YOUR BOOK BY DECREE

The British Library wants my book! It’s official! There again they want a copy of every newly published work; be it a book, manuscript or music score.

It was only recently I learned that this esteemed institution requires publishers, by law, to forward a copy of any new publications. Legal Deposit was established in 1662 and since 2013, it now includes digital as well as print publications. Publishers, which also means authors who self-publish, must send their book to the British Library.

The King’s Library

What exactly is Legal Deposit:

“The legal deposit libraries work together to ensure the long term preservation of UK publications, both in print and digital form. They are collected systematically. They ensure that publications are held securely and that they can be discovered and accessed by readers within the legal deposit libraries as well as being preserved for the use of future generations.”

With pride, I pop a copy of “The Storyteller Speaks” in the post to them. I imagine it joining the 170 million items there. These are stored on shelving stretching on 746 km over fourteen floors.

The present British Library at St. Pancreas was only completed towards the end of the last century and it’s a building of beauty and function.

Humanities Reading Room

It is home to eleven reading rooms including ones for Rare Books, Manuscripts and Maps! Amongst its collections are materials ranging from Magna Carta to Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook, from today’s newspapers to websites. For those interested in music there are over seven million recordings from 19th-century wax cylinders recordings to CDs.

Furthermore, a separate building on a 44-acre site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire houses around 70% of the Library’s print collection which accounts for over 80 million items.

Legal deposit is not restricted to only the British Library in London. A further five national libraries can insist on copies being forwarded by the publishers to them. These are the National Libraries of Scotland, Wales and Trinity College Dublin, as well as Cambridge University Library and Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Have you heard of Legal Deposit before? Have you sent your book to the British Library? For readers not in the UK, I wonder if there is a similar requirement in your county? Can’t wait to find out more from you all!

What’s in a Name?: Book Review

Shakespeare said it so well, didn’t he? Or did he?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Even as a sixteen-year-old studying ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I had quibbles with this assertion. Although I understood the particular references for this play, I felt, and still do, that our given names carry a certain ponderance. With our names we have a responsibility to our ancestors, to ourselves. Behind each there is a story.

With these thoughts swirling in my mind, I approached Sally Cronin’s book with deep interest. I couldn’t wait to read it. In these fictional short stories she explores the lives of twenty named individuals. This first volume which I’m reviewing here included names from ‘A’ to ‘J’. I was enthralled by the concept of the book, the names in alphabetical order, male and female.

It’s been a while since I read a book of short stories and often I find that my brain needs to change gear, to adapt to the different mode of storytelling.

With ‘What’s in a Name?’ I did not need to make any such adjustments. I slipped seamlessly into the book and once I started I couldn’t stop! Each separate story pulling me into the next.

Each is centred around one person. This is all the stories have in common. The themes vary from gentle reunions, relationships which have gone awry whether in friendships, marriage, siblings or between parent and child, from war to a violent abusive marriage. The versatility of subject matter is astonishing.

Equally wide-ranging are the various time eras, often spanning thirty or more years seamlessly within the stories. In one the gap is from the very beginning of humans to modern-day as early man Brynyar is reflected later in the story in modern-day ‘Brian’.

Throughout, Sally captures the reader’s attention from the very first sentence, immediately transporting the reader to the setting. I found myself immersed, the tiniest of detail settling me into the story. Furthermore, and I’m not sure how she does it, Sally sketches such an intimate picture of the characters I felt they were my friends, neighbours. I fell for them, some I adored, a couple rightly angered me and I cheered as one was arrested. The stories never felt rushed, the writing flowing with ease and complete on their own. More than a few times however I longed to read more about their lives, to stay with the characters longer and I could easily imagine a novel from some of them.

Throughout, Sally writes in the third person but at no stage does this create a sense of distance, rather the close portrayals of every day people come powerfully across. Effortlessly she explores people in all stages of life. A few stories feature children and ‘Grace’ had me tear-eyed as the five-year-old girl struggled with loneliness in the orphanage once her best friend was adopted. Could Father Christmas make all the difference?

