Dog Walking and a Musical Interlude

In the morning a walk to the boating pond, where we’ve been taking Briar ever since she was old enough to wall that far. she loves playing with balls on the grass, and in and out of the water. And then we walked home along the promenade, early enough that we were ahead of the masses we knew would appear on a sunny Sunday.

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In the afternoon the promenade was busy but the beach was empty and the tide was low. I took Briar down to the beach. She waited half-way down the steps, hoping that I would throw down a ball from the top. When she realised that wasn’t going to happen she went on down for a look around. And when she saw that I was heading out to the rocks she dashed down the beach to catch up with me. She loves scrambling across rocks and splashing about in rock pools.

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It was lovely to have the beach to ourselves for most of the walk, but a pity that more people don’t appreciate it as we do.

We could hear the music from the hotel at the end of our terrace from the beach. This Sunday it was a man with a guitar, and I heard one song that I particularly love. I was far too young to appreciate in its day, but when I heard it years later ….

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This evening we didn’t get beyond the back lane when Briar sat down – telling me she’s had her full quoata of walks for the day, thank you very much!

Literary London with Patricia Duncker

This year, London Book & Screen Week will be taking place from 13th – 19th April, uniting readers, writers, gamers and film fans, with hundreds of events taking place across the capital that celebrate stories and the written word in all its forms. 

You’ll find lots of events are listed at:  http://www.londonbookandscreenweek.co.uk/

It’s at time like this that I wish that Cornwall wasn’t quite so far from London; but I’m lucky that books, films and art can transport me back there, without having to worry about practicalities, and without having to stay at his particular point in history ….

I mention this because last week I was invited to take part in a blog tour.

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To celebrate this year’s London Book and Screen Week, five top authors will be revealing their favourite books about London on seven top blogs over seven days, as part of the first ever ‘London Book & Screen Week Blog Tour’ .

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And so I am pleased to present Patricia Duncker, the author of six wonderfully diverse novels, two volumes of short stories, and many literary essays and scholarly articles.

I’m reading her most recent novel Sophie and the Sibyl, published by Bloomsbury this week. It’s inspired by a chapter in the life of George Eliot, it’s intriguing, and it makes me very interested to know what she has to say.

To celebrate London Book & Screen Week, Patricia will be interviewed by John Mullan as part of a Bloomsbury Book Club event on Wednesday 15th April. Tickets are available here.

And today we have her thoughts about books and London:

My top 3 books about/set in London

 1. Charles Dickens Bleak House (1853)

The very first word of this grandiose polemic on the condition of England is London. The scene opens in the court of Chancery and the action concentrates on the machinations of the lawyers in Lincoln’s Inn. Mr. Tulkinghorn is the evil, prying spider, uncovering family secrets.  My sister-in-law is a barrister. She tells me all the lawyers love this book.

2. Bram Stoker Dracula  (1897)

The fabulous Count starts buying up real estate in Purfleet even before he comes to London. Van Helsing arrives at Liverpool Street and dramatic vampire action takes place on Hampstead Heath. London is the prize and the night streets are unsafe when the Count leaves his coffin.

 3. Michèle Roberts Paper Houses (2007)

This memoir of the 1970s and beyond is a portrait of the artist as a witty, radical young woman. Roberts has written many of her novels in and about London. Here she tells her story of art and life through the locations where she lived and wrote. No one else captures in such sensual prose the smells, sounds and textures of the London streets where she walks.

 

My top place to read in London

The café nearest to the Primrose Hill bookshop in Regent’s Park Road. I buy a heap of books at the shop and then retire to the café to gloat over my purchases!

 My favourite on screen/video game book adaptation

My fave book to screen adaptation is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1990s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman as the Count. It has the immortal line ‘ I have crossed oceans of time to be with you’,  and catches the theatrical qualities of the Gothic.

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And now I’m thinking about that …..  Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill ….. conjured up by Dickens at the start of Bleak House again.

So please distract me – tell me which book, which film, which anything at all, transports you to London!

