Gosh I am behind! I had a lovely week in Wales with a group of people who were on a landscape photography tour. We stayed in a wonderful converted chapel near Llanberis. It is in the Snowdonia National Park and is in slate country. I was the cook so it was my job to keep everyone well fed and to produce meals at the right time. As ever I enjoyed meeting new people and learned a little more about photography. My purpose in taking pictures is to us them as reference material for paintings. Having spent years using pastels I am trying out acrylics with varying success. I will post a painting when I have one I think is finished.
Today on the radio we talked though a Christmas list of beautiful books to give as gifts. It is difficult to choose as there are so many I could have filled a three hour slot by myself!
Last night I went to the London Review Bookshop to see one of the literary greats. Edna O’Brien is surely one of the best writers around, certainly one of my favourites. Her new book, The Little Red Chairs, which those of you who follow these things will know I discussed with Nick Coffer on the last radio broadcast, is an amazing novel. Inspired by the moving pictures of the 11,541 (643 were child size) red chairs set out in the High Street of Sarajevo in 2012 to commemorate the deaths of the people in the siege of Sarajevo 20 years previously, the book tells the story of a war criminal who arrives in a small Irish coastal town. His effect on the people is both powerful and tragic. The book follows the fortunes of one of those villagers as she moves to London and also visits the War Crimes tribunal in the Hague.
It is very typical of Edna O’Brien that the prose is economical, lean and exactly tells the story, without ambiguity or fuss.
Edna was interviewed by Andrew O’Hagan, himself a Booker shortlisted writer (for his novel Our Fathers), and he did a great job, asking just the questions I wanted to ask. I loved the novel and I feel very privileged to have been at the event.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton published Jan 1st 2015 by Pan Macmillan £7.99 paperback
This is a kind of 17th century thriller. A bit spooky as well
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey published Jan 1st 2015 by Penguin £7.99 paperback
Maud is 81 and has dementia. This is her story. Funny, poignant, sad and very readable.
Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan published July 2014 by Vintage £16.99 hardback
This is going into my top ten books of all time at number 3. It is the winner of the Man Booker prize and is just stunningly unputdownable. The hero, Dorrigo Evans, is a doctor from Tasmania, who finds himself held by the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp. The inmates of the camp are expected to build the Thailand Burma Railway.
The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen published by Random House Children’s January 2015 £6.99
This has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and for the Blue Peter fiction award which will be announced on World Book Day on Thursday. It is a gripping read aimed at 9 – 13 year olds
Sophia by Anita Anand published by Bloomsbury January 15 2015 £20 hardback
This is a biography of Sophia Duleep Singh, granddaughter of Ranjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab and god daughter of Queen Victoria.
H is for hawk by Helen MacDonald published by Vintage February 2015 £8.99 paperback
Wonderful autobiography of Helen Macdonald training a goshawk called Mabel and learning to deal with her grief at her father’s death. Woven in is a biography of T.H.White, one time teacher and author of The Once and Future King
I went to BBC Three Counties on Monday to discuss books with Nick Coffer.
I went to a Book Group last week and we had one of the longest discussions about a book we all enjoyed – Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. I have just been to another book group where we had an interesting discussion about Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. By contrast for another book group I plan to attend next week we are reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I just love the variety!