Category Archives: blogging

The End of the Wasp Season

Well the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is only two weeks away. Therefore the 2015 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (try saying that quickly after a couple of glasses of wine) is very nearly at an end.

By my reckoning there are 56 authors appearing during the main three days of the festival. Of those there are 28 authors that I haven’t read. That is a pretty poor show by anyone’s standards. I’m actually beginning to think that this might be an impossible challenge. I think I need to join forces with some of my fellow bloggers who are attending. I’m sure if we all put our heads together and combined our reviewing forces we’d be able to cover all the authors. Maybe I should arrange for us all to meet for a coffee at Harrogate and we can see if we’ve managed it?

On the positive side however, the TOPCWFC2015 Lite as I’m now calling it is much more manageable. The aim of this one is to read at least one author in every session. Again by my own calculations removing things such the dinner, and the reader awards there are 16 sessions. Currently I have read at least one book by an author in 15 of these sessions. I think with two weeks to go that is pretty good going, so it’s just one more book to go.

Of course the actual blogging is very far behind the reading
I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who was saying they used to write a book review blog, but found that they read more than they had time to review so gave it up. I completely understand what they mean, I definitely read alot more books than I actually review. I suppose it depends on what you like doing most. If you let yourself get bogged down in it, the reviews start taking over your life, the unwritten ones becoming as annoying as a wasp round your glass of wine. I enjoy writing this blog and I like to think that occasionally someone other than my family actually read it, but for me it’s always the actual reading that is the best part. The blog is just an added bonus. On that note, time to stop writing and get on with some more reading I think. Challenge completion here I come.

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The two faces of January

Well once again Christmas is over, last year’s calendars have been taken down (well nearly, I keep forgetting about the one in the bedroom but it does have a lovely orang-utan picture on it) and New Year’s resolutions have been made ready to be broken.

It seems this year that rather than making actual New Year resolutions, the more popular options are to just make changes for January with numerous challenges being advertised. There is Jantastic (which I must confess to taking part in) where you set an exercise goal for the 4 weeks. You then hope to achieve your goal by telling everyone who’ll listen that you are doing it and hopefully someone will remember enough to ask you how you are getting on later. Luckily you can change your goals at any time so if you don’t quite make it then it’s easy to change them.

There is Veganuary, which as you can probably guess is where people give up all animal products for the month. This is something I’d quite like to try as have always fancied giving veganism a go. Unfortunately there are two problems for me with this. I’m addicted to mayonnaise, and we currently have enough cheese in our fridge to rebuild the entire moon. I hate to waste food so maybe not this year.

There is also of course the popular Dryathlon, where people ask for sponsorship for giving up drinking alcohol for a month. I’m sure everyone would agree that cutting down on alcohol is a good idea. However there is something about this event that just makes me a little uneasy. There are lots of people out there for whom drink is a real battle so maybe all donations should be given to AA instead. Not that I’m knocking anyone doing it, every little helps as Tesco says. Any event which raises money for charity as well as raising awareness of the cause is a worthy thing to do. However I just wonder if rather than putting up a poster and ticking off the days until the next alcoholic drink, maybe raising money for cancer research by cutting down alcohol intake for a whole year would be more beneficial rather than this current all or nothing approach.

Personally I think rather than doing a month of something and then stopping whether it be exercise, diet or learning a language it would be much better to try and make permanent changes. That’s why I like the reading challenges going around. They are for a year not just for January. Obviously most people are focussing on Mark Zuckerberg and his personal ‘read a book a fortnight’ resolution. Yet before he jumped on the bandwagon there were others out there doing similar things.

The excellent Goodreads website encourages people to say how many books they want to read in a year and tell people on their website (https://www.goodreads.com/challenges/3082-2015-reading-challenge) If ever there was a suggestion that people don’t read anymore this surely proves them wrong, so far over 580 000 people have signed up pledging to read an average of 51 books, that’s a lot of books to be read in 2015.

