The Literary London with Deborah Moggach

Next week is London Book and Screen Week in, erm, London. I will be heading down to the capital, my old home and haunt, to join in with some of the wonderful events on offer and also to head to London Book Fair. Over the next week in the lead up London Book and Screen Week asked five authors to revealing their favourite books about London on seven blogs and they very kindly asked if I would like to take part. I said ‘oh go one then’ and so toda the fabulous Deborah Moggach, author of Tulip Fever and These Foolish Things (aka the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, both of which my Gran and mother have raved about and I have still not read shame on me) shares her favourite literary links with London…

Moggach, Deborah new  6 – c. Urszula Soltys

MY FAVOURITE BOOKS SET IN LONDON

“Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf blew me away when I first read her – I was astonished at the way she sensitized me to the world, and how she explored feelings I had never quite put into words. This novel, about a woman preparing for a party, has hardly any plot at all, it’s all sensation. Nowadays I find her harder to read as she’s so terribly snobbish, but I loved this novel in my youth and still love its glimpse into a privileged world of West End florists and drawing rooms, a world that is long gone.

“Riceyman Steps” by Arnold Bennett.

This is one of my favourite novels by one of my very favourite novelists, who is little known nowadays but who was the most popular fiction writer of his day. Riceyman Steps explores a very different London to Mrs Dalloway’s – the murky region of Kings Cross where life is a struggle in the sooty back streets. It’s the story of a miserly bookseller and his faithful maid and it’s full of humanity. Just read it, you’ll thank me for it, especially as Kings Cross has now changed out of all recognition (it was published in 1923 but feels almost Victorian)

“White Teeth” by Zadie Smith.

This wonderful, fizzing, generous novel was quite rightly a huge hit. Its large, multi-racial cast explodes off the pages and it finally puts Willesden, much neglected until now, on the map. It’s also very funny.

MY BEST PLACE TO READ IN LONDON

Lying on the grass beside the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. It’s the most peaceful place in the city, and every now and then one can plunge into the water and have a swim amongst the ducks.  And everyone else is reading too – mobile phones are forbidden. No distractions except nature.

FAVOURITE SCREEN ADAPTATION

I think it must be “Short Cuts”, which Robert Altman and his co-screenwriter adapted from Raymond Carver’s short stories. It’s a fantastic piece of work because it weaves the stories in and out of each other and creates a complex picture of Los Angeles. Or if it’s London you want – “Absolute Beginners”, adapted from the Colin MacInnes novel, which brings back the heady days of the 1950s, a decade which has largely been ignored and which I can just remember. Though unfortunately I grew up near Watford, rather than Soho.

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This year, London Book & Screen Week will be taking place from 13th – 19th April, uniting readers, writers, gamers and film fans, with hundreds of events taking place across the capital that celebrate stories and the written word in all its forms.  Events are listed at:  http://www.londonbookandscreenweek.co.uk/ You might just seem my face at some of them.

Big thanks to Deborah for taking the time to tell us all about her favourite literary links with London. I am actually wondering if I should get authors to do posts on their literary landscapes over the next few months, I don’t know about you but I would love to hear authors thoughts on the literary landscape that ignites them. What do you think? Anyway hopefully see some of your faces at London Book and Screen Week next week. 

If you have read Deborah Moggach’s novels do let me know your thoughts on them and where I should start? I would also love to know what books and films you love set in London.

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Filed under Deborah Moggach, Literary Landscapes, Random Savidgeness

The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells

Before I read it, I had some really odd preconceived ideas about H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man. First up I thought that it was a tome of some several hundred pages, wrong, it is a novella. Secondly I thought that it was set in the 1970’s (impossible as it was written in 1897) and involved some old man in a mackintosh who smoked, wrong, that is just something I naively surmised from an old 70’s edition of the book my mother had on her shelves. Thirdly I didn’t think I would enjoy it in any way shape or form, so wrong. I absolutely loved this book.

