Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

“I’d lifted my right leg slightly….”

THIS IS NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE, PEOPLE!

Where to start with something as epic and all-consuming as How To Lose A Girl In Ten Ways, which I couldn’t take my head out of and finished in a day?

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Mr. Smithson does not beat around the bush with his debut offering. In fact, he actively invites you into the bush…. o god. Pun not intended but it’s staying in as it’s rather apt.

Let’s just have a little look at a few of the methods that Mr. Smithson recommends we employ to lose a girl.

#1 Totally misread the situation
#2 Turn up with a guy who has more money than you
#4 Watch porn
#6 Try to sleep with her best friend
#9 Order the hot wings before your date

And how, you might ask, has he become such an expert on girl-losing?

Now, maybe it’s the fear of an ordinary life or low confidence levels, but Mr. Smithson continues to find himself (read: put himself) in pretty crazy situations when it comes to women. And luckily for him, it makes for a great story!

We silently thank the girl who responds to his advances on the bus because he can then tell us about how he ends up in the hotel lobby, casually urinating on the carpet while booking a room (the receptionist doesn’t realise it’s happening – Sean is the master of stealth).

We love that the posh girl noticed Mr. Smithson and liked him enough to take him home, because then he got to tell us about how he ruined the evening with porn.

And yet, we are shocked when he does tell us about it. We are incredulous about the offhand manner in which he announces, “Within seconds, I’d managed to shit myself” and goes on to describe his barecheeked dash for the sink to clean away the ‘evidence.’ We are outraged, on behalf of women everywhere, about how he drunkenly approaches a girl’s best friend, having already slept with the girl. We are disgusted at the regularity with which this man frequents strip clubs.

But then, you know what? We’re actually not. We love him. We love the ridiculous madness that ensues when he has had a drink*. We love that he spends so long holding a grudge against a stripper, who then turns her attention to him, and within a second, he’s in love with her. We love his self-awareness, his willingness to point out his least desirable qualities to us. And he’s certainly not afraid to tell us about hookers.

* A sober Mr. Smithson, I’m led to believe, is quite a different story. Well-spoken, well-dressed and rather handsome, is the rumour?

Every so often, someone comes along and tells a story so well that they could be telling you anything and you’d read it. You’d read it if it were about the rules of golfing or the intricacies of computer programming.

Sean Smithson is one of those people. Of course, his material is fantastic and you can’t help but gasp when told about the right-leg-raising during the shit-himself escapade. But he is also a fantastic story-teller. He could write anything and people would want to read it.

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New Year’s Resolution no.3

….was to blog. So here I am. Blogging. About what? I’m not sure yet. Maybe about my newly discovered love of beautiful art? Maybe about my renewed fascination with the history of Ham House because of my fabulous new book about it? Maybe about cake?

Well, let’s start with the cake. Here is a box that once contained a chocolate orange cake.
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Danda had one peice. Someone else ate the entire rest of the cake, thinking it might help with her cold because oranges contain vitamin C, right? That someone else had been sworn off sugar because of the sugar headaches and achy teeth caused by their new job as a cake maker. The someone else now feels chocolate guilt and wishes not to be named.

Talking of new jobs, it’s been an interesting year. In the space of twelve months, the following things have happened;

1. Got two new jobs. One I disliked. One I loved. Thankfully I am now in the one I love!
2. Lost a good friend to the murky depths of Texas’ capital punishment system.
3. Went to France (for lunch), Italy (for my birthday) and America.
4. Visited the NASA space centre.
5. Became a ghost tour guide.
6. Made this (the website, not the art)
7. Became addicted to Candy Crush, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
8. Purchased the most expensive (but most worth it) book I’ve ever owned.
9. Discovered pretty art and fabulous painters (current favourites are Sir Peter Lely and Van Dyck)
10. Got to know the life of the river better, via my walk to work. (And learnt about the importance of knowing the tide times!)
11. Got reacquainted with my childhood best friend when she came to stay in the spare room.
12. Had a cold for a month.
13. Watched family jet off for a new life under the Australian sun.
14. Met a fellow blogger for the first time.

