Books, life the universe

Friday, 31 October 2008


A few days ago I finished what I thought was a quite unpleasant serial killer crime novel -Andrew Pyper's The Killing Circle. It wasn't a book I would have picked out myself but it was something I was offered under the Amazon Vine programme so I decided to give it a go. It's set in Toronto and features Patrick Rush, a small time journalist and widower with a small son called Sam. Patrick joins a writing circle because he wants to write a novel. He becomes obsessed with the other members of the circle and tapes some of the meetings to listen to later. He also becomes obsessed with the story which one of the group is working on. As the book progresses it becomes very difficult to tell what is real and what is imaginary. What does seem real is that a serial killer is stalking the members of the writing circle. I found I just got annoyed with the narrator - Patrick - and wanted to shake him and tell him to pull himself together. If you want dark, well written, serial killer crime then this may be one for you. It didn't do it for me.

On the other hand I really enjoyed Footfall - Christine Poulson -set in Cambridge and the surrounding countryside. Cassandra James - Cambridge lecturer, is trying to finish her book about sisters in 19th century fiction when she hears of the death of her friend Una in suspicious circumstances. Reluctantly she becomes involved in the subsequent investigation because Una had written to her just before she died saying she had suspicions of someone she had trusted. Una's will leaves her huge collection of books to Cassandra's college and this stirs up some academic rivalries. Meanwhile someone seems to be going round Cambridge impersonating Cassandra. Well written with interesting characters. It reminded me of Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy series. I recommend it if you like crime in academia.

I've also finished Polly Howat's Ghosts and Legends of Lincolnshire and the Fens - fascinating if you're interested in this area as I am. It featured the usual collection of green and white ladies as ghosts haunting museums pubs and churches. The author had tried to find people living who had experienced these strange happenings and the book includes a useful list of Lincolnshire dialect words. It's a useful addition to my collection of books on Lincolnshire and the Fens.

I am currently working my way through Noreen Marshall's Dictionary of Children's Clothes - very interesting it is too and brings back many memories from my childhood. Reading about liberty bodices I could clearly remember my mother saying to my grandmother that she refused to dress me in them because she'd hated wearing them herself. I think it was something to do with the buttons which smelt of rubber! I was also reminded of my school dresses which had tucks in the waist and the side seams so that you could just undo a row of stitching and the garment was instantly bigger. Put that together with generous hems and the dress would last two or three years. Do they still make children's clothes like that? My dresses when I was little were often made out of my mother's and when the bodices became too small the skirts were worn as skirts. Of course when completely unwearable the fabric was used as cleaning cloths. The book by the way is very well produced with lots of colour photographs not just of clothes but of things like old knitting patterns. I shall be posting a full review of it on Amazon probably in the next couple of days.

More books tomorrow probably

Thursday, 30 October 2008

We're all different

I was talking to Kevin next door this afternoon who asked me did I know when I was going back to work to which I replied probably a week on Monday. He immediately said 'I should think you're getting bored by now.' He was quite taken a aback when I said no I wasn't at all bored. He's in his early 40s and is currently not working because of the after affects of a stroke three years ago. He lives with his elderly parents. Maybe that remark indicates he's bored with his life. He used to be self employed selling things on eBay and as far as I know made a decent living at it.

The chance to read as much as I want for nearly as long as I want has been great and has prepared me nicely for retirement. Not that I would recommend a broken arm to anyone. I don't think I have ever had anything which was that painful for that long. I suppose it didn't help that the unbroken arm was also painful. I took painkillers every day for 4 weeks which has to be the longest I've ever needed to. Now I get the occasional twinge if I make an unwary movement and using a computer mouse for any length of time is still quite uncomfortable, but apart from that I can just about say I'm recovered.

More about books read tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

A new author discovered

I finished reading Jane Stevenson's Good Women last night. It is a collection of three novellas all on the theme of good women who ultimately turn 'bad' by conventional standards. 'Light my Fire' is narrated by a man, an architect, who is very conscious of his social position and who becomes involved with a woman who is really a little beneath his notice. He is driven by lust and decides to marry her in spite of her class. The story is even more satisfying because the reader can see the narrator's faults and is waiting for something to happen. 'Walking with Angels' features a downtrodden wife who discovers her spiritual side when she starts seeing angels. Her husband cannot deal with the change in her and the consequences are almost inevitable. 'Garden Guerillas' is my favourite. A widow reluctantly agrees to her son and daughter-in-law taking over her large house in Kew - near the gardens - and starts to look around for an alternative home. During the whole process whilst she is nagged by her son and daughter-in-law she decides she does not like either of them very much nor yet her late husband. She has immersed herself in her garden and it is this she will miss when she moves. Gradually she develops a more forceful attitude and plots a subtle revenge through the garden. Very satisfying.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

