Friday, 13 January 2017

A Very Private Protest

Shortly after Lambeth Council shut Carnegie Library and before I became a trustee with the Carnegie Library Association, I felt such utter helplessness in the face of a government body and its relentless disregard for what local residents actually want and need.  Yes, I’d supported The Occupation.  Yes, I’d gone on the marches.  Yes, I’d inundated my Twitter feed with anything and everything to do with loving my library.  But I didn’t feel it was enough.

As a tutor with Ruskin Readers I was in the midst of the plight faced by community groups ousted from Carnegie Library.  While I tried to assist our lead tutor Caroline Knapp as she emailed and made Facebook appeals for us to secure a suitable venue, I quietly seethed within.

I wanted to do SOMETHING.

Then I got a notification email from my Google Calendar to renew my library books.  I made a sudden resolution.  

I would not return any of the library books I currently had in my possession unless I was returning them to a reopened Carnegie Library.  And so began my very silent, very private protest.

My work schedule leaves me little time to visit a library.  Having the Carnegie almost on my doorstep was a boon.  It meant that after work on a Monday I still had time to have supper before heading over for my tutoring session at Ruskin Readers.  As well as this, it meant I could return books and order or loan new ones before spending time with my Ruskin Readers’ student. I could use the library resources to plan my lessons and organise resources.  And whatever strange new idea I had for teaching my student, the wonderful library staff were always on hand to advise and assist.

Now that Carnegie Library is shut my closest Lambeth libraries are Brixton, West Norwood and Streatham.  None of these are conveniently placed enroute to and from work.  And when I have managed to find the time to get down to Brixton it’s been so crowded I’ve just turned tail and run next door to the calm of the cafĂ© of the Black Cultural Archives instead.

The opening times of West Norwood library just happen to be such that they do not accommodate my restricted schedule.  Then there’s my perverse reluctance to enter a library which is not Carnegie.  I simply feel disloyal, foolish as that may sound.

So I resolved to maintain my private protest and find books in other ways.  Remarkably, without anyone being aware I’d made my silent vow, I suddenly began receiving a load of books from people.  

It all began when I informed some of my students I’d embarked on a 100 book reading challenge for 2016.  They began to thrust copies of their favourite books at me and urged me to read them.

I also did book swaps with another person who’d begun his own silent – no return – protest.  Before I knew what was happening, I had a stack of books to read and hadn’t bought a single one nor had I violated my sense of loyalty to Carnegie Library.

Now I simply renew my loans online and set myself a reminder on my Google Calendar to renew again.  This is a tiny and insignificant thing in the whole scheme of things, but it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction none-the-less.

The 11 books I currently have out on loan are due to be renewed on 20th January. I’ve set my reminder.  My very silent, no longer so very private protest continues.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Bring it 2017!

I managed to finish ahead of time
which was a small miracle to be sure

So last year I foolishly set myself the challenge of reading 100 books in a year.  I wasn’t really thinking clearly and the number 100 just popped into my head when I spotted the challenge on Goodreads.  

I won’t be doing that again because it was an almost impossible task and I hate setting myself up to fail.  Luckily, I didn’t fail but that was predominantly down to the help of my wonderful students.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do try to do something different or learn something new every year if at all possible. This year I’m opting to do things a little differently.  I’m giving myself a very practical challenge combined with one I know is going to be filled with fun. 

So firstly I’ve decided that if I want to fulfil my ambition of eventually retiring to an Italian island I’d better improve on the smattering of Italian I currently possess:

Buongiorno, buonasera, grazi, signor, signora – all valuable words for obvious reasons

Allora – learnt from my wonderful aromatherapy masseuse Anna who hails from Rome, as does my other favourite Italian person, Elisa.

Baci – a necessary word for me as it features in my book Six Dead Men so I’d better know what it means.

Scarpe – even before I started tango I have always had a mild obsession with shoes.  I blame my mother for all my expensive habits.

Mmmm, as you can see, the Italian tutor whose class I’m due to invade is about to wish I didn’t exist.

Well, after I completely bamboozle the living daylights out of an Italian tutor I will need the comfort of reading to compensate for my poor linguistic skills. 

Learning Italian will no doubt involve much swearing and crying so laughter therapy will be required.  Therefore, my aim this year is to read every Pratchett ever written.  

I’ve read some of the Disc World series and quite a few of the Tiffany Aiken books.  But I want to try and tackle them in the right order.  So with the help of Sheffield friend’s son and his collection of Pratchetts, I’m hoping to do just that.

Naturally, in between all this I’m still planning on editing, completing and starting new novels.  Don’t worry, that’s still my main agenda.  And so you know I’m not kidding here is a list of my Works In Progress:

Palindrome* – The Prequel to Six Dead Men

Six Degrees* – short stories based around characters in Six Dead Men & Palindrome

When Rainbows Cry* – The sequel to Where Rainbows Hide

The Witch Adoption Project** – the sequel to The Lonely Dragon

So that’s it for my 2017 challenges.  I reckon that’s about enough to be getting on with for the moment. You can keep tabs on how I'm doing by checking out either my Facebook or Twitter page.

currently editing
** currently writing

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

Wishing all my followers a very happy New Year.  May this one be a lot better than the last.

