Even if you’re not a fan of Baroque music, you’d probably recognise at least one of the magnificent choruses from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. If not the jolly “For Unto Us a Child Is Born”, perhaps the main justification for its popularity at Christmas, then you must know the exuberant “Hallelujah”. But there are fifty-one other choruses and solos that make up the three-hour long oratorio. This beautiful book tells the story of its composition and musical afterlife.
We approach the New Year as if we’re trading in the old one for a better model, but it’s not like replacing a car. Or if it is, it’s with the old car rusting in the garage while we’re driving around in the new one, hoping the weather won’t tarnish its shine. Alas, a change of digit won’t cancel out our bad decisions – I’m looking at you Brexit and Trumpeteers – but it can provide the impetus to strive to fail better next time. While I think it’s weird that the traditional time for taking stock and recalibrating our intentions for the future should be now – rather than synchronised with the winter solstice the first day of spring (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) – I am sufficiently obsessional to join in.
As I’ve been out and about talking about my novel, I’ve been surprised to meet – in stark contrast to the predominant aversion to spoilers – a couple of people who like to look at the ending, perhaps the last couple of paragraphs, before turning to the first page. Now, I like the ending of Sugar and Snails, although it’s been suggested that some might find the issues insufficiently resolved. (I do get asked if I’m planning to write a sequel!) Because it tells of a destination rather than the journey, I don’t think reading it in advance would constitute a spoiler (although, prattling on at one talk about how I was pleased with the ending, I did have a friend tell me afterwards she thought my ending wrapped things up too much).
I hadn’t been reviewing for very long, when I was invited to contribute to the book recommendation site, Shiny New Books. Honoured as I was, I didn’t feel ready back then, but kept it in mind. After Victoria posted a lovely early review of Sugar and Snails on the site and hosted my guest post on writing about secrets, I resolved to keep an eye out for suitable books to review. I’m pleased to announce that my reviews of The Social Brain and Playthings were accepted for the latest edition so if you’re satisfied with the easy answer to my question you can go straight to the reviews by clicking on the images. But if you’d like to discover another connection, then read on.
I could point out that a difficult childhood is not uncommon but, in my head, I’m already somewhere else. It won’t make me feel any better to correct his misapprehension. I concentrate on making the right non-verbals and wait for my discomfort to pass.
For the first fortnight of the Sugar and Snails blog tour, I’ve been mostly confined to the UK. Apart from a visit to The Oak Wheel in California, I stayed, like the homebird I am, in my own country until pitching up at the end of last week in Australia. While Norah Colvin might live as far away from me as it’s possible to get, I knew I’d have a warm reception on her blog. Now she’s injected me with the travelling bug, I’m spending this whole week with blogging friends beyond my country’s borders, and greatly looking forward to the trip.
I’m starting today in Poland in the Monday Inspirations slot courtesy of former art therapist, writer and fellow broccoli addict, Urszula Humienik, to talk about the books that have inspired me. Tuesday finds me in Pune, India (one of the two calling-off points in this week’s tour I’ve visited in real life) to explore fictional research with Gargi Mehra, software engineer by day, prolific short-story writer by night. On Wednesday I’m off to Ras Al Kaimah (Arabic for Top of the Tent) in the United Arab Emirates to talk attachment with Safia Moore. Recent winner of the Bath Short Story Award, Safia posted a beautiful review of Sugar and Snails on her blog last week AND flew over from her native Belfast on Friday to join the launch party at Jesmond library. On Thursday, I’m visiting another expatriate Irishwoman, journalist turned fictioneer, Clare O’Dea, now a Swiss national, resident in Fribourg, to discuss not knowing what my novel’s about, a follow-up to her own popular post on the topic. Friday takes me back to California with writer of serious prose and humorous erotica, Lori Schafer, where I’m pondering the autobiographical element of fiction with the author of the prize-winning memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. If all that doesn’t show that the blogging community is truly international, I don’t know what would!
Following last month’s post on reading for my reviews, I thought I’d share a little of what I do with them once they’re written. Obviously the appear on Annecdotal, but where else? Well, there’s Goodreads which drew me in initially as an attractive way of keeping tabs on my reading. Another way I keep track is through the listings on my reading and reviews page although, because I’m better at remembering the book than the author, the alphabetical ordering doesn’t always help. Then there’s Twitter (along with the myriad hashtag days) which can generate some lively discussion and Facebook which, probably because I still don’t know how to work it properly, tends not to. Also, because most of the books I review come from the publishers, I tweet and email them the link; if it’s from one of the Hachette companies involved in Bookbridgr, I also log the review there. That’s quite a lot of admin, but there’s still one glaring omission that troubles me somewhat; it’s not exactly the elephant in the room, but the huge empty space where that elephant should be.
I’ve been asked twice now about my approach to reading for reviews and, grateful for that interest, I’ve given it a little more serious thought. Coincidentally, after almost a year of regular book blogging, I’m probably in need of some kind of policy; until I develop something more formal, this post will have to stand for that. While it might appear somewhat back to front, it makes more sense to me to begin by outlining what I’m trying to achieve followed by how I go about it. Your feedback, as ever, would be much appreciated.
Andrew appears to be particularly accident prone, everywhere he goes he brings disaster, especially to those he loves. After one marriage has ended in divorce and the death of a baby, his second has left him as the hapless father of a motherless baby girl. In a purported conversation with his therapist, he reviews his life story, and the extent of his responsibility for the tragedies that have occurred.
Andrew is a “cognitive scientist” with a strong belief in the impact of brain biology on our actions as opposed to the more nebulous mind. Although not necessarily a likeable character, his voice is lively and appealing. At first the novel comes across as a parody of therapy, with the therapist’s questions and largely unhelpful interjections generally ignored. But as the novel progresses, we find ourselves embroiled in a far darker story of not only the wrongs unwittingly triggered by this one individual, but, via Andrew’s college-day friendship with a war-mongering president, of political shenanigans of the worst kind. By the end of the novel the dreams, “soundless voices” and speculation about how far studies of the human brain can take us, that have preoccupied Andrew from the early pages, and even the identity of the seemingly neutral therapist take on a more sinister significance, in which his only note of hope is in the science supposedly underlying his experience, along with his insistence on his inability to feel.
Ever since I’ve been writing seriously, I’ve made a list of the novels I’ve read across the year, highlighting those that particularly impressed me. Halfway through 2013, I was seduced by the lovely book-cover icons on Goodreads into doing it electronically. At the beginning of this year, they invited members (?) to register for a reading challenge. Although I don’t need a challenge to motivate me to read, I signed up on the basis that their software could calculate my reading total more rapidly than I could. I set my target at 60 books, this being a rough average of the numbers read in recent years.
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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