Sunday, December 30, 2012

Excerpt: Rites by Sophie Coulombeau



When I was seventeen, my English teacher - who was about to leave the school for a new job - beckoned me over in the pub.  He was half-cut and overexcited, and he wore the blunderbuss shine of a man poised upon the precipice of liberation.  

Day, he said, flecks of spit around his lips, May as well ask it before I go. Did you do it?

Did I do what, Sir? said I, although I knew immediately what he meant.

Well, did you do it?  You know! The thing.  The thing, back in the day.

I looked at him.  His eyes flickered back and forth, and he stilled a little, and a sort of intensity settled over the group in the pub.  I'd never liked him, you see, this man.  A buck-toothed weasel with a womanly bottom and an offensively matey facade.  He always struck me, for one thing, as one of those who can only get their kicks from the periphery.  Proud-player of intestine-splattering computer games, who'd never been in a fight.
...
I looked at him, and I saw that he wanted me to have done it; I saw him projecting himself into my youthful place and thinking of the thrill, the titillation, the exquisite wrongdoing of it. 

 I said, No, of course I didn't.  I said that at the time, didn't I? 

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Carol (& a merry christmas!)

London Southbank - you can just make out St Paul's peeping through!
There's something about this story which makes me willing to sit through film-after-film, play-after-play, read-after-read.  I know each and every one of the characters in it and know what's about to happen and how it all ends..but there is magic in that book.  

Recently a friend and I trampled around the streets of York watching a promenade performance of A Christmas Carol which had been written especially for promenade theatre with input from Dickens' grandson.  It was freezing.  Raining.  December.  It was also one of those theatre experiences which just stays with you -- as we all huddled into a graveyard in the centre of town to meet the ghost of Christmas future, walked down York's cobbled streets much to the bemusement of passers on...  It's a wonderful lesson to take from a story though, a story which is as relevant today as it was when it was first written.  It can be so easy not to take a chance on someone, it can be so easy to become self-absorbed, it is not easy to always put others before yourself.

"It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour."

I suppose if I wish anything for you, dear reader, over the holiday season spend time with loved ones.  And try not to squabble over insignificant details in the rules of your favourite board game ;)
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Friday, December 14, 2012

I wonder if the snow loves the trees...

 

I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.

L E W I S  C A R R O L L

I'm so excited to be on my Christmas holidays... a chance to recommence reading for pleasure / reading things which you guys may be interested in...unless there are fans of Elizabethan theatre here? In which case hello! woop!
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Clandestine by James Ellroy

I don’t know about you but I stick to my familiar corner of the bookshop. A book which promised a protagonist whose primary interests were solving crimes and indiscriminately sleeping his way through Los Angeles wasn’t exactly my ‘cup of tea’. 

This is Ellroy's second novel, originally published in 1983, it comes before his more famous novels, such as The Black Dahlia and L A Confidential. It is the story of Fred Underhill a young policeman in Los Angeles trying to further his career. By day he keeps the city safe from crime and at night he prowls for loose women. He looks for “the wonder”, a sense of awe, which he feels when he encounters anything new and unusual: from people, nature, or crime.

What is surprising is the amount of sentimentality bordering on the maudlin at times that the narrative contains. Based partially on the real-life murder of Ellroy’s mother, which to this day remains an unsolved crime, there are elements within Clandestine which hold true to the cliché thriller. A protagonist searching for answers in both his personal and professional life. Yet I think the narrative and interesting use of dialogue which Ellroy employs compensates for the slight clichéd overtones of the novel.

Clandestine has something of a split personality between the hard boiled sections of Underhill's police work and private investigation and the sections of near romanticism where he searches for the miraculous in life and romance. Still, Ellroy is a smart enough storyteller even at this early stage not to let the narrative get too bogged down and builds the final third of the novel to a fast paced conclusion.

I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is looking for something ‘new’. It’s still very much formulaic and I don’t feel it represents the best crime writing of which Ellroy is clearly capable in his later work. I’m not entirely sure that I have been convinced to give books of this genre a go – the cynic in me will always think that they’re formulaic, and in a way Ellroy doesn’t really prove me wrong. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t a good read, and although there are elements which didn’t necessarily work, you still want to know what happened.

This post was originally posted here, because I write about books as much as I can...probably a bit too much, if I'm honest about it...
 
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Philip Larkin: Church Going

There's something magical about the poetry which transports you from a damp and miserable November afternoon, pitch black at 4pm.  You could end up back in the classroom where you first heard it, or the places being described, either way it's so much better than the cold and damp outside! lkm xo

Chaldon Church, Caterham, Surrey


C H U R C H  G O I N G
P H I L L I P  L A R K I N
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
 
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Keltie Colleen: A Brief Interview

Keltie Colleen, author of Rockettes, Rockstars, and Rockbottom kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about her book and her life as a dancer in the world famous Radio City Rockettes.  Enjoy!



