Thoughts on writing, reading, Brexit and other stuff (April 2nd)

What no one tells you about writing is how utterly frustrating it can be. Who am I kidding. How utterly frustrating it is. Today, I have mainly wanted to throw the laptop out of the window and I have not done so, otherwise, I would not sit down here and bore you with meaningless thoughts, but I wish I had. Instead I am here, grumpy, total written word count 50 words, total deleted word count 500. One does not need to be an accountant to realise that this is an awful balance sheet. I tried to read the “Writing Down the Books” last week and I found it so annoying that I stuffed it into the charity bag and took it away. Maybe I should have read it.

You see the thing is, that the characters in my book are really annoying me today. The woman insists on doing things that I believe she wouldn’t do. And then when I change it, she does not sound like the person she ought to be. Does that sound like a mad couple of sentences? I am not sure. I am also not sure if the male character is too butch. I don’t want him too butch, but then he threatens to get into a fight and there we are, I feel like I am writing male stereotype no. 1008, right out of the character stereotype manual. Hurumpf.

The Walter Scott shortlist has been announced. Feeling so-so about the shortlist, but that is nothing new, plus I only read 3 of the 6 books so far. I was so certain Dark Water would be on there, but alas, no. Still Ondaatje is on there and it is my personal favourite, but alas I think Western Wind will win it. Books with interesting structure seem to always win Walter Scott. Went to the library as my hold for another of the now shortlisted books came in “The Long Take”, it has pictures, interesting. It is also very thin. I am probably the only person on booktube who has the compulsion to not trust a book that has less than 340 pages. I know naturally many novels that do brilliant things in very little space (hello Elizabeth Taylor) but sadly I know more novels where I felt that they could have fleshed things out a bit. The argument “… but at least it was short” never really worked for me. If you read 10 novels of 150 pages and they are all disappointing that’s a lot of disappointment. I rather read 3 500 page novels and they are all brilliant. But I guess, us readers are a demanding lot, always wanting brilliant books when everyone knows that books are not diamonds, there is no universal value that can be measured and traded against. Beauty is after all something that is totally in the eye of the beholder.

Part of the morning was spent hunting for a white blouse for the child’s spring concert tonight, so she can conform with the black and white dress code. She was nice enough to inform me last night at 7 pm that she has outgrown the previous blouse (and about another bin bag full of clothes). She is 12 and nearly as tall as me. So blouse hunting I went. I have lots to do, translation work, trying to write (and failing), there is never ending stream of laundry, but here I was at 9.30 hunting down a white blouse the child would wear. Mission accomplished, hope someone sends me that mother of the month medal in the post. I still have the pleasure to come tomorrow afternoon of going clothes shopping with her. This is sending shivers down my spine. Did I say pleasure, no, want I meant is horror. Clothes shopping is torture at the best of times, clothes shopping with a 12 year old who has a clear sense of what she will wear and what not but will not articulate it but just quietly reject proffered items with “too itchy”, “too clingy”, “too <<insert any word here that makes no sense>>” and you are destined for an argument with aforementioned tweenager. I shall try my utmost tomorrow to not go into argument mode. I shall think of cake. Wish me luck.

Oh, I have not mentioned Brexit in a while. So yes, we still don’t know what’s going on. At this point, I don’t feel I can say anything anymore other than shake my head. I feel like Yoda. “Heading for doom, we do. Stone like hurtling, we do.” He never said this, but he would have, had he lived in Brexit Britain.

On a cheerier note, I am about to finish a rather brilliant German crime novel and it has been translated into English, you lucky ducks. Set in 1947 Hamburg, coldest winter in memory and amongst the bombed out city a serial killer is on the loose. The English Title is the Murderer in Ruins by Cay Rademacher and the translation has been done by Peter Millar and is published by Arcadia Books. I think, I may immediately pick up book 2 (there is currently 3) and read on, Rademacher depicts what a bombed Hamburg must have been like so well. A bonus if you know Hamburg and are able pick out the place names, but if you don’t it does not matter, the place will become alive in your head anyway. A brilliant Schmöker.

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If you like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake (28th March 2019)

It has been nice to see so many people picking up the Shardlake series recently on booktube and instagram. I remember when I first read Dissolution many years ago, I was so smitten with it, I immediately started looking for books that were similar. And this has continued to this day. So I thought I share today some of the books that I think may appeal if you like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, set in Henry VIII’s England.