A Year in First Lines

The last month of the year is here, and so it’s time to play a particular game:

“Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

It’s an idea that started with The Indextrious Reader, I spotted Annabel playing a day or two ago, and that reminded me that it really is an interesting way to look back at a year.

So here goes …

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January

“Arthur is gone … Tristram in Careol
Sleeps, with a broken sword – and Yseult sleeps
Beside him, where the Westering waters roll
Over drowned Lyonesse to the outer deeps.”

From A Gift for New Years Day: simply because I think that it is lovely ….

February

“Nearly ten years after I bought the book I have read every single word, every single footnote, and I am very nearly lost for words. I loved it that much.”

From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke

March

“The cover caught my eye, the title intrigued me, and when I picked up the book I and started reading I realised that I would have to carry on and see the story through to the end.”

From The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell

April

“It has been quite a week.”

From An A to Z as I may be more absent than present for a while ….

May

“I’m not quite sure where April has gone.”

From An A to Z as a new month begins ….

June

“Do you remember your first step into the world of proper, grown-up work?”

From My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

July

“I’ve always hoped that I would fall in love with Ann Radcliffe’s novels, with  the coming together of the gothic and the romantic, but I was scared to take the first step and so I needed that spin.”

From The Classics Club Spin Spun me a Sicilian Romance

August

“I haven’t done one of these for a while, and it just felt like time ….”

From An A to Z as another month begins

September

“This is lovely: a quite beautifully written book that speaks so profoundly. I find myself wanting to say so much, and at the same time being almost lost for words.”

From A Wreath for the Enemy by Pamela Frankau

October

“I fell in love with Can You Forgive Her, my first Trollope and my first Palliser novel, and when I had to leave that book behind I knew that if wouldn’t be too long before I stepped back into Trollope’s world with the next novel in this particular sequence.”

From Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

November

“The Classics Club Spin is beginning again.”

From My Spin on the Classics Club Spin

December

“I’d seen Patricia Wentworth’s books in the library, I’d picked up a couple in charity shops, but it was Lisa’s warm praise that had me seeking out the first book in the series and starting to read. “

From Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

And that’s it!

Now I could draw conclusions:

  • I like a list
  • This year has had ups and downs
  • I’ve read some great books

But I knew that!

It’s been lovely looking back to find my firsts.

Do have a go – it’s fun to do, and I’d love to see.

Rebecca Mascull and The Visitors: Questions and Answers

The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull was the first book I read this year. I read it, I loved it, I was intrigued by it, and I wrote about it back here.

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“Imagine if you couldn’t see couldn’t hear couldn’t speak…Then one day somebody took your hand and opened up the world to you. Adeliza Golding is a deafblind girl, born in late Victorian England on her father’s hop farm. Unable to interact with her loving family, she exists in a world of darkness and confusion; her only communication is with the ghosts she speaks to in her head, who she has christened the Visitors. One day she runs out into the fields and a young hop-picker, Lottie, grabs her hand and starts drawing shapes in it. Finally Liza can communicate. Her friendship with her teacher and with Lottie’s beloved brother Caleb leads her from the hop gardens and oyster beds of Kent to the dusty veldt of South Africa and the Boer War, and ultimately to the truth about the Visitors.”

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Today The Visitors was published in paperback, and when I was offered the chance of asking the author some questions I had to say yes. And I am so glad that I did, because Rebecca’s answers are so thoughtful and insightful, and she makes so many points that really strike a chord with me.

So here are my questions and her answers

Adeliza is a very special character. Please tell me about her, what makes her special to you, and what inspired you to write her story.

Thanks for saying that about Adeliza. She is very special to me now, as she represents the first character I’ve ever written who simply came alive and took over the story. The first line of the novel came to me complete one day and thus her voice was born. I honestly don’t know where it came from, but she just started ‘talking’. Her voice was shaped by her unconventional upbringing i.e. coming to language late. Thus, she ‘speaks’ English in a curious way, with some odd constructions, like a speaker of English as a second language. She also has some Kentish dialect in there, as her teacher comes from that area. This was woven into the language as I went along, yet her forthright tone and her way of looking at the world – all that came from her. Nothing to do with me!

