The extra ingredient in books

I started reading ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ by Robert James Waller this morning and it made me realise how much more there is to books than plot or great characters, humour or message.

Words. The books I love the most are because the words the author chooses make my heart sing. Images that make me gasp at their beauty and invention. Phrases that make me melt, sparkle or fly into orbit.

That’s it. Just wanted to share that with you.Mucha for SPRER.jpeg


Junk by Melvin Burgess

I read ‘Junk’ by Melvin Burgess at the weekend. About half way through, I wondered how different I would find the book if I was reading as a 14/15 year old. How would I relate to it?

As a parent reading the book, I felt for Gemma’s parents. When my eldest daughter was this age, we had a difficult time. Rows, slamming doors. Her and me. It was the hardest years of parenting. She is now 26. She didn’t leave home. That terrible time passed and we grew to be very close. It could have been different. Could she have fled, like Gemma did?

14 – 15 is a difficult age. In between child and adult and straining to fly while also spinning in a whirlpool. You want to be understood and you don’t. You want freedom but also crave a safe haven. Parents are not trained in this next stage on their child’s journey. They may have got through this stage themselves in a very different way. And they are afraid for their children and that they are no longer the ones that their child listens to. And fear doesn’t always manifest itself in the best actions or words. And like the 14/15 year old, parents are often at the stage when they are going through hormonal changes. I know I was and it is not a good mix.

So. Back to Junk. This is a book that all ages should read. It is about addiction. Alcohol or drugs or love.

Would I read it again? This is a tester for me. It is funny, sad, harrowing and honest. It is rooted in a time with music I love. I won’t read it for a few years, I’m guessing, but I will give it to others to read. People of all ages.

What makes me sad about addiction is the lost years. Lost years that you can never get back. I wouldn’t wish that time, not being yourself, your real  self, on anyone.


18th Century Words

The fun with writing historical fiction is that you get to find words that we don’t use nowadays. Often words had a different meaning, or they were longer and we have shortened them.

This also comes about when the copy editor of your book, in this case, the insightful, eagle-eyed Anna, highlights all the anachronisms you’ve used!!

PUFF—To praise too much, or to allow praise to swell one’s head. 

For example: “Don’t let people keep telling you, you are clever, it’ll puff you up.” 

MOBILE VULGUS—Mob. Our word mob is just a shortened version of the Latin phrase. 

DROPS—Diamond earrings. As in, ‘I think I’ll wear my drops this morning….’

BIRTHDAY SUIT—Not complete nudity, but a set of fancy clothes worn on the birthday of the monarch. Now we know where Sheldon got the idea in The Big Bang Theory!

PUNK—A prostitute.

ROTTEN BOROUGH—Ah! The honesty of having a name for tiny villages with only a few inhabitants that were prime targets for rich people to bribe with payoffs and buy themselves a place in parliament. Rotten boroughs! Eighteenth-century elections were notoriously corrupt. 

WITHOUT—Often means outside of—the opposite of within. Obvious, but shows how meanings change over time.

‘I am just going without.’ Slams door. Ah yes, Jiddy could do that.

And then there are all the fabulous sounding words! Feel free to share any you know…Robin Hood's Bay Oct 2017 295

Cover Your Eyes

I wasn’t sure about the main character in the first couple of pages, so I put the book aside and read ‘Salt to the Sea.’ Then I picked Adele Geras’ book up again.

What intrigued me, was the ‘ghost.’ That is what held me. I also wanted to know about fashion designer, Eva Conway and her house. Maybe because the secret from her past intrigued me. I was less concerned about fledgling journalist, Cover your eyesMegan. The mundane atmosphere of her childhood in Northampton is strong and the lack of love tangible, but I still didn’t warm to her as much as I should.

Rowena, Eva’s daughter, is on the surface the less attractive of the three, but I felt sympathy and some empathy for her. When a mother doesn’t tell her daughter things, but another, a stranger, then the hurt she must feel, has felt across her life, rang out of her every word and action. We see echoes of Eva’s choice in Rowena’s and how they manage life differently, because of the times they lived maybe more than who they are. But there are echoes.

There is also the fact that the book is about sisters and mother/daughter relationships and I can relate to those. How we should look out for our sisters, but what happens when you don’t like them? This is one of the tragedies of the book and the secret that unfolds. This unravelling is done well and the dialogue is realistic. The knowledge of what happened, because of our knowledge about why the Kindertransport happened from Germany, is terrible.

There are so many choices. The choice Eva made between love and career runs throughout and Megan’s choices, well, I struggled a little with these, but I am not Megan!

An interesting novel, that holds you with it, so you want to know what happens. Made me think too, and I like that in a book.

The Importance of Historical Fiction

‘Salt to the Sea’ by Ruta Sepetys is the first of her Historical YA novels I have read. I will now be reading all of them.

‘Salt to the Sea’ (fantastic title!) is set in 1945 and is based on a true event that happened as WW 2 neared its end. It is a little known event and yet the worst disaster in maritime history. When you learn how many died in a massive evacuation from what was then called Gutenhafen in Poland, it seems incredible that we don’t know more about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

The novel starts en-route to the port. It is a long, dangerous walk through snow and biting cold. Many die along the way. Following a small group, we get to know how it must have been for many who were fleeing their homes. Chapters are written in the different characters’ view points and their stories are revealed little by little. In this way, we learn the broader stories and we grow to care. Each character is carefully chosen to paint the different nationalities and what they represent in Nazi Germany. Emilia, from Poland, the nurse, Joana from Lithuania, blind Ingrid. An orphan boy and an old shoemaker. And Florian who is carrying a great art secret. They are all have one thing in common. They are all fleeing from the advancing Russian soldiers.

At the port, Alfred is the voice of the German soldier. He writes imaginary letters to a sweetheart at home, though the life and who he portrays himself to be in the letters is very different from the reality. Ruta Sepetys’ stark prose gives his situation humour, which is spattered throughout the book.

What struck me at the end, after the unsentimentally written story reached its conclusion, was the importance of historical fiction. I know the answer, without doubt, why it is so important, after growing to care about the wandering boy and the shoe poet and Emilia in her pink hat.

Historical Fiction can tell us about events in history that otherwise we may never hear about because they have been hushed up or forgotten. We learn the stories of the little people affected by big events, we see lives that history doesn’t record.

Historical novels can bring the truth of what really happened, to light.

After reading ‘Salt to the Sea’, I not only feel inspired to read all Ruta Sepetys’ books, but I also feel inspired to write more historical fiction after ‘Jiddy Vardy.’ I want to ensure people and hidden events are not forgotten.

Hooray for Historical Fiction!!!Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Beginning with Tiny Books

Inspired by the tiny books written by the Bronte children, my friend Clara and I began writing our own small books when we were at Hawksworth Primary School. We made a plan. We’d write and illustrate 100 books between us, called….drum roll…

                                                 The Adventures of Ruth & Clara

Not only do I have the books that I wrote, I also have the list of who would write which numbers in the collection.

Did I mention, that we never quite finished them all?

I’m so glad I kept them. They make me smile and remember that time. Clara introduced me to many books, including ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams. I never did admit to her that I found the opening chapters a struggle, but once I got past them, I loved and re-read the book several times.

As I do with these books. Clara? Do you still have yours?

If anyone else has made and written any tiny books, I’d love to see photos! Please feel free to share, and your experiences of writing them. 🙂

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