Friday, 21 December 2007


S sings in Manchester Cathedral choir, so last night we joined the other gentlemen and their partners for a Christmas meal. A table was booked for 9.30, due to a rehearsal earlier in the evening for the Nine Lessons and Carols service, which is happening tomorrow. When we eventually made it to dinner, we all had a great time. Unfortunately, I had to get up super-early today (too much work, too little time...), but now I don't think I'm going to get through as much as I had hoped, due to the severe bouts of yawning I'm experiencing.


Thursday, 20 December 2007

Christmas 'holiday'

Anyone who has ever been on a trip with me knows I always pack too many books (I don't know what mood I'll be in, so need to take a variety. Obviously!), and also usually have some kind of project to work on. My projects are often writing or knitting ones, but I'm also studying Italian, so the last few trips I've taken have included books in or about 2 languages, just to make my bags a little bit heavier. Over Christmas S and I are going away, first to his folks, then to mine, and I'm beginning to plan my holiday reading. I find planning which books to take more fun than packing clothes and stuff, so have found myself desperately stuffing pants and socks around the pile of 'essential' books in the middle of my suitcase, but I'm going to try to avoid that this year.

When I get to my parents', I think I'm going to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, having watched most of the wonderful BBC adaptation in my knitting circle over the last few weeks (we're up to episode 3 in 'The Silver Chair'). Narnia always makes me feel Christmassy, but my childhood copies are still in Sussex so I'll have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I've had some exciting packages from Amazon that have included a book or two for myself in with the Christmas presents for my family. These have included The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, The Alchemist's Daughter by Katherine McMahon and a book of easy Italian crosswords, which may very well end up in my bag. I'm also planning to take my copy of The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey in case I have any questions (my brother is a geologist). Obviously, I'll be taking my laptop so that I can do some writing, and if I need any inspiration I'll have Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein and The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. There will also be a bag of wool somewhere in the car, because I've got to a rather complicated bit in the cardigan I'm making (yes, on top of the two scarves that are in progress for Christmas presents I'm also making a cardigan. And another scarf. But they aren't time-sensitive, so that's OK.) and I need a bit of help from Mum the Expert Knitter. In between all the reading, Italian, writing and knitting, I might spend some time with family and friends, and maybe even work on my sleep deficit.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

I'd just like to thank...

We had a company Christmas meeting this lunchtime, including a quiz, Secret Santa and awards. I am very pleased to annouce that I won the prestigious award for:

Ankle Injury of the Year!

I guess I really just need to thank the treadmill at my gym, which made it all possible.

Not that I'm grumbling - I'm going to enjoy the Lindt chocolate reindeer that accompanied my certificate...

The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson

Having read several other books by Neal Stephenson, I knew what to expect when I picked up 'The Diamond Age'. He creates a world, based on reality but somehow a little different, and every tiny detail has been carefully constructed. His prose is dense, but fascinating, and as a physics novice, even I can generally understand the complex concepts he introduces, due to the strength of his explanations. The central character in this book is Nell, a neglected girl growing up on the outside of accepted society, and it examines how her life is changed by a gift from her older brother. He gives her a book, 'The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer', he stole from John Percival Hackworth without realising it is actually an interactive life-guide. The Primer teaches Nell, and the other girls who receive copies, equipping them for a subversive life in a crumbling society.

The vast array of characters could become confusing, but the intense descriptions and diversity of personality Stephenson creates etch the characters firmly into one's consciousness. Each character has a a very definite aim throughout the story, and as these converge over the last few chapters, elements of the story from earlier in the book that may have seemed rather esoteric come into sharp focus. I particularly enjoyed the fairy-tales woven into the Primer, holding a mirror up to Nell's dysfunctional life while suggesting ways she can improve her lot. Every girl could do with one of these while growing up!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Art of Murder - Jose Carlos Somoza

When people are painted and displayed as canvases, where is the line drawn between humanity and art? In this novel, the art world sees the hyperdramatic models who are on display in galleries or up for sale to be shown privately as art first, and people second, but not everyone agrees with this rather simplistic view. The brutal murder of a child-canvas at the start of the book instigates an examination of the shady corners of this exploitative yet creative movement through they eyes of various characters, including several canvases, a detective investigating the murder and employees of the Master, Bruno van Tysch.

I did find some of the skips between characters a little distracting, as it took me a while to work out who they were in relation to everyone else (and I got two characters with names starting with the same letter muddled). Once I had sorted that out, the story felt a lot stronger, with more substance than a regular whodunnit. By the end, it seemed that hyperdramatism was less an artform but more of a cult, complete with brain-washing and sacrificial rites, and the choices made by the cast of converts showed how successfully they had been indoctrinated. Good science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) tends to take a simple 'what if' and run with it, and the ramifications of this plausible shift from current reality are chilling.

Christmas cheer

The week before Christmas is always a strange mix of excitement and worry, with too much to do but lots to look forward to if everything goes according to plan. This year is fairly typical, and while I'm way ahead of normal in terms of buying presents (I set a new record by buying a present in August) I still haven't tackled the mountain of Christmas cards we need to write and send. I also decided in the last week of November that it would be a really good idea to make a scarf for each of my brothers as part of their Christmas present. Hmm. Then I decided it would be really fun to try out a design I had concocted myself to make scarves with diagonal stripes. Double hmm. The first scarf is knitted, but I still need to sew in all the ends from the stripes and do the tassels. I've done about 10 inches of the second one, and can feel a couple of evenings with crampy fingers coming on...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

NaNoWriMo update 2

Well, halfway through November I should be up to 25,000 words. Not quite there, mainly due to a fabulous long weekend down in London where I saw 2 concerts (both involving my brother, either playing the natural horn or singing), went to the British Library, went to a fabulous hen party and enjoyed a long lunch that lasted 6 hours over 3 venues with a group of friends (and their various friends and relations who wandered in, which was also lovely). So now I'm 12,000 words behind. But that still means I've written 13,000 words since 4th November, so it's not all bad news.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

NaNoWriMo update

Having been engulfed by NaNoWriMo fever over the last few weeks, my poor blog has been a little neglected, for which I can only apologise. A kind commenter has nudge me back into blog-mode (thank you, Anonymous!), so I will hang my head in shame and get on with telling you how it's going...

On day 6 I have got up to 5,127 words. This is a slightly lower total than I was hoping for at this point, but I must admit that I didn't entirely begin until Sunday evening, that traditional time for starting tasks you really should have got on with days ago. I got through 2000 words on that first day, and over 2000 more yesterday, so if I carry on at this rate, it should be fine. I'm actually enjoying myself, and finding that the knowledge that I just have to get on and do it, rather than pootle around with plots or stationery (my ongoing weakness...) has liberated my typing fingers, and lots and lots of words keep tumbling off the ends of them! Now, I have locked up my internal editor, and am only allowing myself to read back over what I have written if I need a piece of information ('What colour jumper did I say she's wearing?' etc). As seasoned NaNo-ers have pointed out, December 1st is for editing! This is my 'don't look down' draft, and I'm not even going to peep through my fingers unless I absolutely have to.

