Best novel I’ve read so far this year


One of the few advantages of getting older is that you are granted some perspective on your life. You can look back and see the decision points, the places where you chose one road rather than another- or even made no choice at all ( which is, itself, a choice.) You can wonder what would have happened if…you hadn’t caught that bus, hadn’t gone on that holiday…If you had a second chance, would you have chosen differently ?

This idea of alternative futures is at the heart of “ Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson ( pub Doubleday.) At first glance it is a traditional English Family Novel, tracking the Todds from 1910, through the 30’s and World War 2 and into the early sixties. They start off as a typical Edwardian middle class family. Hugh is a banker, Sylvie,his wife, is mother to Maurice, Pamela, Ursula, Teddy and Jimmy, as well as supervising Bridget the maid ,and Mrs Glover the cook. Only Hugh’s wayward sister, Izzie, goes against the grain of traditional English respectability. At the start of the novel she is pregnant, and has just left her lover.

The central character of the novel is Ursula.She is born during a snowstorm and dies. And then she’s born again…only this time she stays alive…get the idea ? As she grows up, Ursula becomes vaguely aware that her life has more than one dimension. She is drowned in a seaside accident, and then she is rescued; She is raped on her sixteenth birthday by a friend of her brothers, becomes a secretary, and marries a violent husband- and then the rape never happened- the boy only gave her a kiss after all.

The core of the book is devoted to the Blitz in London in 1940-41. Ursula is a member of of a rescue team, pulling survivors- and corpses- from bombed out buildings. The period detail- the smells- the attitudes are spot on throughout the book- but are particularly vivid here . Bit by bit, Ursula’s middle class prejudices and ideals are stripped away. She becomes, as we all do, the sum of our pasts.

This is not a quick read- you need ( no- you want) to take it slowly. It’s massively engaging on all sorts of levels. The best novel I’ve read so far this year.

I’d just like to thank…..


I have been nominated for an award. Not one of those great silver tea-urns, waved from the top of the team bus- no- just a quiet pat on the back- a “ thanks- you’re doing a good job.”

And I have to thank Daniel Budiarto for this. You will find him here

I’m up for The Liebster Award. If you want details of the Liebster, then go here:

In fact, it’s a round robin. Someone notices you, puts you on a list, and then you nominate in turn, and so it goes. It’s a small, but rewarding way of encouraging writers to write.


11 Facts about me.

I am almost very old.
I am a voice-over artist, among other things.
I can remember The Sixties.
I am owned by two cats and am The Walker of Choice for a small dog.
I buy too many books.
I am a cheese-a-holic – not Wensleydale, like Wallace- I’m a Stilton man.
I think too much and write too little.
My shoe size is 9 1/2.
I once met The Rolling Stones.
Apart from reading, my favourite pastime is sleeping.
I cannot drive, but I can walk really quickly.

My answers
If money were a nonissue, what would you do?
Run the best second hand bookshop in the world.

If there were a giant DELETE button, what would you erase completely off the earth?
Bad manners.

Name anybody famous, living or dead, whom you would like to have dinner with.
The Pope
What would you talk about with (3)?
What it’s like to be Pope

Summarize why you write in one or two words.
Can’t stop

If you had one one-way ticket to live in outer space, would you go? Yes.
If all books were to disappear from the universe but one, what would you want it to be? Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.
How do you get inspiration? Never been inspired.
If you could be anybody other than yourself on Earth, who would you be?
Max Wall 1950’s comedian
What was the kindest thing you have ever done to a complete stranger?
Couldn’t possibly say

Now -my questions
1.What make was your first computer ? Mac / PC? Amstrad ?
2.What was your very first post about ? What made you write it ?
3.Physical book or e-reader ? Why ?
4.The one line of poetry you’ve never forgotten ?
5.Veggie or carnivore ?
6.Star Wars or StarTrek ?
7.Favourite historical character from the 20C ?
8.Town or country ?
9.Greatest hope ?
10.The title of Your Song ?

The nominations (5 here, 5 to come)

1.Alasdair Stuart at : for film, music,web, graphic novels and anything else in contemporary culture you can think of. And cooking. Especially cooking. Wide ranging, clever and engaging.

2.V.C Linde at
Terrific combination of thoughtful poetry, brilliant projects, and some lovely imagery.

3.Almost Written at Go here for lovely photographs and all your haiku needs.

The Brass Rag at for common sense, a gently inquisitive view of life and perceptive insight.

5.J.A. Hennrikus here: Any blog that includes Jane Austen and baking gets my vote.

You’ll note that there are only five nominees here. These are the blogs I’ve come to know and love. There are plenty of others out there as well- I just haven’t discovered them yet.
When I have, I’ll let you know.

Is the pen is mightier than the keyboard ?

fountain pen

My name is jackspratt823 and I am an addict. Not whisky, not horses, not drugs. It’s something far more powerful, far more irresistible than any of those.

Fountain pens.

Can’t get enough of them. Like all addictions, the root of the problem goes back to my childhood. When I was at primary school we had these dip pens- dreadful things- like cocktail stick with a bent nail at the end to act as a nib. But then I got my first fountain pen- a Conway Stewart Dinky- and I was hooked. I like the clever machinery inside- the little plastic balloon that sucked up the ink from the bottle, and the lovely, liquid line which streamed on to the paper. It was love at first sight.

I don’t know how many I’ve got. I think it was forty seven at the last count. I’m an eclectic collector- a jackdaw- if it catches my eye, then I’ll buy it. But I’m not a fountain pen geek- one of those souls who carry seven different pens to work every day, with a different colour of ink in each one. No. That’s not me. I have an informal rota of pens I like- sometimes it’s the silver Cross my wife bought me, sometimes it’s the Parker Centennial ( big, black, classy. Use this to write out a shopping list and you feel as though you’re signing a treaty.)

Why bother ? Why not type it out on your computer/phone/tablet/hairbrush ? It’s the physicality of the act ot writing which appeals. Your ideas and intentions flow down your arm and into your fingers and onto the paper. It’s real.

Typing on a keyboard is a more abstract process. Your ideas are turned into a string of binaries ( I suppose) and appear on the screen in clusters of dots which look like letters. Somehow, there’s a gap between what you’re thinking and what appears on the screen.

And there’s no digital equivalent of handwriting ( there probably is but I haven’t seen it yet.)
Don’t get me wrong- I love the flexibility which word processing brings- the ability to cut and paste, the ability to organise an argument clearly. That’s brilliant. But I hate predictive text- that is creepy- you type something and some strange entity in the machine decides that you’re not allowed to say that. I’ve never heard of a fountain pen running amok.

And word processing speeds up the way you write. I always type medium to long pieces.

Which brings me to consider what writers did before the invention of the typewriter ( mechanical w/p) and the personal computer.

They wrote it all out. By hand.

Take Charles Dickens. Most modern novels run to about 60k words. A Dickens novel is, say, three or four times as long. Maybe 250,000 words.

Think about it.

How many bottles of ink did he get through a week ? Did he write at night ? If so, what was the candle bill ? Did he get a sore wrist ? Consider the motivation he must have had to put himself through what was a considerable ordeal.

And what goes for Dickens, goes for all the pre-19C writers.

Which leads me to this fascinating account of handwritten manuscripts. You can see it here :

So, where do you stand ? Word processor ? Fountain pen ? Roller ball ? Biro ( surely not…very smudgy.)

Tell me about the ways you use to transport those ideas down the arm and into the internet.