A day just for me

How long has it been since I’ve had a day to myself in a London coffee shop to do nothing but write?

Too long.

I’d forgotten the freedom of it. No distractions. Just a coffee, my iPad, and the London atmosphere around me.

With work training taking up so much of time, plus a very welcome increase in my social life this summer, finding dedicated writing time has been hard.

But today is just for me and my story.

Wheel of Time Re-Read: New Spring

After years of fighting, the Aiel War is coming to an end. But while many are hoping for peace, Moiraine Damodred is privy to a piece of information that could set the world aflame once more: The Dragon, the man who all but destroyed the world three thousand years ago, has been reborn.

As all others with this knowledge are found dead in suspicious circumstances, it is up to Moiraine to find the newborn child destined to lead the world to ruin, hoping he can be guided for the good of mankind. Because if the agents of the Dark find him first, it will mean the end of everything.

I was excited about starting my Wheel of Time Re-Read, but I wasn’t expecting to get pulled back into the series so quickly.

New Spring is a slight oddity. It’s a prequel – a prequel that annoyed a lot of people who wanted Jordan to focus on completing the main story – depicting how two of the main characters of the first few books meet and the begin the quest we find them on – eighteen years later – in the first book if the series.

As someone who’s read the series already it’s a great way to start a reread. It’s a reminder that the story has been going on years, even centuries, before the main protagonist of the series was even born, in a way that makes the world seem so much bigger. And this has always been my main draw to the series; how Jordan managed to make the world feel so vast, yet varied.

But I’m not sure where I’d recommend it for someone coming into the series for the first time. It’s interesting to a fan to have this little piece of backstory, but I can’t say for certain it this would add to the experience of someone coming new to the series, or if it would remove some of the mystery from the first few books.

But if you don’t read it first, when would be the best time? Adding it in as a flashback between two of the main books doesn’t seem to work. I’ll have a think about it once I’m into The Eye of the World and see what I think then.

Now on to The Eye of the World.

Diving back into the Wheel of Time

And so it begins.

The Wheel of Time is my favourite ongoing book series. An epic fantasy story told over fifteen novels and spanning a mind-blowingly detailed world and history.

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I remember picking it up at the airport one year. The first book may have a little bit of a generic fantasy plot, but the characters and writing grabbed me so hard I picked up the second straight away. I know many people have issues with the series, but while most of these issue I just don’t see at all, I won’t argue that after book six it looses some of its momentum and I won’t deny that the story could have been wrapped up in 10 books if Robert Jordan had been a little tighter with his story telling. But I still absolutely love them.

I was lucky, as by the time I discovered the series it was already ten books in so I didn’t have too much wait between them. And by the time I caught up I was well and truly hooked. But the last time I read any of them was six years ago, and since we moved house and I rearranged them on my shelves they’ve been playing on my mind. So now I am finally giving into my own pressure and diving back in.

This will be a significant time commitment.

Last time I read through these series is took me three solid months. And that was when I commuted to London, so adding lunch breaks into the mix I had two and a half hours a day to read. This time I’ll be taking my time a little more. Aside from not having that commuting time now, I have other books I want to read, and writing takes up most of my lunchtimes. Plus I might take a break between books to keep things fresh. So we’ll see how it goes.

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All I can say for now is I’m half way through New Spring and I’m already excited to be back in this world.

 

Recommendation: “Gyo” by Junji Ito

Something is wrong. A stench that drove Tadashi and Kaori from their holiday at the sea has followed them to their apartment in the city. A stench that is driving Kaori mad. But as terrible as that stench is, what is about to follow it out of the sea may be more than mankind can handle.

Gyo. A novel you read when you’re fine never to want to look at a fish ever again.

Junji Ito’s work is something that grabs your mind and doesn’t let go. Grotesque and beautiful. He has a masterful grasp of the very essence of horror; taking something normal and twisting it slightly until it becomes unsettlingly unfamiliar.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoy Uzumaki, the first of Ito’s books I read. But being compared to a masterpiece is never fair, and doesn’t mean Gyo isn’t good. It just didn’t quite have the same overall feel of a completed story. There didn’t seem to be as much character, and the ending came out of nowhere and didn’t really feel satisfying. But that didn’t detract from the experience I had reading.

And that’s what Ito’s work is; an experience. Whatever other opinion you may have of his work, you don’t finish this book the same as you went in.

Recommendation: “The War of the Wolf” by Bernard Cornwell

Now an old man, Uhtred of Bebbanburg finds himself drawn back to Wessex by old oaths and the inevitable coming invasion of Northumbria. But while an ailing King Edward means that soon he’ll find himself marching south, for now he is drawn north by personal vengeance and what may be his final battle.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about Bernard Cornwall’s series being very samey. I can understand the argument. But I still find that each once is just as readable as the last, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for War of the Wolf to come out in paperback.