More time off and sequels

I have another two weeks off. After that I can either go back to work straightaway or ask for another week or two. I was offered 4 weeks straight off but felt that was too long. It has improved tremendously over the last 10 days. I can use the computer for longer without taking a break and some of the time doing day to day stuff I even forget I've had a problem with my arm. On the other hand I still cannot lift a kettle full of water and getting food out of a dish and onto a plate can be quite uncomfortable still. My doctor said I must not go back to work until it is all right as once I start using it more it won't heal properly. I have spoken to the boss who seems reasonably ok about it and also said he didn't want me to come back until it had healed properly. Things are still up in the air at work apparently and nothing much has happened.

I am still looking into commercially published sequels to classic novels and more appear out of the woodwork all the time. I have managed to find one for Charles Dickens - it's called John Jasper's Secret: a Sequel to the Mystery of Edwin Drood by Henry Morford. There are various ones for Henry James as well. Joan Aiken has several sequels to her name mainly Jane Austen. The Brontes also seem to be favourites for sequels. There is a sequel to E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels and even one to The Secret Garden. It's a fascinating subject even if most of them seem to have sunk without trace.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Jane Austen Sequels

I am currently intrigued by the number of Jane Austen sequels/prequels etc there are out there. I had a quick scout round on Amazon and came up with a grand total of 67 though I'm sure there are more than that. I then looked up - which is a largely American site devoted to all things Jane. They have a section on sequels/prequels where I found more of them - and their lists didn't include some I'd found. The site also includes fanfiction - i.e stories which fans have posted which may or may not be of any literary merit at all.

Some authors seem to have made a career out of sequels to famous novels - e.g. Emma Tennant - who has also written around the Brontes as well. I've also located one by Rachel Billington - Perfect Happiness - a continuation of Emma. I suppose one of the well known books on this sort of theme is Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea which has become a classic in its own right and deals with the early life of the first Mrs Rochester - the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre.

The attraction of such literary efforts must be partly that the characters are already in existence so potentially you have a ready made audience for the book. Though of course the purists may not consider them to be worth reading. Many sequels do fail to achieve the popularity of the original - the sequel to Gone with the Wind sank without trace. Many of the spin offs from Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca have not been commercial successes.

Of course using the characters from work which is out of copyright is attractive as well, though sequels of works mentioned above have been sanctioned and even encouraged by copyright holders.

I have not checked to see whether there are any sequels to the works of Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope. Both these authors must have abandoned minor characters who could be turned into heroes and heroines of their own stories and yet no one seems to have taken up the challenge - or not that I have heard of. Does anyone know any different?

Sunday, 19 October 2008

It's Sunday

I do like Sundays. Which is something I used not to say. Why do I like them? Mainly because I don't feel obliged to do anything and can just relax and do whatever I want. The housework can wait - unless I feel like doing it. I can spend all day on the Internet if I want - not possible at the moment because my arm is still a bit painful if I use the computer for too long. I can spend large chunks of time reading - in between feeding the cat and eating myself or I can listen to music, watch tv etc. Sunday is a day for pottering.

I'm thinking about applying for early retirement when I go back to work, but I'm still in two minds about it. I think I may feel differently when I get back to work so maybe I won't. Our office is supposed to be closing in 2010 - which is not very long away. The last couple of weeks since my arm has not been so painful have been very enjoyable but I know this leisure time must come to an end so it's not like being retired.

What I am looking forward to when I get to 60 is getting a free bus pass. One of my work colleagues is over 60 and he and his wife often go out on buses when he's not working. Hearing him talking about it makes me realise that there are compensations to getting old.

Enjoy your weekends, people.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

1950s childhood

I seem to be in nostalgic mood at the moment - something which doesn't often happen. I've been thinking recently about the 1950s in particular and comparing then with now - which was probably why I found The Accidental Time Traveller so good.

Were the 50s really a golden age? They seem like it to me. I can remember going to school on the bus when I was 6 or 7 on my own which is something parents seem very wary of now. I don't remember having the fear of God put into me about strangers either. We lived in a leafy cul de sac in an Edwardian semi with attics and cellars - I slept in the attic for a time - which I loved. The house seemed huge to me though I suspect it would not seem so now.

