy” books – one on rock stars’ children and two novels by the lovely Helen Cross, before diving into some Iris Murdoch stuff and some slightly elderly literary theory which should help with my Iris Murdoch research (so I’d better get on and get my new business books written before I get there, right?).

Of course I’ll also be reading my third book in the Forsyte Saga, “To Let”, which will conclude the first three-volume set, and I might start my next Anthony Trollope, too, although that might need to stretch over a couple of months.

Race Horse Holiday Josephine Pullein-Thompson and Mr TeaIn acquisitions / confessions, I fear I’ve missed a few as I have had a couple more in from lovely friends, but I’ve lost track so you’ll have to see those as I read them (in the “fullness of time”, as I somewhat euphemistically call it). I had a small bonanza on Saturday, first of all collecting Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s “Race Horse Holiday” and a very amusing tea infuser from the parcel office, courtesy of my friend Verity. I can’t believe she found one I didn’t already have, but so she did! And it fills in 1971 in my Century of Reading, too – hooray!

Philip Hensher The Missing InkAnd then in The Works, I found Philip Hensher’s book about handwriting, “The Missing Ink”, which was on my wishlist, so one down, 3,000,000 to go off that list and it looks like a lovely read. I read seven books in February, but I should have a couple of bus and train journeys this month which will encourage some nice long bouts of reading, so here’s to a good reading month for everybody. What are you tackling? Have you read any of my upcoming books?

Lovely, lovely books … more and more of them …


Birthday booksIt’s that time of year when my TBR goes **POP** and I don’t mind at all, because there are worse addictions, aren’t there! There’s Christmas, then there’s my birthday, and in between, for the last few years, I’ve seen my friend Elaine, from Chicago, who I met in the LibraryThing Virago Group – she comes over for a Shakespeare conference in Stratford every January, and we seem to alternate between meeting in Stratford and meeting in Birmingham. Some other Viragoites tend to come up as well, so we have a nice little gathering. This year, there was a meetup in London, too, which I couldn’t fit in, so it was a small group of four of us (Claire, Luci, Elaine and me) who met in town and took the bus to Kings Heath.

Liz, Claire, Elaine

Once in Kings Heath, we “did” the charity shops, and had lunch at the lovely Kitchen Garden Cafe, where, incidentally, I’d been for a birthday tea on Saturday and had received several suspiciously book-shaped parcels. We also visited the Kings Heath Village Square and “did” the labyrinth, which is a lovely meditative experience, reading quotations by wise people from different traditions and looking at the lovely mosaics (done by a friend’s sister, in a classic of Two Degrees Of South Birmingham). Unfortunately, it was so sunny that my pictures of the four of us came out with me looking very odd indeed and all of us with our eyes shut. This is me, Claire and Elaine, plus the rather menacing finger of my glove.

Kings Heath Village Square LabyrinthBut here we all are, standing in the middle of the labyrinth. There you find a smaller version of the labyrinth set in metal into the pavement. And can you see? In the middle of that labyrinth, there’s another teeny-tiny one! Anyway, there in our sensible shoes, from 12 o’clock, are Elaine, Luci, me and Claire.

On to more charity shops … Because of those book-shaped parcels, I was verrrrry careful about what I picked up for myself , concentrating on books that nobody was likely to have bought for me already. In fact, I had a near miss, as I picked up an Ann Tyler I hadn’t yet read, wondered if I’d like it, *immediately* regretted leaving it, then unwrapped it the next morning from a lovely book parcel! The Oxfam Books in KH, usually a good source of Viragoes, was closed for refurbishment, so we popped on the bus up to Moseley and visited the lovely big one there.

So, what did I come home with?

Charity shop book findsWell, first of all, Luci had one of her bulging sacks of books with her. It’s always exciting when she does this, and this time I picked out a copy of E.R. Braithwaite’s “To Sir, With Love” in the Windmill edition in which I first read it, and “The House in Norham Gardens” by Penelope Lively, which I haven’t read for years. In the shops, I selected a Georgette Heyer I didn’t yet have (“The Black Moth”) and New Statesman writer Laurie Penny’s “Penny Red”, which is signed. Then we have the next best thing to a first edition of Iris Murdoch’s first novel, “Under the Net”, in the first Reprints Society edition from 1955 (actually, the price of the proper first has now dropped and I’m seriously considering springing for a copy or maybe asking my friends to contribute to a copy next birthday …) and Pagan Kennedy’s novel, “Spinsters” – I read Kennedy’s book about her zine a while ago, so it was nice to find this – also signed! And that was it!

