How many books can you read in a year?

 

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A recent haul of murder mysteries from one of my local op shops.

 

I know a lot of people committing themselves to reading challenges during 2017, undertaking to read X number of books in 12 months. It seems to be a trend fuelled by sites such Goodreads, which thrive on reviews.

However, it’s something I personally just can’t do.

The very idea of tying myself to reading a specific number of books over a 12-month period seems slightly crazy and, if I’m honest, repellant – like I might be cheating some of those books the focus and contemplation they deserve. I tend to read crime books and thrillers quickly, but like to take my time with biographies, memoirs and other non-fiction titles.

We (you, me, the reading public) seem to set ourselves up with enough pressure through self-imposed work and home deadlines without forcing our leisure activities to submit to the same fierce timetables we insist upon in other areas of our lives. Reading isn’t a competition (unless it’s the MS Readathon and you were eight and you nailed it by reading loads of books in the local library and fundraising even more, not that I’m boasting).

I understand reading challenges are terrific activities for those who should be reading more to improve their literacy and (more importantly for authors) cultivate a passion for literature in the young. After all, those young readers will one day be older book buyers. Reading challenges certainly have their place.

So no, I’m not committing to reading X number of books during 2017. But I will be reading quite a lot.

In case you were wondering, based on my own reading habits I know I read around 60 or more tomes spread across the year. I don’t review everything I read because A) time restraints, and B) some books are just diabolically bad and should never be mentioned in polite company again.

Whatever you’re reading – and I’d love to hear your recommendations – enjoy!

 

 

 

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December: Initiations, curses, resolutions and a heatwave

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December was ridiculously busy. It felt like there was a Christmas morning tea or lunch on every other day. There were events to attend, catch-ups to be carried out, cards to write and send, and trees to decorate – and I still didn’t get around to honouring every social engagement. While it was in parts the Christmas season was very enjoyable it was also very rushed – I seemed to be always looking ahead to what needed doing instead of being a bit more present and enjoying the moment.

Of a weekend there were markets, meet-ups with friends and family, and an ever-growing list of mundane home-related tasks that required my attention away from work and the trusty laptop. So many, in fact, I wondered if there was time for sleep during the heady four weeks of December.

And then there was the heat – the unrelenting 30C-40C+ string of days that left us (pet friends included) wilting like old lettuce. Just this very evening – New Year’s Eve in fact – a thick mist has rolled in and cotton-balled our house, finally driving the temperature down a few degrees. We’re still sweating it out, but looking forward to ringing in 2017. If you’ve read this far – Happy New Year! May the next 12 months be all that you hope for (in my case that is, among other things, a lot cooler!).

As for New Year’s resolutions, I’m working on a few. Remember, if rats can learn basketball, then you and I can too!

Writing

I’ve been exploring the nature of curses (important research) and, as I have all year, the relationship we have with our ‘Good Neighbours’ aka faeries. My passion project has been penning a series of interlinked stories for a dark little novella that combines folklore and fantasy. Hopefully it works – my reader guinea pigs report back that they love it.

I’ve also been working on developing an outline for a cosy mystery, something that has been boiling away on the rear hotplate of the stovetop that is my brain.

I’ll be honest, I’m a very confident writer in the realm of non-fiction but when it comes to fiction I have always felt out of my depth. I have a major case of the ‘not good enoughs’. I think they call it imposter syndrome? Anyway, I don’t want to sound too whingey, I’ll slay my own dragons. I’ve never been a big believer in Writer’s Block, I think it should be renamed ‘Writer’s Apathy’, which is spot on the money. You can write your way through anything. Writer’s Anxiety, though, that’s another thing altogether!

Reading

Not so much of this went on as I would have liked, but I did need to fit in some sleep this month along with everything else. Here’s what I did read and enjoy…

Initiation by Ly de Angeles (Createspace) – A ripping read. You can peruse my standalone review here.