All the endings are wonderfully surprising, with delightfully unexpected twists. Some were brilliantly audacious, where else would one find an assassin featuring alongside stories including a ballerina and a tortoise? Some stories left me chuckling, others were heartbreakingly sad about loss, and others about fateful revenge.

‘What’s in a Name?’ is a highly rewarding and engaging read which I finished over two afternoons. It’s a book I highly recommend and I’m sure you will come away answering the question in the title of the book with a resounding ‘Everything is in a Name!”

Although I was sad to finish this first volume, I’m looking forward to reading Volume 2 of ‘What’s in a Name?’ which is already on my Kindle!

Rating:        5 out of 5 stars

Available:    Amazon US  $ 3.79 (Kindle) Amazon UK £2.95 (Kindle)

Publisher: Moyhill Publishing

As well as a wonderful writer in her own right many of you will know about the superb work Sally carries out in promoting books for authors, helping in marketing via her blog, Smorgasbord Blog Magazine, and social media. She has become an indispensable and good friend of authors here on WordPress. What is probably less known is how she found herself here. Learn more on her about page here.

Contact details for Sally Cronin:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgc58
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sally.cronin
LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sallycronin1
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ie/cronin1423/

MYSTERY OF SAILS

Recently a dear friend who was moving house gave me four magnificent sailing ship prints and their majesty astounded me. The first of these is the Brig Fride of Göteborg seen above.

The sight of sailing ships is always awe-inspiring. This is true even of pictures featuring them and they evoke an uplifting sense of wonder and adventure.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” — William Faulkner

As always, I wanted to know a bit of the story behind them? Who painted them? I headed to the trusty internet to learn about the artist behind paintings such as the Clipper Ship Challenger pictured above.

However, this time the web failed me and the mystery of sails began.

“Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.” — Kahlil Gibran

I could find the prints for auction at one auction house in Sweden. Two of the prints seems to be connected to two different artists: Peter Christian Holm (1823 – 1888) for the steamboat and Signe Marin for the Brig.

Here the trail went cold! I would be intrigued if anyone could shed anymore light on the history of these paintings.

Meanwhile, my mind wondered towards the pull of the ocean, its reverential hold upon us all. Writers not only find it a source of inspiration and rejuvenation but also cannot help but note down the power of this vast expanse. Perhaps even when aboard boats such as the Three-mast Barque Gefion pictured above.

“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.” ― Rachel Carson

I decided to seek out ocean-related sayings and here the internet proved much more willing. I’ve chosen four from authors whose books are some of my favourites.

The last of the four ship prints is the Steamship Gustaf Adolf pictured here.

Finally, do you have any favourite quotations, poetry or songs related to the ocean? Please feel free to share here and if possible I look forward to collating these in a separate post. For all writers, if you have written a piece based around the seas please include it in the comments or link to your post! I look forward to a discussion all about the ocean!

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” — Louisa May Alcott

SEA PRAYER: A Book Review

On 2nd September 2015 an image flashed around the world that saddened and horrified us all. A young boy, later identified as Alan Kurdi, lay motionless on a pristine beach in Turkey, the dawn sun glowing around him. He was dead. During his three young years he knew only war in Syria; a war his parents fled to find safety. The photo of Alan touched everyone and inspired, nay, I would say, drove one famous writer to pen a short book, Sea Prayer.

Within Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer the words and illustrations are intrinsically linked, creating a wondrous work of art.

The first page starts as a letter (quasi-eulogy) to the narrator’s son, Marwan, and it recalls the beauty of life in Homs. The father describes his childhood when he had woken “to the stirrings of olive trees in the breeze/to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat”.

Tender, colourful watercolours by Dan Williams accompany the story. On one page the vibrant red of poppies match the red of his wife’s coat, as she holds her son’s hand wandering through a field.

It’s a time of peace, tranquillity, harmony. In the old city there was “a mosque for us Muslims,/a church for our Christian neighbours,/and a grand souk for us all”.

Soon this life of normality is transformed into one “like some long-dissolved rumour”.

As war approaches the watercolours darken, greys, blacks, browns dominate. These are more powerful than ever, conveying the despair and sense of hopelessness. As the illustrations change, so does the language for a few pages, the short staccato sentences echoing the weapons.

“The skies spitting bombs.
Starvation.
Burials.”