S.J. Parris’ Giordano Bruno Series

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The first book in the series is called “Heresy” and sets the tone nicely for the overarching theme of the book: Religious tensions leading to political intrigue. We are in Elizabeth I’s England and the religious situation for those of Catholic (or other faith’s) is difficult in England and all over Europe religious tensions are growing. Giordano Bruno was a real person and he really came to England and Parris weaves a wonderful fictional world around him. A former monk, he was on the run from the Inquisition in Italy and sought refuge in England. Officially, he is in England to take part in a debate about Copernicus’ findings, but then some grizzly murders happen and he starts to investigate.

There are currently 5 books out and book 6 is scheduled for publication later in the year.

Publisher: HarperCollins

 


PF Chisholm’s Sir Robert Carey Series

We stay in Elizabethan England for this series, but venture north. Sir Robert Carey is another real historical figure and with a modicum of creative license Chisholm brings him alive wonderfully in this series. I was instantly smitten with this daring, intelligent man – even though he is also a bit stupid. His father was the first cousin of Elizabeth, some rumours say half brother, Tudor family politics are nothing if not complicated. In 1596 towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, Carey is appointed as Warden of the Middle Marches which is essentially the border region with Scotland. An area of great unrest at that time, skirmishes between Scots and English on a daily basis, chief amongst them cattle theft. In the books, Carey arrives into a badly managed fort with people on his forces that have rather different allegiances and priorities than serving their Queen.

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There are 9 books in the series, the most recent one only published last year.

Published by Head of Zeus and Poisoned Pen Press.


Ellis Peter’s Cadfael

Before there was Shardlake, there was Cadfael. I discovered the Cadfael series as a teenager back in the 80ies and I was a loyal devotee from the first book. The series was hugely popular in Germany, Germans do love historical fiction set in the Middle Ages and you will find the historical fiction section full of titles like this. What I loved the most about Peter’s books was the sense of place. She evokes Shrewsbury of the 12th century so vividly, it is just such a joy to read. We follow Cadfael a Benedictine monk, a conversus who only joined the order in his 40ies and was a warrior in the crusades before. As someone who always has been interested in herbs and their properties, I loved the little side notes on Cadfael’s herbal preparations for healing. Peters sets Cadfael’s chronicles in the year’s of the Anarchy, 1137 to 1145, a turbulent time and in particular what is now Shropshire saw itself frequently torn between the factions. Needless to say that murders happen in each of the novels, but Peters skilfully weaves the wider historical aspects and conflicts into the story. A joy to read.

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There are 20 books in the series and some short stories.

Publisher, various imprints, now Macmillan


SG MacLean’s Alexander Seaton series

We are leaving the Middle Ages behind and move to 17th century Scotland. Alexander Seaton is set to become a minister of the Kirk, but due to a revelation of an event in his past, the Session rejects his application. Set in Banff in the 1620ies, Maclean masterfully brings Scotland alive, no dashing Highlanders sweeping time travellers of their feet, but a young scholar plagued with guilt desperately trying to redeem himself and to get a grip of his guilt. When one of his last remaining friends is accused of murder, Alexander tries to prove his innocence. I have rarely read a book that both gave me such insight into events of a historical period I had little idea of, but at the same time also really made me understand how people thought at the time. I read all the books in this series in short succession and then moved on to her next series (which you will find below).

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There are 4 books in this series and the series is complete.

Published by Quercus


SG Maclean’s Seeker series

Yes, I mention the same author twice, because I truly love her books and in my personal opinion her books are far too underrated and deserve a wider audience.

Damian Seeker is an officer in Cromwell’s army. The series starts in 1654 during Cromwell’s Protectorate (which ends in 1660 with the Restoration of the Monarchy) and a murder happens in one of London’s new coffee houses. Seeker investigates as it may be linked to a wider conspiracy to bring back the King.  Intrigue, betrayal and murder. I love how we get to know Seeker slowly, he is a mystery that needs to be solved as well, some excellent female characters in this series too, in particular a female villain, we love to hate.

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There are currently 3 books in the series and book 4 (The Bear Pit) is coming out in July 2019

Published by Quercus


Ruth Downie’s Medicus series

I am currently listening to this series after having read them a few years ago. Highly addictive material. Ruso, a doctor with the Roman Legions, arrives in today’s Chester virtually broke, just having lost his father and divorcing his wife. He was not particularly keen to end up in this outpost of the Roman Empire, but needs must. Within days of his arrival, he finds a female corpse that no one wants to deal with and then he saves a slave girl and that adds to his troubles. His boss, Deva is also constantly on his case and, yes, he continues to be broke. I absolutely love this series and how Downie imagines Roman Britain.