There has been a lot of change in the last year, some of which I’m still getting used to. Here’s to 2014! I wonder what will happen.

Narnia and I: the reblog

Christmas is fast approaching and it’s almost Narnia time! I’m excited! I’m also ill and it’s a Monday so I’m fobbing you off with a reblog… sorry!

” Our relationship goes way back. Anyone who knows me well, knows about my Narnia-love.

I had probably read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point as a child but then my dad got me the box set in my teens and I read all seven chronicles. It took over my existence for a while. I rejoiced when they defeated the White Witch, when Caspian beat his uncle and reigned over Narnia, when Jill and Eustace broke Prince Rilian free from his spell and when Peter triumphed in the last battle. I despaired when Aslan was killed on the ancient table, when Nikabrik tried to overthrow Caspian and when Edmund and Lucy were told they had to leave Narnia. And I wept for the second half of the last book because I knew the end was nigh.

When in the Narnia zone, it becomes a very real place to me. It is the pleasant background to my normal day. Things are just generally nicer and more storybook, even when I’m just at work.

Right before going on our gap years, my friend Joe and I had walked from his house into Reading, which had taken about four hours. We had talked about Narnia a lot. It was one of those lovely days, early in our friendship when everything we said or did became a nice memory, stored up to take away with me. He left for his gap year before me so I sent him all seven books in the post to China and, miraculously, nothing happened to them along the way. I took a copy of the books with me to Africa and we started to read them on the 16th December, countries and oceans apart, to prepare for Christmas.

In fact, one day, whilst discussing Narnia with a bit of alcohol in our systems, two friends and I jumped into the rather big wardrobe we had in our room in Namibia, and searched around in the back for some snow or trees. We found neither.

Every year since then, I’ve started reading them on the 16th so I’m usually on book 4 or 5 by Christmas Day, and I keep reading till I finish them.

When my friend, Jay, started basically living on our sofa when we were at uni, I had started reading them as usual and I would always stay in the front room with her, on the other sofa. And we used to read the books to each other, a chapter each, until she got tired and I would keep reading until she had fallen asleep.

So last night, a few days later than usual, I picked up The Magician’s Nephew and started to read. All the lovely feelings of being on familiar ground and being in for a great read were ignited and I sipped my cup of tea and smiled.

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began….”

Why I will never read Fifty Shades

I might as well apologise in advance to those people who loved Fifty Shades Of Grey, who said it was a revelation in erotic literature for women, who’s sex lives were revolutionised by it, for there are bound to be some of those people reading this, given that 95% of the world read it, it seems.

Before we start, I would like to state for the record that I’m not dismissing it because it’s erotic literature and I’m some kind of straight-laced prude. I can read anything if it’s written well. That’s the secret of a good writer, I think. To make the writing invisible and let the story shine. If you’re having to pay attention to the writing, in a bad way, the story is lost.

The names are probably a good place to start. Has she really called them Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele?! It’s as silly as if I decided to write a novel about cake baking and named the main characters Mr. Butter and Miss Sugar. Grey and Steele. It might even be ok if she left it at that but she just goes on and on about things that are grey and steel, as if she’s trying to send secret messages to my subconscious and create atmosphere except that she’s been so obvious about her subconscious messaging that I’m now paying more attention to the stupidly obvious references than the story.

How many people, when they are walking along and see a building with lots of metal things and some writing in silver by a door, how many people do you know that would describe it as being written in ‘steel’? O yes, I often see things written in steel… It’s so stupidly obviously a reference to her name and is trying to build a theme.

Please grant me with more intelligence than needing nonsensical references to names and words to create ‘atmosphere’.

It goes on and on. Lots of things are described as ‘gray’ too, the building, his suit, his eyes, his stare… Blah blah blah. It was either written in a really contrived way or an editor came along after and used the ‘find and replace’ tool on Word to replace every possible other word with ‘grey’ or ‘steel’. It bothers me, this type of thing. Bad writing. Poorly disguised efforts at ‘themes’. Bad editing. It bothers me.
The book also lost me when the Steele girl first goes into the Grey man’s office and is all intimidated and nervous then suddenly sees some paintings and just goes, “They’re lovely. Raising the ordinary to the extraordinary.” Like a deranged elderly person might. Just go off into their own little world and start saying odd poetic things in a singsong voice. How many people do you know that would come out with a line like that in normal conversation?