I think these books avoid seeming too similar by being based on history. The characters are driven by on actual events, and so while the plot and characters may undeniably have a similarity across all the books, the fact they are draped over the backdrop of history gives them a realism they might otherwise have lacked.

Saying that, I would have though I’d have liked this one less. The majority of the story in War of the Wolf is not based in real events. Essentially, the book sets up the coming death of Edward and rise of Ethelstan that I assume will be the drive of the next story, leaving the majority of the story fictional. But I still enjoyed reading this just as much as the previous stories.

There’s also the fact we’re coming to the end of this series. Uhtred is now in his sixties. And while he, our narrator, can’t die, Cornwall does a very good job of showing age catching up with him. He’s losing speed. He’s still imposing, but lacks the raw power of youth that drove him before. And at the same time, he can see that Christianity is winning, and the old religion, his religion, is passing away. He’s a man beginning to face his own mortality, but in a way that suits the character.

There’s maybe two more books left to this series, assuming that it will end with Ethelstan’s rise as the first king of England (sorry for spoilers, but I think we’re out of the statute of limitations for events over a millennia ago), and War of the Wolf kind of has the feeling of a quick breather before the final push to the climax of the story of the creation of England.

If you’re a fan of the series, that fact is going to leave you more than excited for the next instalment.

Thank you, my friends.

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Last Friday I found myself on a rooftop bar in London. The night was warm. People were sitting, talking, laughing, kissing, singing, reminiscing, meeting. Some of the people I knew. Others I’d met just that night. Two of them were a couple of the most important people currently in my life. Only one of them I’d known for more than a year.

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And, looking around, I had the realisation that when it comes to friends, I’ve been, and continue to be, incredibly fucking blessed.

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As I’ve moved through my life I’ve met and interacted with so many different people. Some I’ve simply known, others I’ve made more of a connection with. And then I’ve moved on. Life moves forward. Some of those friendships have faded away while others have stayed with me.

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And the most important – the most amazing – part of all of this is that each and every one of these people has played a part in making me who I am. Every relationship. Each interaction, no matter how small, has shaped me. I’ve experienced love, loss, laughter, fear, anger, joy, discovery, every part of the human experience. And I’ve shared all of it with you.

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And as I looked around the rooftop on Friday I realised that I was surrounded by people I consider some of my closest friends, people I know well enough to call friends, and people I might never see again but who have the potential to become one of my best friends I have in the world.

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Just think about it. Every person in your life that you can’t imagine possibly being without was once a complete stranger you just happened to meet.

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How many of the people I met of Friday might I end up knowing for the rest of my life?

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There are so many things in life that are so close to us, so familiar and everyday, that we forgot how important that are. How much magic they hold. Our friends  are one of these things.

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So what I want to say here is thank you to you all. Thank you to every one of you I’ve ever called a friend. To anyone with whom I’ve ever shared an experience or an emotion. Whether we haven’t spoken in years, or if you’ve been by my side for for over a decade. Whether we were part of each other’s lives for years or just a single weekend. All of you are more important than I can say.

So important, in fact, that I rarely even register how important you actually are.

Review: “The Murderer’s Ape” by Jekub Welelius

The life of Sally Jones, the ship’s engineer on the Hudson Queen, who just happens to be a gorilla, is thrown into chaos when she and her captain become unwitting pawns in an attempt to overthrow the government. When her best friend is framed for murder she is forced on a journey to prove her innocence that takes her from the kitchen of a Portuguese singer to the palace of a Indian Maharaja.

I’ve had this book on my reading pile for over half a year. I can’t say exactly why it took me so long to start it. I bought it on a whim at a writing event last September, so it wasn’t high up on my list. And I think it’s size put me off a little. I’ve read a few larger books this year that have been slow and ponderous, and I think I wanted to avoid another one.

But once I finally picked it up I really enjoyed The Murderer’s Ape. Despite its length it wasn’t actually that long a read. It refers to itself as a children’s book, but unless you have a year’s worth of bedtime stories to get through I’d have thought it would be a bit much for a child. But it’s not quite young adult. I feel its target audience are those preconscious children who find that early joy in reading. The kind who get their enjoyment from reading books other children can’t manage. Who voluntarily read Lord of the Rings at ten.

I can’t say the story really grabbed me, but I think that’s more because of my age than any fault of the book. I think its a little slow in places, and could have done with a little more peril or thrill, but that’s more my personal taste. It’s a fun, globe trotting tale, filled with a colourful cast of characters, and I think a younger reader would get a lot out of this.

And in the end the length wasn’t an issue. It didn’t take long at all. The writing is good enough that you a zip through without every thinking it’s a chore. I’ve read far thinner novels that have felt like they took longer to read than this one.