I can remember frost flowers on the inside of the windows in the morning and getting dressed in bed to keep warm - or downstairs in front of the fire. We used to toast crumpets and bread at the open fire on a brass toasting fork which had the Lincoln Imp on the handle.

Life was simpler. Television was only the BBC. People listened to the radio, talked, read, did embroidery or general sewing or knitting. My grandparents played cards for matchsticks or read the paper. There was much less choice of food in the shops and there were no supermarkets. We had no fridge and for a long time no washing machine. My mother used to wash in the cellar - boiling the water in the copper and doing the washing in a dolly tub, with a posher and then rinsing in cold water and putting clothes through the mangle (or wringer). Meat was kept in a meat safe in the cellar. Food was bought fresh every couple of days. Bread was unsliced and any that went stale was made into bread pudding or bread and butter pudding. Leftovers were not wasted.

It was a thrifty existence but not a miserable one. Parents spent time with their children. When the weather was fine everyone would be outside. In winter people sat by the fire. There would be curtains over internal doors to keep out the draughts and everyone wore jumpers socks and slippers as a matter of course. We were hardier I think. I didn't live in a house with full central heating until 1977 but I don't ever really remember being cold - you just put on more layers.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

An intriguing book

I have just finished Sharon Griffiths' - The Accidental Time Traveller and very good it was too. Journalist Rosie suddenly finds herself back in the 1950s. At first she thinks her friends have conspired to place her in a sort of 1950s style Big Brother house but gradually she realises it is real and no joke. She keeps bumping into people she recognises and addressing them by their twenty first century names which leads to some misunderstandings. It really brought my 1950s childhood back to me - the clothes we wore and the meals we ate. How televisions and cars were not common and even the telephone was something not everyone had. Washing and ironing were time consuming and there were no supermarkets. Most people walked cycled or took the bus to get about. I won't spoil the story by telling you how Rosie got back to the present day. The book is well written and while it has a sort of typical women's fiction type cover it is very far from being the normal light weight story of girl meets boy. Well worth reading - especially if you can remember the 1950s.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The current crisis

I wasn't going to write about this but reading Keith's (Zen Mischielf) post of yesterday (8 October) prompted some thoughts.

I can see the logic of not letting the banks go under but in my opinion they're all behaving a bit like sulky children refusing to play nicely. Banks etc only make money by lending - if they don't lend they will go bust. In the past they've lent too much - e.g. Northern Rock who tried to corner the mortgage market. How do you increase market share? By lending to people who are at higher risk of defaulting on their loans because you can charge them higher rates of interest. In a healthy economy this is fine but the moment you have a down turn in the economy this is a recipe for disaster - as happened in the States.

What did not help in England was the introduction of HIPS packs as it served to slow the housing market. The timing of this was unfortunate to say the least though house prices were getting silly. As a house is probably the most expensive purchase we make, inevitably people not taking out new mortgages or falling on hard times and failing to repay their loans will have a disproportionate effect on the financial sector.

Are people spending less money? There is certainly a trend towards thriftier ways of living -whether as cause or effect for the current crisis no one knows. If everyone suddenly stopped borrowing money in any shape or form we would have a far worse crisis than we have now. But on the other hand I think we need to bring back some form of credit control - 2 years to pay for a car maximum and at least 30% down payment - 50% if it's second hand; only a year to repay a loan for a holiday etc. I can't remember what they all were now, but if we'd retained them I wonder whether this crisis would have happened? If we could only borrow 2.5 times income for a house then house prices would not have spiralled. Easy to be wise with hindsight.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Books read

It's a good thing I've got at least 100 unread books to attack as this enforced leisure is giving me plenty of time to read.

Books finished in the last few days include:

Martin Edwards - The Arsenic Labyrinth - the third in his Lake District series involving Daniel Kind - Oxford historian who has moved to a cottage with his girl friend Miranda; and DCI Hannah Scarlett - head of the cold case review team. Hannah is reluctantly re-visiting a 10 year old missing person case which may or may not be a murder. Daniel is looking for a new historical subject to write a book about as his savings are dwindling. The result is a densely plotted mystery involving a murder from 50 years previously as well as the disappearance of Emma Beswick 10 years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next in the series.

Frances Garrood - Dead Ernest - a poignant and amusing story of a marriage and how Ernest's widow deals with his sudden death. Annie tells her story to the local vicar - Andrew - whilst getting to know her grand-daughter - Ophelia. It is a common story - farm girl in war time falls pregnant and is forced into an unwelcome marriage by her parents fearing for their standing in the community. The author brings a wealth of compassion and understanding to the story and the characters come to life on the page. Ernest is far from being all bad and both he and Annie are victims of their upbringing and their circumstances.

