I got to know about Matt Haig first on Twitter. I gathered he was famous (mostly) for a book called Reasons to Stay Alive. It gets praised all over the place and seems to have helped a lot of people. He talks a lot on Twitter about his own fragile mental health and I've found him to be witty, humane, and tough. I'll admit I hadn't read Reasons to Stay Alive - yet - despite the usual intentions.
His tweets recently included a lot of book launch stuff on his new release, How to Stop Time. I knew that it was a Big Book, getting lots of attention and again I planned to check it out. Then, mirabile dictu, it came to me and it can come to you too.
If you have been here before you know I lurk around BBC Radio as much as possible. I was very pleased to find last week that How to Stop Time been serialized for the Radio 4 series, Book at Bedtime. Here's a link to the web page where you can find it, at least for the next little while.
While we're on the subject, Book at Bedtime is just one chest of BBC riches that US listeners can now plunder, for free. There is sooo much more. If you get the BBC iPlayer app for your smartphone, they will all be laid out there before you and you need never be bored again.
But back to the book. This BBC version is abridged so you'll probably still want to buy a kindle version or a hard copy, but its a fine production of a wonderful story. I won't spoil the fun, but our hero is a man with a rare condition that has him aging at about one tenth the speed of the rest of us. The premise of the book is that these rare people have always been among us but hidden for their own protection.
It's been a long time since I came across a writer that pleased me so well. I think David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame was the last discovery that had me chattering away like this. So, you're welcome. Happy New Year. Thanks for stopping by.
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
|"Tandenbaum" by Juan Wijngaard (cover artist of Up, Back, and Away)|
Wishing you all some leisure time for old fashioned e-reading this season, because uou can't spell "kind" without "kindle."
Sunday, December 10, 2017
|Yes, we had a little viewing party at my house on Friday night...|
The second season dropped on Friday, December 8 here in the US and, this being Sunday, December 10, I have managed to get nine of the 10 episodes under my belt. I was working on number 10, from a spot on my carpet last night (having gotten a backache from so much couch sitting), when sleep overtook me. I succumbed as the Profumo Affair was raging. I'll be back before the end of the day to find out how it all ended.
If you don't know about "The Crown" you're in for a treat. If you have Netflix and haven't made it there yet, go! If you don't have Netflix, "The Crown" makes it worth subscribing.
It was reportedly the most expensive television production in English history and every penny shows up on the screen. The acting is brilliant - and not just from the stars. Claire Foy as Elizabeth 2nd is, well, words fail. She's brilliant, as is the rest of cast (I have a soft spot for Eileen Atkins as the Queen's Grandma, Mary). But not a footman or a sailor or man-in-crowd-12 is out of place. The production values are as stellar as the actors.
I'll say that I don't think this second series has quite the interest of the first which is something to do with a falling off in world and personal events for the family in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the series is set, and something to do with choices made by the writers and producers.
The first three episodes, a full 30 percent of the series, focus on a five-month trip by Prince Philip to the far corners of the Commonwealth: a protracted sea-going stag party that tested the royal marriage to its limits, as per the producers. There are longueurs here that the first series never presented. The same is true of the Princess Margaret's dangerous liaison with the photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones, who became her husband and Lord Snowden. (A disaster in the making as we see at its making). But these are my only cavils. The best episode is number 6 - which brings back some erstwhile hidden history of World War II and so Winston Churchill and the old King George and the tragic King Edward, of abdication-for-love fame. (Alex Jennings as the reduced former king, dressing for costume parties, taking birthday photos of his dog, playing bridge in exile, is brilliant). The failed king is revealed to be not just self-regarding twit but an actual villain and the story gives Foy and Jennings and the writers a chance to present inner and outer turmoil beautifully.
Episode six also dares to tread into Queen Elizabeth's religious faith. She was, if the series is to be believed, quite taken by the American evangelist Billy Graham who visited England at the time of her uncle's visit. I have long had the sense that the Queen has survived and managed and coped all these years because she is at her core a sincere religious believer. (Not much of an insight, I'll grant you but no one ever seems to come out and say this). There's a brilliant scene where the Queen is listening to the Rev. Graham preaching in the private chapel of the family. She is rapt. Philip and the Queen Mother look on, partly bemused, partly concerned.