I also have a little more time than usual, especially in the mornings, having done something peculiar to my ankle at the gym, so I won't be going back there for a little while. Unfortunately this unexpected time bonus may just get eaten up by the huge amount of time it takes me to get anywhere now, especially if stairs are involved...

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Seventh Gate - Richard Zimler

My brothers always used to tell me that it was weird watching comedy on TV with me because I never laugh when it's funny. I laugh a lot in real life, but I've always found a disconnect between finding something funny on TV or in a book, and actually laughing out loud. I also find this applies to finding something sad in a book and it making me cry, but when reading this book, especially the last 100 pages or so, I was in floods of tears.

Having read 'The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon' and been a bit confused I wasn't sure at all what to expect. This is a very different sort of story, though there are similar themes in both books, such as the mysteries that are central to both tales and looking at being Jewish in a time when that could mean death. Sophie, an Aryan teenager in 1930's Berlin, wants to be Jewish, while having to protect her 'distant' (possibly autistic?) mute brother. The conflicts her family have in their journey from being Communists to paid-up members of the Nazi party intensify this desire, and she begins a relationship that breaks nearly every taboo of the time. While the story grows in unexpected ways, the heart-breaking inevitabilities that loom through every page are tackled in particularly poignant matter-of-fact descriptions, painting realistic pictures of the horrors that ended so many lives. The ending to such a story could never be happy, but it seems balanced and the culmination of Sophie's lover's internal quest gives an interesting slant to factual events. One day, I'll read this again to take in more of the intricate layers, but when I do I'll be armed with a gigantic box of tissues.


My NaNoWriMo profile is all up and running - lazyperfectionista (come and make me your buddy!) - and I'm researching like crazy to have enough to write about to achieve my 50,000 words. I'm slightly apprehensive about how busy I'm going to be, with two of the four weekends already filled with non-writing activities, but I'll have to be really disciplined on the days when I don't have people visiting or plans down in London...

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


Have signed up for NaNoWriMo! The rest of October is now fully dedicated to researching, noting, outlining and thinking. And November will be manic.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Yet again

Work has been totally crazy over the last couple of weeks, and I'm absolutely shattered. I've hardly written anything, hardly read anything (though am enjoying 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak) and just want to go to sleep in the corner. I am still around, and hope that this weekend I'll get enough time to catch up on my blogging and writing, but might be unconscious on the sofa for most of it!

Friday, 14 September 2007

The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox

The atmosphere of this book reminded me of 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova, with hidden tales of a secret life revealed through books, letters and diaries, bringing new dangers and worries on every page. I was up until 12.50 last night, frantically trying to finish this, knowing that if I put it down I would never manage to go to sleep without know how it ended up. When I finally read the last page, I was pleased to note that while I had guessed a few key twists, the crucial surprises had really surprised me.

Although I'm not an expert, the vocabulary the author used seemed to match the period the book is set in, with lots of interesting nuggets of Victorian gold. The resulting primness is juxtaposed with the darkness at the heart of the tale; enormous loss, bitter secrets and violence leading through the murkier side of the mid-19th century to the climactic clash of the sworn enemies. This absorbing debut was nominated for the 2006 Costa First Novel Award, which was eventually won by 'The Tenderness of Wolves' by Stef Penney. I honestly don't know how they chose between them.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Contemplating coffee

Gods Behaving Badly - Marie Phillips

Marie Phillips and Terry Pratchett have both written about gods whose power wanes without believers, though the similarities between them really end there. In 'Gods Behaving Badly', Phillips describes the pantheon of Greek gods, but after a move to North London in massively straightened circumstances. With eternity to play with, the gods are bored and feisty, but nothing seems to be working out for them until a mortal cleaner comes along to tidy up their festering home.

I read this on a lazy Sunday, and it really fit my mood - I needed something humorous, original and well-written but not too taxing. I already knew a little about Greek gods (thank you Classics GCSE!), and the characterizations from the mythology seemed perfect, very human but exaggeratedly so. This lovely hard-back signed copy will find itself with a different owner on December 25th - I don't normally read presents in advance, just couldn't resist with this one -and I hope the recipient enjoys it as much as I did. And be impressed that I've bought some Christmas presents already, something that is normally reserved for December 23rd-ish...

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Calling all book addicts

Waterstone's has just launched a loyalty card! Now it will be even easier to justify expanding my library...

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Now I believe the hype...

I've been struggling with the structure of my WIP for a while, and it has been feeling more and more like a 1000 piece jigsaw of baked beans. Different forms have occurred to me, I've fiddled around with my ideas, jotted notes, mind mapped and gone back to the drawing board so many times that I was beginning to feel a bit down-hearted, and was contemplating pushing this to the bottom of my pile, and start on something new until it all fell into place. I've also cynically raised an eyebrow while watching the Virgin Trains advert about being inspired and having big ideas in their shiny red coaches (too many people wearing noisy headphones so the only inspiration I usually have involves cutting their wires with the scissors I luckily never have with me...). But this morning was different. I got on my train to work, sat down, read a few pages of my book and had my Big Idea. I know how to make it work. I think. (I hope)

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Atonement - Ian McEwan

I'd been meaning to read this for ages, but had never got round to buying a copy. When I saw it in the Vintage Twins edition with 'What Maisie Knew' in a 3 for 2 at Waterstones I knew I could resist no longer. The opening evoked a parched summer which, for Briony, is without distraction other than her abortive play with her troubled cousins. On the brink of stumbling through the initiations of early adolescence, she knows enough to completely misunderstand every interaction she witnesses between her sister Cecelia and Robbie, an old friend. Her disastrous suppositions have grim repercussions, for which she still feels the need to atone many years later.

The pace of the writing is somewhat slower than many modern novels, taking in every thought fluttering through the protagonists' somewhat self-absorbed minds. The gradual building of momentum towards the key scenes can be a little frustrating - there's only so long you can peep through your fingers at the car crash you know is about to happen - but the tension keeps rising, and you do get there eventually, with the exquisite minutiae of the previous pages often increasing the impact. I'll be interested to see whether the forthcoming film, with its growing Oscar buzz, is faithful to the atmosphere of the novel, and the complex inner lives of its characters.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

A wedding, three evensongs and a wild goose chase

Every year S and I spend a weekend singing at a cathedral with the fabulous Omega Consort, a gang of scattered old (and new) friends who meet to combine the joys of choral evensong and overindulgence. This year, we were based in Cheltenham but sang the services at Gloucester Cathedral. On Saturday, we had to duck out of rehearsals and miss the service to race down to Newbury for the wedding of an old schoolfriend. Our best-laid plans (picking up another friend on the way and using his hotel room for the final stages of getting ready) were scuppered by a misheard postcode and imprecise sat nav, which left us tearing round Berkshire desperately trying to find the right golf course, and being taunted by a succession of wedding cars. We arrived just in time, but had to stand at the back in what felt like the Naughty Corner due to a slight lack of spare seats. The stifling heat (what a shock!) was the only tiny flaw in an otherwise wonderful day. Although someone I know might disagree with me - he was pursued around the dance floor by a formidable lady who seemed to take the fact that he is gay as a rather amusing (for the rest of us) challenge that she would somehow overcome, possibly by wearing him down until he gave in just for some peace...

