From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Reading”

Baggage limit? But there are books to buy!

Bartrums Hay-on-WyeHow can a travelling author be given a baggage weight limit when there are books to buy? Lots of books. Plus lots of amazing new book shops to visit, not to mention literary museums and quirky stationery shops! And when one location turns out to be the very setting and inspiration the author was searching for, complete with printed histories, background info and individual (published) stories…

P1000641 Chris Hay on Wye

Eek, the conundrum! Especially when said author has a small domestic flight from Belfast to Inverness that insists on only 20kgs of baggage and a stop off first, in Hay-on-Wye – national book town of Wales – where every second shop is book related – plus they have the incredible Bartrums & Co Stationers. How was I possibly going to gain less than 3 kgs before flying?

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Of course, I couldn’t leave Hay-on-Wye empty handed and I picked up several books including two novels The Miniaturist and The Little Paris Bookshop at the wonderful Richard Booth’s Bookshop. I know I could get both of these novels at home, but I do have to say it, books are cheaper in the UK – even applying the horrifying June 2015 exchange rate of the Aussie dollar to GBP. Here The Miniaturist sells in the three majors I checked for A$19.99. I paid £7.99 (equiv approx. $16.00). The Little Paris Bookshop sells in Australia for $29.99 and I paid £12.99 (equiv approx. $26.00).

Isn’t it good when one can make an almost reasonable excuse for one’s passions (read obsessions)?
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Admittedly, I did have to add 67 euros postage in Ireland to post my purchases and paper paraphernalia back to Oz pre domestic flight. But by then I’d also found my potential story setting and acquired a lot more accompanying research literature besides, so the novels didn’t substantially affect the 7 kilo cost.

Books bought os

The hoard pictured above is the greater majority of my book and literature purchases this trip, bar a couple lent out already. Alas, most of it purchased pre domestic flight! Hence the hefty postage charge.

It doesn’t include all the associated brochures, maps and sight-seeing site literature one picks up along the tourist trail. I can’t believe how much paper stuff I discarded. Tourism sure takes a hefty chomp out of the world’s tree population. In fact, I think I think it should be mandatory that every castle, museum, place of interest, provide recycle bins at exits for visitors to dump printed paraphernalia. Most tourists probably bin it before stepping back on the plane anyway. Except writers, of course, who often want to study the minutiae later, on the look out for that elusive idea, word, name, inspiration that they may have missed whilst taking in the vista. Or while saving their concentration for climbing and descending the multiple x multiple stairs UK/Europe insist upon to earn your rite of passage!

Yet I could’ve bought so much more, especially post small domestic flight.

P1020477 Chris Bell Foyles LondonFoyles in London, is reader heaven. I practically had to be dragged out of the place. I was incredibly well controlled though, as I wouldn’t buy anything I could buy at home once back in England. But the range in Foyles, spread over four levels, is incredible. I was possibly too overawed to even think much about purchasing. I was also too busy plotting how could I move to Charing Cross Road, work there/write there. At least for a year or two!

Book buying is almost always as much part of my holiday pleasure as reading. I’m not sure if I should be worried that I spent more time buying books while away than actually reading them.

A bookshop worth travelling for – the iconic Shakespeare and Company!

Stepping into one of the most iconic bookshops in the world is an almost holy moment, whether you’re religious or not. And a visit to Shakespeare and Company was one of my “must-dos” during my research trip to Paris.

Shakespeare and Company bookshop has existed in Paris in two forms; the first was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and frequented by such masters as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce and Ezra Pound. The shop closed in 1941 during the German Occupation after Beach refused to sell a book to a German Officer. He threatened to return and remove every book, but hours later, thanks to Sylvia’s friends, she had emptied the shop of every book, painted over the front, and closed the doors permanently. The second store came into existence after Beach’s death in 1964 when George Whitman renamed his “Le Mistral” bookshop, on rue de la Bûcherie, in her honour.

Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company, situated on the left bank opposite Notre Dame, also became an iconic cultural institution as bookstore, lending library and home to writers and poets, both published and not. Today, Shakespeare and Company is run by Sylvia Beach Whitman, George Whitman’s daughter, who maintains his creed allowing writers to live-in, read and write,  in exchange for a couple of hours help a day in the shop. (George died only recently in December 2011 aged 98.)

Books of every genre and description cram the floor-to-ceiling shelves and cluttered corners. Stacks of books line the staircase leading upstairs to the reading room and lending library – available to the public to read – including thousands of hardback biographies and histories.

