My Top Ten Dead British Authors…

If you have ever wondered just who my top ten dead British authors are (and why wouldn’t you have wondered this?) then you might like to check out the latest piece I have written for Fiction Uncovered as their guest editor this month. Having done it, it actually looks like my ideal dinner party. Now some of you may well guess who is at number one, but there may be some gems in there you might have missed…


Anyway I thought I would share it with you. Do have a gander and let me know what you think of the list, also do let me know who your top deceased authors might be, British or otherwise?

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World Book Night 2014

Today/tonight is World Book Night which has become one of my favourite nights of the year, yes along with such joys as Christmas, my Birthday and the second night on a long holiday (when you have gone past the first day and night of being knackered from travel and have all that blissful time ahead, I need a holiday abroad soon). Any venture that sends you out into the world, without putting yourself in danger, to give people copies of books is a marvellous thing and in the UK alone they are giving a million books away. Great stuff.

I have been thrilled to have been chosen again, I initially had a sulk thinking I hadn’t until I checked my spam mail, for the fourth year running. I have been very lucky so far giving away copies of some of my favourite books; Half of a Yellow Sun, Rebecca (which I also read from to lots of people that year) and The Reader (at the first night of Liverpool’s first literature festival which really should come back). This year I think I have topped them all, yes even Rebecca, as I am giving away the first in my favourite ever series of books which I read in my teens (and made me feel less alone) and have re-read and re-read since. Yes, I am giving away Tales of the City.

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Now as is tradition, because it means a lot to me, I am giving most of these away to the local cancer hospital where the staff, patients and their loved ones can have copies that hopefully might shine some light in a very difficult time and then be passed on to others again and again.

I am keeping some back though this year and, as a giver who just loves to go on giving, four of them are going to come into work with me tomorrow, two being left on the train in the morning on the way in and two on the way home, with a little note hopefully finding them some new temporary homes and fans who will pass them on again. I am also sorting through my own books to pass some on to people at work and leave more in the library I made in the communal hall a while back.

Who else is giving books away for World Book Night, which title have you got to give and how are you going to give it away? If you haven’t been a giver have you planned on passing some of your favourite books? Oh and just out of interest, if you could give away a million copies of just one book which would it be and why? Suggest a few and who knows I may pick some of you at random to send a bookish treat through the post!

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Rook – Jane Rusbridge

One of the kinds of books I love to read the most (although I have only discovered in the last few years this is the case) are ones set in the British countryside. I am rather bored by books set in London, admittedly less so if they happen to be somewhere between 1850 and 1910. Whilst I know modern London is full of all walks of life, which is marvellous to read about, head out of the capital for a few hours and in the towns and villages some of the best stories can be found. This is one of the reasons I finally picked up Jane Rusbridge’s second novel Rook which I had heard would be right up my street for this very reason. In towns and villages secrets are much harder to keep buried.

Bloomsbury, paperback, 2013, fiction, 352 pages, borrowed from the library

Nora has fled from a love affair gone wrong and the international circuit of touring with her cello, back to her childhood home of Creek House in Bosham, Sussex to teach the locals. Whilst old childhood friends have welcomed her back the same cannot be said for her mother Ada. However things look set to change in Bosham as a TV documentary company, run by the suave Jonny, want to write about the possible body of King Cnut’s daughter buried below the church, along with the possibility of King Harold himself. Yet as a medieval secret of the town is about to be unburied after so long, so could be the secrets Nora and Ada have kept from each other.

Mother daughter relationships, along with all dysfunctional family set ups, are a prime subject for fiction. Nora and Ada’s estranged relationship puzzles and perplexes whilst it also intrigues; just what secrets have both women kept from each other, why did the death of Brian (Ada’s husband) along with Felicity (Nora’s sister) leaving the UK make them more estranged and not bring them together? How long can two women stay in the same place avoiding each other, one with her box of memories (and lots of cocktails, which seem a coping mechanism for getting older as well as keeping secrets locked away), the other with her cello and adopted Rook called, erm, Rook before the cracks finally fracture?

