Tag Archives: reading

I can’t believe I have to say this, but: Libraries are not obsolete, and they’re not just book houses

Following nationwide government cuts to libraries, author Abigail Tartellin has argued that ‘the price of libraries is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation’ in the Guardian. Libraries in Lincolnshire – and my own county of Shropshire (here’s an article about Telford and Wrekin, which is a different authority but still within the county; the same is true of other libraries under Shropshire council’s umbrella) are being closed or going volunteer-run. Some are being replaced by library buses visiting for as little as an hour a month, where once there was a library open forty or fifty hours a week.

But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about. Yes, I condemn the government for these cuts. Libraries are important. But it seems a lot of commenters, discussing the Guardian article on reddit – including /r/books and /r/writing (!) – seem to think libraries are obsolete.

Stockholm public library - Wikimedia Commons
Stockholm public library. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading I can’t believe I have to say this, but: Libraries are not obsolete, and they’re not just book houses

Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Usually I stick to fantasy on this blog, with occasional forays into historical fiction and science fiction. I’m making an exception for this book. Partly because I really just want to talk about how awesome it is, and partly because I read it as part of my attempts to read more books written by local authors – Shropshire authors.

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah tells the story of Ivo, a terminally ill 40-year-old looking back through his life as part of a game suggested for him by Sheila the nurse at the care home where he now lives. It’s a life of fun, regret, love, pain, friendship and crochet. As time runs out, Ivo uses the A to Z game to put things back together before it’s all too late.

a-z of you and me

Continue reading Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

2016 reading update

I’m definitely on track for my reading goal of 26 books this year. After five weeks, to be on track I need to have read two books and be about half way through a third. I’ve read four and have started the fifth, putting me nearly two books ahead of schedule. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

  • Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  • Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  • Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  • (Just started:) Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

I blogged about the first two, and enjoyed them so much I wanted to get back to Cadfael again. My lastest book selection was also inspired by my decision to make a Cadfael doll to donate to my local library for their upcoming grand raffle – a local literary figure makes a great library prize.

Key Under the Blue Pot was an amusing, fast-paced diary-style novel about a house sitter and her many adventures with the houses, pets and neighbours of her clients. I read it because it’s by a local author, and includes some local settings, and I am glad I did because I enjoyed it a lot.

Rebecca blew me away. It’s something I’ve had a cultural awareness off for years, and after a recommendation as part of a conversation online I borrowed it from the library. Utterly compelling, with such a vivid depiction of the protagonist’s personality. I plan on seeing the Hitchcock film adaptation soon, and I think I’ll pick up some more of du Maurier’s books soon too.

I’ve got a few options for what to read next, including another book by Pauline M Ross, whose book The Fire Mages I recently reviewed, and several books on my shelves, including Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, which I still haven’t got to and really should. Also I’m eager to continue the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. We’ll see what I feel like when I finish The Leper of St Giles.

2016 reading plans

In 2015 I aimed to read 26 books and managed only 16. This year I’m going to set the same goal of 26 books.

Going through my list of books read in 2015, I was surprised and disappointed to find I’d read only 3 books by women. The overwhelming majority were by men. This wasn’t by design. Several of those authors were favourites whose books I’ve been reading for years – Mark Lawrence, Terry Pratchett, Patrick O’Brian. And it’s not like none of my favourite authors are women – Robin Hobb and Diana Wynne Jones, for example. I just didn’t read them in 2015.

So in 2015 I will not only aim to read 26 books, but I will also aim for a minimum of 50% of the books I read to be by women.

And, since last year I was terrible at keeping records of my reading, I’ll also aim to use Goodreads to keep a record of every book I read, and also review every fantasy book I read here on my blog.

If you are a woman writing fantasy, or have a favourite female fantasy author, please share in the comments. Who knows, I might just find my newest favourite author.

My 2015 in numbers

2015 was a busy for me. In the last six months I’ve taken on a new challenge – writing every day, with the ultimate target of 1 million words at some point in the future. I’ve read more, written more and submitted more than any year before.