Of course these are all just the challenges and resolutions that are newsworthy and I’ve no doubt that all over the world people have made their own targets for 2015. Personally mine are to read 50 books, to participate in at least 5 10ks this year (note I don’t say run them all!), to swim at least twice a week and to remember to take down the 2014 calendar that’s in the bedroom. Fingers crossed I remember what I’ve said by the end of the month.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dead run

I have recently taken up running again. Now I’m never going to be a marathon runner, but I would like to be able to run a full 10k eventually. Therefore I started small and downloaded a couch to 5k programme on my phone, got myself a new audio book (Jeffery Deaver, the skin collector) and started pounding the streets.

I do like the idea of being a runner, the whole running along the beach with the wind in my hair looking carefree and gorgeous really appeals to me. However the reality is not quite like that. Apart from the short hair not really blowing in the wind, more times than not I run for five minutes and turn into a red faced sweating machine unable to string a sentence together whilst cursing the blisters on my feet. I know all the theory, I buy the magazines and I’ve read umpteen books on running however I’m just not very good at it. I know that like anything it takes practice and in order to become a runner you have to actually put the effort in but sometimes I’m not sure the effort is worth the outcome.

I suppose my problem is willpower, and I’m the same with reading. I love reading and always have a few books on the go. However there are some books that although I really like the idea of having read them I never actually get to the end. Take Jane Eyre, I roughly know the story but if I was actually quizzed on it I don’t think I’d know the answers. Pride and prejudice is another of those classics that it seems the majority of the world says they’ve read, but I haven’t. I have read the story of Charlotte Bronte’s life, but not her actual books despite part of me wanting to. Its the effort I suppose, and like with the running I often start but never quite finish.

I don’t think it’s because I lack stamina, I’ve posted 131 times on this blog for example so obviously I can keep up with some things. Although even with this I’ve read many more books over the year than I’ve actually reviewed on here. I suppose its just about effort level.

Sometimes things just click, for example I have read Gone with the Wind which would come under the long classics bracket, and I really enjoyed it. Equally last week I had a lovely run along the canal and although there was still alot of walk breaks being taken actually I felt like a runner, but other times things just don’t seem to work.

I suppose it’s all about how much you want the outcome, and accepting that maybe you just don’t want some things quite as much as you think you do. Therefore I’ll keep reading crime and reviewing, I’ll keep attempting to run and ignoring the worried looks of passer by’s as I run up behind them and they suspect a herd of elephants has got loose, but I may just have to accept that marathons and the complete works of Shakespeare are just never going to happen.

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No time for goodbye

The tents have gone, the bar is empty, and the dead body outline has been taken up from outside the front door, yes the annual Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival has finished for another year. Despite the rain which was an unwelcome new addition to the festival, normally the organisers are able to arrange for glorious sunshine, once again it was an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Arriving on Thursday afternoon as soon as you drive up the path there is an unmistakable buzz that says you are in for a real treat. The tents were even bigger than last year, there was an outdoor bar and the whole thing was set around one of the best bookcases I’ve ever seen.

Anyone who has any interest in books will by now know that J K Rowling made an appearance as Robert Galbraith, an event which surprisingly was completely wizard free. However this was only one of many many fantastic sessions put together by programme chair Steve Mosby of which it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite.

There was no doubt that for me Lynda La Plante was definitely a highlight. It showed exactly what I love about this festival. I went along with a pre-conceived idea, I had seen a lot of her tv credits but had only read one of her books so I was in two minds as to whether to go. Yet she completely blew me away. She was funny, charming, interesting and intelligent, and it definitely goes down as the session I laughed the most in. I came away wanting to immediately rush out and buy all her back catalogue.

Unfortunately the back seat and boot of the car were already full with all the other books we’d bought so I thought it best to wait until I got home. Thanks to Mr F a copy of Twisted is now on the top of my ‘to read’ pile, a pile which could conceivably be described as more a tower than a pile. The number of books I came home with possibly out did even last year’s tally, as it is completely impossible to sit and enjoy listening to authors talk without wanting to go and read their books. I can’t guarantee I’ll manage to get through as many as Natalie Haynes who in the turning to crime session said she’d read about 220 novels last year, but I’ll give it a go.