Do you feel that writing this book was different from writing a blog or a journal?  If so, in what way?

Of course, because it all had to make sense. I sort of jump all over the place when I am blogging, and in this book you follow me from age 6 dancing in my backyard to present day.

How do you make time for blogging in your very busy life?

Luckily for me my busy life includes many airports, airplanes and hotel rooms. I spent a great deal of time alone and so it makes it easy for me to find time to blog. My heart and guts are usually pretty messed up to so I am never short on inspiration!

Are there any books or blogs which you think are ESSENTIALS for young dancers? (or maybe old ones!)

Well, besides Rockettes, Rockstars and Rockbottom- I think that twlya tharp had a really amazing book called "The creative habit".

You seem to have a really close family - what were their first reactions when you decided to publish your story?

Ha! I think my parents were the last to know! But then again, I am always coming up with crazy ideas. My parents would probably say "that's nice" if I told them I was going to go swim across the ocean!

Dancing can take a real tole on the body and cause aches and pains in places you didn't know even existed - did writing about your past loves and passions have a similar effect?

Actually the opposite, the more I dance the worst my body feels. The more I wrote about my heartache and confusion with the way the world worked the clearer the picture of myself became, and the warmer my insides felt. Writing this book was like the best therapy session ever.

Your mantra is courage. passion. hardwork. - when did you start using this?  
How did you come up with it?

When I was in high school a hockey player friend of mine used to take masking tape and put his mantra over his door. I kinda stole his idea and started doing the same thing. People think mantras are just words, but I swear these three little words, and keeping them in the front of my mind has changed my life.

If you could have 3 wishes right now, what would they be?

1. That diet coke was not bad for you and that I could drink it all day long.
2. That everyone would buy and read their copy of Rockettes, Rockstars and Rockbottom.
3. More wishes~

My book Rockettes, Rockstars and Rockbottom is available at amazon
follow me on twitter @keltiecolleen
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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Casual Vacancy: Review and Extract




I want you to do me a favour  - and just forget who the author is.  Forget what she has written in the past and whether or not you loved / hated / were forced to read it.  The people who I have spoken to about this book all seem to hate it without actually giving it a chance.  'Oh, I've heard that it's rubbish' is their automatic response when I say that I am reading it.  Is it because there aren't any mentions of wizards or Hogwarts?  Or because with all the swearing, masturbating, and drug use it seems as if J.K. Rowling was trying a bit too hard to distance herself from a certain boy wizard...I don't know....but I decided to find out what all the fuss was about.

The Casual Vacancy is a story about the muggles.  Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in a small town by the name of Pagford.   It appears to be a thriving small town community in the English countryside but when you stare at the small cottages long enough you can see the curtains twitch; neighbours watching neighbours, fraught with jealousy, rivalry, and badly concealed racism.   The local council estate - The Fields is introduced as that dodgy place you drive through on the bus route, with its boarded up windows, graffiti, and dirty terrace blocks.  It certainly isn't the place you would choose to live, as the neighbouring villages of Pagford and  fighting over who is responsible for this mess on their otherwise idyllic village.

When Barry Fairbrother, the liberal chair of the parish council dies in the opening chapter, this creates what is termed a 'casual vacancy' on the board.  Barry, who had been raised in The Fields himself, is more sympathetic to the plight of the children and people living there than his opposition on the board, who see his death as a brilliant excuse to finally rid themselves of being responsible for the black-mark on their town.  

Personally, what I loved the most about Harry Potter (someone had to mention it) was the character descriptions.  These characters came alive on the page because of how J.K. Rowling described them and this is still very much alive and kicking in The Casual Vacancy.  As we work our way through the streets of Pagford - from those at the top of the career ladder to those who have never even stepped on to it, each character is described with such vivid detail that they come alive on the page.  These are people that you are likely to have encountered yourself, and you smirk, or sympathise with them accordingly.

I do not, however, believe that this is truly a book for adults.  Yes, it certainly does deal with adult themes, and is harrowing in parts, but just as the likes of Jacqueline Wilson write about adult themes they do so in a way which is accessible for children and young adults to understand but also in a way which is sometimes obvious to adults.  Pagford is a real town, this isn't magic anymore, and whilst an adult reader would accept this immediately, Rowling reiterates the point so many times that it almost loses its realism.  You're almost waiting for her to say...'A HA! This is in fact a novel which Ron Weasley's dad has been working on for the Ministry of Magic - to help wizards understand the struggle of the ordinary muggle!'

