Friday, 23 March 2018

#Indie Intro

#Review: THE RED RIBBON by Rachel Ledge

2 Stars for lack of enjoyment due to frustration

This book won a Grand Prize in the Clue Awards so I was excited to see what it had to offer. The plot sounded engaging – set in 1773, a young woman (Julia) from a privileged background struggles to return to a normal existence after the murder of her best friend. To complicate matters, Julia’s fiancĂ© has been found guilty of the murder and awaits execution while Julia still harbours feelings for him despite the fact she has married his best friend. Another problem she faces is a headstrong younger sister who is intent on ignoring the advice of her elders.

The opening was very confusing. Initially it was difficult to establish which character was which when it came to the two sisters. Nor were matters helped by the constant shift between modern and archaic language. Even before I was 9% into the reading several proof reading and editing issues had already reared their heads: shifts in tense, misspellings, words used in the wrong context, missing articles, poor punctuation. I was beginning to despair. Then there were clumsy unedited sentences such as: “Only the body collectors, sent by surgeons who wanted the bodies for dissections, waited like vultures for the bodies to be cut down.”

I’m afraid that for me things did not improve. The constant need to describe 18th century costume made me feel I was reading a dressmaker's historical account of the period rather than a period drama. There are certainly sections which warrant the description of dress to explain a character’s fall in status but this only occurred once.

At one point I could not bear this list of problems any longer. I shut my Kindle on it for 3 days. I did however persevere. There was no reward for my stalwart behaviour. The book concluded much as I expected and I was very glad it was over.

This book was very much a case of NOT what it says on the tin. I read for pleasure. In this case I was completely robbed of it. I sincerely hope this writer’s future offerings are better edited with more attention to detail.

Is there anything in particular which spoils the enjoyment of a book for you?

Friday, 16 March 2018

How To Befriend A Writer

So you’ve always wanted to be friends with a writer. But you’re a bit intimidated. You’re worried we’ll be all sneery because you only got an E on your English GSCE or we'll insist you’re outrageously well read before looking your way. You’re thinking we spout words which require constant thumbing through a dictionary or demand you listen to every plot we’ve ever come up with. Well you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m here to tell you we make the very best friends you can get. So it’s in your interest to find one of us, tempt us into your life with juicy little treats and foster a loyal and potentially lifelong buddy.

A writer is a person of many parts. All these can be nurtured and brought to the fore for which ever situation demands it. So here’s what you need to know.

Sometimes we’re off with our heads in the clouds and don’t appear to be listening. It’s not true. We’re multi-tasking, taking in your every word, storing it away for a rainy day writing session in which you or the people you’re talking about may be forever immortalised in print. Naturally we will preface the work with the italicised words:

This is a work of fiction and any names or characters bearing a likeness to anyone you know is mere coincidence.

When we’re not doing the whole multi-tasking thing we’re fully there with you. We’re great listeners even if our motives may be entirely self-serving. So listen to our little spiels then marvel at our skill in listening to all you have to say. Your confidences will be considered sacrosanct.

We’re always up for adventure. If there’s a new thing to be tried be sure you’ve got a writer in tow. We’ll absolutely give it a go. To ensure our writing has a visceral quality we like to step right into situations, participate, experience them in full. We’re all about wild abandon. Our job spec demands it. Next time you're off out or heading into the woods - give a writer an invite.

Now you introverts out there needn’t feel left out. Just want a quiet winter afternoon or evening sat by the fire or hugging the radiator? Then writers are definitely the way to go. We love nothing more than an intimate setting with books, drinks, the gogglebox and food close at hand. Nor are we averse to the joys of sunny afternoons on the balcony or brunch on the patio.  Speaking for myself, if you’re willing to feed me and provide libation I’ll be more loyal than a puppy. In case you haven't quite got the message - ask us home for lunch, invite us out to tea. Feed us people. Feed us.

Us writers are a varied bunch. Yes, of course our main enjoyment involves prolonged stretches of time in garrets, reading rooms, libraries and book shops but we’ll also do a multitude of activities everyone else is out there doing. A recent survey concluded writers are more active than anyone would ever assume. Exercise in its many forms is their number 1 activity after a spot of Extreme Writing. This activity is undertaken in many forms. Some writers work at standing desks, others tap away madly at keyboards or use the latest technology to keep tabs on their daily word count. There are those who firmly advocate the old school approach and write using pen and paper. Who knew? Well now you do.

We can teach you the true art of doing without doing. This usually involves stretching out on a sofa or lounger in a seemingly non active pose. However, this is a total ruse. What’s actually happening in such a situation is deep cogitation. As you can see, the benefits of befriending a writer are endless. So I urge you to get out there and find a writer near you as soon as possible. Then using my suggestions, forge that friendship.

Already have a writer friend? What are their best and worst qualities?

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Carnegie Blues

I’ve been avoiding Carnegie Library ever since Lambeth Council announced its so called re-opening a month ago. My brain and heart knew the announcement for the spin it so obviously was. This morning I was forced into the ravaged listed building to attend a meeting. As a representative of the literacy charity Ruskin Readers I went to find out if there’s any hope of this ousted community group eventually returning to Carnegie Library.