I took my friends back into town on the bus, where we met Genny and Ali, two more Birmingham Viragoites. They all went off to see the Cathedral and go to a lovely cafe, and I went home again, tired but happy wending my way etc. etc. to find that I hadn’t quite got away with it and a couple of my clients had noticed I was skiving off. They were OK about it, though!

I had saved the gifts from my tea party until the day itself, so I had something to open. And what a lovely array of Things to Open I had. This is a book blog, so I’ll concentrate on the books …

Birthday booksI knew about the Mollie Panter-Downes “Minnie’s Room” because I bought it myself when I went down to the Persephone bookshop in November, then passed it to Ali to wrap up for my birthday. Ali also chose me “Bombay Stories” by Saadat Hasan Manto, which has The. Most. Beautiful. cover ever (which I will share when I come to read it). The Vintage Classics are a lovely series. Gill gave me “That Dorky Homemade Look” by Lisa Boyer, which looks hilarious and is all about learning to quilt and accepting if you do it badly. As More Sewing is one of my “things” for 2015, this will be both amusing and instructive. Jen put together a lovely square parcel of three books, Anne Tyler’s “The Beginner’s Goodbye”, Susan Cain’s “Quiet” which is that one about introverts everyone’s been reading, and David Bellos’ “Is That a Fish in your Ear?” which is about translation. What treats!

birthdayIn addition to various lovely book-related and Boots tokens and some pampery treats, I also opened a lovely Banned Books bracelet from Meg, a fab Scrabble mug from Sian, Scrabble coasters and tea from Laura (did they coordinate on purpose?) and amazing mugs from Linda. I’m so pleased to be able to move away from my tatty purple mugs and have something lovely to choose from each tea time! I’d actually seen one of these personalised authors’ mugs on someone else’s Facebook feed and had a twinge of jealousy, and there one is, and with my married name, which is lovely!

APA StylebookAs I’m sharing book acquisitions here, I feel duty-bound to add in one more that arrived on my birthday – not as thrilling to everyone as the others, but exciting for me. So exciting that I wrote a blog post about it over on my business blog! This editing style is one I don’t use that much, but I’ve got a big project using it and it’s quite different, so I picked up another book to add to my reference shelf.

Phew. A long post full of STUFF. Have you read any of these books? Do you have a different mug for each kind of tea you have? (I’m thinking of pairing mugs and tea now, officially!). When do you think I’ll reach these January acquisitions and review them here, given that I read my TBR in order of receipt?!

A day off


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!

Book reviews – The Gentry and Between You and I and two confessions


June 2013 TBRToday we have for your enjoyment two books that look back at the past. One celebrates what has been and how it has changed, flourished, dipped and held on, the other is, in a way, trying to hold on to the past, even though it claims it isn’t. Intrigued? Read on. While you’re reading on, you will notice some book confessions at the end. Oh dear, and so much for my claim that I wasn’t likely to acquire many books this month (three isn’t “many”, is it?) – but you’ll see that none of it is My Fault …

Adam Nicolson – “The Gentry”

(22 Nov 2012)

A spectacular and amazing book that did not deserve to be in the remaindered bookshop. What were people thinking, not buying this? I see that there is a paperback edition now, but I’m glad that I’ve got the hardback, as it’s definitely one to keep.

Nicolson takes the stories of various gentry families (the gentry being defined, loosely, as the squire and MP class, below the aristocrats with their safe money, just above but dipping into the professional class, and clinging to this often precarious position) that have been active during various times from the 1410s to the present day and uses a combination of meticulous research, beautiful writing and the ability to tell a jolly good story to bring their lives, relationships and concerns vividly to life, capturing small details and personal testimonies and seeming to revel in the process himself.

