Monday 28 July 2014

The Plain of Jars

I feel as though I've been reading this book forever. Martine recommended it when I went to visit her in Laos earlier this year. Some books have a weird resonance. I opened the chapter on Kibuye in Emergency Sex just as my bus was pulling out of Kibuye. I started reading The Plain of Jars chapter about ascending the hills to Vang Vieng just as my bus was ascending the hills to Vang Vieng.

Like the Dr. Siri series it's set in Lao, which is why Martine was recommending it. Unlike the Dr. Siri series, it is in desperate need of editing, which is odd for a publisher like Roundfire. Although, they do claim to publish 300 titles a year, so perhaps they simply don't have the time to give each title the attention it deserves?

This is one of those cases where you have to separate the story from the technicalities. Technically, it could do with losing a few thousand words. At times it feels like trudging through a pachyderm's thesaurus just to get to the end of a sentence. 'Sparing on the adjectives' is advice worth following. 

Despite that, it is an extremely engaging story. Even if you have to take a mental machete to the prose, Roundfire's motto holds true:

[O]nce you pick [our books] up you won't want to put them down.

So, I've been reading it on and off now for about three months. It's an epic set between the CIA perpetuated civil war of the 60s and 70s, and the post-war aftermath of the 1980-90s. The story of a pilot, a mother, a journalist, an assassin and an elephant.

What would you do if you found that the bones and ashes you were given by the Air Force were not the remains of your loved one? Dorothy Kozeny, a 64-year-old widow from a small town in Ohio, after getting no answers from the relevant authorities, decides the only thing to do is to go to Laos herself to search for the truth concerning her son's fate. In 1990, accompanied by a trusted Laotian called Kampeng, Dorothy travels deep into the mountains of rural Laos, attempting to trace her son's path through inhospitable terrain, an unforgettable trek that provides her with a rewarding, often humorous, and at times frustrating, cross-cultural experience. All clues lead her to a mysterious figure, an alledged CIA operative left over from the war, living in a remote and hostile area deep in the jungle. The second part of the book traces the life of this enigmatic character hiding in Laos, the two main characters linked through Dorothy's son.

Lombardi's knowledge of both the American Air Force and the folk customs of Lao are encyclopedic, yet he manages to weave them into the story without making it feel too much like a history lesson. 

All in all, I did enjoy this one, although my own fascination with the Plain of Jars probably had something to do with it. I think a little editing could turn a good story into an outstanding one.

If you are interested in Laos and its history, the film The Rocket is also well worth watching.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Musical Interlude: Violent Femmes

Goodness me, there are a lot of people out there with excellent taste in music. You know who you are.

Monday 21 July 2014

Books of Days Gone Bye

After yesterday's post on authors dressing up as their favourite childhood characters, I thought I'd share some of the books I remember from my early years. A few of my favourite hardbacks.

It all really begins with Puddle Lane. These were just the best idea for teaching kids to read. Dad would read one each night, and they're split into two parts - see above. On one page is the smaller print for the adults to read, then in larger print is the part for the kids to read. I always had to read my bit before he'd turn the page. I'm not sure they're still in print, but there's a full title list here.

The Mirrorstone both fascinated and scared me all at the same time, as any good book should. I was fascinated by the holograms which were embedded on the pages, but scared by the story. Especially where the boy steps through a puddle into a watery world where he almost drowns. The book is the product of several authors, including Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. A very unusual read.

Old Farm, New Farm appears to have become a bit of a collector's item. This one was special because it was a gift from my maternal grandmother. Mum read it to me many times, and I would always reach for it when I didn't really want to go to sleep, because - as kids' books go - it's quite long. It's all about an old, run-down farm, and how the farmer cleans it up and makes it new again.

Oleg the Snow Leopard is beautifully illustrated. Again, I was a little unsure of it: I loved the pictures, but the story was about Oleg being hunted down and wounded, and how his friends saved him. I also liked it because it was set in a land of ice and snow, which is something I've always been drawn to in stories. I think all children find joy in snow. After all, it signals a day off school.

The Patchwork Cat is another beautifully illustrated book. It's all about a cat, Tabby, whose owner throws away her favourite patchwork blanket. She goes on an adventure to retrieve it, and her catchphrase: "Good morning, good yawning," was oft repeated at the breakfast table.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Childhood Revisited

Who would you dress up as?

I rather fancy being the Cheshire Cat.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Benjamin Zephaniah

Jeremiah, Jeremiah... I'll tell you what I see.

I have been completely absorbed in Peaky Blinders the past week. Haven't enjoyed a series that much for a long time, not sure I can wait for September.

