What I read in 2016

 

What I read in 2016

I’m intending to write a post called The Dying Art of Reading but that will take more brain power than I can currently muster, so for the moment, a round-up of my reading last year will have to suffice on the topic of reading.

I keep a notebook of what books I read; some use Goodreads for this but as I hate Goodreads (it’s toxic for authors, for anyone with a thin skin and honestly, it’s data-mined more than anything else for connections between authors and readers). In total I completed reading 78 titles last year, which is slightly less than I thought; that said, I always have a good half dozen books on the go and some I simply don’t finish. More on the DNF topic another time. 34 titles were non-fiction, and some of those were doorstops that took months to get through, chipping away a few pages at a time. One of the first that I bounced my way through was a book called Brilliant Green- the surprising history and science of plant intelligence by Stefano Mancuso. Well written and entertaining too, this book was a joy to read and might change the way you see plants.

I’ve worked my way with glee through a fair chunk of the works of Marie-Louise Von Franz, student, translator, and associate of Carl Jung. Her books on fairy-tales are enthralling and enlightening reading; you can almost pick one at random and be amazed at the extraordinary information inside. In the same vein I read The Black Sun – the alchemy and art of Darkness by Stanton Marlan, and also Monika Wilkman’s The Pregnant Darkness – alchemy and the rebirth of consciousness. Both books explore the darker states of human existence (such as depression and grief) in the light of the ancient art of alchemy. I’m still pondering on my findings, such as they are, but these are excellent books.

Very worth reading too was Change of Life- psychological study of dreams in the menopause by Ann Markovic, and The Owl was a Baker’s Daughter – Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa and the Repressed Feminine by Marion Woodman. Susan Scott’s quirky little book, In Praise of Lilith, Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, was highly enjoyable too; a collection of essays and explorations, it’s a very engaging walk through some complex topics.

In fiction, I sated myself on Ann Cleeves books, gorging on several each from the Shetland and the Vera series, and then going right off them. I did the same with a number of titles by Dennis Wheatley and probably won’t touch either author’s works now for a long while. I might be in danger of doing the same with John Connelly’s Charlie Parker series, but he keeps upping the ante and on to book 6 now, I’m quite hooked. Each book is very different from the last but threads run through all that develop and tantalise. I read a couple of Last Kingdom books by Bernard Cornwell but stalled and will hopefully pick up on the ones I’ve bought but not yet read later in the year. H.Rider Haggard accompanied me on many miles of static bike journeys at the gym… he’s still brilliant to read even with the political incorrectness!

I finally finished Sir Terry Pratchett’s A Slip of the Keyboard; it’s a collection of essays and the like, but it’s painfully poignant to read and I confess I cried. I also read his Unseen Academicals, and cried laughing too.

For work I read a couple of books on Paris (How Paris became Paris by Joan Dejean and The Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne) but since I only did one Paris trip last year, my new-found knowledge has languished and I’ll need to reread them both to refresh my memory!

Some of the very best of the fiction was from indie author Gev Sweeney. Three books from her this year in her extraordinary series of alternative history: Ferial Day, Master Warwick and finally For The Burnable Cities. The Prodigal’s Psalm from last year is an excellent unsettling read too. Alternative history as she writes it mingles Roman, biblical and modern history in an unnervingly accurate exposé of current events. Without giving spoilers, you’d have to read them yourself to get quite how apt the themes are.

There are other books, some I have enjoyed, some not; some I have beta read (and therefore, at this stage cannot comment) but that’s a rough guide to where my reading has led me in 2016. I have not given links, but all books are easy enough to find on Amazon and if not, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

Comfort Literature ~ the new trend for 2017?

I’m probably going to do a proper round-up post in a day or two but having watched a very bleak two-parter on TV (an Agatha Christie adaptation) that left me feeling even lower than before, it occurred to me that what I would like to see trending in the new year is literature that comforts. Not schmaltzy, saccharine candy-fluff books that pretend everything is nice and rosy but books that have a strong core of something special, something strong and real and comforting.

One of the books I read this year was Elizabeth Goudge’s The Rosemary Tree. It’s a comfort book, like all of hers I have read so far. It’s not light and fluffy but quite different. It’s about people coping with things that seem intolerable and finding ways to redeem the unredeemable. That’s what I mean about Comfort Books.

In view of this, for the end of this year and for the start of next, I have reduced the price of Away With The Fairies to £1.99 or equivalent worldwide. I’ve had many emails, reviews, letters and messages from readers about this book, on how it’s helped them cope with some very difficult times in their lives.

I’m hoping to have a new book out by Easter, and that too will be a Comfort Book. More information to follow soon.