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson

I've enjoyed all Kate Atkinson's books, especially the slightly surreal 'Human Croquet', but while 'One Good Turn' appears to be a more traditional crime novel it is quirky enough to fit in with the rest of her oeuvre. The murder mystery is enhanced by an unexpected twist in the final pages, but the real strength of the book is the range of point of view characters. For the first few chapters I did find it a little distracting, flitting from one character to the next, unsure as to whether the story had properly started (of course it had - the plot was deceptively tight), but once I had sorted out who was who it was satisfying to start making the little connections between the characters that were only hinted at in the text. I'm sure that there were plenty of overlaps that I missed, but I do love it when authors don't feel the need to spell out every subtle shade. It means that re-reading is almost more of a pleasure than the first time through, because you don't have to rush just to find out what happened.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


I defined my personal idea of heaven this weekend. It's the library at Chatsworth. Wall to wall books (many of which are ancient, rare and incredibly interesting), several squishy sofas, a grand piano, fireplace and plenty of friendly members of staff to make sure the ginger biscuits/coffee/gin never ran out.

While not fantasizing about the after-life, I also enjoyed looking around the exhibition about the 11th Duke of Devonshire, with a good audioguide which included interviews with friends, colleagues and his wife (Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire makes a daunting tongue-twister). 'Debo' is the only surviving Mitford sister, and numerous books about her fascinating family can be found in the well-stocked gift shops. Throughout the house paintings and photographs depict the Devonshire clan over many generations, and their art collection is pretty incredible, especially considering many gems had to be sold off to cover the 80% death duties when the 10th Duke died unexpectedly in 1950.

Though the weather wasn't particularly good (think November drizzle rather than August sun), the gardens were still lovely, with the low cloud eerily drawing in the horizon and damping down the noise of our fellow visitors. The variety of plants and settings is captivating, with an astonishing giant rockery of boulders and elaborate water features powered by gravity alone. A colleague tells me it is a spectacular place to visit at Christmas, with decorations everywhere, themed activities and music throughout, so I may have to try to persuade my little humbug S that a return visit would be fun, even if there may be Jolly People full of the dreaded Christmas Cheer around.

Friday, 17 August 2007


I've been rather frustrated over the last few weeks about my lack of progress on my embryonic novel, which I admit has been partly (OK, mainly) due to my crazy busy-ness at work. Still, I've been mulling around certain ideas, thinking that it's the right thing to happen for the story, but it just doesn't feel right. The main reason for the not feeling right is that the story happens at a particular stage of the main character's life and career, and the ideas I was having just weren't really relevant for her at that moment, and I didn't think the stakes would be high enough. But do you know what I've just realised? (And this is after, ooh, a month! They don't call me 'Lightning' for nothing, you know...) I don't have to keep my character at that age just because that's what my first idea was. The whole story is just what I'm making up. I'm in charge. So this weekend I'm going to be going back to the drawing board (or more accurately, Scrivener cork board), and adjusting things. And crossing my fingers that it will help.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Writer's Bricks

I don't think I ever have time to develop writer's block. When I'm writing, it happens in little snatches of stolen time, when I should doing something different or should be somewhere else. I do have a lot of problems getting things finished, but it's always because I have too many ideas, rather than too few. Unfortunately, I find it very difficult to set my brain to just one channel, so I've got notes on a hundred different exciting plots, interesting characters and speculative 'what if's, and I carry round a stripy Paperchase pad for this purpose (though unlike Helen it doesn't have a band to keep it closed, so its pages are rather squashed in places...). I've been trying very hard recently to concentrate on one particular idea, and have got over 5000 words, spanning about two-thirds of the plot, though of course it will need an awful lot of expansion. But I'm beginning to think that trying to limit myself is a bad idea. If I'm not in the mood to think of Phoebe and her complexities, maybe having something completely different on standby would help me in the long-run? But I do feel terribly disloyal having opened a Google Notebook on two other projects today, even if they've both been doing laps of my skull for over a year.


Last week I didn't post due to having scarpered to the countryside to stay with my parents. They have a beautiful garden but no broadband, so I was confined to sunning myself and watching out for the frog in the newly-cleared pond (it's beneath an apple tree which regularly sheds its fruit with a 'plop', resulting in a pond more like cider than water...). We read a lot, spent as many daylight hours as possible outside, ate a variety of cake and occasionally pottered off for a walk (to a pub). We visited the marvellous Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Singleton, following a superb picnic on the top of the Downs looking out towards the Isle of Wight. We ate extraordinarily well at both The Brewer's Arms, Vines Cross and The Star, Waldron. My long-suffering brothers tried (and failed) to teach me how to bowl during the family games of cricket, which lost balls into undergrowth, trees and neighbouring gardens. I sometimes won at pool (usually on a technicality), but more usually lost dismally. I was (falsely) accused of cheating at Scrabble, due to a spectacular win. We visited my 98 year old grandfather, who gave us windfall apples, walnuts and some seeds between stories about cars and hitch-hiking nurses. I also snoozed, dozed and napped. A fabulous time was had by all. I can't believe that 10 years ago I was so entirely desperate to leave home that I felt like my mind was melting with every extra minute I had to stay. I am currently thanking the gods that I never have to go back to being a teenager...

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

It don't mean a thing (if it ain't got that swing)

I come from a musical family with an enormous repertoire of musical jokes. Ones sure to get a laugh seem to include saxophones (What's the difference between an onion and a sax? People cry when you chop up an onion. What's the difference between a lawnmower and a sax? You can tune a lawnmower. etc ad infinitum). The main reason for this is the suffering my parents have endured at the hands of many a youthful saxophonist. They have both accompanied a multitude of budding musicians through exams, and have come to the conclusion that the saxophone in the wrong hands is the most dangerous of all instruments. Not only is it incredibly loud and persistent, it also is unbelievably difficult to make it sound better than a particularly irritating car horn. Very few 12 year olds tackling their Grade 3 manage it, but vast numbers try. I had always had some sympathy for the saxophonists-in-training, from the safe distance of several miles away. Not any more. I now live opposite one.

