Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Cherishing Your Books - Dog-ears and Bookmarks and things that might go bump

I recently read a debate about people who dog-ear books they are reading and how some readers (the ones who use book-marks) find this so hard to understand.
I must confess that I do both. I use book-marks but not the kind you buy. Currently I am using an old suburban rail ticket from my last train ride in Germany. At some point it will be discarded because it will simply get too tatty. I don't do this to all my bookmarks. I have a cherished bookmark from my visit to the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague around fifteen years or so ago. It reminds me of that wonderful weekend there with my daughter. She was a little dubious about going there, not being an "art freak" as she put it, but she really loved it. I just use it as a bookmark in books that I cherish - not the novels I read and then give to the charity shop. And every time I see this entrance ticket for the Mauritshuis, I remember that when we arrived in The Hague that morning there had been a power cut, the shops were without lighting and we couldn't get a hot drink anywhere. One of the many "adventures" I shared with my daughter and which will always be precious to me.

So, yes, I am a fan of bookmarks but if I'm travelling, I will usually just dog-ear the page. In fact, when I browse the secondhand bookshops, it can be very interesting to see what has been dog-eared by previous readers. Some novels are marked and abandoned, as you can tell by just one dog-ear, while others have been read all the way through (several dog-eared pages).

But, you know what? It hardly matters, does it? Either you find a book you just love to read or you put it away after a number of chapters as being not your kind of novel. That's the world of variety we enjoy.
I am currently reading John Simpson's "We Chose to Speak of War and Strife - the World of the Foreign Correspondent". It is a fascinating read and yes, I'm using that suburban rail ticket to mark where I left off reading.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Return from the Continent

It's great to get away and visit family but it is also wonderful to arrive home safe and sound.
I am just back from nearly a month in Germany. It was very hot - too hot for my liking - most of the time. Lots of thunderstorms, which I enjoy. 
The journey there and back always involves a day's travel. I suppose I shouldn't complain (well actually I'm not complaining, just commenting) because in the days of Jane Austen, the trip would have taken nearly a week. And - staying with Jane Austen, in her novel Persuasion, the heroine notes that matters which were of first importance in one village are of little interest in the neighbouring one, remarking that we should know our own insignificance beyond our own circle. I find this to be the case when I travel from one country to another (perhaps not surprisingly).
My return journey made me think about what travel would have been like two hundred years ago. Boarding in Frankfurt was nearly an hour before scheduled take-off. Once the information on the departure gate was up, off I went. I half expected to see the lights of Dublin since I must have walked miles. I survived the passport check and the hand luggage scrutiny, and even though the scanner did not even so much as hiccup, the grim faced lady on the other side still patted me down, or maybe she liked my capri pants and wanted to check what the material was.... Everyone squeezed onto an airport bus which drove us out to the aircraft. I always maintain that the Aer Lingus airplanes are parked out near the refuse bins. The journey out there is interesting if you like observing traffic at airports. I had had the presence of mind to claim a seat near the rear of the aircraft so managed to get to it without having to wait for those wonderful passengers who root around in their carry-on bags and hold everyone up.The flight was fine. When we got to Dublin, it was another long walk to get to the exit with lots of stairs, which made me wonder what happens if you are a bit shaky on your feet but not ready for wheelchair transport. Next, I took a bus to the railway station (one hour) and from there a train (nearly three hours) and then another bus which should have taken fifty minutes but took well over an hour because of traffic.
Home never looked so good when I finally closed the door behind me. But it was worth it all and anyway, I enjoy travelling. There is the whiff of adventure and glamour, despite all the checks and delays. No matter how often I travel, I still find something new to surprise me.
If you are travelling for your holidays, I hope you have fun!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Summertime and the living is pretty easy