That isn't to say, however, that this doesn't make for interesting reading, Rowling's character descriptions, even if at times they may be reminisicent of those we met in the Harry Potter series never fail to delight in their biting truthfulness.   There are times when you really feel for the characters that she has created; and I believe that it is that ability to make such relatable characters which holds the key to her success with Harry Potter and what stops The Casual Vacancy from being just any old novel, and being a good novel instead.


 
 
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lest We Forget





I N  F L A N D E R S  F I E L D
J O H N  M C R A E

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.



It is thought that doctor John McCrae (30th November 1872 — 28th January 1918) began the draft for his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ on the evening of the 2nd May, 1915 in the second week of fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres.


It is believed that the death of his friend, Alexis Helmer, was the inspiration for McCrae's poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. One account says that he was seen writing the poem sitting on the rearstep of an ambulance the next day while looking at Helmer's grave and the vivid red poppies that were springing up amongst the graves in the burial ground. Another account says that McCrae was so upset after Helmer's burial that he wrote the poem in twenty minutes in an attempt to compose himself.


A third account by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Morrison, states that John told him he drafted the poem partly to pass the time between the arrival of two groups of wounded at the first aid post and partly to experiment with different variations of the poem's metre.


John McCrae, was serving as a Major and a military doctor and was second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. The field guns of his brigade’s batteries were in position on the west bank of the Ypres-Yser canal, about two kilometres to the north of Ypres. The brigade had arrived there in the early hours of 23rd April.

Poem and information source here. Photograph source here.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Shameless Plug: The Blurb

Hello! I've recently become involved with a new radio show on my University radio station. It's called "The Blurb" and at the moment it's very much a seedling born out of love.

Our pilot episode is being broadcast Sunday 28th October, at 3pm GMT, but will also be available as a podcast shortly afterwards.  You can listen to the podcast HERE if you're interested.

Today's show:

A review of Miranda Hart's new book Is It Just Me?

A panel discussion (featuring meeee) where we discuss the impact of blogging on literature

and explore the world of fan fiction

It would mean so so much if you could have a listen and let us know what you like / didn't like about the show. Or better still - if you have any ideas about panel discussions or even if you have a book you'd like featured / you're an author and would love to be interviewed on the show! We're open to so many suggestions - as I said before this is very much a baby radio show at the moment!

If you're interested in the show, and would like to know more about future productions, please 'like' our facebook page, which can be found HERE.   (If you're not interested in the show, don't worry, I'll just add a little 'facebook' link to the page, and this will probably be the last post about it. :) )

happy reading!
xo
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Friday, October 26, 2012

I was trying to describe you to someone

Untitled

From a collection of short stories
Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan.


I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before.

I couldn’t say “Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…”

I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.

I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or 42, somewhere in there. I think I was seven, or eight, or six.

It was a movie about rural electrification, a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids. The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by at night, for sewing and reading, and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters or washing machines, and they couldn’t listen to the radio. They built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wire over fields and pastures.

There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along. They looked ancient and modern at the same time.

Then the movie showed electricity like a young Greek god, coming to the farmer to take away forever the dark ways of his life. Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read the newspaper by.

It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, or seeing photographs of President Roosevelt, or hearing him on the radio “… the President of the United States… “

I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio….

And that’s how you look to me. 
 
 
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Grace Notes





For an excerpt from the memoirs of Grace Coddington, click here.

You may remember Grace from the film "The September Issue" she is a former model and the creative editor of the US Vogue, and has been since September 1988. If you haven't seen the film I do wholeheartedly recommend it - even if you're not a massive Vogue fan it's still a fascinating insight into the production of the world's most famous fashion magazine! Her creative personality is perfectly contrasted with Anna Wintour's often harsh criticism. It's a weirdly interesting film, trust me. Grace is the star - so talented, an amazing eye for detail and intricacies which others miss. She's led a fascinating life, and I'm so excited for her memoirs to be released!   

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ted Hughes: Dreamers


A rare insight into the relationship Hughes had with Assia Wevil.  The fascination he developed which forced his marriage to Plath to end and for both women to end their lives in similar fashions.  Their lives have almost become a soap opera through poetry.    I remember English lessons full of poetry analysis.  No one knowing or caring who the poet was but analyzing the words they had written. Then a collection of words with 'Hughes' or 'Plath' at the top and suddenly it was like reading a page from their personal journal as the analysis is replaced by affairs, dates, names, and blame.  Something which I believe Plath, who longed for a rural life, separate from the literary 'in crowd' in London would never have wanted. 