Standing in the icy entry way I have serious doubts. Once beyond the swing doors my fears are not allayed. This is what the council considers a viable library: the repetitive resounding rattle and rumble of a digger in the garden, the central area covered in a range of books stacked on shelves, a small area housing 6 or so computer terminals, sets of tables and chairs in the round, a couple of automated book issue machines, a photocopier/printer and security guards.

“So where are the librarians?” You ask. Well you’ll have to ring a number for their assistance. Oh, and hands-on librarians will only be available at limited specified times. This provided by a leaflet posted on a pillar.

Together with myself and the three other meeting attendees there is a total of 12 people in the library. 3 of the 12 are security guards; 1 nursing two standing heaters, another patrolling in an Arctic style parka, a third - statuesque in a body warmer –acts as bouncer to the blocked off entrance of what used to be the wonderful Wildlife Garden.

 The lack of people emphasises how much our community has lost by the senseless closure of this much loved building for far too long and my Raynoids Syndrome flares despite the fact I’m wearing my obligatory fingerless gloves. There’s no way I can remove my coat or beret during the course of the meeting. Besides this, I’m welling up as I remember previous vibrant Saturday mornings spent teaching an Inkhead course here or just catching up with people during one of the regular tea and cake stalls run by the Friends. I’m heartbroken and inconsolable.

So what else is missing besides the vibrancy which was once the mainstay of this community building? Well, there is no disabled access, no access to public toilets, no possibility of mums with prams gaining access, no kitchen. And what, I wonder lurks behind the screened off side rooms? I suspect damage to walls and parquet flooring from water ingress.

So I reiterate – this then is what Lambeth Council considers a viable substitute to the wonderfully run Carnegie Library we once had.

Friday, 9 March 2018

#Indie Intro

#Review: The Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlton

4 stars for concept
2 stars for execution

At the start of the book we are introduced to the two central characters: Caitlin Lockyer and Nathan. The opening is successful as it draws the reader in due to intrigue. The story is told from Nathan’s perspective and we see his reaction to unfolding events and hear his inner thoughts. Nathan’s narration is interspersed with separate chapters outlining Caitlin’s nightmares.

This is where I feel problems creep in as the format begins to feel too repetitive. It could have benefited from interspersing with nuggets of Nathan’s backstory – just enough to further beguile the reader.

The further into the story you get the less this format grates as the reasons for Caitlin’s trauma are gradually revealed. The suspense does however feel rather forced. In a novel of this type there is always the need to create tension but then there’s the danger of a writing trick being overplayed.

There are also problems with character as the book progresses. Nathan’s voice becomes irritating and Caitlin begins to behave in ways which I find unconvincing. The ending of the book has not had the same attention to detail in the edit as the first third obviously did.

Subsidiary characters come and go in rapid succession. Some have clearly been fleshed out in the writer’s mind and their purpose in the plot is clear while others are left sadly hanging and then reintroduced later with gay abandon simply to further the plot it would seem.

The final feeling at close of reading was that the writer was thinking more about the series to come than the book currently in play. This prevents the book from fulfilling its true potential.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Gogglebox Adverts

Adverts! I hate them. I truly do. The only purpose they serve as far as I’m concerned is providing time enough to make a cup of tea or endure another hated activity – washing up. The length between adverts on some channels is long enough to complete a mountainous sinkful and make a brew.

The only thing which will halt my automatic move to the kitchen when these abominations hit the small screen is an engaging one. They are few and far between. So far this year only two have managed to capture my attention enough and keep my bum attached to the sofa. But I’m not going to tell you which ones they are just yet. Instead I’m going to keep you guessing whilst reviewing the ones I find annoying.

Let’s begin with perfume ads. Is it just me or are they weird? I always fail to see the point of them and am often very confused by what it is they’re wanting me to feel or imagine. Perhaps I fail to be engaged since I’ve used the same perfume for years and plan on doing so well into the future unless they stop making it.  While we’re talking ablutions, let’s consider those shampoo ads either claiming to do everything possible to ensure our locks look super or take us to a holiday location we could only ever dream of. I don’t mind the ones making fun of themselves. At least they accept the ridiculousness of it all.

Closely linked to adverts associated with what we need to keep us looking and smelling good is a particular laundry softener which has decided to use the Red Riding Hood theme this year. It starts out looking fairly interesting but I groaned aloud as soon as I realised what it was advertising. Green & Blacks also chose to go down the Red Riding Hood path in the woods, but at least theirs is a bit more interesting than the laundry softener option. Animals a clearly flavour of the week, month and year as they abound in advertising from credit score checking to banking to insurance.  

Current car ads have also latched onto the ‘let’s include an animal’ or allude to them to make things more interesting and lure those buyers in. In my less than enthusiastic advert watching I’ve counted no less than 4 incorporating the idea so far. There’s the feisty goat lording it over everything except a VW, the pack of dogs submitting to a Landrover, the wolf cowed by a Rover and the girl in the woods taming the car of her choice in the CarWow ad.

