Few people give me a book these days. I'm known among my friends for my prolific reading of modern fiction and, working in a bookshop and regularly reviewing forthcoming titles, they understandably feel that it is too much of a challenge to find something I haven't read and might enjoy.
This year, though, I was delighted to find two book-shaped parcels among the gifts under my tree; two good friends had discovered two very different titles that proved perfect finds, and great inspiration for the coming year.
The first was a writer's journal. The cover is reminiscent of Emma Bridgewater in design, and the interior is full of exercises and prompts to challenge the writer's mind in plotting, description and characterisation. The key of course will be setting aside time to approach these stimulating ideas.
The second was a non-fiction title, 'Think like an engineer' and was not something I would have been drawn to, mainly because I don't think I have ever understood what an engineer does. Having read this book, I confess I'm still not entirely sure - how do people train to be an engineer as they seem to be essential to any situation.
The examples of the achievements of engineers' vision and application to problem-solving in so many different fields was truly inspiring. I was in tears as I read about David Koon. The murder of his daughter led him to introduce the GPS system for tracking mobile phone calls, first identifying its application and then becoming a politician in order to implement it. An astonishing man of insight and persistence who turned a horrific experience for good.
How wonderful that the writer could share such an inspiring and moving story.
Our endeavours on the rivers of England has qualified us for a name check in Country Life magazine courtesy of Griff Rhys Jones!
Griff is very kindly supporting our latest venture - to explore the length of the River Deben as Three Women in a Boat, though this year under our new guise as Daughters of the Deben.
He offered to be photographed with us in the local paper to help raise the profile of our venture which aims to celebrate our beautiful river and attract more people to rowing, and follows on from our eight days rowing the length of the Thames last year in a Victorian wooden skiff.
The photo shoot took place in Griff's garden on a damp Saturday morning. He was very enthusiastic about all that we were doing though, being very familiar with the river himself, he knew that it wasn't that great an undertaking to row it in a day.
Nevertheless, he was suitably impressed to mention it in his column for Country Life magazine. What a nice man!
Whenever I do a piece on radio, I usually come away thinking I could have said things differently. Did I gabble? Did I stutter and umm and err? Unfortunately I don't like listening back so I am unable to objectively analyse my 'performance' or make any necessary reparations for the next time.
This morning, though I had a lovely encouragement.
I was asked to participate in the James Hazell programme on BBC Radio Suffolk, commenting on a new report into reading. I didn't have time to get nervous, just prepared a few thoughts and listened to the callers before me.
After doing my piece, the producer came on the line and almost squealed with delight - 'wow! that was amazing. I was held spellbound. If I wasn't a reader, I would be after listening to you. So descriptive. If you're not a writer, you should be!'
How lovely that she should have that reaction, but even nicer that she should be generous enough to tell me. What a great start to the day!
You can listen to the piece here:
Pupils from Woodbridge Primary School have created a lifesize coyote out of paper to mark the visit of debut novelist Emma Hooper to the town this week.
Emma is launching her novel 'Etta and Otto and Russell and James' in Woodbridge. It has just been named as the Radio Two Book Club book for February and she has received glowing reviews and high profile interviews throughout the media for many weeks.
I read the book some months ago as a proof, sent beautifully packaged with all sorts of themed goodies. I loved the story and wanted my event for Browsers Bookshop, with the Riverside Restaurant, to give guests a similarly memorable introduction to this wonderful book.
The schoolchildren have created a papier mache model just like those made by Otto in the story. They've made a coyote to represent the talking coyote in the book, who's called James. We will eat maple syrup cookies to remind us of the Canadian setting and the event will begin by echoing Etta's 2,000 trek to the sea, with a 20 minute walk along the River Deben.
We hope the snow will hold off long enough for us to enjoy the afternoon. Emma says the journey from Bath to Woodbridge will be nothing to her - she is used to the vast expanses of Canada. But is she familiar with British Sunday train travel?
I always thought I was a bit unusual in recording how many books I read each year, but it seems I am not alone in setting myself a reading challenge.
This year I have seen Twitter feeds, a posting from the GoodRead website and an initiative launched by Penguin all urging people to share their goals, and to raise the stakes. I've found it quite astonishing how many people are aiming to read more than 100 books!
I wonder where all this has come from - have I been oblivious to all this activity before? Do I feel competitive or encouraged by being part of a 'community'? Would I rather be alone with my challenge?
It's rather like loving a book - you want everyone to read it because it's so good but at the same time you don't want anyone to read it because you want it to be your own personal discovery, your own special find.
I've signed up to the Penguin Inspiration or penguinspo (!). I read just 62 books last year (my lowest tally for quite a while), and I've stated my aim for 2015 as 100. Apparently Penguin will email me each month with recommended books to help me reach that goal. I'll let you know how I get on!