Monday, 31 December 2012

A Book to Read in Bleakest January

Posted by Daisy


This year, I ticked off two items on my travel bucket list (Poland and Italy), fell in and out of love with a lovely fella, wrote lots of features and interviewed some amazingly courageous people, sorted out a long-running family issue, made some lovely new friends, started this blog and made the decision to travel next year. Now, if I could just achieve my biggest goal - quitting smoking!
Martina Reilly's latest novel 'What If' follows the lives of three women in Ireland.

Deirdre is a clenched-arsed, cardigan-wearing middle-aged woman who has never resolved her childhood issues. Her house is full of nick-nacks and old photographs of herself and the One that Got Away. She scares her co-workers at the radio station where she smokes out the window of her office every morning, presents a drab gardening programme with failing listenership, and has few friends.
Deirdre’s mother, Lily, has just been admitted to a nursing home because her Alzheimer’s disease is slowly erasing her memory. She has important things to say to her almost-estranged daughter, but just can’t organise her thoughts - when she tries to speak, her words are unintelligible. Beautiful and glamorous in her youth, a series of mishaps made her life turn on a dime, all of which she records in her blue diary. She brings the diary with her, and communicates that she wants someone to read it aloud to herself and her daughter once a week.

Zoe is a carer at Lakelands Nursing Home. Her baby-daddy is a Fun-Bobby type, who heads off to Africa with a charity for a few months every year, leaving Zoe and her son in their dismal one-bedroom flat.
The character descriptions are marvellous. There is the enigmatic hunk with a sad secret, and a seemingly brash Jerry Springer-type producer who is recruited to spice up the Gardening show. But there is also Zoe’s brother who cries when he tells the family his news, and the Lidl-shopping, black-hair-dye loving pensioner who becomes Deirdre’s best friend.

All three women have regrets about the past. But through the diary readings (and other events) they all realise that it’s up to them to change their lives. In other words, ‘If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got’.  
Probably as good a New Year's Eve sentiment as any.
Here are a few links from around the web:
One of my favourite poems about just letting go
A short post  about staying home on NY's Eve and baking cookies
Happy New Year!x
Disclaimer: 'The Enchanted Doors' received a complimentary copy of 'What If' from Martina Reilly. This in no way affects the review in a positive or negative way. If we thought it would affect our judgement, we would rather simply buy the book.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Books to Read over the Christmas Holidays

Posted by Daisy
CHRISTMAS morning in our house is about smelly cheese and crackers, ice cold Leonidas tumbling around in a big gold box, smoked haddock pate washed down with litres of tea…..and books.
My father isn’t a reader, like the rest of the family. But he loves books as ornaments about the house. Every October he begins his quest for the best Christmas books to suit everyone in the family. He reads every ‘Top 100 Books of the Year’ list, spends hours browsing around Waterstones, Easons and Vibes and Scribes, and sends me email links to books he thinks my siblings might like. On Christmas morning, he arrives with a sack full of wrapped books. There is always the obligatory copy of the Fad Book of the Year e.g. a few years ago it was ‘The Man Inside the Jacket’ by Mr Tayto, and a plethora of cat-themed books for my great-auntie Eileen. This year, it’s ‘TheBook of Irish Mammies’ and a rare gem, ‘The Complete Book of Aunts'.

Some of the most worthy books (ie not chick-lit) I own end up in my bookcase as a result of my dad. Here’s a selection of this year’s haul.
And just in case you think it all sounds too civilised, here's a charming vignette of Christmas 2010. My brother arrived hungover, resembling a homeless person and fell asleep for most of the day, before projectile vomiting beside the kitchen bin after dinner. My sister’s baby got swine flu and the whole family were put into isolation in a London hospital. The dog broke into the dining room and catwalked up the table, eating the turkey carcass and leftover prawn skewers. And later, my dad sat on the dog, getting bitten on the bum and had to go to the local emergency doctor.

So the book that sums up Christmas Day entirely for me has to be:





Sunday, 23 December 2012

Books to read after 50 Shades

Posted by Jenny
I enjoyed the media hype surrounding 50 Shades. (Tom Hardy to play Christian Grey!) You’d think it was the first naughty book ever written. It certainly was a book with a tasteful non-embarrassing cover. There was no picture of a woman with her head back, hair whipping in the wind, her neck exposed with closed eyes and pouty puffed up lips open, gasping for air while a man with his muscly torso on display has his nose almost buried in her sizeable décolleté, but not without showing of the chiselled panels of his face while managing to wrap his arms the size of my thighs around her. Usually the woman has her arms pushed out as if she’s unsure whether she’s receptive of the man’s attentions. I wonder if books with these type of covers have enjoyed an increase in sales since the introduction of electronic book readers. I know that I'm not likely to sit openly in a busy waiting room with a book of a certain genre and an explicit cover. It doesn't matter how much I like to pretend that I don't care what people think.

