20 December 2013

Have a Happy Day

Over the past couple of months we’ve had our own little mayoral problem here in Auckland. Internationally it hasn’t caught on, unlike the Toronto mayor, but it has kept the local papers busy.

The reason I mention it here is that on my way to work I saw the headline that it was a big decision day for the mayor and whether he would keep his job. I scanned the headline as I walked past and then continued thinking about work concerns (well I was on my way there), and the other personal and writing thoughts pushing through.

In our lives there are days we will never forget. Some of them are planned and anticipated such as a wedding, a milestone birthday or anniversary, or the birth of a child. Others happen when we least expect it: meeting someone who will have a big impact on our life, illness or the death of someone close. Those particular days, whether happy or heart-breaking, are momentous, but they are only momentous to us, and possibly to a few other people we know. Even hearing of the death of a favourite actor or famous person is unlikely to have the same effect on us.

For most of the time we’re unaware of these momentous occasions in other people’s lives. The people walking along the street around you may be bubbling with excitement and anticipation over an upcoming event, or in the depths of misery over the loss of someone close or an illness or health diagnosis.

I recall being very aware of this a few years ago when my father died unexpectedly, and instead of going to work that morning I found myself flying back to England. I looked around at the other people on the plane and wondered about their reasons for travel: holiday, business, family or some occasion not so happy.

We don’t know what’s going on in the life of others so why not give them a break if someone reacts unexpectedly or unpleasantly to us. Sure they may just be grumpy and rude all the time, but that’s their problem. However, they may be going through the worst day of their life.

I know it’s a cliché for this time of year, but by treating other people kindly we never know the effect it may have on them.

I still remember the unexpected pleasure and boost of happiness I had when a stranger smiled at me and wished me a ‘Happy Friday’ on the way to work one day.

If nothing else it will make you feel good.

15 December 2013


'History is memory, when our history is lost; our memory is always diminished.'

I jotted that quotation down in one of my notebooks some time ago, unfortunately I didn't make a note of where I found it or who said it, and therefore I’m not sure of the context of the quote, but it reminded me of an incident on holiday.

We spent a morning
walking and enjoying spectacular views at Cape Byron, and during our visit we saw a pod of humpback whales. It was a brilliant half hour watching these magnificent creatures on their migration journey. Needless to say most people had their camera’s, phones or tablets out taking photos. As I stood next to a small group I overheard one of them say, ‘Why don’t you come out from behind your camera for a few minutes and just enjoy watching.’

The technology we have is brilliant. We can capture events and upload the photos or video for the world to see. A lot of the news information we gain comes from ‘people on the street’ watching events unfold. However with that ability to capture so much, we also lose a lot. I guess it comes back to being in the moment. When we’re constantly behind a lens, or a phone or tablet screen, we don’t actually see the view other than through a lens.

I wouldn’t swap the technology we enjoy, but we shouldn’t forget what our memories capture: the feel of a child’s hand in ours, the sun on our skin, the scent of the sea, the sound of the waves pounding the rocks and children’s laughter.

I don't need a photo to remind me of the
sense of anticipation I had as a child on Christmas Eve, or going on holiday and wanting to be the first to catch that first glimpse of the sea, and the joy of holding my daughters as babies.

Yes, we should take photos and video, but we must live the memories as well.

03 December 2013

Book Reviews

As I mentioned in this post one of the things I love about holidays is the extra (not feeling guilty) time for reading. After Pride and Prejudice and Death Comes to Pemberley, I read Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. I cheated on this one as I have read it before. I think my feelings about it were much the same as the first reading quite a few years ago. It has a slow, lush, intoxicating feel to it that was perfectly suited to a holiday. However, it does have flaws. The plot is slight and the speed with which Jay manages to renovate his house and garden is amazing, but part of the delight of the lovely prose is to suspend your disbelief.

Changing the mood totally I turned to a murder mystery Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin writing as Jack Harvey. The premise was interesting but ultimately I didn’t enjoy the book. I found there was too much information on the guns and ammunition being used. I imagine people who enjoy guns would appreciate the research Ian Rankin did before writing the book, but it it bored me. Ian Rankin has been on my To Be Read list for a long time, and when I first bought the book I hadn’t actually realised he was writing as someone else as the Jack Harvey name was much smaller. However, I’ve heard so many good things about his Inspector Rebus books I will certainly try one of those next time.

The last two books were both 500+ page books and I was glad to be reading them on my Kindle. The Last Dark by Stephen Donaldson was the final episode in Donaldson’s epic Thomas Covenant series. I loved the first two trilogies even though I wouldn’t call myself a fantasy fan. The initial books in this last segment were excellent but the final two books left me feeling that too many things were Deus ex machina. I was always going to read the final Thomas Covenant books but I didn’t feel they were Stephen Donaldson at his best.

The other book was The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I’d been interested in reading this book since it first came out simply to see what JK could write for adults, and because like a huge number of other people I’d read all the Harry Potter books.

As a writer and reader I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I had thought the large cast of characters might make it difficult to keep track of them, but I found that each had their own distinct voice – not easy to do with that many characters. Another initial thought (as a writer) was that there was head hopping going on. Many of the chapters begin in third-person omniscient point of view before moving into a particular character's point of view, and sometimes after interacting with another character the point of view elegantly turns to the second character. No head-hopping just a neat handover.

I’ve read through a few of the Amazon reviews for this book – as of this moment in time there are 4,311 of them. I looked at a few of the four and five star reviews and then at some of the one and two star reviews. The interesting thing is that most of what people loved in the higher rated reviews are the things that people didn’t like in the one and two star reviews. I guess this shows that ‘you can’t please all the people all the time.’

As a writer I both love and hate reviews. It’s wonderful to read a great review or get an email from someone who loved your book, especially if they let you know what they liked about it. It’s obviously harder to read a harsh review, but not everyone is going to love everything we write. I often like an author’s work as a whole but there will be some books I like less than others. The brief reviews above show that. However, a well-written review from someone who hasn’t enjoyed a book can show what they didn’t like. That may well point to things that can be changed in future writing i.e. stereotype characters, unrealistic dialog, confusing plot etc.

What most writers (especially indie writers) want are reviews. Did you enjoy the book? Why? If not, why not? The review doesn’t have to be long, but it’s definitely best if it’s constructive rather than a rant, or working off bad temper.

Go on, give a writer a gift today, write a constructive review of a book you've recently finished.