Penguin Classics, paperback, 1897 (2012 edition), fiction, 176 pages, bought by me for me

Most of you will have read The Invisible Man already, but for the few of you like me who have put off held back from reading it until now possibly because you assumed it was about some weirdo in a flasher mac, or about some boring scientist in a laboratory made of glass (where do I make these assumptions up from?) here is what the book is actually about…

One night, during a snow storm, a stranger going by the name of Griffin, arrives at an Inn in the small village of Iping looking for somewhere to shelter a while from the world let alone the weather. Strangers come and go in any inn and yet this stranger is stranger than any previous stranger (I have written the word stranger too many times and its gone weird in my head, like when you say a word too much) as he is covered in a long cloak, darkened glasses and his hands and the whole of his face are covered in bandages. The local folk, in particular the landlady, become very interested in Griffin, but interest is the last thing he wants and so locks himself away from prying eyes. Yet as the strangers’ arrival coincides with some odd goings on in the village, and a bout of sneezes from nowhere, the people become more and more obsessed with Griffin until events get out of control.

‘Leave the hat,’ said her visitor in a muffled voice, and turning she saw he had raised his head and was sitting looking at her.
For a moment she stood gaping at him, too surprised to speak.
He held a white cloth – it was a serviette he had brought with him – over the lower part of his face, so that his mouth and jaws were completely hidden, and that was the reason of his muffled voice. But it was not that which startled Mrs Hall. It was the fact that all his forehead above his blue glasses was covered by a white bandage, and that another covered his ears, leaving not a scrap of his face exposed excepting only his pink, peaked nose.

What I hadn’t expected The Invisible Man to be was such a wonderfully gothic mini Victorian horror of a story and I absolutely revelled in it. With a snowstorm, a village out in the middle of nowhere and a mysterious stranger just for starters I knew that this was going to be one of those books that I just devoured and indeed I sat and read this in one greedy sitting actually feeling emotionally wrung out and bereft by the time I had finished.

You see what I was expecting (apart from an odd scientist who might flash you any moment after he had spent the day in a glass laboratory and then driven home in his Ford Capri, seriously that was what I thought) was a book about a scientist who had gone invisible and then become a helpless victim of circumstance. Now, without much away as you soon learn this, Griffin has been a victim of sorts yet he was doing something calculated that went wrong. Oh and he is pretty much going utterly bonkers loop-the-loop crazy.

What is wonderful with the way Wells handles Griffin’s character is that you go from moments of genuine horror to moments of genuine laughter (Wells must have had a wickedly dark sense of humour) and then back to horror again. Marvellous! A prime example of this is with the ‘sneezing from nowhere’ what starts off as something which reads as wonderfully comic, which made me laugh out loud, to something that marks a forthcoming dome and builds this real sense of foreboding. On several occasions I had the full on hairs on the back of your neck standing up with fear. This also creates a really interesting relationship between the reader and Griffin, is he the misunderstood hero of the piece or is he a despicable genius?

Is it the element of ‘hero or monster’ that I also found fascinating in the way that the story is told. We initially think the arrival of Griffin is where all the drama and action of The Invisible Man happens, yet as we read on we find out about the occurrences that lead him there and the plot thickens and Wells plays with us and what we think morally. I shall say no more. Oh, well, apart from the fact that the ending had me genuinely upset, I may have even wept. Clever old Wells, now I really will say no more in case I accidentally spoil things.

If you hadn’t guessed by now I absolutely loved The Invisible Man. It completely surpassed my, admittedly low, expectations and all the assumptions that I had made about it. It has everything I love in it; mystery, murder and mayhem. It is a little gothic masterpiece. If you haven’t read it yet then please, please, please get your mitts on a copy. I now want to read absolutely everything else that Mr Wells has written.

As you are all observant folk, you might be wondering why I ended up reading a book I really wasn’t keen to? It was Rob’s choice for a past episode of Hear Read This, you can hear our thoughts plus Kate and Gavin’s here. Now what about you lot? Have many of you already read The Invisible Man and what did you make of it? Which, now that I have been and binge bought them all, of Wells’ classic should I read next?

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Filed under Books of 2015, H.G. Wells, Hear... Read This, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Being Bookish Full Time Once More…

So yesterday was my last day working the office 9 to 5 (well in my case 8 until 4) and today is the first day of me working for myself again and hopefully on some really exciting booky projects, which April seems to be brimming with. First up is the reading for Fiction Uncovered for the next few months. I have already started on the submissions, which I have to say have been varied and all brilliant so far making my job all the more enjoyable and tough at once, now I am going into a phase of reading full time as there are so many to get through.