 I was moved by Adeliza’s emotions when she could neither see nor hear, and by her joy as she learned to perceive the world around her and to communicate. How did you get into her head?

I’m so very glad it moved you; thank you. Three sources were key in trying to imagine Adeliza’s experience – Helen Keller’s autobiography, an account of Laura Bridgman’s education and lastly ‘Emma and I’ by Sheila Hocken, about a blind woman whose sight was restored in later life. Helen and Laura were both Victorian girls who were formally educated in the manual alphabet. Bridgman’s teacher wrote an almost daily account of how she was taught and how she responded to what she was learning; this was crucial evidence for me in constructing Liza’s learning curve. Keller writes so eloquently about her experience of being deaf-blind, yet I did ensure that I read these accounts early on and without taking too many notes, as I didn’t want to simply rewrite a fictional version of Keller, as she’s so well-known. I wanted to let the ideas I’d gathered from reading Keller inform the novel in more of a deep background way. It was important to me that Adeliza be her own person. As for Sheila Hocken, her account of the day she could see for the first time is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read in my life. I hope I did some little justice to that astonishing event in Liza’s description of her own life-changing moments.

It was lovely to watch the relationship between Lottie and Adeliza grow from teacher-pupil into a true friendship. Who or what inspired that, and how important a part of the story you wanted to tell was that relationship?

The relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan was influential. If you know anything about these two remarkable women, you’ll know they also had a remarkable friendship which lasted for decades. Annie’s life is just as fascinating as Helen, as she had problems with her sight from an early age and a very difficult childhood. However, I didn’t want Liza and Lottie to be a carbon copy of Helen and Annie, and luckily their own back-stories just took over and carved out their own paths. If you work one-to-one like that, day in, day out for years, there is going to be an extraordinary closeness. One of the saddest things I read was about Laura Bridgman’s relationships with her teachers; Laura was educated at a kind of boarding school for the deaf-blind, the Perkins Institute in Boston, USA. She wasn’t lucky enough to have her teacher at her beck and call all day and night as Liza does with Lottie. And as teachers do, Laura’s tutors had their own lives and eventually, every so often, one would move on to another job or to marriage. And all that special closeness Laura had built up with that one person was gone, and she’d have to begin again with someone else. She was a passionate and emotional girl and found these changes very hard to cope with. It was heart-breaking to read about her loneliness when a particularly favoured teacher left. I just couldn’t let Liza go through that! So I decided from the beginning that they would become friends, true friends. I felt, though, that it was important that Lottie had her own life that was vital and full, and that’s how her family and the story of her old flame came about. She does sacrifice some things for her intense relationship with Liza, yet she gains an awful lot too. I hope that came across.

Who came first, Adeliza or her visitors? What is it that makes the visitors, who give the book its title, important?

Liza did come first and the visitors most definitely came later. Once I’d decided that one of the main characters was going to war, I had a vision one day of Liza walking through a battlefield strewn with corpses and seeing the spirits of the dead soldiers rise and turn towards her. I’ve no idea where that came from! I do love ghost stories and movies about all that sort of thing, so I guess it was likely I’d write a ghost story one day, but I didn’t know it would be this one! I remember coming downstairs and saying to my partner Simon, What do you think about ghosts in this story about the deaf-blind girl? And he basically said, I like it! I wanted to make sure it wasn’t silly or daft, the ghost idea. And that it didn’t take over the whole point of the story, but I have to admit they grew on me and I loved working out the rules of their existence i.e. who they could see and hear, and how they came and went, and why they were there at all. Some readers loved the visitors and some didn’t really feel they were needed at all, but sometimes as a writer you just have to go with an idea, and on reflection, I’m very glad I did. I think it adds a curious dimension to the story and sets it apart from the classic narrative of overcoming adversity. And of course they ended up as the name of the very novel itself! But I like that oddness, and the spooky book cover designs convey that unsettling feeling perfectly.

 I was so sorry to have to part company with Adeliza at the end of the story. Do you have an idea of what lay in her future then, and might you ever come back to her story?