I was already sold, and then this happened.

Anybody else spot a legendary poet on the far right?

Must admit, I blinked before I was sure.

Benjamin Zephaniah is an institution (though he may prefer republic). I was probably about nine when I first encountered him, in a book of modern children's verse. Check out According to my Mood. It's one of the best poems written for children or adults.

Still not convinced?

Novel Idea: First Edit

Well, here it is boys and girls. The countdown to release starts here. 

That there little attachment at the bottom is going to keep me busy for the next few weeks. It's the first edit from my publisher. I know I wrote a section on edits for Novel Idea before, but that's what everyone does at the end of a novel. You put it aside for a while, you come back, you read through and make your changes, usually with the help of a couple of trusted friends.

If you do your own edits well, it should get you through the door of a publisher. Then it's over to them to make it sparkle. 

Good idea to get to grips with the Review Function on Word.

I haven't even looked at it yet. I had a bit to drink the other night. Ended up wandering through town, stopped to smoke a cigarette on a low wall, watching people go by. Lost my writing mojo recently and perhaps a little part of me doesn't want to start this process, because I don't want to finish it. What if this is the last great story I have left to tell?

All out of words at the moment.

Maybe it'll come back, maybe it's time to move on and do other things with my time. Not sure that decision's up to me, the Muse does as she pleases.

Still, it's the best thing I've ever written, and I'm just not quite ready to let it go.

About to move house for the second time in a month. Think I'll feel better once I get this new place with an office, bookshelves - the lot. Hardly had any sleep since May, so I'm looking forward to some peace. A little quiet space to focus on what needs to get done.

Funny I should be contemplating my last novel in the same place I wrote my first.

Anyway, this one's set to fly mid-November, so get that in your diaries. 

Know that I will be working hard alongside Ghostwoods to make it a chiller.

Sleep softly.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Musical Interlude: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand

Yeah, I admit it. I'm a Peaky Blinders fan. Who ever knew the Brummie accent could be considered sexy?

Thursday 10 July 2014


Very happy to open my post box the other day to find this.

My lovely friend Lisa, who I met on my writing retreat to Horka, has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. She's named her after her favourite literary character: Ronia the Robber's Daughter, a novel by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren

I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Commonwealth Foundation

Having mentioned the Development Book Club the other day, I thought I should also give a congratulatory shout-out to Jennifer Makumbi, who won this year's Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

The winning story is about a grieving widow who arrives at Entebbe Airport from Manchester with her husband’s coffin, but events take such a dramatic turn that she must relinquish her widowhood and fight. 
“This is a dream. For Uganda, once described as a literary desert, it shows how the country’s literary landscape is changing and I am proud to be a part of it. The Commonwealth Short story Prize will help bring attention to Ugandan writing at a global level,” said Jennifer Makumbi, who lives in Manchester, UK.

You can find out lots more about the Commonwealth Foundation's writing initiatives on their website.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Fridge Poetry

I've just moved house. Left my mark on the previous fridge:

Get between people who

Scream rock 'n' roll
Heavy, drunk, raucous and wild
Cranking it loud
One anthem of love

Up there along with: 

I smell like jam

And the rather poignant:

My song is only music

Eat power
Drink slowly

Sunday 6 July 2014

Development Book Club

Somebody brought this to my attention through my day job. I thought I'd share. If you're up for an intellectual challenge, it's a book club with monthly discussions relating to international development.

Welcome to Development Novice! We’re an online book club for those beginning our careers in international development. We read one book a month then discuss its themes and relations to our work/studies. While the title of this blog is “Development Novice” anyone interested in development is encouraged to participate. Whether you are a young professional, student (you have time for this?), or established in the field, you are welcome to read and share your experiences.

The thinking person's book club.

Saturday 5 July 2014


Hop on over to my mate Cassie's blog. She's just started blogging, tracking her journey with Crohn's disease

I’m not quite sure exactly where I am going to go with this yet... However, I want this blog to encompass more than just my fight with an awful disease, my life is more than that. I want to talk about issues that effect me as a working Mum, a nurse and a generally conscientious person..I want to rant, scream, shout, laugh, reminisce and hopefully amuse and enlighten a few people along the way.

She's one of the strongest, funniest, and most rockin'est chicks I know, and I'm sure what she has to say will be memorable.

Friday 4 July 2014


Itsuarok n.: The frustration of waiting for someone to turn up.

This has been my week so far. Loving these 11 words that cannot be translated. I'd also like to add to that mono no aware, or 'the pathos of things'.