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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.

Sunday 29 October 2023

This weekend I made a trip to London to see one of the last performances of 'Pygmalion' at the Old Vic. And, despite, having an eventful journey there and back, it was wonderful to be in a London theatre, as part of an appreciative audience, enjoying the live performance of Patsy Ferran in the leading role.

With 'My Fair Lady' dominant in my memory, I couldn't help but look for points of difference, key of course in the ending, which certainly provided food for thought.

Although Hollywood turned the story into a romance, Shaw's original intent was to advocate for women's suffrage and the end of the British class system. In both productions, though, there is the debate about the power of language. How what you say and how you say it can alter your social status. 

A couple of books I've read recently have allowed the central characters to tell their story in their natural tongue. I don't usually enjoy reading dialect, but in both these stories it really did enhance my understanding and appreciation for the central characters. There was Adunni who lives in Nigeria and speaks a pidgin English in 'The Girl with the Louding Voice'. And in the children's book 'The Final Year' by Matt Goodfellow, Nate speaks Mancunian for his story told in verse. 

Perhaps I need to be better educated in dialect so that I can appreciate other stories told. I read an article recently that in Keighley they are running a six week course teaching people the Yorkshire dialect. It has been devised by the Yorkshire Dialect Society 'with the aim of increasing awareness of its rich linguistic history in an effort to preserve it'.

Of course it's always better to hear dialect than to read it. And in fact Louis de Bernières said in his event in Woodbridge last week that he has never tried to put the Norfolk dialect in his books for fear that it would come across as 'patronising'. There are still so many ways we respond to how someone speaks.

Thank you for reading.