Tuesday, 31 December 2013

31 December 2013

It's the last day of 2013 and everyone's either getting ready to go out or rounding up their year in terms of hobbies, resolutions (made or broken) and blogging a fair few personal development plans of sorts for the old and new years. As far as books go, I'm still working my way through the Indy's recommendations for children's books that ran for the whole of advent. You'll always miss at least one book that ends up one someone's recommended list and I appreciate word-of-mouth recommendations from bloggers and friends. Lots of icy journeys, enjoyable scares and modern classics in Rebecca Davies' extensive and balanced list. She's convinced me to try Leigh Bardugo, so that's my first new author for 2014.

I'm still working on my 'I have never read' list and am trying Arthur C. Clarke for the first time. I last read some (very pulp and odd) sci-fi fiction in my teens and wasn't exactly inspired to continue. Before you judge, they were in a rented house while on holiday and I'd run out of books. Dolphin Island is about dolphins, underwater exploration and the aftermath of a hovership crash. I'll let you know if I finish it.

I'm also about to start a Russia and winter sport re-read in preparation for the Winter Olympics in February. Politics aside, I'm really looking forward to it and revisiting old fictional friends. There's plenty of skating, skiing and tobogganing in the Chalet School series and I seem to remember a passage about the right name for a toboggan in the Katy Books. Was it sky scraper or skimmer? Something of that kind. Laura Ingalls Wilder is perfect if you prefer domesticity and raw weather and the Christmases at Green Gables are always enviable. Noel Streatfeild's White Boots is the obvious choice and I'm gazing at my shelves trying to find another novel with some winter sports. Mabel Esther Allen, I think, does some Swiss-set books, although I've only read ones set in summer. Perhaps she might do skating at the Rockerfeller Center in New York? I'm not a Narnia fan, so won't be making my way through the wardrobe. What else? There must be other 1930s to 1960s books of girl skaters or mountain adventure stories.

P.S. If anyone is kind enough to comment with a suggestion, I've left out The Silver Skates as that was my childhood unreadable book.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cazalets and Doctor Blake

I've had an overdose of 1940s and 1950s life this weekend catching up with The Doctor Blake Mysteries (BBC please repeat those on a weekend afternoon) and the Cazalet Quartet and I'm still only on Volume One. I can't quite think of it as the Cazalet Quintet yet as the final volume seems so separate.

While I absolutely loved the first four novels and even wore out a couple of paperbacks, I hadn't read the Cazalet Quartet for quite some time and I did leave it a few weeks after reading All Change, the fifth and much later volume, so that I could compare with a clear mind. I still feel rather let down and I'm not sure if that's the way I'm meant to feel. I'm pleased to say that the voices are as strong as they ever were and the children are seen grappling with the same difficulties facing their parents in the original four novels even though the pre-war certainties have faded away. Without giving spoilers, it's almost justice that the selfish Zoe has such an angst-ridden and self-absorbed teenage daughter to care for. I had hoped to see a little more of Jessica and Raymond, but I've caught up with old friends (Jemima, Polly, Hugh and Simon) and had another welcome glimpse into their lives. It's easy to write tidy endings; much braver, as Elizabeth Jane Howard has done, to leave matters unresolved. 400 pages and Home Place isn't the refuge from life that it once was and post-war life wasn't as easy or comfortable as the Cazalets had hoped. Money is worth less and business cultures are changing to their disadvantage. It's the era when the enterprising can be successful quickly, but most Cazalets lack the business flair and brain to capitalise.

Next up on the re-reading list is the underrated Quantocks Quartet by Ruth Elwin Harris. A series to be read when you have time to finish all four books in order.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Proofing and the Dr Blake Mysteries

I am editing and at the stage where the words are almost dancing on the page. The 'book' is still very much at 'draft' stage to plan length, font size and layout. Progress, however, is steady, though I was in desperate need of a break and wanted moving pictures to give me something else to look at.

I took a television break at lunchtime on Friday and found something that wasn't a cookery programme, property redevelopment or a soap. Or even ancient repeats billed as 'vintage'; I'm not sure I agree that Are you being served? and Allo Allo can be described as vintage. I'd use another word entirely, but someone else might be enjoying them.

However, there is a rather good 1950s-set import from ABC with Australian actors I don't recognise. Dr Blake Mysteries may borrow some locations from the Miss Fisher Mysteries and it's one to watch if you're a fan of costume drama and dresses with stiff petticoats and a nice bit of cynicism in the afternoon. Let me introduce you and give a bit of background....

Dr Blake's returned to Ballarat to take over his father's medical practice and position as police surgeon. Grieving for the recent loss of his father and haunted by his war service in the Far East he's a liberal rather out of step with the conservative town taking a perverse delight in challenging everyone. The house is a sprawling bungalow that's chaotically ugly and comfortable with 'bits' added by generations and absolutely no thought of design. I like rooms like that - well-loved and everything taking on a well-worn look. I'm most keen on the kitchen so far - a bit like I imagine Candy Nevill's to have been - all cheerful blue and yellow with scratches and scuffs to the surfaces and smarter tins above the fireplace for tea, coffee, flour, sugar and salt. Well, keen on the sunny kitchen and Dr Blake's Chinese silk dressing gown with gold dragons and quilted decoration to the collar and cuffs. If I can't catch up on iPlayer next week, I'll add the DVD to my wishlist and hope for Christmas. It has a helpful release of 9 December and everything's looking promising for the second series next year.