Currently reading - Arianna Franklin's - The Mistress of the Art of Death - just as good as The Death Maze. Larger than life characters and flashes of humour. I think it's the humour that has attracted me to this author's two books. Historical fiction often lacks a spark of humour. These two books show it is possible to write historically accurate fiction but not have the characters take themselves too seriously. Added to which it is set in my beloved Fens - though in the 12th century.

Monday, 6 October 2008


I was interested to read recently that archaeologists think Stonehenge may have been a centre of healing. This prompted Dr Copperfield writing for The Times Online to imagine what a prehistoric consultation with an A&E doctor might have been like:
I've reproduced part of it below below:

Many of the bodies showed signs of recent serious injury such as broken arms and legs. I'd love to think that these were the mangled remains of amulet salesmen who'd got their comeuppance but it's more likely that Stonehenge acted as a local A&E department. If it did, I'll bet that the doctors on duty there were plagued by the same problems as their 21st-century counterparts. Cue harp arpeggio and mist ...
“Mrs Tharg, you really should have gone to your regular doctor.”
“Couldn't get an appointment, Doctor Zog. Besides, he's rubbish. Stig has had a sore throat for ages and the useless sod that calls himself a village doctor refuses to drill a hole in his head to let the vapours out.”
“But Mrs Tharg, drilling a hole in a child's head isn't going to help a simple sore throat. Most of them get better in about a week or so even if you do nothing except offer a prayer to the Sun god and sacrifice a medium-sized barnyard animal. I suggest you slaughter a goat, sit back and watch Mummy's little caveman get better. If he's not well in a few days I promise that we'll run some tests.”
“I'm not falling for that ‘do some tests' malarkey again, Doctor. Last time Stig was ill the shaman ran around him wearing a sabre-toothed tiger skin and charged me an extra two gold pieces for ‘CAT scanning'. When his hands were covered with warts the doctor gave us the same old ‘they'll get better on their own' story. The week after we went private and had a hole drilled in his head, every single one of them disappeared.”
“Very interesting I'm sure, but if you'll forgive me, I have other pilgrims to see.”
“So you're not going to drill a hole in his head then?”
“No, Mrs Tharg.”
“Well, while I'm here, can you have a look at my leg? I cut it climbing over a fence.”
“Go and see the nurse and she'll put a pine needle and prune dressing on it for you.”
“Pine needle and prune? They use exotic lizard dung at Avebury.”
Avebury is two days' walk and they're covered by another authority. Exotic lizard dung is expensive and our managers will only allow us to use it in certain well-defined clinical situations. For most patients pine needle and prune is every bit as good.”
“What if I'm not one of the ‘most patients'? Does that mean I have to drag my injured leg halfway across Salisbury Plain to get the treatment I need? Suppose I get possessed by demons or an imbalance of the humours? You'll look pretty silly with your pine needles and prunes then.”
“If you want to comment on the service you've received today, you'll have to talk to the hospital administrator.”
“There's no point is there? Mrs Moog lost her husband last year after he got pneumonia doing some etching in a damp cave. No one drilled a hole in his head. They said it wouldn't have helped. But when her son got whacked on the skull and didn't wake up they were there with their drills in no time letting the blood clot out. He was right as rain next day.”
Medicine may have moved on but Stone Age Doc knew when it was right to drill into people's skulls. He had even figured out that willow bark was effective at reducing fever. And so he came up with the time-honoured advice that GPs still rely on today: “Chew two twigs and if you aren't better, see me in the morning.”

Friday, 3 October 2008

More books read

I finished Phil Rickman's 'To Dream of the Dead' last night and excellent it was too. A bit different from his usual Merrily Watkins books as there was very little about her part time job as official exorcist to the diocese of Hereford. There was some very murky corruption going on in the local council and involving a charismatic TV archaeologist and a murder. The advent of a headline making atheist author living incognito to escape threats from various places, next door to a possible prehistoric pagan site which the archaeologist is digging serves to stir things up - if only with the local fundamentalist Christian. The action of the novel takes place over the few days leading up to Christmas and is punctuated by a rapidly rising river threatening to cut off the village of Ledwardine. A very tense and fast paced thriller.