If you have suggestions for other books we might all enjoy, please share them in the comments.

 

An Advent offer

An Advent offer

I’m cutting the cost of one of my books for December/Advent, because the book starts just before Christmas.
It’s also, in my own opinion, my best book. Sadly, this is not reflected in sales. It falls between the cracks of genre and that’s never a place to be. Young male protagonist, a plot that is almost the antithesis of romantic fiction. However, it also contains a *villain* that some readers reckoned worse than Joffrey, a hero who’ll break your heart and characters you’d like to spend time with and who will all haunt you long after the book is ended.
Talking of which, there is a sequel, still gummed up in the works, but which I’d love to see out there next year. Needs a polish, a cover and some oomph from me to get it out.

The Bet is available in all Amazon stores, currently at £2.99 or local equivalent: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/. It’s also in a nice chunky paperback that would make a good Christmas present to someone who you think would enjoy it or even (dare I say it?) to yourself.

All but one of my books are in paperback. I’d hoped to get Square Peg out in time for Christmas in a paperback edition, but life has been..interesting. I’m hoping to release a new novel, Little Gidding Girl sometime early next year, and also a new collection of poetry; that’s being fiddled with to ensure it’s as good as I can make it. The poetry will (probably) only be in paperback, because it’s a much better way to publish poetry. You can dip into a paperback of poems much more readily than an e-book.

Reviews also very welcome, of any of my books. I’d love to see Away With The Fairies make it past 50 reviews by New Year; the myth has been that the Mighty Zon promotes books more once this milestone is reached, but while I suspect this is a myth, I’d still love to test it out.

Advent blessings to you all.

Gerhardt the Monster-Hunter

 

Gerhardt the Monster-Hunter

Gerhardt’s obsession with the paranormal that led to him becoming a semi-professional monster hunter began when he was barely four years old. His eccentric aunt Grethe invited the whole extended family to stay at her rambling, ranshackle old mansion for Halloween one year. It was a wonderful chance for family to catch up and for the hordes of cousins to meet each other. Much of the family was dispersed over great distances, so this was the first time Gerhardt had ever met most of the cousins who came to stay. The house seemed packed to the rafters with people, and at four, he found himself feeling rather shy and overwhelmed. A huge array of costumes had been provided for the children to find themselves outfits; Gerhardt opted to don a bright orange pumpkin-shaped beret. He’d never seen a pumpkin before and a gigantic one dominated the dining room where it peered over the room from the mantle-piece. In the carved face someone had put an old glass eye; it fascinated him with its shine and the way it seemed to follow him, and when no one was looking, he prised it out of the vegetable socket and popped it in his pocket. Years later, when much else had faded, he still kept the eye, on a little stand on his desk, as a kind of talisman against doubts.

The party was filled with games and jokes and everyone dressed up, including all the adults. Cousin Colin had found a vampire outfit and looked very scary with his fangs and dripping blood; aunt Grethe was a very convincing witch. Ghosts in sheets, zombies, wizards, ghouls and werewolves all gorged on sweets and cakes. By bedtime, Gerhardt had consumed almost his own body weight in candy. As his parents snored away in the big bed and the house fell first quiet and then silent, a raging thirst began to torment him, and taking Teddy and his blanky in hand, he ventured out to find some water.

Houses always seem very different at night, but even so, Gerhardt wandered down what seemed like countless corridors and stair cases, becoming more and more confused and lost in the semi-darkness. A few dim bulbs glowed in cobweb-bestrewn shades, creating more shadows than they banished. Behind him, he was sure he could hear footsteps but he told himself it was just the echo of his own feet on the bare wood floors. He clutched Teddy tighter, because as we all know, teddy-bears are guardians of frightened children and talismans against evil. A night wind blew through the passage way, catching the gauzy curtains and making them billow out as if someone were behind them. The sound of rasping breath from the end of the corridor were the darkness was deepest, made him hold his own breath and hear his heart begin to pound like jungle drums. As his nerves reached breaking point, from the deep shadows stepped two stooping figures. Dressed identically in old-fashioned school frocks, their long lank and dirty hair falling over their faces so that even their eyes were hidden, two thin girls lurched towards him, arms held out and fingers wriggling at him.

It was too much; Gerhardt fled screaming, pyjamas damp with the sudden shock, and ran away as fast as his legs would carry him. Later, his twin cousins Jessica and Jennifer confessed that they had also been out of bed, wandering the house in search of candy their other cousins had missed, but by then Gerhardt and his parents had gone home, and the family became estranged for all sorts of very trivial reasons, so that for Gerhardt, this became the only family gathering he ever attended.

