Thursday, 28 August 2008


A week with six teenagers, in a converted barn on Trevose Head, in Cornwall. Chris and I are knackered.

The kids collected their GCSE results from school then climbed on a train and met us in Cornwall. We drove down the day before, and chilled out at a B and B half way.

Anyway... I decided to READ all week. To READ novels, NOT short stories. I took two of my own that I wanted to read, and picked two off the shelf at the holiday house. And I read em all, four novels in six follows:

First, one I took myself: Shifts, by Christopher Meredith. It seemed a good idea... he's one of the tutors at Glamorgan (not mine) and the subject interested me. 1977, a dying steel town, South Wales. I was loaned the book by a Welsh writer friend. I got to the end and felt sad. Why? WHY hasn't he written loads more if he could write like this??? Written in 1988... TWENTY years back. And it is so good, the whole thing aches. The characters are living breathing people. And I lay on the settee and read it cover to cover in a day. I hadn't done that in years... because with most books, something puts me off fast now, and I give up. Can't be arsed. Life too short. Might die tomorrow. Is this really the last book I would have wanted to read...

This was a really good re-entry into the novel, and a reminder of how you can sustain emotion, making the reader care, for that long. Strong,lovely prose. Great descriptions of the steel works, the characters, the work. Great dialogue.

Second, one off the shelf in the barn: The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins.
Hey, a page-turner that I wanted to read! Loved it. I've seen the film ages back, and was still hooked. I was also fascinated to see how the book was structured. How the writer made me want to carry on. How the stories were woven. And I loved the character of the Irish IRA fighter Liam Devlin. Again, read in a day, and part of the night... retired to bed with a beer, and curled up under the duvet to finish it. Great rollicking read. Slipped by easily, and it was read for the plot, although the prose was fine.

Third: Aaaagh. The Captains and The Kings by Taylor Caldwell.
Oh my Gaaad. And having set myself this task, I was NOT allowed to sneak it back onto the bloody shelf and find another. I chose it as I remembered that it had been filmed. The blurb sounded good. Impoverished Irish family displaced to the USA at the time of the potato famine. Rags to Riches.

Well. Rags to Riches it may have been, but it was via a tedious and clunky route in which every female character was dressed in flounces of lace and smelled of violets, tossed their ringlets, showed their pantelettes, and in which all the male characters were either charmless cardboard cutouts who amassed much money but no happiness, or cutie-pies with curls and cherry red lips.

I have never BEEN so bored. I was glad when they all died. And I just hope the actors managed to inject a little life into the characters, cos they sure as hell didn't have any on the page.

Speed read, in a day and a half, knowing what I had waiting when I finished...

Day, by A L Kennedy. Has to be one of the best thing I've read in years, one of those you have to read with a pen and paper by your side because every other sentence makes you zing with thoughts for your own writing. Superb stuff. Superb.

Wouldn't have minded dying after this one... so long as I'd finished it first....


Sarah Hilary said...

Welcome back, and thanks for the book recs (and the warning!). I will definitely seek out Day. In fact I might order it from Amazon right now. Ta!

Frances said...

Welcome back, V - and thanks for recommending Day, think I'll buy it!

Emma Darwin said...

Yes, Shifts is a great book. I think his next, Griffri is in some ways even better, though maybe I would think that because it's historical. And his third, Sidereal Time, is fascinating too: more experimental, (though he'd deny it), but extraordinary.

But oh, I know what you mean about wishing they'd all get on with it and die when reading some novels. It's taken me most of my life to realise I really don't have to go on with a book, if I'm thinking that!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Jeez. I saw the cover of Griffri and figured it was a kids fantasy book, so didn't read any further. (although tonsures and torture aren't my bag I have to say!)The power of the wrong cover?

And I missed the existence of Sidereal Time completely. Thanks Emma, very much... I read the extract, and I can see what you mean about experimental, style-wise. Interesting stuff.