Some of the 17th century stories were told in his TV series, “The Century that Wrote Itself”, but it’s so nice to have them written down on paper, although with fewer images, obviously (more of these can be found on the book’s website), and without Nicolson’s energetic stile-leaping and bicycle riding. That took a slightly different angle: while the written documents are still highlighted as an amazing source of information, perfectly preserved in all its details, the families are placed much more within their context and social history. The book as a whole is moving, honest, not extrapolating past the sources into “must have felt” this and “should have done that”, and letting the voices of the subject shine through – the best kind of history writing, in my opinion. Flexible like the families about notions of gentry, but also looking at how that term has been defined over the centuries. It brings us right up to date in the last chapters, skillfully weaving the experiences of the modern-day gentry into their context and history. Magnificent.

There is a good website to back up the book and provide more information on its contents – what a good idea!

Adam Nicolson is one of those authors whose books I will ALWAYS buy, no matter what the subject. Others include Hunter Davies and Andrew Marr. Whose books will you always pick up, whatever the topic?

James Cochrane – “Between You and I”

(25 December 2012)

Drawn from columns in The Times, fulminations on incorrect usage, etc. While the previous book is flexible and accepting of change, this one is a little reactionary, although it does claim to understand about descriptive rather than prescriptive description of language. Many of the topics are valid, with just a few being very old-fashioned. Many of the Troublesome Pairs that I’ve blogged about were there, and I made a few notes on new ones to include, and it was an amusing and interesting read.


July 2013 1My friend Verity, who is very good at book parcels, sent me a parcel with some great socks and these two books, which she thought I might fancy.  And, indeed, I do. The first is a history of the London Underground through the voices of people involved and using it, just my sort of thing, and the second is a novel involving vigorous exercise: I don’t read much that looks as chick-litty as this but I do let books with running and the sort through, and this looks like a light and fun read, which is always a useful thing to have around the place. These two will need to languish in the TBR pile for a bit while I Re-Read in July …

July 2013 2This one will need to be read soon, though, as it was kindly sent to me by the publishers and is out today! It’s the second in a pony book trilogy featuring a male central character, Joe, written by modern pony book author, Victoria Eveleigh. I very much enjoyed the first volume in the trilogy, which I reviewed back in May, and I can’t wait to start this one! Thank you, Orion Children’s Books!


I’m currently deep into my Month of Re-Reading, which is always fun! I’ve got a biography of Barbara Pym and Stuart Maconie’s autobiography on the go at the moment, although I have lots of novels to dip into, too. Don’t forget to tell me which authors’ names on the front of a book will always make you pick up that book!

Book reviews – Mummy’s Boy and Reading the Oxford English Dictionary


June 2013 TBRSince I moved to reviewing two books per blog post in more detail, rather than three random ones, I’ve liked to match them in some way – whether it’s pairs of books about the same person, books rooted in place, books by contemporaries, books by favourite authors … I will admit to having taken books slightly out of the order in which I read them (but not mixing books from two months, oh no!) in order to achieve this, but the pairings do seem to fall quite naturally.

I was  a bit stumped as to what to pair with this Larry Lamb autobiography, however, until I realised that pairs can be made out of contrasts. So, here goes: one of these books is about a man who can never sit still, who flibbertygibbets between jobs (not even staying in a major soap opera long) and changes his partner with alarming regularity. The other is about a man who devotes a full year to doing only one thing, and that thing involves sitting in one of two chairs and reading the same book every day. Read on to find out more!

Larry Lamb – “Mummy’s Boy”

(22 November 2012)

Admittedly, I knew nothing of Lamb when I picked up this book, apart from his lovely character in the Gavin and Stacey series and the fact that he appeared in Eastenders as a villain. Unfortunately, he turns out not to be that attractive a character in real life, and not especially nice, especially to the (many) women in his life. He doesn’t seem to have got a huge amount of self-knowledge from the extensive therapy sessions he describes attending and although he does tell stories against himself, the book never really engages and doesn’t exactly light up the page. To be honest, he seems more fond of his house in France than most of his girlfriends, and the final chapters of the book, when he goes back to a couple of the locations of his youth, seem really muddled and an afterthought (there is a good bit about his appearance on Who Do You Think You Are, however). One that I’m glad I purchased cheaply from The Works, and will probably go on the BookCrossing pile.

