Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Book to Read on a Short Flight

Posted By Daisy

I was rushing to the airport last weekend, and had nothing to read. So I grabbed Paul Torday’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ from the bookshelf. It was either that or the last two weeks’ Sunday Times magazines still in their plastic wrappers on the coffee table. I really didn’t want to read it. I flicked through the in-flight magazines, and tried to sleep, and eventually reluctantly pulled the insipid-looking book from the seat pouch in front of me and began. And surprisingly, I was instantly hooked.

Told through emails, letters and diary entries, the book is about public service fisheries scientist, Alfred Jones. Jones leads a bland life with his bland wife of twenty years. For their recent wedding anniversary, he gifted her a year’s subscription to the Economist, and she got him a replacement head for his electric toothbrush. She is always abroad on some dreary management course, and their communication is mainly through emails – him telling her about his work, and her asking him to pick up her dry-cleaning.

Jones knows he wants something more from life, but doesn’t really have the impetus for change. Until he is ordered to lead a project, backed by a wealthy Sheikh, to create an artificial river in the Yemen desert, and succeed in getting thousands of imported salmon to swim up it. Although initially very reluctant, (his reputation as a scientist is on the line for even considering such a ludicrous scheme), Jones is forced to participate in the project, and meets a variety of vibrant and inspiring people throughout the course of the project. His life changes colour, he is forced to take risks, and he realises that his existence doesn’t have to involve tepid emails, Marks and Spencer’s pyjamas, or festering in a job presided over by a shiny-suited sycophantic buffoon.

I read the last third of the book on the plane home. The ending is strange and surprising – but a story as gentle as this needs an extraordinary ending. Torday achieves that great literary mechanism, whereby events, like background noise, build quietly but frantically in the last few chapters, so that by the time the grand finale occurs, all the pieces slot together and I wonder how I hadn’t predicted it earlier.

The movie was released earlier this year – Rotten Tomatoes called it ‘a charming little romantic drama’ and the Irish Times called it ‘empty guff’. My sister watched it recently and raved about it. The funniest thing is that the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board was inundated with requests from holiday-makers planning to go salmon fishing in the Yemen.

Paul Torday considers his novel to be a satire on bureaucracy. Interestingly, Torday never visited the Yemen, but rather based his descriptions on old copies of National Geographic and Lonely Planet.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Books to read when you’re raising a two year old

Posted by Jenny

My two year old daughter has deceptively angelic looks. Shoulder length blond hair, big glittering blue eyes and a broad ready smile that reveal the only hint to her character: chipped front teeth! She’s the third in the bunch and that is straight away my argument for her …ehm… confidence. She comes… She sees… And she demolishes!

  I’m learning more and more that a golden rule in the survival guide of parents (perhaps I should write one!) is that you talk to other parents. People who know parents will do too. Or people who know people who know parents. As long as you get the occasional “Oh, sure, I know that such and such’s child did the same!” or “You think that is bad, my child did….(fill in the blank).

  Her newest fad is taking off her clothes. Apparently it’s very common. I didn’t know this, as my older two kids have never gone through that phase. Apparently we’re quite lucky that she doesn’t do it in public. I’m not even entertaining that thought as she started taking off her nappy as well.

  No, she’s not yet ready for the potty. She happily sits on it until she needs to go, then does her business on the floor, and subsequently comes looking for a tissue as “it’s all wet” and “a mess”.

  Last Thursday evening I had a real treat. My son came flying into the kitchen and it wasn’t until I entered the sitting room that I realized that he was actually fleeing. There she was, happily standing in her birthday suit, colouring in a colouring book, completely oblivious to the upheaval she had caused.

  Her little bottom was covered in poo. Her clothes and nappy were missing. When asked she helpfully informed me that her nappy was gone and unprompted she stated that she hadn’t done a poo. I didn’t bother arguing.

  A quick scan around the room came up empty and a look behind the couch confirmed my suspicion, it has now also become a nappy dump. Unfortunately the nappy didn’t contain a certain article, which presented a problem. Where oh where? Well, it turned out to be on the floor, right next to the coffee table. Again she was helpful in commenting “Dirty doggy poo!” Hmmm…. I wonder…..

Once they were all in bed, there was only space for a long soak in a hot bath with a fantasy marvel like Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”.  Tad has created a world into which I can easily escape and be a keen witness to his ever unfolding storyline. It’s a powerful thing when you follow the characters through the pages and you can feel the heat of the sun and how it saps their energy, or when you find yourself thinking about it hours after you’ve closed the book.

  The first in the trilogy is “Dragon Bone Chair” and although I found it to be a slow starter, it has earned its’ place in my Addictive Reads Section, one I return to in times of great need as described above.

As a follow up from my previous entry, I regretfully have to say that the Jojo Moyes book “Me before you” didn’t do it for me. Sorry. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue between the main characters, I just wished there was more of it. In my opinion the development of the relationship has become somewhat lost in the heavy detail and descriptions of other aspects of the girl’s life. It didn’t grab me. According to Daisy I’m simply not a chick-lit girl. She’s probably right.