Gosh, that’s a lovely thing to say. I’m thrilled you felt like that. And I do have some idea of what lies ahead for Liza, I do indeed! In fact, I have a good few ideas about a possible sequel to ‘The Visitors’, but there are a few other projects I feel I want to do first. So we shall see. Perhaps one day. All I can say is that it would begin in America and may well deal with some aspects of late C19th/early C20th American history, but after that, I couldn’t say. Not because I’m being coy, but as I know well enough by now that there’s little point predicting the course of a novel not yet written. They tend to go off and do their own thing, despite your best laid plans. Like children.

Are there any books you would particularly recommend to readers who have loved ‘The Visitors’? And does being a writer and a published author change the way you read and respond to books?

Two very good questions. Firstly, I’d say if you want to know more about deaf-blindness, then read about Keller and Bridgman. And the Hocken book is fascinating too. I also loved ‘Seeing Voices’ by the great Oliver Sacks, about the deaf mind and some of the history of deaf education. As for fiction, I avoided reading any novels about deafness or suchlike while I was writing, as I’m always terrified of being influenced! Yet I did read the Forsyte books by Galsworthy around that time, as they are set in the same period, and loved them so (and both TV versions, both super in their own, very different, ways). Some recent readers have said my style of writing reminds them of Geraldine Brooks and also early Helen Dunmore – what a compliment! I hope it’s true, as they are fabulous novelists both.

Your second question is very knowledgeable and insightful. Being a writer and getting published has changed me hugely as a reader. It’s a massive question and I could go on all night, but in a nutshell, I’d say it has done two contradictory things: being a novelist has at times actually spoiled the reading of novels for me, as I find myself noticing all the cracks, analysing the techniques and losing that ability to lose myself in a story. Ian McEwan has written eloquently about this. It’s a busman’s holiday type thing. However, since being published and particularly beginning on social media, I’ve come into contact with many wonderful contemporary writers, including quite a few debut novelists like myself. Also my publisher Hodder give me books too, very, very kindly! And through this, in the past year or so, I’ve been reading some novels I probably would not have chosen myself, and have been wonderfully surprised by all of them in different ways. This has fundamentally altered the reader I once was. Now I know how much work goes into a novel, not only by the novelist of course, but through all the editing process and via reader responses; all of this has made me so much more benevolent and magnanimous to other writers! As a young reader, I was very impatient, and assumed that if I didn’t like a book then it was crap. As a got older, my position shifted slightly, and I presumed that if I didn’t like a book, then it was simply not well written enough. Now I know all that is largely garbage. Excluding the books that most people could generally say really ARE crap, I can now read a novel and say, That was brilliantly written, this person is a great writer, but I didn’t happen to like it, it didn’t suit me. That’s a big change for me, and I would say, a very positive one. I kind of wish all reviews were like that, and it does rile me when I see a hatchet job on a novel and I think, just because you didn’t like it, it doesn’t mean I won’t, or a thousand other people, or a million. I have an uncontrollable hatred of opinion masquerading as fact. Literature and indeed all art is mostly down to subjective response – I certainly know the publishing world is – and that’s ok. We could sit here all night and debate what makes great art or the top ten novels ever written, but I bet we wouldn’t agree. And that’s ok too. My favourite books stay with me in my heart because they chimed for me at a particular time in my life, they meant something to ME. You can’t analyse that scientifically, and you can’t bottle it and sell it, thank the STARS! That’s the magic of books.

Can you tell me anything about any future books, or anything else that lies in your future?

Right now, I’m engaged in the line and copy editing stages of my latest novel, ‘Song of the Sea Maid’, It’s due for publication by Hodder next year, in June 2015. It’s set in the eighteenth century and is about an orphan girl who is found by a benefactor and educated. She becomes a scientist, travels abroad and makes a remarkable discovery. In September I’ll be starting the next one, but all I can say about that at the minute is that it’s set in the early twentieth century. I think a writer can’t or perhaps shouldn’t talk too much about their current project, as it will probably all change anyway, and also, there’s a superstitious part of me that believes if it is seen in daylight, it’ll disappear in a puff of smoke. Writers are peculiar like that, you know…

Today I Have Been …..

