Books et al's Blog

All about books, reviews, thoughts and more

Book review: Worms on Parachutes – mystical allies in my battle with cancer November 10, 2012

I have been meaning to blog for ages but life keeps getting in the way – work, part-time study, family commitments, travel and reading! My apologies readers – if I have any left!

In the end it took a very special book from a very special person to drive me to write again.

I love books and I am a huge reader, often reading more than one book at a time. Generally it’s fiction. I prefer the world of imagination  magic, discovery and wonder than the world of pampered celebrities or of real-life disturbing evil. As it’s my form of escapism from the stresses and strains of daily life, I never read what are condescendingly known as ‘Misery Memoirs’ either.

However when someone I knew, Sarah-Jane Phillips, offered me the chance to read the true story about her life and intimate struggle against her battle with two different types of cancer, in her youth and then as an adult, I was touched and resolved to read it immediately.

I was glad I did. Worms on Parachutes is a story of success and bravery through terrible adversity. Whilst it deals with struggles and familial issues as a result, during very scary and painful times, the reader is reminded throughout of the power of positive thinking.   I won’t lie, it’s a tear-jerker, but by the end you feel that even in reality, the good guys can and DO win. This is no spoiler, readers. I did say the author herself gave this to me to read. The story is not about the outcome, but about the experience Sarah went through, and how she has changed as a result.

It is an inspiring and moving personal journey fighting against a disease that sadly affects most of us, directly or indirectly.

Amazingly Sarah has written her story in order to raise money for the hospital team and the institution that got her through it all – the NHS. In Sarah’s opinion an undeservedly maligned healthcare system that we all depend upon.

Unfortunately you won’t be able to get this book in the stores yet. Sarah is still waiting on a publisher with vision and the understanding that many will want to read about the indomitable human spirit’s struggle against survival and what that teaches us. I am sure that it won’t be long before you see it on Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones. In the meantime you can hear more from Sarah-Jane Phillips herself on her Worms on Parachutes Facebook page.

I will let you know when this is available to purchase, and as always if you have been inspired by any personal memoirs or by people’s struggles, I would love to hear about them too.


Bank holiday weekend August 27, 2010

My birthday falls on this bank holiday weekend so wisely, or not, my husband and I decided to go to the Brighton coast to celebrate. Well we are currently on the M25 in England and while it’s been a slow start – getting onto the motorway was a chore – things seem to be a little smoother now. I say this with caution as things can change at any moment.
Just in case, I have come prepared for a long journey – I have healthy snacks and bottles of water as well as an iPhone full of my favourite podcasts – astronomy cast and Prof Brian Cox’ CERN podcast – lots of music, plus TV series Wonders of the Solar System and my all time favourite movie Contact, should we be stuck for hours. I can’t read while in a car – I suffer from car sickness if I try so the iPhone has given me a fantastic solution to mundane hours spent in a car in a traffic jam. Luckily my husband doesn’t mind me putting on my podcasts through the car radio – occasionally!
I have also brought my writing notebook as my latest story is really starting to take shape. I just need to do a bit more research with regards to the universe, talk to a few experts and I should be well underway to creating an interesting new reality. Well, interesting to me anyway, which is all I aim for now! I am very excited about this storyline and my characters. I hope I do them justice.
Of course it goes without saying that I also have bought a new book to read. The first of the Maria V Snyder Opal Cowan ‘Glass’ series. I loved her Poison Study trilogy so I have great hopes for this next series.
My birthday weekend is shaping up to be the kind of celebration that only a geek like me could enjoy – lots of learning on my areas of passion, reading and writing with some wining and dining with Husband thrown in, and the obligatory trek to some historical buildings/ areas and walks along the coast and a spot of shopping. I am so excited. Here’s hoping the motorways behave!


Writing and Blogs – My Shame July 19, 2010

OK, I know I haven’t posted anything in a while. The truth of the matter is, my blog has been a victim of the London commute. It seems the only time I get a chance to write my blog these days is the few times I have been on a train on the way to, or returning from meetings, courses, exhibitions. It’s a great way to use up time which I would otherwise spend reading (not that there is anything wrong with that, I love reading on trains, in fact anywhere). The problem has been when I go to save or update my work on my iPhone, it always happens to be just as I encounter an Orange signal black spot, and somehow, rather than keeping everything I have written as a local draft, it just disappears into the ether somewhere never to be found or recovered again. It doesn’t even make it to my blog so I really am at a loss as to what happens to it. Nothing on my iPhone either. This is particularly frustrating because they happen to have been my best writing and reviews yet. I promise you, you would have loved it, or at least found it mildly relevant, perhaps even witty. Why? Because for some reason I find it easy to zone out on the train and concentrate on just this. No other distractions. Perhaps I should make a habit of travelling around the countryside on trains, never getting off, never looking out the window, just writing and making social commentary on my fellow passengers as appropriate – without being derogatory of course. That’s not my bag. I could even ramp it up and include writing my novel on the train, maybe finally get it finished in record time, and the other passengers could be my muses, my character and event inspiration.

Then it occurred to me. I am making excuses. If I can zone out on the train then I can zone out at home. All I have to do is be disciplined. I can do it when I work from home, why can’t I do it when I am creative writing? I need to lock myself away instead of trying to write in the front room with the television on, no more sitting in communal spaces where my husband can always find a reason to distract me from my writing – do my share of chores, friends to call or visit, dinner to help with, family duties to take care of and gardens which need tender loving care. The truth is, locking myself away when my house is not empty feels like I am being socially ostracised, like I may be missing out on something. The fact that it is through my own choice makes it easier for me to keep putting off the writing. I am the victim of my own nosiness and curiosity, my need to be a part of a social group, and unfortunately my need to create something wonderful, something I can leave behind for the enjoyment of others, just doesn’t have as stong a motivational pull at the moment.

It will come though, I know it will. I just need an impetus, a reason to knuckle down and then all the ideas floating around my head will come pouring out again into something that will be my magnum opus…though I will settle for a finished novella at this point!

If you have any exercises you use or any tips on how I can regain my lost momentum and motivation, I would love to hear it. How do you push yourself to write, what do you do to make yourself sit and concentrate?


Why is sitting down to finish writing a story so difficult? June 30, 2010

I don’t mean the very short, ten page type of story. They are often quick and satisfying to write, they come upon you on an inspiration and you write frantically, not stopping until that final sentence has been reached -the one that pulls it all together and makes you feel elated, like you have achieved something wonderful. Which you have, no one will deny that.

The kind of story I always have trouble with is the sort of story that I envision as a novel, or a series of novels. I have the plot structure- or at least a framework, I know how I want it to begin, I know the characters (well, most of them), how I want them to feel, to behave, what the inter-character dynamics will be, and how I want it to end, but to get to the end, there has to be a whole middle bit that I just don’t know how to fill. It doesn’t matter how often I try to write a chapter by chapter synopsis.

So currently I am only at my 62nd A4 size typed page and I am in danger of giving up. It’s not so much that I don’t have ideas, it’s more that I am at a loss of how to portray the emotions and significance convincingly. How to make my story mean something deep and honest. What I am most afraid of is that I will let myself and my characters down. They have already achieved great emotional meaning to me. I love them. I often think about them, especially my two central characters, but how can I transpose the life they have in my head to paper without them coming across as one dimensional and trivial? I want others to come to love them as I have. How do I turn day dream stories and characters into a written version and still ensure they retain their integrity? I always thought myself to be a decent creative writer. Lately I have been doubting myself.

Fear is what is holding me back and right now it’s winning the struggle.