As always there are some interesting debates and points of view put forward, during one session James Smythe suggested what is possibly both the best and the worst idea ever. He thought that one way of getting people to read books they wouldn’t usually read was by changing bookshops around so that books are stored a-z rather than by category. This could be a good way to find new books, but would mean that a quick trip to the bookshop would actually end up taking me all day.

People familiar with this festival will know that listening to the authors up on stage is only one part of the fun, celebrity author spotting adds another dimension, which author eats the most for breakfast, who was the last still standing in the bar at night, will people make it to the morning sessions, and of course the most important question of all, will anyone join us to make a team for the Saturday night quiz. Excitingly for us this year we were actually joined by the lovely Tony Thompson, although our performance was rather dismal compared to this years winning team lead by Stav Sherez.

The weekend is certainly not a relaxing one, its non-stop with sessions and book signings back to back throughout with little time for chatting. Yet it is definitely one of my most favourite ways to spend a weekend, finished off as always by a quick Betty’s lunch before heading home to sort through all my new books. Its a wonderful weekend,  and a great way of finding new authors, plus you never know what interesting knowledge you’ll pick up, who knew cabbage shows up the same as blood in some forensic tests. I’ll be more careful with my cabbage chopping in future!

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Food to die for

As you might know I am a huge book lover (in terms of numbers of books not my size) However what you may not be so aware of is that my slightly obsessive book collecting goes beyond crime novels, I also have quite a substantial collection of cookery books. Of course these are not just for reading, a fact which I suspect makes Mr F rather wish I stuck to crime books as he has to try the results of my cookery experiments. However for someone who includes Lancashire black pudding on his list of favourite foods I’m pretty certain any of my concoctions are a step up.

For obvious reasons (i.e me being a vegetarian) most of the books I own are non meat related although I do have a few themed ones and a smattering of celebrity. One of my latest acquisitions was Paul Hollywood’s ‘Bread’. Unfortunately my only trial out of this so far was not a particular success. The naan breads I attempted would have worked much better as small missiles than as edible curry accompaniments. Yet I suspect that it was my execution of the instructions that was at fault rather than the recipe. Therefore I was very excited this week when a friend brought me a ticket to see Paul on tour at the Barbican.

This wasn’t our first food related outing to this venue. Many years ago me and same friend went to see the student TV staple, Ready steady cook. This was at the height of its fame (is it still on?) and for those of you who haven’t heard of it the idea was that two people made something edible out of a few tins of tomatoes and a watermelon then the audience voted. Whilst it may not sound much now, this was 20 years ago when daytime television consisted of ‘This morning’ and endless repeats of Columbo. Plus I suspect the excitement of red tomatoes or green peppers was no doubt heighted by the consumption of a few pints. However now slightly older and a great deal more sober, we had no idea what to expect from Paul.

Luckily it was a good night and he turned out to be very entertaining with a mix of demonstrations and chat. We were sat right near the back, which I suspect was a good thing judging by the number of hormonal woman of a certain age that made up the audience. Any closer and there was probably a significant danger of being hit over the head by flying pants.

Sadly he didn’t demonstrate the art of making naan bread, although there was a very nice seeded loaf I’d like to try next. So like with everything I’ll just have to keep practicing, and buying new books in the belief that I am a good cook. In the meantime Mr F will just have to keep trying my attempts and pretending they are edible.

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Third time lucky

The programme for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival has been released and as always it’s looking very exciting. Steve Mosby is the programme chair and he’s ‘played a blinder’ as they say up North. There look to be some really exciting sessions and the programme covers everything crime related from family based novels or ‘domestic noir’ as it is labelled, to writing plot twists, through to science and forensics. There are of course some usual staples including the TV session which this year is Broadchurch (sadly David Tennant isn’t attending) and the New Blood panel which is always one of my favourites.

The release of the new programme of course means the start of a new challenge. I’ve printed off a copy and the highlighter has been out. It looks like I’ve a lot of reading to do if I’m going to be anywhere near completing the TOPCWFC 2014 (for any new readers that stands for Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival Challenge, more details can be found here)

There are 17 sessions not including the opening ceremony, the dinner or the quiz (all three of which we shall of course be attending despite not being able to recreate our beginners luck with our quiz team last year!) Within those sessions if my highlighting and counting is correct there are currently 52 authors.