As we read on it is not only the secrets hidden under the floor boards of the local church that mirror Nora and Ada’s struggle with their own histories, the landscape also mirrors them too. It could actually be said that the main character in Rook is Sussex itself, its atmosphere comes out of every page and is often a metaphor for what is going on inside the characters heads.

The mud at low tide is alive with soft-lipped sucks and pops, the creek shrunk to a ribbon in the distance. Nora’s wellingtons slop around her calves as she steps from one hump of eel grass to another, arms spread to counterbalance any slip of the silt. Far off by the sluice gate twenty or thirty swans are clustered, startling white against the bladder-wrack and mud. Every limpid arch of neck and fan of wing displays an orchestrated grace, reminding Nora of her mother.

Occasionally though the sense of place and its relationship with the plot can cloud things. Dangers of flooding, the muddy coastline, the danger of private farmlands, etc are all wonderfully evoked – the prose in Rook is stunning – yet sometimes at the cost of explanations. I would sometimes be unsure if I was with Nora or with Ada, and occasionally we have gone into a flashback in the change of a paragraph which needs to be re-read before you realise what Rusbridge has done. I also on occasion found myself wishing that Rusbridge had written in the voice of Nora or Ada or alternated between the two of them. This may have lost some of the admirable subtleties Rusbridge allows the reader to expand upon themselves, but with all the mysteries Nora and Ada are harbouring themselves and from each other, they are prone to being slight enigma’s themselves. I interestingly found I knew Rook the most as a character and was fascinated learning all about how intelligent these birds are. I used to have a pet duck (super brainy birds) I now want a pet Rook, have I ever mentioned that before I was a book spotter I was a bird watcher? Anyway…

As I mentioned above, I love a book which has a real sense of place and in particular those which look at the British countryside. Therefore Rook couldn’t really be more ideal. Through Nora’s return to Bosham we have that sense we all know of nostalgia mixed with terror and edginess that going back to your hometown can bring. Through Jonny, who is a bit of a so and so, we see the attitudes to ‘the outsider’ which no matter how many times people say is a mentality that doesn’t exist in this forward thinking day and age, does. It is the sense of the atmosphere and nature of Sussex along with the definition of what makes a community (both the good and the bad) which seems to be at the very heart of Rook.

Around the polished table are people she has known since childhood. Miss Macleod is there, head down, reading something. Ted, who, now his son has taken over the day-to-day running of Manor Farm, has time on his hands so sits on many committees and is governor of the village primary school. George gives her a nod, jowls wobbling like wattles. Patricia, Ted’s wife and locally famous for her bridge suppers, flutters her fingers in a wave. Steve, the vicar, gives her a wink, and points to the empty chair beside him. A single father of three, Steve is not what most people expect in a vicar.

Using a ‘natural’ metaphor, which seems apt for this book particularly, I would compare Rook to a small brook (or a creek, all the more apt with Creek House) which slowly meanders to a larger stream which twists and turns into a river which builds up speed before it roars out to the sea. As we read on the pace, urgency and rawness become quicker and louder. I didn’t see the ending coming at all and it hits hard. In many ways Rook is a book about secrets and coping, or indeed not, with what life throws at us and how it changes our relationships with those around us. It is also a love letter to Sussex where Jane Rusbridge lives. It is beautifully written novel from an author I think more of us should be reading.

Who else has read Rook and what did you make of it? Have any of you read Jane’s debut The Devil’s Music as I am keen to give that a whirl. Oh and don’t forget you can find out more about Jane and have a nosey through her bookshelves on the latest Other People’s Bookshelves here.

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Happy (Belated) Easter…

I just wanted to wish you and yours a wonderful Easter, however you are celebrating it, if you are celebrating it – albeit slightly belatedly.

