All shiny & new (ish)

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Maybe it’s simply because the sun’s out and the garden is looking lovely, but the truth is I’m in an astonishingly good mood.

This isn’t a recent development, although the moment feels right now to document my shift in thinking. Once a blogger, always a blogger. This is in part down to the completion of creative writing course this week, one which has re-acquainted me with some basic skills. 

So, conscious that this blog has suffered a little bit in recent weeks, here are some shiny new thoughts of mine. None will change the world and don’t think for a moment I think they’re groundbreaking. 

1. I don’t set enough time aside for reading

Reading suffers from an image problem for some of us. Some years ago a friend expressed surprise I found it difficult finishing a book. How could I possibly start another book if I had one unfinished in my hand. His judgment was so marked, that I foolishly concluded I probably wasn’t a reader. Another friend during the same conversation expressed surprise that I wasn’t able to finish a book as quickly as he could. How could I call myself a book lover if I took a long time to get through a story?

That’s bollocks, of course. What I notice now that I’m re-connecting with books is how we little time we set aside for reading in itself. A book is often turned to in order to fill in time rather than for the pleasure of reading itself. That seems a shame and if it goes unchecked will be a case of diminishing returns.

2. I have three books on the go at the moment and I’m OK with that

That’s all changed now. I have three books on the go at the moment. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True and Shaun Levin’s A Year of Two Summers. I like the fact that I can dip into all of these whenever I want. They offer different things and different viewpoints. They’re also different writing styles. Reading all of those things concurrently keeps things a bit fresh.

Like writing, I’ve set aside half an hour each day to read something (other than work stuff), ideally printed, but often via my Kindle. I’m loving it.

3. Mainstream publishing skews the experience of reading

I looked at the Top 20 books on sale in WHSmith last night at Charing Cross station. Yes, they’re the most popular books and might give a suggestion to novices about what to read, but such lists also give the false impression that the familiar is best. Reading ‘off the beaten track’ is slightly more challenging and – for me – ultimately more satisfying. In this way, I think reading could offer me that same voyage of self-propelled discovery that ploughing through Mahler’s symphonies for the first time (effectively) five years ago on holiday.

4. Writing is difficult, but the prize is worth it

During a training course introduction a couple of months ago, the question was asked “What brings you joy?” I answered with “Two things: writing and my garden.” There was a sigh of recognition (at least, I think that’s what it was) when I said it. Saying it out loud was automatic. Like the garden work I’ve thrown myself into this year, writing is difficult because it isn’t an overnight thing. They both demand small repeated bursts of activity in order to get around the negative talk which can potentially block achievement. Nobody ever tells you that when you get underway. Shame.

Knowing you’ve rattled off a draft short story is as satisfying as a warm bath or the knowledge you’ve completed a really thorny task. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

5. There’s a massive difference between writing and publishing

Even if it is difficult, writing is still a pleasure.

Publishing is business.

Don’t get the two confused, otherwise you won’t do anything.

6. Writing is drafting and editing, then more editing

Write something. Anything. Leave it be. Then come back and start playing around with it later. Trust yourself. Nothing happens instanteously. The really satisfying stuff is the complete antithesis to blogging.

7. Classical music has taken a back seat

I’m not entirely sure whether I really mean this or not. Only time will tell. The reality is that I’m switching Radio 3 on less, and the last concert I went to was at Wigmore Hall a few months ago. The coming Proms season might change that, obviously. At the moment, I’m not feeling the classical music love.

8. Blogs are suddenly phenomenally difficult to write

Some people I come into contact with see blogs in negative light. This stems from a lack of understanding or experience. The creativity involved in the process is then overlooked. Sometimes, the line “that seems a bit long”, does make me want to gnaw my own hand off.

That negativity seeps into how I approach writing blogs. As a result blogs now demand great planning and don’t present themselves as an opportunity for near-automatic writing. Some of the joy has bled out of the process. That seems a terrible shame.

9. Career development training courses: some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in recent years

I may have waxed lyrical to friends and colleagues in recent weeks about this. If you’ve not heard about it then consider yourself very lucky. But, a series of training courses I’ve attended which will (assuming I successfully complete them) enable me to help others develop their own careers has had a profound effect on me. The course so far has increased my own self-awareness to such an extent that I’ve effected real change in my own personal development. I’m really proud of that.

10. Quiet aids reflection

One other experience I’ve had over the past few weeks is discovering what personality type I am.

Others who have been through the same process haven’t necessarily greeted their result positively, but I’ve found the process fascinating. It’s helped me realise that I’m pretty much dependent on ‘quiet time’.

As I think about that more I realise how much at odds that is with working in the broadcasting environment. ‘Selling content’ demands consuming content, and consuming it demands time at the expense of quiet reflection.

