Archive for July, 2009

Thought for today

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I’ve just come across a Portuguese proverb that says:

“You have only five true friends. The rest is landscape.”

Hmm. I’ve started counting …

Without stories

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Something Philip Pullman said that I really like, especially today when I am struggling to reconstruct a new one of my own -

“After nourishment and shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. Without stories we wouldn’t be human beings.”

Do you like reading or do you like books?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

There’s a very interesting article in a recent issue of ‘The Chronicle Review’. In it, Ann Kirschner compares the experience of reading ‘Little Dorrit’ in her old paperback edition; in an audiobook edition on her iPhone; on a Kindle eReader; and in an electronic text version on her iPhone. If you’re as interested in this as I am you should read the whole thing (Reading Dickens Four Ways) but I can skip to the chase for you now and tell you the Kindle didn’t win – the iPhone did, although the audiobook version scored highly because of its versatility in reading situations (you can listen while walking around/driving/applying makeup/cooking/in the dentist’s chair).

Ann Kirschner’s friends derided her experiment and her conclusions; the worst accusation being that she wasn’t a serious reader. “Not guilty!” she responds. “I love books as much as anybody. But I love reading more. It is the sustained and individual encounter with ideas and stories that is so bewitching. If new formats allow us to have more of these, let us welcome and learn from them.”

I’m especially interested to hear how much she disliked the Kindle – due to launch in the UK later this summer. From what she says it’s not as good as the Sony eReader – and nowhere near as good as the iPhone. Maybe we should all just hang about waiting for the Apple Tablet to emerge from rumour into reality – but in the meantime I’m getting more and more used to using the eReader. I still use it only for typescripts at present, but the next time I make a long journey I’ll be very tempted to discover what’s available to download. Especially since Sony are releasing a Mac version of the eReader software soon.

So I’d say I like reading AND I like books. I’m surrounded by books most of the time: I write ‘em, read ‘em, love the smell and the feel of ‘em. But I also love the versatility of different formats and I’m excited by the available choices. So I guess that if I ever HAVE to get off the fence, I’m more of a reader than a bibliophile. At least, that is, until I take another glance at my bookshelves …

Writing’s a really strange thing

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Here’s part of what Alice Munro said when she won the International Booker prize:-


“Writing is a really strange thing. Say you begin when you’re seven years old, walking round and round in the yard outside your house – you would call it a garden – trying to think up a new ending, a salvation for The Little Mermaid. As it happens, Andersen already had a wonderful ending in place, but it’s too unbearable, you have to keep her from being changed to foam on the sea. The pursuit of the happy ending. You can’t live until you’ve got it in place.

Then seventy years later, you’ve still got life up for translation. The happy ending has been discarded, but you’re still at work – meaning is what you’re after, resonance, some strange beauty on the shimmer of the sea that was the Little Mermaid and her deathless lover.

You’re always fooling around with what you find, not so much interested in its usefulness as in transformation and revelation. Then, suddenly it’s amazing when someone says you were on the right track. They give you a prize and everyone from your life looks up, startled!”

I love that. Thanks, Ms Munro.

Well, who’d have thunk it?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009


I have become an eReader fan. I didn’t expect to be one, and I’m still a bit surprised about it – but I like my new acquisition a lot for a whole lot of reasons.

This all started a year ago, when a literary agent friend told me how easy it made reading typescripts. Her submission guidelines specify only electronic submissions, which she first checks on her computer and then downloads anything she wants to consider further on to her eReader. She can read those anywhere – in the office, at home, on the bus – without having to lug around heavy, slippery piles of paper.

And I have a part-time job reading unsolicited material for a literary agent, a job that’s not only recently become more demanding of time but also uses lots of people’s energy in remarkably inefficient ways: sorting, opening and logging hundreds of submissions a week, and storing and accessing heavy boxes and baskets full of these. I need to carry the ones I want to spend more time considering back and forth between the office and home … and then there’s the writing, printing and mailing of replies.

So after a lot of discussion we’ve just begun to encourage electronic submissions. It’s great! I’ve even discovered how to load typescripts from my home Apple Mac into a Sony eReader (they’re not compatible) and already it’s saving lots of everyone’s time.

I am going to take the eReader a step further at some future stage, and load it with books to read for pleasure. For long plane journeys it’d be great – the only present drawback would be what’s available electronically, but you have to hope the range will improve.

My advice if you’re considering this yourself: DO get the original eReader (PRS 505) and not the newer version, which has a weird shimmer on the screen. There are several patches you can download for Mac compatibility, although I haven’t yet tried that route. And I can’t compare the eReader to the Kindle because the latter’s not yet available in the UK, but so far with what I have, so terrific.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four …

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009


And here they are – the very first potatoes we’ve ever planted ourselves. It’s delightful to see them and also a considerable relief, because I thought that there wouldn’t be anything there when we dug the plants up. That’s not only because in times of trial I tend to fear the worst (Chicken Little is my alter ego); it’s also because the plants started off well, but then something ate the leaves to shreds in a sort of broderie anglais pattern. And although the books said that didn’t matter, you have to wonder – how could it not matter? And then all the plants died back without having flowered and I worried all over again; I didn’t even want to dig up one of them last weekend and learn what had happened, because I’d be miserable when I discovered disaster.

And there wasn’t a disaster after all! We’ve only dug up one plant so far but look! Three lovely ones, plus two tinies we’ve put on the compost heap and another big one that the slugs got to before we did.

Potato salad, here we come.

Five potato, six potato, seven potato more …