The saxophonist in question is definitely dedicated, but unfortunately unmusical. They squeak through scales, parp in the wrong places and have not mastered the delicate art of playing pianissimo, or indeed anything softer than fortissimo. I find it particularly difficult to bear as Mr/Ms Sax always tends to reach for their instrument at the exact moment on a Sunday afternoon when I think 'Ooh I could really do with a nice snooze'. Bad enough though this may seem, the worst occurred this weekend. During an attempt to play jazz classic 'I got rhythm', they consistently got the rhythm wrong. ARGH.

Thursday, 12 July 2007


On my way to work this morning I walked past a building site which had made the pavement around it rather muddy. It was drizzling (of course!) and I was wearing my lovely new black boots. They are flat-heeled, but have quite slippy soles, so it was probably slightly my own fault when I ended up slightly shocked flat on the pavement. My right knee and umbrella took the brunt of the fall, and I pulled myself back upright slightly shakily. I was a bit surprised that no-one on this busy Mancunian street even asked if I was OK, though this may have had something to do with the fact that I sounded like Hugh Grant in the first few minutes of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'...

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Being busy and a brilliant birthday

I've been rather slack with my blogging, reading and writing over the last few weeks, but this hasn't been due to a lack of motivation. I've had lots I've wanted to write but work has got in the way rather. Not that I used to blog etc during office hours (unless things were really slack), but because of the way my workload has increased I just have had no juice left at the end of the day. Back in May, I was working on 3 accounts, I knew the data well, and there wasn't all that much on. Now I've got 6. And the 3 new ones have come with tight deadlines and tricky projects so I've been trying to get my head around it all. Several other writers have left recently, so I've inherited a few manuscripts, and it's always harder to pick something up from somebody else rather than start from scratch, but I've just had to get on with it. This isn't a problem exactly - I enjoy work so much more when I'm so stressed my brain is melting (I don't handle boredom particularly well...), but the rest of my life does tend to suffer until I get back on an even keel.

Yesterday was my birthday, and although I spent the day at work, it was rather fun. I finally got my head around one of my new accounts, which was very satisfying. Also, S had promised to make me a cake. How exciting! When I got home there were several lovely birthday cards in my postbox, and a package from my fabulous friends A&S containing a book I HAD to start reading as soon as I had opened it - 'Reading like a Writer' by Francine Prose. I've only read the first 2 chapters so far, but it really is fascinating, looking at the precise way words are chosen by a huge range of wonderful writers, not just the usual wide thematic and political breakdowns. I would have read more, but S arrived home with bulging shopping bags, and threw himself into making a gourmet meal, topped off with a delicious banana loaf. I just had another slice, and I think I'll be encouraging him to make it again very soon!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


On my way to work, I often walk past a woman walking away from the station while engrossed in the fiddly business of making a roll-up. Every time I see her, I have to suppress the urge to sidle up to her and shout


Thursday, 28 June 2007

Am proud

My blog was recently viewed via a search for 'call girl london'.

Please note: am neither a call girl nor based in London, though was once one of those things*.

I've also been found via a search for 'stationery closet', and '"Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" accents', which I am quite curious about.

*hint - I went to UCL...

The Single Helix - Steve Jones

If you only ever read one pop science book, make it this one. I've been a fan of Professor Jones' since my UCL days (I fell asleep less frequently in his lectures than anyone else's. This was my first year, you see, and there was an awful lot of 'socialising' to be done). When I picked this book up I knew it was different from his other works, as it includes segments from his highly varied column published in the Telegraph.

His writing is utterly inspired, such as explaining how elements transition from one physical state to another using the Florida Electoral College from the 2001 US election as an example - pure genius. I also learned that slugs in Northern Europe are genetically identical, due to reproducing without the sex in which their southern cousins indulge to make baby slugs. Many other gems can be found within it, some of which are suitable for dinner conversation, although there are quite a few about snails. There are also some particularly good arguments to be tested on any creationists you may come across, with irrefutable examples of evolution to bolster the cause of science.

Monday, 25 June 2007

The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney

I like the cold. Snow and ice is more inviting to me than sun and sand, mainly due to my tendency to burn if in the sun for more than a moment. This book made me feel cold, but in a good way, as I could feel the frozen Canadian winter gradually taking hold while I read. The mystery itself is equally chilling, with the casual assumptions thrown around regarding the indigenous population undoubtedly accurate for the time but no less horrifying for this. The search Mrs Ross undertakes, first for her son, then for the truth, is all the more haunting when she finds herself falling in love with the man who aids her hunt.

Mrs Ross is the only first person POV character, making the book seem to be about her journey, but the other characters who are shown through the third person in their own chapters are equally compelling. I also found it interesting that the Seton girls subplot was only half-solved, but it felt right that the ends were not tied too tightly. Another loose end that really couldn't have gone anywhere other than into the Canadian wilderness was the bone tablet with possible Native American writings. A fascinating idea, highlighting the perceived disparities between the cultures of the native peoples and the 'invading' Europeans.

Friday, 22 June 2007

The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

Many years ago I studied 'The Odyssey' for Classics GCSE, learning bizarre mnemonics to remember the order of the stories and giggling terribly immaturely at the frequent mentions of the 'rosy-fingered dawn'. When I picked up 'The Penelopiad' I assumed I would be fairly familiar with the story; Penelope sat at home weaving with her maids, trying to put off the Suitors while waiting for Odysseus and when he came back there was something about moving furniture? I had never really considered the backstory of Penelope's family and her marriage to Odysseus, and was surprised that Helen was her cousin, and that Odysseus had competed for her hand in marriage before moving on to Penelope after Menelaus won. The dynamics of a complicated family life with the in-laws living together (albeit in a palace) are captured in a wonderfully grating way, with Penelope's insights into her famously stunning cousin showing her self-awareness tinged with jealousy.

The story of the maids, their grisly end and Penelope's part in their actions was intriguing and contradictory. I guess Dr House is right - 'Everybody lies'. I've loved Margaret Atwood's work for years, and this glorious mix of poetry and prose, life and death, myth and home-truth has to be savoured. My only complaint is that it's short enough to read in a day - I wanted it to go on and on.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Frustration vs procrastination

I'm quite contrary. When I'm given seemingly perfect circumstances in which to do something, I am prone to dither and watch TV (especially now I've discovered TV Links and can watch TV on my laptop without annoying adverts). Then, when I'm in a meeting, on a train, talking on the phone, or doing something which really deserves my full attention I have an overwhelming urge to do what I should have been doing when I got the chance. This weekend was a perfect example. S was working a lot of the time, there wasn't anything urgent I needed to do so I planned to settle down with my laptop and do some serious work on my blog and write reams and reams. Hmm. After linking all the Novel Racer blogs I felt rather blogged out - there are many, many people! So I deserved a break for an episode of Bones. Then my flat got far too hot to do any thinking so I watched House. This carried on pretty much all weekend...

