Sunday, October 28, 2012

Postcard from Westonbirt

I have a fondness for autumn based purely on its colours. A crisp winter day has its merits, but tends to be cold. Spring has flowers, but can also be damp, and summer is never as hot and sunny as I'd like it to be. Autumn makes a feature out of its downside: the year may be getting colder but there's one final blaze of glory before nature's done for the year.

Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire is a great place to see the changing colours. They have collections of acers which look their best as the leaves turn.

I  might have soaked up enough colour to get me through the dark days of winter. I certainly over-indulged on the cake at their cafe. That should keep me warm. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Postcard from book club

I haven't got on well with book clubs in the past. Too frequently having to read books I didn't enjoy or listen to people who like the sound of their own voice despite having nothing relevant to say had put me off. But when I heard Waterstones on New Street in Birmingham were putting together a group to judge the longlist for The Guardian's First Book Award, I was tempted to have another go.

One reason was the fact the award covers non-fiction, and poetry as well as fiction and the thought of reading well beyond my usual, safe choices appealed. Another reason was an assumption that all the books might be good by virtue of being on the longlist. These things are subjective but, despite that assumption, I quickly ran into one of my problems - I had to read books I didn't enjoy. At all.

It was intense - 11 books in 8 weeks and weekly meetings to collate our opinions. A good challenge for a writer looking to improve her critical reading though. And, here's the real highlight, the other members of the group were great. We didn't always agree, but that was part of the joy of it because we never fell out and had many laughs along the way.

The Guardian will announce the final shortlist based on input from ours and 3 other groups soon but here's my personal pick (and issues - while the point is that these are first books, ie the author has room to grow, none of them got unreserved praise from me):
The China Factory by Mary Costello - moving, tender, beautifully expressed short stories (but there's little light to temper the shade in the collection so I don't recommend reading it in one go and the male characters didn't always ring true to me)
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers - intense observations from the front line (but this one split our group - some didn't rate it)
Absolution by Patrick Flanery - by far the most accomplished and satisfying read of the list (but perhaps too clever for its own good - it makes the reader work hard for the story).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Postcard by hand

What you'll also know is that I sometimes experience confusion about where apostrophes should be!

Philip Henser article