I have had a lovely quiet day of reading and relaxing, no chocolates but I have had my first ever taste of simnel cake which I can now say I would quite like to eat all the time. I hope you have been having a lovely day whatever you have been doing, wherever you are!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #38; Jane Rusbridge

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we head into the home of author Jane Rusbridge, a prime example of why we should #ReadBritish2014 as you will see when I review her second novel Rook tomorrow. Before all that though let us sit down with Jane, have some of the gorgeous cupcakes she has made us and have a nosey through her shelves, first though a little more about her…

I live and work in coastal West Sussex and am married to a farmer. We have five grown up children. I’ve been a teacher most of my life, but went back to university to do a part-time English degree when my youngest child started school. Basically I just stayed there for 18 years – firstly to complete an MA in Creative Writing after my degree, and then to teach. My writing took off about 10 years ago when my husband bought me a shed so that I had somewhere to write. I painted it blue. I have two novels published by Bloomsbury, The Devil’s Music and Rook, a Guardian Readers’ Book of the Year.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

When I don’t finish a book it will go to charity or the library, otherwise I’m a keeper. Just not necessarily on shelves. I am more of a various-piles-here-and-there person when it comes to books. My only system is that if I read something on an ereader – which I do sometimes, but only for convenience – if it’s good, I will buy the *real* book too. Novels need rereading. My second or third reading is usually more from the point of view of a writer, to see how an author has handled a particular technique, or plot structure, or ending … Ebooks are not at all pleasing to revisit and, worse, they seem to disappear from memory, don’t you find? Pfft! just like that, author, title and all. Real books keep you company in a way that ebooks don’t.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I am totally organised – it just doesn’t look like it! New books go straight into the ‘piano’ room (never touch the piano these days, except to put books on it), in one of several piles: new fiction, research, friends’ books, classics to revisit – that sort of thing. With fiction, when it’s read once it goes on the book shelves made by my other half, in alphabetical order (vaguely). Poetry books go into a small (rather impractical) bookcase in the living room. Books about writing and books connected with my previous novels are on shelves in my writing room. Currently I’m researching for novel 3, and all my research books are therefore lying everywhere about the house. In piles.

'Rook' bookshelf

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

This may be a mis-memory, but I think it was The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis, with money I got after having no fillings at the dentist. I was lucky as a child and had many books bought for me. (Also, I did not have a filling until I was 19. Not many people know that). The copy I have is a hardback and in a box of books in the attic, now that our children are grown-up. I’m glad you reminded me, because now my grandson has arrived I need to get those books down. I also might need to make use of my husband’s shelf building skills again.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

We used to have a copy of The Joy of Sex, which we hid from the children when they were small. They obviously used to thoroughly investigate all the hiding places in our room however, because when the recent TV programme based on the book was on I learned that at least one of them came across it. The only other book I keep out of sight I couldn’t possibly tell you about, otherwise I’d have kill you!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I treasure my father’s very old medical books. He was 57 when I was born, quite old for a dad, and he died on the night of the ’87 hurricane – so, a long time ago. He was passionate about the value of books, and read to me a lot when I was child.

Precious books my father's medical books

Also, an old illustrated copy of The Dawnchild by Beryl Irving, which was a book I used to read when I went to stay at my grandparents when I was little, while my mother and father were on one of their trips back to Scotland. I loved staying there. Like you, I was given this book when I was older, and it’s the associations which make it precious.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

A J Cronin’s Country Doctor. My mother watched Doctor Finlay’s Casebook avidly, but my father had told me the book was the Real Thing. I didn’t ever read it!

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

To be honest, these days I tend to buy the books I want to read. I spend more on books than almost anything else. I daren’t add up my annual expenditure, so don’t ask.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Where Zeus became Man by Sabine Ivanovas, a book of photographs and notes about Cretan shepherds. It’s for research.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Oh goodness – where to start? The next book I’m planning to buy is The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They might notice that I read mainly contemporary novels, and my non-fiction reading is rather uneven: masses of books on Harold II and rooks; books on knots and rope; books on Crete. Their fingers might itch to tidy up my book heaps. I hope they realise I love books and reading.

research & TBR piles

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A huge thanks to Jane for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Check back on Monday for a review of her second novel Rook. In the meantime if you would like to find out more about Jane visit her website here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jane’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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More Tales From Home; Why I have Decided to #ReadBritish2014

A week or so ago I mentioned that I had been honoured to be asked to be the Inaugural Guest Editor for Fiction Uncovered’s website for a month. As I mentioned then, and have been mentioning for quite some time, I am a big fan of the initiative which every year highlights eight British authors that we really should be reading or should have read yet for various reasons (coverage, missing out on long lists, pure bad luck/chance, etc) we haven’t done.