I did manage some research for a little while, typed up some notes I'd made on the train last week, and updated a couple of scenes, but it was hardly the workathon I had hoped for. On the train home from work last night, I had lots of ideas and was happily jotting them down to type up and flesh out when I got in. Then I realised I wouldn't have any time to do that because last night was Knitting Circle (my first time, so glad I went, lots of fun and an excuse to finish the scarf that's been sitting reproachfully in my understairs cupboard for at least 18 months...). S is working this evening, so really I'm going to be in the ideal situation to get done all the work I really wanted to do last night but couldn't, though I get the feeling that when I arrive home I'll be feeling strangely like, ooh, maybe some House, then Bones, then whatever random stuff I manage to find which is exactly the opposite of what I should be doing. Argh.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


For our very first wedding anniversary S and I headed down to Stratford to stay in the gorgeously gothic Ettington Park Hotel set in beautiful grounds (bunnies included!), with a 12th century partly-ruined Saxon church just in front of the tennis courts. It seemed very relaxed and family-friendly (though as S still believes children are inherently evil this wasn't necessarily a good thing...). Actually, some of the staff were so relaxed that it may have taken several days and possibly semaphore and a beacon to attract their attention, so I was glad we weren't eating in the restaurant.

'The Seagull' may not seem particularly anniversary-appropriate, but the other option at the RSC was 'Macbeth', so we went for the one with the lower body-count. Despite this, it's still pretty dark, though interspersed with sparkling comedy. The production made use of recorded birdsong, so most scenes were accompanied by a chorus of chirrups and tweets, though I don't remember hearing the distinctive cry of seagulls. It was not Sir Ian McKellen's night to play Sorin (the role is shared with William Gaunt), but having seen Sir Ian at the pinnacle of his career - Widow Twankey in Aladdin at the Old Vic - this was not a problem. The cast seemed really tight, probably due to having previously done a run of King Lear, so everything seemed incredibly slick and comfortable. That said, as the action continued the tension rose to the point I was leaning forward in my seat, gripping the rail and trying not to breathe by the end. Fabulous!

The next day we pottered slowly back up north, stopping for a pub lunch, and to watch some narrow boats going past on the canal. This was all very relaxing, which is my excuse for falling asleep in the car (sorry S!) on the way home.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Coming out of the (stationery) closet

I am a writer. Officially, I have been for about 2 years, although my job title inserts a handy 'Medical' in front of writer, to make sure that (during office hours at least) I concentrate on non-fiction. Apparently if you add a little fictitious sparkle when you're writing up a clinical trial they call it 'falsifying evidence' and it's terribly unpopular. How dull! Anyway, I got over this revelation by realising that they don't mind if I let the more creative aspects of my writing out to play after work (or at least not in something that's due for presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual congress), so I picked up the habit of scribbling fervently in my many notebooks, and it felt good. I've always had an inner monologue whispering to me 'If this was a book, then this would happen, and she would say that, or they would do this...', and now I've started letting it out on a regular basis, I've found that I have to distract myself when I'm not in a position to write things down to stop thinking of things that I'll just forget before I get to a pen.

Writing is something that I've always found comes easily. I did actually write a novel when I was 12 (terribly Enid Blyton-esque), and my little brothers loved it. Well, they were in it. Since then things like exams and deadlines have got in the way of finishing anything, but things are different now. I have invested in a shiny new laptop, joined the Novel Racers, and even told a couple of my friends what I'm up to. I think that was the hardest thing for me to do. Writer's block (touch wood) has only ever affected me when faced with a blank piece of paper, and just getting something down sorts that fairly soon. But acknowledging that I want to write fiction feels exceedingly scary. Why is this? It's an ambition, everybody has them. Why are creative ambitions so much harder to admit to than more concrete ones? Everyone I've told so far has been supportive and interested, and I have no reason to believe that any of my other friends will laugh in my face and tell me not to be ridiculous.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Typhoon Alert!

If Chicago is the Windy City, may I nominate Manchester to be the Rainy City please? I just got TOTALLY drenched on my way from Piccadilly Station to my flat (a distance of, ooh, about a third of a mile!). The only item of clothing I was wearing that didn't get wet was my pants, and I was outside for less than 10 minutes. I must admit that I forgot my umbrella this morning, but was wearing a sturdy Haglöfs jacket (though this would probably have been a little more watertight if I had remembered to close all the pockets...). Navigation became a bit of an issue, when my glasses started filling up with water due to my inclined head. When I tried lifting my head slightly, my eyelashes got so clogged with water it was like trying to look where I was going in a swimming pool. Nice. Am now dripping gently over my flat, finding puddles from where I put my bags down, but thanking my lucky stars/any listening deity that I remembered to close my big windows this morning before I left for work.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon - Richard Zimler

I started this book when I was on holiday at the end of April, and it's taken me until today to finish it. This wasn't because it is particularly long (313 pages) or dull, just that for some reason I just didn't connect with it. The story is a murder mystery set in sixteenth century Lisbon, supposedly written by the protagonist many years later as he tries to understand the context of his uncle's murder.

I think part of my problem with this book was my unfamiliarity with Jewish customs and kabbalah, and though there was a helpful glossary I didn't actually discover this until I was over halfway through. There were also an awful lot of characters who popped up for one scene and then disappeared for 150 pages only to have a critical role in the denouement, which I did find confusing. I had to do a far bit of flicking back to work out who was who. The writing was generally very poetic and evocative, conjuring up an era of intense uncertainty, where the Jews (or 'New Christians' as they were dubbed following their forced conversion by the Portuguese authorities) lived an utterly precarious life, never knowing who to trust. I have Richard Zimler's next book, 'The Seventh Gate', and I will be interested to find out if I am drawn more easily into a story with a modern setting.

The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl - Belle de Jour

I have followed the Belle de Jour blog for a while, though over the last few months it seems to have petered out. I ordered the first book by Belle to make up for this lack of blog, and received it from amazon on the same day that she posted for the first time in months. Nice coincidence. I whizzed through the book, mainly because an awful lot of if was very familiar. I'd read it in the blog. Now I'm sure there were some sections that had been updated, lengthened, titivated, primped and plumped, and there may even have been some completely new material (I wasn't going to go through the blog and match up entries with the book), but I did keep thinking 'I remember this..'. I do love her writing though; it's charming and whimsical but not afraid to say the things that just sometimes do need to be made clear (though are usually left unsaid). 'The Intimate Adventures' is definitely worth reading even (especially?) if you haven't ever seen her blog. Not for the faint-hearted though...

