Thursday, June 26, 2008

BAFAB Week Competition

It is Buy a Friend a Book Week again and I am offering a small prize here as a gift. The book is a recent paperback novel, gently used. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment at the end of this post before the end of Saturday 5th July (UK time). The draw will be on 6th July. If you are a blogger you don't have to link back to here to enter, but it would be much appreciated if you did. Of course you've very welcome to enter whether you blog or not!

Good luck.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ted Hughes Birth Place

The late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes was born in Mytholmroyd, near Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The Elmet Trust, named after Hughes' work The Remains of Elmet (Elmet being the name of the ancient kingdom that once spanned this part of the Pennines), is a relatively new literary society dedicated to preserving the poet's work in the context of his formative landscape.

The Elmet Trust have secured the patronage of fellow Pennine poet Simon Armitage and this weekend Armitage opened 1, Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd, Hughes' former home. The house, which is a small traditional Yorkshire stone terrace, will be let as a retreat for writers and as an occasional holiday home, in turn a useful means of raising funds for the trust. The house will be open to the public during the Hughes festival in October this year. For a new festival the Trust have gathered an impressive number of literary figures including present Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Hughes and Plath's daughter Freida who is a poet in her own right, Anne Stevenson the poet and Plath biographer, and Keith Sagar who is Hughes' bibliographer. Events planned include poetry readings and literary talks, guided walks of the landscape, a play based on Hughes' work, a children's opera based on the Iron Man and more.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CWA Shortlists Announced

Shortlists for the 2008 CWA / Duncan Lawrie Daggers have been announced by the Crime Writers' Association. The CWA have a range of awards including their prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger (previously the Gold Dagger) which with its award of £20,000 is the world's largest prize for a crime novel.

The Duncan Lawrie Dagger shortlist is dominated by the publisher Orion. You can debate the shortlist on the Duncan Lawrie Dagger forum. The line-up is as follows:

James Lee Burke The Tin Roof Blowdown Orion
Colin Cotterill Coroner's Lunch Quercus

Frances Fyfield Blood From Stone Sphere (Little, Brown)

Steve Hamilton Night Work Orion

Laura Lippman What the Dead Know Orion

RN Morris A Vengeful Longing Faber & Faber

And the run down for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger is:

Andrea Camilleri (Italy) The Patience of the Spider (Picador, Macmillan) Translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Stieg Larsson (Sweden) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (MacLehose Press, Quercus) Translated by Reg Keeland

Dominique Manotti (France) Lorraine Connection (EuroCrime, Arcadia Books) Translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz

Martin Suter (Germany) A Deal with the Devil ( EuroCrime, Arcadia Books) Translated by Peter Millar

Fred Vargas (France) This Night's Foul Work (Harvill Secker, Random House) Translated by Sîan Reynolds

If you are interested in the international award and live in the north east of England then you might be interested in the event in Newcastle where the Lit & Phil is hosting three of the translators (Ros Schwarz, Stephen Sartarelli and Peter Millar) in conversation with Ann Cleeves at 7:30pm on Tuesday 8th July.

The CWA winners will be announced at a dinner on Thursday 10th July.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Favourite authors

I’ve been tagged to answer the following questions by Catherine Hawley

1. Who’s your all-time favourite author, and why?

Probably Wilkie Collins. He was a friend of Dickens’, & was as interested in social reform as his friend was, just in different areas. He was particularly concerned about the status of women (mind you, he did maintain what the Victorians called an irregular household). His thrilling or exciting stories are neither thrilling nor exciting to modern readers, but all his books* and stories are well-written, I enjoy his use of language, and the depictions of the society of the day.

*I exclude Ioláni; or, Tahiti as it was. A Romance’, which was his first novel & never published in his lifetime (indeed, it was only published in 1999) because it wasn’t very good. I’ve tried reading it more than once, telling myself perhaps I’ll get on with it better each time, but only ever get so far.

2. Who was your first favourite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favourites?

First one I can remember (and almost certainly was the first as I used to like Noddy) was Enid Blyton. I progressed through her books up to the Famous Five, and then moved on to Malcolm Saville. My children have all read Blyton & enjoyed her, and in fact I have reread many of them as I have read them to my children (I have read the entire Five Find Outers (and Dog) series out loud to my youngest daughter and it became an awful chore). The lack of more than about three different plots make them hard going, especially when read together. My two youngest children have taken to Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine stories, they belong the the Malcolm Saville Society, and I have taken them to Rye & to Shropshire to visit some of the settings. Their enthusiasm has led me to reread the books and I must say they stand up very well; he has been criticized for his poor characterization, but I thought the children were quite well drawn (his villains are somewhat of the cardboard cut-out variety though).

As a teenager, I read all Michael Moorcock’s prolific fantasy outpourings of the late 60s & early 70s, and I still enjoy his writing – although mainly his non-fantasy stuff now, Mother London, the Pyat quartet, although I have just read The Metatemporal Detective (which is a sequence of short stories) and enjoyed it very much. My first favourite adult author would have been, I think, Mervyn Peake.