May you find the key to happiness
May your dreams be full of promise
May your heart be filled with love
May you prosper

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Seasons Greetings

Wishing all my followers 
much Joy, Love & Peace 
this festive season

Friday, 16 December 2016

100 Books

I’ve done it.  And I'm ahead of schedule.  I can scarcely believe it myself.  I anticipated a scramble towards the end to get it done but I was wrong.  However, without the numerous children’s books loaned to me along the way I would never have achieved this at all.  So massive thanks to all my students who lent me their darlings.

So here for you, are my top 10 reads this year:

Best Adult Reads of 2016

This book reminded me yet again of why Pratchett is one of my favourite authors.  It covers world and local issues with insight and great wisdom while making me guffaw at the very top of my lungs.  I have yet to read a Pratchett which doesn’t make me howl with laughter in several sections.  I loved, loved, loved it.  And am delighted there is still much of this great genius’ oeuvre for me to discover as well as all my favourites to reread.

The Crane Wife
In this wonderful book by Patrick Ness, George Duncan’s life is transformed forever when he helps a wounded white crane, which has crash landed in his garden.  This book is a brilliant example of magic realism for the modern age.  So many elements of the book touched a nerve in me.  It is books which can make you believe that every day magic exists in a cold and calculating world.

A Game of Thrones
I loved reading this George R R Martin book as much as I love watching the TV series.  It’s not often I get drawn to a book through television or film.  I’m nearly half a century and it’s only happened three times.  The fact this first book ends with the ascendance of Daenerys has me on tenterhooks despite the fact I know what happens next as I’ve seen all the episodes of the first 4 seasons of the TV series.  None-the-less I want to read what comes next in Clash of Kings.

Cry The Beloved Country
It’s taken me 26 years to get round to reading this book, perhaps because it was banned in South Africa when I left there in 1987.  But now I’ve finally read it and was amazed how much it reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath, so much so that I am going to reread that book as soon as the opportunity provides.

But what to say of Cry The Beloved Country?  It evoked many half-forgotten memories of South Africa and touched something deep inside me because it spoke of things familiar yet forgotten because I’m so embroiled in living in the UK now.  The language is simple yet effective though evocative of a time long since passed I feel.  However, the enduring message is one of hope in the midst of all the pain suffered on so many sides.  Even though it charts a time in South Africa which is in the past, I can’t help feeling there are still lessons for our own age within the pages of this text if only we would dare to listen and hear them.  My favourite quote is from the end of the book: “…when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”

Best Children’s Reads of 2016

Binky The Space Cat
This little gem by Ashley Spires found its way into my hands at a Ruskin Readers session when the group was still housed in Carnegie Library.  What a marvel.  Cat lovers, young and old, will appreciate the wonderful humour.  And the illustrations are pure delight.  I chuckled my way through it from beginning to end.  To top it all off, there’s a SERIES of them.

Sunita’s Secret
This great little book by Narinder Dhami is about how life can knock you down but it’s up to you to get up again and make the most of what you’ve got.  The characters were well realised and the real life situation was tackled with empathy and great finesse.  Another thing I particularly liked about this book was its message about the importance of little kindnesses.

Best Friends
The first half of this Jacqueline Wilson book was heartrending.  I sobbed my way through most of it and ran out of tissues.  The story is a prime example of how the decisions adults make can affect children and leave them feeling desperate as they have no say in what happens around them.  It is also a story of how friendship wins out regardless of how adults behave and it shows how small kindnesses add up to a whole lot of wonderful new beginnings.

Saffy’s Angel
This book by Hilary McKay made me chuckle throughout the reading of it.  One section in particular had me in stitches.  I highly recommend it as it looks at how a family can appear to be completely dysfunctional while loving each other deeply and supporting one another to the max.  It’s a quirky, fun read and should not be missed.

The Savage
This is a great collaboration by David Almond and illustrator Dave McKean.  Almond has the ability to write about the sorrow boys experience in a brilliant way.  His work has a combination of tenderness combined with the wild thing always present in the male of the species.  The story told by the young narrator drifts between adulthood and childhood, using changes in font and spelling techniques to perfection.  

The whole is enhanced by the muddy green of McKean’s illustrations which push the reader into the murky world where fantasy meets reality.  This is a must read book for boys who have suffered a bereavement.

My Friend Walter

I’ve always had a fondness for history wrapped up in fiction.  So the introduction of Sir Walter Raleigh through this book by Michael Morpurgo has been a pure delight.  Sir Walter’s story is told through the eyes of his descendant, Bess Throckmorton.  She is going through a tough time as her family are forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known.  