D R E A M E R S
B Y  T E D  H U G H E S

We didn’t find her - she found us.
She sniffed us out. The Fate she carried
Sniffed us out
And assembled us, inert ingredients
For its experiment. The Fable she carried
Requisitioned you and me and her,
Puppets for its performance.

She fascinated you. Her eyes caressed you,
Melted a weeping glitter at you.
Her German the dark undercurrent
In her Kensington jeweller’s elocution
Was your ancestral Black Forest whisper -
Edged with a greasy, death-camp, soot-softness.
When she suddenly rounded her eyeballs,
Popped them, strangled, she shocked you.
lt was her mock surprise.
But you saw hanged women choke, dumb, through her,
And when she listened, watching you, through smoke,
Her black-ringed grey iris, slightly unnatural,
Was Black Forest wolf, a witch’s daughter
out of Grimm.
Warily you cultivated her,
Her jewishness, ser many-blooded beauty,
As if your dream of your dream-self stood there,
A glittering blackness, Europe’s mystical jewel.
A creature from beyond the fringe of your desk-lamp.
Who was this Lilith of abortions
Touching the hair of your children
With tiger-painted nails?
Her speech Harrods, Hitlers mutilations
Kept you company, weeding the onions.
An ex-Nazi Youth Sabra. Her father
Doctor to the Bolshoi Ballet.
She was helpless too.
None of us could wake up.
Nightmare looked out at the poppies.
She sat there, in her soot-wet mascara,
In flame-orange silks, in gold bracelets,
Slightly filthy with erotic mystery -
A German
Russian Israeli with the gaze of a demon
Between curtains of black Mongolian hair.
After a single night under our roof
She told her dream. A giant fish, a pike
Had a globed, golden eye, and in that eye
A throbbing suman foetus -
You were astonished, maybe envious.

I refused to interpret. I saw
The dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her, and I knew it.
 
 
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Friday, October 12, 2012

Ode To Autumn

 
 There's a sharp chill in the air, the leaves are falling off of trees in a yellowy-green hue, summer is definitely over, and I couldn't not post this poem! It is, afterall, a 'classic'. I read somewhere that it's quite nice to document the gradual colour changes of the trees by taking a photograph of a tree near your house or something each morning.  It's so easy to become so involved with your own life and business that you miss the fantastic show nature's putting on for us!

O D E  T O  A U T U M N
J O H N  K E A T S
 
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

 
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Recipe Book: Blondies (White Choc Brownies)

First off: these do not, and have never, turned out 'yellow'.  Not using dark brown sugar anyway.  They do smell and taste delicious though - so that compensates for the slightly misleading name.  I found this recipe here (note, there's a paywall).  I altered it a bit - it recommends adding some dried cranberries but I chose against (purely on the basis of them being a bit out of my budget).

If you attempt this recipe - do let me know! I'd love to know how you got on (and just enjoy photos of food anyway. ha!)


 

Ingredients:




340g dark brown sugar  
280g plain flour
240g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
230g butter, plus extra 
if you're greasing the tin 
Pinch of salt 
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
 
ONE:
Preheat the oven to 180C/
Gas 4. Line a square, relatively thin baking tin with greaseproof paper.

TWO: 




Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the sugar and salt. (A good whisk now will make 
the mixture slightly lighter 
and fluffier.)
Add the vanilla extract and whisk again. 
Remove from the heat.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture and stir well.

THREE:



Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a large bowl, then whisk in the egg and butter mixture a little at a time. (It’s important to do this in stages so that you don’t get any lumps.)

FOUR: 




Leave the mixture to cool slightly, then fold in the chocolate chunks and any fruit / nuts you wish to add. (If the mixture is too hot, 
the chocolate will melt.)

FIVE:

Spoon into the prepared cake tin and spread out evenly.

SIX:

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the outer edges are firm and the middle still a little soft.

SEVEN:
 Leave to cool on a wire rack 
for at least 10 minutes, then 
cut into squares before serving.

Once cooled, the blondies will keep in an airtight container 
for up to a week.   




voila! enjoy!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Bloggers: My Response

You probably have not even read the offending article, but I'm sure you can guess why it interested me! I don't have much time to pen this - so it'll only be short, and not as well written as I would like, but let me know your thoughts on the topic in the comments - I'm really interested to know what you think!
 
The chair of this year's Man Booker prize judges has warned that blogging is drowning out serious criticism, to the detriment of literature. 
 
NONSENSE.
 
