3 years on the radio! Time flies when you’re ‘Talking Books’…

I am not sure how many of my readers know this, but I host a fortnightly radio show, and I have just realised that this month marks the third anniversary of my first ever broadcast. I don’t have the sexy tones of Mariella Frostrup or the wit of Stuart Maconie, so at the time, I wasn’t even sure if ‘Talking Books’ on 10Radio would get to a third show, let alone a third year. So I have decided it is something I should be really proud of. (I am making decisions like that now. Reflection can be good for the soul).

I think guests like coming on the show. I am certainly booked up a long way ahead – shows are planned in  to June this year and some guests have been on more than once, so I hope it is an experience that is not as scary as some first fear. Talking Books is, I hope, an interesting mix of informal chat and interesting discussion about poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, journalism – basically a celebration of wonderful words across all genres, written and spoken. I have been entertained by many of the guests, so I hope listeners have too, especially as I have covered everything from romantic fiction to steampunk, via crime, biography, baking, babies , the First World War, festivals and on and on as far as erotica. I am not sure I can go much further than that…….

Anyway, I thought, by way of a celebration of the show’s success, I would mention a few of the guests that have made an impression over the years. So many writers have been willing to give up their time to chat to me about their work (and special thanks here to Julie Munckton, for the first two years my resident book expert) that I would love to mention them all, but here are just a few to give you a flavour of the work I have featured on the show, with a couple of links to recordings of the show. It may be local radio but it is available worldwide via the 10Radio website. I know for certain I have one listener in Liechtenstein…..

For her wonderful work about the Bristol Suffragettes, and her new series of detective stories featuring Dan Foster, Bow Street Runner, check out Lucienne Boyce 

 

For their wonderful poetry, and thoughts on links between poetry and art, Paul Tobin at and Paul Mortimer 

 

 

My old Reading Matters mate Rod Miller, alias artist and author Rivenrod,

You seek her here…but which name will you find her under today? Jenny Kane, romantic novelist and organiser of Tiverton Lit Fest or Kay Jaybee, award winning author of erotic fiction? You will never look at a delivery man in the same way again…. 

My first ever outside broadcast  at the fabulous Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Baker Street, for the launch of The Real Sherlock Holmes by Angela Buckley 

 

 

Great supporter of indie writers and author of terrific short stories, Debbie Young, who is Commissioning Editor of the  Self-Publishing Advice blog for The Alliance of Independent Authors.

 

Inspirational writers for children, and encouragers of young writers themselves, Angie Sage  and Beth Webb , along with Tonya Mears of Little Creative Days 

Crime writer Clare Donoghue, whose series of 21st century, gritty crime novels starring  DI Mike Lockyer has me gripped. Her new title, Trust No One is out this month.

A Talking Books regular, Bethany Askew, who writes contemporary women’s fiction and is publishing some moving letters from WW2 

And my fellow Pen & Sword First World War author, David Venner who has written the fascinating Despatch Rider on the Western Front 1915–1918 

 

 

Anyway, do listen in if you can – every other Friday on 105.3 fm or online at www. 10Radio.org. I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

Post-book blues? On losing the will to write…

don_t-be-a-slave-to-writer_s-blockWriter’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.” — Philip Pullman

That is us told then…those of us who think ourselves writers.  I found another contemporary writer willing to pass on their advice, Barbara Kingsolver, a woman whose work I admire as a rule:

It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.

Oh dear – she isn’t willing to collude with me either. Help……

At the risk of worrying my publishers, I can’t write at the moment. Well, to be more accurate I can’t write books at the moment. Clearly I am writing this blog post, and I have written another post for wonderful The Wordsworth Trust Romanticism blog on new ways of interpreting John Keats’s poetry. But nothing else seems to make sense as it leaves my brain and reaches the screen. Even my love of writing with a pencil in my favourite notebook seems to produce nothing of any meaning. It is a tough time, and worrying about it seems to make it worse.

Shell Shocked Britain, a book that took two years of research and writing, was published by Pen & Sword Books in October. Since then I have done lots of talks and have been marketing it madly on blogs, in magazines and via twitter and Facebook. It has gone well, but I feel as if it has been sucking inspiration and motivation out of me. I am not sure if other writers feel this way, although I suspect it is more than likely, but for me I know this feeling is a route into a more general depression. Scary.

