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Sunday 19 March 2023

It's lovely to see the spring flowers, hear the birds singing and hope for some warmer weather and sunshine very soon. Next weekend we'll be changing the clocks to enjoy lighter evenings, but it does feel as though time is rushing by!

Of course, with the end of the month in sight, this is the first call for the book group meeting. We'll be gathering to discuss 'The Sentence' by Louise Erdrich (scroll down for details) and if you'd like to come along, please do let me know by replying to this email. It's really helpful for me to know the numbers to expect so that I can have the chairs and catering in place. 

If you haven't been to the meeting before, do consider coming along. Whether you've finished the book, or not, enjoyed it or not, it's always so interesting to hear other people's comments and views on characters, themes or storytelling. 

It's great to try new writers or genres, but with so many books published each month the choice can sometimes feel rather overwhelming. This week I've found the shortlists for two book prizes rather interesting and may explore some of the titles that are unfamiliar.

The Yoto Carnegie prize for children's literature revealed an all-women shortlist, dominated by titles for young adults but which included The Blue Book of Nebo. This is one of my favourites and which we discussed in book group last summer. 

Meanwhile the New Angle Prize, which recognises literature associated with East Anglia, listed three novels, a book of poetry and two non-fiction titles in its shortlist. There were some familiar names here. Jill Dawson was recognised for her latest novel, and KA Hayton was nominated for her time-travelling children's story. The judges included children's writer Sophie Green and novelist Liz Trenow, both of whom have spoken to us here in Woodbridge. How good it is to bring some new writing to the fore.  

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 12 March 2023

Social media is once again dominating the headlines this week as a key tv presenter shared his views on government through tweeting to his millions of followers, reputedly in conflict with his obligations to his employer, the BBC. 

Regardless of what Gary Lineker said, and whether or not he should be exhibiting BBC impartiality, it seems we are all, whether individuals, businesses or corporations, still trying to get to grips with the reach and role of social media in our lives.

I was interested, then, to learn this week that publishers are looking at how they protect and prepare writers of memoirs in the light of the ruthlessness of social media commentators.

Any writer can expect criticism when their book is released. We often hear how they feel exposed and vulnerable, desperate for favourable reviews. And probably having worked on a novel or biography for years, you can understand their anxiety.

For memoir writers, though, it is not a question of artistic critique but personal evaluation, not how they've written the book but why they have behaved in the ways they've described. We've seen it to the extreme in the response to Harry's 'Spare'.

An article in the Guardian, a column in the trade journal the Bookseller and an item on Radio Four's Front Row have investigated the subject.

Of course one answer to this argument is not to put yourself 'out there'. Surely if you are putting your life story into the public sphere, you are expecting it to be debated and dissected but if our world is such an angry, self-righteous and argumentative sphere that we can't respond to people's stories with respect, interest and tolerance, we may soon only see extreme views and characters presented. Let's hope that won't be the case. 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 5 March 2023

This week has seen the annual World Book Day promotion where children are encouraged to read through taking part in a number of activities and events, including a dressing up day at school.

Parents no doubt rue the initiative as the pressure is on them to create an authentic and inventive book-related costume for their child, but there's always something that catches the eye of the media. This year it was particularly topical

I never experienced World Book Day at school and am not generally one for fancy dress, but I wonder what it would be like to spend a day in the shoes of my favourite fictional character.

This week, then, I've included a novel in addition to my recommended non-fiction and children's books.

'Lessons in Chemistry' was the highlight of my reading last year and has just been released in paperback. Funny and quirky, dipping into the worlds of tv, cooking, science and rowing, there's much to delight and entertain, but it's also about a strong, determined, inspirational and resourceful woman. Hers would be good shoes to fill. And the choice of costume wouldn't be too difficult either.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 26 February 2023

There was no avoiding the book news this week - Puffin is seeking to reissue the Roald Dahl books with amended text after being read by sensitivity readers.

Everyone seemed to have an opinion on this - Salman Rushdie, the Prime Minister, the Queen Consort. Matt the cartoonist quipped that the title of one classic was to be changed to 'Charlie and the Quinoa Factory'. The debate filled page after page in the newspapers, day after day, with both serious and wry comments.

Then it seemed some sort of resolution was found as Penguin decided to keep both the original and revised editions in print. Commercially, a winner.

But there was another development today. Ian Fleming Publications, publisher of the James Bond novels, has engaged its own sensitivity readers so will be issuing new editions with references to racism, particularly, removed.

Where will this end? It's a worrying trend, it has to be said. And surely it's better to look at ensuring current and future fiction isn't offensive rather than seeking to revise past publications? As Philip Pullman commented, better to let inappropriate texts slip out of print if they are no longer relevant? And aren't we informed and intelligent enough as an educated nation to realise that times have changed and language and social norms evolve?

However, Roald Dahl revised his books himself. 'And Then There Were None' wasn't the original title of Agatha Christie's novel. An illustration of Peter Rabbit's dad baked in a pie did not appear in the second edition. 

Sometimes it is right to amend works with the knowledge and sensitivities we have today. The trouble with the recent reworking of Dahl (and the Bond books from what was reported today), is that many of the changes are just plain silly. How can it stop bullying in the playground by changing the word 'fat' to 'enormous' for example? 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 19 February 2023

Increasingly people tell me that they're unable to watch or listen to the news these days because world affairs are so bleak and, even reading the newspaper, I find that I am skimming pages, only taking in the headlines.

With so much doom and gloom, conversations with friends and family have adopted a certain refrain. When it all gets a bit much, someone will say 'Any good news?!' And we hope to rise to the challenge.

This week, then, I was cheered by a story on local tv about a husband and wife from Colchester who had succeeded in rowing the Atlantic together.

After three months and 3,000 miles they were very shaky on their feet as they stepped out of their boat. They had both lost a considerable amount of weight and didn't have much to say to their interviewer, but the scenes of jubilation as they reached land were wonderful. The relief and sense of achievement was palpable and the joy expressed through the flares and the cheers gave me goosebumps.

I wonder how an epic voyage like that changes you? For months on end your sole focus is survival, at the mercy of the elements, while witnessing the wonders of the natural world at close hand. 

A few weeks ago I interviewed marine scientist Hannah Rudd about her book exploring our own coastal waters. It was amazing to learn how they are no less awe-inspiring than the more exotic locations we associate with marine research, yet we take them for granted. She hopes that by telling us something of the extraordinary creatures to be found and also the eco-system on which we all rely so completely, we may be inspired to learn more and to be involved in helping preserve them for the future. It's an uplifting, enlightening and energising read and I urge you to take a look.

But finally, just a reminder that the end of the month is in sight so please let me know if you are thinking of coming along to book group on Monday 27 February. Scroll down for more details about this month's meeting. I hope I'll see you there.

Thank you for reading.