Marwan’s childhood is one where he has learned “dark blood is better news/than bright.” His bathing places are not the idyllic creeks of his father’s youth, rather that of bomb craters. This is not a childhood.

As the family join thousands of other refugees fleeing their country I find myself physically pained, the long march pictured across two pages, no words necessary.

Father and son find themselves on a beach with many others where they stand “in the glow of this three-quarter moon”. Here the father makes his promise: “Nothing bad will happen.”

A hollow promise as the father recognises more than ever “How powerless I am to protect you from it.”

The book ends with the beauty of sunlight across a soft morning beach. A new day, a new beginning, new hope.

Three certainties not afforded to all.

This is a book I’ve read many times, each occasion more tear-eyed than before. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional. It is a testament to the human spirit, to love and compassion within every one of us.

Throughout Khaled Hosseini writes with flair and skill, the poetic prose magically drawing the reader into the story. It’s deceptively simple, almost a lullaby in the gentlest of tones telling the cruellest of truths.

If you come to Sea Prayer expecting a lengthy literary novel such as his brilliant The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns or And The Mountains Echoed you will probably be disappointed.

If you expect to catch the sublime gifted language and story to remember for all time by this renowned author, you are in for a treat.

This is a book that crosses all genres, it’s for children, for adults, for humanity — it’s a precious gift to hold it within one’s hands and heart. Everyone who reads it will be, as I was, humbled by its message told on behalf of all refugees who endure so much but whose voices are seldom heard.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

AVAILABLE: From bookshops, libraries, online such as Amazon UK and Amazon US

PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Books

Sailing Among Rocky Shores

It must be in the genes, or at least that is my excuse! For appointments, I will arrive early and not just by a few minutes. Twenty minutes ahead of time is standard for me, leaving me kicking my heels, scanning signposts, flicking through tattered waiting room magazines. It’s a trait that frustrates my son, yet one that I’ve instilled in him with perfection! When my mother is with us, the early arrival time exponentially increases! This was just the case one summer morning when we turned up nearly an hour before the trip departure.

This time the waiting was heavenly; standing on the quay, watching the fishing boats return with their catch, the sun wrapping its warmth gently around us, heralding another blistering day ahead! An idyllic morning in Grebbestad on the West Coast of Sweden.

Our ride for the day was already in, its wooden deck beckoning us aboard. M/S Donalda was a large fishing boat from 1926 and later converted to a charter boat traversing the beautiful archipelago. We scanned the seats of the boat, wondering which was the most comfortable, which would give us the best view. We need not have worried!

Our ride for the day – M/S Donalda

The sights were pure magic as we slowly eased out of the harbour and along the coastline. Early bathers were on the rocks, a few sleepy strollers ambled on the walkways. The sea was a milk pond of glittering crystals; painful to stare at yet my eyes were drawn to the sparkles of life.

One of the many sailing boats along the coastline

Our destination was Väderöarna – the Weather Islands! These consist of a few hundred islands and rocky islets in the Skagerrak and are located less than an hours sailing from the mainland. Interestingly it has one of the warmest and windiest climates in Sweden and was inhabited from 1700 until the 1960s by coast pilots and their families.

My eyes continuously studied the sea and islands. Camouflaged on the grey/pink rocks we spotted seals languidly sunbathing, at one with the solid foundation beneath them. A gentle joyful ‘aww’ rippled along the boat.

View from the Weather Islands – Väderöarna

Next to me, a couple seemed more equipped for a spy operation than a summer outing, wrestling with ease their giant binoculars and camera. My initial scepticism of their kit turned to slight envy as they viewed the birdlife flittering around us. Seagulls of course, yet so much more. Terns graced us with their presence and we watched in awe.

Looking out to sea from the Weather Islands – Väderöarna

I drifted in and out of the informative commentary; at one with my thoughts as the past merged with the present to a new harmony within me. The sense of freedom was indescribable.

The journey continued with just the odd swell. I was thankful not to experience the terrifying winter storms that face the fishermen when waves can reach heights over ten metres. On stormy nights, I often think of my family members who are out at sea.

