From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “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?


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)?

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.


Shattered Anzacs and Broken Promises

Mid-way through the year, I realise my pledge to read 52 books in this Year of Reading may have been a bit of an over-estimation on my part. Hey, I know what went wrong, I should have aimed for shorter books. All the ones I’m reading are hundreds of pages long. So from now on, I’m going to leave off the number of books I’m up to and just enjoy the reading.

I’m back into reading the era I’m about to write again for my new historical novel, set during and post WW1. I’m not usually one for war movies or books depicting the grit and gore of battles. My passion lies in the personal, emotional and psychological journeys of my characters, living through those times, but for me to understand how they think, feel and react I must read the books. Some are harsh; so is war. The more I read, the more I cannot believe that WW1 is not a key focus in our education system. Before I began researching four years ago, you could have grown crops of wheat to feed whole suburbs in the gaps in my knowledge. I still have so much to learn, as evidenced in my research trip, but I’m engrossed and passionate about the people and the time enough to set and write another historical saga in the same era as my previous novel. Plus I really need to write and learn more in order to understand what went on and what it was for.

Shattered Anzacs living with the scars of war by Marina Larsson

Historian and author Marina Larsson explores the impact of war disability on the lives of soldiers and those of their families upon their return from WW1. Larsson comprehensively details the effects and attitudes of society, the government, and real families utilising interviews with the offspring of returned soldiers of WW1. Larsson’s text is accessible and highly readable, despite the incredible breadth of her research. The text explores the effects of having a soldier living in the household with an ongoing disability, often a “nervy” and “changed” man. It further addresses the  financial and physical effects and impact on disabled WW1 returned soldiers’ employment prospects.  I highly recommend this excellent resource for anyone writing on the experience and legacy of war.

University of New South Wales Press, Sydney 2009

ISBN: 9781921410550

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The strength of Birdsong is Faulk’s authentic battle scene descriptions and their shocking psychological effects on the men fighting. He takes you into the trenches and onto the battlefield. And he doesn’t let you escape a single moment of the unrelenting battle morning where tens of thousands went over top to be mown down, caught on the wire or tripped up in the bodies of their mates.  Events in the past are described in captivating detail – as if it’s happening now. The character progression of the main character, Stephen Wraysford, an initially selfish young man who seduces his host’s wife and whom appears to care about nothing and no one, is riveting. Alternating viewpoints enable a steady progression in Wraysford’s mental deterioration and those of his men.

I enjoyed “most” of Birdsong. Except for the modern day viewpoint of Wraysford’s grand-daughter, which to me added nothing to the story. The character Elizabeth discovers/reveals nothing that couldn’t have been shown in “real” story time. The writing in this section also dragged the reader out of the atmosphere of the story and read as pure telling. The book does tend to “tell” a lot but the power of the battlefields prose kept me turning the page. It is a searingly authentic look at what our male ancestors went through and why these men were never the same.

Random House

Epub ISBN: 9781407052564 (Vintage 1994)

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.

A “Must Read” YA

Year of Reading: Week 2 Book 2

One book in particular has been crying out to be read from my TBR pile for twelve months. I’ve held off, but with the dread that someone or a casual word somewhere would give away the ending of a story and book that has come so highly recommended.

At last I’ve finally had the chance to read Six, Karen Tayleur’s brilliantly tense and riveting YA coming-of-age story.

One car

Five seatbelts

Six people

This out-take from the prologue, alongside the four line story rhyme introduction (each chapter features) There were six in the bed, and the little one said, ‘Roll over, roll over’ So they all rolled over and one fell out…suggested to me that only one character survives the car crash so hauntingly shown in aftermath within the prologue.

The tension builds as you come to know each of the six main characters, shown through both first and third-person viewpoints, and fret over who may or may not survive. I’m not giving anything away, except to say I was shocked and that the ending is inspired, brilliant, inescapable.

Six – a fantastic read, and read again book. Highly recommended.

Six – Karen Tayleur Published by Black Dog Books 2010       ISBN: 978 – 174203155 – 2

Year of Reading challenge


“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

Reading to Write

I’ve recently read two marvellous though very different books.  Both shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, one in 2010 The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster, and the second a current contender Bereft by Chris Womersley.

Almost all of my reading over the past three years has focused on either non-fiction research into era, settings, lifestyle, history; and/or fiction written either during or about the era of my current work-in-progress. Lately I’ve moved on to works that inform on other aspects addressed in my novel to see how authors accomplish tension, pacing and balance in their works. I feel secure in doing so now that my style, voice and story are firmly set and complete.

Bereft is Chris Womersley’s fictional account of a ww1 soldier’s post-war return to Australia. Returning to the shattering family murder and subsequent accusation he ran away from years before the war. All the old misbeliefs, biases and issues still exist as if not a day has passed, when into the man’s path steps a young, fanciful girl giving the young soldier a chance for redemption in saving her as he could not save his sister.

Womersley’s beautifully wrought prose weaves through the era and transported me to the harsh bleakness of the times.

An amazing telling. (And by that I mean showing in the best sense.)

Deborah Forster’s The Book of Emmett, set half a century later, is a grab-you-by-the-throat page turner with unrelenting tension gripping from page one until I was begging for release. If I’d not been reading as a writer to see how Forster has so brilliantly achieved this breath-taking effect, I think I’d have had to put the book aside. Just in time, the pace and setting shifted to allow me to catch my breath.

TBOE is a vivid, heartbreaking look at domestic violence in the suburbs; realistic and chilling, and made worse because you well believe it’s authenticity and can imagine it still many families truth.

I recommend both unreservedly.

My reading makes me ponder a point I’ve troubled over. During various course and workshops I’ve participated in, I’ve heard the occasional writer comment that they don’t read while they’re writing, or don’t read in the genre they’re writing. Most state that to do so might overly influence them or that they fear they might subconsciously plagiarise something in the book they’re reading.

It is an interesting point. One I’ve not worried about because, firstly, I have to read, and, secondly, during the initial drafts of my WIP, my reading tended towards non-fiction and the research needed for my novel.

I only really began to immerse myself in fiction written in or about the era once my initial story was complete. I did this deliberately more because my main character and novel has a unique voice and one I wanted nothing to influence or disturb until it was fully established. It’s the voice and accent running through my head when I’m writing. It’s the voice I’m painstakingly aware of as I redraft now in fear I’ll mess it up or risk editing it out.

Last night, as I read the final chapters of my latest novel choice, I nearly dropped the book to read of a character doing something identical to one of my characters. A common enough way of the times to try to dislodge an unwanted pregnancy, but I was so disappointed to see someone else had used it. I learned of it through an older person telling of a girlhood friend. Do I take it out because I’ve now read it in another book? No. It’s a tiny reference in my story, plus I wrote it two years before I read this book. Most importantly, it’s written in a very different way from my fellow writer’s story.

Getting back to reading. I still follow the three rules, I was taught for good writing:



So fellow writers, do you read in the genre, era, area you write in? If yes, why? If no, why not? I’d love you to leave a comment and share the benefits or pitfalls as you see them.

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