My lovely friend Sarah bought me a special bookmark for my birthday to make sure that anyone and everyone understands that when I am head in a book I mean serious business, please excuse the profanities, it made me laugh for about twenty minutes and I still chuckle every time I see it…

Funny... And True!

Funny… And True!

Tomorrow I have to deliver a bookish business plan and pitch that could end up starting the job of my bookish dreams, so no pressure, if you could all have everything crossed for me around 1400hrs GMT for an hour or so that would be bloody marvellous. Then, fingers crossed, I will be ‘blogger in residence’ over London Book and Film Festival in two weeks time ending in the UK Blog Awards where I am hoping Kimbofo or I win the Arts and Culture Award. All in all it’s books, books, books, books, books – which is just how I like it!

If this wasn’t enough I am planning on getting the blog back in full swing, it’s been patchy of late, and giving it a bit of an update. Let me know what you would like to see more and less of, feedback is always very helpful. Ta muchly!

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A Bloomin’ Brilliant Birthday

Thank you for all your lovely birthday wishes. I had an absolute blast and managed to turn a day into a week and a half thanks to a weekend in Newcastle with my Mum, a trip to London for my birthday and a few days after and then my birthday party proper this weekend. I was quite pleased with it all and thought, as this blog is about books and more, I would share some of the lovely times I had over the week.

First up was the weekend that I had in Newcastle with my mother which was just lovely. I might report on it in the next few weeks but in the meantime, and in case I decide not to or my Mum doesn’t want me to, we had a marvellous time visiting the old haunts we lived in and visited, eating marvellous food, drinking wonderful cocktails, shopping and seeing Still Alice. Note – Still Alice is just wonderful (I haven’t read the book and feel like I now might need to, should I?) I cried from about twenty minutes in until the end. Julianne Moore is sublime, see it.

This is not me and Julianne Moore, it's me and my Mum outside the old flat we lived in 30 years ago!

This is not me and Julianne Moore, it’s me and my Mum outside the old flat we lived in 30 years ago!

Next up, after a brief day back in the office, I headed off to London on my birthday morning (after opening a large array of wonderful presents from my wonderful loved ones) and to the first meeting of the Fiction Uncovered 2015 judges. It was only at the bloody Groucho Club – I couldn’t take pictures, not of the amazing macaroni on a bed of grilled mushrooms which won everything nor the cake and Happy Birthday they wrote around the bowl, it was lovely though. We all had a marvellous time and are now fully ready and prepared for the mammoth yet marvellous task ahead of us. I then spent a few hours with Catherine Hall and Kerry Hudson with far too many sweet things and bubbles before meeting Polly and going to Ebury’s Fiction Party where I had a good old natter and catch up with many lovely folk and met some wonderful authors

Wednesday was meetings and then it was my London party night, woohoo. I was joined at dinner by the aforementioned Polly and Catherine and also Kate and Rob of Adventures with Words, who are also my cohosts on Hear Read This, as well as the lovely Leng Monty – who is one of the Independent’s Rainbow List Ones to Watch, so watch out.

Polly, Rob, Kate, me, Leng and Catherine - post food and cocktails!

Polly, Rob, Kate, me, Leng and Catherine – post food and cocktails!

Things carried on in a more messy vain as Polly, Catherine, Leng and I headed to my favourite beardy bar in London, The Duke of Welly, and were joined by my mates Uli of Gays The Word, Eric of Lonesome Reader (a blog which makes me sick with jealousy because his reviews are sooooo good) and that Kerry Hudson…

Uli (not impressed at having a selfie), me, Catherine, Kerry and Leng - living it up in the Welly

Uli (not impressed at having a selfie), me, Catherine, Kerry and Leng – living it up in the Welly

It all ended in many giggles on a nightbus as all the best nights do.

You can't take them anywhere!

You can’t take them anywhere!

