Running out of time.

According to the Internet, the average person in the UK reads ten books a year. This figure is inflated by those of us that read a lot, so the figure is more like four or five books a year, with just under half of all UK adults not reading books at all.

I read a lot. More than watching TV, which I love, I read. At times reading has been a guilty pleasure, snuck into snatches of time when I could escape the kids. Reading saved me from a difficult childhood, escaping into faraway lands when my own world became too much to bear. Now reading is work. A writer can’t write without reading.

Now I can read all day, no distractions on my time other than the withering look of the dog who is not-so-patiently waiting for a walk.

I’ve always read to the end of a book. Even when it is rubbish. Even when, with every turn of the page, I wait for that moment when the book will take off and I will be transported, only to be disappointed at the end. I think it’s a bit of that puritanical work ethic, that a job started must always be finished even if the job in hand is doing nothing for me.

My gift to myself for my 50th Birthday (and I gave myself many gifts) was to stop forcing myself to finish books I didn’t like.

I also worked out that using the average life expectancy for women in the UK – 82 – times the average number of books I read in a year – 30ish –  I have just over a thousand books left to read.

Just over a thousand!!!! WTF

I read a couple of novels a month plus listen to at least one talking book and maybe something non-fiction. How the bloody hell do I work with a deadline of a thousand books left.

FOREVER.

I’ve nearly a thousand books in my house, well in my living room, then there’s more on the stairs, and the hall, and the bedroom.

And then there’s the library books. I never have less than ten on my ticket.  Ok, that’s not true, I always have way over twenty, but I was aware I was sounding a little crazy and have kinda lost my point.

Yes, my point was that for my 50th birthday I gave myself permission to stop reading a book if it didn’t have me entranced by page 50. Sometimes if it’s a slow burn I will give it 100, but I am counting the pages all the way.

How can I live with the grief of knowing all the great books I’m never going to read? All the classics that I should have read, how do I choose which one, knowing it kicks something else off my timeline? Should I read all of Dickens? I’ve tried. What about the great Russian writers? I’ve never read Dostoevsky, though I loved Tolstoy. What about great writers from history – I’ve never read Chaucer or Shakespeare?  Should I read the Illiad?

(As a side note I should add that I really only read novels written by women so that would pretty much exclude everyone listed above, but you get my point.)

And what about all the brilliant books I’ve already read that I might want to read again?

You might think this knowledge would concentrate my mind. You might think I should ask World of Books to close my account until I’ve read everything I already own, or that the library should be limiting my choices but let’s not go mad.

And what if my reading slows down with age? What if I stop being able to read? My own mortality doesn’t scare me but leaving books behind unread breaks me.

So, enough chit chat, I’m sure you have things to do?

Me?

I’m going to finish my book.

Writing lists

an image of a desk with laptop, glasses, pen and To do List

I am a writer of lists

My life could be measured in my to-do lists, their contents varying depending on the stage of my life. Early lists might have included

Do Homework

Try not to argue with sister

STOP BITING NAILS

Find missing library books

Early motherhood saw lists as the only way to function as baby-brain drained every last thought as fast as my breasts drained of milk.

Get nappies

Call health visitor

Find grown-ups to talk to

Lose weight

Missing library books

Raising a family is one unending list. Morphing over time, though stalwarts still persisted, my lists were endless – a procession of jobs, needling doing but somehow never completed, added to the top (or bottom) of the next new list.

At times I felt my value as a mother seemed measured with the swish of a tick. The house hummed with the scent of failure both at the length of the list – too long – and the very few things I managed to tick off. Oh, and the hordes of smelly children, with unwashed P.E kits,  hamster cages spilling sawdust,  mouldering lunchboxes stashed under beds and the unmistakable whiff of long-dead trainers.

Years ago, when illness prevented me from doing many of the chores we all take for granted, writing lists was akin to torture. With little control over much else, certainly my body and its refusal to get well, I obsessed over lists.

List of things that needed doing urgently.

Lists for medium-term jobs.

Lists of jobs that, if we won the lottery or housecleaning aliens arrived from space keen to have a proper whip-round, might get done.

In the end, the lists swallowed me up. All my thoughts were of what I could see but couldn’t do.

Something had to change.

This was no way to live.

So, lists saved me again.

This time my list read like a 1950’s housewife’s manual

Monday – living room

Tuesday – kitchen

Wednesday – bathrooms

Thursday  – bedroom

Friday – anything missed.

This list didn’t mean do everything that needed doing, it just meant do something in that room. Writing it down like this got it out of my head. Suddenly I had room to think again.

When I noticed that it looked like a small dog might be living under the sofa, such was the collection of dog hair, I didn’t worry knowing that I could get to it next Monday.  Kitchen cupboard with a funky smell – fine I can do that on Tuesday.

Not much more got done, but it was out of my head. And once it was out I realised how much room it took. My brain was literally being swallowed by housework and chaos.

This new approach was enhanced by my much loved six-month rule.  It goes like this;

In six months’ time will you remember that you did not do ( insert job here).

To be honest this takes care of most of life’s daily graft. Some things obviously need doing now – putting off feeding the kids for 6 months will not work out in the long run. But for most things it works – in 6 months’ time you won’t remember you didn’t do the hoovering but in 6 months’ time, you might remember the afternoon spent sewing or writing or playing with the kids instead

For me, in all that space that was left, after I got it out of my head and down on a list, I found I could write. And not just lists.  Actual writing!  Well, I call it writing, I guess you can be the judge.

Today all I do is write, often in bed, sometimes on the sofa. My lists today are full of the important things.