As the fantasy reader of the trio, I have read my fair share of, as my husband puts it: vampire porn. They follow the same recipe, ie boy meets girl, girl usually doesn’t immediately like boy. Boy does his level best to win girl over by showing his hidden gentle side before biting girl. Boy then proceeds to ehm… take the girl repeatedly to never before experienced heights until reader wonders how girl is still able to walk. Then a seemingly insurmountable crisis separates boy and girl before they realize it’s not that big a deal and make up in some spectacular fashion. A guaranteed easy read that you can dip in and out of in between work 5 days a week, cooking dinner at home, changing nappies, kissing better bumped heads and scraped knees, bedtime stories, preparing lunch boxes, laundry, dishwasher, gym, tea with hubbie. I might have left out a few things.

 For those of you who enjoy a decent bit of cheesy excapism, I quite like the world Kresley Cole has created in her books. Her paranormal world “the Lore” is detailed and attractive. The “Loreans” consist of Valkyrie, Lykae, Witches to name but a few and they’re described as a separate immortal species that live amongst humans. Every 500 years or so a culmination of events leads to an Accession during which many immortals will be destroyed, but also new alliances will be formed. I like “Lothaire”, probably because the hero in this book starts off as a “baddy” who doesn’t really quite redeem himself. At the end of the book he’s still a bastard. Beware some of the covers though…. And book titles!

(Top illustration by photo credit: <a href="">sofi01</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Monday, 17 December 2012

Books to Read when You're Feeling Nostalgic

Posted By Daisy
Uncle Andrew and Digory from 'The Magician's Nephew' in The Hamlyn Wonder Book of Modern Stories
‘One of the little girls is often seen lying on her bed after school, dropping biscuit crumbs onto the pages of her latest book, accompanied only by the drum beat of the rain pelting down the slanted roof of the attic bedroom.’
There is nothing more lovely than remembering the books I loved as a child. But how have books I read as a child influenced me as an adult?

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
We lived in Africa for a few years when I was young. My father worked on a sugar plantation. (It was a great source of childhood mockery – my sister was a ‘zombie’ because she was born in Zambia, and we told my brothers that they were found in a reed basket on the banks of the river Nile because their birth certs said ‘Tribe’ instead of ‘Family Name.’)

My mother read this book aloud to my sister and I, each sitting in the crook of her arms on the worn brown couch in Kenana, with the whirr of the air-conditioning in the background. I was terrified of the cover image and I loved the name Hepzibah and the gobbledy-gook speaking Mister Johnny.
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry

My Fifth Class teacher, Ms Garvey, was young and beautiful, with orange corkscrew curls and bright red lipstick. She’d sit on a high chair and read aloud to us daily. She couldn’t speak for laughing when she read ‘Anastasia Krupnik’ to us. It’s the story of a ten-year-old girl who loves making lists in her green notebook. I make lists all the time. I found one recently dated five years ago. Gems include:

·         Stop reading crappy magazines and read the Financial and World news sections of the paper.

·         Read 5 worthy books to every chick lit book.

·         Stop smoking.

·         Get rid of totally unsuitable boyfriend.

·         Stop leaving the house at 9:15a.m. to make it to the other side of the city by 9:30a.m.

·         Get my car serviced without having to ask my dad.

·         Learn how to do more than just smoky-eyes make-up.
Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Ms Garvey’s favourite book, the once-controversial 'Bridge to Terabithia' tells the story of a friendship between Jess and Leslie. Leslie is an only-child tomboy whose family drive a dusty car and don’t have a television. Jess is a quiet boy with four noisy sisters. The ending used to make me cry.  I spoke about it on a Gay Byrne radio show children’s special in 1990, my first foray into hard-hitting journalism.

A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith
There were always a few pages at the end of every children’s book, devoted to advertising with short blurbs about new books being published. I used to read the synopsis of ‘A Taste of Blackberries’ with a sort of sick dread, certain it would scare me if I read it. When I did, I was surprised by the brevity of a book which deals with such a serious theme. The book was initially rejected by publishers - they assumed nobody wanted to read a book about the death of a child.

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild

I was shocked when I discovered Noel Streatfeild was a woman. The books tells of the friendship between Harriet, a sensible girl whose family are kind but poor, and Lalla, a little rich girl who dreams of becoming a famous ice skater. I admired Lalla’s governess who used to pass the time by reciting Shakespeare plays in her head while waiting for the girls at the ice-rink.
The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild

Three children journey to Ireland to holiday with their crazy Great Aunt Dymphna. I loved it because the children arrive into Cork airport!

Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard
Catholic Kevin and Protestant Sadie live in a tumultuous Belfast during the 1970’s. They meet and fall in love to the chagrin of their family and friends. I fancied the front-cover Kevin with his quiff hairstyle and grown-up coat and thought blond-haired, blue-eyed Sadie was beautiful.
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are adopted by a palaeontologist, Great Uncle Matthew, and sent to live with a nanny in England. He disappears and Nana takes in boarders to make ends meet. One of the boarders, Mr Simpson befriends tomboy Petrova, telling her about his work for Citroën and rubber-producing in Kuala Lumpar. This book made me yearn to travel to the exotic-sounding KL – when I eventually got there, it wasn’t nearly as wondrous as I had imagined.

Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home by Michelle Magorian

Both books deal with evacuation during the Second World War. I wanted to be Rusty from ‘Back Home’, an American girl who wore LL Bean clothes, wove rag rugs, and had a party to celebrate her first period.
‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ describes mental illness, death and friendship. I never forgot the scene where Mister Tom finds Willie locked in a cupboard in his London home, hugging the stiff body of his dead baby sister. I was reminded of it years later when a local mother put a nappy on her autistic ten-year-old son and locked him in his bedroom for days. One summer, her boyfriend beat the little boy. I knew the boy and always equated him with Willie Beech.
Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter

Pollyanna loved playing the ‘Glad Game’ where she would find a silver lining in any situation. Sometimes my friends gently mock me for being too positive – I am over-enthusiastic after exercise, and my workmates always laugh at me as I make my way up the carvery station in the canteen, heaping compliments at the food in front of me. Apparently, one company made a ‘Glad Game’ board game in 1915, and ‘Glad Game’ clubs sprung up throughout the world after the book was released. Sign me up, I say.

More Stories for Seven Year Olds and Other Young Readers Ed. Sara and Stephen Corrin

I loved the Joan Aiken story ‘A Necklace of Raindrops’, in which the North Wind gives a little girl a new raindrop every year to add to her necklace. The necklace keeps her dry in the heaviest rainfall, enables her to swim in the deepest river, protects her from the worst storms, and enables her to make the rain stop simply by clapping her hands. But one day her necklace is stolen by a jealous friend.

‘The Baker’s Daughter’ told the story of the haughty baker’s daughter who tried to impress a classmate by stealing a beautiful cake from her father’s shop window. Her plan goes awry when the cake is cut and it turns out to be nothing but an iced cardboard shell.

The Hamlyn Wonder Book of Modern Stories
Sometimes all you need to remember your childhood is the front cover of a book. I was thrilled to find this in my mother's house yesterday.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Books to read when recovering from a Sumo Deadlift!

Posted by Jenny

Picking up where I left off on a previous entry about learning squats I would like to proudly announce that I have managed to learn the basics involved, although I still get the occasional “Lower!” and “Lean back!” shouted at me. I credit my achievements to having managed to maintain a basic level of fitness in between having babies with walking (to the car) and running (after kids). The Fundamentals Course in Strength and Conditioning is now finished and I have progressed on to the normal classes. Go me!

  Last Monday I did my first “Heavy – Legs” class, during which the focus was on the Sumo Deadlift. So there I was, standing in a wide stance, lifting a bar with weights while using the power in my legs, instead of arms and back. The maximum I was able to lift was 60 kg. I was chuffed enough with myself, considering this is my first time doing it. Onwards and upwards, right? (other women lift 90 kg or more….)

  Well…. I paid for it the following day. The alarm went off as usual at 6am and instead of rolling over and silencing it, I had to do a five point turn to achieve the same thing. It was the first physical reminder of the fact that I’m not 18 anymore, nor 21. The pain in my back was like someone had ripped out the muscles, torn them all up, stamped on them for good measure before shoving them all back in. Surprise!

  It turned out to be one of those rare occasions that I wore flat (ish) footwear to work. It was a physical impossibility to wear my usual heels.


This weeks’ book recommendation isn’t a book! It’s a cartoon… Take your kids (or borrow your sister’s) to see “Rise of the Guardians” in the cinema! I laughed out loud a few times. I love the idea of Santa having NAUGHTY and NICE tattooed on his forearms. It was a great way to start the Christmas season.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Book to Read when You've been Dumped by Vagn

Posted by Daisy


I ONCE got turned off a guy when I discovered he had an electric blanket. And I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with a 7-year relationship because my boyfriend didn’t eat cheese. I discarded another man after one date because he told me he wouldn’t wear socks that cost less than €20. And dropped another man because even though he drove a gold BMW, he consistently hung back at the bar, waiting for me to buy the first round. At the cinema, he bought the tickets and then told me he was on a diet and refused to buy popcorn. I met a very nice man on a blind date a few years ago. Nice, except that his two front teeth were black. Fed up, I rang my sister (my Voice of Reason) to find out if I should meet him again, even though I wasn’t attracted to him. She told me never to compromise on oral hygiene. Another man was gorgeous, with blue eyes, tanned skin and a perfectly faded t-shirt – but he told me at length about his addiction to spinning classes and an obsession with calorie counting, while scanning the bar for attractive women.

I spent two years dating a lovely guy who had no job and no intention of ever getting one. I knew we had no future, but every time I called up to his house to break up with him, I would be seduced by his rude good looks. My most recent ex-boyfriend loved telling me long, rambly stories – I’d simply tune out and gaze at his tattoos and muscles instead.

