25 October 2017

Something From the Trolley?

Something from the trolley?

Book Gems I’ve come across accidentally.

I love my job in the library. Not only do I work with fantastic people and get to help wonderful library users, I have fallen in love with so many books I would never have come across if it weren’t for the place I work.

I frequently take advantage of the staff ‘perk’ of free reservations to order in books I’ve heard about, seen advertised or had recommended to me. As a result, I’ve managed to read a lot of great stuff. However, I’ve also done a lot of unplanned reading that has been great too. Books I’ve come across on the returns trolley or on a display shelf or in the course of returning a title to its rightful place on the library shelf. I’ve discovered some brilliant new fiction this way and some incredible new authors, but I’ve also, and more interestingly, found some fantastic non-fiction titles too. Here are just a few of those gems:

Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson – an inspirational and humbling exploration of the achievements of the surplus women of the Post WW1 generation.

I Quit Sugar  by Sarah Wilson – I lost a stone and my eating habits will never be the same again.

Stitches in Time by Lucy Adlington – an incredibly well-researched and fascinating history of the clothes we wear.

Hillsborough Voices by Kevin Sampson – heartbreaking accounts from those closest to the tragedy.

Too Marvellous For Words by Julie Welch – billed as the real story of Malory Towers. It sort of is and a jolly good read for anyone who ever wanted to go to boarding school.

The Making of Swallows and Amazons by Sophie Neville – prompted me to realise the ambition of a lifetime and take a holiday in the Lake District so I could see the real Wild Cat Island. Neither the book nor the holiday disappointed!

None of these are books I would have gone looking for, but they're books I’m so glad I found.

9 August 2017

I've started...but will I finish?

I’ve started…but will I finish?

Mum taught me how to use a sewing machine as a child and I’ve been making stuff with it, on and off, ever since. Every so often I set up the machine on the table in the window and, full of enthusiasm, I embark on creating something new in much the same way as I embark on writing a new story.

I don’t know where ideas for stories come from but sometimes it’s a something on the news or overheard in the street and plots and characters demand I do something about them right now. With sewing sometimes it’s some fabric, or a paper pattern that catches my imagination. Often it’s seeing something in a shop that’s way out of my budget and thinking: I could make something like that. But whatever the spark, the process of putting together a sewing project is very much like putting together a story.

Arranging all the pattern pieces on the fabric so that they fit is like pulling together a plot and as ! cut out each shape, I discard the scraps the same way I sift and select ideas. Beginning to stitch the pieces together is just as exciting as starting to write the first draft as slowly everything takes shape thanks to whatever skill I possess alongside the effort I put in.

Once I can try the half-finished garment on, I can see where adjustments need to be made – exactly like editing. When I reach a point where it looks like I’ll end up with something wearable, I trim the seams and snip away the loose threads, just as I cut all the unnecessary detail from a story.

Hopefully, I eventually reach the point where the garment or the story is finished, ready, good to go and the elation of wearing it for friends to see or sharing it with readers brings both happiness, and some anxiety that it’s actually OK. At this point I’m either itching to get started on the next project straightaway, full of enthusiasm and creativity, or else I’m exhausted and muttering ‘never again’ or ‘maybe in a while’.

Of course I’ve got just as many unfinished sewing projects as I have half-written stories stuffed into cupboards. And I realise I gave up on them for similar reasons too! They became too hard or suddenly lost their appeal or I grew out of them, or discovered I needed something to make them work that I didn’t have to hand and I lacked the time or the energy to go out and find whatever it was. However, whether it’s an incomplete sewing or writing project, I can’t bear to throw it away and I live in hope that one day I might get round to finishing.

27 July 2017

10 March 2017

Old Friends (Or the Joy of Re-reading)

Old Friends (Or the Joy of Re-reading)

I never used to think reading the same book more than once was strange. As a child, I’d read the books I owned over and over, still have many of them and still read them now. I’d also borrow the same book from the library two or three times and enjoy reading it each time, often gaining a fresh perspective on some aspect of the plot or characters that I’d missed first time round.

But apparently not everyone is like that. Most of my friends and family read a book once then shelve it or give it away. In a library I used to work in, people would often ask me to check if they’d had a book before or would come and complain that a book they borrowed turned out to be one they’d already read, like the idea of reading something again was unthinkable.

I don’t understand this. To me, a favourite book is like an old friend. You’re familiar with each other, you never get tired of their company and they can pick you up when you’re feeling down. It was a favourite book that probably first started me on my journey to becoming a writer. Aged 12, off sick from school and stuck in bed, re-reading Swallows and Amazons, I decided to enhance the whole experience by writing my own diary version. In an old notebook I recorded the events in Swallowdale as if I was there, complete with illustrations and stuck in messages sent via arrow from the Amazons. I might have been using another writer’s characters and plot but I was also creating something new.

We live in a throwaway society and, as writers, maybe we should be grateful that readers seem to want to read something only once then move on to the next story. After all, that ensures a fresh supply of stories will always be needed. But I’m convinced there’s much to be gained from re-reading too.