• Do you Judge a Book by its Cover?

    I am a writer but I am also an avid reader. On FB, I have joined The Historical Fiction Club, as well as Historical Fiction Book Lovers, not to mention quite a few crime sites such as UK Crime Book Club.

    In the past year, I have read in many genres, books such as Pulitzer Prize winner, Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, and popular crime series such as those written by M.W. Craven. I have also read a number of debut novels, and received ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) copies to review on Netgalley.

    It seems to me that a book’s cover should be infinitely less important than the subject matter. When you read the blurb, it should either grab your imagination or not.

    But we are very influenced by what we see. Many historical novels have women on the front, and many crime dramas have gritty landscapes. Romances have pastel drawings. Psychological thrillers have a pastiche of threatening objects and/or large print questions – Would you, could you live with, kill, escape from…. ?

    I am generalising, but you get the gist.

    Sometimes, it is refreshing to find a book that has a plain cover such as ‘Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk. a fabulous novel.

    In an effort to stand out, publishers are creating amazing covers. Some put glitter on their books, shiny gold threads and eye catching artwork. This costs extra money, but looks good in book shops.

    So I’m sure this draws the reader’s eye to their novel. But I am looking for a good story with a premise that interests me. So I will always turn to the back and check it out.

    Just saying. What about you?

  • The Just-About-Managing

    From the earliest verbal stories to the most sophisticated prize winning novels, humans are obsessed with stories about people who have made money or lost money. Cinderella married money. Oh how we love a Cinderella story! Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince redeemed himself through losing everything. The noble sacrifice. But what about the JAMs?

    Personally, I think that a hero can also be someone who swims upstream. Today, we look at the people in Ukraine, denied heating and light, their homes destroyed under missile strikes, and we admire their fierce spirit. They have lost their European cafes, their magnificent theatres, but they are determined to win their freedom and keep their culture. Their stories are heartbreaking and inspirational. I applaud them all. But I also recognise that for millions, their endeavours will never hit the headlines, because they are just about managing to keep everything going.

    Daisy Suckley was born into privilege and money. By 1930, all the money had gone on a mixture of mismanagement and the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Some have portrayed her as rather fey or weak, yet nothing could have been further from truth. Denied a college education, or a marriage, by circumstances beyond her control, she girded her loins and determined to keep her beloved home, Wilderstein, afloat. Today, the house is a museum, refurbished and magnificent, but in 1930, it was a money pit and without a salary, the family would have sold it for proverbial peanuts in the Depression. But Daisy didn’t complain. Instead, she went out to work and paid what bills she could. How she found that work, and the friendships she made as a result, are part of the story of Daisy Chain.

    So I believe those who struggle, and cope without a fanfare – they are the quiet heroes. The ones who work without accolades, who scrimp and save and just about manage to pay their bills; those who light candles because electricity is scarce; and those who keep going rain or shine – they also deserve a pat on the back. So if you are a JAM – well done. Take a bow. Because life is hard when no one recognises your diligence. And you deserve a mention – just like Daisy.

    Wilderstein, 19th-century Queen-Anne-style house on the Hudson River, Rhinebeck, NY, USA

  • Dry January needn’t be Dull

    I read Cathy Adams’ article article in the Sunday Times (29th Jan 2023) with interest. I recommend it to all who have done a dry January. She loves alcohol and drinks to reward herself at the end of a stressful day. Who doesn’t? But she found the month difficult.

    I also embarked on a dry January. (The first day was the hardest.) Christmas had been good in every way. I spent time with my family in the USA, we ate, drank and were merry. Definitely, a case of excess consumption. Returning to the UK, acutely jet-lagged, I felt sluggish, with my brain in constant fourth gear trying to go up a hill. As a writer, it gave me dark thoughts: am I dying? do I have dementia? will I ever be able to string a coherent sentence together again?. This was followed by another thought: I must give up alcohol! Quickly followed by: Oh God how awful! If I give up my daily wine, will life be worth living?

    Despite the picture on my website, showing me smiling with a large glass of something alcoholic, I am not an alcoholic. (I don’t intend to belittle people who have a genuine alcohol demon). But I am addicted to a daily decent glass of wine and everything associated with vineyards. Wine tasting, wine buying, identifying new bottles of wine. It’s one of life’s pleasures – closely followed by cheese and chocolate. However, I also love creative writing, researching and working out the plots of a novel. And for that I need a sharp brain.

    So I focussed on the other things I enjoy. I started each day with a lovely cup of tea and a different variety of cheese on oatcakes. I finished each day with a mug of hot chocolate, or herb teas and cubes of different types of chocolate. I didn’t lose much weight, but, unlike the journalist, I didn’t experience anything negative. In fact, I forgot I was on a dry and enjoyed sitting down to write all the more for having a clear head.

    A dear friend who is a nurse told me that the liver needs six weeks to refresh itself. I intend to be dry until mid February. And then I’ll see about quantities and occasions.

    Anyone can do this. I’m not possessed of strong willpower. The trick is, instead of focussing on what you’re missing, build in new treats. Cathy Adams said our problem is the amygdala, that bit of your brain that craves a treat. Apparently it is very childlike. So feed your inner child and have a good detox at the same time. Anyone for a mug of hot chocolate?


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