A book blog is no different from a book review read in various magazines and newspapers all over the world.  There is nothing to say that the people writing those reviews are any more entitled to have an opinion on a book than a blogger is.  Largely magazines in particular gear books reviewed towards their readership - you won't find a review of Salman Rushdie in Cosmopolitan.  The larger the publishing house - the more money it has to spend on advertising - the more copies it can give away to newspapers and bloggers alike.



As a book blogger I pride myself on selecting works not only from major publishing houses but also from newly developing (and often self-financed and self-published) authors and independent publishing houses.  Something which I feel big awards with big prizes attached often overlook - why else was everyone shocked and horrified that nothing published by Penguin had been selected?  There is a snobbery attached to books - only the good ones are picked by the big publishing houses, which in my opinion, is just simply not the case.

Literary criticism needs "to identify the good and the lasting, and to explain why it's good. You don't read a literary critic to explain why a new Ian Rankin is any good – the people who know about him don't need that explaining."

Actually, I disagree with you there as well.  You'll find that literary criticism is as much about analysing popular books as it is 'classics'.  It is commonplace for people to write dissertations about Harry Potter. We have turned from scoffing at difficult to read novels to scoffing at easy and enjoyable reads instead.  Who is to say that a novels literary worth is measured by the amount of re-reads necessary before you finally 'get the point'?

A 'classic' doesn't need to be hard to read.  Nor full of serious topics.  It can be light-hearted and silly, and blogged about. 

Maybe, Mr Stothard's problem is more that book bloggers are putting him and The Times' literary supplement out of a job!
 
In conclusion: book snobbery has to stop. 
 
the original article can be found here.
 
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Caitlin Moran: Moranthology

 
 
I'll be honest - this time last year I had never heard of Caitlin Moran.  Then this happened and suddenly I was a convert - reading everything and anything that she had written.  She is a columnist for The Times and somehow found the time to write a little book called 'How To Be A Woman', where she took on (and shook-up!) feminism,  in between writing her three weekly columns.  I can only assume her passion for feminism was a great motivational tool!  This is a collection of her columns which she has written over the years on a substantial number of varied topics including --

Caffeine, Ghostbusters, Being Poor, Twitter, Caravans, Obama, Wales, Marijuana Addiction, Paul McCartney, The Welfare State, Sherlock, David Cameron Looking Like Ham, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson's Funeral, Big Hair, Failed Nicknames, Sexy Tax, Binge-Drinking, Rihanna's Cardigan, Party Bags...

Why do I love her so much? Quite simply because she's hilarious.  She makes excellent observations, which make you laugh, and at the same time consider often serious topics from a new light.  You learn something, you feel entertained.  What's not to love?

She also interviews celebs a lot.  Including a now super-famous interview with Lady Gaga in Berlin which culminated in them all going off to a sex club in Berlin, dancing the night away, and Lady Gaga doing a wee in front of her (she was then able to put an end of the 'Gaga's a Man' rumours which were circulating at the time).  

Not every column is mind blowingly refreshing writing - but the majority, in my opinion, is.  And if you in anyway enjoyed "How To Be A Woman" I dare say you'll enjoy Caitlin's new collection as well.  It's not as good as HTBAW (it takes far too long to type out the title each time, I'm sorry) - these are only short comment pieces often of around 500-1000 words range.  But it is definitely worth a read.

PS: on a completely irrelevant note -- it is so refreshing to not only be reading a real life book for a change - but also a hardback.  there are some things which a kindle, no matter how excellent, cannot replace!
 
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Poet Laureate: A Poem for Hillsborough


 
 
 
THE Cathedral bell, tolled, could never tell;

nor the Liver Birds, mute in their stone spell;

or the Mersey, though seagulls wailed, cursed, overhead,

in no language for the slandered dead...

not the raw, red throat of the Kop, keening,

or the cops’ words, censored of meaning;

not the clock, slow handclapping the coroner’s deadline,

or the memo to Thatcher, or the tabloid headline...

but fathers told of their daughters; the names of sons

on the lips of their mothers like prayers; lost ones

honoured for bitter years by orphan, cousin, wife -

not a matter of football, but of life.

Over this great city, light after long dark;

truth, the sweet silver song of the lark.  

 
This is a poem written by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, on the wake of the new report into the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989. 
 
This post is dedicated to the 96 innocent people who lost their lives that day.  As well as their families and loved ones who have been forced to live for so long without being allowed the justice of knowing that their loved ones died at the fault of others.
 
