Saturday, 6 February 2016

Bye Bye Blogger...

After 7 years of being hosted by Blogger, I've moved A Room of My Own to Wordpress. This was because Blogger started mangling everything and I couldn't find a way to fix it. I've transferred the whole blog over to my new site which you can find here See you over there!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 4 April

I know,I know, it's June and now I'm telling you about April's bookswap. What can I say? We read the books, but then it was the Marathon and 3 weeks of GCSEs and the Hay Festival, and three more weeks of GCSEs. So we never got round to the conversation (and are two months behind on reading). But that's all behind us now. GCSEs are done and Beth is fired up by her 'A' Level English reading list (which helpfully coincides with several of the books on our list) so here we are again. We've been noticing our books seem to have an unintentional connection (March were both set in Africa and both in a way dealt with colonialism; February books both featured orphans and being trapped by situations; January young oppressed women finding their voices) which this month is coming out stories. Beth's book for me was 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' by John Green and David Leviathan This is what she said: A guy named Will Grayson meets another guy named Will Grayson. Hilarity ensues. Again, a bit rude, but it’s by John Green so you know it’s gotta be good. A+ This is what I said: This was an interesting premise. Each author writes 'their' Will Grayson in alternating chapters. Green's Will is straight, but an inadvertent public supporter of gay rights because he felt impelled to stand up for his best friend Tiny (who is actually huge). Like many lifelong friends they drive each other crazy but love each other deeply even if they can't say it. Leviathan's Will is gay and depressed, hangs out with a girl in class playing a game of deliberate disaffection while he conducts an on-line affair with a boy from out of town. The two Wills meet by chance in a bookshop when straight Will can't get into a concert with Tiny and his friends and gay Will has just discovered his on-line lover is a fictional creation of his day time female friend. The story then follows as this encounter leads to Tiny and gay Will getting together in a passionate relationship bound to end in tears, whilst straight Will grapples with jealousy and tries to work out what he really feels about Tiny's friend, Jane. All set to the backdrop of Tiny somewhat improbably putting a school musical based on his life and featuring a thinly disguised straight Will. I enjoyed it a lot, because both writers make you care about each Will and both narratives get to the heart of adolescent insecurities well. I have to say I did find Tiny a bit twee and OTT, and the whole musical thing passed me by (but no doubt appealed to the Glee generation) but it s well paced and makes you feel for the characters. Not as good as 'A Fault in Our Stars' but I enjoyed it none the less. My book for Beth was supposed to be 'Pride and Prejudice' but I got muddled and gave her 'Oranges are not the only Fruit' by Jeanette Winterson This is what I said: This brilliant coming of age novel details the struggles of a young girl, growing up in a deeply religious family. When she discovers she is gay she realises she will have to choose between God and her family and the person she wants to be. A fictional account of real experience, Winterson says this is the story she could bear to tell at the time. A+++ This is what Beth said: I thought it was good. I really liked the division of chapters, Genesis,Exodus and the biblical theme. That was quite clever. I really liked the central character who refused to agree that anything was wrong with her though everyone was telling her she shouldn't be gay. I liked the wandering stories, and I understood the point of them,, but they really frustrated me as I wanted to end each story and they didn't finish! So now we have to do a bit of catching up. My book for Beth is 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens. Since Dickens is on her reading list and she has to write a review, she's ready to get going on that one. I've made a start on 'Clockwork Angel' by Cassandra Clare, which I'm enjoying so far...Will be back as soon as we can to tell you what I think.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mother/Daughter Book Swap 3. March

Month three coincided with Beth's revision schedule moving up a gear as GCSEs are getting closer. Also, she wasn't such a fan of Graham Greene, so she didn't race through her book as she normally does. Consequently we're running a bit behind! So this is what I said about 'The Heart of the Matter' by Graham Greene: Set in colonial West Africa during the Second World War, this book deals with the life of Scobie, a deputy police commissioner. Trapped in an unhappy marriage and trying to avoid the bribes of Syrian smugglers, Scobie tries to do the right thing until events overwhelm him. Heartbreaking. A+ This is what Beth thought: It was well written and has interesting use of language. But it didn't have much a plot and it was SO boring and depressing. It was really depressing. Not the most successful one then... This is Beth's assessment of "Deadlands" by Lily Herne: Yes, OK, this is a zombie book. But: it’s got loads of kick-ass female characters, political intrigue + anarchy! I’m only putting the first book down because I GUARANTEE you will want to read the sequels A+++ And this is what I thought: I was dreading this one, as I'm not a fan of zombie books, but I was pleasantly surprised. Beth was right about the kick-ass females and that I'd wanted to read the sequels. I liked the explanation for why zombies existed (an alien invasion leading to a virus that infected and reanimated dead bodies) and the members of the teen gang were much more interesting then those in 'Thieves Like Us'. Nice to have a black heroine in Lele, and I loved her tough and stubborn character. Atmospheric, dark and exciting, it left me wanting more. With Beth's GCSE's getting closer, it's good her next book is short. I hope she likes 'Oranges are no the only fruit' by Jeanette Winterson more than 'The Heart of the Matter'. Meanwhile, I have begun "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" by John Green. Vastly different from 'The Fault in our Stars' which I liked but I'm enjoying it so far. As always we'll tell you what we think in a month.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 2. February

So this month's books were "Thieves like us" for me and "Jane Eyre" for Beth. After the roaring success of our first reads, what did we think of February's fare?