Danholmen – Ingrid Bergman’s summer retreat

Yet, at the name, Ingrid Bergman, I tuned in once more. Famous years before my birth, her films featured regularly at home and I grew to appreciate her warmth, flair and skill. Yet far from the world of fiction she sought sanctuary on a deserted island called Danholmen. Incredible to believe that this Hollywood star’s summer retreat was visible from the boat. It was easy to see the attraction of what she described as: “So lonely. Huge skies, immense seas. An island full of enormous rounded boulders and little coves – the sea everywhere. In the summer, everything so bright and shining – sea and rocks and sky. And such a feeling of isolation.”

The habour of the main island of the Weather Islands and its restaurant/hotel

The Weather Islands greeted us with peaceful ambience, its stillness contagious. We all disembarked with quiet reverence on the main island of Storö (Big Island). A day of exploration awaited us but first refreshments beckoned at the one and only restaurant/hotel.

View of the harbour of Storö – the main island of The Weather Islands

Hours later my soul was satiated with the beauty of these wonderful islands; my eyes were like windmills, moving back and forth to absorb the breathtaking views around me, promising to never forget, to let the profound tranquillity remain within me. I will return!

Cairn marker – these are found all over Sweden

A PURPLE PASSION

Revered for thousands of years, Lavender still holds us enthralled. The fragrant plants are a delight themselves whilst its distilled essential oils have been used for millenniums for aromatherapy, perfume, herbal medicines, culinary herbs.

It was with excitement and joy I found myself at Jersey Lavender within a couple of hours of landing on this jewel of an island of Jersey. Established in 1983, the lavender farm boosts 9 acres with 55,000 lavender plants of six varieties.

As if in a trance I wandered amongst this haven, my palms gently sweeping across the flowers, inhaling the heavenly scent. I found myself closing my eyes … my emotions filled, a dream realised on this first day of my anniversary break.

Luscious lavender

Its fervent purple promise

With forced steam distilled

The golden essence freed.

©Annika Perry, July 2019

THE STRENGTH WITHIN

Anna hadn’t noticed the time slipping away as she worked in the library. Engrossed in her study of anatomy, books covered every surface of the desk, some lying on top of each other at an angle, others closed with scraps of paper marking various sections.

Suddenly the alarm rang, and a flurry of activity stirred Anna from her studies.

‘Ten minutes until closing everyone. Ten minutes. Please bring any books to the desk if you need to check them out.’ The librarian headed to another room repeating her message.

Where had the three hours gone? Quickly Anna slammed the books shut and dashed around the library returning a couple to the shelves. The remaining three she lifted into the crook of her arm and after putting her papers and ink pen into her satchel she headed for the desk.

‘There you are, dear. Better fasten up your coat, it’s a blustery night out there,’ said the librarian, recognising the diligent student from the past few weeks. ‘You’ll take the tram back, won’t you? Don’t get caught out in the rain.’

Anna nodded briefly, whispered a quiet ‘thank you’ before grabbing her books. She found it hard to talk to strangers and the warmth and kindness of the librarian only made her miss home more. There she never had a moment to herself apart from her brief solitary outings on the rocks, here loneliness engulfed her.

‘Goodbye. Have a good weekend,’ called the librarian.

‘You too,’ replied Anna with clarity and determination. ‘I wish you a lovely weekend too.’ There, she could do it. Everything would be fine.

The librarian had not been exaggerating about the weather as outside the wind whipped around Anna, sweeping her coat around her legs and rain spiked at her face. Undecided she stopped at the corner. To the left was the tram stop but she barely had any money and perhaps the girls might invite her out to a cafe with them tomorrow afternoon. She didn’t want to back out through lack of funds. To her right lay the shortcut to the school; only a kilometre, all along the streets. With a determined spin Anna turned and marched off down the road.

The lights were further apart than she recalled and as the temperature dropped mist formed on the ground and drifted around her ankles as she walked. Her feet scuffed the pavement and with a stumble she corrected herself, the books precariously balanced in her arms.