After another day in London and a day in the office, Saturday was birthday party part two. I had my lovely friends Kate, Barb, Sarah, Sue and Rachael (or my harem as now I refer to them) for some wonderful (rather amazing to be honest) grub and lots and lots of drinking and laughing…

The Lovely Liverpool Ladies and I...

The Lovely Liverpool Ladies and I…

It has, all in all, been a ruddy marvellous week. I think 33 is going to be a really, really, really good year – I just feel it in my bones. Finger crossed eh? What have you all been up to?

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Like This, For Ever – Sharon Bolton

Murders are horrific, they are also grimly fascinating. I know I am now alone in this, yet many people might not like to admit that they feel this way. With a murder we empathise with the victim and their family, we also find the little horrific facts that get reported along the way grimly fascinating, we also like to try and work out who the killer might be even if we have very few of the facts and nothing evidential. It is human nature; it is why crime has become one of the biggest selling genres of books around the world.

Transworld Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 512 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In Like This, For Ever we see a series of murders through the eyes of an eleven year old boy, Barney, who has become fixated by them. Part of this is the element of human nature as I mentioned above, part of it is also that the victims are young boys like himself which adds empathy for them to him and also a fear that he could at some point fall under the killers eyes and become a potential victim. Part of it is that Barney would really like to catch the killer, gaining some acclaim and attention from his dad but also from some of the kids at school who bully him for the black outs that he sometimes gets. He is not alone and soon, along with some of his friends, he decides to play investigator yet catching a killer can mean catching that killer’s attention.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, Dana Tulloch and Mark Joesbury of the Major Investigations Team are getting nowhere in trying to solve who this killer is. With the slowly dawning realisation of the public that this might be a serial killer and then the disappearance of more children Tulloch and Joesbury have to work fast before time runs out. Yet this killer is clever, so clever in fact that soon the police start to be taunted by a killer that is making themselves known on social media and making the public interest and fear all the wider spread.

Now you may be wondering where on earth Lacey Flint is in all this, after all this is the third Lacey Flint novel. I know I was. Without giving away any major spoilers I can say that Lacey, who is currently off the police force after what happened in her last case (in Dead Scared, which is bloody scary) does get involved and at a time when she swore to herself that she wouldn’t get involved in another case herself, especially one which chimes to a time in Lacey’s murky past which we are slowly but surely learning more and more about.

The kids on the touchline were watching her approach. Lacey studied each in turn. The smaller boy was edgy and nervous. The girl was bold-faced and defiant, just like she’d been at that age, but scared underneath it. The young were so bad at hiding their feelings. All except Barney, who, she had to admit, was a pretty cool customer. He’d turned back to watch the match again, she’d almost be convinced if it weren’t for the angle of his head. He was watching her. Then the taller of the boys followed his lead, turning his back on Lacey, slinging an arm around Barney’s shoulders, saying something a little louder than necessary. Then he laughed. Barney laughed too, as though the two of them had just shared something hilarious.
As Lacey drew close, the girl looked her up and down, sizing up everything she was wearing, and then turned her back, as though she wasn’t worth any more interest. Little minx. The younger boys couldn’t take their eyes off her. They were like small mammals when a snake gets ready to strike.

These three stands create a fantastic thriller from an author who is easily becoming one of my favourite crime writers. With its many viewpoints Like This, For Ever really looks at a series of murders from all angles from those involved closely and those from a distance. I have to admit I wasn’t sure that the voice of an eleven year old would really work for me in a crime novel but in many ways I think it is what gives this book a real edge. Barney sees and hears things going on around him, he might not always understand them or may not catch their implications, we as the reader do however and this adds a really clever, and sometimes incredibly sinister, dynamic to the book. Doubly cleverly it also adds a certain naivety to the novel, child murders are very uncomfortable ground, yet Barney’s narration somehow softens the horror as it ups the fear. It is really hard to describe and genius of Bolton to do, a true masterstroke.

Also, as always in this series, Lacey Flint adds another edge to it. Rogue at the best of times, without being assigned to the case or indeed being on the force any longer, Flint takes it even further with this novel. As she does so we get snapshots into a part of her past, and her psyche, that we haven’t seen before. In the Lacey Flint series, really it is the mystery of who Lacey really is and what on earth has happened in her past, which we are slowly uncovering. Just as I didn’t have a clue who was the murderer in this book until the last chapter, I have no idea where Lacey’s back story will take us next. Part of me is desperate to, whilst the other part is enjoying the slow reveal and doesn’t want this series to end.