"Thieves like us" by Stephen Cole.

Here's what Beth said:

A group of teenagers are recruited to steal stuff. Bit rude, but lots of fun – and sometimes magic! Oooh! B+

Here's what I thought:

Action heists are not quite my thing, so this was a bit of a struggle for me. This wasn't helped by the fact that Coldhardt, the criminal millionaire who recruited the malcontent teenagers was pretty manipulative and not above using the young girls' sexuality to further his ends, which I found a bit creepy. Having said that, some of the action sequences were very pacy (particularly the dramatic rescue at the beginning) and the hero, Jonah, was very engaging. I also liked Tye his love interest, as she was a fairly rounded and interesting character. And I get the appeal of kids breaking and entering, deciphering codes, kicking bad guys and driving fast cars. Beth tells me that by the end of the series Coldhardt is much more sympathetic but I'll take her word for it.  I quite enjoyed this in the end, but have no burning desire to follow the fortunes of the gang any further.

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.

Here's what I said:

Another story of an abused young woman growing up to take control of her life, it follows the orphaned Jane from the home of her aunt, to school and then to be a governess. Possibly the first feminist novel, with a wonderful heroine, slightly dubious hero and fabulous Gothic setting. A+++

Here's what Beth thought:

I really liked the character of Jane Eyre and I enjoyed the mystery of it. I didn't quite like Mr Rochester so much and I thought the ending was a bit convenient. Overall, I enjoyed it.

(Note - she's not wrong about Mr Rochester. Can I also say how much I enjoyed her outrage at Jane's mistreatment by Mr Brocklehurst?)

And now, the moment cannot be put off. We have found "Deadlands" and I will have to face the zombies. Beth, meanwhile, has Graham Greene's "The Heart of the Matter". I wonder how she'll react to all that intense Catholicism.

Back next month to let you know the results.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 1. - January.

My book for Beth  - "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
Beth's book for me - "All The Truth That's In Me" by Julie Berry

The Mother/Daughter Bookswap got off to a fabulous start with us both loving the other's recommended reads. Here's what we thought...

"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

What I said:

This was a ground breaking novel when it came out - there hadn't been many stories about black women told by black women before. Celie, the protagonist is beautifully written - a young girl who overcomes the most appalling abuse to find happiness and a sense of self. A+

What Beth said:

It was a really good book. I really loved the main character and was rooting for her through the entire thing. The tone was a bit jarring at first - but it was a really interesting way to show a black woman's voice without westernising it, and made it more authentic. It was a beautiful story and I loved all the characters. I'm excited to read the sequel ("Possessing the Secret of Joy") which features Tashi.

"All The Truth That's In Me" by Julie Berry

What Beth said:

I have NO WORDS for this book. IT'S SO GOOD. (This is a joke, you'll understand when you read the book)*. Maybe don't read it first as it will set the bar way too high. Also really feminist!  A+++

*(yes I get it)

What I said:

Beth was right. This is a wonderful book, which is utterly compelling from the very first page. Judith, the heroine, lives on the edges of a small rural community in colonial America. An outcast since she returned from a mysterious disappearance after her friend’s murder, she is unable to communicate because her half her tongue has been cut out.  Despised  by her mother and brother she pours out all her thoughts and feelings towards Lucas, the young man she has always loved, who is about to marry someone else.  When the village comes under threat from native Indians, she begins to confront her past, encountering kindness and cruelty along  the way. The novel is told in the second person, which is possibly the most challenging voice to write in, but here  it is a perfect mechanism to capture Judith's desperate yearnings. The result is another beautiful story about the oppressive nature of small communities, courage,  determination and a young woman discovering her voice. Highly recommended.

And now we're in February I'm down to read "Thieves Like Us" by Stephen Cole, and Beth's reading "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte. (I was due to read one of the zombie books but since it's on loan to a friend, I get another zombie free month).  "Thieves Like Us"is very different from "All Truth That's In Me" but has got off to a good start. I'm wondering what Beth will make of "Jane Eyre." We'll be back in a month  to let you know.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Mother/Daughter Book Swap

Given that Chris and I are both avid readers, it is no surprise that our children are too. When they were little we practically lived in our local library. When we moved to Oxford, the literary festival became an important event in the calendar, and in the last four years, the Hay Festival has become essential to us. And when Beth and Claire recently moved their bedroom round, their pride and joy was the book corner they created - wall to wall books arranged so the spines are colour-coordinated. Books really matter in this house.

However, up until recently, most of the books they've been interested in have been young adult or teen fiction. Occasionally one of them will pick up one of mine or Chris' books because it's grabbed their attention, but usually if I make a recommendation they don't bite. I've tried not to push my thoughts on what to read too much, as my dad, the English teacher, often used to bombard me with books I should read and then question me intensely about my thoughts on them. Instead I've been hoping that one of these days they might want to start reading the books I read.