I’m renouncing good-looks, muscles, motorbikes and danger. The next man I date will be short and bald – and going out with him will make my cheeks ache from too much first-thing-in-the-morning laughing in bed.

I decided to test my brains-over-brawn theory last weekend. So I kissed a guy for the first time since my break-up three months ago. Instead of choosing the handsome, designer goatee’d man in the tight grey, slightly girly, cowl-kneck jumper, I opted for the fun, generous guy who looked like Vagn from The Killing. He spun me around on the dance floor, made me laugh and bought me drinks while keeping a suitable distance throughout the night, allowing me to have fun with my friends.

He sent a lovely text the next morning, and in my hungover state I answered semi-sarcastically. And never heard from him again. The next day I felt guilty and texted him to say so. The reply I got was ‘Who’s dis?’ Seriously.

I read Niamh Greene’s ‘A Message to your Heart’ snuggled up in bed with tea and chocolate on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. On the Chick-Lit O Meter, where Marian Keyes is at the top, and Cecelia Ahern* is at the bottom, this book fits in somewhere in the middle. It’s a flighty book about lost mobile phones, a heroine who works too hard, a dead girl, a grieving Italian mama, and an affair with a married man. But there’s also a good portrayal of San Francisco, a curmudgeonly author attempting a second novel, an Italian restaurant and a good-looking hero. Everything works out in the end, which is what I want when reading chick-lit.

My give-away this week is ‘A Message to your Heart’ – all neatly wrapped and ready. Leave a comment and it’s yours.
*I just haven't liked any of the books subsequent to 'PS I Love You', which I loved.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Book to Read on a Short Flight

Posted By Daisy

I was rushing to the airport last weekend, and had nothing to read. So I grabbed Paul Torday’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ from the bookshelf. It was either that or the last two weeks’ Sunday Times magazines still in their plastic wrappers on the coffee table. I really didn’t want to read it. I flicked through the in-flight magazines, and tried to sleep, and eventually reluctantly pulled the insipid-looking book from the seat pouch in front of me and began. And surprisingly, I was instantly hooked.

Told through emails, letters and diary entries, the book is about public service fisheries scientist, Alfred Jones. Jones leads a bland life with his bland wife of twenty years. For their recent wedding anniversary, he gifted her a year’s subscription to the Economist, and she got him a replacement head for his electric toothbrush. She is always abroad on some dreary management course, and their communication is mainly through emails – him telling her about his work, and her asking him to pick up her dry-cleaning.

Jones knows he wants something more from life, but doesn’t really have the impetus for change. Until he is ordered to lead a project, backed by a wealthy Sheikh, to create an artificial river in the Yemen desert, and succeed in getting thousands of imported salmon to swim up it. Although initially very reluctant, (his reputation as a scientist is on the line for even considering such a ludicrous scheme), Jones is forced to participate in the project, and meets a variety of vibrant and inspiring people throughout the course of the project. His life changes colour, he is forced to take risks, and he realises that his existence doesn’t have to involve tepid emails, Marks and Spencer’s pyjamas, or festering in a job presided over by a shiny-suited sycophantic buffoon.

I read the last third of the book on the plane home. The ending is strange and surprising – but a story as gentle as this needs an extraordinary ending. Torday achieves that great literary mechanism, whereby events, like background noise, build quietly but frantically in the last few chapters, so that by the time the grand finale occurs, all the pieces slot together and I wonder how I hadn’t predicted it earlier.

The movie was released earlier this year – Rotten Tomatoes called it ‘a charming little romantic drama’ and the Irish Times called it ‘empty guff’. My sister watched it recently and raved about it. The funniest thing is that the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board was inundated with requests from holiday-makers planning to go salmon fishing in the Yemen.

Paul Torday considers his novel to be a satire on bureaucracy. Interestingly, Torday never visited the Yemen, but rather based his descriptions on old copies of National Geographic and Lonely Planet.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Books to read when you’re raising a two year old

Posted by Jenny

My two year old daughter has deceptively angelic looks. Shoulder length blond hair, big glittering blue eyes and a broad ready smile that reveal the only hint to her character: chipped front teeth! She’s the third in the bunch and that is straight away my argument for her …ehm… confidence. She comes… She sees… And she demolishes!

  I’m learning more and more that a golden rule in the survival guide of parents (perhaps I should write one!) is that you talk to other parents. People who know parents will do too. Or people who know people who know parents. As long as you get the occasional “Oh, sure, I know that such and such’s child did the same!” or “You think that is bad, my child did….(fill in the blank).

  Her newest fad is taking off her clothes. Apparently it’s very common. I didn’t know this, as my older two kids have never gone through that phase. Apparently we’re quite lucky that she doesn’t do it in public. I’m not even entertaining that thought as she started taking off her nappy as well.

