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Sunday 13 June 2021

Do you remember the comedy improvisation programme on TV, 'Whose Line Is It Anyway'? I always thought it had a bit of a cult following, but it seems everyone of a certain age watched it. Of course there were many well known names taking part but it was also such an exciting prospect because no one knew what was going to happen next, including the performers.

Improvisation has had a resurgence in recent years. I've been intrigued by the Austentatious troupe who create a comedy play inspired by Jane Austen from a title suggested by an audience member on the night. Some day soon maybe I'll see them perform in real life, but I did enjoy interviewing one of their founders Cariad Lloyd a few months ago. You can take a look here.

I was interested to learn of a book recently published, explaining all we need to know about improv. The terms and devices are spelt out, as well as descriptions of the spirit and teamwork involved. What's more, though, the author, Pippa Evans explains how we can apply these techniques and understanding to our regular daily lives. It's a self-help book with a difference, and is great fun. 

Of course we have all had to improvise in coping with the restrictions and changes in routine throughout the past year and organisers of author talks have been particularly inventive in 'pivoting' their offer from real life to online sessions, streamings and hybrid events.

This coming weekend I will be at The Cut in Halesworth interviewing the gardening writer Anna Pavord about her definitive work 'The Tulip', and her life of words and plants. I'm very much looking forward to it having spoken to Anna on the phone already. She's so inspiring and entertaining. You will be able to read about her in my article in 'Suffolk' magazine on sale on Wednesday, but I hope you'll either come to the event in Halesworth in person or watch online. 

The following weekend it's the Felixstowe Book Festival where I will be interviewing a number of the authors in a packed and wide-ranging programme. Again, there are more details in 'Suffolk' magazine, or take a look at the festival website here.

And a few days later, I will be introducing debut novelist Kate Sawyer in a special online event with Browsers Bookshop.

There has been such interest in Kate's novel 'The Stranding' and, having read an advance copy, I can assure you that it's worthy of all the attention. It's fantastic! The story and characters are so engaging and there are many themes and issues to consider. It stays with you long after you put the book down. Please do reserve your place as soon as you can as this will be a popular event, and I want to make sure I get the book to you as soon as I can. All the details will be sent to you via email after you reserve your place. 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 6 June 2021

I don't know about you but, even though I've got piles of books that I want to read, I still can't resist when a new title or author captures my attention. I just have to get that book, and it leapfrogs all the others.

Attending the Hay Festival online this week is a case in point as I've been introduced once again to lots of new writers who have enthused me with their thoughts and passions. I'm sure these are the books I'll be recommending over the next few weeks as a result. Watch this space!

I've also been enjoying the BBC 2 book club series 'Between the Covers', as I think I've mentioned.

I'd never heard of the novelist Mary Lawson until she was introduced by the presenter Graham Norton as his favourite writer on a recent programme.

We're reading her first novel 'Crow Lake' for this month's online book group and it will be interesting to see if everyone agrees with him. Scroll down for details on taking part.

Some books, too, set you off on a new path. And this was the case with my recommended non-fiction title this week.

Christopher Tugendhat has put together a social and political history of Britain from 1900-1964 by investigating the messages and preoccupations of the writing of that period.

It's a fascinating account, whether or not you're familiar with the titles he mentions. In fact some of the books I've been meaning to read for some time ('The Riddle of the Sands') and others I've never heard of but sound intriguing. 

There's something very special about finding and enjoying a new writer, and having a whole avenue of delights open up to you, particularly when you feel you've stumbled across someone little known. There is that conflict between being desperate to share them with everyone and wanting to keep them as your own little secret!

We'll be meeting a new writer in the next few weeks when Kate Sawyer, an actress and producer from Suffolk will have her first novel published. It's called 'The Stranding' and I found it completely compelling and all-consuming when I read an early copy. She'll be talking to me via Zoom on 1 July in an event I've organised with Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge. 

Have a good week, and thank you for reading.