Summer. Sunshine. Sea breezes. Watching the sailing boats. Walking on the sand. How I love it all!
It would be nice if we could keep memories stored in a bottle and be able to let them out whenever we liked. The feel of sunshine on your skin in the middle of a cold, grey November day would be something, wouldn't it?
We have a mini heatwave here in Ireland two weeks ago. At the weekend everyone took off for the beach. People had barbecues in their gardens. We all walked around in shorts and t-shirts and summer dresses. It was wonderful while it lasted!
I'm not a dedicated hot weather fan. I'm inclined to wilt if the mercury gets above 24C here in Ireland where it is humid or 27C on the continent. I will be off to Germany later on this summer to look after my grandchildren. Currently the temperature there is around the 37C mark, falling to 32C or so after a thunderstorm. It is a dry heat, which makes it slightly more bearable, but when you have thundery weather it does get humid. So I'll be travelling light. It always seems strange to me that a short journey by airplane takes you into a completely different atmosphere both from a weather and a current affairs point of view..
To everyone who's looking forward to their annual summer holiday:  Have fun, don't get sunburned, and come back fit and relaxed!
If you want a feel-good family romance to read, try my novels:
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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Romance of Travel

I have just finished reading They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. It is one of the few novels of hers that I have not read. As always with Christie, it is an entertaining read. It did make me smile to realize how very different modes of travel were in her day. She wrote this around 1950 when air travel was not as common as it is now.  It got me thinking.

Sixty years or more ago, travel was a leisurely affair. People packed hampers with turkey and ham sandwiches, flasks of tea and bottles of milk, to take with them on train journeys because it took hours to get anywhere. Race-goers at Ascot and other racecourses around the country added wine and champagne to the hampers (as some do even to this day) and made a big day out of it. It was all fun. When you set out on a journey by train you felt you were taking part in an adventure. There was the sleeping car, the dining car, the carriage proper where you sat and watched the countryside roll by and very often you met interesting fellow travellers. You could have fun when the train stopped at railway stations along the way and you watched passengers embark and disembark

Nowadays, it is all rush, rush. We don't have time to wait or to watch other people, so many of us are glued to our mobiles that we bump into people rather than looking at them. At airports, we have to get through security, find the departure gate, find our seat on the plane (squeezing past those fellow passengers who suddenly remember they need something out of their hand baggage about one minute after they stow it in the locker), remember to put our phones in flight mode, pay attention to the safety drill, wave away the offers of duty free stuff we don't want.
Train journeys are only slightly less of a scramble. In the old days, a friendly porter would carry your luggage and see you safely ensconced in your seat. Nowadays you have to find the right platform, find a seat if you haven't booked one or even if you have and stow your luggage yourself. Oh, and keep an ear open for announcements in case the train you wanted to get has been cancelled or delayed. There isn't really an ounce of excitement or pleasure in it all.

When I was at school, many years ago now, we read some of  Robert Louis Stevenson's essays. The one that appealed to me most was his An Apology for Idlers, which is against very many principles which are held dear by so many today.  Stevenson maintained that "extreme busyness" was a "symptom of defective vitality" and complained that when waiting for a train, the "busy man" had a wooden expression because he did not know what to do with the time on his hands. Stevenson advocated being idle, by which he meant taking in our surroundings and, like the poet William Henry Davis in his poem Leisure watching Nature's feet "how they can dance".
Let's start doing this from now on.Every day will be a big adventure.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Sweetest Words for an Author's Ear

The sweetest words that an author hears are when someone says "oh, you write those Romance novels I'm so fond of" or "Just read your crime novel and loved it" or anything in a similar vein. It just makes all the hours of hard work, editing, re-editing the editing, struggling with the plot, having a really bad day - or days - and having a really good day - or days, when all goes right and the writing flows.
These -ahem - deep thoughts cross my mind recently when I met two readers who had read both my Sergeant Murray crime fiction books (written under my pen name P.B. Barry) and my Sunshine Cafe Romance novels which I wrote as Peggy O'Mahony. It really did give me a lift, especially as I was having a hard time getting part of the plot of my third Sergeant Murray mystery to gel into a suitable shape.
Authors are very sensitive creatures, I think. We constantly need encouragement, we need to know that yes, there are people out there who enjoy reading what we write. It's the human condition, isn't it? the need for reassurance, even if, like me, I write for the fun of it and not for fame or fortune. Of course it would be nice to have a list of best-sellers to my name and to appear at book launches and sign my name on my books for all the adoring fans, but that isn't going to happen and I'm not sure if it would suit me if it did. Being a self-published author, I can choose my own time to write (no pressure!) or not to write. I am not tied to any deadline. I do work hard to make my novels as good as possible and I am a very harsh critic of my own work, but aside from that, I don't let it dominate who I am or what I do. It's just great fun to spin these tales and invent this little world inside my head.