 
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Newspaper Ads for Books

As we walked past Waterstones in Piccadilly, my friend recalled the time she was there, at midnight to buy a certain book. The book in question was the last in the Harry Potter series. Future generations will not know what it was like to finish one book and have to wait YEARS for the next to come out - why couldn't JK Rowling write a bit quicker?! You would wait AGES for it to come out and have finished it in a day. It seems funny then to think of books before our generation, right, which weren't considered 'classics' but rather new and exciting books which you should read. Here's some of the original advertisements for some books you may have heard of ;) 


 
 
This post has been unashamedly borrowed from the wonderful 'Brain Pickings' a site which I highly recommend you check out - full of literary posts as well as other intellectualisms.  Perfect for your inner nerd who would love to learn something new!
 
 
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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Raising Wild Ginger by Tara Woolpy

Parenting is hard. That's what Edward Rosenberg has always assumed, although his only experience with children has been as the drunken uncle. Now the love of his life, Sam DaCosta, is yearning for fatherhood. Edward's been sober for years. He and Sam are in a good place. Why rock the boat? On the other hand, how can he deny Sam his dream of a family? 

Then they meet Ginger. At twelve she's been through more than either Edward or Sam can imagine. She's seductive, secretive and dishonest. But somewhere between stealing his cash and alienating Sam, Ginger manages to wind herself into Edward's heart. Can the three of them create a family? Or will Ginger blow them all apart?





There is magnificent details of the everyday, the town they live in, the secondary characters are three-dimensional, you know these people, you could close your eyes and instantly be transported there and be in the action with them, with Woolpy's writing.  Yet this is paired with a clever mastery of the traumatic childhood of Ginger, the subtle details describing an abused child's upbringing, and her adjustment into the new household.   

Foster parenting isn't easy, and not every family which fosters is a perfect cookie-cutter family, Edward and Sam aren't angels, they have pasts of their own, it is not a fairytale relationship - it is a realistic portrayal of the give and take of adult relationships. This isn't exaggerated though, the characters have an edge of realism which is refreshing, and this combined with the fantastically delicate descriptions of their surroundings, their day-to-day life make Raising Wild Ginger such an enjoyable read.  

Emotional, touching, it may just make you cry (it certainly made me cry!).  It is a refreshing read on the difficult and often overlooked subject of foster caring.  And in my opinion not to be missed!  It's available on kindle for $3.16

ps: please take a moment to fill in the form on the right - it's just so i can get an idea of what posts you guys would like more of on the blog! thank you :)

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sweet Tooth By Ian McEwan



It is a spy novel.  Set in England in the 1970s it is a novel of the creative cold war. Our narrator, Serena is beautiful, bright, could read three to four novels a week and went to Cambridge, at her mother's insistance, to study Maths.  Where she found that she was perfectly adequate at maths at a school level but poor at a Cambridge level; however, she managed to scrape a third, before beginning a summer romance with a history professor who reshaped her knowledge of British history, prepping her for an interview with MI5 which he would arrange.

She soon finds that working for MI5 isn't as exciting as it sounds.  Mostly dull office work, where office friendships aren't encouraged.  Until she is invited to take part in an operation named 'Sweet Tooth'.   A plan to fund emerging writers with strong anti-Soviet views, strongly based on the CIA’s infamous involvement with Encounter magazine, as the characters acknowledge.  The cultural cold war was very much present in the 70s, as people waited for the next Cuban Missile Crisis to strike.  Serena is paired with a novelist, TH Hardy, who is based at Sussex University (McEwan's alma mater).  It isn't long until they are smitten.  With weekend trips to Brighton, waking up to the sound of Haley's typewriter as he writes his first novel - a post apocalyptic nightmare - exactly the type of thing MI5 were hoping to avoid.


McEwan examines what it is to be a reader, the power which authors have in creating 'reality' for the reader.  What do we look for when we read books?  Serena speeds through books looking for glimpses of her own life - her family, her education, her past lovers.  She is interested only in the fate of characters resembling somebody she recognises.  I think we're all a bit guilty of doing something like this - we all expect something from the books we read, hence why we return to the same genre or author time and time again.   (let me know what you think you read for!) 


It is as much a spy novel as it is a historical one - with detailed insight into every day life in Britain in the 70s with the prospect of a three day week and fuel crises.  There is romance, intrigue, twists and turns.  One thing - as soon as you finish reading this you will want to start over again.  So just make sure you don't have tons of university reading lined up or something (like I do...whoops!) 


 
 
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Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Bookshop Idyll by Kingsley Amis

There are certain books you will have read purely because they were part of a syllabus.  Poets, authors, writers, with whom you're familiar because you studied them or saw them in a bestsellers list.  Then there are the books which the characters in your favourite novel read; they visit a bookshop and are overwhelmed by a poem --- and today, this poem comes courtesy of Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.
 