  No, she’s not yet ready for the potty. She happily sits on it until she needs to go, then does her business on the floor, and subsequently comes looking for a tissue as “it’s all wet” and “a mess”.

  Last Thursday evening I had a real treat. My son came flying into the kitchen and it wasn’t until I entered the sitting room that I realized that he was actually fleeing. There she was, happily standing in her birthday suit, colouring in a colouring book, completely oblivious to the upheaval she had caused.

  Her little bottom was covered in poo. Her clothes and nappy were missing. When asked she helpfully informed me that her nappy was gone and unprompted she stated that she hadn’t done a poo. I didn’t bother arguing.

  A quick scan around the room came up empty and a look behind the couch confirmed my suspicion, it has now also become a nappy dump. Unfortunately the nappy didn’t contain a certain article, which presented a problem. Where oh where? Well, it turned out to be on the floor, right next to the coffee table. Again she was helpful in commenting “Dirty doggy poo!” Hmmm…. I wonder…..

Once they were all in bed, there was only space for a long soak in a hot bath with a fantasy marvel like Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”.  Tad has created a world into which I can easily escape and be a keen witness to his ever unfolding storyline. It’s a powerful thing when you follow the characters through the pages and you can feel the heat of the sun and how it saps their energy, or when you find yourself thinking about it hours after you’ve closed the book.

  The first in the trilogy is “Dragon Bone Chair” and although I found it to be a slow starter, it has earned its’ place in my Addictive Reads Section, one I return to in times of great need as described above.

As a follow up from my previous entry, I regretfully have to say that the Jojo Moyes book “Me before you” didn’t do it for me. Sorry. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue between the main characters, I just wished there was more of it. In my opinion the development of the relationship has become somewhat lost in the heavy detail and descriptions of other aspects of the girl’s life. It didn’t grab me. According to Daisy I’m simply not a chick-lit girl. She’s probably right.

Top illustration by AJ Photography

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Books To Get the Imagination Firing

by Matilda

I recently took a break from city life to retreat for a while under the shell of home life. Rural Ireland. Home cooked meals, quietness and long walks by the wild Atlantic. I always feel in competition with the ocean. Who has the most turbulence? My thoughts can feel pretty big at times. But the ocean wins hands down every time. It shoves everything out as you fight for breath when a sudden wind sweeps up from the bottom of the cliff or a flyaway spray that you never saw coming soaks you with more intensity than a power shower.

The first day I ventured out it looked like someone had brushed the ocean and the cliffs clean with a fine artists brush. Not a hint of seaweed, spray or a rock out of place. It was like stepping into a postcard. The waves swelled in an almost peaceful way – full and complete. My thoughts had a field day – this they could compete with. I started thinking about imagination. I regularly get ‘stuck’ when writing, as if I’ve hit the Wall and wondered how to get over that.

I found the answer or so I thought in a second hand bookshop in my nearest town. It’s not the kind of place that should have a bookshop, let alone a second hand one. It opened without fuss a few months ago, unassuming and modest. Even it’s name ‘Books and Things’ doesn’t allude to the treasures that lie inside. On this particular day – the kind with the lingering heavy grey clouds – I pushed open the door of ‘Books & Things’ hoping to find relief from the wooliness in my head. I was hit with a surge of heat from the two bar heater inside the door. There were two people in the shop, having tea and catching up on the day’s newspaper.  I was greeted with a friendly hello but with a hint of ‘feel free to do your own thing’. The shop floor dipped slightly towards the back, causing everything to slant. I knew I was looking for something special that day. Before I knew it, I’d five books in my hand. But the treasure was John Connolly The Book of Lost Things.

I hadn’t heard of this before but the cover intrigued me. A red cover with a winding ivy creeping up the cover.

I initially thought this was a children’s book but I wouldn’t like a child to read this. The story is set in London in the middle of World War 2.The protagonist, David, is mourning the loss of his mother, his father’s re-marriage and new baby to boot.  He appears to suffer frequent anxiety attacks and his grip on reality begins to slip as he begins to hear his most prized possessions – his books – talking to him. He begins to see the Crooked Man in his room and hears his mother calling him to save her. He stumbles into this other world while escaping from a German bomber plane. Here, he encounters some familiar fairy tales – Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin  - and not so familiar tales. Connolly follows the Brothers Grimm inspiration with tales of bestiality, homosexuality and violence. It’s un-put-down-able.

I’m not a fan of fantasy usually but this caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go. There are many levels to this book. As with all fairy tales there is a moral to be explored as well. The strength to keep going, to find yourself and not give up on those you love or could love.   This book is well worth a look and it certainly fires the imagination to show you that you can get past the Wall.

photo credit: <a href="">hira3</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Books to Read When You're Trying To Write

Posted By Daisy

Frank O’Connor said that writing means 'applying the arse of the trousers to the seat of the chair.’ Even if I have a next-morning deadline for a feature, I’ll still clean the house, go for a walk, de-clutter my wardrobe, watch repeats of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ or even worse ‘Two Broke Girls’, apply fake tan, smoke cigarettes, or make a Mars Bar cake. Eventually I’ll power up my laptop at about 9p.m., a momentous act in itself. And write until the early hours.
I have a pile of ‘How To Write’ books in my house. These include, in order of preference:

On Writing, Stephen King – Keep your writing simple. All adverbs are extraneous.