So here are the stats:

111,914

Words of fiction written, since I began counting in July. This does not count the first half the year, during which I wrote

58

handwritten pages in a notebook, working on the Horrible Monster story. This is probably around 6,000 words in total.

My best day saw me writing

2,130

words. This was on the 11th of November, during NaNoWriMo.

Since July I have written for

166

consecutive days. As I go into 2016, this number will continue to rise.

During that time I have worked on a total of

28

separate stories, including everything from prompted stories I spent a day on up to Kell’s Adventures, which I was writing for over two months in various drafts. I’m not counting different drafts of the same story as separate stories.

Of these, I have submitted

1

story to paying fantasy fiction markets. So far I haven’t sold it, but I’m still waiting back on the most recent one.

I’ve also read

16

books, which I will have to improve upon in 2016 as that’s a lot fewer than I was aiming for. Though I may have forgotten one or two, and unfortunately my local library’s website doesn’t seem to have a functional loan history feature so I can’t check. Maybe I should use Goodreads more to keep track of these.

So there we go, that’s my 2015 in numbers!

A Year for More Reading: update

I have been reading more this year, as planned, though until now I’ve been rather lax about the recording of it. Having just completed a book, I thought now would be a good time to update, and find out just where I am when it comes to that 26-book target.

Here’s the list of books I have read (as far as I can remember, by checking my bookshelf and my Kindle):

  1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis
  3. The Surgeon’s Mate, Patrick O’Brian
  4. The Ionian Mission, Patrick O’Brian
  5. Treason’s Harbour, Patrick O’Brian
  6. The Liar’s Key, Mark Lawrence
  7. The Bloodline Feud, Charles Stross
  8. The Trader’s War, Charles Stross
  9. The Revolution Trade, Charles Stross
  10. The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett
  11. Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor

As for non-fiction, I’ve read bits of a few but not got all the way through any, or even most of the way, so there’s nothing to list. Must do better. I suspect I might be reading more acadmically-written books, and finding them rather dense, so might see what I can manage in books written more for a general audience.

So that’s 11/26, if you count the books I said I wasn’t going to count because they’re by my favourite authors. I’ve changed my mind about that; I’m counting them. In my defence, I could count the three Charles Stross books as six, which is how they were originally published, but I’m not.

Eleven books may well be more than I read last year. I’ve got the twelfth lined up, freshly picked up from the library yesterday.

I’m glad I read Star of the Sea. It’s given me insight into a period of history I was previously ignorant of, and it is incredibly well written. The style used is that of the “true crime” genre, though the story is fictional, with a character of an author who claims to have put the disparate parts of the narrative together – captain’s log, letters, diary entries, recollections, witness statements and so on. It’s one of these books that leads you to draw certain conclusions while carefully sowing the seeds of truth where they might easily be missed. The key characters are complex and nuanced.

The book I picked up from the library yesterday is The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox, which I look forward to starting later this afternoon.

If I am to reach the 26 planned books by the end of December, now less than three months away, I’ll have to read more quickly. I don’t think I will reach 26, though perhaps I might manage 18. Still, an improvement on last year. I’ve also been reading more short stories too, though I can’t remember those so easily. Maybe I’ll start making records of that too.

Progress Report: One Million Words, week 4

This week’s total is 3,246 words. This is marginally short of last week, but that’s mainly because today’s total was about half the average for the week as I finished my story. Yay! My streak is now 22.

My total words written is 11,185/1,000,000. This puts me over the first percent of the challenge, at 1.12%. That’s also the final wordcount of the first draft of “Mountain Story”.