I was of course anxious about the success of Shell Shocked Britain– all writers want to be read. It is a book about mental health  – looking at the shell shocked men and families who lived through the Great War 100 years ago and examining how the trauma still resonates with us today. It has sold well (I was well aware it was a niche subject, albeit an important one) so why are my anxiety levels so high that it is hard to work? Why am I railing at myself for my seeming inability to engage with the world in a healthy way?

Telling myself to ‘just write’ is not really working, unless a post like this is in some way building up to a wonderful bill-paying opportunity. I write because I enjoy it; I also write because there are bills to be paid and I have found sharing my thoughts and knowledge in articles, on blogs and in talks offers an opportunity to make an albeit meagre monthly income. Asked recently whether I would, as it were, ‘sell out’ and write commercially rather than for love then the answer had to be ‘yes’. Just because I don’t adore it doesn’t mean others won’t, and there is always the chance that an idea that really grabs my imagination will materialise from the most unexpected of places.

X2GFS_H1T1My mood is low, my anxiety high and my inspiration flown. I have two more books to write over the next two years and must start making sense of my notes. It feels terrifying. As always, my ability to procrastinate remains stubbornly expert. Perhaps I should take Neil Gaiman’s advice:

Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.”

Certainly, thinking ‘Oh my goodness I have to write 200,000 words before the end of 2016’ is giving me palpitations and preventing me from writing even 200.

As is always the case, in life as on this blog, I turn to John Keats to put me right. In Endymion, a patchily brilliant poem he wrote before his most stunning work was penned, he says:

But this is human life: the war, the deeds,
The disappointment, the anxiety,
Imagination’s struggles, far and nigh,
All human; bearing in themselves this good,
That they are still the air, the subtle food,
To make us feel existence, and to shew
How quiet death is.
from Endymion, Book II, l.153-159.

Maybe this period of post book blues is all part of the plan then, and I am simply ‘feeling’ my existence as a newly published writer.

Whatever. I just want it to stop.

Talking Books goes walkabout with The Real Sherlock Holmes…..

A13cI-0avRL._SL1500_Talking Books, my show on 10Radio.org,  went national last week when I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Angela Buckley’s great new book ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada‘. The launch took place in the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street in the heart of London and Angela was good enough to allow me to wander around the room with my radio mike, John Motson style, putting her many guests on the spot, and grabbing some great interviews.

‘The Real Sherlock Holmes’ is wonderful ride through crime fighting in Victorian Manchester. Jerome Caminada was not the dashing and flawed character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels but he was a resourceful and committed ‘super sleuth’ in his own right, utilising all manner of disguises and subterfuge to solve the many high-profile cases that made him a national figure in the late 19th century. More recently overshadowed by his fictional contemporary, Angela has brought him to the fore once more in a book that takes you through the poverty-stricken streets of Manchester, and further afield, on Caminada’s coat tails. One can only admire the audacity of his methods; disguises, undercover operations (including the duping and schmoozing of domestic servants) and determined chases that brought some remarkable criminals to justice. He even had his own equivalent of Moriarty, a criminal who threatened to be his nemesis.

mcGHow marvellous it would be to see him on-screen, perhaps interacting with Holmes and Watson. I have been thinking about who might play the role of Jerome, a more solid and less flamboyant man than Holmes but just as dashing. Aiming for big box office – how about George Clooney, Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman? All look good with a beard after all. If Paddy Consadine hadn’t already played the eponymous Mr Whicher, of Suspicions of fame I would suggest him. But I am nominating Ewen McGregor. About the right age with just the right about of gravitas. Find his agent’s details Angela!

download (1)Anyway, do listen to the recording of the event below. It was great fun and you will hear snippets from writers and historians Emma Jolly and Rosemary Morgan, Essie Fox, Kate Mayfield and Mel Backe Hansen as well as the lovely Rachel Hale, author of the fabulous History Magpie blog and Angela’s writing buddy who came along with her husband Steve who is an accountant and a jolly good sport. I was determined to find out who was the on-screen favourite Sherlock Homes. I think Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch will have to settle for a draw. Angela and I had a good long chat about Jerome and I also got a great interview with Nick Barratt of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’  fame, who, it appears, also has a great-uncle of dubious fame…..