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The Prestige - Christopher Priest/Christopher Nolan

I read the book a while ago, and have been meaning to see the film since then. We don't watch as many films as I would like, mainly because S finds it so difficult to stay awake during anything longer than about 40 minutes. I suppose he works quite hard... Anyway, he's in London living it up with the Bank of America so I was free to watch a Proper Film. How exciting! Having read the original novel and marvelled at its twists and turns (like in nature to the proverbial 'twisty turny thing') it is reasonable to say that my expectations were high. Although the film does remove an entire section of narrative, it does it in such a way that I couldn't tell that it was missing until I racked my brains a bit. The brain-racking was slightly hindered at the time though, as I spent a good proportion of the film going 'Was that really David Bowie?!'. It was.

And now for the really geeky bit... I have a weird thing about accents. No, not a fetish, I just get really irritated when accents aren't consistent or are badly researched. Hugh Jackman kept it together most of the time, only slipping in a bit of Aussie elongation and flattening during his death scene, which I suppose is permissible. Scarlett Johansson was most impressive, getting the English vowels and (harder) consonants perfectly, though her speech rhythms were sometimes still a bit American. I was slightly confused by Christian Bale's accent, which seems to wander around all over the place, that is until I watched the extras. He really talks like that...

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The saddest thing

I saw a pigeon fall over while I was walking home from work today. It was weaving across the pavement in front of me, and seemed to trip, then fall on its side. After this little mishap, it recovered fairly quickly but it seemed so sad. The sight of this nearly made me cry, which with hindsight is rather strange - I don't like pigeons really, and I'm not the slightest bit pre-menstrual.

Thursday, 31 May 2007


My name is Ellie, and I'm an addict. A facebook addict. I cannot leave the damn thing alone, even when it is being silly. A recent quiz I did told me that my name, when used as an adjective, means 'Like in nature to a kangaroo'. Hmm. Look at me swimming!

Blessings duly counted

As I was walking through the carriage trying to find a seat on my train to work this morning, I passed a guy knocking back a can of lager in much the same way as many other passengers were enjoying their morning coffee. It made me grateful that, so far, the thought of going to work hasn't driven me to drink on my journey there, although occasionally it does lull me back to sleep so Macclesfield appears as a bit of a surprise...

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Bank Holiday Intake

Over the bank holiday weekend a planned camping trip (well, suggested would be more accurate...) was cancelled due to downpours and gales, as should only be expected for the last weekend in May. So instead of outdoor pursuits, or at least the pursuit of a good pub, we had to make do with indoor activities - our chosen pastime? Rediscovering films! HMV has a great deal on at the moment (3 DVDs for £20) and within it we managed to pick up a 3-pack of Merchant Ivory ('Howard's End', 'The Remains of the Day', 'The White Countess'), and two other films ('Amadeus' and 'Shakespeare in Love'. I know...). So we saw 'The Remains of the Day' and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', which S gave me for Christmas but we hadn't got round to watching. On Monday, I did suggest another Merchant Ivory, but S decided he'd rather do some cleaning while watching 'The High Life'...

I must confess that before Saturday I had somehow never seen 'The Remains of the Day' - what a masterpiece of repression and denial. I did find it interesting that in the '20 years later' sections everyone had been aged except for Emma Thompson (who I suppose did have slightly more grown-up hair, but was unchanged other than that) and Anthony Hopkins, who looked exactly the same as in their glory days.

'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is an old favourite for an afternoon in, especially if feeling a little 'dehydrated' following a night out. Dehydration was mainly due to the late night involved, but that was not the only reason considering some of the conversations (probably the only discussion of the correct chemical symbol for Tungsten on Canal Street last Friday, probably not the only discussion about whether the blonde girl in the corner with the gynaecologically short skirt was in 'Girls Aloud'). So we relaxed with a piece of cake and S managed to stay awake for at least 60% of the film (a real achievement!).

Due to tiredness and dehydration, I also had a weekend off from proper reading, and picked up 'The Sign of the Cross' by Chris Kuzneski. This is in the 'Da Vinci Code' vein, good for a long journey or weekend where you don't want to think too much. There's absolutely no subtlety in it, and a feeling that Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are just a homogenous Scandinavian blend of pine trees, saunas and Hamlet. I enjoyed it, even if I felt like giving most of the 'characters' (2D and utterly stereotypical) a good shake once in a while. All in all, a satisfying weekend, although a bit of sunshine wouldn't have hurt...

Friday, 25 May 2007


At work, I am lucky enough to have several good friends and generally to get on with pretty much everyone else. However, I (like most of my chums here) have a nemesis. My nemesis is somebody who, on the whole, I like, but has a major flaw nonetheless. This person eats breakfast at their desk, a custom we mainly embrace wholeheartedly, but then deposits the bowl straight into the sink (beneath the haunted tap) with Fruit & Fibre still clinging in congealing chunks to its innards. And does not return to wash it up. Ever. Heinous!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

75% down...

Am now another step closer to the Italian GCSE finish-line.

Coursework, speaking and listening? Check!

Reading? June 5th...

The Oxford Murders - Guillermo Martinez

This book was shorter than most I would buy (I read so quickly that I only really buy things that will last more than a day or two) but I really wanted to read it, having heard good things about it, and also because of the forthcoming film. I was curious to see how mathematical it was, but was relieved that the explanations of any esoteric concepts were thoroughly clear, even to a bear of very little brain. In fact, the writing was spacious and well thought out, with the feeling of every word having been carefully chosen to portray the scenes in an exact way. The reader is shown everything, but from an interesting angle that conceals the truth even if you are looking directly at it. I would be interested to read the original text, though this might have to wait for a while (Spanish isn't quite next on my list...).

It was nice to read a murder mystery without the violence with which stories of this genre are so often imbued. This was achieved without any loss to the story, and made it easier to suspect pretty much all of the characters. For several chapters I suspected every character in turn, and it was all plausible, so I was pleasantly surprised at the denouement to find that I was totally wrong. I love it when a mystery is cleverer than me!

Monday, 21 May 2007

Rosetta - Barbara Ewing

Egypt has always fascinated me, from the history, culture and architecture to 'Death on the Nile', so I'm a sucker for any books with a vague connection to all things Egyptian. I watched the BBC 'Egypt' series avidly, and loved the story of the race to translate the hieroglyphics using the Rosetta stone, with Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young (amongst others) competing to win the intellectual race of the age. The protagonist and narrator of this book, Rosetta (usually known as Rose), is also fascinated with Egypt, and listens enthralled to her father's tales of the town after which she is named. With the discovery of the Rosetta stone and its subsequent fall into English hands, Rose's other obsession, words, could have lead her towards the struggle to understand the ancient markings. Unfortunately, when she does go to Egypt it is to rescue her dead husband's illegitimate child, and she leaves almost as soon as she arrives. The rest of the story is rather disappointing, with Rose struggling to keep the child from her in-laws, and generally being a bit of a martyr about the whole thing.