Beth turned 16 recently and has decided she wants to do English Literature for "A" Level  next year (hooray). When I mentioned that perhaps it was time she started reading some classics, she thought about it for a bit and then set me a challenge. She'd read my recommended books, if I read hers. So we've set up our very own book swap. A book a month for 2015. She gave me her list on Thursday, complete with two line summaries and a rating, and I gave her mine yesterday (though my summaries were not as concise or as neatly written). We've both agonised over our lists as we've had to exclude books we love and changed our minds about some of the books we've included. Beth's already read my first choice ("The Colour Purple" by Alice Walker) and I've dipped into hers ("All the truth that's in me" by Julie Berry) which is great so far. I can see this is going to be a lot of fun, even if I do have to read some zombie books.

Several people expressed interest in our lists, so here they are:

Beth's list for me:

January - "All the truth that's in me" by Julie Berry.
February - "Deadlands" by Lily Herne.
March - "Thieves like us" by Stephen Cole.
April - "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" by John Green.
May - "Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare.
June - "Raven's Gate" by Anthony Horowitz.
July - "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" by Lesley Walton.
August - "Timeriders" by Alex Scarrow.
September - "Paper Towns" by John Green.
October - "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan.
November - "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.
December - "Skullduggery Pleasant" by Derek Landy.

My list for Beth:

January - "The Colour Purple" by Alice Walker.
February - "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.
March - "The Heart of the Matter" by Graham Greene.
April - "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
May - "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens.
June - "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson.
July "The Humans" by Matt Haig.
August - "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte
September - "Oranges are not the only fruit" by Jeanette Winterson.
October - "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell.
November - "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.
December - "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver.

We'll let you know what we think.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

It runs in the family.

I've just spent the last  few days archiving my parents' papers. I've always been fascinated by family history, so it was a real treat to have the time to search through note books, scraps of paper, and files scattered around the house and organising them. As a child, I loved to hear stories from both my parents, so I didn't think the collection would bring me many surprises.  At first this seemed to be the case as I came across many things that I'd seen before. I quickly found an excerpt from my Great Uncle Bert's memoirs, a box full of my father's employer references (each detailing his passion, skill and commitment as a teacher) and all my mother's articles about her many journeys overseas. I didn't have time to read them in detail, but it was both pleasant and comforting to look through them again.

Once I'd cleared the writing desk, I thought the job was done, until my sister pointed out a large drawer in  a cupboard in the next room which was crammed full of books and sheets of A4. I hadn't looked at it for years, and it dawned on me that I might come across some of the plays my Dad wrote for us. I was particularly keen to find one called  "The Knight of the Urgent Detergent" which he used to read to us at bed time. But the first things I came across were several versions of a script for "Rumplestiltskin" written for us children to perform. I'd completely forgotten that one, and as I read I was taken right back to the Christmases of my childhood when we'd put on plays with whatever friends were around. As well as Rumplestiltskin there were also many poems and a putative version of "The Elves and the Shoemaker". After that I did find fragments of a play which I think was the "Urgent Detergent" one as it involved a knight, a king, a queen, a witch and a cat, which felt familiar. It was every bit as funny as I remember, reminding me how much I'd wanted him to get them published. Alas! being a busy teacher with 8 children and bills to pay, he never quite found the time.

As I was leafing through the papers, I came across some notes about writing  screenplay and then some short stories dated 1961, with some critique attached. I was wondering whether he'd gone to a writing class (if such a thing existed in the 1960's) when I realised my mistake. The "J" Moffatt in question was my grandmother, Jane, not my Dad at all. She'd written the stories in her mid 70's five years before she died. I choked when I saw her name in full. I had no idea she wrote.

My twin sister (the writer Julia Williams) and I were a year old when our grandmother died. Though we never knew her properly, we were both fascinated by her life. She was a highly intelligent woman who managed to gain a place to study English at Liverpool University at the beginning of the last century. However, her father (whether due to finances, sexism or both) would not let her go. Our Dad was very close to his mother and always felt this injustice deeply.  Which was why he was so determined my sisters and I were well educated. It's why Julia studied English at Liverpool 80 years later, and goes by our grandmother's maiden name on her blog. And it's why my character, Elsie in my unpublished (as yet) novel, "Echo Hall" is Liverpudlian and was denied a chance to go to University.

Our grandmother had a hard life. She married young, and at 48 was a widow with dependent children.  Unable to find work in Liverpool due to the Depression, she was forced to uproot and move 200 miles south. She did eventually find a job as a teacher, and was a very successful one. Nonetheless she was never able to achieve her full potential.
So it's both sad and wonderful that she was writing in her seventies. Sad because if she'd had money and a room of her own sooner, who knows what she might have achieved? But wonderful, because at the end of her life she was thinking up characters and working hard to make them live on the page. 

It's been brilliant to discover this new connection with my grandmother and to realise that writing really does run in our family. I hope that she'd be pleased to think the twin babies she held in the year before her death have both become published writers. I hope she'd enjoy the stories we write. I'm certainly looking forward to reading hers properly.  And from now on - whenever I write - I'll be writing for her.