Good books for lockdown

A friend recently something like this: “I don’t want to read dystopian fiction. I mean, we’re in it!” So here is a list of cheerful fiction instead. These are books I’ve read recently that I have enjoyed, that are encouraging, that are well written and intriguing, and that don’t have awful endings. If you’d like to borrow any, let me know.

Lars Mytting:  The Sixteen Trees of the Somme:  it sounds like ‘yet another book about the World War One’ but it is more about Norway, families, people, the Shetlands, relationships, and flame birch.  Growing up in Norway, with his grandparents, Edvard is astounded by the discovery, on his grandfather’s death, that his uncle had not been executed by German firing squad in 1944, but in 1979 had sent a perfectly made art-deco coffin of scintillating amber flame-birch, to be used for the his brother. This sends him on a quest to find out what had caused the death of his parents and a hunt to find his strange inheritance in the Shetlands. A very complex plot, with twists and turns, and an evocative sense of place.

Mrs Gaskell:  Wives and Daughters. An obscure Victorian masterpiece:  clever, insightful, fascinating characters, a complex plot based on a doctor’s second marriage and its effect on his daughter. Not a quick read, but immersive and emotionally absorbing. There are touches of witty irony from an acute observer of human passions. It was unfinished at the author’s death so the last chapter is missing, but a conclusion has been added giving her intentions.  You may have heard of ‘Cranford’ by Mrs Gaskell:  this is even better.

Susan Fletcher:  Eve Green:  A woman looks back on the events of her childhood, following the death of her mother when she is sent to live with her grandparents in Wales. It doesn’t sound promising, but it is! Sharply observed, subtle, mysterious, full of evocative family history, and – being in Wales – quite a lot of rain, mountains and sheep.

Joanne Cannon:  The Trouble with Goats and Sheep:  Set in the long hot summer of 1976, two young children start to investigate the disappearance of a woman from their street, and try to find God in their neighbourhood. As they do so, the events of the past are revealed.  The heat, the sun and the emotions of that scorching summer fill the story. Beautifully written, with telling details such as playing clock patience and Monopoly, eating Angel Delight and Wagon Wheels. I loved the scene when the vicar comes to see the ‘face of Jesus’ that the locals have found on an old drainpipe and Mrs Forbes says, “I do hope we’re not going to be overrun with pilgrims. They’ll make a terrible mess.”

Francine Toon: Pine: Another book from a child’s perspective, and another brilliantly written novel. The author is also a poet, apparently, so writes superbly. The story, set in Scotland, was genuinely frightening at times and very dramatic, full of haunting atmosphere as the complex story unfolded. The start was very bleak, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I was unable to stop reading towards the end, it was so compelling.

Pine

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One Year – Still Here

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Originally posted on The Red Wine Box:
On 11th March 2019 I was in St Cross Hospital in Rugby. St Cross is a small but excellent hospital and I’d managed to sleep in the night. I’d just had two nights…

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My Various and Amusing Mistakes: the Benefits of a Proof Reader

We all make mistakes. What has been your most stupid/funny/embarrassing typo?  Have you ever had anything published and then – too late – spotted some terrible mistake?

I’ve had my novel proof-read, and it was worth every penny. The proof-reader, Michael Jarvis, was excellent, and spotted dozens of tiny mistakes that I had missed time and time again. Most of these were because of ‘automatic typing’, many are due to the vagaries and subtleties of the English Language.

The main fault I had was over-use of a passive construction using a gerund e.g. ‘she was trembling’. This is much better as an active sentence: ‘she trembled’. I know this by now, but it was a prevalent fault in much of my early writing and the odd one still hangs around.

Internment not interment:  I wasn’t even aware there was a difference until my mother pointed this out.

Using ‘thank-you’ not ‘thank you’:  I find I automatically put the hyphen in, but there is a difference. For example: ‘He said a quiet thank-you’,  ‘He whispered, “thank you.”‘

Discrete instead of discreet.

Alter instead of altar.

Dammed instead of damned.

Queueing or queuing:  there seems to be some controversy here. I prefer ‘queueing’ but neither look correct.

Split instead of spilt:  not an easy mistake to spot.