To cut to the chase Sharon Bolton (or S J Bolton as you may know her) has gone and done it again. Like This, For Ever is an intelligent, scary, chilling and gripping thriller that will have you reading until the small hours, both because you are gripped and because you are too tense or scared to turn the light out. Each novel in this series just gets better and better, and the first one was blooming brilliant, so I cannot wait for the next – which thankfully is sat on my shelves already. I love the mix of intrigue, genuine fear and hint of something ‘other’ that they evoke. If you haven’t given them a whirl then you really, really must.

If you would like to hear more about the Lacey Flint novels you can hear Sharon and myself in conversation here. Who else out there has read the Lacey Flint series? What about the standalone novels? I am very excited because in the forthcoming Little Black Lies guess who makes an appearance? Yes, a certain Simon Savidge, I am both thrilled and nervous about this.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Review, S.J. Bolton, Sharon Bolton, Transworld Publishing

Barcelona Shadows – Marc Pastor

The Barcelona of 1911 is a dark, dangerous and gothic place. Its streets are filled with filth, sickness, poverty and crime. One of the men fighting crime is Inspector Moises Corvo whose latest case is to try and hunt down a monster that is abducting and killing children, draining them of their blood. The problems he face are the fact that this killer somehow evades him at every turn and also that with the children being those of the prostitutes and the penniless of the lower classes, most of his seniors either refuse to see it as being a problem or believe that it is actually happening at all. Yet Corvo is determined to catch the killer, even if it leads him to the depths of Barcelona’s underbelly and to the depths of what humans can do.

Pushkin Press, paperback, 2014, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

There were a few things I instantly found captivating about this book, and instantly stood out to me. First was the narration, which I won’t give away because when you realise who it is you do a really ‘oh, oh really’ and it hooks you in a little more. I can give away the fact, and the second thing I really liked about it, that the book is based on the true series of crimes caused by the real-life Enriqueta Marti who indeed killed children or abducted them for paedophiles and became one of Spain’s most famous killers ‘the Vampire of Barcelona’. This isn’t a spoiler as we the reader know this from the start while Corvo doesn’t, yet we follow them both in time, even passing each other in the street which was the third element I really liked instantly from this book.

Before we go much further on let me vent some of my issues with the book, though there were only a couple, before I look at the positives. One aspect was, and I feel dreadful saying this, the translation which I think gave the book a strange distance and slightly clunky feeling, I also felt (which I haven’t noticed in other translated books often) as if I knew I wasn’t reading this in its original language, that I was missing something be it a connotation or just a little bit of its soul. The other aspect was that every so often the book, rather like its main character Moises, seemed a little over confident in itself. On occasion it seemed to feel it was as worthy of, if not better than, one of the original Victorian crime stories. Now this might have been the style and been designed to make the modern reader see the author was aware of the homage, for me it was a little annoying on occasion.

“Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe’s detective, is even worse than Holmes. Holmes at least, is seen through Watson and Watson’s got a constantly crafty streak, even though Holmes is a bully and treats him like shit. Ma’am, out of the way, goddamnit, do you know how late it is?” he scolds. “Dupin is a some sort of crime-solving machine who’s never set foot on the street. I’d like to see him out in the real world, off the page, where all the murderers aren’t stupid monkeys.”
“There must be one that you like…”
“Lestrade. I like Lestrade. A Scotland Yard detective who does his job even though Holmes insists on humiliating him.”
“Moises, you read too much.”

It isn’t the normal way I would start a review but I wanted to get that out of the way because it has somewhat clouded my overall memory of the book and is the initial remaining feeling I had. Yet when I think about it more all of the brilliant part of the books slowly come for the for and remind me that when Pastor is on form he does have some right to potentially be a little cocky, though he might not be his character might have rubbed me up the wrong way a little too much slagging off my hero Sherlock Holmes. Who can say?