I came across a few more Rebecca Tope books, which I have now passed on to my mother. It turns out quite a few of my friends are also fans of her writing. So do yourself a favour! These two books form part of Tope’s ‘West Country Mysteries’ series and don’t feature Thea Osborne but one of them does take us back to Drew Slocombe’s earlier days:

A Death to Record (A West Country Mystery) by Rebecca Tope – Talk about your twisted love triangles! I really enjoyed this mystery, which followed Detective Sergeant Den Cooper’s investigation of a murder on the farm of a man who is now dating his ex-fiance. Awkward. All of Tope’s skills and experience come to bear in this book, which leverages her insights as a former undertaker and farmer (she really should have had a stab at policing as well, but she also explores that POV quite well regardless). A riveting read.

Dark Undertakings (A West Country Mystery) by Rebecca Tope – Working as a freshly minted undertaker must be challenging enough but what do you do when you suspect a death that has been judged a heart attack by a respectable doctor may, in fact, have been a poisoning? Tope loves to put her characters in difficult and often dire straits, and this novel is no different. Drew Slocombe follows his gut instinct and while investigating lays bare a string of family secrets in a small village.

The holiday reading pile beckons!

My Summer Reading Pile…

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I hate being without a book to read. I hate it so much that when I’m commuting to work I usually have two or three stashed in my bag ‘just in case’.

So when the Christmas break approaches – however short it may be – I usually have a ready pile of reading matter stacked neatly next to my bed or stowed in my travelling case.

This Summer in no particular order I’ll be reading:

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaaronovitch (Finally! Been waiting for ages…)
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Good People by Hannah Kent
A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee (The hardcover edition is seriously pretty!)
A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley
Fashion On The Ration by Julie Summers (You can read my thoughts on Jambusters here.)

So you can see, a nice broad cross-section of fiction and non-fiction covering everything from ghost stories, crime, and war to fantasy, superstition and folklore.

What about you? If you have any good book recommendations I’d love to hear them.

Happy reading!

November: Book readings, Grammarly, novels and NANOWRIMO

 

 

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I don’t normally write by candlelight on an old typewriter – but when I do it’s with a wine glass balanced on top! Not a bad way to spend an evening. Pic: Tim Hartridge

 

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November was action-packed. And hot! I attended the Sydney Storytellers event at the Stoneleigh Hotel, an immersive installation set up in a historic building in Kensington Street, Sydney (renamed ‘Spice Alley’, for those in the know, and bursting with tasty, colourful eateries).

New Zealand-based Stoneleigh Wines was behind the venture and ensured the vino was flowing all night, complemented by a giant cheese platter. It was one of the hottest evenings I’ve spent in Sydney and there were many shiny faces as we tried to compensate for the humidity by drinking more chilled sauvignon blanc (perhaps not the wisest move, there was a slight hangover the next day). All in all, it was a brilliant night. Wine and writing, the ultimate pairing!

 

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Authors Anna Westbrook, Sulari Gentill, Alexandra Joel and Josephine Pennicott read pieces from their latest work while the audience waited to have books signed. Pic: Rebecca Lang

 

Writing

November means Nanowrimo, but despite my best effort, I didn’t quite nail those 50,000 elusive words. I blame work. And stuff. General tiredness. Sunshine and flowers. Distractions. Food. But it was still a pretty productive time. I was still writing and progressing my urban fantasy piece.

I’ve also been trialling Grammarly’s free Grammar Checker app. Occasionally it’s distracting, particularly when it tells me to change my words to American spellings (sorry American friends, for us it’s colour not color). On the whole, though, it’s a neat little tool that, I’m pleased to say, I don’t have to rely on too often – only when I type too fast and leave a litany of typos in my wake.

 

Reading

Some great books found me in November.

Superfluous Murder by Hazel Holt (Macmillan London) – I’d previously never heard of Hazel, mother of novelist Tom Holt, who wrote a series of books based around a village detective character not unlike Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. Holt’s Sheila Malory is a slightly more modern, and younger, take on the elderly single female sleuth. The style is engaging and the twist/murderer reveal, while I picked it, would have been a pretty fresh take in 1995 when this was first published. I found this book up at my local train station book exchange for free, so I’ll be chasing up Holt’s other books online.

