Monday, January 22, 2007


Sneezes are the best thing ever when I’m feeling anxious. Or sick. Except, you know, if the sneezes are chain-sneezes, non-stop and exhausting. That’s not fun for anyone.

I could have really done without an hour’s worth of police helicopter flying above our back gardens at 4.30 this morning.

Today was probably the official most depressing day of the year, given that the official day was Monday 23rd last year. Glad that’s out of the way. Onward and upward.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Conservatory days

Yesterday and today have been my idea of perfect winter days - clear blue sky with a few wind-whipped thin clouds, bright sunshine. Ideal for walking in the park, and sitting down on a bench to read. Except the cold seeps through all my layers until after a few chapters I'm chilled to the bone and have to get up.

This is where a conservatory would come in handy. Nice glass walls and roof to let in the bright and keep out the cold. An armchair instead of a wooden bench. Easy access to herbal tea and necessary sweet things. Will have to work on the poet. I wonder whether the council would let me build a conservatory in the middle of the park.

Spring is hastening. The little clump of purple crocus has budded in the centre of our lawn, and walking through St Pancras park on the way to work, there are eager splashes of yellow and white already open.


Small boy and mother, suburban London street:

“So you want a dog then?”


“What colour?”

The colour of friendship, of scrabbling paws late at night, of a floppy ear to lift and whisper into, of never being alone. The colour of breathless chasing and tug-of-war with a slimy rope, of sticks and parks and balls and mud, of cold footpads and warm paws, of hugging and wrestling and dog hair all over. Of slobbering and cold noses and a heavy warmth at the end of the bed.

The colour of always having someone to talk to.

pod People

We have to do something about the iPod people.

It’s for their own good really. Not only are they driving fellow train, bus and tube passengers barmy by having their music so loud it can be heard by their commuting neighbours despite the noise of the tube/train which is not insignificant, but they’re making themselves deaf, the silly kiddies. And we all know what that means – they’ll be turning the volume up even louder.

I’m not a morning person. I’m a very-small-window -in-the-late-evening person.. Every morning I have to spend around 12 minutes on a train and 15 minutes on the tube. People, I want to sleep! Or close my eyes and listen to ambient noise, not your distorted ‘music.

So, some ideas:

Buses and trucks are speedlimited, why not set maximum volume limits on iPods. Limits set by people who know what volume will damage your hearing. Preferably scientists who like silence.

And! How about headphones that don’t allow sound-leakage i.e. that allow the wearer to listen without anyone around them being subjected to the thumping bass or whiny rhythm of their musical choices.

Or how about some training by iPod users who don’t have the volume up so loud. They do exist.

And while we’re at it, let’s try to tackle.the younger cousin of the iPod person – the young kids who think it’s ok to blast music from their mobile phones wherever they are. Do it on the street if you must but don’t do it on my bus or train please! I’d ask you to turn it down (and I have) but sometimes living in London makes me just a wee bit too perturbed about whether you might be carrying a knife.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Books I read in 2006

You could probably say I read pretty much anything, although I do try to read literary fiction that will educate me about writing, and every so often I like a trashy thriller. I often read too fast.

I have absolutely no memory of reading some of these books.

Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld
(I was disappointed by this book after all the glowing reviews. She has a new one out now, I might give her work a second chance.)

Piranha to Scurfy
- Ruth Rendell
(Rendell relaxes me, which is weird, considering all the murder. This is a very readable book of short stories.)

The World According to Clarkson
- Jeremy Clarkson
(I'm amazed I find him funny, but I do.)

- Martha Manning

Dry - Augusten Burroughs
(I like this guy's work. I'm always drawn in by stories of addiction and recovery - evidenced by the fact that (a) I still think A Million Little Pieces is a good book - who cares if it's fiction. It actually gave me hope. And (b) even though Elizabeth Wurtzel is truly annoying, I love her books.)

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
(Recommended to my by my writing mentor. Very moving and eloquent.)

Various Miracles - Carol Shields
(I'm not a big fan of Shields, but there's no doubt that she wrote well.)

Life After Darkness - Cathy Wield (harrowing book about the author's severe treatment-resistant depression, and her experiences in the UK's mental health system. I read this one partly out of curiosity and partly due to my work in that very same system.)

Rage - Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

(Like thrillers and serial killer fiction, King's work is like literary valium for me. As well as being very well written, it's always a good standby if I'm not feeling great.)

