Monday, 1 March 2021

 I am currently reading a crime novel. It is perfect for what I want at this moment in time. I don't really have any idea who the killer is and to be honest, I don't care either. I like the detective - at least a bit. She'd be one of those people you see at parties where you stop and chat for five minutes before moving on to someone else.  The story is well told, all the suspects could have dunnit. But it lacks something, a pinch more salt in the cooking, maybe.

In the previous novel which I read, there was so much action that my head buzzed when I finally put out the light and tried to settle down to sleep. This too was well written if a bit over-long. It kept me puzzling to the end which was a mild surprise. 

On reflection, I think I almost prefer the book I am currently reading because it is not going to intrigue me too much, just holds my interest.

Since writing this I have finished that crime novel and I must say the unfolding of the plot was a bit hairy. I didn't even try to fathom it, just thought "oh, it was him". And yet, I enjoyed the story and will look for other books by the same author - this one was written ten or twelve years ago so maybe the plot lines have become more believable. There are so many books out there and they all have their merits, their strong points and their weaknesses, just like the people who write them. It's a comforting thought.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

 Sleepy News

I read the other day that a university in some part of the United States has been researching the effects of insomnia on fruit flies. Me neither and I couldn't agree more. 

I read this because the words sleep and insomnia caught my attention. I don't own up to being an insomniac. I'm what you'd call an irregular sleeper. In my wild youth, I could I could sleep for oh around 10 hours or more. Then marriage and children changed that a bit. And now, when I live on my own and could sleep for 20 hours without someone saying as much as "fruit fly", I can't. 

I try to do all those things that are recommended.  I don't have my mobile in my bedroom (unless I need to set the alarm for any reason - no reason since lockdown), I do not have a television set in the room. I read for around half an hour, usually a crime novel. Then I switch off the light, turn on BBC's Radio 4 or RTE's Radio 1 and try to drift off to sleep. I wake around an hour and a half later and toss and turn for at least an hour. When there's a full moon, I usually can't drift off for longer than that, so I trot into the living room and scroll Twitter or read poetry for an hour or more. I go back to bed and finally doze off, waking at around 8.30 a.m.  I have learned to live with it, more or less. Tried taking a sleeping tablet but that didn't seem to do the trick. I guess I need less sleep, unlike the fruit flies.

In case you are dying of curiosity, the university doing the research discovered that when deprived of sleep, fruit flies crashed into walls, totally disoriented. Maybe I should look at those sleeping tablets again....

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Time to read the old favourites and find new ones

I have so much more time to read at the moment that I am trying to stretch out what I haven't read yet and pick a few favourites from way back. It's nice to have a TBR pile next to my bed but I have nearly got to the end of it now and while searching for new stuff, I like to relax with someone that I have enjoyed before and know I will enjoy again. It's like visiting old friends. If I'm feeling particularly vulnerable, I choose Jane Austen. My favourite of hers is Emma followed by Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. But with the exception of Northanger Abbey, I love all her writing. She was witty and perceptive and her characters are very true to life.

If I'm in the mood for something a bit different, I read Eric Ambler's novels. He is probably forgotten nowadays and yet, in my opinion, he was a great thriller writer. I have just finished A Kind of Anger and I still admire his story-telling and the plot. The next Ambler on my list is The Nightcomers - I have the American version and the title the U.S. publisher used was State of Siege. Either way, it is another Ambler classic - the ordinary not very virtuous guy gets caught up in a situation which he has to find a way to deal with. An interesting thing for writers who like to learn from others is Ambler's use of smell to make a character even more sinister. In one of his thrillers, the bad guy's cologne smells of "attar of roses", those being the days when aftershave was not so much used, although I suppose if it were a modern story, any brand of cologne would be as effective. Somehow, this scent conveys a sense of menace which it is hard to define.

Currently, I have started re-reading The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsythe. Again, this is a masterpiece in suspense. I believe he had some difficulties in getting it published because everyone knows that Charles de Gaulle was not assassinated. However, the sheer skill of his writing and his background knowledge of international police workings interwoven with historical figures, has made this a classic.

If all that has not made me give up and put the quill back in the goose, I shall do some work on my current crime novel in the Sergeant Alan Murray series. I have been struggling with parts and problems of the plot but yesterday when I was out walking, something clicked into place and now I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get going again.

To writers everywhere, I wish you inspiration and to readers, lots of fun reading those stories.

Monday, 18 January 2021

 What do you mean?

Some famous writer -I'm too lazy to look it up, but I think it was Ernest Hemingway - once said something like "never use a ten-dollar word when a one-cent one would do". He probably said it more elegantly but the meaning is the same. Most of my favourite authors write good, plain English. There are others - not my favourites - who search for what they reckon are admiration-inspiring long words that I have to look up to get the meaning of.

This aside, I am currently amused by the new expressions which have crept into our language. One of my favourites is "imposter syndrome". Now there's an idea. When the going gets tough at work and you're wondering if it was your best idea to take the job, you can put it all down to imposter syndrome. Does that make you feel better or worse? If it were me, I would feel worse. A syndrome?  Really? Just because the going is rough? Who thought that one up and spread it around like soft butter?

Another word I smile over is eclectic. Great if you play Scrabble. What happened to good old-fashioned "varied" or even easier to spell, "diverse"? They have the added attraction that they are easier to pronounce after a glass or two of savignon blanc. 

Then again, you won't be going to one of those parties where you trot out these terms, that is unless you are talking to the family pet.

Monday, 21 December 2020

 A Perfect Christmas - a not too serious look at the hype around the holiday season.

Browsing various websites and the glossy magazines that come with the Sunday newspapers, I came across several bits of advice for having "the perfect Christmas" and even for having "the perfect covid Christmas".