The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman (Harlequin Mira) – This is a story that spans generations and families with plenty of romance and history, not to mention a mystery! (Some unintentional rhyming going on there.) The book is set in one of my favourite time periods, the 1930s, and follows Roma Harris in the present-day as she moves to the small town of Remarkable Bay in South Australia. Roma runs into her distant cousin Addy who, like her, is bunkering down and taking time out from life. When the pair discover an old guest book with a family name they don’t recognise, they set out to solve a family mystery.

Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch (Thomas & Mercer) – It’s hard to convey just how much I enjoyed this series. As thrillers go, it certainly was a heart-pounding read. I actually had to put one of the books down as I was reading it in bed and knew with my heart rate skyrocketing the way it was,  I’d never go to sleep! I devoured the books in the space of 10 days, fitting in readings on train journeys and before bed. I’d recommend writers seeking to improve their pacing and sense of suspense use these books as a template for manipulating the blood pressure of readers. Now I’m hunting down the new Wayward Pines Fox adaptation starring Matt Dillon and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

 

 

Why I work – so I can read and write!

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My love affair with books started as a child. In fact I still have several of those early tomes close at hand that gripped my fledgling imagination, including two dear favourites from when I was a mere eight years old: The World of Myth and Legend, and Tales ofMagic and Enchantment (both by Brimax Books, 1980).

Those two books in particular sparked my fascination with all things mythical, magic and Fortean. The fact I still have them on my bookcase after all these years and countless house moves as a child and adult is a testament to how precious they are to me, and how fond I am generally of books.

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As well as haunting libraries, I have long been a fan of garage sales, post-Christmas book chain store sales, mail-order books clubs (remember those?), independent bookshops, and now online book shopping via the likes of Amazon.com and its contemporaries.

As a result of this passion, I now have books on true crime, myth and legend, war, health and fitness, biographies, psychology, archaeology, rare and extinct animals, as well as thrillers, romances, ‘cosies’, fantasies, mysteries – and too many other genres and categories to mention.

My fascination with storytelling evolved over my school years, and I eventually started writing my own stories – non-fiction and fiction – and for some years pursued the craft of journalism. I love writing, meeting people and learning new things. For a time it was the perfect job for me – days spent writing and being paid for it. Evenings spent reading the books my writing had paid for. Win!

In fact this lifestyle was pretty damn good for a long while, keeping me comfortably in books and hot chocolate, pet food and the odd new item of clothing for some time. Basically, as long as my primary survival needs were met, my career was doing its job – keeping me in books!

But as happens with many professional scribes, after some time I longed to write under my own ‘masthead’. I had my own stories to tell – true and fantastical, made-up and mythical. I wanted to take that next step as a storyteller. I wanted to be an author of books, not just of newspaper articles (or fish and chip wrappers, as my Nan used to say).

And so it was that 10 years ago I started working on my first non-fiction book, which was eventually independently published in 2010. Sadly it was too late for Nan to see, but I included a picture of her and I in the dedication. That connection was important to me.

The bug bit me, and since then I have independently published two more non-fiction tomes, and this year will (fingers crossed) be publishing some fiction.

So yes, while it’s true I work to read (wage = books), I also work to write these days.

And as a complementary passion to reading, it’s working out just fine.

(PS my dear thanks to Weezie for the inspiration for this post…and www.Grammarly.com)

Confucius says read!

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Did Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist (551-479 BC) really say this?

Was this position on reading one of his analects (teachings)?

I don’t know, but the sentiments certainly ring true. Read, read and read some more. Today there really is no excuse for ignorance with so much information at our fingertips.

Confucius apparently did say ‘True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know’. Or something like that.

The easiest way to remedy ignorance is to read. And the easiest way to read is to buy or borrow reading material. In doing so, you’re supporting storytelling and those that ply its trade.

In a roundabout way, Confucius said so!