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron -  Write 3 pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing every morning for the duration of this 12-week creativity course. Don’t bother reading back over them. They are simply a remedy for a creative block.

Any Writing 101 course will usually recommend King's or Cameron's book. Cameron recommends writing ‘Morning Pages’ every day – unfortunately I failed immediately, preferring the warmth of my bed in the mornings. Last week, I decided I would attend ‘Sunrise Yoga’ in town at 6a.m. and duly set the alarm. The following morning, I woke up at 9:30am, having missed yoga, and was very late for work. But I like Cameron’s idea of having a ‘Creative Date’ with yourself – once a week, take yourself off to an art gallery, or a beach, or watch an arthouse movie.

Write and Get Paid For It, Terry Prone: One of my favourite writing books is Terry Prone’s ‘Write and Get Paid For it’. First published in 1979, it is outdated now, but the basic ideas are still very relevant. Especially good for freelance journalists, it gives great advice on organising ideas/archiving features. And Prone advises not to worry about rejection, or age.

Writing for the Market, Patricia O’Reilly: Another oldie – it gives great advice for would-be feature writers, with interviews from features editors of Irish newspapers. O’Reilly recommends always being on the alert for feature ideas. When I started feature writing, my biggest conundrum was where to get ideas. Now I know that feature ideas are ever-present and there for the taking.  I went hillwalking for the first time last week, and have a pitchable feature idea from the day.

O’Reilly also recommends having a niche subject. I have one which I have a huge interest in and knowledge of (i.e. my day job) and so often get called by editors when newsworthy topics about this subject appear.

Travel Writer’s Guide, Gorgon Burgett: Burgett advises on re-selling travel features -  by the time you’ve sold your feature five or six times, it’s almost a sin. I have still to figure out how to do this. He also recommends avoiding negativity in travel features. I once wrote a travel feature about Easter Island, recommending that people simply ‘buy the DVD’ rather than travelling to the island to get ripped off by the locals. It wasn’t the best feature I ever wrote.

The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club, Maeve Binchy: Keep a journal recording overheard snippets of conversation, ideas, quotes and details of competitions, prizes and awards. Deadlines are important.

Write a Book in A Year, Jacinta McDevitt: Write 410 words everyday. You have three goals – to start, to keep going, and to finish.

How to Get Published and Make a Lot of Money, Susan Page: I got this as a present and have never read it. However, a quick skim through advises that very few people make a living by writing alone. Most people have co-occupations too. Don’t give up the day job.

Even though I procrastinate, there is nothing better than the feeling of re-reading a well-written, finished piece. Because a writer always knows when a piece is well-written, and when a piece is mediocre. I still get excited when I see my by-line in a newspaper, and I hope that never goes away.
(Top illustration by Marc Johns)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Books when learning to do a proper squat

Posted by Jenny

“Throw your hips back!” is shouted at me as I’m trying to do a squat. I struggle to get it right. The thing with the squat is that self-consciousness is detrimental to your attempts. Especially if that includes self-consciousness with regards to your backside.

  So there I am, standing, facing the wall, trying not to tilt my body forward and “throw”  my hips back instead. (It basically means I have to stick my arse out…. Get my predicament?)

After having spent the last 8 years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant or in labour, I had gotten out of the habit of factoring in that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. What was the point if you’re going to end up resembling a beached whale anyway?  At least if you do pregnancy the way I did, which isn’t pretty. (I won’t bother you with the details of that because that’s fodder for another blog post!)

Six weeks ago I started kettle bells training out of curiosity and a long ignored wish to get back into some kind of shape other than round and squishy.

Almost instantly this type of training clicked with me. The exercises provided a much needed full body workout and since the routines weren’t complicated, it was easy to step in and follow the class. I have to admit, keeping up was another issue.

It was very encouraging to find myself standing there with a light kettle bell, surrounded by regular sized women (as in not muscular looking) with impressively heavy kettle bells, who were of a similar age and had recently been in similar circumstances (ie post pregnancy/labour/potatoe couch phase). This unlocked something inside me: competitiveness!

After the first night I felt giddy with excitement once I stopped feeling as if I had to puke. I had found something to strive for that had nothing to do with being a mum or work. I want to be strong and fit!

Kettle bell training paved the way for me becoming interested in weight lifting. I decided to do the fundamentals course for Strength and Conditioning. Go me! Now all I have to do is stop tilting forward when I do my squats!

And since this is a week of “news” I started reading “Me before you” by Jojo Moyes.

That’s chick-lit! I don’t read chick-lit! I read fantasy.

