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Sunday 2 June 2024

It's been a lovely afternoon here in Suffolk, so perhaps summer has arrived... 

But whether the sun shines or it rains once more, we know it's June because of the huge amount of activities and events taking place.

This weekend there have been open gardens and open studios, exhibitions, fetes, fairs and festivals with many more to come. And this month will also see the start of the Euro 24 competition and the lead up to Wimbledon. Oh, and the political parties are campaigning for our votes in the General Election.

There's a lot going on and my weekends are filling up.

So perhaps I'll see you out and about this month?

On 15 and 16 June it's the fabulous crime writing festival that is Slaughter in Southwold, organised by Suffolk Libraries. The wonderful Elly Griffiths will be there, the Rev Richard Coles (who joined us in Woodbridge in the autumn) and also husband and wife team Nicci French (read my article here), but lots of other writers too, and it's a great way to discover authors who are likely to become firm favourites.

And at the end of the month, it's the Felixstowe Book Festival with another packed and wide-ranging programme. I'll be interviewing a number of speakers there: the novelist Emily Howes about her book about Gainsborough's family 'The Painter's Daughters'; theatre director Dominic Dromgoole (scroll down for more details about his book 'Astonish Me!'); Nigel Toon explaining 'How AI Thinks' (I'll be saying more about that next week); and barrister Michael Mansfield telling us how now is the perfect time to act on his book 'The Power in the People' (this event is selling fast so don't delay if you wish to come along to that one).

Hopefully you've not filled your diaries already and will be able to join in some of these events, and all the other activities on offer in Suffolk this month. But while you're planning ahead, do think about booking your seats for our visit from Iwan Thomas on 8 July (details below). It'll be perfect to get us in the mood for the Olympics which start a few days later. It's going to be a busy summer! 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 26 May 2024

We've said it before but these days there's never a shortage of information available for anything and everything.

And this includes books, films, tv programmes - the blurbs and trailers are designed to tempt us in but often it feels that they give rather too much away. Or they overegg the pudding - how many times have we been told a book is 'hilarious' only to find, for us, it barely raises a smile?

But these are competitive times and the marketing and publicity teams need to earn their keep. 

I was interested, then, to read a recent interview with the actors/writers Steve Pemberton and Reece Smith, speaking ahead of the release of their latest and last series of dark, comedic dramas - an anthology of stories in 30 minute episodes, called 'Inside No 9'.

They're known for always wanting to experiment with form, content and genre to surprise and delight their audience - for example, there has been one entirely silent episode, one in iambic pentameter and an episode filmed from a doorbell camera.

The tv executives often took some persuading but ultimately they trusted the talent and vision of the duo and it has resulted in an award-winning concept.

As their success and renown grew, though, they had to be increasingly inventive to keep ahead of their viewers.

And they tried to keep each episode a secret, giving away little information before the screening. Part of the appeal was that people didn't know what to expect. These days that feels quite a novelty.

But Steve Pemberton says the most memorable and enjoyable films and shows for him over the years have been the ones where he's had no knowledge or expectation of what he was about to see. 'I think if I had read a synopsis or seen a trailer before it would have ruined it for me.'

Our book group meetings try to take us out of our comfort zone with our reading habits in exploring different genres, styles and authors. And I appreciate how many of you trust me month by month in choosing books which I hope surprise and delight (most of the time).

I hope, too, that the author events I organise or help host also bring a new or different perspective. Often it's speakers with whom we are less familiar that we gain most inspiration.

I certainly commend the book by Iwan Thomas (I'll be including my review next week). I would never have thought a sports biography would be my 'thing' but people are people and I think it's always fascinating to find out about different professions and lifestyles, and usually surprising to learn about the particular challenges and triumphs. I hope you'll join me in meeting him in a few weeks' time!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 19 May 2024

The sun was shining here in Woodbridge today, as it always seems to do for the town's 10k running race. A hugely popular event attracting around 700 participants for two loops of a surprisingly hilly course, it is known for the fantastic support given by residents and businesses along the way.

There was a powerful sense of community the other week, too, when around 50,000 people joined together on the streets of Ipswich to celebrate the football team being promoted to the Premiership.