But when someone comes up to me and says they loved my novel, well, that's a very special feeling and one I wouldn't swap for anything.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Love at First Sight - Believing in the magical things

It's OK to be realistic, practical, down-to-earth. I'd like to think that is what I am most of the time. But there are things I like to believe. Take love at first sight, for example. It's the theme of so many romance novels and most of us have fallen in love with someone the first time we've seen them. Scientists and researchers would have us believe that it is not love at all but an innate desire for survival. We estimate that this person would make a good mate, would provide for us and together we would produce strong healthy children. Apparently this all goes back to caveman times and the survival gene we are all supposed to possess...
There goes your romantic dreams! But only if you believe the scientists.

Vincent van Gogh is one of my favourite painters and I love his "starry nights". I have a copy of his painting of The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum at Arles hanging in my living room and love to look at it. It is so atmospheric, bringing memories of long summer evenings. Again, I recently read somewhere that the reason he painted those glorious starry skies was because he was taking some kind of medication at the time which produced a halo around lamps or stars when he viewed them.
Do I really want to believe that? No, I do not. I like to think that he looked up at the night sky and felt that awe we all feel on a cloudless night when the stars are twinkling and oh so far away and you wonder what it would be like to be up there....

Last weekend the dawn chorus was transmitted by multiple radio stations around the world until 6 a.m.GMT. I must admit that I did not sit up all night to hear it but did listen in to snatches during the night. It must have been a pretty awesome experience to anyone who did listen the whole time.
Next day I read a report which said that the male birds sing at dawn to declare their territorial rights and attract females. There was I, thinking birds sang to welcome the sunrise after a long night perched in a tree. Naive, perhaps? But I prefer my version. The dawn chorus, birdsong in the spring, are all delights of Nature and we should listen and be glad and not pay too much attention to all that scientific stuff. Life is for living and enjoying, after all.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Shopping Demon bit me

I went to Cork today. It wasn't exactly planned. I needed ink for my printer and when I tried to buy it locally, it was no longer available. No joy in asking in the store. No, we don't have it in stock was all the answer I got. So, off to the big city to get some.

It is a cold day with a North wind that would take your eyebrows off but the sun is shining and I saw a solitary swallow this morning, so summer is hovering out there somewhere. Therefore, an enjoyable trip on the bus.

I still had a bit of trouble getting the ink for my printer but finally found a supermarket which stocks it and which shall be nameless but it starts with the letter "T", and I bought two double packs (black and colour), so I should be ok for a while now.  Why is it, that if you have something for a couple of years, it becomes nearly impossible to get the "bits" such as ink for my printer?  Sigh, sigh.

I had a cup of tea and a scone at the Roundy Bar which is a great place to go if you are on your own, or even if you are not. You can sit outside on the pavement or inside where the furniture is scuffed and worn. There is a nice relaxed atmosphere and I enjoyed the break. The tea was good, too.

From the Roundy Bar I went to the Franciscan church to thank St. Anthony for all manner of things lost and found and to increase my store of goodwill with him in case anything else gets lost and needs to be found in the future. I love that church, it is so peaceful.

Of course I should have gone home after that but I didn't. Instead I bought a lip brush, new make up, a new shoulder bag which is just what I need when I am at the races tomorrow, earrings and a matching necklace (also what I need for the races...), a special patchy thing for my sore toe (well it was half price - the patchy thing, not my toe!), two regional newspapers just to see if I can write an article for them about my novels; oh, and I stopped off at the Cancer Charity Shop and bought a Len Deighton book London Match (I read it years ago, it is third in his Game,Set and Match trilogy which I really enjoyed). Finally, my bank account caved in and I got the bus home.

Altogether an enjoyable day! Shopping is such fun when you don't actually have to do any.