How Shall I Tell the Dog?

‘At about the same time as they were building Machu Picchu, or even earlier, we in Britain had pretty much finished Salisbury Cathedral. Give me Salisbury Cathedral any day. It makes Machu Picchu look like a child’s toy.’ Oh Miles. How sad that you are no longer with us. An excellent book choice this month to add variety.

Looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought of this at bookclub Weds. Let me know your thoughts if you have read it.

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April Meetup 2016- Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

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(yes, that is my astoundingly impressive question book above)

The books…

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

The book chooser gave us a perfect introduction to why she chose this book for us. She read this years ago and re-read it recently to see why she liked it so much. The central premise appealed to her, that is, the power of Literature to transfer people’s lives. It is told in simple language, which increases the shock the reader feels towards the end when the violence is described. She was touched and moved by the theme of what Literature does to people’s life. We can compare people in our own lives to those in Literature, and it chimed in to what Literature means to her.

We loved….

…how it was an interesting and true portrait of a child. It was never patronising and didn’t talk down to them. Instead it was simply a great portrayal of childhood. Often it was difficult to believe it was a middle-aged New Zealand bloke writing it.
…the theme of cross pollination, and how the boundaries between truth and fiction are blurred.
…that is shows the importance of a good teacher, and how a good teacher harnesses the power of storytelling. Regardless of a child’s talent or interest in a particular topic, a good storyteller has the power to influence a child.

We didn’t love….

…that the ending was slightly weak, and that it was possibly tying too hard to tie up loose ends.
…that the violence came across less strongly in the audio version than when reading the novel, and lost its impact.

By the time one reader reached the point where the soldiers arrived they no longer cared about the characters that much. This reader hadn’t read Great Expectations and consequently got fed up of constant references to the novel.

We disagreed….

…about the audio narration. One reader felt that the audio narration left them uninspired, whereas another aid book user thought the narration was beautiful.

…about the importance of the setting – some thought that it was set in the Caribbean. Some thought that ultimately it wasn’t about the exact place. Others were emotionally disengaged with the characters so wanted to know more about the specific location and to learn exactly what it was like for a child growing up in Papua New Guinea. Most of us thought that it didn’t matter where it was, and that it was a true portrayal of how all over the world there are small pockets of population who aren’t involved in but are hugely affected by civil war.

…about the narrator. There was a split down the group about this. Some of us thought that it was a young boy narrating, possibly because of the discussion of Mister Pip, and some said that they kept forgetting that it was a male author because of how well he wrote in the voice of a young girl.

We digressed….  

 

…And talked about how people can get jealous of characters in books, and that books can make people feel excluded like the mother in the novel. There was no narrative around the relatives in Matilda’s family – just facts that she had to learn.

…And talked about how listening to an audio version versus reading a paper copy results in very different reading experiences.

…And talked about the abridged version on Audible was more true to Judy D than the real one became because it was the first one they listened to.

Reviewed by:
Paul, Drew, Carol, Anne, Judy J, Judy D, and me J

Next month…
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – White Hart, Llangybi, last Weds In May, 2016, 7:30pm.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

(Sept 2014 Meetup)

The book
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which is an epic story following the lives of some very interesting characters, and revolves around the painting of the same name.

We loved….
…her storytelling, and we all, well nearly all, persevered to the end, and wanted to find out what happened.
…the after party where Mansel, Paul, and Sam joined us and we had Michelle, who hadn’t read the book, asking her questions to these three, who hadn’t read the book. Their answers were remarkably realistic however, and I’m wondering whether there is much point in reading the books at all in the future.

We didn’t love….
…the length of the book, and a few of us weren’t that taken in by the characters. One person didn’t even start the book because they were put off by the cover. We also didn’t love that the Kindle edition doesn’t show the full painting, only the small section through ripped paper.
…One person chose not to read the book based on the cover, one person got to chapter 2 and wasn’t hooked enough to continue, and others felt the characters weren’t believable.