Top illustration by AJ Photography

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Books To Get the Imagination Firing

by Matilda

I recently took a break from city life to retreat for a while under the shell of home life. Rural Ireland. Home cooked meals, quietness and long walks by the wild Atlantic. I always feel in competition with the ocean. Who has the most turbulence? My thoughts can feel pretty big at times. But the ocean wins hands down every time. It shoves everything out as you fight for breath when a sudden wind sweeps up from the bottom of the cliff or a flyaway spray that you never saw coming soaks you with more intensity than a power shower.

The first day I ventured out it looked like someone had brushed the ocean and the cliffs clean with a fine artists brush. Not a hint of seaweed, spray or a rock out of place. It was like stepping into a postcard. The waves swelled in an almost peaceful way – full and complete. My thoughts had a field day – this they could compete with. I started thinking about imagination. I regularly get ‘stuck’ when writing, as if I’ve hit the Wall and wondered how to get over that.

I found the answer or so I thought in a second hand bookshop in my nearest town. It’s not the kind of place that should have a bookshop, let alone a second hand one. It opened without fuss a few months ago, unassuming and modest. Even it’s name ‘Books and Things’ doesn’t allude to the treasures that lie inside. On this particular day – the kind with the lingering heavy grey clouds – I pushed open the door of ‘Books & Things’ hoping to find relief from the wooliness in my head. I was hit with a surge of heat from the two bar heater inside the door. There were two people in the shop, having tea and catching up on the day’s newspaper.  I was greeted with a friendly hello but with a hint of ‘feel free to do your own thing’. The shop floor dipped slightly towards the back, causing everything to slant. I knew I was looking for something special that day. Before I knew it, I’d five books in my hand. But the treasure was John Connolly The Book of Lost Things.

I hadn’t heard of this before but the cover intrigued me. A red cover with a winding ivy creeping up the cover.

I initially thought this was a children’s book but I wouldn’t like a child to read this. The story is set in London in the middle of World War 2.The protagonist, David, is mourning the loss of his mother, his father’s re-marriage and new baby to boot.  He appears to suffer frequent anxiety attacks and his grip on reality begins to slip as he begins to hear his most prized possessions – his books – talking to him. He begins to see the Crooked Man in his room and hears his mother calling him to save her. He stumbles into this other world while escaping from a German bomber plane. Here, he encounters some familiar fairy tales – Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin  - and not so familiar tales. Connolly follows the Brothers Grimm inspiration with tales of bestiality, homosexuality and violence. It’s un-put-down-able.

I’m not a fan of fantasy usually but this caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go. There are many levels to this book. As with all fairy tales there is a moral to be explored as well. The strength to keep going, to find yourself and not give up on those you love or could love.   This book is well worth a look and it certainly fires the imagination to show you that you can get past the Wall.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/8_8/470309830/">hira3</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Books to Read When You're Trying To Write

Posted By Daisy

Frank O’Connor said that writing means 'applying the arse of the trousers to the seat of the chair.’ Even if I have a next-morning deadline for a feature, I’ll still clean the house, go for a walk, de-clutter my wardrobe, watch repeats of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ or even worse ‘Two Broke Girls’, apply fake tan, smoke cigarettes, or make a Mars Bar cake. Eventually I’ll power up my laptop at about 9p.m., a momentous act in itself. And write until the early hours.
I have a pile of ‘How To Write’ books in my house. These include, in order of preference:

On Writing, Stephen King – Keep your writing simple. All adverbs are extraneous.

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron -  Write 3 pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing every morning for the duration of this 12-week creativity course. Don’t bother reading back over them. They are simply a remedy for a creative block.

Any Writing 101 course will usually recommend King's or Cameron's book. Cameron recommends writing ‘Morning Pages’ every day – unfortunately I failed immediately, preferring the warmth of my bed in the mornings. Last week, I decided I would attend ‘Sunrise Yoga’ in town at 6a.m. and duly set the alarm. The following morning, I woke up at 9:30am, having missed yoga, and was very late for work. But I like Cameron’s idea of having a ‘Creative Date’ with yourself – once a week, take yourself off to an art gallery, or a beach, or watch an arthouse movie.

Write and Get Paid For It, Terry Prone: One of my favourite writing books is Terry Prone’s ‘Write and Get Paid For it’. First published in 1979, it is outdated now, but the basic ideas are still very relevant. Especially good for freelance journalists, it gives great advice on organising ideas/archiving features. And Prone advises not to worry about rejection, or age.

Writing for the Market, Patricia O’Reilly: Another oldie – it gives great advice for would-be feature writers, with interviews from features editors of Irish newspapers. O’Reilly recommends always being on the alert for feature ideas. When I started feature writing, my biggest conundrum was where to get ideas. Now I know that feature ideas are ever-present and there for the taking.  I went hillwalking for the first time last week, and have a pitchable feature idea from the day.