‘Not long now,’ Anna said to herself as she started to hum one of her mother’s lullabies. The fog became denser, the lights from the lamps dissipating until only distant balls of yellow hung ominously in the air. Where was everyone? Shouldn’t they all be going out to the cafes and bars? Of course, she realised, that was the opposite direction. Here there were only a few houses in the distance and to the left a park; she’d forgotten about that. She tried to peer through the murk into the park, to the lake she knew lay in the middle but saw nothing. Just blackness.

Anna walked faster, her shoes trilling along on the pavement, her breathing faster. Behind her she heard some steps. Loud and heavy. No, this was silly, she was imagining it. The steps sounded closer now and with a shock she started to run, the books flying in her wake, her satchel dropped to the ground.

Suddenly an arm violently grabbed her around the waist and started to pull her towards the park. Anna screamed and instinctively reached out to the black iron wrought railings at the park entrance. She must never let go.

The man had both arms around her waist, tugging, squeezing hard as he tried to drag her from the railings. Anna screamed and screamed. She couldn’t stop. Her shrieks pierced the air. His hands were over one of hers, trying to prise her fingers from their grip. She held on – just. All the time screeching for help. A feral animalistic wordless cry of sheer terror.

His fingers clawed at her fingertips and with another scream she finally let go. Her other hand remained clutched to the railing. The man released his hold for a fraction, Anna hoped for a second, he would leave her. In vain as she saw his arm rise and he threw a sharp punch in her stomach. Silence collapsed around them. Anna fell forward, her head slumping onto her knees, the man’s arms quickly around her and lifting her up. Like a rag doll she hung for a moment in his grasp. Limp. Lost.

‘What’s going on here? Let her go!’ The voice came from across the street and more shouts joined this first one. Footsteps echoed in the silence of the fog. ‘Let her go! Let her GO!’ On their command Anna was dropped to the ground like discarded rubbish and with a thud she hit the ground, landing on her side and rolling into a ball.

‘Are you alright?’ Tightly curled up, she lay unmoving.

‘Is she hurt?’

‘Where did he go?’

‘I’ll go and call the police, you stay with her.’

The disembodied voices hung around her. Anna felt a lady sit on the ground next to her, talking, saying something; the words remote and distant. Indecipherable. A jacket was bunched as a pillow beneath her head.         

‘Mamma, Mamma,’ moaned Anna inaudibly.

’She’s trying to speak. I can’t make it out. Can anyone give me their coats? Any blankets, anything. She’s shaking terribly. God, look, this is bad, I can’t stop her shaking.’

‘I’ve found her bag. And some books were scattered just a bit away from here.’

‘What’s your name? Where do you live? Listen, we need to call someone.’

The voice was becoming more emphatic, increasingly desperate.

‘I recognise the uniform. It’s Hellsson School – I’ll give them a call. I’ll be back in a moment.’

Hellsson School? Why did that sound familiar, wondered Anna. She was sure she’d heard of it before. Who were all these strangers and why wasn’t she lying in bed? With that thought she closed her eyes and found welcome oblivion.

©Annika Perry, July 2019

The above piece is a short snippet from my draft novel Island Girl. I know, it’s a long time coming and I wanted to share a little of it with you.

The weeks are flying past and owing to various commitments I am not able to be present on WP as much as I would like but this will change soon. Whenever possible I look forward to checking in with you all.

A WORLD OF ROSES

A proliferation of roses greets me every morning in the garden. Each one a blessing after the rather dismal and grey winter and spring here in the UK, and perhaps the damp weather aided the spectacular display. More than ever the rose bushes are in a glorious and abundant show of flowers with endless buds biding their time for their turn to bloom.

‘Queen of Sweden’ rose

As I view the flowers with awe, inspecting the new arrivals, snipping away those that have withered, I started to ponder about roses. How I’ve always taken them for granted yet know so little about them.

To accompany just some of my photos, particularly of my pink David Austin ‘Queen of Sweden’ which at one stage had over seventy buds, I’m also sharing some fun facts about roses which I encountered on my research.