Next up, the language used in the first ten or twenty pages to build the theme of ‘sex’. Right after she’s turned into a deranged elderly person and started saying odd thing, he ‘cocks’ his head at her. Now I might not think anything of it if he didn’t ‘cock’ his head about six times over the next few pages. What an extremely poorly disguised way to get the word ‘cock’ in early on, to build the ‘atmosphere’ (I guess). I could hardly stop myself from screaming when he kept ‘cock’ing.

There is lots of finger talk too. I’m guessing fingers play a part later in the story? He gives her a ‘long-fingered’ handshake, she’s all ‘fingers and thumbs’, etc etc. Check this sentence out.

“He’s watching me, one hand relaxed in his lap and the other cupping his chin and trailing his long index finger across his lips.”

I mean, come on! It’s straight from a badly written porn film. As is this one…

“I squirm uncomfortably under his penetrating gaze.”

The ‘penetrating’, like the head cocking, is repeated to a fault. I’m still only about ten pages in and already I’m bombarded with bad writing and more references to sex than I can handle without rebelling.

I feel like saying, “Calm down, author lady! I get it! It’s going to be sexy. Don’t force the point.”

And that, my friends, is why I will not be reading Fifty Shades of Sex.

If I want badly written porn, I will go and find some actual badly written porn.

The big finale

I finished Scandalous Innocent, everyone! And I thought I’d give you a proper review of the book so you can all go out and get yourselves a copy.

So we started in 1676 with a woman called Phoebe. She hates a man called Leo cause he made a rude comment about her three years ago. They have a big argument at Ham House and decide to solve it by having a duel in the Great Hall. He wins, carries her upstairs, snogs her then saunters off.

Phoebe realizes she really likes him, spends days hanging around, hoping he’ll turn up. He does. She’s rude to him. She leaves in a hurry, is ‘kidnapped’ by him and kept in his house while he declares his love for her and they get it on.

Jump to 1803, there’s a woman called Phoebe. She’s hates a man for three years cause he seems all arrogant and mouthy and her mother wants her to marry him. She’s living in her brother’s house and the man she hates turns up and says he won the house in a bet so she’s got to bugger off. She can stay, though, if she marries him.

She’s like, ‘Urgh, never!’ Then she spends a few days in his company and quite fancies him. They go to visit friends and one of them is like, ‘Yeh, he’s terribly selfless, you know. He has a house where orphaned street children can live and he takes care of them. O, give me a break!

Anyway, she’s thinking about whether to agree to marry him and she goes to Ham House and there’s a portrait of the 1676 Phoebe with Leo. She’s looking at the painting and everyone else leaves the room and she thinks she heard something and the Phoebe on the painting is staring at her and someone is telling her to look.

That’s right, the painting is talking to her. Ten pages from the end, the book just got pretty wierd.

So she looks behind her and can see down into the Great Hall. And you’ll never guess what she sees? Um, I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you what happens…

Ok, so she sees some ghosts. Yup. Ghosts. Ten pages from the end, this badly written Mills&Boon bodice-ripper has turned into a ghost story. She sees two ghosts having a duel. She sees the man win and carry the woman up the stairs and gets a bit scared because the ghosts will arrive in the room that she’s in and when she looks, the man she’s thinking of marrying walks in.

And this, in her mind, is confirmation that she’s supposed to marry the man she “hates”. So she gets all soppy and is like, ‘I just love you soooo much.’

Ta dah! The end.

I’m not sure I did anything other than read the same story twice, to be honest. Apart from the ghost thing to link the two. It was two disconnected stories that had some of the same features.

I don’t feel I really gained anything by reading it, apart from maybe the moral that if you hate someone and they keep snogging you, maybe you should think about marrying them.

