I was on BBC Radio Suffolk again today, recommending A Good Read on the afternoon show. It began by the presenter, Lesley Dolphin introducing her own summer page-turner as David Nicholls' 'One Day'. She warned me before we went on air that she was going to mention it and was surprised when I said that not only had I also read the book, but that I had in fact recommended it on the programme some months ago when it was first published. Later, in the broadcast, I asked if Lesley had been to see the film of the book, and she hadn't realised that there was one. This seemed astonishing for someone so well-informed and who had loved the book. It just shows that you should never assume that messages always get through the radar.
This evening I led the first Browsers Book Group after the summer. Numbers had been dropping off before the break, so I had no idea how many people would come along tonight to discuss Hans Fallada's 'Alone in Berlin'. It was evident it was going to be a busy night when unfamiliar faces started arriving at 7.45, not the usual regulars rushing in breathless at 8pm on the dot. We had 23 people and six of these were men - unprecedented! It was an excellent discussion. I think just about everyone found this a difficult book, although there was an even split in those appreciating the struggle, feeling they had gained something from the experience, and those wishing they could have given up the fight if it hadn't have been a book group book!
I found out today that Joanna Trollope's latest novel is set in Suffolk - in fact just down the road at Shingle Street. I was on to the case straightaway and polished off the book overnight.
It's called 'Daughters-in-Law' and was a pleasant enough read. But nothing really happened!
I've only read one other Joanna Trollope so I don't know whether this is typical of her writing. This story dealt with three young wives trying to please their domineering mother-in-law, while at the same time seeking to assert their own way in life. One wife didn't toe the family line and everything and everyone falls into a (mild) state of disarray. Ultimately there is a resolution, although this came about rather too easily for me. But, for a holiday read, or an escape from the crises in the news at the moment, I suppose there's nothing wrong with wanting everything to work out in the end.
As regards the setting - there was a fair bit of name-dropping for Shingle Street, Aldeburgh and Snape, but no real sense of atmosphere, and I didn't feel the author had a passion for these places. In fact the wives returned to London, and there was a sense that this is where Joanna Trollope is happiest.
Held a fascinating event tonight. Orange Prize 2011 judge, Liz Calder came to Browsers to talk about the experience of being on the panel of five and reading from a list of 150 titles to choose this year's winner.
Actually, she didn't read all 150 (although the head of the judges, Bettany Hughes, did apparently). Each of the judges had 30 books given to them in December, and had to report back to the panel in March. From this discussion, the longlist was chosen, and all the judges then had to read these books.
Liz said that she learned as a publisher that the only way to get through a big pile of books was to get up early and, before the business of the day is started, do your reading. Now retired (although still involved in organising the annual literature festival in Brazil and running a new publishing company based in Suffolk), she found she was able to clear the decks and read constantly for the six months, and some books she read two or three times in order to be sure she had made the right decision. She believes she has read 70 books and it has been 'exhilarating'!
When I first saw the shortlist, though, my heart sank. There was nothing there that appealed to me. I thought I ought to read them in order to be better informed for Liz's visit and what a treat this turned out to be.
I've read four of the six titles (pretty poor considering Liz's tally), and they all surprised me. 'Room' was amazing. I really didn't want to read it, but thought it was very well done. But my favourite - so far - is 'The Memory of Love'. Every time I picked it up I was transported. Not that the subject or location was a particular draw for me, but the writing and the pace was so relaxing and enjoyable. I felt that I was being looked after by someone clever and gifted. It felt a privilege to read it every time I turned the page.
It looked like a perfect event to organise. An award-winning children's author had set her latest book around Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, and wanted to come to the area to launch the title.
But Harriet Goodwin was visiting when the state schools had a PD day, and the private schools were breaking up for half term. Not one school could send pupils to Sutton Hoo for the event!
Fortunately Harriet travelled down to the area earlier in the week, so we managed to arrange for her to go into one of the local primary schools to talk about 'Gravenhunger'.
Dressed casually in jeans and T-shirt, Harriet looked fairly unassuming. She told the children she was a mother of four and a professional singer, who made time to write by not having a television in the house and not doing any ironing! The adults in the room may have been more interested in this insight into household affairs and priority-setting, but no one could fail to take notice when Harriet demonstrated her singing ability. Classically trained, she showed the children how she would warm up her voice before a performance. They all had to put their fingers in their ears, such was the volume of her voice. Stunning.
For 30 minutes, Harriet spoke in depth about the writing and publishing process for her first book 'The Boy who Fell Down Exit 42'. It was very interesting, but I was getting increasingly more fidgety, thinking she needed quickly to move on to 'Gravenhunger' - the book I had brought along in large quantities to sell, and with the link to the history of Sutton Hoo as the reason she had been invited into the school. I needn't have worried, though, as Harriet had paced her talk perfectly. By its conclusion, the children were stumbling over each other to buy their copy of 'Gravenhunger' and have it signed by the author.
At our Book Group meeting last week, we discussed 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately it wasn't generally liked and, interestingly, we found ourselves discussing our perceptions of the author almost as much as the content of the book. Of course Rushdie has had a higher profile than most authors, but I do have to confess that my knowledge of an author (however slight), or the story of how a novel was inspired and created, can influence my approach to their work.
This weekend I attended the Charleston Literature Festival. I had booked just one talk on each of the three days of my stay and hadn't been adventurous in my choice. The sessions, then, were entertaining and informative, but not particularly challenging. But there was one surprise: Edward St Aubyn. I knew nothing of him or his writing, but my friend she hadn't got on with the one book of his she had tried. He spoke of his new book alongside Esther Freud and they proved interesting foils.
St Aubyn, with a drawling voice, and eyes fixed to the floor or some distant corner of the book tent, seemed at first to find attending such an event beneath him. But, as the session continued, it became apparent that he was ill at ease with making himself available for analysis. He writes about things he cannot bring himself to talk about, he explained when the interviewer wanted to cross-examine him about the autobiographical content of his novels. And the process of producing the books seemed to be quite tortuous. Revealing a wry, self-deprecating humour, which was more and more apparent as the session continued, he explained that he had to lock himself away in a windowless room, painted dark blue, in order to attempt to complete the books at all. He was an intriguing character and, while I am not still not immediately drawn to his books, I feel now that I should at least give them a try.