This read did make me think: I’ve read quite a few “celebrity” autobiographies (and I have more on the TBR) – have many of them (any of them?) been actually any good as works of autobiography? What about you? Discuss!

Ammon Shea – “Reading the Oxford English Dictionary”

(25 December 2012, a present from my friend Jen, who knows my reading taste and my wish list well)

In this slim volume, Shea describes sitting in one of two chairs (one in his flat, one in the basement of his local library) reading the Oxford English Dictionary. The whole, multi-volume one with the very small print (he does end up with a prescription for glasses!) that comes in a series of boxes and has to supplant other dictionaries on his bookshelves. Because this isn’t one of those pranky, “apropos of nothing” quests: dictionaries were already his favourite reading matter – he even lives with a lexicographer and he’s startled to find himself considered an oddity at a lexicography convention – no one actually reads the things from cover to cover, do they?

So, we end up with twenty-six chapters, which have either something about the experience of the reading project – finding a place outside the apartment to read, the physical effects, or what it’s like when you start to come to the end of a project like this – or something dictionary-related – the history of the form, errors, etc. We are then given a choice selection of words and definitions – mainly written by Shea himself – that are amusing, strange, horrible or a mixture of the three. I imagine that he carefully chose these so that everyone knows at least a few of them; or is that just me?

A gentle and engaging read. We’re lost with the author when he gets to the end, and I love the descriptions of him littering the apartment with scraps of paper with hieroglyphical instructions to himself inscribed upon them. I was more pleased than perhaps I should have been when I discovered that, during one exercise bike section, I had read exactly half of this book …


Currently reading: next up to review is Adam Nicholson’s “The Gentry” finished at last, but also sadly, and another book about the English language. One more book, perhaps, then it’s on to A Month of Re-Reading in July!

Book reviews – Two books on Iris Murdoch


June 2013 TBRI had a bit of an Iris Murdoch phase back in September 2012, buying a couple of books from an IM society colleague and picking one up at the IM Conference.  I’m trying to space those out a little, as you can have too much of a good thing (plus I don’t have many books on IM and like to savour them), but then I was also offered a review copy of another one in e-book form, so I thought I might as well group two of them here. Reading these two books took me back to the wonders of the Iris Murdoch A Month Project (reading all of her novels in publication order over a number of years) and the flabby progress of my own research, but as long as I keep reading and thinking about her, I’m sure that will be fine in the end!

Farzaneh Naseri-Sis – “The Dramatic in Iris Murdoch’s Fiction”

(24 September 2012)

The first thing I noticed about the book was that it was a thesis pretty well printed directly in book form. This has its place, of course, and allows researchers to send their research into the wide world, but this was obviously quite cheaply produced, being created straight from the file of the PhD, with the most noticeable effect being the very small print and double spacing. The small print strained my eyes, and the double spacing and Times font uncomfortably reminded me of my day-job proofreading PhDs, and I sometimes had to struggle to retain my reader’s, rather than editor’s, brain as I read it.

That said, it was an interesting read and a competent piece of research. It takes The Nice and the Good, The Black Prince and The Sea, The Sea, and looks at their use of the characters and situations of drama, and particularly their echo and parody of the forms, structures, language and characters of, respectively, As You Like It / Love’s Labours Lost, Hamlet and The Tempest. Each section on each book also contained a discussion of its demonstration of Murdoch’s philosophy of the dramatic, mainly encapsulated in the idea of the journey towards ‘unselfing’ which I have read about in other works. These last sections do seem a bit incongruous compared with the more whole studies of the books and, essentially, Shakespeare, and I wonder if this work was built up from a slightly less wide-ranging Master’s or MPhil originally.

The work is competent and well done, although I couldn’t help noticing a few typos and stylistic inconsistencies. It was particularly good on The Sea, The Sea, whether because the author had got into her stride by then or because The Nice and the Good addresses Shakespeare/his comedies in general rather than those particular plays. It would have been a better read if rejigged as a book rather than a thesis, although at least it didn’t have those sections on methodology and ontology that every student seems to be forced to write these days, so small mercies there. A decent addition to my Murdoch collection.

