Sunday, 29 August 2010

The future of libraries

Oh, I have neglected Blogland for the past week. Apologies for not keeping up with you all, but between work and writing, I visited my old hometown of Derby. It's funny how places seem really big when you're small.

This library was the one nearest to where we lived.

By the age of about twelve I had read my way through the children's section, and was motoring on through the adults'. I'm sure we could not have afforded to buy as many books as I borrowed. The local library was really central to nurturing my love of reading, which led to my love of writing.

I realise (now I am big) that our library was actually very small. Seeing in the news this week that library services are threatened with cutbacks, I worry for the future of libraries such as this one. Apparently, visitor numbers are generally falling. But according to the report, over 70% of children continue to use their local libraries, which is a pretty good reason for keeping them open I would say.

Of course we need our health services, our police force, our transport system etc, etc. But we also need our libraries! I am willing to chain myself to a railing should the need arise.

P.S. I must make it clear that the library pictured is NOT the one mentioned in my previous post (before you all go down there requesting books on divination and sharks).

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Quote of the day

Overheard in the library:

Librarian: "Just don't read it when you're over water."

Customer: "What, not even in the bath?"

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Blog takeover day : Harvey's humongous fungus

Mrs Boss says she's never known a Retriever get into as much trouble as me. Unfair! Was it my fault I fell down the stairs last week? I was responding to a crisis - namely, the sound of breaking glass and shouting. And what did I find when I landed with undue haste in the hall?

Mr and Mrs Boss had only gone and cracked the glass panel in the front door while trying to shift the old sofa out of the house. They were having a right old ding dong about who was to blame! Humans - honestly! Didn't they know I was on a mission to make that sofa mine. Yes I know I already have the best armchair, but sometimes a dog needs a little more space, you know?

I think Mrs Boss was still a mite tetchy after I tore through the fence the other week and destroyed two tennis balls belonging to the neighbours' grandchildren. A fortnight before that, I conquered the hedge on the opposite side and gave the other neighbours a scare. Mrs Boss says in ten years at Zigzag Road no Retrievers have ever escaped before. Well, that's hardly a record to boast about is it?

Anyway, on Sunday I tried to make amends to Mrs Boss by bringing her a present. I thought it was a ball. Mrs Boss thought it was a ball too. But when she picked it up she gave a shriek (not unlike the pesky parrot that keeps sitting on my fence). The item in question was bigger and heavier than she expected. "It's a humongous fungus," said Mrs Boss. Though you can see from the picture below that it does look similar to the ball they bought me in honour of the World Cup.

Mrs Boss says it's a good job I hadn't done more than take a nibble from the edge. In the hope of identifying exactly what the humongous fungus was, Mrs Boss cut it up. She thought it might be like the puffballs she used to collect for cooking on country walks. In fact, the fungus was totally solid...

Do let me and Mrs Boss know if you can tell us what it is. It smelt strongly of mushroom, it was quite spongy in a dense kind of way, and there was no stalk.

That's it from me.

With lots of wuff, Harvey. xx

P.S Mrs Boss forgot to tell me to add a link to Sally's blog. Apparently Sally is the one co-ordinating all this blog takeover stuff. I hear that if you shoot on over there you can find links to posts by writers' muses, husbands, and even (shock, horror) other dogs!

Monday, 9 August 2010

The writer's voice (mainly)

Yesterday I happened to hear one of my favourite authors, Tracy Chevalier, on BBC Radio 3. She was the guest on a programme called Private Passions, which is a bit similar to Desert Island Discs. A famous person discusses their life, and chooses a selection of music that has been significant to them in some way.

I learnt a lot about Tracy Chevalier during the show. She spoke about her most recent novel, Remarkable Creatures, based on the true story of fossil hunter Mary Anning. Tracy compared the process of hunting for fossils to that of writing - slowing yourself down into the right mental state, until you can pick out the things you are searching for. I also learnt that Tracy played clarinet from the age of eight, back home in Washington where she grew up. For a time she was even a member of the D.C Youth Orchestra. The thing I found most interesting was that she described how, in almost every novel she writes, she has a female character with a "woody, clear, straightforward sound", like a clarinet. This 'clarinet character' is always the one most like Tracy herself - the one whose voice is most akin to her own.

Tracy's musical choices played during the programme included Schubert, Brahms, Bernstein, and Talking Heads. If you want to hear the programme in full, it is available on the BBC iPlayer until next Sunday morning at - there are a few moments of talking before it actually starts, but just let it run and you will find yourself at the correct place. If you are outside the U.K I'm unsure whether this link will work, but I think there is still some process that does allow you to listen. It's well worth investigating!

By coincidence, soon after hearing this programme, I read an excellent blog post called How Writers Found Their Voice: Real Examples, by Margo Berendsen at Writing at High Altitude. I won't try to summarise it, as Margo has already covered the subject so well that you're better off reading it for yourself. There are lots of links to other writers' ideas about what voice is and what we can do to develop it.

My own opinion is that we only find our voice by writing lots. The more we write, the closer we get to arriving at that distinctive feel that makes our work our own. As I commented on Margo's blog, the stories that do well for me are usually the ones that I write totally as myself - not aiming to please or impress. Often they are also the ones most rooted in my own memories, or in my experience of working in mental health. Voice is such an elusive thing, and hard to define, but sometimes I know I am getting near to it even if I am not quite there yet. For me, discovering that voice is one of the joys of writing.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Meg Rosoff and a plethora of parrots

On Thursday night I finished 'How I Live Now'. I can't tell you what Meg Rosoff did to my mind and my emotions during the course of that book. I felt as if I'd been put through a mangle. It was startling, addictive, and disturbing, and made me wonder how on earth the writer found the initial ideas.

When I was away from the book I found myself thinking wasn't it sad that such and such happened, but then I would remember it was 'just' a story. It was one of those books that became so real to me while I was reading it, that it was almost more real than the world around. I love books that do that to me - totally absorb me and take me to an entirely different place. I'm not going to tell you anything else about it, in case you haven't read it yet. You may love it or you may hate it, but either way I bet you won't forget it.

When I reached the end of 'How I Live Now', I was tempted to go right back to the beginning and start again. But I decided I should let it all settle in my mind, and so I decided to re-read Meg Rosoff's most recent novel 'What I Was'. Another terrific book. I often find I read books too quickly the first time as I want to know what happens, but the second time I slow down and notice the quality of the writing more. I've also been enjoying reading Meg Rosoff's blog here.

Regular visitors to Zigzag Road will know we've had a stray parrot-type bird in the area. It seems stray parrots are like buses, arriving in threes after a lengthy spell with none to speak of at all. Letters to the local newspaper report various sightings of our parrot, with suggestions that it may be a Crimson Rosella as I suspected. A second parrot has been seen a few streets away, but this one is green. And now a third parrot is on the loose. He is allegedly called Dylan and escaped while his owner was staying with friends in the area. My parrot (right) was 99p in a charity shop. He has no name. Perhaps you would like to suggest one.