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…. listening to Louisa Treger at the Morrab Library. She spoke of Dorothy Richardson and of her forthcoming novel, inspired by a significant part of the author’s life with erudition and with love.

I started reading the first volume of Pilgrimage at the weekend, I am very taken with it, and it is lovely to know a little more of the background.

WP_20140715_008…. walking in the woods with a dog who has a wonderful instinct for finding mud – she loves it!

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…. intrigued by a wide ranging discussion between crime writers Jessica Mann and Antonia Hodgson at the Exchange Gallery. It started with a discussion of the merit of contemporary versus historical crime fiction and moved on to consider much, much more.

I haven’t read much crime fiction at all this year, and I’d like to read a little more now.

It’s wonderful what you can do in a singly day off work in the middle of the week.

Thank you Penzance Literary Festival – and thank you Briar!

Shiny New Books, Cornish Books, Books to Write About ….

You may have spotted it already but, just in case you haven’t, let me tell you that the new issue of Shiny New Books is here!

There is a wonderfully rich and diverse array of bookish reading; hours of wonderful entertainment for anyone with an interest in books of pretty much any kind.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’ve already added books to my wishlist and pushed others up my list of reading priorities.

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Somewhere in there you’ll find my list of books to transport you to Cornwall.

I can warmly recommend each and every one, and I can recommend many more. There were books that are out of print – but easy to obtain, there were books that had to be set aside so that the list could be diverse as possible, and there are books that are so well known that they recommend themselves and don’t need me.

Here are some of them:

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Though I’m sure that there are wonderful books that I haven’t got to yet, and others that have slipped my mind …..

But now it’s time to move on and write about some of the books that I’ve read but not written about.

All of these:

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It’s definitely time I caught up.

And Margaret Kennedy Reading Week is definitely on.

More soon!

A Year in First Lines

I can’t remember what it was, but something brought to mind a nice meme that I did this time last year – and the year before that:

“Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

It’s an idea that started with The Indextrious Reader and it really is an interesting way to look back at a year.

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So here goes …

December

“My 20th Century Reading Project is nearly over!”

from  10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

November

“I have to do this from time to time; I have to celebrate the books I’ve read, organise the books I’m reading, and think about what might come next.”

from Reading Books: Past, Present & Future

October

“Now this was a lucky find, as I was searching through lists for a book published in a difficult year – 1972 – in my century of books..”

from Limmerston Hall by Hester W Chapman

September

“Stories can make us look back over our shoulders and question every creak and groan on a dark, quiet night.

from As The Evenings Draw In, R.I.P. VIII Begins…

August

“I only meant to be away for a couple of days.”

from I didn’t mean to disappear, but it’s been quite a week, and now I have a story to tell …..

July

“Do we need independent booksellers, in this day and age when there are so many ways to discover, buy and exchange books?”

from Welcome to Independent Booksellers’ Week!

June

“I owe Francesca Segal a debt of gratitude, because by reworking The Age of Innocence in a contemporary setting she inspired me to go back and reread Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel.”

from The Innocents by Francesca Segal

May

“At the centre of this story is Albert Honig, an octogenarian bee-keeper”

from Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh

April

“I’m halfway through my 20th Century Reading Project!”

from 10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

March

I’ve had mixed results with Beryl Bainbridge’s books in the past, and so I have left for a long time in the box marked ‘undoubtedly an excellent author, but probably not for me.’”

from Renewing My Acquaintance with Beryl

February

“I’ve had wonderful luck in recent years browsing the library’s reserve fiction stock.”

from Writing Women … Then and Now …

January

“I must confess that I tried to write a post about bookish resolutions, but it seemed dreadfully dull and too full of things I know I’ve written about before.

from An A to Z of What’s Ahead … 

And that’s it!

I don’t think I can draw any conclusions, but it’s been lovely looking back to find my firsts.

Do have a go – it’s fun to do, and I’d love to see.