Since then I have been thinking about it more and more, partly because I was writing my first post which you can see here (which looks at what might lead to some amazing authors going under the radar) and so was looking at it in different ways, without being too pessimistic I hope.

Having given it all this extra thought I decided that rather than just have a month of ‘The Best of British’ or ‘Being British’ which I was planning, and sounded unintentionally xenophobic, I think my aim for the forthcoming year is just to make sure I am reading more of the books about my home country from my fellow country folk. In short I am going to #ReadBritish2014.

This doesn’t mean that I am only going to be reading British authors, as that isn’t me at all I love books from all over the world – I am planning on joining in with Kim of Reading Matters wonderful ANZ month in May for a start. Nor does it mean that I will only be reading the well-known British authors, though I won’t ‘not’ read them to make a point either, but it would be marvellous to find some lesser known gems, all in the spirit of Fiction Uncovered.

Who else fancies reading some more fiction from home, wherever in the world you are? Or are you already a clever clogs and make sure you do this already? Do you think it is important to support local authors as you would a local indie store? Which British authors should I make sure I try and encounter over the next year? Oh and do go over and see my piece for Fiction Uncovered if you have a spare moment, it would be lovely to have you pop by and even comment if you fancied it, hint, hint!

 

 

 

 

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A Visit to Manchester Central Library…

I can’t work out if it I in America all over or just parts of it this week, but I do believe that this week might (important word to cover myself if I feel an utter fool when I discover it isn’t at all) be National Libraries Week – something I think we should bring over to the UK as a single day simply isn’t enough and a week really gets in the consciousness.  Anyway, back off my soapbox, I thought if this was the case it would be nice to share a little trip I made around the all newly revamped Manchester Central Library a few weeks ago.

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I didn’t really know what to expect and as libraries are such wonderful things I was hoping it would be amazing, I wasn’t disappointed so knowing you all love books and the places that home them I thought I would share.

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What I think is wonderful about renovated libraries is when they are modernised and yet have the history and the old sense of a library, as I think Liverpool Central Library does. Manchester council were clearly on a similar wave length as you have the wonderful old features like the stain glassed windows and wooden beams (above) and then you walk into something that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie set in the future.

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It is done again when you look through the clear glass into the wonderful archives brimming with hidden treasures…

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Or when you are wandering around the thoroughly modern exhibition, café and seating area and find gems of the old library still being used amongst the new.

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Note – I want one of those old archiving files in my house, just saying. It also carries on as you head up to the top floor, the modern architecture meeting the new and somehow, brilliantly, feeling like they were always meant to work together…

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I think on of my favourite classic meets modern designs was on the top floor where you find all the reference books and the shelves, which run on a track, meaning much more space, have been given these wonderful new case covers that stop it looking like some old nuclear bunker, which sadly can be a look in the library world…

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The other thing I loved about it was how light and airy it was, come on, don’t tell me you couldn’t spend hours sat reading in here? I was pretty much ready to move in.

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Now there is a proper library down in the basement, which is again marvellously light, where all the new books of contemporary and classic fiction sit side by side, non fiction, travel etc all waiting in the wings and you can go and borrow books which is most important of course…

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Yet for me the most astounding room was the main Reading Room which I am slightly obsessed with.

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If ever I am in Manchester you know where to find me, spending a few hours with a book or just sitting people watching and taking in the atmosphere of the place. Marvellous.

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It feels like the heart of the place, not just because it is the dead centre and the centre circle of the building, but because you look around and think ‘wow, all these people are using it again, after all those generations before them’ and it seems to highlight exactly why libraries are so important and why we need to keep them, and as many as possible, forever.

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It was a wonderful trip and I think I spent about three hours just wandering, not even picking up a book. I should add that the whole time I lived in Manchester this building was the biggest tease in the city. It was closed the whole time but looked so marvellous from the outside and so, so tempting. So it is lovely to see it up and running. Manchester you are very lucky, though I know I am exceptionally lucky having the Liverpool Central Library down the road – I haven’t forgotten.

What do you make of this renovation? Which is your favourite library, where is it and why do you love it so?

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