Jeffrey Meyer – “Remembering Iris Murdoch: Letters and Interviews”

(ebook June 2013 from the publisher)

Disclaimer: Although I am studying Iris Murdoch in my spare time and a member of the Iris Murdoch Society, and was presumably sent this book on one of those premises, I am by no means an expert or an IM “scholar” and my reaction to and review of this book represents my personal opinion as someone outside the IM and academic sector.

Palgrave, the publisher, kindly offered me an ebook of this new book by Jeffrey Meyer, who appears from his bibliography to be an indefatigable literary biographer and who has also interviewed Iris Murdoch and written articles about her. This book collects together an extended essay about IM and the author’s relationship with her; letters from IM to the author over the course of their friendship until her death; reprints of two interviews conducted by the author with IM and printed in the Paris Review and Denver Quarterly; and an essay on the books written about IM after her death by those close to her.

The memoir / essay that opens the book starts off surprisingly with the slightly snide insinuation that IM won the Booker Prize with “The Sea, The Sea” because she was friends with the chair of the committee. It then settles down to a personal and somewhat confiding exploration of her life – concentrating on the sexuality side of things, although the rest of the sections of the book leave this alone – and then of Meyer’s friendship with her, with very personal physical descriptions of IM, including her decline. This made the book seem to me to be more suited to the Murdoch adept or scholar rather than as an introductory text; it does give a different aspect to the views of IM and it’s always of interest to read about people who have met and been close to her.

The letters are all from IM to JM, and it would have been good to have the full correspondence. Her letters are sweet, kind, interested and slight gossipy on occasion and remind me that we really DO need a Collected Letters, although I imagine that this would be quite a large project. There is a lot about Meyers’ own novels; it’s good to see writers supporting other writers and a wider context would leaven the concentration on just one writer. We get insights into IM’s interest in other contemporary authors such as Timothy Mo, Anita Brookner and Vikram Seth (the last rather oddly footnoted as being the author of “Two Lives” rather than the better-known “A Suitable Boy”) and the insight that she does not like reading other people’s books about her. She also displays an antipathy to Women’s Studies which maybe explains the difficulty of applying a feminist literary theory to her novels, although she is glad that Somerville resists the introduction of men to the college and is pro women priests. Information on the staging of the play of “The Black Prince” is also useful; this crops up again in the interviews. It becomes heartbreaking towards the end of the letter sequence – it’s a personal book so I feel I’m permitted a personal reaction here – as IM begins to forget how to write a novel and starts to get tired and make mistakes. It was a moving surprise to find some letters from John Bayley rounding off the letter sequence.

The Paris Review and Denver Quarterly articles are fascinating (although part or all of these have been previous published in Gillian Dooley’s “From a Tiny Corner in the House of Fiction” published in 2003). There is a good deal of detail about how IM planned and wrote her novels, and about goodness, particularly the ‘good’ writer expunging themselves from their own novels as the good characters seek to become invisible and ‘unselfed’. There were also some nice passages about the ‘ideal reader’ which I’ve noted down for my own research. The deleted sections are interesting, although it might have been more useful to include these, marked in some way, in the text of the article itself, for continuity’s sake.

The extended essay about the books written after IM’s death by A.N. Wilson and John Bayley are basically long reviews of their books. Again, in an intensely personal book, they add the facet of information about someone who knew IM’s reaction to these books which is of interest.

In summary, as I said, an intensely personal book, written from an intimate viewpoint which will add a new dimension for the IM completist. And a call for a Collected Letters for us completists (and a Selected one for the rest of the world)!


For more Iris Murdoch stuff on this blog, running a search for Iris Murdoch will give you all of my book reviews and updates on my research project.

Current reading: I am coming to the end of positively WALLOWING in Adam Nicolson’s “The Gentry” – more of that later!

Book reviews – Wessex Tales and Hands Up!

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June 2013 TBRTwo very different works of fiction in this pair of reviews – but they are linked (if tenuously) by being by two of my favourite authors.  I’ve loved Hardy since I was a teenager – even reading him for O and A level didn’t spoil him for me, and I’m mightily enjoying the revisiting / new reading of Ali’s Hardy Project. His books are set in the landscape from which my family originates, and I love the “pathetic fallacy”, the relationship between the topography and weather and the emotions and fates of his characters. His women are unforgettable (I have even named cats after them) and who can fail to be in love with the Reddleman from “The Return of the Native”?