If you want to read a proper review, The Atlantic has a good one. As for me, I'm off to church this Sunday morning... and then to find out just how the Profumo Affair ended.
IN OTHER NEWS
Since Christmas is coming, another e-book promotion is on the way for the US and the UK. Watch this space.
I have also had some kind inquiries recently about a sequel to Up, Back, and Away. The Muse dragged me off that broad highway months ago and into a strange corner where I have been writing a children's book inspired by images from the digital images collection of the New York Public Library. Once that is out of my system, I'm hoping to get back to the sequel.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
If you bought a copy of the e-book during the sale last week. It's always fun to watch the book climb the charts. I hope you'll like it. It's been great to hear from those who want a sequel. I want one too. I have a little project going that has morphed into a larger one and then, I hope, back to work on the sequel. (I have the usual excuses - mostly it's down to having to go to a day job every day). In the meantime the paperback giveaway is still happening on Goodreads for another week or so. If you want to get in with a chance have a click. Thanks again.
|What lies beyond? I went through this gate once and found a lovely place. A metaphor for life itself?|
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
|It's still summertime, and the living remains easy|
In the UK if you can find 99 pence somewhere in your budget, you can have a lovely new Kindle book to read in your leisure hours.
In the US the deal is slightly better at 99 cents. Just a click - and parting with less than the price of a bag of snack size chips which wouldn't be good for you anyway.
The deal is counting down and ends Sept. 4, along with summer.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
A reader's attention has become a precious and rare thing - I know mine is hard to get. If you have some to give now, thank you. Here's a work in progress for your consideration: Chapter One of the new story I've been working on for some months (and which will require months more). I'm at the point where I'd like some idea how it strikes others. If you have comments, please share.
by the way, is what everyone called him because that’s what “Renard” means in
French. No one in Val des Mines would have called him “Jean-Renard De la Tour”
even if they knew that’s how his name had been recorded in the civil register. His
full name was far too grand for such an inconsequential speck, and then there
was the other problem, regarding his parentage.
When Fox Was Five
Jean-Renard De la Tour started life with two big problems, possibly three depending on how you count his Grand’Mere. The first was the time in which he was born: 1873. The second was the place: a blighted little backwater village in France called Val des Mines.
Of course to be born in Val des Mines was a handicap even for its most fortunate sons (which were not many), but Fox’s circumstances were particularly grim. Regarding Grand’Mere, more in a minute.
|Fox at Five|
Those Val des Minians who bothered to speculate about Fox’s father said that Coco De la Tour was surely the guilty party. However, since Coco was the youngest son of the Royal Prosecutor in the district they didn’t say this too loudly. Naturally, the De la Tour family had not dignified these rumors with any acknowledgement. Neither had they bothered with a denial. There really wasn’t any need as everybody in Val des Mines quite properly (as they thought), blamed the situation entirely on Jeanne, Fox’s young mother.
In any case, even if Coco had been willing to admit his part in producing little Fox, even if he claimed him outright, the boy would never be recognized as a true De la Tour. This is because Jeanne and Coco had never been married. The very idea of such a union was ridiculous. Jeanne was a barefoot girl who sold geese and things that could be made of geese in the market. Coco was a De la Tour.
It’s almost impossible to imagine today what a calamity this husbandless status was for Jeanne and this fatherless status was for Fox. Grand’Mere said frequently - and loudly - that both would have been better off dead. The people of Val des Mines did not like Grand’Mere, but they generally agreed with her on this point. Like every other rural village the world over, then and since, there were many mouths in Val des Mines to talk, and very few heads to think.
You might be thinking, however, that at least poor Fox had Jeanne and vice versa – and you’d be right - but also wrong.
When Fox was five, Jeanne stepped on a wooden board that had been dislodged from above the doorframe of the stable of their little farm. The board had a nail in it that had been hammered into place in the year 1528. Jeanne was barefoot. She had spent her whole life, short as it was, trailing along barefoot after the geese. This had made her feet hard as leather, but that rusty iron nail - with its load of bacteria from more than three hundred and fifty years of farmyard existence - punctured soft spot on the arch of her right foot. It poisoned her blood. It locked her jaw. In three weeks she was dead.