Angela’s children Ella and Ethan were stars. I was quickly reminded by Ethan that the Buckley household never ran out of cornflakes whilst Angela was writing because they ‘only have Shreddies’. One day he will be a challenge for Paxman…….

So grab a copy of Angela’s book and enjoy. It is published by Pen & Sword History (Angela and I share a lovely editor, Jen Newby) and is selling like the proverbial. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to piggy back her launch to cut my outside broadcast teeth. I had a great time and as you can tell from the recording, so did everyone else there.

angelaThe Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com

Talking Books talks Septimus Heap & writing magic with Angie Sage

Septimus_Heap_-_All_Seven_CoversOn the 28th February I was very lucky to have as my guest on Talking Books Angie Sage, an author who has received global success with her series of fantasy novels, featuring Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son with magical powers. Starting with Magyk and ending with the seventh book, Fyre, we gallop through the adventures of Septimus and his friends. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is another Harry Potter wizard-alike however. Septimus is funnier, more intelligent and supported by a cast of characters that can keep anyone aged seven to seventy plus interested and amused.

Angie is also a really inspirational and creative writer, and illustrator, who lives in a fifteenth century house in Somerset that exudes its own mystery and magic, including as it does an old mural that purports to be of Henry VIII, but turns out to have something of the devil in it…

So after rather too many ‘umms’ at the beginning (on my part) we had a wonderful chat; the thirty minutes flew by and I wished I had read more of her work before we met. However, Angie agreed to read a passage from one of the books in the series, which as you can hear on the link below, had us all chuckling. There are ghosts, witches, dragons and human interest aplenty. Yes – even wizards can fall in love and as J.K. Rowling discovered, young readers growing up with their characters long to know who has paired up with whom. We talk about this, along with the joys of writing and developing characters and stories over a long series of books, the ‘Harry Potter’ effect and the pitfalls associated with selling film rights to Warner Brothers. Angie is a hugely successful writer, selling in numbers beyond the hopes of most writing fiction today, but that doesn’t mean a writing life is without complications.

Good news for Septimus lovers is the planned trilogy, TodHunter Moon, which takes up the story seven years on. Readers  just can’t get enough of the stories and Angie just doesn’t want to leave the world of Magyk….

But back to Septimus. I was given a wonderful copy of the last in the series, Fyre, by Angie after the show and I will treasure it. I just wish my children were still of an age to enjoy them. They will have to come back to them with their own children, should they change their minds and have them….

Talking Books on why we should all want ‘Little Creative Days’ for our children

What are seasons but children’s soft dreams, and
Sunrise, their opening eyes?
Seeing at a glance
The days and years open…waiting,
Fringed with softness, or
Laced with abandon…

(From Children’s Eyes and Children’s Toys by Elysabeth Faslund)

The incredible Pojo
The incredible Pojo

This is SO late going up but I thought it important to make sure you got the opportunity to listen to my Talking Books show on 10Radio.org from February 14th. It wasn’t a ‘Valentine’s Day’ themed show – I have featured poetry and prose that expresses our romantic yearnings on past shows – but it was one that should be of interest to anyone with children, or who is involved with children’s education. I started this post with an excerpt from a poem that sums up for me how important it is to see the world through a child’s eyes and to give them the tools to make the most of a time when their imagination should be allowed to fly.

Tonya Meers kindly came in to the studio to talk about the business she has established with her sister, Natasha Dennis. Little Creative Days started with the provision of craft kits for children, but when Tonya decided she would like to write children’s stories the sisters decided to combine the two. Between them I think they have come up with something that can really bring out the creative side of all children and perhaps inspire them to be the writers, dramatists, artists and even theatre impresarios (well let’s think big!) of the future. Working with and in schools they have developed kits that work across the curriculum; Pojo and the Chest of Dreams for example can support work in geography and Pojo Saves the Rainforest uses puppets to tell children about the impact of deforestation.

This isn’t a sponsored post, or a review of the products Tonya and Natasha offer but it is something of a plug for anything that fires a child’s imagination and after this show you will be in little doubt that Tonya’s stories, and the opportunities the kits offer to children as part of their primary school education, are exactly the sort of thing to engage children across ages and abilities.