I first encountered Paul Magrs’ novels, mainly set in the North-East, in the mid-199os at Lewisham library. After reading one of his books which featured BookCrossing, I found out his email address and wrote to him, and now we’re in regular contact, guesting on each other’s blogs, and I was able to circulate his Brenda and Effie series via BookCrossing thanks to copies sent by his publisher. I have to say that my favourites are his YA books and the older books set in the urban North-East with slight touches of magical realism, but his more fully magical books are proving more and more popular, and of course I’m glad about that (he’s also written Doctor Who books and plays and teaches fiction writing!).

Thomas Hardy – “Wessex Tales”

(Bought late 1980s / early 1990s)

I have a pretty Wessex Edition of these books – the edition I also have on Kindle, but here in a portable book where you can work out how far you are through the thing. It’s nice to read really old hardbacks with lovely creamy pages sometimes, isn’t it. This one was published in 1907, and I bought it in Hall’s Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells for £4.50, and my friend Sara probably put it through for me, as she worked there when we were at school. The Wessex Tales themselves are marvellous, of course.

These are a mix of long and shorter stories, all set in his familiar world and among his familiar characters. The longer stories could easily turn into novels, or at least parts of them, in their own right, and are deeply satisfying in a way that I find many short stories aren’t. We get turns of fate, lost loves, mysteries, marriages gone wrong, marriages gone right then ripped asunder, rival women, rival men, and country folk providing a rich but not irritating backdrop (although I love Hardy, I feel that sometimes he does go a bit OTT with his rural chorus chaps).

“The Withered Arm” is an almost horror story that could easily form the basis for a novel. The hideousness of it all builds, as a woman’s life is soured through little fault of her own, and another’s is deeply affected, too. “Fellow-Townsmen” is a completely Hardy standard tale of two men in a town, rivalry and reversals of fate, fortune and marriage. “The Three Strangers” is an excellent example of a self-contained short story which could hold its own against the masters of the genre, and “An Imaginative Woman” is what can only be described as a story about a stalker, with an agonising twist at the end. “The Distracted Preacher” is a very funny account of the tribulations of a preacher in love with a lady who engages in suspicious behaviour and may be more involved than he thinks, with lots of little clues and guesses along the way. All in all an excellent and extremely readable collection.

Paul Magrs – “Hands Up!”

(22 November 2012)

As I said above, I love Paul’s YA fiction, and this is an excellent romp of a read, published 10 years ago but still fresh and funny. Jason’s 13 and lives in a horrible household with his mean dad, once a star ventriloquist, now an angry old man, and his glam mum, who watches TV when dad’s out. Jason doesn’t want to take up the family business, especially as his creepy older half-brother is carving out a career for himself, but suddenly there’s a spate of puppet killings, an old man on the rampage … and whisperings from the attic. Then there’s GIRLS to contend with, too. The pace gets faster and faster, and we end up with seahorses, TV studios and a certain gentleman himself getting mixed up with things. Some puppet murder throughout but it didn’t upset me.

I love the way that the ends are not tied up tidily and everything isn’t spelled out for the reader. Jason’s mum is a hoot, and the epilogue is charming and amusing. A good read!


Current reading: I’ve got some books on Iris Murdoch to review, had a disappointing go with a celebrity biography and am positively WALLOWING in Adam Nicolson’s “The Gentry” – more of those later!

Tales of my TBR and a Barbara Pym tea party


June 2013 TBRI hope that my regular readers will excuse this combined post and that it’s not too confusing – I didn’t want to miss doing my usual “State of the TBR” post; nor did I want to miss celebrating one of my favourite authors, Barbara Pym’s, 100th birthday celebrations. So, a bit about the TBR and what’s coming up next, and then a bit about the Barbara Pym tea party I went to today.

June 2013 currentFirst off, this month’s TBR, and actually I don’t think I’ve done too badly compared to the beginning of last month. You can see some of the same books, and the Iris Murdoch one hasn’t moved, but that’s because I’m (meant to be) reading another work on her at the moment. I haven’t acquired too many more new books than I’ve read existing ones, so I’m pleased it’s staying stable.  And I’m quite excited to see books from Christmas and this year’s birthday coming into view!