  • There are over 100 different species of roses, and over a staggering 13,000 identifiable varieties!
  • Their cultivation began around 5000 years ago in Asia although the oldest fossil of roses dates back 35 millions years.
Hildesheim Cathedral Rosebush
  • The oldest surviving rose is over 1,000 years old and grows against the wall of the Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany. The roots of the rose bush survived when the cathedral was destroyed during bombings in World War II.
  • There are no black roses, although those referred to as such are in fact a dark red-crimson colour.
  • The buds of the tiniest rose is only the size of a grain of rice, whilst the largest rose, bred by a rose specialist in California, measures approximately 83 cm / 33 inches in diameter.
  • The leading exporter of roses is the Netherlands with 19,768 acres of land growing roses. Meanwhile, Bulgaria is famous for its Rose Valley which has for centuries produced up to 85% of the world’s rose oil.
Roses in Bulgaria
  • The world’s most expensive rose variety cost over £3 million / $5 million to cultivate during 15 years of work by the famous rose breeder David Austin. The ‘Juliet’ rose, with its neatly-arranged petals nestling folds within the heart of the bloom, is especially popular for weddings.
Bouquet of David Austin’s ‘Juliet’ roses
  • The ‘Shady Lady’, as it is unofficially known, or ‘Lady Banksia’, its official name, in Arizona is the world’s largest rose bush with a circumference of around 3.6 m / 12 feet. The seedling, brought over by a young bride from her native Scotland 134 years ago, has a canopy today that stretches over 800 square metres / 9,000 square feet and a forest of roses appear in Spring.
  • There are over 4,000 songs dedicated to roses and one that I’m most familiar is the moving ‘La Vie en Rose’. This has been covered by many artists and recently became known to a younger audience through its feature on the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”. I discovered this wonderful version by the fabulously talented Louis Armstrong and it’s a delight to share here.

Finally, in case you want to see some more roses, here is a video of my ‘Queen of Sweden’ rose bush. Enjoy and listen out for the ice-cream van tune … one that often has me dashing inside for money and then eagerly queuing for a ’99-Flake’ (which alas costs more than 99 pence these days!)

Note: Some of you might have noticed that I have been less busy than usual with blogging, All is well, however as so often happens life has been extremely hectic in recent weeks. With time I will be visiting as before, but ask for you understanding if I am less active for a while.

PARALLEL LIVES

The first time I met myself was a few years ago. Once again this Easter, after a  day of travelling, I arrived at last at the houses in the midst of the forest. And there I was! As if I’d never been away! A disconcerting sensation, a time-shifting eclipse. As if my conscious self in the UK had been switched off, just as the awareness of my Swedish self powered on.

It was as if I’d walked this gravel road every day, not just for the two weeks over Easter. One spectacular afternoon I witnessed the sun searing through the trees.

The forest itself proved startlingly alive, alluring; the air brimming with oxygen, the colours clear and vibrant. Certain events, unknown to my Swedish self, reminded me that I had not been there after all. When did the big fir tree topple down? Or rather break away as a neighbour later pointed out, the top half cracking away from the main trunk, to land neatly in the birch copse. 

By the coast the combination of sea, sky and rocks struck me anew, the views intoxicating, like a punch of joy to my heart. My other self had let me down, let me forget this body blow of beauty.

The blues all around were broken up by the array of colours of the rocks, the stark trees, the dainty flowers growing in the granite cracks.

Here and there people had contributed to the enjoyment with a sense of fun creating a child’s seat set amongst the rocks.

The two weeks were filled with overwhelming joy, laughter, conversation. Where walks transformed into meditations, where books became all-consuming, where thoughts sought and found clarity in the vastness of nature.

How could life be anything but this?

Yet I return home … my other home, to my other self. Yet the one in Sweden clings on to my spirit, not quite ready to release me from its hold, my soul swooping amongst the trees, across the waters.

I am here, yet there. I’ll never forget standing on the deck on Good Friday, gazing at the full moon in all-consuming awe of epiphany. The pink aura transported across space to minuscule us! The magic of the cosmos captured in a finite second. There am I, part of the wilderness, here am I, longing to return.

“We carry our homes within us, which enables us to fly.” John Cage

BOOKS AHOY!

I never imagined the evening would end up with me making a paper boat. 

‘It’s quite easy,’ one of the organisers reassured, ‘just fold like this.’ 