Well… I haven’t finished it yet so I refrain from commenting on it, but I will as soon as I’ve read it. Pfff, the excitement….. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Books to read when your child is in hospital

Posted by Jenny

This week I spend four days in the paediatric ward in the hospital. Our son, our beautifully spirited and kind hearted first born had collapsed and was unconscious for a few seconds. As this wasn’t the first episode, he was entered into the medical model so they could perform this test and that test to determine whether he had a faint or a seizure. Sweets and impromptu presents definitely have an important role to play in these circumstances. And it has to be said that the staff in the paediatric ward were fantastic.

  Nothing prepares you for the sudden overwhelming onslaught of emotions and consequences this brings. If given half the chance it’s the most isolating feeling in the world. I’m one of these people that will go into the “I-can-cope-with-this” mode, but don’t ask me how I’m doing, because I’ll crumble. It’s like the emotional equivalent of a switch that I can temporarily flick into a required setting when needed.

  For my son it was all a great adventure. He saw ships move on the curtains! (the anaesthetic for the MRI didn’t fully work; he became utterly stoned….)  He spotted an elderly man in a wheelchair and was convinced that it was James Bond. His rationale was that since James Bond is over 50, he’s an old man. Surely, the old man sitting in that cool looking wheel chair could be James Bond. If only that man could have heard him.

  As the days passed, my “switch” started malfunctioning. My focus went out the door, headaches increased in frequency and I was beginning to feel more and more like an overstretched string on a failing bow. At least he’s at home now.
Product Details

  So what did I read while in the hospital? I read Adam Blade’s “Fang – the Bat Fiend” to my child. It is the 33rd instalment of the Beast Quest series, his favourite books. He followed Tom, Elenna and their animal companions Storm the stallion and Silver the wolf on their dangerous mission to defeat evil Fang and was able to lose himself in the magical world of Avantia and Kayonia.

 (Top illustration: photo credit: <a href="">mondopanno</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>)

Monday, 29 October 2012

Books to Read When You Can't Sleep

Posted by Daisy
I HAVEN’T slept in a while. I’ve tried camomile tea, wine, hot baths, and exercise. Nothing works. Invariably I find myself lying in the dark tap-tapping on my phone and indulging in my new guilty pleasure – the Mumsnet Relationships forum. Nightly, I read posts entitled ‘He's left me for another woman’, ‘Is this behaviour normal?’, ‘Please help me I feel so low’ or ‘Do you think it’s ok to settle?’
It’s depressing and enlightening, and very addictive. Whole lives are played out by anonymous women posting their stories online and asking for the advice of strangers.
Insomnia also enabled me to read ‘The Casual Vacancy’ in two nights. JK Rowling described her book as ‘very English’ and initially, it did remind me of Sue Townsend’s ‘Adrian Mole’ series, with its bleak language of elections, council meetings and town planning. I hated Mole and his use of words like‘hoi polloi’ and ‘proletariat’, and thought ‘The Casual Vacancy’ would be similar.

But the characters in Rowling’s book make the story fizzle. There is Terri Weedon, the junkie mother who regularly sleeps with the local drug dealer, and her daughter Krystal, a rebel who had her moment to shine on the rowing team. There’s Parminder, the local doctor and her overweight teenage daughter Sukhvinder, who is being bullied daily by a schoolmate who posts links to hirsutism and hermaphrodite websites on her Facebook page. There’s the weak deputy head of the local comprehensive, who is hiding a grotty secret, and his wife, Tessa, the school counsellor, who wears lumpy green cardigans and wooden jewellery.  And Kay, a social worker in her thirties who moved to Pagdon with her beautiful daughter, Gaia, to further her relationship with Gavin Hughes, who has no intention of marrying her.
Everything is so banal and everyone is so grubby, hiding behind the façade of life in a cobbled-streeted, flower-filled small town in England.
Just like Mumsnet, in fact. All these people with seemingly perfect lives, yet in reality they hide in bedrooms typing furiously into their phones about DH’s (Darling Husband) abusive tendencies, DP’s (Darling Partner) elopement with an OW (Other Woman) or MIL’s (Mother In Law) refusal to meet her first grandchild.
And like Mumsnet, the internet plays a pivotal role in the plotline of ‘The Casual Vacancy.’
My verdict: Definitely a slow starter, but soon shows its brilliance.
(Top illustration by Marc Johns)