The Long Walk - Richard Bachman

Groundswell - The Diva Book of Short Stories 2 - Helen Sandler (ed)
(Love love love short story anthologies. Strangely, particularly lesbian short stories.)

Not the End of the World - Kate Atkinson
(These short stories didn't quite work for me. The myths seemed tacked-on rather than integral.)

ice cream - Helen Dunmore
(Seen by many as a master of the short story. I struggle with some of her work.)

Unholy Ghost - Writers on Depression - Neil Casey (ed)
(I eat books on depression, especially ones written by professional writers.)

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things - JT Leroy
(I'd read so much about this guy I was curious. Is he for real? Nice stories.)

Always the Sun - Neil Cross
(I remember this book, but don't have much to say about it.)

When I was Five I Killed Myself - Howard Buten
(Interesting, the title hooked me.)

Tender at the Bone - Ruth Reichl

Skeleton Crew - Stephen King
(Classic King short fiction.)

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka
(Loved this book. I laughed out loud on the tube as I read the last page and it left me with a huge grin all the way home.)

Velocity - Dean Koontz
(Not as good as King, but ok in a pinch. I get a bit disappointed each time by the overt 'message' of his books.)

The Minotaur - Barbara Vine
(aka Ruth Rendell)

No Place Like Home - Mary Higgins Clark

Yes Man - Danny Wallace
(What happens when the author decides to say yes to everything. I liked it.)

New Writing 10 and 12

Join Me - Danny Wallace
(The yes man starts a cult. Amusing.)

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax - Liz Jensen
( I loved this book, what a fabulous concept. I just wish I could find another book by Jensen that I like.)

Claudine's House - Colette
(Wonderful images from childhood.)

Runaway - Alice Munro
(Her latest short story collection. It's funny, despite the setting of these stories being so alien to me, I can really relate to the characters.)

Tooth and Claw - TC Crombie
(Another book I loved, but can't find anything else by the author I like.)

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
(Topical, not outstanding)

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
(Beautiful novel, I would love to eavesdrop on her literary conversations with husband Safran Foer - their books blow me away.)

Furthermore - Susie Maguire

The Position - Meg Wolitzer
(There's a certain kind of American fiction that really keeps me reading. This is one example.)

The Accidental - Ali Smith

Music For Torching - AM Homes
(And the great 2006 AM Homes readathon begins. I love this woman. Write more, write more!)

The Wife - Meg Wolitzer
(Also enjoyable.)

Body Double - Tess Gerritsen
(Could it be I have discovered another source of forensic thrillers?)

In A Country of Mothers - AM Homes
(This book disappointed me - maybe I was expecting more fiction like Torching instead of a pseudo-thriller. Or given the subject of therapist-client relationship, perhaps I was expecting something more psychological.)

The End of Alice - AM Homes
(Brilliant, and disturbing to enter the mind of a paedophile and share his love for a while. Interesting premise, and fantastic title.)

This Book Will Save Your Life - AM Homes
(This is where I realised that I have read Homes before, but only her short stories.)

Jack - AM Homes

The Surgeon - Tess Gerritsen
(Why yes, after two books I do believe this is my next source of trash. She certainly writes a hell of a lot better than James Patterson.)

Vanish - Tess Gerritsen

Life Support - Tess Gerritsen

Big Bad Wolf - James Patterson
(I don't know why I keep giving him a second chance!)

A Disorder Peculiar to the Country - Ken Kalfus
(Really interesting, a couple's marriage disintegrates as 9/11 and its aftermath happen. Kind of surreal to read about a version of the Afghanistan war that could have been, I'm so used to fiction which stays true to fact when it comes to world events.)

The Devil's Larder - Jim Crace
(Delicious, freaky short fiction on food.)

Operating Instructions - Anne Lamott
(I bought this for my sister, who is a new mother, but couldn't resist reading it first. Emotional, real and funny.)

My Latest Grievance - Elinor Lipman

I am so excited that Heather McGowan, author of the beautifully written stream-of-consciousness Schooling, has a new novel out this year.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sorry English cricket fans

But what a fantastic Ashes series was that?

Guess you'll have to keep going on about how brilliant the English team were in the last series after all.

Gingerbread has many disguises

I can't stop making the bloody stuff!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Winter buttercup

i.e. poor deluded little flower who should only bloom in summer but has instead decided to be the one bright light in our winter garden. For which it is applauded, and feared as a tiny harbinger of climatic doom.

Blizzards are predicted for next week. In London.