I don’t want to do my homework, Miss.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog.  I’ve been so busy having a nice time that sitting at the keyboard has drifted down my list of priorities.  Now I feel I should get back into a sensible routine, but I’m finding it hard to convince my inner child that it’s time to settle down and do some work.  It feels like that first week back at primary school after the long break when you have to write “What I Did On My Holidays” by Kim A Howard aged 56 and a bit.  I promise, I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of what I’ve been doing, even though it’s been very exciting.  I’ll just show you a few pictures, share a couple of highlights and promise to do better try harder from now on.

Book CoverThings started with the thrilling news that I had won a Twitter give-away.  When my parcel arrived, I don’t know what made me more excited – getting a book (for free) by a debut writer or getting an envelope with an honest to goodness Chicken House label on the front!  The book won.  Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is now tottering on the top of my To Be Read heap in the bedroom.  The envelope went into the rubbish.

Winchester Writers Festival was the first big event.  I spent two days as a student host, looking after an agent, an author and a digital whizz.  On the third day I was a fully fledged delegate, working on plotting stories with the wonderful Sarah Mussi, and I really didn’t feel the day was long enough.  It would have been great to have another hour or so to go into everything in a little more depth, but I’m not complaining.  She was extraordinarily generous with the documentation she gave us and with her offers of support afterwards.  There has been a flurry of tweets and emails over the last few weeks between those of us in her group – responding to them is another thing on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

In a quiet moment at the Festival I was browsing the internet and found this website.  I spent quite a lot of that day showing this page to anyone who would take a look.   On 30th July 1952, at 21.20, in a programme entitled Community Theatre, is a performance of The Deluge by the Southampton Student players.  Run your eyes down the cast list and you will find Japhet, played by Patrick Garland (actor, writer, director of Chichester Festival Theatre, etc).  Now look at the line underneath.  His Wife is played by Margaret Mansbridge – that’s my mum!  I can’t tell you how excited and proud seeing her name in print made me. The internet is wonderful at preserving old records like this for future generations.

NYC rooftop viewNext stop – New York City.  Who knew you could fit so much into seven days?  We saw two concerts, two Broadway shows, went on a half-day cruise, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, watched part of the Pride parade, visited the 9/11 memorial garden and museum, went to the top of One World Trade Centre, ate, drank, shopped… and, yes, I did come back to England with more books in my case than on the outward flight.  We had an amazing time – it would take another post or two to tell of all the joyous happenings so I won’t say more here.  Just let me know if you want details.

We flew back overnight, leaving NY on Thursday evening and arriving at Heathrow at 8.00 on Friday morning, so we were more than a little jet-lagged when the alarm went off at 7.00 on Saturday.  We had a train to catch!  We missed it by about 90 seconds and had to wait for the next one.  It was quite pleasant just sitting on a bench on the platform for half an hour and gave us chance to build up our energy reserves for the day at Wimbledon.  We had tickets for Centre Court and were nine rows from the back, up on the fifth floor – a long way from the nearest Pimms seller.  We watched three brilliant matches and didn’t fall asleep once.  I won’t give you a point-by-point account of the tennis – that’s what the iPlayer is for!.

Sunday was a day for laundry, lunch and lounging around on the sofa and it seemed like no time at all before we were back into the working week, added to which I went to two different crit groups on Tuesday evening with my current favourite work-in-progress.

Three book coversFive Book CoversAnd, of course, I’ve been reading and listening to stories.

Sunday Snapshot – 17 May 2015

After all the excitement and intense work of the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to make a tiny dent in my ‘To Be Read’ heaps.  My heaps contain books in four categories:

  1. To be read for college
  2. To be read for work
  3. Books I’ve borrowed from the library for fun
  4. Books I asked people to buy me for birthday and Christmas that are still waiting their turn.

This week, for the first time in a long time, I ditched the first category.  The majority of this week’s reading comes from section two, but I did manage to sneak in some stories from section three.  Those books in the fourth category are, as usual, the Cinderellas. It’s worse than that, they weren’t even invited to the party.

A display of eight book covers

To make up for it, I read a picture book about Cinderella – Give Us a Smile, Cinderella by Steve Smallman & Marcin Piwowarski.  In this version of the well-known tale the step-sisters are ugly because they are too lazy to brush their teeth.  The Prince is not attracted to their smelly, gappy smiles but Cinderella, who brushes her teeth night and morning, wins his heart.

The other picture books this week are 15 things NOT to do with a baby by Margaret McAllister & Holly Sterling – a comical set of rules for things you really shouldn’t do when your new baby arrives – and Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne & Max Lang.  This simple book is full of families of every shape and size.  It has one simple message: If you love each other, then you’re a family.  Both these books are great for families to share together and will be going on the When a Book Might Help book lists.

The other WABMH books this week were Blabber Mouth by Morris Gleitzman and Not As We Know It by Tom Avery & Kate Grove.  In Blabber Mouth we meet Rowena Batts.  She can’t speak due to having ‘some bits missing from my throat’.  This, her tendency to stuff frogs in people’s mouths and her outlandish father, can make it difficult to make friends.  This is a fun, funny, positive story and makes me want to read more about Rowena.  Not As We Know It is much darker.  It is the story of Ned and Jamie, Star Trek obsessed twins.  They do everything together, but Ned has Cystic Fibrosis and the prognosis is not good.  One day they find something strange on the beach after a storm.  They take the creature, who Ned names Leonard, home with them and hide him in the garage.  Jamie hopes that Leonard will somehow cure Ned’s illness, but Ned has listened to the stories about merfolk and has a different interpretation of how things will end.  A moving and beautifully illustrated story which some adults may find disturbing.

From my ‘fun’ heap I read the eighth book in Alex Scarrow’s Time Riders series, The Mayan Prophecy.  I have enjoyed following the adventures of Liam, Maddy, Sal, Bob & Becks as they try to unravel the mystery of who they are and what they are doing.  Book nine has already been requested from the library and I think that will be the end of their journey.  At the same time I’ve been listening to The City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke.  Written in 1956 this story felt quite old-fashioned in the way it was written – lots of exposition, both in the text and dialogue.  The ideas, however, were interesting and the ideas about man destroying their environment and isolating themselves from the natural world seemed very relevant.

I’ve kept the best to last.  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a beautifully written, lyrical coming of age story.  Dante and Ari have different skills and abilities, different temperaments and different family backgrounds so it seems unlikely that they will become best friends – but they do.  I loved this story.  Despite the occasional violence, it is a very gentle story about a friendship that gradually develops into love.  We so often read about gay people knowing about their sexual preferences from an early age but this was much closer to my own experience.  Looking back, the clues were there and some of my friends were quicker on the uptake than others.  I wished they’d told me!  When I finished this book it took me a while to come back to the real world.  I felt sad that I could never again share Ari and Dante’s story for the first time, but really happy that I had got to know them.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is questioning their sexuality, who has friends who may be going through the experience, or who revels in a good love story.