Sunday 30 May 2021

At last we've got sunshine and warm weather, and coinciding with a Bank Holiday and Half Term, too - who'd have thought it?!

But, while it's a time for getting out in the garden, or being by the beach, we've also hit the season of book festivals.

I remember last year sitting in the shade with my laptop pumping out the latest talks from the Hay Festival, and I'm looking forward to repeating the experience in the next few days.

I've been enjoying and appreciating my garden much more in the past 18 months, so I'm particularly pleased to be talking to the gardening writer Anna Pavord at The Cut Halesworth later this month. I'll have details about this and other author events next week.

But tomorrow evening I wonder who might find a quiet corner of the garden from which to join in our book group discussion?

We didn't used to meet on a Bank Holiday and, with a lovely summery evening, perhaps you'll be tempted to go elsewhere, but if not, please reply to this email to receive the details on logging in. We'll be talking about 'Here We Are' by Graham Swift and I hope to see you there!

Sunday 23 May 2021

Although the easing of restrictions is welcome, it has still seemed rather strange!

I've been so used to the fact that theatres, cinemas, museums and galleries have been closed for so long that reading about performances and exhibitions has been almost like learning about things happening in another sphere, rather than something I might like to act upon.

There are many events and activities which look very appealing.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to take a trip to London, but The Woman Who Fell in Love with an Island is very tempting. It is all about Tove Jansson's home in Finland, and the fantastical world of the Moomins she created, told through the perspective of the Walthamstow Wetlands! There is an interactive trail and an exhibition in the Engine House, but the website also provides a wealth of information including a wonderful video of Jansson on her remote island.

And while Alice in Wonderland is the inspiration for another literary themed exhibition, this time at the V&A, it touches on how this children's story has influenced so many facets of life since its publication - everything from psychedelia to avant garde cuisine to quantum physics! Take a look at it here.

If you don't feel like venturing far, there are now an increasing number of book festivals streaming online throughout the summer months. This week, for example, it's the start of the Hay Festival which I found incredibly stimulating last year as I listened to many talks with authors I might otherwise not have discovered.

And we're approaching the end of the month, so I'll be distributing the log in details for our May online book group meeting this week. On Monday 31 May we'll be discussing 'Here We Are' by Graham Swift. Reply to this email if you'd like to take part.

Sunday 16 May 2021

Another milestone in the further easing of lockdown tomorrow is being met with some trepidation as we contend with variants of the virus.

But as we hope to move forward, it's been interesting to read articles and listen to discussions exploring the new challenges being met by society slowly coming together again.

Yesterday I caught Thought for the Day on Radio Four, presented by writer and journalist Martin Wroe. You can listen to it here (after 50 minutes).

He suggests that we are now entering the 'new awkward'. We've been given advice on how to hug safely, for example. And we are seeing the polarisation of character traits in different responses to the ongoing situation. Some people find rules bring freedom through clarity, while others find they are constraining.

He goes on to describe how the past year has given us an opportunity to consider the future. Was lockdown pressing pause or was it an opportunity for a reset button, he asks. If the new normal is not going to be just a vaccinated version of the old normal, we might need some different ways of living.

One consequence of the past year, of course, has been the rise in dog ownership!

If your new normal features a four-legged companion, you might be interested in hearing Simon Garfield speak about his latest book 'Dog's Best Friend' next Sunday. This is a fundraising event for The Cut in Halesworth. You can join online for free, but donations are encouraged to help support the reopening of this marvellous arts centre. Scroll down for details.

But with many things still in limbo and new behaviours to take on board, some people are naturally feeling uneasy about mixing freely again, as numerous articles about anxiety are addressing.

So I was interested to read a throwaway line in one magazine which stated that research has shown poetry may be a surprisingly effective antidote. Medical sociologists in the USA have been investigating its therapeutic effects in health conditions for the past decade. I haven't been able to discover more details or suggested poems or poets to try. Perhaps we need to devise our own list?!