My overall impression was that Barbara Ewing started off wanting to write an intellectual historical novel, with adventures in Egypt and insight into the discoveries of the day, but halfway through realised that it was easier to write a historical romance. I think I was disappointed because I was expecting the former, whereas if it had been packaged as the latter I would have read it with slightly different eyes and thoroughly enjoyed it. My brother experienced a similar thing when watching 'Gosford Park' - he expected it to be a detective story starring Stephen Fry, so wasn't impressed with the atmospheric portrayal of the upstairs-downstairs shenanigans of the Thirties. Now I know how he felt.

Coincidental Malacology

I'm partial to a good coincidence, and I experienced a particularly odd one last Wednesday. I had never come across the word 'malacology' (the study of molluscs) before, but it came up the new Kathy Reichs book ('Break No Bones') due to a crucial piece of evidence in the shape of a snail shell. On my long journey down from Manchester to Sussex, I finished 'Break No Bones', and moved onto 'The Single Helix' by Steve Jones. When reading his introduction, I was intrigued to find that he had started career as a malacologist. What were the chances...

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Dream squared

The other day, to my horror, I dreamt about work. Fortunately, though the dream was set at work, I didn't have to do any. In fact, there was almost an atmosphere of adventure throughout, though with an edge of surrealism thrown in. I dreamt that for some reason everyone had to spend the night in the office, and we were provided with camp beds and sleeping bags to put up under our desks while one of the Big Cheeses made us all cocoa (how terribly Famous Five of me - in real life I haven't drunk cocoa or any form of hot chocolate since a rather unfortunate incident involving food poisoning [Bleurgh]). In the dream, we all curled up on our camp beds and went to sleep, and I somehow managed to dream that I was both asleep and dreaming. My dream within a dream involved my colleague George (-ina, though no-one calls her that...) - we were in a bar and bored with our usual round of gin and tonics so decided to create a new drink, the Ginger Tonic, by adding ginger ale to the concoction. Just before I tried this interesting dream drink, I dreamt I was woken up by a colleague (back in the original, camping-at-the-office dream) who needed me for an Abstract Emergency (abstract as in short summary text to be submitted to a conference, not an emergency that was somehow detached from reality, though that would fit with the dream!). I'm not sure what this says about my sleeping brain, but on the whole it doesn't fill me with confidence...

Monday, 14 May 2007

Death at La Fenice - Donna Leon

I've always loved a good detective story, right from when the Famous Five or Nancy Drew were my investigators of choice, through Agatha Christie, Elizabeths George and Peters, Val McDermid, and Ruth Rendell, so the discovery of a new series is always exciting. I'd been meaning to sample some of Donna Leon's oeuvre for a while, but as the perfectionist I am, wanted to start at the very beginning (where else is there to start?!) and being lazy too, if it wasn't in Waterstones on the day I happened to think of it, I wasn't going to find it. Anyway, when I spotted it on the shelf as part of a 3-for-2 last week, I was rather pleased.

Being something of an Italianophile, the Venetian setting was lovely, and finding little chunks of Italian customs or intriguing bits of vocab liberally scattered though the pages was very interesting. I scampered through it at breakneck speed, and enjoyed the plot, but with mixed feelings. You see, I worked out not only who did it but why, and though there was an extra mini-twist it did only confirm my suppositions rather than turn them on their head. When reading detective fiction I always try to work it out, but seldom succeed, so when I finally did, it was a bit of a let down. Surely the author is supposed to know more/be cleverer than me?! On the other hand, this book is 15 years old (though my favourite Agatha Christies are four or five times that...) and it's the first in the series. Maybe with 'Death in a Strange Country' she will outwit me, though this will have to wait until I find it.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss

When reading this, I had a funny feeling I had read it before. I knew I hadn't, but I couldn't shake the sense of recognition. Thinking about the story I realised there were marked similarities between 'The History of Love' and 'Everything is Illuminated' by Jonathan Safran Foer. Master-wordsmith Jewish wartime protagonists create masterpieces for their lost loves, youthful present-day Americans try to trace the story and find themselves along the way. The main difference between them is that 'Everything is Illuminated' plays it for laughs, while the sombre, eccentric prose of 'The History of Love' nearly made me give up halfway through, something I never do. I'm glad I didn't though, as the coagulation of all the streams of consciousness in the final third of the book is spine-chilling and beautiful. You can tell there are going to be connections, and some of them are visible a mile off, but when they do all crystallise and Alma and Leo finally meet I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

When I finished reading I looked up the author, Nicole Krauss, on Wikipedia. Guess who she's married to - Jonathan Safran Foer. It almost feels as though they came up with a concept together, and then didn't talk about it until they had each finished their vastly different take on it.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Edward Albee

The things people will do and say when driven by resentment and suspicion are captured in a concentrated form in this play. The fear of the unknown coupled with the loathing of the familiar drive four people to take ever increasing chunks out of each other, albeit very eloquently. Secrets are spilt as readily as the booze, and no insult stays unsaid, in the escalating conflict between husbands and wives until the climactic realisation that no matter what they've said and done up till now, their only chance of happiness lies with each other.

The production at the Royal Exchange was buoyed up by the sitting-room feel of the cosy little theatre - it was almost as though you were reclining on another sofa just across the room, about to start spitting your own venom rather than separated from the action by an obvious stage/audience divide. While occasional jarring accents brought me down to earth (the American 'r' can be tricky, even for actors of this calibre), the performances were fluent and engaging, the comedy perfectly timed, and the tension palpable. It also left me with a vague feeling I should be nicer to people...

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The Nautical Chart - Arturo Perez-Reverte

It's always intriguing to read a book where you find none of the characters appealing. I could understand their motivations, empathised when they came up against (frequent) obstacles, and found the resolution satisfying - the best man won. However, they were all as bad as each other in so many ways that the journeys they each took were much more an impetus to continue reading than just wanting to know what happened to them. Tanger, so secretive and seemingly perfect (at least in the eyes of the hero, Manuel Coy), is cold and materialistic to a fault. Her fears of dying alone come across as the construction they turn out to be, reeling Coy in closer to her, ensuring his continued efforts will lead her towards her hidden goal. On the other hand, Coy opens up his life to pretty much anyone who notices him, and it also isn't that appealing. His propensity to violence, his hopeless devotion to Tanger, his lack of control all add up to someone you watch through your fingers, waiting for the next catastrophe to envelope him.

Be that as it may, this brine-drenched yarn of pirates, Jesuits and old sea-dogs lures you in. You know there will be treasure and hurricanes aplenty, and it does not disappoint. The plot and the secrets of the deep keep you reading, not the characters, but this doesn't mean it's not enjoyable, or that the characters are 2D. This is a complex story in places, with seventeenth century politics rearing their ugly head on occasion, but the thrill of the chase and the tang of the sea keep you whipping through the pages until the shock of the climax.