More Phoebe stuff

Ok, it’s time to let you know what’s happening with Scandalous Innocent and there is an awful lot going on. After the non-mystery of finding the gold necklace with Phoebe’s name on it, we kind of finished off with Phoebe and Leo and suddenly jumped to 1803.

And you’ll never guess what happens? There is a woman called Phoebe living in the house that the earlier Phoebe and Leo lived in. She has a daughter. Her husband is dead. A man she hates cause her mother tried to get her to marry him three years ago turns up on her doorstep.

She’s like, “What do you want, loser?” He’s like, “Shut up, stupid woman. Totes done a bet with your brother last night while he was drunk and won this house! Yehhh! Woop woop! In your face!”

She’s all angry but it is her brother’s house so there’s not much she can do. Before he leaves the house after telling her this news, he grabs her hand, twists her arm up her back, drags her towards him and kisses her.

Niiiice. Smooth work, Viscount Ransome. O yes. That is his name, by the way. Rhymes with handsome and apparently he is. His nickname is also Buck Ransome.

The subtlety of this book is what I most enjoy.

Anyway, her name is Phoebe and she hates a man who keeps snogging her. Ring any bells? Sound like the first half of the book?

So what do we think happens here? The first person who gets it right wins a cake. So did you get it right? Yeh, he basically wins her over by saying she’s allowed to stay in the house while he owns it so long as she marries him.

O yes, Viscount Buck Ransome goes, “I know you hate me but just marry me and that.” She goes, “O but I hate you so much! I couldn’t possibly! Even though you are so handsome and I totally fancy you loads and loads. But no! O, um, ok, maybe. I’m thinking about it. Um. O, alright then. You’ve won me over with your physical bullying and by being slightly threatening.”

So they make out in the Ham House gardens just by the Orangery (that’s where I work!) and then get all filthy together in her little greenhouse among the cabbages and rhubarb. As one does in the 1800s.

It just gets better, doesn’t it? I’ll keep you updated.

Fine literature

Now, this is something I enjoy very much, fine literature. I love a Fitzgerald novel or something from the Bronte sisters. I’m all over it. Which is why I’m enjoying Scandalous Innocent so much. I just wanted to give you all a flavour of the high standard of writing that we are dealing with here. Enjoy! And don’t blame me if you’re all rushing to the shops afterward to buy a copy.

“Smiling, he recalled the haughty, heavy-lidded dismissive blink of her amazingly dark eyes, refusing even to please him with an answer to his invitation, as if he’d invited her to an orgy instead of a drive in Hyde Park.”

“The rain gusted wearily against the black windows, and from behind a bank of angry clouds a full moon began sailing through the tattered remnants of the storm like a disc of white enamel edged with watery pearls.”

“She watched him as carefully as a cat watches a bird too large for her to catch unawares.”

“By morning, her decisions were veering like a weather-vane in a windy gale between staying in the same house as a man she had made a point of hating for the past three years, and galloping off home on an excuse that was as transparent as the June sky.”

“Loving him one moment and hating him the next, wanting his happiness yet wishing to punish him for being unattainable, Elizabeth saw this as a chance to put herself in Mistress Laker’s shoes and to fight him, physically, to feel the emotion of being conquered and won, as she never would be.”

“No sooner had he shouldered the door closed and tipped her on to her feet, than his supporting arm pulled her close into the hard bend of his body and, even before she could begin to guess what he was about, began a kiss that for sheer skill excelled the previous one.”

“Claudette, who had never met a real Viscount before, half-expected him to be wearing a red velvet ermine-edged robe with a coronet on his head rather than the double-breasted tailcoat with high stand-fall collar and a grey striped waistcoat showing below.”

It’s just fabulous, isn’t it? Well written. Eloquent. The sentences are not at all long and rambly and nonsensical. Talking of nonsensical, what’s all that nonsense about a cat watching a bird too large to catch unawares? What. On. Earth. What does that mean? And the kiss having ‘sheer skill.’ Skill? I just. I don’t. I’m really not sure where to start with this whole wordy mess.