The experience that night scarred him; he became a geography teacher. He took refuge in the routine, the mundane and the predictable for many years; yet a seed had begun to grow, and he started to explore the paranormal. A hobby at first, ordering books from the library, subscribing to many magazines and joining various groups, the arrival of the internet was a great boon to his studies. Eventually, his website dedicated to seeking monsters and spooks, became very successful, possibly due to being targeted by trolls, though not the type that live under bridges and eat goats.

He learned to be very cautious about how he responded to the many messages inviting him to investigate hauntings and sightings of paranormal beasts. Most proved to be pranks or misguided people who probably needed to get their spectacles checked. But sometimes there were ones that seemed so promising he followed them up, laden with his (mostly self-built) equipment and accompanied by his faithful ghost-hunting pooch Bob. Knowing that animals generally sense the presence of departed spirits and discarnate entities, Gerhardt had considered both cats and dogs, but eventually settled on Bob the dog because if nothing else, Bob would always give him an excuse to be out at night without looking like a prowler or a weirdo.

The email from a young couple who had stumbled upon a ruined church and a forgotten crypt intrigued him. The church had become ruinous many years ago, shortly after the final interment in the crypt of a lady whose family had been massacred by an axe-wielding maniac. Unable to forget what she had seen, she had fallen to her death in the river; compassionate lee-way was given to her regarding her burial in hallowed ground, and once the family crypt was resealed, building work hid the entrance. Like many remote country churches it fell into disuse, then disrepair and finally, the lead nicked from the roof, it more or less fell down. But the young couple had found the crypt entrance and had gone down with torches only to see phantoms and figures flitting around. Would Gerhardt like to come and investigate further?

So, weighed down with devices and protective amulets (the old glass eye tucked in his pocket) and with Bob the dog prancing along, Gerhardt arrived at twilight in the overgrown churchyard. There was no sign of his hosts, so he picked his way among the gravestones and table tombs, and tried not to trip up as the ground descended steeply towards the shadowy shell of a church. The ghost-monitor was beeping loudly, and the ectoplasm sensor was blinking, but Bob seemed unperturbed, so he carried on, picking his path with care as the darkness grew ever deeper.

Bob leapt up at him, startling him, and gave a little woof. Something or someone was watching them. Gerhadrt stiffened, a cold sweat breaking out beneath his tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches. Doggedly, he plodded on, when the earth broke open around a tomb with a terrific roar and from the blackness emerged a tall gaunt figure. Red-silk lined the heavy black cloak that swirled around the apparition, whose bloody fangs and white-streaked locks proclaimed his identity as a vampire.

Too scared to even squeak, Gerhardt cringed away, but Bob the dog bounced over and began to jump up at the figure to lick at the hands.

Oh excellent!” said the vampire. “You’re here in good time. Just in time for dinner too!”

Gerhardt reeled, his heart leaping in his chest, and he staggered back, as the vampire stepped from the hole and came towards him, hand held out.

It must be almost forty years,” he said. “You have no idea how hard we had to try and track you down. Family feuds are so last century, aren’t they? You can’t have got any letters. Or surely you would have replied.”

Gerhardt felt his skin crawling as if a million ants were running all over him; his eyes began to roll as the greyness flowed over him.

You’ve not changed a bit,” said the vampire. “Surely you must remember me? I’m Cousin Colin. See, the fangs come out-”

But Gerhardt had fainted. When he came to, Colin had managed to drag him to the terrace of the old mansion, and someone else had fetched a deck chair and some refreshments. Colin held out a goblet of faintly luminous green liquid.

Here, have some lime juice,” he said. “You’ll feel much better in a minute and then you can come and meet everyone. When Aunt Grethe passed away, she left the house to all of us and we decided to turn it into a themed hotel. We’ve had such smashing Trip Advisor reviews already. Tonight’s our first Halloween since we opened. We all wanted you to be here, so we concocted that tale of the crypt to winkle you out of your hermitage somehow. Come on in, the party is just getting started…”

© Vivienne Tuffnell October 2016

(a story inspired by the Story World Tales of the Haunted House, by Caitlin and John Matthews. A collaborative brain-storming by me, Graham Edge and Elaine Blath Feainnewedd October 28th 2016)

This is the first piece of fiction I’ve shared on the blog for simply ages. I’ve been saving up my short fiction to make into another collection. There’s one in the offing that’s going to be modern fables for grown-ups and another collection of ghostly tales that might be out in time for Halloween next year.

If you fancy some proper spooky stories for this Halloween, you could always try one of the following. Or all of them.