Whether or not we're active or competitive ourselves, sport can transcend differences and bring us all together to celebrate excellence and achievement. It can capture our attention and imagination, and lift our spirits as we recognise courage and determination, often against all the odds.

It brings many life lessons too - dignity in defeat (and in victory), self belief, respect and courtesy to the opposition, perseverance and sacrifice in reaching the goal. We'll see all this, of course, in the ultimate competition, the Olympics held later this summer in Paris. 

So it's fabulous to be able to welcome Olympian and 400m recordholder Iwan Thomas to the Riverside in Woodbridge in July to find out more about his experience, the lessons he's learned, and the story of his life and career. He'll be introducing his autobiography at this event which has just been confirmed - click here or scroll down for more details. 

Of all sportspeople, I think I find athletes the most fascinating. Their lifestyle, diet and training seems punishing and isolated, and all-consuming for a race or event that can last seconds. How do they cope when their dreams are dashed by injury? What do they do when they reach the natural end of their career and need to channel their energy, passion and obsession elsewhere? Iwan will tell us all about it.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 12 May 2024

A friend told me she'd been ill recently and had been frustrated that she couldn't use her convalescence to catch up with her reading. She just couldn't concentrate. 

We discussed the sort of books she found helpful in getting back into the zone and we agreed that children's books are a good way in. Great characters, punchy plots and a good pace with action and interest, and not too much superfluous description! What's more, as the award-winning and bestselling writer Katherine Rundell says, the best children’s fiction takes us back to a time when “new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before the imagination was trimmed and neatened…”

Children's books are also "written to be read by a section of society without political or economic power”. And, as the reviewer Alex Preston said: "In an age whose political ructions are the result of widespread frustration at the powerlessness of the many in the face of the few, this recognition of how emboldening and subversive children’s books can be, feels important."

So it's been interesting to learn that in recent research, of the readers of YA (young adult) books (which are aimed at teenagers), 74 per cent were over 18 years old, and 28 per cent were over 28. The report established that the appeal of this genre was that it offered comfort and a defence against the stresses of the responsibilities of adulthood.

There was also a sense that nostalgia, seeking out authors discovered in childhood, can offer an emotional and intellectual support. And of course there's a sense of escapism, too, into a realm where justice and resolution is understood as an outcome of the story, or where contemporary issues are viewed from a fresh perspective. But, says one commentator 'The important thing at any age is not so much what you having access to all the benefits of being a reader'. 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 5 May 2024

We had a fabulous evening in Framlingham with nature writer Matt Gaw last week. At the end of a warm, sunny spring day, it felt very special to gather together, with glass in hand, to listen to his impassioned, entertaining and informative take on our natural world.

Matt has written three books now, about our rivers, the night sky, and this one on the weather. His writing beautifully melds memoir with observation and information, and we all came away inspired and uplifted, and determined to appreciate the downpours which inevitably followed the next day! 

But Matt's next project will be a novel, he says. And another nature writer, also at the event, revealed that this is what she is working on too.

Having met a journalist earlier in the week who had explained that she had chosen fiction rather than a biography to present her discovery about little known musicians in 17th century Italy, I was forced to ponder.

It's clear that fiction today usually reaches a larger audience, so the rewards financially and creatively are greater for the author. Meanwhile for the reader, novels help us to empathise and even, on occasion, change our minds about complicated issues, or appreciate new facts and scenarios, introducing us to people, places, histories and messages which we may not have found ourselves naturally drawn towards.

But has it become too easy to dismiss, overlook or disregard the serious handling of subjects today. Are we equipped to handle the facts?

We're only too aware of fake news and AI (and see below Danny Wallace's new book about conspiracy theories). We are being challenged all the time in interpreting the information being presented to us. If we know where and how we can establish the truth, we have nothing to fear but we do need to have time to learn, to investigate, to interrogate. Perhaps that's the key - finding time.

So in this long weekend, I plan to do some 'serious' reading! I have a particular project in mind but have been distracted by easier, quicker, more entertaining reading. Tomorrow, though, I'm going to find myself a sunny corner in the garden (or under a blanket by the fire, depending on the weather), pour a cup of tea and, with pen and notebook in hand, I'm going to study! I'll let you know how I get on...

Thank you for reading.