O’Reilly also recommends having a niche subject. I have one which I have a huge interest in and knowledge of (i.e. my day job) and so often get called by editors when newsworthy topics about this subject appear.

Travel Writer’s Guide, Gorgon Burgett: Burgett advises on re-selling travel features -  by the time you’ve sold your feature five or six times, it’s almost a sin. I have still to figure out how to do this. He also recommends avoiding negativity in travel features. I once wrote a travel feature about Easter Island, recommending that people simply ‘buy the DVD’ rather than travelling to the island to get ripped off by the locals. It wasn’t the best feature I ever wrote.

The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club, Maeve Binchy: Keep a journal recording overheard snippets of conversation, ideas, quotes and details of competitions, prizes and awards. Deadlines are important.

Write a Book in A Year, Jacinta McDevitt: Write 410 words everyday. You have three goals – to start, to keep going, and to finish.

How to Get Published and Make a Lot of Money, Susan Page: I got this as a present and have never read it. However, a quick skim through advises that very few people make a living by writing alone. Most people have co-occupations too. Don’t give up the day job.

Even though I procrastinate, there is nothing better than the feeling of re-reading a well-written, finished piece. Because a writer always knows when a piece is well-written, and when a piece is mediocre. I still get excited when I see my by-line in a newspaper, and I hope that never goes away.
(Top illustration by Marc Johns)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Books when learning to do a proper squat

Posted by Jenny

“Throw your hips back!” is shouted at me as I’m trying to do a squat. I struggle to get it right. The thing with the squat is that self-consciousness is detrimental to your attempts. Especially if that includes self-consciousness with regards to your backside.

  So there I am, standing, facing the wall, trying not to tilt my body forward and “throw”  my hips back instead. (It basically means I have to stick my arse out…. Get my predicament?)

After having spent the last 8 years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant or in labour, I had gotten out of the habit of factoring in that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. What was the point if you’re going to end up resembling a beached whale anyway?  At least if you do pregnancy the way I did, which isn’t pretty. (I won’t bother you with the details of that because that’s fodder for another blog post!)

Six weeks ago I started kettle bells training out of curiosity and a long ignored wish to get back into some kind of shape other than round and squishy.

Almost instantly this type of training clicked with me. The exercises provided a much needed full body workout and since the routines weren’t complicated, it was easy to step in and follow the class. I have to admit, keeping up was another issue.

It was very encouraging to find myself standing there with a light kettle bell, surrounded by regular sized women (as in not muscular looking) with impressively heavy kettle bells, who were of a similar age and had recently been in similar circumstances (ie post pregnancy/labour/potatoe couch phase). This unlocked something inside me: competitiveness!

After the first night I felt giddy with excitement once I stopped feeling as if I had to puke. I had found something to strive for that had nothing to do with being a mum or work. I want to be strong and fit!

Kettle bell training paved the way for me becoming interested in weight lifting. I decided to do the fundamentals course for Strength and Conditioning. Go me! Now all I have to do is stop tilting forward when I do my squats!

And since this is a week of “news” I started reading “Me before you” by Jojo Moyes.

That’s chick-lit! I don’t read chick-lit! I read fantasy.

Well… I haven’t finished it yet so I refrain from commenting on it, but I will as soon as I’ve read it. Pfff, the excitement….. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Books to read when your child is in hospital

Posted by Jenny

This week I spend four days in the paediatric ward in the hospital. Our son, our beautifully spirited and kind hearted first born had collapsed and was unconscious for a few seconds. As this wasn’t the first episode, he was entered into the medical model so they could perform this test and that test to determine whether he had a faint or a seizure. Sweets and impromptu presents definitely have an important role to play in these circumstances. And it has to be said that the staff in the paediatric ward were fantastic.

  Nothing prepares you for the sudden overwhelming onslaught of emotions and consequences this brings. If given half the chance it’s the most isolating feeling in the world. I’m one of these people that will go into the “I-can-cope-with-this” mode, but don’t ask me how I’m doing, because I’ll crumble. It’s like the emotional equivalent of a switch that I can temporarily flick into a required setting when needed.

  For my son it was all a great adventure. He saw ships move on the curtains! (the anaesthetic for the MRI didn’t fully work; he became utterly stoned….)  He spotted an elderly man in a wheelchair and was convinced that it was James Bond. His rationale was that since James Bond is over 50, he’s an old man. Surely, the old man sitting in that cool looking wheel chair could be James Bond. If only that man could have heard him.

  As the days passed, my “switch” started malfunctioning. My focus went out the door, headaches increased in frequency and I was beginning to feel more and more like an overstretched string on a failing bow. At least he’s at home now.
Product Details

  So what did I read while in the hospital? I read Adam Blade’s “Fang – the Bat Fiend” to my child. It is the 33rd instalment of the Beast Quest series, his favourite books. He followed Tom, Elenna and their animal companions Storm the stallion and Silver the wolf on their dangerous mission to defeat evil Fang and was able to lose himself in the magical world of Avantia and Kayonia.

 (Top illustration: photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mondopanno/216411848/">mondopanno</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>)