Monday, 26 March 2012

Tickling the English

Tickling the English by Dara O'Briain

We spent a weekend with friends a couple of weeks ago, and watched a DVD of one of Dara O'Briain's live shows. It was hilarious. The next day I spotted this book on their bookcase and began reading it, and they allowed me to bring it home to finish it.

The book is Dara's observations on the English, told through the lens of his 2009 comedy tour (actually, the same tour the DVD we watched was from). For each place he visits, he gives a bit of history, a few highlights of the show, and some general observations about the English.

Being married to an Irishman, I've heard many of these before - eg how come England feels its ok to mess with county borders whereas Ireland's have been fixed for 500 years? Why is it the British are at their happiest when they've got something to complain about?

It's laugh out loud funny in places, deeply thoughtful in other places. And leaves you making a resolution to go and see him next time he tours anywhere near.

Successful Novel Plotting

Successful Novel Plotting by Jean Saunders

The last of the books acquired at the Dunford Novelists' Conference! I won this one - third prize in the 60-word competition with this piece of rubbish on the theme of Revenge:

‘Keep the dinner warm for us,’ Jack had said. ‘I want to impress the boss.’ I bet you do, thought Lydia. He’d always cared more about his job than her. Well, she would be treated as a slave no longer. Her suitcase packed and a casserole prepared, she popped it into the freezer. Best served cold, as the saying goes.

Ahem. Anyway, as I've recently begun writing another novel this couldn't have come at a better time. Jean Saunders published hundreds of books under various names during her long career, so who better to teach the art of novel plotting? This is a very readable little book, in which Jean takes you through how to create memorable characters, how to plan chapter by chapter, and the importance of ensuring that your novel is a chain reaction - each event leads logically from what has come before. Near the end, she analyses one of her own novels, and you see just how much plot she puts into her stories! Definitely an inspiring read.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Miss McGuire is Missing

Miss McGuire is Missing by Eileen Robertson

I met the author at the novelists' conference earlier this year, and bought this, her first novel from her.

It's a unusual and great read - a thriller where the main characters are retired. Miss McGuire is an elderly ex-school teacher who goes missing while on a pensioners' mystery coach trip. Ben , wife Rosa and her sister Anna decide to investigate, and go back to the pub where she was last seen. Ben ends up getting kidnapped, and the two women, with the help of the pub landlady, need to find him and rescue him. Meanwhile the pub landlord is seriously ill and the dodgy local doctor looks like he's trying to bump him off...

There are some quite sinister undertones to this book, although it reads like a light-hearted romp through middle England. There are more twists and turns than the country roads through which the mystery coach tour passes. The book is unusual because of its main characters and because of the imaginative plot. Very readable - I couldn't put it down. It may seem expensive on Amazon as a hardback Robert Hale publication - I'd urge you to go find it in your local library.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Mr Rosenblum's List

Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons

This author gave a talk at the Wimborne Literary festival last autumn and I bought this book from her then.

Mr Rosenblum is a German Jewish refugee who moved to England before the second world war. The novel takes place in the early 1950s. Jack Rosenblum is relatively well off, from his successful carpet-manufacturing business. But what he wants more than anything is to be accepted as a true Englishman. His List is based on a pamphlet of advice given to refugees when they first arrive in England, and he has added to it ever since. Last on his list is to be accepted as a member by a golf course.

But no golf course will take him. So he decides to build his own. He and his wife Sadie move to a Dorset village and buy a ramshackle cottage with a few acres of hilly land. He sets about building the golf course - on his own to start with but as he gradually makes friends with the locals they come to help him. He's determined to open the course in time for the Queen's coronation in 1953. There are numerous setbacks but his enthusiasm and determination, then his friends faith in him, mean he is finally successful.

This is a lovely, heart-warming book. Jack Rosenblum is one of those characters once read, never forgotten. And the evocation of deepest rural Dorset in the 50s is brilliant - full of tales of the elusive Dorset woolly pig and other mythical creatures. Wasn't sure about the way the point of view jumps around - this was a little unnerving in places - but overall it's a great read.