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Sunday 3 December 2023

Well I've had quite a week and I'm pleased to say everything has gone brilliantly! Thank you to everyone who has come along to the events and meetings. I hope you enjoyed it all as much as I did.

Nicola Upson charmed us with her passion for Josephine Tey, Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier as she described researching and writing her latest novel 'Shot with Crimson'. And afterwards it really was very special being able to see 'Rebecca' on the big screen. The Riverside Cinema was the perfect venue to launch this fabulous novel.

Adam Henson was wonderfully warm and entertaining, as we knew he would be. And it was a good job he could speak quickly as there was so much he wanted to share with us. We could have listened to him all night but he had to get back in the car and drive four hours back to the Cotswolds after our event at The Riverside.

There were two book groups for me to lead this week - our regular monthly meeting in Woodbridge discussed 'Saltwater' by Jessica Andrews, and this raised many topics of interest and debate. And I met with children at Woodbridge Primary School to talk about the book we've been reading there this term. 'The Final Year' by Matt Goodfellow was a huge hit with them all!

Then to round off my week, I met with the megastar Lee Child. He was on a short visit to London promoting his Jack Reacher tv series and he kindly spoke to me about his support of Suffolk Libraries. He was fantastic! You'll be able to find out what he told me about writing, reading and Reacher in my article in 'Suffolk' magazine early next year.

With all this going on, I haven't had much time for reading this week so I hope you'll forgive me for not providing my usual list of recommendations. Instead please take a look at the list supplied by members of the book group at our end-of-the-year meeting here.

Normal service will resume next week I hope - I've got a lovely selection of books to choose from!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 26 November 2023

The cinema was packed for our visit from Victoria Hislop last week and we were held rapt by the tales of her beloved Greece - and Woodbridge. She shared her newfound passion for archaeology and her activism, and delighted us with her experience of Dancing with the Stars, the Greek version of Strictly Come Dancing. She showed us her own Cycladic figure and there was a short slide show too! 

I received lots of lovely comments about the event afterwards and a common request has been to share the names of the authors Victoria recommended on stage. She mentioned Elisabeth Strout and Ann Tyler as novelists she has particularly enjoyed reading.

We all love getting a recommendation from a trusted source, don't we?! That's why our annual book group recommendations evening is such a popular occasion.

There are always surprises - books we've never heard of, perhaps. Other titles might be more familiar and we'll be encouraged to give them a try, and some we've read already and enjoy all over again through hearing someone else's comments. 

We're meeting tomorrow evening. It will be well attended as we're combining our discussion of this month's title 'Saltwater' by Jessica Andrews with a few festive nibbles while also sharing our reading recommendations from the past year. 

If you haven't let me know and would like to come along, you'll be very welcome but please do reply by noon tomorrow so that I can have everything in place. And if you can't be there, I'll be putting together a list of the recommended titles on my website and will let you have the link in next week's newsletter.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 19 November 2023

We received the sad news this week that the novelist AS Byatt has died. 

She was an author I felt very fondly towards, though her intellect and demeanour was rather forbidding. 

I read a number of her novels quite some years ago now, but it was 'Possession' which most resonated. I loved it for being so immersed in the world of literature, both in the present day and looking back to the Victorians (a favourite period of mine at the time for art and literature). 'Possession' was also a winner of the Booker Prize (next Sunday we'll find out which title has won the prize this year).

AS Byatt seemed to belong to another era. She had a stature which set her apart from the rest of us. She was incredibly accomplished and immensely well read, but she was surprising too. 

I think I heard her say in a radio programme that she read from three books each night, laying them across her pillow and reading a chapter from each in turn. I haven't been able to find any reference to this anywhere so I fear I may have imagined it, but it's a great image and fits with other interviews which are still on record.

In one article she said that before starting to write each day she liked to read three different books. She'd begin with something 'easy' as a bit of a warm up, then she'd move on to something a bit more challenging to get the engine running, she said, before turning to the final book which needed to be something interesting and stimulating so that she was desperate to start writing herself. (She'd start at about 12.30pm and finish at about 4pm.)

But I love it, too, that while her Desert Island book was Proust, she also regularly mentioned her love of Terry Pratchett novels and also Georgette Heyer. She turned to them for their superb storytelling and for the sense of comfort and escape she gained when reading them, she said.

AS Byatt - a surprising, interesting and inspiring person as well as a great writer. 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 12 November 2023

This month the winner of this year's Bolinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic literature is announced (I'd tell you when but I can't find any mention of the date).

I find I'm often asked to recommend 'a funny book'. Sometimes escaping into another person's story isn't always enough, we need humour to take us out of ourselves and it's particularly nice to give someone a book which will make them smile. But it's hard to find a book which is universally funny.

My recommendations this week lightened my mood in all three categories - non-fiction, fiction and children's books (scroll down for details). Nina Stibbe and Dolly Alderton are both past winners of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize which presents a case of champagne and 52 volumes of the Everyman Wodehouse edition to the triumphant author, as well as naming a Gloucestershire Old Spots pig after the winning novel. 

The book we're reading together for the Framlingham Book Group at Ottie and the Bea was also shortlisted for the prize last year. It's 'Echo Chamber' by John Boyne. You might like to read along to see what you think.

I asked John last weekend at the Southwold Literary Festival, how he views humour in his books.

'I try to use it in my novels, even the bleaker ones,' he said. 'But the two things I always think are most difficult to do in books is to make people laugh and make people scared. (Making them cry isn’t as difficult!).'

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 5 November 2023

In this wild, windy weekend, it's been a joy to be holed up with other booklovers in the Southwold Arts Centre for the relaunched literary festival organised by the town's library and bookshop.

I always find it so interesting hearing how authors come about their ideas and dedicate years of their lives to telling their stories.

The novelist John Boyne was extraordinary as he gave an insight into structuring his books. Despite experimenting with chronology and format for his work, he doesn't intricately plot. Instead he comes only with a concept or an idea and waits to see what happens when he sits down to write. A clever and creative man who is also very engaging to hear speak, and wonderfully animated in reading passages from his book (scroll down for my review).

Then there was Louis de Bernières who was talking about his weird and wonderful new book 'Light over Liskeard' which I mentioned last week. He spent years teaching creative writing, he said, where he would talk about the hero's journey and finally he decided to try it for himself. Another very entertaining and informative speaker, who was also incredibly open and honest about life as well as his work.

It's such a privilege to meet these authors who are so generous in all they have to share. And we have two novelists visiting us at the Riverside Woodbridge later this month who I know will also inspire, energise and delight us! 

Victoria Hislop will take us to the Greek islands as well as 1970s Woodbridge in 'The Figurine', and Nicola Upson, who sensitively melds fact and fiction as she takes us to the literary and artistic world of the 1930s, introduces us to Hollywood and a snapshot of the lives of Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne du Maurier and Josephine Tey.

I hope you'll join me in coming along to hear what they have to say about their Creative Act.

Thank you for reading.