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Sunday 9 May 2021

This week has seen prospective candidates in no doubt whether they have succeeded or failed in their attempts to seek election for government. But how do we measure success in our own lives?

Many people have read 'The Midnight Library' by Matt Haig which I am discussing on BBC Radio Suffolk this week. It's topped the bestseller charts as hardback, paperback and now also as audiobook. This interesting and enjoyable story has much to say about regret and achievements, success and failure in life, and its message resonated with me.

"Too often our view of success is about some external idea of achievement," says Nora, the central character as she looks back on her life, considering what she believes were missed opportunities and poor decisions. Her life could have been about winning medals, having a family, earning well and being highly regarded in a career. But, she concludes "success isn't something you measure, and life isn't a race you can win."

There is a false assumption that "if we simply achieve more, the feeling of success will follow," says presenter and author Simon Sinek in his book 'Start With Why', which I describe below. "It rarely does...Achievement is something you reach or attain, like a goal. Success, in contrast, is a feeling or a state of being...Success comes when we wake up every day in that never-ending pursuit of WHY we do WHAT we do."

He goes on to describe how the best businesses and most inspirational entrepreneurs - companies like Apple, pioneers like the Wright brothers, and leaders like Martin Luther King - have all 'started with why'. 

These are very different books, but both have a great deal to ponder about motivation, purpose and fulfilment.

There'll be other suggestions for reading matter in the second series of the BBC book programme 'Between the Covers' which returns tomorrow at 7.30pm. One of the guests is Griff Rhys Jones, who has visited us in Woodbridge a number of times. You can read more about his connection to Suffolk here. Griff used to present his own book programme many years ago, called 'Bookworm' I think, which I remember very fondly!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 2 May 2021

I've been thinking a lot about the life of the actress Helen McCrory since the news of her death a couple of weeks ago.

I'd always very much enjoyed and admired her work in the theatre and on screen and I've been inspired, but saddened, by the articles reporting her strength of character, and her joy of life.

One of the stories that has been told repeatedly is her determination to attend the Drama Centre school in London.

Despite failing the audition, she recognised that it was where she needed to be, so wrote to the director to say that she would apply every year until they accepted her, even sending him copies of the places she had won on other courses but had turned down waiting for his acceptance.

This determination and perseverance, and also a clear sense of destiny, is also apparent in the women who feature in my reading this week.

Beatrix Potter had a privileged but lonely upbringing, and had to contend with certain expectations of how she would live her life. But she recognised that she had created something very special with her stories for children, and she pursued publishers until they saw it too.

Lee Miller wanted first to be a model, then a photographer, and then a war reporter for Vogue magazine. Not able to secure a job, she attended the studio every day until they offered her work. She subsequently made an astonishing contribution to the magazine and invaluable historic records of that time.

How marvellous to be so sure of your goal and to be so confident and single-minded in its pursuit.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 25 April 2021

Whether you've been out for a meal or a drink, had a haircut, joined friends in the garden or returned to browsing a bookshop, it's been good to feel our lives opening up again.

There's some way to go, of course, and the terrible situations overseas remind us of how fortunate we are currently, and how careful we still need to be.

While each day I delight in living near the river and in a very distinctive and beautiful part of the country, my reading this week has caused me to think wistfully of other regions in Britain I'd like to visit again before too long - the Dorset coast, the west country, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Moors - places which have inspired artists and writers over the generations. Find out more about 'Landskipping' by Anna Pavord, below.

One way to get to know a landscape well is by walking, of course. And a reader of this newsletter and regular book group attendee, Sarah Atkins is soon to investigate the Suffolk landscape when she undertakes a sponsored walk along the length of the Sandlings Path, 58 miles from Ipswich to Southwold. Sarah is due to retire from her role as deputy headteacher of a Colchester primary school this summer and wants to fund a trip to the theatre for the pupils as a leaving gift. This excursion is likely to be the children's first experience of live performance. If you'd like to support Sarah, you can take a look here. 

We're entering the season for literature festivals now and many of these are combining online with in person events. Having finally attended the Hay Festival last year - remotely - I'm thrilled to see that the extensive and wide-ranging programme for 2021 will also be made available online. Do give it a look as there are some fascinating topics covered. I found it hugely inspiring and thought-provoking last year. Details are here.

I'll be involved in hosting a number of speakers at events in Suffolk, and online, throughout the next few months, so do look out for details in the coming weeks.

But tomorrow we'll be gathering together online for another book group meeting.

Although Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge has now reopened in line with government guidelines, it is not yet possible for this to be the venue for our monthly meetings. We'll have to wait a little longer for that.

Instead, we're continuing to meet on Zoom and I think we've all found it a valuable way to keep in touch and share our thoughts on our reading.

The discussion is open to everyone to attend, so if you're not normally able to make the trip to our Suffolk town and would like to take part, or just listen in, please respond to this email and I'll send the details.

We'll be logging on at 8pm to talk about 'This Lovely City' by Louise Hare, and I'll reveal details of next month's title too.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 18 April 2021

While we're still unable to travel overseas, my reading this week has taken me to some notable cities of the world. London, New York, Berlin, Milan and, of course, Paris are all acknowledged in the history of the iconic magazine, Vogue (details of the new book 'Glossy' below).

And I've enjoyed thinking of some of my memories and associations with the French capital, not least the hospitality offered to strangers.

There's the wonderful Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the banks of the River Seine. Opened in 1951, this English language bookshop became a meeting place for writers and readers, even offering a bed and a meal to those unable to find accommodation elsewhere - in return for working a shift or two in the store.

And there were the marvellous tales of the Supper Club organised by the late Jim Haynes in his home. Dinner would be available to anyone who wanted to drop by as he sought to "introduce the whole world to each other".

But this week I read an article in the New Yorker magazine which detailed how Parisiens have been opening up their homes to asylum seekers.

Since the start of the pandemic, a lack of state-provided housing in France has meant that migrants are often forced to sleep in makeshift camps or in Métro stations so in an improvised, ad hoc scheme, residents have been making spare rooms available and offering a bath and a hot meal to individuals and families.

Such kindness and compassion is uplifting and encouraging to read as we begin to think again of community rather than isolation going forward.

Sunday 11 April 2021

The sad news of the death of Prince Philip on Friday has brought much media coverage about the man and his achievements.

While he has been a public figure, and familiar to all of us, for so long, we always learn more about the essential goodness of an individual on their death, and also the troubles and challenges they had to overcome.

While there have been numerous biographies about Prince Philip and more will undoubtedly follow, I was surprised to learn that he enjoyed poetry, was a great letter-writer and had also written, or co-written, some 15 books himself. Many of these were collected speeches, others recalled his carriage driving, and a number were about wildlife and his concern for the environment.

Though now we have entered a period of national mourning, this coincides with another step in the easing of lockdown.

It means from tomorrow we can visit bookshops and libraries again, to browse shelves and select new titles.

While we've noted how books have been a huge solace and inspiration to many of us in the past year, bookshops have, of course, not been considered essential. And in France this has been particularly contentious. However, in their current lockdown that decision has been revised. Now bookshops have been given special dispensation to remain open, considered as vital to life there as ... florists, music shops and chocolatiers.