I am, however, reading this one, which I should have confessed about a little while ago – my friend, Sian, passed it to me via BookCrossing, and as a book of essays, it’s hung around upstairs at my desk and is being consumed when I’m waiting for things to print, waiting for the computer to reboot, etc.

June 2013 coming upComing up, I have books for some reading challenges, of course – and those include two Barbara Pyms, and, sadly, the Thomas Hardy (“Wessex Tales”) that I was supposed to start reading last month. Thank you, Ali, for allowing us two months per Hardy!  I’m reading “No Fond Return of Love” at the moment, and very good it is too, making me giggle and snort with its descriptions of a conference of editors and indexers and various faded gentlewomen.

And that brings me on to the Barbara Pym tea party today. My friend Ali, of the Heavenali blog and also a good friend in real life, had the idea of celebrating what would have been Pym’s 100th birthday with tea parties in her honour. She set up a Facebook group, and parties happened all over the world, with pictures posted for us all to see, which was exciting and lovely, and then she hosted at tea party herself at her cosy house.

pym4I tried to dress up as a Pym-esque lady (I was ever so pleased with how Pymmy I’d made myself, until I realised that I’d just basically dressed up as me dressed up …) which I hoped was reminiscent of Dulcie Mainwaring while fearing a lean towards the Esther Clovises of this world … Anyway, there I was, with my friend Sian, ladies who work from home as an editor and a translator respectively, in our flowery dresses, on the top of the bus, travelling round to our friend’s house for tea. As well as wearing a tea dress, cardi, sensible shoes, Librarian prefect badge and pearls, I was clutching a copy of Hazel Holt’s “Indexes and Indexers in Fact and Fiction”, which seemed appropriate. We met up with another friend on the way, and there were around eight of us altogether.

With our varied dietary requirements amply catered for, I personally feasted on salmon and cucumber open sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, low-fat chocolate and black bean cake, fat-free biscuits and delicious meringues, drinking Lady Grey tea and Pimms (alternately). We had a pass the parcel fat with Pym novels, which I managed not to win, as I have all of them, and a good time was had by all. What a lovely way to celebrate a favourite author; thank you Ali for having us, Gill for Being Mum and sterling work at the urn, sorry, with the teapot, and our friends for coming along and in some cases being introduced to Miss Pym for the first time.


A weekend with friends old and new


I wanted to record my first proper Whole Weekend Off since I started working for myself full time. I have had the odd couple of days where I haven’t worked, but this was a booked, pre-arranged, weekend away, with no laptop and no work. How exciting!

The impetus for the weekend was the LibraryThing Virago Group. LibraryThing is a place where you can catalogue your book collection, and it has groups to join related to various interests. The Virago Group reads and celebrates books published by Virago Press (especially the classic green-spined ones) and, having had a get together in Reading a month or so ago, we decided to  meet up in Oxford.

I didn’t take many photos on the day, but here are the few I did take.  I have been to Oxford a few times in the past, and have general pictures, so I concentrated on the bits I hadn’t seen (like Magdalen). Ali and I travelled down together with much giggling and book chatting, and met the others at Oxford Station (leading to lots of “does that look like a Virago person?” comments). We’d met Simon and Julie before, Julie had Mary and Helen with her, and then Claire and Luci arrived together, so it all worked well. We then went and toured the Oxfam bookshops and a few others, behaving very well when two of us wanted the same book: “You have it, no, you have it!” I was thrilled to discover that quite a few of us are pony book fans and picked up a Mary Webb novel in Oxfam. The lovely Kerry joined us at this point, having been driven in by her husband. “Husbands?!” we all shrieked, but he sensibly did his own thing and kept safe from the marauding hordes of book hoarders.

After book shopping we had lunch at the Nosebag, a lovely little restaurant next to a shop with a large number of Georgette Heyer novels in stock … Claire kindly gave me a green copy of Stevie Smith’s “The Holiday” – I had one once but managed to mislay it. I’ll be more careful with this one! After that, we went to Magdalen, where Simon is studying for his PhD, so we got the inside story and I started taking some photos.  We had the great treat of tea in the MCR (Middle Common Room – the one for graduate students / postgrads) and a good old chat. A quick trip to the upstairs of Blackwell Books and on …

Then it was on the bus to Verity’s house, where we had a marvellous tea (I should have started this post with the story of my cat eating the original pack of crumpets I’d bought – I did source some completely new ones!) Verity had laid on a spread of wonderful treats, catering to our various dietary requirements and even making shortbread and cake decorations in the shape of the Virago apple logo. There was also a shelf of books to choose from, and I finally laid my hands on a copy of Lolly Willowes.