I'm afraid that my initial and not very elegant reaction was : give me a break! Who needs advice on having a perfect Christmas? What is a perfect Christmas, anyway? Women - and it's usually women - work so hard to present that crispy, golden turkey and those mouth-watering veggies, crispy roast potatoes (yum, yum) and get the right wines to accompany them and everyone turns and smiles gratefully at them as the family is seated around the perfect Christmas dining table. Angelic children put up "santa stop here" signs and go into rhapsodies over their presents. Men buy perfume for their nearest and dearest because they've seen that advertisement on television where this glamorous figure rides bareback around town. Really?

And what is the perfect "covid Christmas?" I suppose if you look on the bright side, with all the restrictions in place, Aunt Nellie won't be able to come and criticize your decorations and stare blankly at those rather gorgeous gloves you got her.

All that cheery advice - it's enough to make you want to eat your Christmas stocking.

However, help is at hand. If you completely disregard all the cozy suggestions of what food, what presents, what wine, how to do it all, and simply relax - cook a beefburger with a generous portion of French fries and tinned beans, give everyone cash instead of toiling around the shops in your mask, and just have fun. Be glad to share this special time with your loved ones and do FaceTime or Skype with those who can't make it. But above all, despite the situation we are in, let's be happy and merry. Sing those old traditional Christmas songs together, play cards or any board game that unites everybody. And let us be thankful for what we have right now.


Saturday, 14 November 2020

 How Did That Happen?

I checked my fridge today and discovered that I have an almost unused jar of Dijon mustard. When did I buy that? For what? I really can't remember. I had some hotdogs for lunch and applied a very thin coating of the Dijon mustard, because this stuff is hot or is spicy the right word? Anyway, it tasted good. I must have bought it for a very specific recipe as I'm not a mustard person, more a fan of mayonnaise which goes with everything, right?

Anyway, it reminded me of the need to de-clutter cupboards and the fridge and check the "best by" dates on everything. It's amazing what you turn up. In my spices and herbs section, I found a little jar of mixed herbs which was nearly 2 years out of date. Yike! But then, I thought dried herbs lasted forever.

De-cluttering is important to our personal lives, too, though. Like the Dijon mustard, there are things I think I like, or that I liked in the past, and now I'm not so sure. 

I'll be doing a big clean before I put up my Advent decorations at the end of the month. Now that's a tradition for me and one I am not going to change. 

Speaking of Christmas, I have a lot of fun writing my Christmas romance novels. Here is the latest one, available as Kindle ebook and paperback. Here's the link if you want to have a look: Christmas Romance at Windfall lodge


Monday, 31 August 2020

Who will write our story?

 I am currently reading SHADOWS ON MY HEART, the Civil War diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck of Virginia. It starts Christmas 1861 when the war was almost a year old. Lucy is 18, lives at Bel Air, an estate which has eight slaves (although she does not mention them in her diaries). There are 13 children in the family. Lucy educates the younger ones at home, her two eldest brothers go off to fight for the Southern states. Lucy is not a particularly gifted diarist but she does give us an idea of life at that time. 

Several things struck me as I started to read this book. In our current culture of hardly ever writing letters, how will anyone know how we lived 200 years from now? Yes, we have podcasts and blogs and Instagram and FaceBook, but do they give an intimate view of how we lived and felt in the year 2020? In another 200 years will we be able to reproduce podcasts, etc.?  Technology is changing - I don't say advancing because quite frankly a lot of the tweaks and updates are unnecessary in my opinion - so that we can have no idea how social media, books, phones, etc are going to operate. It bears thinking about.

I recently read somewhere that there is a current debate about prescribing reading lists for some literature courses and there is talk of not making it mandatory to read novels. Novels tell us as much about the current way we live as almost anything else and are far more entertaining than dry history records. One of the things I enjoy about Jane Austen's works, for example, is the glimpse it gives of how Jane and her contemporaries lived and thought. I also enjoy her use of expressions the meanings of which have changed over the years "nice" and "repulsive" being two of my favourites. No more Shakespeare? When I was at school we did As You Like It and for the final exam, Hamlet. In the interim we read Julius Caesar. I can't say I have ever felt that this was a waste of time. 

Letter writing is a dying if not a dead art. There is nothing more entertaining than getting a long letter from a friend or family member filling us in on what they have been doing. They were a life blood when I lived abroad.  At school we read some of the best essays (some of which I found boring, Ruskin, for example, and Edmund Burke except for his description of Marie Antoinette) but some of which are relevant to this day. Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son springs to mind, also Robert Louis Stevenson's cheerful style and Charles Lamb, especially on his two ages of man : those who borrow and those who lend. What a wealth of beautiful English phrases lies in these anthologies. 

I won't go in to poetry, although I loved it at school and still read some favourite poems over and over. Want to know which ones? Well, there is the mysterious The Listeners by Walter de la Mare with the "silence surged softly backwards when the plunging hooves were gone". Beautiful. And Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. But I won't bore you - just have a look at the writings of both these poets some time.

Even the humble full stop has been attacked and the idea circulated that we don't need it when we write. Grammar has always been a sticky subject. Where do you put the comma? What's a semi-colon for, anyway? It's not that hard. You put a comma where you'd pause for breath or emphasis and you stick a full stop where you want to finish that sentence. Why worry about it? In my opinion, (note the comma) people are intelligent and know what they want to say, lack of practice makes them shy of writing it sometimes and this shouldn't happen.

We have already lost a great deal by our reliance on smartphones and laptops and all things electronic. I know that my writing and spelling has suffered simply because the computer can do it all so much quicker and easier. But let's keep reading books, book in paperback and hardback, books to keep on your bookshelf, by your bed, on the coffee table: but books to be read, to be picked up and glanced through or snuggled up with. Books, simply.