A selling point of the book is the art, all of which was done by the author. The story is preceded by a selection of portraits of the main characters, which gives a wonderful feel of the story to come. Those, and the maps included in the covers, signal the nature of the story you have coming, which I think helps mitigate the size of the book. It’s big, but you’re shown it’s scope from the beginning so you don’t worry you’re going to get bored. It also added an element of charm you don’t often see.

The Murderer’s Ape is definitely worth reading if you have the chance. Or would be the perfect gift for that teenager in your life who can’t seem to stop reading.

Review: “The Richer Way” by Julian Richer

This was wasn’t a normal read for me. I’m currently doing a Leadership and Management course that requires me to put in a silly number of hours in my own time, so my reading list is going to be invaded by books on management for the next year or so.

I picked up The Richer Way after reading an article on Julian Richer in the Guardian. He’s planning on giving his company to his employees when he retires, and this sort of thing chimed with me.

And this was actually a really easy read. Richer doesn’t try to make himself sound clever, or pad things out with philosophical musings to make his success seem something more then it is. He simply gives practical advise stemming from one core rule: first and foremost treat your people well. You can tell he has purposely kept the writing simple to ensure this book is accessible to anyone at any level.

Obviously this isn’t a book most people will need to read. It’s not a casual read but a learning resource. But if you run a company or manage people in your job this is essential reading.

Review: “The Upstairs Room” by Kate Murray-Browne

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne is a book made up of three distinct stories:

1) The first is the story of family reaching breaking point. As they struggle with young children, a new house, and a young and free new lodger, Elenor and Richard start to face how neither of them have ever been truly happy with their choices, and whether or not this means their marriage is a sham, or simply more real than the idealised image of it they have had.

2) The second is about a young woman trying to work out who she is. Zoe lives in someone else’s house, works in someone else’s shop, and sleeps with someone else’s boyfriend. All around her are people who seem to know what they’re doing, while she struggles to work out if she will ever find what she is “supposed” to do with her life.

3) The third is a ghost story, where a young couple and their new lodger discover their new house is haunted by a presence that doesn’t want them there. As Elenor gets sicker each day she remains but recovers once outside, Richard refuses to accept that his new house can be anything but perfect. But as Zoes starts to encounter inexplicable night terrors, the three of them need to decide whether to face their own prejudices to run away.

All three of these stories would be interesting to read. Mixed together as they are, they just don’t work. I can see what Murray-Brown was going for, but there is just too much going on. Her main problem is focusing on too many characters. Each time the story gets going and starts to engage you, you’re suddenly faced with huge chunks of back story. And you get this for all three main characters; Richard, Elenor, and their lodger Zoe. If Murray-Brown had focuses on either Zoe or Elenor, the book would have have a simpler through line and got bogged down in itself less often. As it is, the story is so diluted all tension is lost.

It’s a shame, as the writing and characters are good. There is a great book in here. Here’s hoping next time she gets a better story editor.

Recommendation: “The Hoarder” by Jess Kidd

Maud Drennan is a dedicated caregiver trying to move past the secret of a lost sister. When she is assigned to the case of Cathal Flood, a crotchety and apparently dangerous widower, she finds herself drawn into the joint mysteries of his long-lost daughter, and Cathal’s late wife’s seeming obsession with a girl who went missing decades previously. 

As Maud and Cathal bond over a shared dislike of his overbearing son, she starts to believe that there is more the the family and the house, and that Cathal’s dead wife might be trying to lead her to solving a mystery. 

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Having now read her first two books, I’ve found I have a strange relationship with Jess Kidd’s work.

I’ve loved both The Hoarder and Himself. The stories are interesting, the writing poetic and wonderfully Irish, and the characters are fleshed out and realistic. Every part of both books work, both individually and together. Yet, for some reason neither of them have been able to grab me and make me love them.

Objectively, everything about these books is right up my street. But somehow they haven’t taken hold of my attention. I never feel compelled to read on. There are some books where, once I start reading, there’s no stopping. They’ll pull me in and latch hold of me so I want to read them without stopping. I’ll sit up in bed engrossed, reading just one more chapter until I realise I’ve stayed up far too late.

With Kidd’s books, I find I’m happy to pick them up, read a chapter, then put it down. I want to read on, but it doesn’t drive me.

I can’t put my finger on a single reason for this. Every element is correct. There are no weak links, or parts lacking that I can say “that’s the reason”. It’s just a strange and, so far, inexplicable thing.

And I still want to read on. There’s no part of me thing that this is a reason to stop reading her, which is how I usually feel if a book fails to grab me in this way. I have her next book, Things In Jars already in my Want-To-Read list.

I heartily recommend reading Kidd’s book, by the way. I’d love to know if anyone else has the same issue.