The Hedgeway 

The Moth’s Kiss 

The Wild Hunt and Other Tales 

Strangers and Pilgrims is set during the Halloween period but it’s not a ghost story. Away With The Fairies has themes that tie in with this time of year and is decidedly spooky at times too.

Lost books, L-space, libraries and the odour of bananas

Lost books, L-space, libraries and the odour of bananas

Lost books, L-space, libraries and the odour of bananas

I have a recurring dream of a lost book that I have somehow found. It’s a beautiful book, filled with marvels, hand-written in quirky calligraphy as if by someone who has seen how calligraphy looks but has never been taught how to do it “properly” (bit like me, actually). It has drawings in it that remind you of illuminated manuscripts, and some which are entirely different. It has some resemblance to Jung’s famous Red Book, but the writing is in English and the drawings are not the same. Each time the book pops up in dreams, I wonder whose book it is, whether it exists in our ordinary reality or whether it is something that may one day exist or has once existed and exists no more.

A few nights ago on British TV, there was a programme on BBC4 on the lost manuscript of Julian of Norwich. I’ve long been a fan of Julian and her work (see my blog post here) and I watched with great interest. The programme itself was a tad irritating (largely because the presenter made too many assertions that simply don’t bear closer scrutiny), though it did have some great sequences filmed in and around Norwich, which is one of my favourite cities in Europe (and only about 25 miles away), but it revealed some facts about Julian’s book I hadn’t known before. The manuscript itself was suppressed and hidden, going underground (so to speak), because its contents were liable to be seen as potentially heretical and certainly revolutionary (a loving God who was seen as our Mother and who cared for each and every human and written by, shock, horror, a woman? Gosh.). Its route to the mainstream was a strange one; copies of it were held in various monastic libraries, like that of Walsingham Abbey, but it’s unclear how many and how widespread they were. At the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries, many of their libraries were confiscated and countless bookish treasures destroyed. The Revelations of Divine Love disappears, only to have a copy resurface amid the books taken to France with nine young Englishwomen setting out to found a new Benedictine Order in the early part of the seventeenth century. The book was copied by the nuns and perhaps dispersed until the French Revolution intervened, and such orders attacked and destroyed. When their Carmelite sisters were sent to the guillotine, the English sisters expected to follow, but the terror came to an end, and they were allowed to return to England (taking with them relics of their martyred Carmelite sisters, and whatever other things they’d saved). The order still exists, in God’s own county, at the abbey they founded on their return, Stanbrook Abbey. But they didn’t have Julian’s book, either copies or the original.

Fast forward to the early part of the twentieth century and the era of the suffragettes, and a determined Scottish woman comes to the British library in search of a copy of Julian’s book, aiming to find the original or as close to that as possible, to make a new translation of the original. Mis-shelved under witchcraft and magic, and mis-titled in the catalogue, a copy made by those English nuns turns up, no one knows how, and is the closest to the original fourteenth century text that anyone knows of.

The book has dipped in and out of biblio-history, escaping the bonfires of fanatics and the vagaries of time itself, championed largely by women, and emerging time and again when women need it. At the end of the programme, a professor of medieval literature says that it’s eminently possible that the original manuscript itself might one day just turn up somewhere; he comments that rare books do this all the time.

Books are fragile things, subject to the forces of time and the forces of nature, and yet they endure. If you have read Umberto Eco’s brilliant book, The Name of the Rose, or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, the idea of a lost book, hidden and suppressed yet passed on secretly and lurking on the shelves of libraries or even bookshops, is a seductive, romantic (in its truest sense) and obsessive notion. If you have read the Discworld novels by the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett, you will be familiar with the concept of L-space: the theory that the sheer weight of books creates a kind of kink in the space-time continuum, whereby all libraries are connected and all librarians are mystical custodians of L-space. The librarian of the Unseen University, whose name has long been forgotten, is an orang-utan (the result of a spell cast but since the shape proved to be more congenial to his job, the Librarian resisted all offers to restore him to his original human form).Wandering the darker recesses of old and rambling libraries, where a poorly-plotted route through the dusty stacks on a winter evening when the night falls hard and cold outside and the interior is cosy and warm, if fuggy, can result in getting lost in areas one didn’t know existed, and one can not only believe in L-space but it becomes the only thing that makes any sense of how books can disappear for centuries, and reappear in unexpected and improbable places, hardly aged, but bearing the faint traces of the odour of bananas.

Don’t break the bank to enjoy poetry…

If you haven’t already nabbed my first poetry collection Accidental Emeralds, it’s 99p on special offer for a few days, before going up to £1.99 for another few, then back to the original (and very reasonable) price of £2.90.