Kerry’s patient husband kindly drove Ali and me round to our hotel, the Peartree Travelodge, which was fairly nearby but tricky by public transport. We checked in, got some decadent dinner from Waitrose and had a lovely evening of Own Time, reading and, in my case, getting a really early night.

On Sunday, we hadn’t arranged to do anything until lunchtime, so had a leisurely breakfast and more glorious reading time, in which I finished my travel book and got half way through “The Return of the Native”, and then walked the 3 or 4 miles into Oxford. A coffee at the cinema and a slightly panicky hunt for the Pizza Express, then met up with my old University friend, Nick – we graduated 20 years ago this month! We had a good old chat that left Ali and me time for a quick whisk round the shops and a gentle stroll to the train station, where there was time for a cuppa (of course) before the train came in.

What a lovely weekend. I really appreciated having time to do nothing except read. I’m planning to do more of this, but mulling over strategies, so will probably leave that for another post …

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Kings Heath home workers’ support group?


I should explain that I wrote a post from a slightly different angle on this subject, deleted it after realising it was a little misjudged, but have rejigged my idea slightly. So, here goes …

When you work at home, sometimes you need to get out, maybe see some other familiar faces, have a moan or a celebrate or a chat or just get away from that desk. But you might not want to get all dressed up and off into town for one of the myriad co-working and networking events that go on there if you live in a suburb like, for example, Kings Heath.

Meetups like Jelly, Social Media Cafe, Entrepreneurs Meetup etc. are great, but they’re once a month and you do still need to be on networking behaviour rather than hair standing on end / in tracksuit bottoms behaviour. Organisations like the Moseley Exchange are great if you want to go and co-work with other people. Not that I’m suggesting we all lurch up the High Street like a bunch of zombies, without our laptops, but I think there may be a need for a more relaxed, local get together for people who work from home / run small businesses etc.

So, here’s my idea:

  • We have a designated cafe and a designated time. Say Costa in Kings Heath, 11-12 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
  • No one HAS to be there. There’s not an organiser who’s going to be there every time. It’s just a space if people need it.
  • But that’s the time when you can go and get out of the office, see if anyone’s around, or just meet other home workers, small business people etc., not in an “impressing, networky” sort of way, but an honest “Phew – a sit down looking at a real person” sort of way. If you want to dress up, fine; if you want to show up in your pajamas, also fine.
  • There might not be anyone else there: but then at least you’ve got out of the house, and that’s something we all need to do from time to time!
  • You can send out a message on Facebook or Twitter saying you’re going and is anyone else but it’s not like begging people to come and meet you as a one-off or an overly formal arrangement, because it’s an established, informal pattern that’s already vaguely set up.

I’d love to know what you think, whether you’re local and want to give me ideas of when and where and who, or you’re not local but you’d do it if you were. Some questions to look at …

  • Where?
  • When?
  • How often?
  • Do we want to set up a Facebook group or Twitter something (hashtag, list?) to help people see who else is going?
  • Any other thoughts?

I hope this is a useful idea for people – let me know!

STOP PRESS we have a Facebook group now.


We appear to have featured on a podcast, although I have no idea how they picked up on this rather elderly post – they are complimentary and I have got in touch to say thank you, so I thought I should provide an update:

This idea turned into a Facebook group which is solely used for arranging meetups, and a meetup at a local cafe approximately once a month. We’re made up of translators, editors and writers in the main, with a film maker too, and of course others are welcome to join. We do have a little moan over a coffee, and some of us meet up at other times, too. I also started a private Facebook group called Editors’ Rah and Argh which is a safe place for fellow editors to share things good and bad and make each other laugh and/or feel better. These and other friends I chat to on Facebook chat and Twitter give me the “water cooler” time it turns out we all need!

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