Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reading, Writing, Music and Chocolate

Another pretty active week has passed, and I'm thinking of getting this down and then going for a walk. I just had a chocolate biscuit, courtesy of Irene, so perhaps I'd better walk some extra steps.

Since my last posting (that's better than blog, surely) I have been to another meeting of those against returning our local woodland to heathland. I haven't changed my mind on this; there are places where heath is fine; I just don't think our little woodland is one of them. We have a public meeting arranged for a couple of weeks' time, when more people hopefully will have taken an interest.

We at Goldenford Publishers arranged a musical evening in Guildford last Saturday night, using the prestigious Guildhall for an event which featured the Erato Consort singers and the Minstrels Gallery players. Jay Margrave gave readings of her novels, The Gawain Quest, Luther's Ambassadors and The Nine Lives of Kit Marlowe, all of which feature Priedeux, a hero who moves from century to century, rather like Blackadder, only without the humour, I've always thought, but the author has suggested Virginia Woolf's Orlando is more appropriate.

On Monday, Irene and I raced up to London to see Lucia di Lammermoor at the Imax by Waterloo Station. A wonderful experience, featuring Natalie Dessay as Lucia and Joseph Calleja as Edgardo. Also interesting was the filming of the work behind the scenes in the intervals, at Metropolitan Opera, which showed the placing on stage and removals of the sets - a Scottish moor and Lammermoor Castle, including a two-storey high spiral staircase. This starred the Chief Carpenter -but perhaps 40 minutes of him was a bit long, and if the lights had come on during the intervals, we could, more easily, have wandered off for drinks and icecream.

I was out yesterday, for a pub lunch with friends, and in the evening, to Guildford Writers, where having averaged 7 or 8 for some months, 12 people were suddenly present, and a great deal of talent was showcased. I have added a little more to my novel, but not enough to read out this time; just as well, as 5 minutes per person was about all we had time for, for of course, we needed time for comments and our usual break. Hot chocolate was back on the menu at the Institute after about 2 months. Just as well, as the cafe at the Imax was out of it. Has someone cornered the market in hot chocolate, I wonder.

I now have a formal invitation to speak at a local reading circle in May, so will shortly start preparing my script for this event. Must also soon start on the next book for my own reading circle - The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Month in the Country

Goodness. A whole month has elapsed since my last blog, and it has been quite a busy time. Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet might have said. When I’m busy, I haven’t got time to report back here, and when I’m not, there’s nothing to say.

Firstly, there was the family visit, when the Son&H and the ProdigalD came with their respective partners and a total of four granddaughters – oh and the dog. The latter arrived on Friday and the former on Saturday, and we had a family roast for the ten of us (not the dog). The semi-vegetarians of the next generation down had my speciality, vegetable terrine – recipe available to those who ask nicely. It’s a long time since I’ve catered for a large group, but it worked out all right. Everyone got on well together including GDs 2 and 3, who are both 9, and who stayed home and played together when nearly everyone else went for a walk. GD1 was very keen to take control of the dog, and GD4 didn’t care one way or the other.

If was February then, and having counted 18 snowdrop flowers this year, I checked up on last year’s total, which turned out to be 16. It appears that last year, I had split my two clumps into four, but one lot must have been either dug up, or damaged by the very cold weather. My daughter in law thought I meant 18 clumps when I told her this exciting total, and expected to see a vast swathe of white blooms. I’m a gardener. I’m patient. Part of the fun of planting a new bulb, or moving an old one is to see an increase year by year.

Two outings later that week were to Opera South at Haslemere, when we met up with the OH’s cousins in an annual tradition and had tea, sandwiches and cakes in a pub in Chiddingfold. Then on to see Peter the Great. Later in the week, I went to London to meet my friend, Pam, and we went to Tate Britain to see the exhibition of water colours, which were surprisingly varied.

Apart from mid week lunches with friends, the OH and I went to a family birthday party (60 is the new 40) – this time meeting up with his cousins on the other side. Just as well, because this weekend, my side were represented when I did lunch for 11 of us. No vegetarians this time. I made chicken with peppers and mushrooms; loads of potatoes, ratatouille and green veg. I cooked more than I needed, so there’s another meal for us, when I’m feeling lazy. And the OH is delighted that there were leftovers from the three desserts – apple crumble, fruit salad and pears in chocolate sauce. Also two portions of homemade cheesecake, which I froze so we wouldn’t be tempted. I’m up two or three pounds since a few weeks ago, and resumed walks yesterday.

Last week was also the reading circle and the book I’d suggested, The Help went down well with most people. I thought it was a really good read and fantastic for a first novel. My comments:

I’m not a fan of books with a message. So I might have shied away from The Help if I hadn’t heard a serialised version on the radio, a year or so ago. That convinced me that this was a book well worth reading, and I was not disappointed.

The Help tells a story about apartheid in the USA in the 1960s, the casual racism of white middle class women, the disdain which they, or at least some of them, treat the women who run their homes and bring up their children. However, this is told with such lightness of touch and such humour that one absorbs the information at the same time as wanting very much to know what’s going to happen next.

The story is told through the viewpoints of three women and in their own voices: Abileen is a pious and caring person in late middle age. She loves her charge, Mae Mobley, and endeavours to bring her up with good principles and self esteem and tries to give her the affection she doesn’t get from her mother.

Minny is about forty, sassy towards her employers and impulsive, sometimes unable to reign in her behaviour and her temper. She does, however, seem to develop affection for her employer though she doesn’t exactly own up to it in her autobiographical account.

Skeeter is a 24 year old white woman, who is having difficulty in satisfying her mother’s desire for her to make a good match, but who realises that her ambition is for something more than that.

Out of this comes Skeeter’s move to journalism and her attempt to portray the lives of the black women servants. The two black women show tremendous courage in taking this on, as do the rest of the interviewees. But Skeeter is also brave, because what she faces is ostracism by her friends, potentially her family and even her potential future husband, and, despite their faults, she does feel affection for these people who reject her.

I had to suspend disbelief about one or two things, and more specifically, the happy ending. In reality the consequences could have been much worse. However, I believed in the characters, including those who were not the star players. I was comfortable with the voices of the main characters and got used to their way of speech very quickly. For me, what is important is the authenticity of the characters and my ability to empathise with them, as well as the plot. The Help succeeded in that on all counts, as well as being a page turner.

As far as my own works are concerned, PLR and the ALCS, (good to register with both if you’re a writer) both paid out money to me, which I appreciated. Also I have progressed a little with the current novel, Innocent Bystanders and I’ve proof-read An Affair of the Mind, which I assume will soon be live at Untreed Reads. I also have a contract to return for another of my short stories.

Another Goldenford meeting is impending, so I’ll call it a day. Daffodils are out now in our garden. Good to see some colour again.