Day-by-day summary

Monday: 538

Tuesday: 706

Wednesday: 351

Thursday: 413

Friday: 529

Saturday: 455

Sunday: 254

Continue reading Progress Report: One Million Words, week 4

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

When I was 12 or 13, my sister bought me a book for my birthday. It was a tattered ex-library copy with some funny, detailed, cartoonish drawings on the front, drawings of an old fashioned treasure chest with lots of tiny little feet coming out the bottom, and troll-like figures standing in a doorway. I thought she’d cheaped out on my birthday present, that’d she’d just thought “Ally likes books, I’ll see what I can find at the library booksale for 20p”. But she talked with such animated enthusiasm about it that I decided to ignore the state of it and give it a go.

the colour of magic

Continue reading RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

A Year for More Reading: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

It is quite a glaring omission that I, though a fantasy fan, have not read  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe until now. I watched the film adaptations – the 1979 animated one as a child of maybe 6 or 7, at the house of an elderly neighbour who babysat us sometimes, and the live action one when it hit cinemas in 2005. So I was familiar with the overall story.

I wasn’t familiar with the writing though, nor how accurate the 2005 movie – or my slightly hazy memories of it – were. On this occasion, I opted for the audiobook, which is available for free on Youtube. I haven’t listened to audiobook since my parents stopped using the Just William series to keep myself and my siblings quiet in the back of the car on our way to our annual holidays. Given that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a children’s book, though, this seems appropriate (I shall have to make a point of listening to an audiobook for adults at some point).

One thing I particularly noted about the narrative style is how it wasn’t afraid of breaking the fourth wall. At one point, it refers to a previous action taken by a character as having happened “at the end of the last chapter”. This, coupled with the introduction addressing a particular girl for whom the story was written, and, perhaps, the fact that I listened to rather than read this story, made it feel quite intimate. It wasn’t immersion-breaking as I would have expected, but gave me a sense of sitting on my grandfather’s knee as he read the story to me. It’s comforting.

The simplicity of the language and of the plot is entirely what I’d expect from a children’s story. I knew in advance about the allusions to Christianity in the story and could recognise those easily when they cropped up.

There is often a question, in fantasy, whether stories should be used to preach, and in the course of my life my own beliefs have let me to side with one side of the argument or the other, but having actually listened to it I don’t feel that religion was preached to me through this story, but rather used as inspiration. And there’s nothing wrong with drawing themes and arcs from existing well known stories and myths, whether you believe in them or not. After all, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, altered to fit a different setting, just as this is a retelling of the end of Jesus’ life in the Bible, but set in a fantasy world. My lack of belief in the source material was not offended by it.

I think that’s the key thing I can take from this as a writer: that even using easily recognisable source material as a major inspiration for a story does not stop that story being unique, interesting and well-told. I have previously considered a writing a fantasy retelling of an event from the Peloponnesian War, the conflict between Corcyra and Corinth that started it all off; I think I need not be worried that this is unoriginal, if I can make it interesting.

A Mystery Book from my local library

I popped into my local library this morning, and saw they had a Mystery Books shelf – books wrapped up in brown paper, their titles and covers obscured. This is an idea I’ve seen on the internet a few times, and I’m thrilled my local library has latched onto it – though they’ve gone even further than some of the versions I’ve seen, and have given no information at all, where other libraries have given the genre, the title, or one or two key points of what sorts of things to expect. So I picked up one of the books, and I plan on adding it to my A Year for More Reading list.

Before I unwrap it, I’ll describe it: it’s a hardback, maybe about the same size as most of my hardbacks, though not very thick. What I assume is the front (it’s got the sticker with the catalogue number on that side) has the cover jutting out further than the back, so it’s probably been well used. So let’s see what it is then.

I’ve unwrapped it to reveal The Bishop’s Tale by Margaret Frazer. On the cover is a picture of a wooden chalice and a walnut, standing on a surface covered with a green cloth; in the background is a wooden cross on a wall. Quotes on the back cover indicate it’s historical fiction, so it sounds like it might fit in nicely with the Cadfael books I was reading over Christmas and New Year.

Inside, the last dates it was borrowed are May 2013 and May 2012, so it’s not been a popular loan recently, though there are multiple loans for every year from 2006 to 2010, and the stamp suggests it’s mostly been housed in a different library in the county, in a town much smaller than my town. There’s a page listing books by the same author, twelve of them, so this isn’t the first in the series.

The blurb on the inside cover – mentioning death and mystery as investigated by a nun – suggest I might be right about it fitting right into the same vein as Cadfael.

Time to get reading.