I wondered how long it would be before Brexit made its way into adverts. I wasn’t disappointed. So far I’ve seen two. The first is for Ancestry DNA and has a wonderful message we could have used before the whole Brexit debacle. The other is one of the favourites I mentioned at the start of this post. It features the comedian Richard Ayoade, who I find very amusing and has a terrific message. The only thing which annoys me about this ad is that it’s for HSBC, so much so that I'll not bother posting the vid here for you to see.

Now that I’ve let you into the secret of the first ad I liked this year, it’s time to let you know about the second. This one is for Cadbury’s and warmed the cockles of my heart.  View for yourself and decide.

Were your cockles equally warmed? Let's hear your thoughts. Are there ads out there which ‘get your goat’? Are there others which truly touch you? Let me know. My comments section awaits the flood of shared vids.

Friday, 23 February 2018

#Indie Intro

#Review: Wolfbound by Jane Bailey

A 2 Star read

This is a story of two halves: the one in which a pack of werewolves feature prominently and the other where a young woman’s anxieties about her lack of attractiveness to the opposite sex are foremost.  The protagonist, Eileen, has always felt there’s something other about herself. She’s battled long and hard to push this side of her nature aside. I was engaged.  When the plot brought her and Zachariah together I got the sense he was going to either bring her otherness to the fore or help her rid herself of it completely. The opening chapters of the book are solid in their descriptions and the writing style easy to read.

However, this is where the plot unravels. Once a failed attempt at understanding Eileen’s true nature is described, the story loses its way and lingers far too long on her anxieties. The link between her relationship with Zachariah and who she truly is, is lost. Furthermore, I was very troubled by descriptions of the domestic abuse situation being described. I hoped the author was planning on extricating her character from this and wondered how she would achieve this. It was done clumsily. Two characters were added to further the plot and their inclusion felt forced. The attention given to the opening of this tale was missing further down the line and the ending felt rushed and cobbled together.

There was another disappointment in this reading. Initially I was very excited by the first few pages as it is set in Salford University, Manchester and environs nearby. As a Salford alumni I felt I was about to recapture a bit of my youth. But there is very little description of the campus, no mention of the Irwell or any of the iconic buildings. There is no real sense of place. The story could be in any university anywhere in the world. This can lend universality to the story but for me the lack of place was significant. Why bother mentioning the story is set in Salford if there is going to be very little sense of it during the story? I also feel the author missed a trick as it would have been the ideal opportunity to utilise sensual description so crucial to any writing which involves animal-human transformation.

Unfortunately, a disappointing read.

Friday, 16 February 2018


This month as we celebrate the centenary of the right for some women to vote, I find myself remembering the remarkable women in my family who have shaped my life but never had the vote in their lifetime. By the time Mandela was released in 2014 my maternal grandmother had been dead almost a decade. It wasn’t until after Mandela’s release that the question of the right for all South Africans to vote was a viability. As South African women under the yoke of the Apartheid system, my grandmother and mother were denied the vote because of their racial status, never mind the fact they were female. Voting for all in South Africa finally became a reality in the 20th century. This is a stark reminder the struggle for equality is very much an ongoing one.

When I reflect on what these women gave me in terms of self-belief, psychological nourishment and love, I’m overwhelmed they did so despite the odds. It highlights the strength of character inherent in their natures. I have no doubt I would never have embarked on my precarious writing journey if I had not had the solid grounding they provided me with.

My mother was a feminist at heart. The example of her fortitude was always before me. In a society and time period which was particularly chauvinistic in nature my parents had a very equal relationship and shared the work load financially and on the home front. I remember my dad being teased by his friends for having a wife who wore the trousers. My dad regularly joked he was ruled by a petticoat government.

My mother was a Jack of all trades, forced to be so by the difficulties of finding a well-paid job for an educated mixed race person in an unequal society. At one point she even opened her own business – a modelling school and agency for African, Asian and mixed race people. Her entrepreneurship in a time when daily discrimination was the norm still astounds me.

 A voracious reader on a variety of subjects, she even took it upon herself (after purloining a chunk of my father’s gambling proceeds) to buy a plot of land. She had realised there was a loophole in current law and took advantage. She then designed a house and commissioned a builder. Sceptical of my mother’s drawings, the builder brought an architect on board. He declared the drawings sound and to scale. My mother never did anything by halves and always urged me to finish whatever I started regardless of whether I was enjoying it or not. This attitude to life was no doubt passed to her from her mother who also endured much hardship during her lifetime.

As an Asian, my maternal grandmother was disowned by her family when she eloped with my grandfather - a strapping mixed race member of the ANC who favoured his Black ancestry more so than his European. Not only did she have to deal with the financial and emotional fall-out of his subsequent imprisonment but later the domestic abuse he heaped on her after imprisonment left him a changed man. She had the bravery to divorce him in a society where divorce was considered a cop out.

So this is the female stock I hale from. I could not be prouder to stand in line with them. Someday I hope to make my mark and pass on the baton of resilience they handed down to me.

So who are your personal Suffragettes and what did they do for you?