We agreed…
…that she can tell a great story, and that it was worth continuing to the end.

We disagreed….
…about Tartt’s descriptive writing. Some of us felt that she put in too much padding in parts, and that her philosophies were a bit too prescribed to us. Others felt that the amount of detail that she put in really made the story, and that her ‘drip, drip’ way of adding detail effectively built up the whole picture.

We digressed….
… and talked about art as therapy, right/left wing brain, a form of meditation.

The P45 Diaries by Ben Hatch

july(June 2014 meetup)

The book:
The P45 Diaries by Ben Hatch
This book is a semi-autobiographical account of the protagonist’s coming of age, following his journey as he gets sacked from a number of jobs from working in a kebab house where he didn’t realise he had to take the skewer out of the chicken before putting it in a pitta, and various others, including macdonalds, and a stint with a builder. As funny as it is to read about his blaze of glory exits from the workplace, there is the undercurrent of him dealing with the bereavement following the death of his mother, and the consequently tumultuous relationship with his father who is the Head of BBC 2 and desperately trying to get his son to hold down a job.  Another main theme is his rejection of the corporate world and his inability to embrace maturity, so when the ending sees him being accepted onto a journalism course the reader is relieved to witness this first step towards some stability in his life and his entrance into adulthood.

We loved….
The humour and change in style from some of the ‘heavier’ books we have been reading, and the way that the book managed to tackle some really heavy issues such as bereavement, the deterioration of someone before death, while making us laugh out loud. There was a refreshing mix of humour, honesty, and seriousness. We also loved the al fresco setting, and michelle’s epic diary style question tree (see photo!), complete with Welsh cakes! A hard act to follow for next month but I’m sure she will.

We didn’t love….
that Michelle got stuck in traffic and was late and that we were actually going to have to think of something to say unprompted! Also, a few of us thought that perhaps the humour was a little forced in places, especially the beginning, until it became a bit meatier.

We disagreed….
about very much this time. On the whole we all enjoyed it, and everyone who finished it said that they did not expect the ending.

We digressed….
and talked about the difference between bronchitis and pleurisy. We obviously missed the last couple of months’ medicinal themes and wanted to give our brains a workout. Thanks to Robin, our resident microbiologist, we learnt a lot about lungs. We also talked about the possibility of branching out and going to the cinema to watch the film adaptations of books we have read. This led to a discussion about the release of 50 Shades of Grey as a film, and there seems to be more demand for Mansel to reinstate his weekly readings from the book.

 

Life Class by Pat Barker and The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriaty

(Aug 2014 Meetup)

The books:

  • Life Class  by Pat Barker
  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriaty.

We loved….
…both books in their own way. They were quite different in a number of ways. Life Class is a heavier piece of work, and the only book that has ever made Chloe cry! and The Husband’s Secret is more of a lighter page turner which makes you ask yourself how you would react if in the same position of discovering the secret.  Most of us agreed that we would read other titles by the same authors, and not many of us had a clue what the secret was until we got to it.

We didn’t love….
…some of Moriaty’s ‘easy’ writing style in places, where she tended to fill in too much information, losing some subtlety even though the plot was gripping. Some of us weren’t that keen on the title either. As for Life Class, some found the scene where Elinor sneaks to the Front completely unbelievable. It was noted that all the characters change over the course of the war apart from Elinor who claims all the way through that she wants to stay true to her art and nothing else, but one of the artists of the bookclub group felt that you cannot be a true artist if you do not embrace change. Interestingly, those reading it on an ereader  who were unable to get information from the cover and the blurb, found it difficult to work out which era it was set in for quite a while.

We disagreed….
…quite strongly about whether the number and type of events that occur to the people The Husband’s Secret were realistic. Some believed that it was unrealistic to have so many dramatic instances in the lives of the group of characters and that the book would have benefitted from fewer dramas. Others firmly believed that a lot of bad things can happen to people in short spaces of time. Some felt that the dramas were just added to make it like a soap opera, whereas others felt that it portrayed the real lives of real people and how they deal with such events.

