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Sunday 27 November 2022

It's the end of November! We're hurtling towards Christmas and... (perhaps it's been the unseasonal weather) I'm not ready!

There's always a lot to do at this time of year, I find, but with the postal strikes I'll need to be organised earlier than usual. And this year there seem to be other pressures too - things I feel I should be doing?

There's been a steady stream of emails about 'Black Friday' urging me not to miss out on all the huge savings. In the 'cost of living crisis' I'd be foolish not to buy something I don't want or need at a slightly cheaper price than it has been or might be in the future?

Then there's the World Cup, of course. I'm not particularly interested in watching all the matches, but no need to worry because it's the top of the national news programmes and dominates the rest of the shortened bulletins. And children in Wales are given time off lessons, hopefully then to be taught how to deal with the subsequent disappointment and defeat.

The relentless pitch for Christmas is in earnest now too. The high street, hospitality trade and powers-that-be are all hoping we'll continue to spend freely to save businesses and the economy.

It is tempting to keep things as much as 'normal' as possible. But sometimes it's good to stop and pause and not get swept along with the crowd in needless frivolity, expense and indulgence. A simple meal and a small carefully chosen gift might be something to be grateful for this year. 

And a good book is always well received, I find!

Instead of looking at the bestseller charts, why not get some ideas by coming along to our meeting tomorrow evening when we'll be sharing some heartfelt recommendations of books we've discovered and enjoyed this year. To be sure I have enough chairs and mince pies, please reply to this email before noon tomorrow if you'd like to come along.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 20 November 2022

The novelist and children's writer Roopa Farooki never considered herself to be 'political'. But when, having retrained in medicine and newly qualified, she found herself working as a hospital doctor during the pandemic, she became very animated about the people making decisions on our behalf. 

Her memoir, 'Everything is True', a diary of the first 40 days of the pandemic is hard-hitting and challenging but she believes that that time has made us all more politically engaged. 

Since its publication, Roopa has decided that it's not enough to chart what happened, or to 'sit in huddles complaining'. She has become a local councillor (while also working for the NHS, lecturing at Oxford University, being involved in three national charities and a mum to four children - yes, she is extraordinary).

Roopa says she believes she was accepted as a councillor because of the contribution she can make with her medical qualification and experience.

Speaking to me at Lavenham Literary Festival this weekend, she held the audience spellbound with much to ponder. 

Perhaps now more than ever, we need to know that our politicians have valid 'life experience', are well-qualified and informed, and take their role and responsibility seriously. It'll be interesting to see how that might be presented in the jungle?

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Finding myself watching more tv than usual now that the nights are drawing in and the weather is getting - slightly - colder, I was pleased to stumble across a new series of the book programme 'Between the Covers'. 

Last time, a key find was the novelist Mary Lawson, championed by Graham Norton. I'm not sure I'm going to follow his latest recommendation, but there were still a couple of books to add to my reading list. The participants also opened the box on whether it's acceptable to read the end of a book first...?

I was fortunate to hear Graham Norton speak about his own writing at a conference the other week. He has written three novels now and is getting good reviews. I've added them to my list. 

He was asked about choosing books to read and whether, as he is such a familiar face, he is able to browse bookshops without being interrupted. He said that as people were likely to talk to him about books, he didn't mind as he was always happy to do that! 

Last week I was in the bookshop talking about the titles nominated for the Yoto Carnegie children's prize. There have been 67 books listed for the writing prize and 58 for illustration. That's a lot of books. They have all been chosen by librarians and it's a great list to work from for Christmas gift ideas. The shortlist follows in March and young people are invited to engage with the list in discussions, reviews and events, ultimately voting for their winner which is announced in June.

But if you're keen on getting some reading ideas closer to home, we'll be having our annual book group recommendations evening on Monday 28 November. Please let me know as soon as possible now if you'd like to come along and, more importantly, if you'd like to share the details of a favourite book!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 30 October 2022

Well, Prince Harry is going ahead with his memoir. Called 'Spare', it will be released in January. We'll have to wait and see whether the content is as explosive as is anticipated (hoped?!).

And it's interesting that in the same week, the distributor of 'The Crown' has made an announcement. It seems viewers are taking its stories of royal life behind the scenes too literally. A disclaimer is therefore being added to the new series stressing that this is a "fictional dramatisation", "inspired by real-life events".

Meanwhile the life of the 19th century novelist and poet Emily Bronte has been reinterpreted for a new film, called 'Emily', released this month. In the absence of a detailed biography, what will 'Wuthering Heights' fans make of the assumption that Emily had an affair with her father's curate? 

Oh, and in the summer there was a film about the life of Marilyn Monroe which used the novel by Joyce Carol Oates as its inspiration so, again, imagining events in the film star's life.

It can all get very confusing, this mixing of fact and fiction and when real life seems dramatic enough, do we need to imagine it to be more extreme and eventful?! How damaging is it to the memory of the people involved, and the family and friends still living?

It can be reassuring then to get back to 'make believe' and we'll be doing that in our next book group meeting as we discuss the charming tale 'Mrs Harris Goes to Paris'. Conceived in 1958 as a novella, it was released a few weeks ago as a film. Have the actors, director and producer added to our enjoyment of the story with their interpretation? Or do we sometimes need to preserve a precious book in our own imagination? 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 16 October 2022

It's been another eventful week in national and international affairs but I wasn't surprised to read some recent research which reported that 38 per cent of us choose not to engage with the news any more.

It's so difficult to process with one 'unprecedented' event following another. 

News Literacy Network has launched to help young people understand the role of news, its impact on us and how to develop a more accurate worldview without becoming overwhelmed with negative feelings.  

I haven't watched the news, or television generally, over the summer, but this week as I hunkered down in the darker evenings, I decided to watch programmes with presenters whose books I've read recently.

On BBC Two Bob Mortimer had joined his friend Paul Whitehouse for some more fishing. It was beautiful 'slow' tv with gentle banter and glorious scenery, and the concluding episode introduced a bit of activism from the musician Feargal Sharkey as he highlighted how our rivers have become polluted through neglect and commercial gain by the water companies. 

Meanwhile the reporter and documentary maker Simon Reeve embarked on a less exotic journey than is his wont, with a short series of programmes about the Lake District.

Here again there were wonderful shots of the stunning landscape, but also some amazing interviews with fascinating, inspiring people. They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

There was a young man, for example, still a teenager, who was running the family farm alone, with a little help from schoolfriends, after losing both of his parents to illness within a period of two years. And there were a couple of middle aged men who, seeking a solution to the flooding of Carlisle, had recognised that the course of the river had been altered by government intervention hundreds of years previously.

It was so encouraging to find serious issues covered in sensitive, thoughtful ways highlighting the problems but also showing how people were trying to find solutions. It was uplifting, inspiring, enabling, and refreshing!

But time is flying by and, though we're not quite at the end of the month, the book group will be meeting next week, on Monday 24 October, so do please let me know if you hope to join in the discussion. We'll be talking about 'We Have All Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson. It's a slim book, so there's still time to read it if you'd like to come along to the meeting!

Thank you for reading.