When my children were much younger they both had issues with certain aspects of their school day. My son would daydream and lose concentration; my daughter is dyslexic and found phonics a real challenge. They both found an outlet in performance – my son in drama and my daughter in sport – and finding a way to express their true selves, away from the challenge of tests and league tables proved invaluable.

Creative storytelling uses ‘creative group activities to bring stories alive’ and in our interview Tonya describes how puppet making for example can  enable all children to explore a story and become engaged with the story and its message. The drama activities can build confidence and offer children a way to express themselves in their own stories. Do take a listen; I am sure you will be as inspired as I was by Tonya’s enthusiasm and by the Little Creative Days ethos.

Find out more by going to the Little Creative Days website at www.littlecreativedays.co.uk

In which Talking Books is ‘Blessed by Magpies’, and poet Paul Tobin

blessed by magpiesIt has taken me a little while to post up my last Talking Books show. There are no excuses other than a few pressing deadlines and much time taken up with experimentation with a new way to manage my time…..

Anyway, the show on 31st January was a terrific one. I was joined by poet and author Paul Tobin who shared his love of the written, and spoken, word with me. Paul grew up in Widnes in the 60′s and has lived in Somerset for over thirty years. His poetry draws from his childhood in the north and he reads aloud with an intensity that picks you up and takes you into the world he is describing. He read two of his poems on the show – do listen and let me know what you think. We talked of many things but not least the impact of reading poetry aloud, the importance of revision and the poet’s ability to distil an experience and make it real for others.

Paul is frequently found reading from his work at festivals and is a member of the Juncture 25 group of writers and although he was quick to correct me – he would not describe himself as a performance poet by any means – if you see his name on the bill do join the audience if you can. Another member of the Juncture 25 group. Paul Mortimer, was on my show last year and remembering the other Paul’s poems I can sense a certain comradeship in their work.

Paul Tobin’s most recent book of poetry is called Blessed by Magpies, a bird with whom he feels a spiritual connection. He has given me a copy, which I shall enjoy reading. But I read his blog before the radio show and one poem on there struck me – I hope Paul doesn’t mind my copying it here..

In the pub with my mate Jon
In the pub with my mate Jon,
Drinking red wine and soda.
Overhearing the biased tones
Of three armchair soldiers,
Discuss the merits of each
Gun, bomb and plane.
Laughing at the enemy,
Mispronouncing every name.
My drink seems blood,
Bubbles burst and ripple,
There is no talk of brotherhood,
Only of the dead and crippled
 

Do go to his blog –magpiebridge.blogspot.co.uk to find more fascinating stories and images – he peppers his writing with intriguing photography. He has also written a steampunk novel, The Jowler, which is available from Amazon. Paul also drew the winner of the competition Martine Lillycrop set last week – the answer to which was Bladerunner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. He also set a question of his own, but really it is a matter of names in the hat so to enter, just comment below with your own favourite contemporary poem…. The winner will be drawn on my show on the 28th February and the winner will receive a signed copy of Blessed by Magpies.

And listen to the show on the link below. I think you will enjoy it.

Editing as the ‘last act’ of writing: Louise Bogan on taking words to heart

editingPoetry, for me, offers an opportunity to live within another’s thoughts as if they were my own. On this blog I have, from time to time, shared a poem that I have come across as I sit at my PC attempting to work at my own writing. Procrastination has led me along paths to poems I might never have experienced if it wasn’t for that moment of ennui – and the internet, of course.

I have no idea what took me to Louise Bogan last night. A visit to one of my favourite sites, the Poetry Archive, always offers a new poem or poet to explore alongside a recording of the poet reading their own work. It is a strange experience sometimes as not all poets read in a way one might expect and the musical tones conjured up in the mind are rarely replicated in the often scratchy audio. But it is still a website of the very best kind – one that takes you on an adventure in words and lives.

Anyway, tonight one poem spoke to me, stuck as I am in my chair in front of the computer editing my book Shell Shocked Britain before it goes into the proof reading stage (when I will visit the Poetry Archive even more regularly I suspect). I have read the three stanzas through a few times, and although I haven’t yet grasped the full meaning (if I ever do) the poem struck me as appropriate to my mood.