Books for the Mellow Mood

Posted by Matilda
This is one of my all time favourite books to read when I want a reminder that I’m not the only one who chooses the wrong man – dark, unreadable, world weary. It goes hand in hand with the whiff of I-can-fix-you syndrome.
The protagonist Catherine is no exception. The story follows the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff – an orphan taken in by her father. Though she falls for him, Catherine is encouraged to marry a boy of her own class, Edgar, leaving Heathcliff pining over his lost love by showing Catherine what a poor choice she has made. It is clear Catherine has no passion for her husband but it begs the question - why doesn’t she want Edgar Linton? His love is no less intense than Heathcliff’s and has none of the controlling, self obsessed qualities either but it’s not enough. It never is. It’s simple. He is predictable and safe. The strength of this book lies in the flawed characters – unmistakably human and identifiable.
This book makes me feel good about myself. I will no longer make the same decisions once I re-read it. I am much more aware of the pitfalls of falling for the emotionally unavailable man. I could tell Catherine a thing or two.
You can read this book easily in one sitting. However, it should come with warning – the reader will cry. Lots. If I’m feeling weepy with nostalgia for lost love, I take out this book reminding me  of the futility of a relationship without communication. I don’t mean the hours on the phone and the usual time you spend with a loved one, I’m talking out-in-the-open, raw and honest. What’s really going on.
This book charts the journey of young newly-weds. One of the skills of McKeon is to successfully create a time frame of one day (Saturday, for example) or a single weekend, like we have in this book.  It’s beautifully written, the language evocative and the images carefully structured to mirror the young couples’ relationship. Often it’s the language used that speaks more than the story itself.



Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Books with a little more bite!

Posted by Jenny
The clock strikes midnight. Instead of leaving, Cinderella kicks off those damn slippers and orders another vodka and Red Bull.
What if Cinderella lived in this day and age? I imagine that she could have grown up in foster care. This Cinderella is vulnerable, has low self-esteem but knows how to fight her corner. Would she be invited to a prince's ball? My Cinderella is more likely to end up at a house party, do a variety of shots, perhaps take some pills, and end up having a little some-some with a guy in a corner. If that was the ball, she'd meet her prince. I'd worry about the quality of said prince, and what would her happily-ever-after look like.
Within the make-believe settings of fantasy novels, I like the characters to be believable. That suspension of disbelief only happens for me if the protagonist makes sense. Female characters that go through serious hardship or, in Cinderella's case, endure significant abuse and neglect, generally don't go to balls and become princesses. They fight hard for their space in the world and have a story to tell.

One of the reasons why I enjoy Kelley Armstrong's 'Bitten' is because Elena resembles a modern-day Cinderella. Within the werewolf culture (hot!), Elena figures out who she is, what she needs and what that means for her without allowing herself to be coerced by steamy kisses from a half-naked werewolf built like a brick shithouse. (Although there's plenty of that too) (double hot!)
Go on! Give it a go and see if you agree!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Books for the Newly-Single

Posted by Daisy
Vanhercke Christiaan copyrighted & licensed for further re-use
IT’S Saturday night and I’m sitting in watching ‘Sex and the City’ re-runs, eating beans on toast, and anything else I can find it the cupboards.

This day last week I was on a river cruise in the sun, dressed up in a fur coat and silk scarf for a Mad Men themed hen party, sipping vodka and elderflower cocktails. The weekend before that, I was singing ‘Going to the Chapel’ at another hen party in West Cork.

And the week before that, I was in Italy, on a two-week holiday with my boyfriend - people-watching and drinking vodka and coke from a kiosk for hours on the esplanade in Salerno, eating mussel and bean soup from a sunset balcony in Positano, and sampling balsamic vinegar and making pizza on a Foodie tour of Rome.

But somewhere near the end of the holiday, we had ‘The Chat’ and decided that we weren’t, in fact, compatible. The fact that I am six years older than him may have had something to do with it.

So I’m single again. A state I know inside out at this stage of my life. I couldn’t face the usual drama of tears and texts. So I decided to skip it. Like a dynamo, I organised lunches, visited all the friends-with-babies that I hadn’t seen in ages,  and had many nights out. I didn’t mention the break-up to anyone for three weeks. Until I was able to talk about it without crying. I watched soppy movies (e.g. The Vow/The Notebook) whenever I felt sad. And I re-read the books I always read after a break-up.

I’ve read it about five times and it always makes me feel better. The protagonist, Julie, lives in a horrible apartment in Brooklyn with her husband. Her job bores her. So she decides to cook her way through ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. This book comforts me in two ways – 1) Julie is hitting 30 and hasn’t figured out her life yet and 2) Reading about artichoke leaves dipped in butter, and potato soup, and cooking lobster, and extracting marrow from a cow’s bone makes me forget about my broken heart – while reading this book, I just feel hungry.

Unashamedly chick-lit, this book also makes me feel better about myself after a break-up. The Godmother has random one-night stands, most of her friends are married with kids, and she spends lots of time shopping or drinking with vapid friends of friends. Her feelings are my feelings sometimes.

Drought has come to a small town in America. The people are hot, restless and frightened of losing their homes and farms. The local banker, a woman in exile from another city, calls for the Rainmaker. His arrival brings upheaval and strange events begin to occur.

This is a comfort book, purely because the writing is so evocative that the pages of the book begin to smell damp and earthy while reading it. I’ve seen this book in lots of second hand shops, and I think it may have been free with a magazine. I love it.