I finished - at last - Anne Brooke's 'Maloney's Law' - not a comfortable book to read including as it does some very murky business dealings. I did like Paul, the private investigator, and thought his upbringing had a huge bearing on the problems he found himself immersed in. I was less sure about Dominic. I thought the ending was appropriate and I feel hopeful about Paul's future prospects. I thought the way Paul always comments about how long it's been since something happened interesting and it fitted his particular personality. He really likes to keep control of things and that quality is also shown by his series of Maloney's Laws. I've only one bone to pick with you, Anne, and that's what you did to Jade - how could you??!! I really liked her and thought she was an interesting character. I have posted a review on Amazon for you - without any comments about Jade as that would have potentially given away some of the plot.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Work rearing its ugly head

My boss rang me today to say he's coming to see me at home. To which I replied 'why?' Answer because he wanted to and because he had a letter he wanted to give me. My immediate reaction was - 'I don't want you to and you can post the letter'. Said letter is only making me 'pre-surplus' which gives me priority for early retirement if I want it as well as priority for any jobs which come up within an hour's travelling.

We knew we were going to get them so it's hardly a big deal as far as I'm concerned. He was trying to say it was really sad - crocodile tears. To do him justice he did manage to chat to me for a few minutes quite civilly but I don't think he expected the reaction he got. I suppose it must be difficult for him as he doesn't know me - which was why I turned down the visit. If it had been either of my previous two managers I'd probably have said yes.

If I'd been off with stress I would have found that difficult to deal with, even though I know they are supposed to do it. I don't even really like to be rung at home. I'd rather ring them - which I'm quite happy to do from time to time. The reason why they have to do all this 'keeping in touch' business is to keep rates of sick absence down - I suspect it doesn't have the desired effect. I know it does make you feel you ought to be at work, though of course they always say they don't want you to come back until you're better. Sigh! What's the answer? I don't know and I've been a manager!

Interesting news for authors

I've just read this article:
It is suggesting that things are changing for self published authors and small publishers. Maybe this has come about through Amazon's well publicised poor treatment of such authors and publishers? To find this sort of article in a main stream publication is in itself encouraging.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Food rationing here we come

I've just read this:
and I'm furious! So if you make people eat huge quantities of fruit and vegetables to make up for the protein etc they're not getting from meat they're going to produce lots of methane themselves. Think baked beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower etc. Reducing children's consumption of dairy products and meat seriously increases their health risks. Women especially need large amounts of iron - best source red meat - and calcium - best source dairy products. If we're reduced to these levels there will be an increase in women - and men - with osteoporosis and severe anaemia, not to mention children with rickets. Are they seriously saying this would be a good idea?

If this report was sparked by the idea that the health of the nation was better in war time with rationing then they are seriously wide of the mark because they seem to have forgotten that whilst dairy products were rationed there was nothing to stop you keeping cows or hens and a lot of people did. There was also the flourishing black market. I absolutely resent these people imposing their views on the rest of us.

Doesn't time fly . . .

Now I'm not in pain all the time and have been able to stop taking pain killers I'm starting to enjoy my enforced leisure. My arm does still hurt if I put too much pressure on it which reassures me that I'm not malingering, but I can do a bit more everyday.

My bookchair arrived but actually it is not really needed now as I can hold a book for quite a while. But as it's a useful object - especially if you need to refer to a book whilst typing - or eating! It looks exactly like a miniature deckchair with the obligatory stripes, though you can get plain ones as well. The only difference is it has two little bits that stick up on the leading edge which hold the pages in place - see picture.
Books read recently - Peter Lovesey - 'The House Sitter' - I've read two other Peter Lovesey novels - The Circle' & 'The Headhunters', both of which featured DCI Hen Mallin - a cigar smoking female detective who's got where she is by sheer hard work. 'The House Sitter' is the first one I've read with Peter Diamond in. The bonus as far as I was concerned was that it also had Hen Mallin! 'The House Sitter' is excellent and not too violent and has two murders which may or may not be connected. Characters are well drawn and the plot is tight and convoluted with some brilliant twists and turns.
I've also just finished Kathy Lette's 'To Love Honour and Betray', and it's the first and last book of hers which I shall be reading I think. She is trying to be funny most of the time and after a few pages you can see the jokes coming a mile off and the language is cruder than strictly necessary - to me it detracted from the story. The plot is good with some sparky characters and some very unpleasant caricatures as well, but overall it left a bit of a nasty taste. I'm sure it will be popular with her many fans

I'm currently reading Phil Rickman's 'To Dream of the Dead' and it's spookily excellent as are all his Merrily Watkins novels.