3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favourite authors, and why?

It’s a while since I’ve been able to add an author to my list of favourites – partly because I’ve not been impressed enough with the writing, partly because the majority of what I read is non-fiction. Long before the film was around I read and very much enjoyed The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez, and was very disappointed to find that at the time it was the only one of his books that had been translated into English. My eldest daughter, in all seriousness, suggested I learned Spanish in order to read the others.

4. If someone asked you who your favourite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?

Wilkie Collins, Robertson Davies, Iain Banks, Mervyn Peake, Michael Moorcock, Gladys Mitchell, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, John Buchan, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Freeman Wills Crofts, Kazuo Ishiguro, Beverley Nichols, Eden Philpotts, Emile Zola, Bill Bryson, Michael Innes, C H B Kitchin, Nikolaus Pevsner, R Austin Freeman, Iain Sinclair [the further down the list they get the more reflection was required]

And so I tag

Jane Badger and

Vanessa Robertson

Friday, June 6, 2008


On Wednesday I went to a lecture at the Royal Institution by Heston Blumenthal. I probably wouldn’t have gone except I took my wife who is a food technology teacher, although I did have a vague interest to hear him & see how he came over as a speaker. The lectures last an hour, with a half hour after for questions. Unfortunately Heston’s hour consisted of playing a recording of one of his TV programmes (the Christmas one), pausing it & commenting on it. I hadn’t seen he programme before, but even so found the whole thing a bit of a disappointment, and something of a cop-out by Blumenthal; although it was a novelty to taste frankincense I could have done with a lot more talking (his presentation lacked polish & rehearsal, too). My wife saw his main development chef talk at Reading and thought he was far better as a speaker (and probably does most of the work at the Fat Duck, too).

Far better than this was the RI lecture I went to on Monday, Feast: why humans share food by Martin Jones. Admittedly the speaker, Martin Jones, is the first George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Cambridge, and presumably has had not a little practice at lecturing, and has given this talk on earlier occasions.

The subject was why humans, unlike other mammals, use meal times as a social activity, and used various disciplines within arachaeology (including palaeoanthropology, archaeobotany, archaeogenetics, & the archaeology of food) to provide some answers and a lot more questions. He explained how, at Boxgrove, the flint scatters from knapping can be plotted in three dimensions to the extent that it can be determined where the knappers sat, how their legs were arranged and at what point they got up to stretch their legs & sat down again. The subject was brought right up to date, and was followed by an extremely interesting Q&A session - the audience for this lecture asked much more intelligent questions than at Blumenthal’s (“why can’t I get a table at the Fat Duck?” was an example there).

At last we get round to the book connection: following the talk I bought Jones’ book, also called ‘Feast: why humans share food’ (Oxford University Press); although I’ve only had time to get about a third the way through, I’m enjoying it very much too, as much as the lecture but in a different way. I find when I read a book by someone I have heard speaking I hear their voice in the text – people usually seem to write in the style in which they speak. And I’ve also bought his earlier book ‘The Molecule Hunt: Archaeology and the Hunt for Ancient DNA’ (Penguin), which I have put aside for later in the year.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Rabbit

The world of new books online has been dominated by Amazon for so long that is hard to remember a time when you couldn't over-indulge your bookcase with one-click ordering. However there are many reasons why it is not a good idea to have the market place dominated by one player (see Jane's post on the POD saga for example), but there are alternatives. You can obviously support your high street independent bookshop on the use-it-or loose-it principle (if for no other reason) but if you must buy new books online, or your budget demands deep discounts then a new site hopped onto the new books scene last month.

Book Rabbit is a combined social networking and book buying site. Before the anti-networking site feelings raise their heads, please keep watching, as this site is really rather different. Firstly you needn't network at all if you don't want to. You can just buy books with free postage (no minimum order) and a guarantee that they'll beat Amazon's price on the top selling 100,000 titles. Not bad for starters. But if you want to network, it is not about posting your parents' address online so their house gets trashed, oh no, what you do is you network your bookcases. Honestly. You have to have an account as yourself, so there is no hiding under pseudonyms, and on your profile, if you want to join in, you can post pictures of your bookshelves. There is some kind of intelligent tagging mechanism so that you can separate and tag parts of the picture to identify which book is which. You can also claim books as your own just by searching and clicking add to my books. You can then become "friends" with people whose bookcases suggest similar interests.

From a blogger's point of view you can also link your blog to your profile and the rss feed appears there. Very useful for increasing traffic. I was pointed to Book Rabbit by a post Juliet at Musings from a Muddy Island, and bless her she has become my first friend on there. Within five minutes I had also bumped into the author Sarah Bower amongst the bookshelves too. There is also a Book Rabbit blog, and discussion boards. As Juliet says, I think Book Rabbit might be rather fun. Sadly, fun for UK buyers only at the moment.
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