Tom promised to read me a Kingsley Amis poem, 'A Bookshop Idyll', about men and women's divergent tastes.  It went a bit soppy at the end, he said, but it was funny and true.  I said I'd probably hate it, except for the end.  He kissed me, and that was the end of the literary discussion....

A  B O O K S H O P  I D Y L L
Between the gardening and the cookery
    Comes the brief poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
    Offers itself.


Critical, and with nothing else to do,
    I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
    No one my age.


Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
    Landscape near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
    So does Rilke and Buddha.


'I travel, you see', 'I think' and 'I can read'
    These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
    Poem for J.,


The ladies' choice, discountenance my patter
    For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
    A moral beckons.


Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
    Or squash it flat?
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;
    Girls aren't like that.


We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
    Can get by without it.
Women don't seem to think that's good enough;
    They write about it,


And the awful way their poems lay open
    Just doesn't strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
    No wonder we like them.


Deciding this, we can forget those times
    We sat up half the night
Chockfull of love, crammed with bright thoughts,
    names, rhymes,
    And couln't write.
 
 
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Independent Book Stores

Hello fellow book-worms!
 
As I ranted last night on twitter about the state of book prices, with amazon able to charge more than 50% less than independent book stores, I decided that I would do my bit (however small that may be) to help Independent booksellers.  Starting with - the ones on the street.  
 
I appreciate that my blog reaches a far wider audience that just the UK, and so whilst I am very happy to patrol the streets of the UK looking for Independent Booksellers I would love for my international readers to get involved.
 
If you have a bookstore which you're passionate about - please send me an email or tweet and we can arrange a little post here.  Hopefully we'll have a great collection of worldwide bookstores - and a little link on the side for new visitors to see where they can buy their next read ;)
 
Also - if you have any hints/tips for little things which every person can do to help independent booksellers - leave a comment, because I'm sure everyone here would much rather support the stores on the street before companies like Amazon just swallow up the book industry entirely!

So, in conclusion, what I am asking for is:

1. independent book store recommendations / posts
2. little ways everyone can help support independent book stores

thank you, and happy reading!
 
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Things To Worry About

 
 
Things To Worry About:
 
Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
 
Things Not To Worry About:
 
Don't worry about  popular opinion
Don't worry about dolls
Don't worry about the past
Don't worry about the future
Don't worry about growing up
Don't worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don't worry about triumph
Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don't worry about mosquitoes
Don't worry about flies
 Don't worry about insects in general
Don't worry about parents
Don't worry about boys
 Don't worry about disappointments
Don't worry about   pleasures
Don't worry about satisfactions
 
 
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, in a letter to his 11 year old daughter
 
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Friday, August 10, 2012

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

 
Admittedly this was one of the (many) books I have started reading for my course.  It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003 and the Man Booker Prize in 1999.  That said - I thought I would also put my support behind it - just in case you still had some doubts over whether or not it was any good!

We initially meet David Lurie, and his mundane life as middle-aged professor in Romantic poetry at a university in Cape Town.  Twice divorced, he has decided he isn't one for marriage, and instead frequents prostitutes for intimacy.  On the spur of the moment - he decides to pursue one of his students, a beautiful, but uninteresting girl. He has a brief affair with the student.  A brief affair which brings his whole life, as he knows it, to a stand-still as his world falls apart around him.  Instead of admitting defeat and bowing to the pressures of the media he moves to the small farm in the countryside run by his daughter.  As he gradually adjusts into the new way of life - the peaceful countryside existence is interrupted by a savage attack, and nothing is the same afterwards. 
 
It would be easy to paint this novel as purely a political novel.  It is set in post-Apartheid South Africa with new languages burgeoning, and the relationship between men and women, the police and citizens, changing at a rate that David Lurie himself becomes unaware of the shifting focus happening in his country that the younger generation, especially his daughter Lucy, are subject to.  
 
It is a story of city vs country, men vs women, degrees vs life-experience, old south africa vs. new south africa.

It is a novel of intricacy.  There are so many things going on and yet you never feel bombarded by events or information.  There isn't a host of characters names and relations to remember.  That doesn't, however, mean that their relationships are simple.  Many of the events in the novel are unexplained, and Coetzee doesn't offer an easy solution to the problems faced by the characters.  Disgrace will make you think, feel puzzled, offer some comfort, and another puzzle.  It is not written to comfort you but it is written with such talent that whilst it makes you question events and people's testimony it doesn't unnerve you in the process.  You want to question people.

