My blog

Sunday 30 August 2020

This week sees the start of the new academic year. That means the end of summer, children back at school and, this year, a call for the grown-ups to get back to the office.

The people who have made that leap in the publishing world have been proving the point by posting pictures of their desks on Twitter. In the way of social media, this has meant that all the images have recorded enviable scenes of spectacular views from huge windows, high ceilings and spacious rooms, tidy bookshelves and remarkably resilient plants which have flourished despite having no human care over the past six months.

I do enjoy seeing people's workstations, whether in their home or at the office. But Anthony Horowitz, in his latest novel 'Moonfllower Murders' (which, incidentally, is set in Woodbridge and is very much addictive reading), has his central character telling us that we shouldn't be interested in writer's lives. We should "learn about authors from the work they produce rather than the other way round". I can see his point, but it doesn't stop me being intrigued by the creative process. Hence my new series of Zoom interviews 'at the writer's desk', which you can see here.

This week I am 'at the writer's desk' of Saskia Sarginson ahead of the launch of her latest novel 'The Bench' on Thursday. Saskia has many interesting things to say about the writing process, not least how she finds that whatever she might be reading while she has a work in progress, there wlll always be something that proves relevant to the subject she is exploring. You can see the interview here.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 23 August 2020

As we step into this last week of summer, there seems to be a sense of urgency and activity abounding.

Certainly we've noticed ever-increasing numbers of visitors in Suffolk and Norfolk lately. The eat out dining scheme is drawing to an end. And, if the news reports from the airports are to be believed, many people are desperate to get away (or get back) in that last attempt at a holiday while borders are open and restrictions are eased.

Perhaps after six months of being restrained through lockdown, we're all anxious to cram in as much 'living' as we can while the weather remains fine and there's still some light left in the evenings.

It means diaries feel fuller than they have done in a while.

Though the appointments still aren't exactly what we'd choose, it's good to acknowledge the creativity and ingenuity shown by event and facility organisers who, instead of cancelling their activities, have found ways to 'pivot' their offer so that it might take place through safe distancing or by being online.

And in this era of Zoom have you relished seeing the homes, bookshelves and interior decor choices of interviewees on the news, chat shows or festivals?

If so, please join me in meeting children's writer Sophie Green in her writing room in Suffolk. Click here to take a look.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 16 August 2020

There's not been much in terms of good news this week.

But - just as the rain finally begins to fall in Suffolk - haven't we been fortunate with the weather this year?!

Parks and gardens in the sunshine have been a consolation for cancelled holidays, and the efforts of events organisers forced to stage performances outdoors haven't been wasted by any sudden downpours.

While I haven't yet been able to attend anything in person myself, I've been strangely elated to see pictures of well-run, socially distanced events.

There are picnickers in the garden at Glyndebourne in nicely defined family groups, 'bubbles' of audience members at Comedy in the Garden events in London, drive-in theatre and cinema, and a rock concert in Newcastle where 2,500 fans gathering on 500 separate elevated platforms placed 2m apart on a racing track field. Despite the circumstances for these measures, it looked fun!

Of course from this weekend, as rain, thunder and flash floods seem to be the norm, it's timely that indoor events have once again been given the go ahead, and it's been lovely to see the programme of music concerts at Snape Maltings.

You'll have noticed that due to the lack of 'in real life' author events taking place this year, my newsletter has changed focus. I've had some very kind comments over the past few months.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 9 August 2020

August has always seemed a strange month. Schools are out. Offices and factories run to different hours. Programmes of clubs, meetings and events take a break. There's nothing on TV.

Everything stops and everyone heads for the beach (or the airport).

We know that this year is different, but perhaps this month some things aren't all that different.

There are still festivals aplenty, for example. OK, so it's not hugely appealing to look at screens when the sun is shining, but the online programmes are a tremendous free resource and particularly, perhaps, in encouraging children in their reading activity over the summer.

So if we're feeling adventurous, why not pitch a tent in the garden or hand out the ice creams and log on to the online Edinburgh International Book Festival here. Or the Lavenham Children's Festival Bookworm Bonanza on demand throughout August here. There are readings, interviews and activities, and most children's authors also have impressive websites of their own with a multitude of inventive and interactive sessions.

The libraries have launched their annual summer reading scheme, too, so while children cannot gather in the colourful book stacks in real life, they can log their reading habit online.

And if you're looking for a challenge, why not join with the book group in reading the Booker Prize Longlist. We'll be meeting online to share our thoughts in early September so take a look at the 13 titles in contention here and see which six you think should make this year's shortlist.

We're forecast a hot and sunny week ahead, so I hope we'll all be able to find a quiet, shady spot in which to lose ourselves in a good book.

Sunday 2 August 2020

The past few months have been something of wonder for many - sunny days, the extraordinary quiet, the birdsong and gardening, the solitude and stillness.

Whatever our circumstances during this time, though, the halting of normal life has given cause to stop, to pause, and perhaps to read a little more or a little differently than normal.

I met a newly retired publisher this week who revealed that for the first time in his life, he had put aside manuscripts and taken a look at his bookshelves, and discovered Trollope - "marvellous!" he said.

Libraries meanwhile, unable to offer their regular reservation and browsing service, provided bundles of books personally selected for users based on their preferences and previous loan history. What were the surprises there?

For me, I enjoyed the freedom of knowing that there had been a lull in publishing - new books couldn't be released as bookshops and distributors had limited reach to potential readers - so I had time to 'get ahead', or at least catch up, with my reading.

But that's stopped now!

It's great to see bookshops open again, and customers rushing through the doors. It's wonderful to have daily deliveries of new books from the wholesaler. And it's good to experience the passion and energy of publicists eager to shout as loud and as long as they can about the latest book on their list.

And it means that we are experiencing a deluge of wonderful books. Titles which were held back during the lockdown are being released, so the usually quiet month of August is busy with new exciting titles and September is going to be even busier. You can see the titles that I suggest you 'Look out for' here. And there'll be more added in the next few days.

In addition to this glut of fabulous new books, last week the Longlist for this year's Booker Prize was released. There are 13 titles, including eight debut novels, and these will be filtered down to a shortlist of six on 15 September.

In the past few years, members of the Browsers Book Group have risen to the challenge of reading, between them, all 13 titles. We then report back and collectively choose our own shortlist and seeing how closely it matches that of the judges. It's proved an interesting and enjoyable exercise.

I'm pleased to say that members of the new Zoom book group have been very enthusiastic in taking on this task.

I'll be reporting back on our progress in a few weeks' time, but if you'd like to be involved or to sit in on the discussion in September, reply to this email and I'll let you know more.