Ronald Blythe: The Time By The Sea (Faber & Faber)

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Ronald Blythe’s elegiac volume sketches evocative images from the time he spent living and working in and around Aldeburgh in the mid-late 1950s. A must-read for any Aldeburgh obsessives in need of an armchair-bound weekend on the East Suffolk coast.

Blythe spent some time working on the Aldeburgh Festival, editing the programme book and helping to plan various Festival events, During that time he worked closely with then General Manager Stephen Reiss, Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst.

All the familiar locations are here including Thorpeness lake, Moot Hall and Aldeburgh, even the walled garden at Glemham Hall gets a mention. Locations form my own fond memories, now elevated to near-legendary status by virtue of a famed writer stitching them into his own personal history.

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Book: The Blind Assassin

I don’t read many books.

I know I should read more. I want to read more. But there are always distractions. It doesn’t take that much to divert my attention but once I’ve passed one or two days a partially read book can quickly become a distant memory.

Not so with this book – The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

I read most of it a few years ago. At least I think I read most of it. I look at the damaged spined and try and work out how far I got through it. I think I’ve passed that point now, but I can’t be sure.

Whatever point I got to, I do remember where I was when I first got into Atwood’s writing. Sat in the back garden of two friends who live on the south coast, I remember staring up at the converted railway carriage we’d been staying in over the August Bank Holiday weekend and thinking “fuck me, this is good”.

I know I’ve passed that point in the book already and hope that this time around I’ll make it to the end. What I’m reassured by is how easy it is to pick up after a couple of days break from it. Surely this is the mark of a good book.

Me Time

An evening spent consuming a much-needed meal during my weekend at the Free Thinking Festival in Liverpool saw me indulge in a spot of me time. (It feels like it’s been a long time since the last time although in truth it’s only been three weeks or so.) Nothing especially indulgent other than pouring over the Saturday Guardian which had laid unread on my bed all day.

God bless Marina Hyde. After a week of wall to wall Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, it’s felt like a real relief to hit the weekend and start consuming the longer range coverage and comment this story has inspired. As an employee, it’s been a little surreal. Marina’s piece was one of the more striking ones.

More reassurance to be found in the story on page 16 highlighting the glaring translation error made by Swansea council.

In the Family section (usually dismissed by most) there’s an interesting piece on Storybook Dads. Positive, forward-thinking rehabilitation work.

In the John Lewis catalogue (I’d given up on the Sport, Review and Work section of the paper), I was surprised and ultimately confused to see a fully reversible christmas tree for sale at John Lewis. Why ON EARTH would you want one exactly, unless of course you fear stony silences when people visit your home over the Christmas holidays and you need topics of conversation?

In the Guardian Christmas Books catalogue (no, this blog posting isn’t a blatant attempt to suck-up to the Guardian) I notice a book I’d quite like to receive for myself, one I’d wouldn’t mind giving my sister, one for my brother-in-law and one I will definitely be giving “someone” this holiday.

Oh, and getting on to the Guardian Weekend, I do rather like this aftershave based on the wipe-your-wrist-like-a-lady strip inserted into the magazine.

Books: Kane & Abel (Jeffrey Archer)

Books: Filling the gaping hole, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Kane and Abel is the first book I’ve finished reading this year. This is something I’m quite proud of. Normally I’d have been distracted by something or other before I’d finished what ever it is I’m attempting to read. Not so on this ocassion. I actually finished the book ten days after I received it as a birthday present. That’s quite an achievement, let me tell you.

More of an achievement than the book itself, I might add. It might have been a bestseller for Archer – soon after it’s release it became the Number One on the New York Times bestseller list – but reading it now I find it difficult to understand exactly how.

At times the plot was breathtakingly unlikely, with coiincidences falling onto the page with increasing regularity. The first time Kane meets Abel is one of the most striking I recall. By half way through I was beginning to get really annoyed with them.

Maybe the surprises in the tale had been lessened because I remember the key points in the plot from the TV mini-series, but still there were moments which left me squirming as I read it to and from work. Jeffrey Archer may be successful at his novel-writing but the man can’t write sex scenes to save his life. Frankly, he’d have been better off bullet-pointing everything.

That said, it is a page-turner and one guaranteed to deliver a modicum of self-satisfaction if, like me, you’re looking for a sense of achievement. And, if I’m being fair there was a point when I was getting angry with Abel for being such an idiot to harbour such bitterness and resentment for so long. Was it really the author’s reliance on the unlikely to propel the novel or are there really those people around who are that blinkered? I hope for the former as much as I fear it could be the latter.

Reading the damn thing did do what I hoped it would. It’s helped get me into the reading thing ahead of a holiday when I’m hoping I’ll read even more. The fact that when I read Kane and Abel I often found myself sheepishly retrieving the book from my bag like I was sitting on public transport preparing to finger my way through some hard-core pornography, is open to interpretation. I’m happy to admit I’m a snob.