Wednesday 1 May 2019


The first of May, and I am glad the garden is green and growing, because yesterday the computer ate up a small, early reader text I'd been working on with great intensity. It was only a little book but getting the best words in the best order for the mind and abilities of a young reader can be very hard writing work. 

So, at the day's end, I went to reading - my ultimate de-stresser - which is why my ABBA post today  is about a few of the random books waiting by my bedside. Please note that word "waiting".

100 Poems by Seamus Heaney.
This handsome hardback is a new collection, chosen by his family. I leave poetry books around the house so I can pause and dip into the pages almost in passing.

Poetry comes as a relief after a day working on prose. It asks for a different kind of attention, a listening to the words rather than chasing after the narrative drive. Poetry makes me rest and think.

Washing Lines. A collection of poems selected by Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught.

Last week, I visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum with my (grown-up) daughter. Of course, while I was there I resolved to read more about and more of the Brontes. Nevertheless, during a break for coffee at a pretty craft cafe, we came across a copy of this title on the shop's reading corner shelves.  The poems are all about washing and laundry. The pages were wrinkled by damp, perhaps from the dripping raincoat sleeves of Haworth's many visitors.

However, what I liked about this collection, other than the poems themselves, is that the book was created in response to an earlier American "Right to Dry" project, which promoted the idea of washing lines outside house (often banned, I think) instead of wasting energy energy with tumble driers. I found the contrast between the genesis in American sunshine and this "home" in blowy, wet hills of Haworth slightly amusing.

Inside the book was a hand written inscription: the book was a gift from a son to his mum thanking her for doing his washing and looking after him for so long. Such a sweetly charming thing to find, in a handwriting full of real personality rather than scripted elegance.

When I got home, I tracked down a copy for myself - whether for the poems, for the memory of a day out with daughter, or because of that inscribed message I can't quite tell.  Then I note - in this 2015 revised version - that there is no mention of the Washing Line project. I wonder what happened - or was it just lack of page space?

Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes. This book is on the floor by the bed now, read and ready to be stowed elsewhere. Keyes is a popular novelist who writes in an easy conversational style. Whenever I catch a bit of her writing, I long to be able to chat away so beguilingly, especially at public events. The novel is about a twenty-seven-year old addict, the "holiday" is at an treatment centre in Ireland and the book follows Rachel's journey from a reckless, self-absorbed drug addict to accepting responsibility for her own behaviour and awareness of the behaviour of other people.

But when one of the people in charge - the therapist? the counsellor? - describe Rachel as  having "both an overdeveloped sense of her own importance as well as very low self-esteem" I suddenly recalled the slings and arrows of publishers parties where those perfect other authors seem to know exactly how the writing world works. The description read almost like a description of a writer - or is that only me?

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven. This YA novel is back by my bed because I need to re-read the end; I am a greedy reader and I read far too fast.  The book is about Izzy, a funny, confident "impoverished orphan" teenager, and how her life changes when explicit photographs of her are shared around her class and beyond. Izzy has friends but the deliberate invasion of her privacy is a real threat. Worse, when the damning website is seen by a wider circle of influence, the effect is harder for Izzy to shrug off.  I know how the plot works out, but I want to read through to go over how the ending of the ending works, if that makes sense to you. 

Oddly, as the author lives in the North of England, the book seems set in America - though maybe not so odd when you consider the market. Wonder if she lived there for a while? (Sorry. I get a bit J K Rowling about the US influence, especially on UK teenagers.)

Other books? 
A copy of Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety. This great chunk of a novel has weak paperback cover so is difficult, physically to read.  The book flips and flops about in tired hands, though I am sure this huge novel about the French revolution is itself of much sturdier, stronger stuff than these feeble bindings. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama: a hardback loan from a kind friend but i am not sure I can meet such a mighty woman (Michelle) crouched in bed in my pull-around dressing gown. May have to move this one downstairs.

Stoner by John Williams: a Kindle copy of  to be read for a book group meeting. I had to pass the shared library copy  on to someone else. Kindle reading is very handy, but not a pleasure, imo, and mine is an early one without a night-time screen-light. The advantage of book groups is that they encourage you to read titles you might not read otherwise. The disadvantage is the collision between reading time and my poor memory.

And, and, and . . . .

Which leads me, seeing my own scribbled book-comments, to one of my own wishes: that I could create beautiful reading notebooks too.

 I am currently in admiration of some that I've seen, such as those created by the blogger dovegreyreader. Her calm and thoughtful pages seem to be written from a comfortable armchair, while occasionally gazing out at a garden. Surely not in the squinty lamp-light of near-insomniac hours?

Plus, of course, there is an A4 yellow-paged notebook for my occasional and Not-Quite-Morning Pages. Apologies, Julia Cameron.  And pens. Plenty of pens.

Happy Random Reading, Everyone!

Penny Dolan


Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, how very VERY frustrating to lose your carefully worked story! I do hope it's still in your mind, and you can throw it at the screen again?
I love the variety of your books awaiting attention. 'Becoming' is a wonderful read for all sorts of reasons. You feel hopeful for world and humanity by the end of it.

Joan Lennon said...

"Both an overdeveloped sense of her own importance as well as very low self-esteem" - that's writers to a T! (which may, or may not, derive from, "to a tittle") (which is a very small stroke or point in printing) (probably)

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks Pippa. I do have "recovered text" hopes and am about to begin the brain search.

And I know you, writing picture book texts, really understand the annoyance when you thnk you've sorted the story and phrasing and logic of the sequence and the vocabulary too - and then it's GONE!

I'm also very encouraged by your comments on BECOMING. Hopefulness is certainly a welcome thing to feel right now.

Penny Dolan said...

Joan, thank you. I now feel less odd mentioning that line!