What’s the Writer Reading?

cat and booksA relaxing afternoon (especially with rain outdoors, and a fire within) should include both books and cat – though cat needs to understand that book doesn’t equal cushion, neither can book be read through furry bulk on lap, nor is cat a great bookmark.

So, a typical early afternoon in the living room: cat with books.  (If you read right to left, or are more book-ish than cat-lover-ish, books with cat.)

When I first began writing fiction seriously, I said, I never read while I ‘m writing. Except facts, for research … Once I’d found my voice, it still felt too delicate a thing, and that like a person living in another country, I’d find myself imitating, without intent, other writer’s literary accents.

books 3So I read only sociology, lifestyle, stuff about in vitro fertilisation and its history: amassing fascinating facts that now appear as a one-liner, a phrase, or simply a walk-on part, a hidden property, the leaves inside the on-stage teapot. Here are some: The Second Creation is probably where Baby, Baby was conceived,  in its present published form – that’s another story.


Can’t keep a fiction addict away for too  long:  as BB was going into edits and re-writes, I began reading these: most of them stories of cultural clashes and alienation, from a traditional cultural heritage or by living in,  fleeing to, or studying in, another country.books 4

The clash and/or compromise of old and new cultures, the problems of living as an alien away from home, culture, family, and familiar landscapes, feels like it’s all around me, living in a multicultural city, and in changing times.


I especially love Kahlid Hosseini and Ahraf Soueif’s work. My favourites are A Thousand Splendid Suns, and The Map of Love. ALlhough  maybe you don’t see it in the text, as a reader, these books underlie my writing and have played a huge part in the question ‘why do I write what I do?’

So what am I reading now, after  publication of The Labyrinth Year, a second go at  gently probing the unseen and generally unwitnessed problems of the cross cultural marriage of two western undergraduates from Cambridge university? A lot of what I’ve read in the  past year has me ant exploring very different genres from these: genres I wouldn’t  necessarily walk up to and explore in a bookshop straight away. I’ve been reading around the work of fellow indie authors in the ALLi group, (Alliance of Independent Authors), that’s been almost exclusively on Kindle. So none in the pile, but I’ve read novels by Alison Morton, Orna Ross, Philppa Rees, Francis Guenette, Carol Cooper, Jane Carling, Debbie Young, Ian Sutherland, Christina Nolfi to name a few.

Print books, I’ve read or am reading an eclectic bunch, mainly on holiday or bought on holiday: here’s a pile of each. P1190214

Among the to-reads some more not-usually-read genres. We have a family thing going since Christmas: one of our sons bought a pile of books for Christmas presents, distributed them in brown paper around the family, and the idea is we each read all of them, in turn. So far I’m nearly through (and enjoying) the Tove Jansen (The Summer Book) and Capital by John Lanchester.

A Christmas present game to try?



books 1And topping the reading and to-do list, Mindfulness: the course book … while at the bottom, something which may – or may not- be helpful in writing novel no. 3.






The Kindness of Friends

Before the old blog collapsed, I was thinking about the kindness of  friends.

It all began with someone else’s blog (as it often does), posted on a Facebook site I belong to, where authors share about writing. The blog piece had all of us rather quirky writers sharing how it is for us who don’t fit the standard ‘genres’. I was still working on my Charlie Hebdo response (I may bring that over here later, or I may decide too much time has gone by and reactions have become old news).  But I think the discussion was kicked off by this  a guest post by Vivienne Tufnell on Philippa’s Rees’s blog ‘Involution’  (http://bit.ly/1DTFgfJ).

Since when the phrase The Kindness of Friends has stuck around in my head like a catchy title for Alexander McCall Smith, something to partner  The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, and The Lost Art of Gratitude. An introduction to McCall Smith’s lighthearted wisdom was the kindness of a friend during a time of loss and sadness,  and now we have a whole host of them  in our bookcase.   McCall Smith books

Without the kindness of friends, I’d probably not have moved from writing articles to writing novels: way back when a friend gave me that push of confidence, and showed real interest in what I wrote, books began appearing on my doorstep. Slightly unusual books, books which made you laugh or smile but carried deep and honest assessments of human nature and human predicaments. Books which encouraged my sort of writing, the kind I wanted to do.

Years before, the kindness of friends had assisted my flight from a perfectly frightful flat-share at Uni. Details apart, one of the horrible things was, the flat was in somebody’s attic, which three of us shared, and we had no front door. The landlady’s cats had a nasty habit of coming upstairs to poo underneath the furniture in our rooms … and once the dog came and deposited a present on one of the beds (not mine).  Friends, once they heard, came with a car (rare for students to own one back then),  we bundled my possessions into it in plastic carrier bags, paid the rent up and did a flit. That of course has nothing to do with  writing, though it may get into a story one day.

spike on bookcase
Spike files himself on the bookcase, among the research

Not that I don’t love cats: cats with clean habits and outdoor toilet ideas. Spike is a close friend: a ‘friend who sticks closer than a brother’ and  possibly has a story in him too.


j,n, & Dad
Our twins, long ago

Then there’s the kindness of friends who love to push a pram with your twins in it when they go to collect their kiddies from school: my New Zealand friend got to revisit her maternal baby-instincts and I got an hour off in the afternoon. Mummy-stuff indeed. And my more recent Hong Kong friend, who lived next door for a year with her family, and was always up for a mug of tea and a chat. The weary writer and the weary, breast-feeding mummy ‘chewing the fat’ in her rather chilly, rented house. The kindness going both ways.

So when creation’s by the mind, and the book’s our baby, is there a kindness of fellow-author ‘friends’?

Despite talk about jealousy and competitiveness of authors, about ‘trolling reviews’ on Amazon, our discussions around  reaching readers with books that defy genre-typing engendered posts written with enthusiasm and encouragement. Comparing our experiences, sharing what works.  A counterbalance to the thriller/crime/sci-fi mystery guys’n’gals whose sales top the lists. ANd followed by a rather splendid review of my first novel, Baby, Baby (Hodge 2010, available from the website (http://hodgepublishing.co.uk/home/) (or Amazon, p/b or Kindle).

Technology is neutral: how we use it is not.  The Alli site members’ group  (allianceindependentauthors.org/) proves the kindness of friends can exist across the net : sharing ideas at every level from newbies starting out to experienced authors who sell in large numbers. Even support themselves by writing. Sharing advice, frustrations, thoughts, guest posts.

Virginia Woolf 1937
Virginia Woolf 1937

(I wonder if Virginia Woolf would have lived longer if she had had a virtual band of fellow-writers displaying the kindness of  e-friends?)

A friend closer than a brother...
A friend closer than a brother…