Order biscuits

Eat chocolate

Read a book

Check what day it is

Find library books.

Some things will never change.

And in love with a good list – here is my gift to you.

Not because I am a fan of the Queen but because who doesnt love a book list?

Big Jubilee Read | RGfE (readinggroups.org)

‘The list of 70 books – 10 for each decade of Elizabeth II’s reign – is a real opportunity to discover stories from across continents and taking us through the decades, books that we might never have otherwise read, and reading authors whose work deserves a spotlight to be shone on it.”— Suzy Klein, Head of Arts and Classical Music TV at the BBC

You’re welcome xx

World Book night.

World book night is here!

Whatcha reading?

There are loads of really fabulous books on the book list, from some fantastic authors.

But, as ever I am freestyling and so tonight, when I curl up under a throw with a cuppa and maybe something sweet to nibble on – I’ve said it once I will say it again, what is it about reading that requires biscuits?

Tonight I will be finishing Penelope Lively’s 1970s children’s classic A Stich in Time .

Quiet 11 year Old Maria, holidaying in Eastborne with her parents has always struggled to keep the real world and her imagined world seperate. But discovering an embroiderd Sampler in the Victorian villa where she is staying, she is drawn into the life of the children who once lived there. She hears things that arent there, swings swinging, dogs barking and the line between the worlds slips away.

It’s slow by modern standards, with lots of description and clever asides but I am loving it. A comforting read, deceptively tense, with beautiful writing – ooh and fossils. I loved it as a kid.

I’ve also just started Menna Van Praag’s The Sisters Grimm which is intriguing – magical realism set in Cambridge and Everwhere with four young women rediscovering their magical powers. What’s not to love?

The last on my list of possibilites for tonight is Kate Charlesworth Sensible Footweat: A girls guide. A graphic guide to lesbian and queer history 1950 -2020.

I’ve not read much but what I’ve read is fabulous. Clever, witty, moving. Part memoir, part LGBTQIA+ History. Laugh out loud funny, personal, political and beautifully illustrated.

Sensible footwear: A girls guide – A graphic guide to lesbianand queer history.
Kate Charlesworth

So tell me, what will you be reading tonight?

And what biscuits have you got?

Lost in books

I am looking for a book, I wonder if you can help?

It was my favourite read as a kid, repeatedly borrowed from the library, and read cover to cover.

I’ve been searching for this book for years. On the cover was a black cat, possibly a girl, by some water with a dark Victorian mansion looming menacingly in the distance. And that’s it. That’s all I remember. Not the title or the author. I know it was about a girl trapped in time or maybe talking to the ghost of a girl trapped in time but that describes so many children’s novels of that era.

Do you know it?

Do you recognise the cover? 

I borrowed it from Bromley library if that helps.

A troubled kid, I would run away from high school, hop a train or two, hide in the library, some twenty miles from home, before hopping trains back again for the long walk across the fields to be back in time,  at least looking like I’d staggered off the school bus.

There was something about the peace of the library, the silence and the not being bothered that I had ‘another bloody book’ in my hands when I should have been off out to play.

What did you read as a kid?

I read everything, from cereal boxes to children’s classics. Once I learned to decipher those strange powerful squiggles I couldn’t stop. Never mind they danced upon the page, words sliding up to meet friends on the line above, over time I mostly got the gist.

Escaping into books saved me from a world that I struggled to make sense of. Being an odd sort of kid, in books, I found friends who did not judge. Friends who were lonely, talking to trees or ghosts, alienated from their own worlds. Friends who were brave, or silly or even weirder than me.

Searching Internet lists for my long-lost book in case I recognise the cover, I’ve rediscovered these long lost friends. Reading them now, I recognise elements of my own writing style – the long meandering sentences of Penelope Lively, the immersive description of Alan Garner. Not that I’m comparing, but I can feel their presence, a hand on my shoulder, their words whispered long ago, in my own.

My book choices were heavily influenced by my local librarian. Arriving unaccompanied, age seven, at the little scout hut that housed the local library, the librarian was suspicious of my lurking.  Once she realised the scruffy, grubby, kid clutching buff-yellow cardboard tickets in hot little hands was not going to damage or steal the books, she took me under her wing, saving for me like some secret treasure, books she would bring from behind the counter.  You can see her presence in my list.  Though I never knew her name, I am eternally grateful for the worlds she showed me.

So here is my list, in no particular order, of some of the books I loved as a child.

What did you read?

The worst witch series – Jill Tomlinson

My naughty little sister  series Dorothy Edwards

Topsy and Tim  Jean & Gareth Anderson

Otherwise known as Shelia the great – Judy Blume

SuperFudge – Judy Blume

(In fact every single book  by Judy Blume)

The weirdstone of Brisingamen  – Alan Garner

The owl service – Alun Garner

Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White

Charly – Joan G. Robinson

When Marnie was there –  Joan G Robinson

Kes – a kestrel for a knave – Barry Hines

Chocky  – John Wyndham

Ballet shoes -Noel Streatfield

The Ghost of Thomas Kemp – Penelope Lively

Five children and it series – E. Nesbitt

The railway children – E. Nesbitt

The water babies  – Charles Kingsley

Thursday’s child – Noel Streatfield

Carries war – Nina Baldwin

Little women – Louise. M Alcott

The machine Gunners – Robert Westall

Heidi – Joanna Spyri

Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

The borrowers’ – Mary Norton

A stitch in time – Penelope lively

The family from one end street- Eve Garnett

Then and now I see my passion for women writers.

So tell me, what was your favourite book as a kid?

And have you seen my book ?