So, having started life as a despised, illegitimate child, poor little Fox managed to drop another rung down the ladder of misfortune to being an orphaned, despised, illegitimate child. Worse, he was then left in the sole care of Grand’Mere.
Fox had no real notion of what he had lost by not having a father, never having laid eyes on Coco himself. (Coco had married a wealthy Italian widow a few weeks before Fox’s arrival and had promptly moved to her home in Venice). The boy understood, however, or at least he felt, the full, crushing disaster of his mother’s death. Fox spent the first days after Jeanne’s bewildering disappearance hiding in her bed – seeking her lost warmth, breathing the smell of her on the pillows.
You will not be surprised to hear that Fox soon became ill himself, deathly ill. There are germs that know how to exploit bewilderment, that can creep in via a broken heart. On the third night of his illness his fever was so high it seemed to Grand’Mere that the bedclothes might burst into flame. On that night she was afraid. Not so much for Fox, but for herself. There might be trouble, she thought, if she didn’t fetch a doctor and the boy, you know, died.
She held her nerve, however. The thought of the Doctors high fees put some starch in her spine. Also, she thought, truth be told, it would be a blessing for her and, really, for Fox as well, if he were to exit the scene at this point. So many problems would be solved! A plan she had been hatching for years, many years, was coming close to execution and Fox was wrinkle in that plan. It would be fair, given the disappointments she’d known and the fate she had suffered, to be given a clean slate. She could do what she wanted with what sliver of life remained to her now, without a brat in tow, bleeding her dry.
And then, leaving herself aside, she would be doing him a favor to let him slip away. What future was there for such a one? She would be blameless - nature taking its course and all. She could tell the doctor his illness had been sudden, which was not altogether untrue... She got back to sleep that night by mentally rehearsing the story she would tell the doctor the next day.
When the next morning broke Grand’Mere rose quietly and crept across the room of their cottage. Was he breathing? She pulled the tangled covers back from his little body with a trembling hand. She nearly jumped out of her skin when he rolled over. He sat up. He blinked at her, wordlessly. It was as though a bony finger had tapped her heart and turned it to stone. She gasped. She stared at him. He stared back.
She saw that he was changed. He had a new, peculiar beauty in his baby face. She could not read his expression and this unsettled her. His continued existence was going to be a problem, an expensive one, no doubt. This made her angry. Anger brought the pulse back to her temples. She shouted at him to get up and fetch the water.
He did not stir. It was as though he had not heard. He only stared at her some more, blinking. She grabbed the bucket from the table and shoved the rope handle into his little hand. He tried to grasp it but he couldn’t get his swollen fingers to close. His hands looked just like two balloons. She clouted the side of his head. He opened his mouth as if to say something. Only a strangled grunt emerged.
Grand’Mere shouted at him again to fetch the water, but he did not react. She stepped back and considered.
He had gone deaf with the fever, she reasoned. He had gone mute. She had heard of such things. At five years of age, it seemed Fox’s catalog of misfortune was complete.
Grand’Mere picked up the bucket again and forcibly closed Fox’s stiff fingers around the handle. He managed, only just, to keep hold of it. She mimed pumping. Fox understood. Water fetching had been his job since his mother’s death. Barefoot and in his nightshirt he took the bucket to the pump in front of the stable from which the fatal board had dropped. He set it down beneath the spigot and pumped the handle. When the water started flowing he marveled at its soundless fall into the wooden bucket. He pumped and pumped until the bucket overflowed and pooled around his feet. He ran the cold water over his swollen hands, which seemed to deflate a little with the exercise and cold water. He might have gone on like this all day but as the water neared his ankles he heard a raspy voice say, “You’re getting your feet wet. That can’t be good for you, in your condition.”
Fox looked up. There was no one near. He scanned the farmyard. Nothing. He was about to return to pumping, when he caught a movement at the edge of his vision. There, in an old oak tree on the far side of the cottage, on long leafless branch, low down on the tree, stood a large crow. It was not unusual to see crows in that oak. They were always there. In fact, the “crow oak” had given the cottage an evil reputation in the neighborhood. This Crow, however, was very odd. It was quite large for one thing, and unusually ragged. It was also paying close attention to Fox. The boy and the bird locked eyes. The crow flapped its wings.
“So it has transpired. Mon Dieu,” the bird said, though there was no motion of its beak.