This being the third year of the challenge however things are getting a little more complicated. For example can I only count authors where I’ve read their latest book, or can I count any I’ve ever read? Do audiobooks count or only those actually read? Can I count those I started but didn’t finish? Can I count an author if I’ve only read something they wrote under a different name?

Well as it’s my challenge, it’s my rules. Therefore in answer to the above, I can count authors if I’ve ever read anything by them (although I will try to read the latest one if I get chance) I can count audiobooks (although obviously they are tricky to get signed) I can’t count authors if I didn’t finish the book and I can count those where I’ve read something they wrote under a different name. For those of you who are wondering, I am not referring to JK Rowling in this particular question as I’m afraid The Cuckoo Calling actually falls into the previous category and I don’t think I’ve read any Harry Potter. However Martyn Waites will be appearing who also writes as one half of Tania Carver whose books I have read.

Therefore taking into account the new rules I’ve just made up, my current author count as of today is 18. Not a bad start really, however it looks much more promising if I count sessions. Of those 17 sessions I’ve read at least one author in 14 of them. I think that’s an excellent start, with 12 weeks to go I am pretty confident that I’ll complete the TOPCWFC 2014 lite. Therefore the big challenge this year will be to try and complete the full thing for the first time. This may be a stretch as I’d have to read 2.83 books a week which could be tricky especially as I return to work full time next week but what’s life without a few challenges and as they say third time lucky.

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Stepford Wives

As you may know I am currently off work recuperating from a  hysterectomy. Whilst unfortunately it does mean I’m never again allowed to clean, iron or unload the dishwasher (at least I’m sure that’s what the doctor told me) It does mean that at the moment I have a ridiculous amount of time on my hands. This has allowed for rather a lot of people watching out my front window and being on a relatively new street I’m still trying to figure out the dynamics.

Currently it seems to me that everyone is related to someone else on the street. There is Mr Emmerdale Extra from up the street who wanders around in welly boots, all he’s missing is the brace of pheasants over his arm. He is doing the garden for the couple over the road, who are an elderly couple I’ve rarely seen. I have however noticed a lot more activity over the road these past couple of weeks and even Mr Van Man has recently started visiting them which seems to be a new occurrence.

Despite not having been able to observe them up close from what I have seen the couple over the road are a bit strange. The number of parcels they get is what first alerted me to the suspicious behaviour. Originally we suspected them of being drug dealers, after all if I were a drug lord I think I’d recruit retired people to traffic for me, loads of time of their hands and no one would suspect them. A drugs empire would also explain the ridiculous amount of traffic that goes up and down the street at 3am as well as the large number of visitors they get during the day. However I am starting to think the whole thing is even more sinister and that actually our street is home to the new branch of Stepford Wives UK.

I have recently re-read the book the Stepford Wives by Ira Levin and it all fell into place. In case there are people who haven’t heard of this book before (or not watched the film which I think I may have done a while ago) it was written in 1972. The main character Joanna is a photographer who moves with her family to Stepford, a town where all the women seem to be the perfect housewife with their only role to keep house and keep their husbands happy. Joanna begins to think that there is something rather sinister going on and suspects the men of the town are swopping the women for robots in order to have complete obedience.

It all seems to fit with my observations and I have Mr Stepford over the road pegged as the ring leader who only brings out his wife as a marketing tool. You rarely see women on the street unless they are taking their grandchildren to school, or cleaning their windows. Mrs Van Man is never seen except when she opens the door to the daily tesco delivery. We assumed that both our neighbours Howard 1 and Howard 2 actually live on their own, yet Mr Stepford has recently visited both men, so maybe they do have wives inside and this week was their annual maintenance inspection.

Just as in the book everyone starts off being all friendly and innocent but the truth always comes out. If I suddenly spot Mr F getting pally with Mr Stepford I may start to worry. At least now my suspicions are aired if you suddenly find me cleaning windows you know it’s too late, especially as I’m not allowed to that ever again either!

 

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