Wednesday, 25 July 2018

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

Some books are easy to sum up. Almost as soon as I have finished reading them I know what I want to say about them and how they made me feel. I crack a review out, press 'publish' and pass the book along to my sister or the charity shop.

A Thousand Paper Birds is not a book like that.

I finished this book several weeks ago and it has taken me a while to process what I read. Don't get me wrong, I adored the book and would recommend it to everyone. It is a contender for Book of the Year, if I was awarding such an honour. So why couldn't I write a review straight after I finished it?

This is a complex book, tackling serious and important issues. It deals with love and grief, longing and loss, relationships and friendships. All very 'big' topics and ones that always make me think when they are the bedrock of a book. So I was very aware that I needed to take these themes seriously when I wrote my review.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot of the book because there was a moment when I was reading when everything shifted for me, literally took my breath away and left me staring at the page in disbelief. I don't want to spoil that moment for anyone else so l won't give away any secrets or important moments.

The novel centres around five characters and how their lives intertwine, sharing love and loss and struggling to understand each other and themselves. Jonah is a widower who is trying to piece together his life again after the loss of his beloved wife, Audrey. Audrey's story is told in a parallel narrative in the past. She is the link between all the other characters, touching their lives and changing them. Chloe is an artist who works in paper. She starts a relationship with Jonah that isn't easy for either of them. Harry and Milly live within Kew Gardens, a young girl constantly searching for her place in the world and a gardener whose whole world revolves around the plants he tends.
The way Tor Udall weaves the narrative through Kew Gardens and binds the characters together is wonderful. I have never visited Kew Gardens but I was transported there by the beautiful descriptions. Here is a small example: 

'Half-hidden among the cool green of the reeds, a heron stands on one leg, watching the sun glint on the water. Its wings are the colour of a bruise as it waits silently, like an old man wearing a coat of straggly feathers. There are four wooded islands on the lake, undisturbed by humans; stamping grounds for coots, moorhens and Canada geese. The air thrums with birdsong and damselflies darting between the campion and blanketweed.'

Can't you just picture the scene? I'm transported to the side of the lake, sitting and enjoying the tranquillity.

This book is a marvel, so beautiful, so sad and heart-breaking. The love between Jonah and Audrey shines through, his pain is almost too much to bear when reading yet there is hope for the future too. I was in tears at the end but it is a satisfying ending, everything left in a way that felt right.

I have not moved this book on. I know I will return to it again and read with tears in my eyes. This is a book that I will cherish, that I will re-read, a book I wish I had written. And that seems to me to be the highest compliment I can pay to any author.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Words on Wednesday

The lovely Kamsin is running a linky which challenges us writers to take a prompt and produce either a poem or piece of prose and this week she challenged us to think about old age. The prompt is 'When I am Old I Shall...' so I decided to give it a whirl and here's what I came up with.

When I am old I shall spend time looking back. Nostalgia has always been very attractive to me, I love a good rummage through the past, where naturally everything was better.
I love looking back on my childhood holidays. Long sunny days spent on a beach, building sandcastles, eating ice-cream. Long visits to my Grandma’s, walking round wheat filled fields, lounging in the orchard listening to the gentle buzz of bees and wasps. Glasses of barley water, the smell of dry grass, feeling drowsy in the heat.
I love looking back on my teenage years. Discovering the world and trying it out. Platform shoes, clogs, Oxford bags, cheesecloth, hippy beads and floppy hats. Questionable fashion choices, bright red nail polish and hennaed hair. Glam rock, Saturday morning discos, dancing in formation, cigarettes behind the bus stop.
I love looking back on my college days. Independent living, learning to roll my own cigarettes, beer and darts. Rag week, last minute essay panic, frenzied kisses at the disco. Dungeons and dragons, political awakening, Rock Against Racism.
When I am old I shall disappear into the past, listen to David Cassidy and David Bowie and smile, remembering when I was young, possible foolish but always happy.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Jumping Ahead

I sometimes wonder what goes through my mind at times.
But then if I knew that it might worry me!

I have been making good progress on the second draft of my WIP and this makes me very happy. Everything has been planned out chapter by chapter and I'm enjoying writing a more satisfying story than the one I cobbled together in my first draft. So everything in the writing garden should be lovely, right?

Well, yes, except I'm jumping ahead again.

I've started to obsess about approaching agents, finding beta readers, editing, you name it really.

I know, I'm not anywhere near needing any of those things yet but they have been playing on my mind. I'm starting to worry about things that are nowhere near as important as getting the second draft written! Even when I do need them I have many lovely writer friends who will help point me in the right direction.

So why am I jumping ahead? I think it's a consequence of the talking therapies I have had in the past. They got me to visualise what success would look and feel like, to visualise the steps I would take to make my success happen. I think that my brain is now performing these visualisations before I need to do those tasks. And I'm jumping ahead.

So on go the brakes, no more jumping ahead, just writing, writing, writing.