Fox rubbed his eyes and looked again.
“Yes. It’s me!” the bird said in the same mysterious fashion. It spoke in the voice of an old man with a strange accent. It’s unreadable, birdy expression did not change. Fox tried to say, “But you’re a bird. Birds don’t speak.” He opened his mouth, but again no intelligible sound came out. Nevertheless, the bird answered him.
“Of course we speak! It’s true we don’t usually speak to people, but you, little Fox, are a special case. Mon Dieu, it has come to pass. I suppose we must begin. Where to begin. Why don’t you step out of that puddle, Fox.”
Fox tried to say, “But crows don’t speak words – you just say, “Crôa Crôa Crôa” (which is French for, ‘caw caw caw’). Just as he formed this thought, one to which he found he could not give voice, the bird swooped down off the branch and landed on the ground at Fox’s feet.
“Just because that’s all you’ve ever heard crows say doesn’t mean that’s all we can say.” The bird shook his black head. “Humans. Always going wrong in the same way.”
“Pardon me, Monsieur Crow,” Fox tried to say, more politely this time.
“Never mind that,” the bird said. “It’s of no consequence. Just try to remember. You don’t need to bother with that kind of vulgar throat talking now. I can hear your thoughts, at least when they are directed at me. If you go around mumming like that people will avoid you more than they already do.”
“Yes, Monsieur Crow,” Fox thought.
“Very good” said the Crow. “Now, let me say that I am pleased to meet you and allow me introduce myself. I am Doctor Davies.”
“Pleased to meet you Monsieur le Docteur.” Fox said, remembering not to try to say it aloud.
“Excellent. You catch on quickly. That will be helpful. We have work to do and not so much time to do it.” The Crow hopped a little closer. “We are going to help you, Fox. We are going to help you turn things around. At least that is our plan. Well, strictly speaking it is my plan but the others will come along.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Fox said, looking around, “who are you talking about? There is only me and Grand’Mere here.”
“No, you are most definitely not the only ones here. Now, take that bucket into the Spider - that is how we call the old woman. You don’t mind do you?”
“Carrying the bucket in or calling Grand’Mere, ‘Spider?’”
“Both I suppose.”
Fox shook his head “no.”
“Good. Now take the bucket inside and get something to eat from the Spider if you can. Then get a blanket and come meet me in the stable. I shall introduce you, properly at last, to your friends, and you shall find out from whence you came and where, I hope, you are going.”
Sunday, August 6, 2017
|Some might say "chocolate box" but I say "beauty."|
Sorry I've been away. I have been working and writing and will have more to say about that soon (I just stopped myself from writing "anon" instead of "soon" - you're welcome).
I've been meaning to stop by here for weeks to tell you about a must-visit place that I finally visited this summer: The Yale Center for British Art.
I bought a poster at auction years ago of a grave rubbing of a medieval knight. This poster, which came from the museum and so has "YALE CENTER FOR BRITISH ART" emblazoned along the bottom, has been hanging in my dining room for years. After staring at "YALE CENTER FOR BRITISH ART"over uncounted plates of spaghetti, tacos, etc. for five years I finally Googled it last year. I have wanted to go ever since.
Wel, I went last month, at last and, friends, it is gorgeous.
Well, after a fashion. The building is a modernist icon by the famous architect Louis I. Kahn. This is code for "it's an ugly cube."
|Have a seat! I did. Note Turners in the background...|
|Is there a deeper meaning to this particular grouping?|
|English people love dogs|
The floors are (mostly) carpeted, which much improved my stamina. What is it that makes museums so exhausting? I've decided hard floors have something to do with it.
And what a collection! Here's the logline from the website:
The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. Presented to the university by Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), the collection reflects the development of British art and culture from the Elizabethan period onward.
|Lots of dogs, if you look|
I live nearly five hours from New Haven. I couldn't find one friend or family member who was up for the trip. I went by myself. About three hours in, as the Connecticut traffic mayhem surrounded me, I thought I had made a mistake.
|Here's another one!|
|And another! Did I mention horses? Lots of those too.|
The writing that has taken my energy lately is a story inspired by other art made available to the public by the New York Public Library. Watch this space! In the meantime, I hope some of you will head to New Haven and let me know what you think of this beautiful temple to the best things in life. Ta for now.