At 220 pages, Disgrace, is a short read, that said - a lot happens in those pages!  It took me an evening to read (because I couldn't nor wouldn't put it down).  As I said at the beginning - the novel has a host of awards to recommend it to you - but I would also recommend you read it.  It's a history lesson without the boring teacher and homework.
 
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Fig-Tree

 
I thought it was a lovely story, especially the part about the fig-tree in winter under the snow and then the fig-tree in spring with all the green fruit.  I felt sorry when I came to the last page.  I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that big beautiful fig-tree.
 
:: The Bell Jar :: Sylvia Plath ::
 
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Man Booker Prize Longlist




2006 is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Tiger Woods' reputation is entirely untarnished and the English Defence League does not exist yet. Storm-clouds of a different kind are gathering above the bar of Luton's less than exclusive Thistle Hotel. Among those caught up in the unfolding drama are a man who's had cancer seven times, a woman priest with an unruly fringe, the troubled family of a notorious local fascist, an interfering barmaid with three E's at A-level but a PhD in bullshit, a free-thinking Muslim sex therapist and his considerably more pious wife. But at the heart of every intrigue and the bottom of every mystery is the repugnantly charismatic Stuart Ransom – a golfer in free-fall.




HISTORY HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE HUNGOVER

When you haven't had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing
that could ever happen to anyone.

If you're living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn't.

But that's no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can't, just once in a while, get himself laid.

From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn't know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can't remember what 'isotope' means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.

LET'S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT




Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. The year is 1832 and the Cape is rife with rumours about the liberation of the slaves. Philida decides to risk her whole life by lodging a complaint against Francois, who has reneged on his promise to set her free.

His father has ordered him to marry a white woman from a prominent Cape Town family, and Philida will be sold on to owners in the harsh country up north. Unwilling to accept this fate, Philida continues to test the limits of her freedom, and with the Muslim slave Labyn she sets off on a journey across the great wilderness on the banks of the Gariep River, to the far north of Cape Town. Philida is an unforgettable story of one woman's determination to survive and be free.


It's Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child.

There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?



On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation's annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming -- not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation's guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser.

Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki's old school-friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality -- everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science...




When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone.

All he knows is that he must keep walking.

To save someone else's life.



Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.




The sequel to the Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall.

By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry’s actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.




The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.

Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.

In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.

He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.

At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.




A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella. James Joyce, Ulysses Recently having abandoned his RD Laing-influenced experiment in running a therapeutic community - the so-called Concept House in Willesden - maverick psychiatrist Zack Busner arrives at Friern Hospital, a vast Victorian mental asylum in North London, under a professional and a marital cloud. He has every intention of avoiding controversy, but then he encounters Audrey Dearth, a working-class girl from Fulham born in 1890 who has been immured in Friern for decades. A socialist, a feminist and a munitions worker at the Woolwich Arsenal, Audrey fell victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the First World War and, like one of the subjects in Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, has been in a coma ever since. Realising that Audrey is just one of a number of post-encephalitics scattered throughout the asylum, Busner becomes involved in an attempt to bring them back to life - with wholly unforeseen consequences. Is Audrey's diseased brain in its nightmarish compulsion a microcosm of the technological revolutions of the twentieth century? And if Audrey is ill at all - perhaps her illness is only modernity itself? And what of Audrey's two brothers, Stanley and Albert: at the time she fell ill, Stanley was missing presumed dead on the Western Front, while Albert was in charge of the Arsenal itself, a coming man in the Imperial Civil Service. Now, fifty years later, when Audrey awakes from her pathological swoon, which of the two is it who remains alive?




Wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my...

Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick with voices and ghosts: Hindu, Muslim, Christian. A young woman holds a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her eyes. Men sprawl and mutter in the gloom. Here, they say you introduce only your worst enemy to opium. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. In the broken city, there are too many to count.

Stretching across three decades, with an interlude in Mao's China, it portrays a city in collision with itself. With a cast of pimps, pushers, poets, gangsters and eunuchs, it is a journey into a sprawling underworld written in electric and utterly original prose.




‘Have you noticed how each of us conjures up our own city?’

Every city is made of stories: stories that meet and diverge, stories of the commonplace and the strange, of love and crime, of ghosts and monsters.

This is the story of a city.

.......

The 2012 long-list includes four debut novels, three small independent publishers and one previous winner. Of the 12 writers, seven are men and five women; nine are British, one Indian, one South African and one Malaysian. The eldest on the list is Andre Brink at 77 and the youngest is Ned Beauman at 27.

In a world of self-published eBooks, erotica in the best-sellers charts, do you think there's a place for book prizes? 
Do they have any effect on the books which you read?

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