Friday, 30 March 2007

The Observations - Jane Harris

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this, having just realised it wasn't the new Joanne Harris, as I had thought in the bookshop (oops). However, the nineteenth century ambience and the quirky narrative of Bessy the maid/child prostitute was thoroughly engaging. When the 'supernatural' aspect of the story kicked in I was reminded of the non-ghost story that is 'Northanger Abbey', with rational explanations obvious only to those who wish to see them. Bessy's rather odd mistress ('marm') and her spiralling insanity keep the story rattling along, as the tricks Bessy plays get rather out of hand leading to a shock as her past meets her present.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The Flanders Panel - Arturo Perez-Reverte

I read this a few years ago, lent it to a friend then forgot all about it. When it was conscientiously returned to me, I couldn't not re-read it. When I started, I couldn't remember whodunit, but as I turned the pages, it all came flooding back to me. This wasn't really a problem; I don't mind knowing what happens because I read books or watch films more to see how it happens (I don't much like surprises...).

The layers of the story draw you in, but I found the 15th century mystery more compelling than the modern detective work. It was also slightly disappointing that the modern crime was not connected to the past events, except as an instigator. The flashbacks to Roger de Arras and Beatrice of Burgundy are beautifully constructed ethereal passages, portraying the distant beginnings of this mystery and the cast who played the key roles. It does seem a shame that the modern group appear more constructed and somewhat stereotypical (the louche homosexual antique dealer, the thrill-seeking aging gallery owner, the introverted chess master and the strong yet vulnerable woman they gather around). The denouement therefore, is less shocking than it should be, and the betrayal involved more of a disappointment than anything else. That said, the story is engaging enough for me to wish I could read the original, but unfortunately my Spanish isn't up to that.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Becoming Jane

With an interesting concept, accomplished cast and a fond public on its side, 'Becoming Jane' was always going to be relatively well-received. Anne Hathaway convincingly brings alive the frustrated author, torn between duty, passion and her conviction that works written by men and women have equal validity and promise. The 'Pride and Prejudice'-like romance between Austen and Tom Lefroy seems to jerk from antipathy to true love, creating a paradox due to the film's lack of pace in other aspects of the story. This may reflect the lack of historical background material regarding the supposed courtship and love affair, though it does create the effect of a slightly awkward gear change half-way through the film.

Visually, the eighteenth century comes alive, and the slow unfurling of the story may be considered atmospheric, particularly the opening soundless sequence. However, it really needed either more atmosphere or more substance to utterly convince, instead the result is an uneasy mix of conventional love story and stylistic imagery. The questions surrounding Austen's life and love that 'Becoming Jane' tries to answer are indeed intriguing, and for that reason I would say it is worth watching. Unfortunately though, it falls short of 'Shakespeare in Love'.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


I saw the Vortex last week, starring Will Young. It's an intriguing play, where very little actually happens, with the emotional journey taken by the characters very much a consequence of their feelings rather than events.

The first act was certainly weak in places, though this probably was at least partly due to an understudy taking the part of Bunty, which must have affected the energy and chemistry somewhat. Will Young fit the character of Nicky well, but his piano-playing did rather let him down. He plonked away rather unconvincingly for someone who supposedly loved playing the piano more than interacting with people. The gramophone on stage did help cover this sad lack, and the high camp staging encapsulated the era portrayed. The kiss between Bunty and Tom (the only major occurrence of the play), moved the play into a higher gear, both in terms of the drama and the performances given. Enjoyable, if rather fluffy, and visually splendid.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Addiction to paper

I am afflicted by a strange attraction. Paper. I look old books, new books, notebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks, cloth-bound, leather-bound, recycled, and shiny white. Surrounding myself with paper is akin to surrounding myself with possibilities and opportunities. What will I do with it all? What will I learn as I fill or read those pages? Which pen will I choose? Comforting questions.

Paperchase, Waterstones and Amazon are filled with wonders for me, but places I must avoid until payday. Until then, I make do with the paperless pages of Wikipedia and Blogger.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Italian verbs

I like Italian verbs. They're much friendlier than French ones. OK, so I've only actually attempted 3 tenses, and only one of these (the present) in detail, but so far, so good. Some of them are actually fun. Is it worrying that my favourite verb so far (due to its long line of vowels I hasten to add) is morire? I also love 'rimango', but i think that's mainly because of the happy fruity thoughts it inspires. Mmm, mango...

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

The mystery of the haunted tap

The hot tap in the kitchen of my office is haunted. I'm not sure who/what by, but after washing up my dirties (when not at home, am terribly domesticated...) it drips. A lot. But as soon as I raise my hand to tighten the tap, it mysteriously stops.

As I scientist, I've tried to test this hypothesis of course, but without a control hot tap (the cold tap is plumbed to a different system and has a different mechanism so could not really be called a control) this hasn't worked so well. I have attempted to catch it out, by leaving the kitchen with it still dripping then rushing back in, but it manages to stop dripping at the exact moment my hand reaches out to it every time. Is it watching me? How is it watching me? Why is it doing this? I guess it is quite boring being a tap, but that is no excuse. I shall have to perform an exorcism, though not sure how I'll explain that to whoever pops in to do the tea-round mid-ceremony...

Imp of Fun

So, you know you've seen too many adverts on TV when that's the form your dreams take, and that you've played too many online games when that is what your dream-advert is about...

In my dream was a simple game, though I have no idea if it exists or even if it would work. A grid of squares, all grey except for one white, nearly filled the screen of the TV in my mind. To play this dream-game, you clicked on a square adjacent to the white one, which turned this square and the three adjacent to it white. The aim of the game was to turn as many squares white as possible, which was dependent on the strategy you used. In that handy dream way, I understood all this as though it was something familiar. I also knew that the game was on the website for the Independent newspaper (this is odd as I don't read the Independent, or use its website - I'm a Guardian girl through and through!).

Once the game was on the screen, the voice-over started. David Mitchell's mellifluous tones decreed:

"You know you like fun. You like fun so much it's as though the Imp of Fun has grabbed you by the shoulders and given you a damn good shake! When you realise we can give you twice as much fun you will..."

And then I woke up. I love that my unconscious mind came up with the 'Imp of Fun' (or has it occurred elsewhere? Does it scamper through reality causing hilarity where'ere it skips?). Unfortunately, I am still rather curious about what we will do when we realise the Independent website and David Mitchell can give us twice as much fun!!!

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Comfort books

When it all gets too much, the world's getting me down or there's so much to do it feels like no space left in my head, I still have to read. Nothing can make me stop. Ever. I do have a set of books that I go back to again and again, usually in times of trouble. I know them so well my brain goes into auto-pilot and I just enjoy the rhythms of the familiar phrases and let it flow over me until the world (or whatever it is that's bugging me) goes away...

'Welcome to Temptation' - Jennifer Crusie
Pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett
Again, anything by Douglas Adams
'Gloria' - Keith Maillard
The Kate Brannigan series by Val McDermid
'Cold Comfort Farm' - Stella Gibbons

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