My book is written, yet not complete. As I read and re-read the words I have written over the past year the familiarity is such that the work becomes comfortable, yet tedious. The first excitement of the work is over and whilst I can now recognise it as good enough, at the same time the power of the words I know almost by heart is fading. I know that to ensure it is really successful (in the sense that it is as I intended it to be) I have to look at it again and really see it. Having pulled it apart, discarded, re-written and re-built I am, at last beginning to understand it as a whole – a physical book that will, I hope, be read for the first time, fresh, by as many people as can be convinced to buy it.

This poem, with its strange and contrasting images of beauty and decay, of fear and darkness and of journey’s end reflects my current mood. A scythe hangs, harmlessly now, in the apple trees, as the cursor sweeps across the document in front of me and as I sit, as leaden as the statues in Bogan’s garden, watching the book take shape. The words ‘shake and bleed’ before my eyes and it is beginning to feel like ‘a voyage done’. But it is a voyage during which I have fallen even more deeply in love with writing and at times have had to come to terms with some truths about my self as I go on to start a new commission and involve myself in a new subject.

Song for the Last Act

Louise Bogan

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music’s cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

I will read more about this poem, but it seems to me that it has at its heart the story of a love affair – an unsettled and difficult one, perhaps coming to its natural end. The poet is troubled and darkness is never far away; beauty is brief and images and words ink-black.

lbogan
Louise Bogan

Lousie Bogan was an American poet, born in 1897. In the 1930s she suffered her first serious depressive illness and was then vulnerable to depression until the end of her life, in 1970. She was reclusive and disliked confessional and overtly political poetry but was admired as both poet and critic of other’s work. I want to learn much more about her now and read more of her poetry. Poetry can do that – inspire you to a little more detective work and a whole realm of new experiences.

So as I continue with my edits, then undertake the first, second and maybe third proof-read of a book I know so intimately,  I will recall Louis Bogan’s words

Now that I have your face by heart, I look. Now that I have your voice by heart, I read. Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

This may be the beginning of the ‘Last Act’ in the writing of Shell Shocked Britain, but it marks the beginning of a whole new performance as I begin on fresh pages for the next book….

Science fiction? Or is that cyberpunk? – Talking Books talks the future with Martine Lillycrop

220px-Brown,r_time_macine60Competition alert!!! At the end of this email you will have the opportunity to win books! (Hope that grabs you and keeps you reading!)

I have never been afraid to admit that science fiction has never been my ‘thing’. I never really understood the appeal of predicting a future of gadgets and gizmos or space travel to other planets populated by furry tribbles and The War of The Worlds courtesy of Jeff Wayne (and Justin Hayward) and 1960 film version of H.G Wells The Time Machine  – complete with Eloi and Morlocks – was, I thought , the extent of my knowledge of the genre.

How wrong I turned out to be. Even before last Friday’s edition of  my Talking Books show on 10Radio I been put right by friends on Facebook and twitter. What about The Day of the Triffids? Surely you have read John Wyndham? Indeed I have (albeit many years ago). What about Douglas Adams? I had always assumed that was humour. And then there is the blurring of the lines with fantasy – how about Neil Gaiman?

Instead of being a genre purely devoted to scientific imaginings it turns out to be far more mysterious and varied than I imagine. Yes there is Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke and perhaps I find too much gadgetry a turn off, but after Friday’s show I can no longer assume that there is nothing in the genre to interest me.

I am certainly going to read some of Martine Lillycrop‘s work – starting with her latest book High Tide in the City, which one reader describes as ‘Butt-kicking noir science fiction. This is Raymond Chandler and Bladerunner rolled into one. Superb cyberpunk detective thriller’.

Martine was my studio guest last week, and if you listen on the link above you will hear her bravely working with a host who had professed total ignorance of the book shelves upon which her works sit. We had a really interesting chat about what inspires her, how she works and who she found inspiring as a writer and she read from the very beginning of High Tide. But we also talked of why most of the famous names in the genre are male (with me getting on to a bit of a sticky stereotyping wicket) and how much work has to go into science fiction as the our real world leaps forward, technologically speaking, ahead of even the sparkiest imagination. We may not be driving hover cars, but with Google developing strange contact lenses that can read the health of your eyes, it is surely only a matter of time before we are all born with a bar code on our bottoms.