Using a name of a real organisation and then discovering that, six months after I wrote that section, it has rebranded with a completely different name that is unsuitable for my purposes. I have had to invent an organisation instead with a slightly different name.

And finally:  when my protagonist got chocolates, he got ‘Diary Milk’!

In conclusion, my recommendations are: don’t trust your spellchecker, read your work out loud, and, better still, fork out for a professional proof-reader if you are considering publication.

red pen

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Phoebe by Paula Gooder

We can barely understand how shocking it would have been for the Roman citizens to see a high-born, rich Roman lady embrace a slave. The new way, Christianity, turned the world upside-down with rumours of a God who dies and lives again, with news of a strange new concept: agape, promises of forgiveness and a new start, and, most revolutionary of all, the declaration of a new king. Nowadays it can be hard for us to realise the excitement and implications of the whispered and shouted proclamation ‘Jesus is Lord’.

Phoebe, by Paula Gooder, brings some of this excitement to life, in a story of a ‘deaconess’, Phoebe, who brings a letter from Saint Paul to the converts on the edge of Rome. As the stories, letters, whispers and discussions circulate, the new Christians wrestle with the astounding new ideas they are hearing. How can they understand these ideas? How can they solve the huge difficulties of merging high-class Romans, women, servants, Jews, gentiles; the poor and the rich, the important and the over-looked, the slaves and their owners, into a loving, sharing community?  How can they deal with the real fear of being excluded, and becoming destitute, enslaved, tortured or killed if they embraced this new way?

Read if you want to know more about the early history of Christianity in an exciting and informative tale.  Phoebe herself is a sympathetic and interesting narrator, with a moving history that is gradually unfolded during the story.

Paula Gooder is a theologian, not a novelist, but has still produced an approachable, encouraging and readable novel, which gives a wonderful flavour of the danger and excitement, as well as the theological struggles, of the early years of Christianity. There are also lots of interesting notes as well, for those of us who would like more depth and background and historical settings/details.

Phoebe

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How should we respond to climate change? – A Christian perspective

In light of the recent horrific fires in Australia:

Thoughts from a Minimalist Christian

The earth’s climate has seen dramatic change. Four and a half billion years ago, the earth was formed.  Its atmosphere had massively high levels of carbon dioxide, and there was very little oxygen.  Miraculously, life originated in this extremely hostile environment, and for the next one and a half billion years or so the cyanobacteria began cleaning up the atmosphere and enriching it with oxygen and allowing the formation of the protective ozone layer.

Over the next two billion years the beautifully designed process of evolution took those earliest forms of life and developed them into the staggering array of life that we take so readily for granted today.   Darwin hinted at the beauty of the process in the final paragraph of his book “the origin of species” when he wrote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a…

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Four things to check in manifesto costings

Good point.

Thoughts from a Minimalist Christian

During an election all parties make commitments to do things which cost money.  Voters expect them to put a cost against each item.  Commentators then add up the costs and say that this is what each party is going to spend.  This process is way too simplistic to make meaningful comparisons.

Spend v invest

 If I spend £5000 on a holiday, when I get home all I have left are the memories.  If I spend £5000 on a car I have both the asset of the car and the cost saving of reduced bus fares.  I have ‘invested’ in the car, instead of ‘spending’ on the holiday

If a government ‘spends’ on purchasing assets, particularly those which will generate revenue, then this is investment – and a saving for the future.  The assets of the nation will have increased.

Similarly, if a government sells off assets and then spends the…

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Great Britain? I hope so.

Still relevant!

Thoughts from a Minimalist Christian

Eighty years ago this nation was at a crisis.  Politicians of the day worked together for the good of Britain and Europe.  The monarch was respected and brought hope to the people suffering – visiting Coventry after the horrific bombings, addressing our nation and urging us to pull together to fight against fascist powers that were oppressing the poor, the weak and the scapegoat Jews.  It was a time where national values and pride meant doing the right thing for our neighbours.

Fast forward to today.  We have in power an unelected leader who is treating our Queen with contempt, as a tool to be used as he sees fit.  We see those in high office treat our honourable institution of parliament with utter disrespect – lounging on the front benches. New scapegoats are created.  Our traditions are trampled.  Unelected oligarchs and manipulators hold powerful positions.  The similarities with the…

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