I’m removing all my books now from the Select programme, which means they’ll not be available to borrow through Kindle Unlimited, and I won’t be able to do these convenient Countdown sales. I’d thought long and hard about this; the incentives to have books in the Select programme have become scanty. I get less and less for borrows, and it seems there are risks (long story) to having books there. So I decided that those that were in, are coming out, so I unticked the auto renew box.  I wasn’t earning any more from having them in, and peace of mind is more important than pennies anyway. I’d also noticed a pattern of rankings changing when people borrowed a book, but then they’d either not read the book at all or the pages weren’t coming up as read. So I don’t think I am losing anything.

Incidentally, if you have read any of my books, liked them but haven’t reviewed, I’d be deeply grateful for new reviews. It seems that regular reviews are what keeps a book moving; above a certain number and the legend is that you get more promotion from the ‘Zon. Fairies is close to the 50 review threshold (46 as I write) and that’s one of the mythical, mystical numbers of the legend. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s worth considering. Accidental Emeralds has three really sterling reviews and more would be very cheering if nothing else.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Longing-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1500242187?ie=UTF8&qid=1468660246&ref_=la_B00766135C_1_8&s=books&sr=1-8 

Future Library – fun, fad, fantasy or folly?

Future Library – fun, fad, fantasy or folly?

Future Library – fun, fad, fantasy or folly?

You might have spotted various articles recently concerning the project called Future Library. I’m not giving links because, for one thing, you can google as well as I can, and for another, I’m loathe to give the big websites any more traffic than they already get. Basically, the concept is this: authors have been approached to produce a book that after it’s been written and put into a form that will last, it will be sealed up for a hundred years. Various famous folks like David Mitchell (of Cloud Atlas and Bone Clocks fame), and Margaret Atwood ( The Handmaiden’s Tale) have already agreed and have written their books. Until the century is up, no one will know what they have written; none of us alive now will ever know.

There’s been a lot of discussion about this and there seems to be a significant camp for whom this is cool, interesting and liberating and should be seen as art, and another camp (into which I fall) that is baffled by it. To me, it makes no sense, to which the other camp would say, it’s art, it doesn’t have to make sense. I would disagree profoundly; in my pretty humble opinion, art does need to make sense, on some level, however esoteric. It might be that my cognitive functions are so seriously impaired by the overwhelming depression that’s made life very hard at present, but I can’t find any sense in Future Library no matter how I try.

There are many reasons why I find the whole concept troubling. One is that I tend to wonder whether in a hundred year’s time whether there will be anyone around to actually retrieve these books. Another is that for me a book, a story, is a living thing, and the idea of hiding it away is like locking a dog in a bank vault. Every fibre of what’s left of my soul shrinks from this thought. Another problem is that those who are contributing are those whose work has reached a certain level of success and critical acclaim; yes, perhaps they can spare a book for the purpose, but given that neither of the two I named, is a prolific writer, I can’t help wondering if they might regret this act of sacrifice. Yet another concern is, what is this for? Why is it being done? Yes, we come back to the idea of it being art. I’m obviously too stupid to really get this.

If I had the means, the money and the influence, I’d do my own Future Library. It would be entirely different because the books would not be entombed and lost from view. I’d fill those shelves with the books that are already lost, those works by talented, clever, modest and self-effacing authors whose character and personality have meant that they can no more slash their way to prominence through the jungle of self-promotion, than they could slash their way through the tangled rainforests to find lost cities. I’m tired of being told, “You just gotta make yourself do it,” by people who cannot understand that to many of us are given gifts of word-crafting from the heart and soul, but we lack the huckster gene that means we can sell ourselves and our works like they were so many knock-off Rolex watches.

I’ve watched the toxin of despair seep into the souls of too many authors whose work (and them) I esteem so highly that I consider myself lucky that I can call them friends, because the Juggernaut of publishing crashes over them and speeds off into the distance, leaving them crushed and bewildered. In a recent blog post on the books she’s lately read, Clare Weiner reviewed a couple of my books, after those of a couple of very big names, prefacing the reviews by explaining that though I was an unknown, I deserved a wider audience recognition. Claire herself deserves that too, as do a significant number of authors whose work I would champion more had I more strength.

My Future Library would consist of books lost to easy discovery amid the millions of other books. They’d be the stories that I’d want grandchildren and great grandchildren to read, the lost voices of the first two decades of the twenty first century, those books that got trampled in the rush to commercial success but which contain tales that ought never have been so discarded by people who (like me) deserved a much wider audience than the one we got when we lived.

https://marihowardauthor.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/maris-reading-life-four-books-from-my-kindle/