Time poor, I didn’t get to attend a weekly reading or any of the frequent workshops or writers’ meetings. It was enough to climb the narrow stairs to the tiny room available free to writing/reading groups and imagine myself with hours to spend sitting reading and absorbing the spirit of the great writers who’ve also visited such as Anais Nin and Henry Miller. I could so imagine curling up, notebook and pen in hand, writing in this space. Sigh!

The shop sells mainly literary and contemporary fiction, both new and used books, and offers an incredible selection of mostly English print books. (Though they do sell some Russian, Spanish, German and Italian.) I picked up several, restricted sadly by the weight limit of an internal flight, including George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Fitch’s Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation (A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties – both which I can’t wait to read. Especially since I plan to set a small part of my WIP in this era and these settings. Both books promise  birds’ eye views to put me in the mood and mindset of the day. Books like these are gifts to writers who can revisit the place but not capture the minutiae of  moments so long past.

Another small book I bought and love is The War Poets, an anthology of poems from both World War One and Two featuring works by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and W.B. Yeats. (Pitkin Publishing 2009) Already I’m a fan of Sassoon, particularly the sincerity in the images conjured in his Died of Wounds and the reality of the last line. I hope you’ll love it too.

Died of Wounds

His wet white face and miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans and sighs:
But hoarse and low and rapid rose and fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.

The ward grew dark; but he was still complaining
And calling out for ‘Dickie’. ‘Curse the Wood!
It’s time to go. O Christ, and what’s the good?
‘We’ll never take it, and it’s always raining.’

I wondered where he’d been; then heard him shout,
‘They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don’t go out’ …
I fell asleep … Next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed.

Siegfried Sassoon

In these days of too many independent bookshops closing, it was a joy to visit this thriving icon. We have no such delight located near to where I live, but if you have one of those rare gems in your neighbourhood that you can recommend, I’m prepared to travel. Just leave a few details or why you love your local bookshop in the comments. 

Newsflash: If you’re into writing novellas, Shakespeare and Company run The Paris Literary Prize an international novella competition, open to unpublished writers and offering a substantial €10,000 prize.

Year of Reading challenge

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

                                                                                             – Dr Seuss

As a writer, I know the great importance and gains of reading widely and often, both critically toward improving my craft and for enjoyment. It’s the last part I’ve struggled with over recent years.

A writer of historical fiction must read copiously in the era of their research, the writings of the day, and everything they can lay their hands on about the time, place of their setting and the people. I’ve found over the past three years that this has left me little time to read for pleasure or to sample many of the wonderful, recently published books out there, particularly YA and kid’s lit that I also love and write in. I feel I’ve missed a large chunk, and not least because many of my friends and peers have been published in these genres and I’m eager to read their latest books.

My shelves are crammed more these days with books I want to read and the percentage of “read” to “waiting to be read” has tilted dramatically in favour of the latter.

In this National Year of Reading, I’ve set myself the challenge to read 52 books in 52 weeks. These fifty-two will be chosen beyond the many novels, information and history books I’ll be reading in the course of my research and background gathering for my current WIP.

I need and want to rediscover the pleasure of story for entertainment and escape; the great read you can’t put down while the carrots steam dry and the washing sits idle in the machine. Of course, I’ve read some fantastic books, memoirs and historical novels in pursuit of improving my knowledge of the era of my last novel, but it’s the other genres that I love passionately too that I’m missing of late.

I’m not sure I’ll get to blog on each of the fifty-two books of my challenge, but I will read them. I intend to put aside time every day to do so. Not the last ten minutes in bed of a night when my eyelids give up before my brain and the book is closed on the promise of a tomorrow that my ultra-busy 2011 couldn’t fulfill.

This will be my Year of Reading. How about you?

 

Week 1 Book 1

My first book of the year was Buying a Piece of Paris written by Ellie Nielsen. This is a non-fiction account of Nielsen’s efforts to fulfil her dream of buying a Paris apartment in just two short weeks – negotiating with limited language and knowledge of “French real estate etiquette”.

I totally enjoyed this easy read and jaunt around Paris, that, if the truth be known, fulfils a little of my own fantasy. I love how the prose frequently drops into French – my enjoyment obviously madly influenced by my own current attempts to learn the language and in appreciation of Nielsen’s struggles.

The view of life painted in Paris of Nielsen’s fellow expat’s enticed me more, yet also warned of the difficulties that perhaps only those with considerable means can fully circumvent.

A great read for lovers of Paris, France and French, or those nurturing a secret yearning to live in a foreign country.

Buying a piece of Paris – Ellie Nielsen Published by Scribe Publications 2007 ISBN: 9781-921215-51-3

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