We digressed….
and talked about the recently released film, Lucy, which discusses the idea of primal instincts in relation to the mother’s in The Husband’s Secret doing whatever necessary to protect their families. We also discussed whether we would have read the letter in the attic and I believe it was a unanimous yes!

Meeting Rachel Joyce – Her Take on Writing for Radio

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Me getting her next book signed

This is a little shout out to people embarking on writing for Radio.

In the middle of October (2014 – yes I am that behind the time in posting this), in Chepstow Library in Wales, a crowd of us dragged a chair up to listen to the loveable Rachel Joyce talk about writing for radio.

It is difficult not to be drawn into Rachel’s world. With her long ruffled skirt and Victorian boots, just looking at her made you feel like you were in another world.

I don’t know if any of you have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. If you have you will be surprised to hear that she is not someone who described herself as a novelist beforehand. It turns out that she is predominantly a playwright, and has been one of the main writers for Radio 4’s afternoon play, and lots of plays for Woman’s Hour. She has also been involved in a lot of adaptation work, adapting the Bronte sisters’ works for radio, and her own novels.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry tells the story of Harold’s epic walk from one end of the country to another. When he walks out of his front door one day in his usual clothes and shoes, it is clear that he is completely unprepared for his journey. Rachel explains that this was a mirror of her own writing journey. She had no idea how to write the book and likens the writing process to Harold just putting one foot in front of the other and just keeping going every day.

Some of the points she made were relevant to anyone on a Creative Writing course, in particular the A215 Creative Writing Module with The Open University, or indeed any writing course, or journey, so I thought I would write them up and share them with you.

Please note, however, that these are just her thoughts, and not to override any advice from your tutor or coursebook! Just things to think about, I suppose.

When asked about her radio writing she said that you have to remember that the radio can be switched off very quickly and then you have lost your audience.

They are unlikely to turn it back on, or find you on ‘listen again’ once they have made that decision, unlike with a book where the reader may well pick it up again when they have more time or are back in the mood.

Consequently, she feels that radio plays need to have a strong storyline to keep the listener engaged.

Other interesting points Rachel made:

–          In Britain we are one of the only nations left who still have radio drama, so we have to look after it, write it, listen to it, share it, review it etc.

–          Character names are hugely important as they carry a lot of weight

–          Rachel always knows what the end of her play will be, and feels as though the beginning and endings are answers to each other. However, she said that one of her most respected writers (named no names) said that anyone who knew their ending when they started out was dull.

–          Writing every single day is vital to improvement

–          Rachel likes to include a lot of truth in her work. She sees the truth as stepping stones. She will write about/fictionalise something truthful, then see another stepping stone stone of truth ahead of her and have to work out a way to get there.

–          Predominantly a writer for radio, Rachel is not used to writing descriptions at length. She has mainly worked in dialogue, and she found that having prose to write descriptions was like having a load of colours to work with.

–          She said that she often used sound to punctuate action and that certain sounds can be very effective in radio work such as rain and other weather.

–          She said that different writing disciplines flex different writing muscles and that there is merit in trying your hand at all varieties so that you can draw from different ones when needed.

–          In order to adapt prose for radio, especially short plays in episodes, you have to get very used to cutting and being brutal. You have to look for that hook for each episode and allow time to remind the listener of what happened in the previous episode. In her adaptations of one of the Bronte stories she had to cut whole scenes and remove whole characters entirely in order to give the main focus to the main characters.

–          Her next book about Queenie Hennessy is being dramatised on the radio in 5 or 6 episodes so for anyone who has read it you can see how she adapted it for radio.

–          The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was also on the radio and is going to be a film in a year or two so it could be interesting to see how the book, radio play, film differ.