Pastor is very good at both restraint and knowing when there is just enough of a certain tension or mood within his story without it getting a little too much. For example within Barcelona Shadows there are some pretty vile characters and walks of life and they do some pretty horrible things. However even though we know these people are wicked and evil, there are moments when even when we think something awful is coming it spring at you suddenly, speedily and then is gone making it both more shocking and also giving you a real ‘did I actually read that’ moment without the reader ever feeling a voyeur or complicit, just stunned. He also knows just when to give the book a swift injection of dark humour which lightens the moments a few pages before. I liked this sense of a little light within the shade, or vice versa, very much.

Luckily for the detective, the smell of rotting corpse is so strong it drowns out the scent of shady intentions and sex for money, and Conxita is left to think that her husband has only been seeing cadavers and criminals. Conxita is a bit thick, but she doesn’t know it, so she’s happy.

I also liked the brooding atmosphere of the book throughout. Along with the narration, which I am still not giving away, the book really envelops you in the dark streets and underbelly of a city at that time. Indeed Barcelona is in some ways a character all of itself, and one which Pastor seems to have a wonderful fondness for and often describes quite poetically.

Barcelona is an old lady with a battered soul, who has been left by a thousand lovers but refuses to admit it. Every time she grows, she looks in the mirror, sees herself changed and renews all her blood until it’s almost at boiling point. Like a butterfly’s cocoon, she finally bursts. Distrust becomes the first phase of gestation: no one is sure that he whom they’ve lived with for years, whom they’ve considered a neighbour, isn’t now an enemy.

It seemed a fait accompli that I would love Marc Pastor’s Barcelona Shadows; I love a gothic novel, I love a crime novel, I love Barcelona and I find fictional accounts of unusual or lesser known factual happenings really interesting. As it was I really enjoyed it and found it gripping at the beginning and thrilling as it whirls towards its dramatic and actually incredibly gut wrenching and emotional ending. Yet I was let down somewhere in the middle through both a slight lack of connection with the text and the main character as I mentioned earlier. I was actually briefly tempted to get a ‘learn Spanish’ set of mp3s (I have always wanted to learn Spanish anyway) so I could read the book in its original, that is how sure I was I should love it. I would still be very interested to read some of Marc Pastor’s other novels as when he blends the horror, gothic and atmosphere just right it gives you the proper shivers and shocks.

Has anyone else read Barcelona Shadows and if so what did you make of it? I might be asking something bonkers but if anyone out there has read it in the original Spanish and the English translation I would love to hear your thoughts. Have you any recommendations for any other unusual and quirky thrillers out there?

For more thoughts on the book head over to Hear Read This where you can hear myself, Gavin of Gav Reads and Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words discussing it in more detail.

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Filed under Marc Pastor, Pushkin Press, Review

Savidge Reads 3.3

Today is my birthday and I turn 33! I will have woken up with some presents and cards and now be whizzing down on the train to London, or in London where I will be having a wonderfully booky day. First up the judges for Fiction Uncovered 2015 will be meeting for the first time over lunch (there is possibly going to be cake) and discussing what we want from winning books and indeed some of the books we have been sent. As you know I love this prize so much so meeting today seems doubly apt. After that I will be meeting two of my fav writer chums (and also fav writers) Catherine Hall and Kerry Hudson, or the other way round, before meeting Polly, formerly of Novel Insights for a night at a publishing party, I am then staying for another two days of fun and booky nonsense, a big night out on Wednesday, all in all a mini birthday break.

I don’t know if I have mentioned before but I celebrate my birthday for as long as I can. My mother and I had a weekend in Newcastle which was a late Mother’s Day and early birthday celebration with much cocktails, yesterday at work we celebrated with these…

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Yes those are cupcakes with books on that The Beard baked for me. Seriously, aren’t they amazing. If you don’t believe me and think they are from a stockphoto, here is me about to eat one in the office yesterday…

IMG_1600

Then Friday is my birthday part two, where I might go and see Cinderella *coughs*, and then my birthday (dinner) party is on Saturday night. Exciting times! Oh and if that wasn’t enough… My book buying ban is officially over, watch out London bookshops, I am coming! Oh and now I am 33 I am thinking it is time for for a 3.3 upgrade of the blog – maybe not in look but certainly in feel.

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