Category Archives: Readers

Where have I been all this time?

After several weeks if not months of prevarication, I am, hopefully, getting it together.

Having attempted to struggle through a 6 week futurelearn course on ‘Reading Macondo’, which examines the work of Gabriel García Márquez’, I finally had to admit defeat this time round. Sadly, at least for those of us with only a smattering of any language other than English, the videos are all in Spanish. Even though the transcripts are bilingual it proved very hard work. Consequently I got too far behind.

I’m now in a more comfortable arena studying another furturelearn course ‘William Wordsworth: Poetry, People & Place’. This is proving no less fascinating than Macondo (which I will eventually return to). I heartily recommend anyone to look at the range of futurelearn courses – not restricted to literature by any means.

Now I’ve broken out of the mould I intend to continue this blog – at least weekly – without interruption!


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Costa Winner announced

Congratulations to Nathan Filer whose debut novel The Shock of the Fall has just won the Costa Book of the Year Award.

Filer wins £30,000 with each of the other finalists: Kate Atkinson, Michael Symmons Roberts, Lucy Hughes-Hallett and Chris Riddell, picking up a cheque for £5,000. He was obviously shocked by his success as he stumbled through a short ‘thank you’ to his wife. He told guest he hadn’t prepared a speech having checked the betting odds earlier.

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Althorp – A day of life and laughter

Althorp Literary Festival, celebrating its 10th year, had an impressive line-up of authors. Having to choose a day to visit was extremely difficult, but with Ken Dodd topping the bill on the first day I didn’t need much persuasion. It was a day beginning with a mixture of pathos and the horrors of war, which brought an emotional reading from Paddy Ashdown, and ending with our top jester who brought us to tears of a different kind.

Paddy Ashdown’s reading from his A Brilliant Little Operation – the story of the ‘Cockleshell’ raid in 1942 – including some of the fascinating and often tragic facts discovered during his research made a moving, informative and sometimes funny session extremely enjoyable. As an ex SBS man he looks and sounds the former soldier, which he admits helped him to enter the mindset of his protagonists, though he said his own experiences were ‘a walk in the park’ compared to the hell that the Cockshell Heroes suffered.

While waiting to hear Sandi Toksvig, she of the News Quiz fame, I was treated to, or rather overheard, Ann Widdecombe in full flow. I didn’t need to sit in the packed marquee or even stand outside. Her voice cut through the quiet of the Northants countryside like a saw. To describe her in the programme as ‘intrepid and engaging’ was an understatement! Well done Ann.

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Sandi stocks up with more copies for signing.

Sandi Toksvig being interviewed about her novel Valentine Grey proved to be equally engaging and a contrast to Paddy Ashdown’s session. Her early comment about working with an all male film crew for long periods: ‘as long as they have a bacon sandwich and they’ve been to the toilet they’re fine’ set the tone for the afternoon. The marquee was packed as she explained her research and writing behind this very moving story. For anyone who knew little or nothing about the horrific Boer War  this was an eye-opener, as well as a stomach churner. Interspersed with humorous anecdotes and ad-libs the session was over all too quickly.

The penultimate event was The Art of Being Idle hosted by Tom Hodgkinson and Sir Timothy Ackroyd. Despite the slight quirkiness of the subject, How to be Idle and the deliberations of some of his ‘philosophers of leisure’, Hodgkinson got me thinking that maybe there was something to consider and even value in a life of sloth. While I enjoyed his attempts to resurrect Harry McClintock’s ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’, accompanying himself on a ukulele, it left me wondering what happened to the original catchy refrain!

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Ken signs programmes for a host of admirers.

To round off the day there was only one place to be – listening to Fiona Lindsay trying (and for the most part succeeding) to interview Ken Dodd. Though he is beginning to look his age  (86) there’s something magical that comes over him the minute he starts to perform. He transforms into a younger, livelier jester  – an absolute joy to watch, listen to and be with. Like many of the audience I came away asking why he hasn’t been more highly honoured for what is an outstanding contribution to comedy. But then I was still crying with laughter.

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LBF 2013 – Worth the wait

A little late reporting this, but just some brief comments on a great London Book Fair. Fascinating to see the digital section continuing to eat up more and more floor space. PEN, as usual, hosted a great range of interviews, but sometimes difficult to hear with the Russians opposite trying to shout down the speaker for their own benefit.

Always a delight to talk to Louise Jordan of the Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books. She’s a mine of information & comment. Always keen to meet new people so well worth potential writers checking her website This has nothing to do with the never-ending bowl of chocolates she had on her stand!

Can there be a market for all the books on display in the Children’s Zone. Judging by visitor interest and the packed talks in the Children’s Innovation Theatre, certainly.

Swedish Made

It’s always interesting to talk with overseas publishers – in this case Fill and Tell AB over from their offices in Sweden. Stand manager Katrine Konar introduced me to Låba – a wonderful little character who endeared himself to me straight away.


Proffsig_Låba new

These little interactive books, featuring Fredrik Einvall’s illustrations, were magic. Perhaps a distributor over here will find him quirky enough to take on board. Let’s hope their visit to LBF 2013 was worthwhile and we see them all back again next year.

Booki Reader

Watch out for this 8″ touch-screen e-reader aimed at 2 to 6 year olds. It should be hitting the marketplace in September. Shaped like a bear it includes voice recording and comes with 30 titles pre-installed. It’s Android based with 8Gb of flash memory check out

Cup Cake Mania

Our insatiable appetite for cup cakes brought eager visitors to Make Believe Ideas stand who were promoting Camilla the Cupcake Fairy as well as an enchanting Mouston Abbey book .  Their spring catalogue features some amazing sticker books complete with carrying handles!

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  Fairies Jane & Hannah tempt visitors to the stand with freshly made cup cakes decorated while-u-wait.

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National Poetry Competition Winner

Out of 13,041 entires, Patricia McCarthy’s ‘Clothes that escaped the Great War’ is the Winner of the National Poetry Competition.

Judges Vicki Feaver, W N Herbert and Nick Laird were initially struck by the surprising title of McCarthy’s work, but were soon captivated by this atmospheric poem based on a story her own mother told her – a memory of something she had witnessed as a small girl in Yorkshire, during the First World War.

Patricia McCarthy becomes the 36th person to win the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition since it began in 1978. The competition has been an important milestone in the careers of many of today’s leading poets and  recognises an individual poem, previously unpublished, in an anonymised judging process. The judges only discover the identity of the winners after making their final decision. Take a look at

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