Do listen to the show; I really enjoyed it and have to thank Martine for providing the very first competition prize for the show. I have three of her books – High Tide in the City, Blightspawn and Under Verdant Skies –  to give away if you can answer what is, I am promised, a question that science fiction buffs will be able to answer (I hadn’t a clue).

Name the author who created the character Richard Deckard and the book and film in which he appears…

OK? Now I have never run a competition on my blog before and as this is not a ruse to get more people to flock to my blog to flog stuff given away by PR firms I am not requiring you to ‘like’ things or tweet stuff (although it would be great if you did.) To enter just comment on this blog and just to make sure you don’t take the easy option and just copy the entry above yours I would like you to tell me what gadget you would like a science fiction to write into your life story. I will pull entries out of the hat anyway but will be sure that whoever wins the books gets their gadget at least mentioned on this site.

So get those entries in! Martine has had some really good reviews and I think we need a few more female writers on the list for Talking Books talks Sci Fi in 3014…..

Find out more about Martine and her work on her website  – www.martinelillycrop.wordpress.com

A Very Poetic Happy Christmas from No Wriggling & Talking Books!

Merry-Christmas-EveWell – just two more sleeps till Christmas Day – why does the time pass so quickly when you are an adult, yet Christmas seems to take forever to arrive when you are a child? Even though our children are now at University there is still an Advent Calendar pinned to the door and it seems barely a week since I opened the first door – yet here we are – on the Eve of Christmas Eve….

My final Talking Books show for 2013 was on 10Radio on Friday and it was a very festive edition, with other presenters chiming in with a reading. There was music too, and I got a request in, at last (I usually offer my guest the opportunity to choose the track we play out with). I chose ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ by Jon and Vangelis, which was a Christmas record back in 1981, although it is rarely played as one. It certainly makes me feel wonderfully Christmassy, as does ‘Gaudate’ by Steeleye Span and ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie, which we also played. With poems by Carol Ann Duffy and John Betjemen and readings from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens we linked through the music to the last reading. I chose a piece by Elizabeth Bowen, from Home for Christmas, and read it just before we played the Jon and Vangelis. Home is somewhere we all seek at Christmas, whether physically or metaphorically and the reading offered a wonderful (a word I use too often on my show, I realise – I must get the thesaurus out…) message.

We also got a little bit political when the piece from A Christmas Carol – where Scrooge is approached for money for the poor at the start of the book – was resonant of recent Government policies and the proliferation of food banks. Alongside the Carol Ann Duffy poem about war it became clear that the very nature of our humanity can be reflected upon at this time of year, and should be.

As a celebration of the season I would also like to add a lovely poem, called ‘little tree’ by E.E. Cummings, a poet who could be controversial – in both style and subject matter. Even the printing of his name is the subject of scholarly discussion. However, here he writes so precisely that one can almost hear the child’s conversation with the tree about to grace the house and we can feel, with him, a solace in the loss of it’s natural habitat as it takes on a new role at the heart of the home. Simple and real.

LITTLE tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

I love it. It is my Christmas message to all those of you good enough to read my blog (which I admit has had less of my attention this year as I concentrated on writing Shell Shocked Britain) and to all my friends on social media. Thank you for your friendship – it means such a lot to me.

Give a book for Christmas! Talking Books does the perfect present…

booksChristmasWell we are nearly there – just a week left to do your Christmas shopping and find the gift that will really mean something to the recipient, offering pleasure that will last well after the 25th December. Okay – there may be a few electrical devices that will offer a similar sensation but in truth – what is better than a book?

On Talking Books, my show on 10Radio, last week I discussed books as gifts for Christmas with my resident book expert, Julie Munckton. Julie works tirelessly to support local bookshops through the website localbookshops.co.uk, which offers an alternative to the faceless Amazon via your own local high street bookshop (or your favourite bookshop in any part of the country) and she really knows her stuff. Twenty five minutes sped past as we offered hints and tips for presents across many subjects – from fiction to gardening and from history to biography. Whether you have a loved one fascinated by football or a fan of Dr Who, into soap stars or the natural world, Victorian gothic fiction or a cosy mystery – there was something for everyone. We even looked at incredible jolting chairs and cures for dimples via the Quackdoctor.

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