With intense concentration I looked on, thinking the little boat was the perfect symbol for this year’s Essex Book Festival. The theme was ‘Uncharted Waters’, inspired in part by the 80th anniversary of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Secret Water’. 

Wow! How far I’ve travelled this March —to India and back as well as to the 19th Century! All whilst remaining firmly seated, listening eagerly to authors!

A L Kennedy (left) with Festival Director, Ros Green

In January I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend & children’s author Josie Dom to the media launch of the festival. I was thoroughly inspired by the event and speakers including the renowned patron of the festival A. L. Kennedy. A winner of many awards including the Costa Book, A. L. Kennedy had me spellbound with her talk. Afterwards I found myself standing next to her but was overcome with shyness and utterly speechless!

The figures for the book festival are staggering. In this, its 20th years of existence, it is the biggest in the country, with over 130 events at 45 venues. The variety of events is amazing with such innovative interactive experiences as The Human Library, numerous writing workshops for all ages, storytelling, poetry jukebox as well as a host of author talks/interviews.

I went to a number of author talks and will feature two of these here. Each one was unique, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable! My first impression was how well-attended these all were; filled to capacity with lots of engagement with questions and discussion. In a world where we worry the population is reading less and less, I found the active and informed participation by the audience a postive sign that the love of books is well and truly alive!

The first talk I attended was by Vaseem Khan and I was intrigued how an elephant fits into a crime story. The author of ‘Baby Ganesh Detective Agency’ books, Vaseem spoke eloquently and passionately about his own route to writing. Born near London and an avid cricketer, his work took him to India twenty years ago and it is here he started to write. 

It was with the creation of Inspector Copra that he found an agent and quickly a publisher. He weaves the wealth and poverty of modern India brilliantly into his novels, and in this knowledgeable talk I learnt a lot about the country from 3000 years ago to the 21st century. Vaseem was inspired by his father (who sadly had passed away just ten days earlier), who, when faced with difficult situations, said: ‘To change the narrative.’ Vaseem has done exactly that with this unusual series of books set in India, refusing to depict the Bollywood image nor the stereotype ‘happy slum dwellers’. It is hard to believe that these books are written early in the mornings before Vaseem starts his full-time job as a management consultant. A meticulous planner, Vaseem Khan sets aside three months for planning each novel before spending another four months to write it.

I was smitten by the talk and the books and although I didn’t have time to buy a book on the day I did download the first in the series entitled ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’. I’ve just finished reading this. It’s thoroughly immersive and captivating (and my heart was definitely with the elephant!). This book definitely deserves the accolade of being in the vein of the hugely successful (and loved by me) Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series.

Below is the blurb for ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’.

‘On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovers that he has inherited an elephant: an unlikely gift that could not be more inconvenient. For Chopra has one last case to solve…

But as his murder investigation leads him across Mumbai – from its richest mansions to its murky underworld – he quickly discovers that a baby elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs. 

So begins the start of a quite unexpected partnership, and an utterly delightful new series.’

The next talk featured Bridget Collins, a full-time author who has already published seven YA fiction books. However, she decided to venture into unknown territory with her book ‘The Binding’ which quickly became a Sunday Times bestseller. At the time of writing, Bridget was unsure which market the book would suit; on completion her agent liked the book and advised her to rewrite it for the adult fiction market. The book winds the author’s interest in bookbinding with that of her work in the Samaritans and at its core is its exploration of memory. It sounds spellbinding and mesmerising!

Having trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Bridget Collins has a freerer approach to her books – with the main concept and theme in place she is amenable to being led by the characters or situations in her books.

The presentation of the book is stunning with its sumptuous paper cover, ex libris page, gold foil on the spine and hardback. This is a book that looks almost too beautiful to read. My signed copy has pride of place on my bookshelf and I can’t wait to read it.

Here is the blurb:

“Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.

In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded.

Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.”

Finally, as regards the origami boats, the Essex Book Festival has pledged 1,000 of these to charity for visitors to inscribe with their personal message of love and friendship … mine is still settled safely on my desk, waiting for the right moment to sail away, carrying its message afar!

As I am away on an Easter break at the moment I will not be able to reply or visit blogs as much as normally; please know I will catch up as soon as possible and always I look forward to discussions.