This is a delightful book for children who are a bit put off by all the dates and facts that history can sometimes be.  I guarantee that after reading this they will be off researching Sir Walter and the times he lived in and never give a second thought to the fact they’re actually learning history.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Christmas Calling

If you’re a long standing follower of my blog you’re well aware of my views on Christmas and Christmas presents.  But if you’ve only just joined this happy band then please refer to the posts Christmas Cheer Episode 1 & Episode 2 of this blog to find out my true feelings on the festive season.

But now I’d like to get down to the serious business of discussing big store ad campaigns.  I’ve never really followed them much in the past but found myself inadvertently drawn in to the midst of the debate on which is the best one this year.

The first ad I spotted was by House of Fraser - this is the ad with all the dancers and the distinctly Thriller style dance scene.  That’s the main reason I noticed the ad.  

Ads in my opinion are an opportunity to get up and wash the dishes, make a cup of tea or pop some popcorn to enhance my sofa surfing experience.  But I spotted the musical reference (indeed a rare thing for someone as unmusically minded as myself) and thought, “The Christmas ad square-off has begun.”

At this point I knew there would shortly be a few more ads thrown our way now that House of Fraser had opened the floodgates.  So I eagerly waited for the supermarkets, and other high street stores to join the party.

The Aldi carrot offering didn’t do much for me, perhaps because I’m fond of carrots but am neither a horse, donkey nor reindeer.  Waitrose’s little robin battling its way through the wilderness to a mince pie in a suburban garden did get an Aaaah from me but that was about it.  

I was also rather underwhelmed by the Marks & Spencer offering.  I was sure they were going to give the others a proper run for their money.  And yes, it had a cute message and the very obvious motto that behind every great man is the endless hard graft of a brilliant woman. Duh!

The John Lewis ad caught me quite unawares.  I was feeling a bit blue due to the whole war in Syria, polar bears starving to death, Brexit & Trump and other world issues debacle when my eye was caught by the gambolling trampolining of a whole host of wild beasties, including a badger.  I’m particularly fond of badgers.  Don’t really know why, just am.  At any rate, by the end of the ad I was howling with laughter.  It really tickled my funny bone.  At that moment I was truly glad the advertising agency in charge of the John Lewis campaign had come up with this terrific concept.  It brightened my day no end.

So here for your delectation, and hoping it gives you that all over Christmassy buzz it gave me and still does every time I see this, is #BusterTheBoxer.

Friday, 25 November 2016


Ten months into my self-imposed reading challenge on Goodreads and I actually find myself 8 books ahead of schedule.  For those of you who think I’ve lost the ability to count – I didn’t actually start this challenge till February. The reason I'm this far along though is primarily due to books loaned to me by several fabulous students: Ari, Tobi and Tianna as well as the magnificent collection of Jacqueline Wilson at the charity where I teach.  It’s a difficult thing entrusting your beloved darlings to someone else but my students have faith in me and I hope I’ve not let them down by spilling spaghetti sauce all over the pages of their precious books.

In quick summary: the way I’m attempting to get through this challenge is by reading 3 books simultaneously.  I read one #bookatbreakfast), the second is my #bookbag and the third my #bedbook.

Reading this at bed time
 makes for very
exciting dreams

My summer holiday in Scotland gave me a fair bit of reading time so I added up the reading total on Goodreads quite nicely during that time.  However, the reading of adult fiction is going much slower than I would have liked.  I’ve also moved on to the second book in the Game of Thrones series for my #bedbook.  These are all weighty tomes and take a bit of getting through.  The only problem with this series is that I keep wanting to read tons more so am getting a bit sleep deprived.

However, I’ve resolved to have a fairly slim volume as my #bookbag in order to save my bag toting shoulder from undue injury.  So I may well be reading more than one children’s book at a time as they tend to be the slimmer volumes.

I’m now also constantly side tracked by the Bill Bryson books currently sitting on my coffee table just taunting me and urging me to read them.  It’s hard work resisting their pull.  But I’m determined to vary my reading as much as I possibly can, so Bill Brysons – you’re just going to have to wait till next month – or maybe later this month.  I’m so easy.

Believe it or not, I’ve only bought 7 books during this entire challenge – all of them from my local Oxfam which I can’t resist if I’m in the vicinity.  All the other books I’ve read have either been on loan from my beloved Carnegie Library or from the shelves of friends and students.  I’ve also read books which were given to me as gifts but had been languishing unread on my own bookshelf.

At Christmas time I usually reread Lord of The Rings as it remains one of my favourite books from the moment it was first given to my 12 year old self by my mother.  But this year I think that may not happen as I'll probably be scrambling to finish the 100 books required for this challenge.

So far this challenge has seemed daunting at times but now I’m starting to feel like I might just finish what seemed like an impossible task a few months ago.  Shortly before Christmas I plan to do a post on my top 10 reads during this challenge.  Till then I'll keep #reading.