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Currently 8 books in the series, the most recent one published last year.

Published by Bloomsbury


There are more books I could talk about, but I think I keep it at this length for now. Any books you want to add? Any series, I should be aware off? Any great new first book in series coming out? Please let me know in the comments.

 

Random Thoughts 27th March

Brexit has been occupying much of my thinking processes in the past few weeks. I signed the petition, even contemplated going to the march in London but then remembered that crowds like that may trigger a panic attack and thought I best stay home.

I am slowly making my way through the Walter Scott Prize Longlist and so far the results are:

Little  by Edward Carey (Gallic Books) – yet to read

A Long Way From Home  by Peter Carey (Faber) – yet to read

After The Party  by Cressida Connolly (Viking) – read, thought it was ok – ***/5

Washington Black  by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail) – read, don’t get the hype **/5

The Western Wind  by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape) – read, not my thing, but get why people love it **/5

Dark Water  by Elizabeth Lowry (riverrun) – read, atmospheric, if you love Moby Dick, you are going to love this, atmospheric, clever. Torn between *** or ****/5 but probably more like ****

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free  by Andrew Miller (Sceptre) – not read yet

Warlight  by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape) – read, am a fan woman, ****/5

The Wanderers  by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury) – will only read if shortlisted

The Long Take  by Robin Robertson  (Picador) – not yet read

All The Lives We Never Lived  by Anuradha Roy (Maclehose Press) – not yet read

Tombland  by C J Sansom (Mantle) – Uber fan and read when it came out and *****/5

I am taking a few books break now from the shortlist. Currently reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction:

Der Trümmermörder by Cay Rademacher (Murder in the Ruins) is a book that so many people recommended to me in the past few months, I just have to give it a go.

Slowly making my way through a poetry collection: Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo which I am really loving so far.

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg’s classic on writing practice is also on the side and I read a chapter when I sit down with a cuppa.

Then The Stopping Places by Damien Le Bas, longlisted for the Jhalak Prize is also on the go, I have never read a book before on Traveller/Romani culture and so far I am finding it a fascinating read.

And then finally, a new release The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby, set in Birmingham in the 19th century (I live in Birmingham) and so far, I am really quite enjoying it, I have a feeling this will turn very dark, so we shall see. Kinda fun though to hear a character referring to places you know (“no, Smethwick way”). I am a bit of a sucker for local colour.

I also went to the library today because clearly, I don’t have enough books out already (22 books at present), no, I needed to add more books (now 24 books out) and got Manda Scott’s Into the Fire and because I am an eternal optimist, I also got the second book in the series A Treachery of Spies. See Brexit has not totally destroyed my optimism, in some areas it still works. Victoria from Eve’s Alexandria and I shall start buddy reading Into the Fire this weekend and I cannot wait, I am really in the mood for some page turner type goodness and I loved Manda Scott’s Boudica novels a lot (read all of them quick succession, was proper obsessed).

The sun keeps shining at the moment which is good as I don’t think anyone could cope with what’s going on if it was raining on top of it all.  The neighbours across from us had a lunchtime barbecue. On a weekday. I like their spirit.

As I was driving down Soho Road in Handsworth today, I was struck once again by the sheer number of wedding shops there and how wonderfully colourful Asian wedding gowns are in comparison to white ones. I also kind of love that a wedding shop is right next to a shop selling fruit and veg. Keeping it real, even if you are buying wedding gear, you are still hungry. I keep meaning to stop at the Romanian bakery in Handsworth and buy some of their stuff to try it out, I adore shops like this. Someone on Facebook said that Polish shops are the reason, we have Brexit. And lots of people agreed. I like Polish shops although the one I love might close as the owners are thinking about going back to Poland. Another empty shop on the High Street. Maybe a betting shop will open.

I know I sound bitter, but it’s surreal to live through this Brexit stuff and it keeps going. And then there was the Guardian Article about the findings that European’s rights in the UK will be impacted. We have been saying this all along, but naturally no one listens. I basically no longer really talk to anyone, because the joke “we will just hide you in the cellar” has stopped being funny in 2017, which was incidentally when it started, meaning the joke was never funny. Just not funny. Also: I know nobody with a cellar.

Apparently dinner is ready. So farewell, thanks for reading, if you did.

 

 

 

 

And mother is dead

We were reading Pippi Longstocking. The child then about 4 asked: But what happened to Pippi’s Mommy. Me: She is dead. Child: Ah ok, at least Pippi has a horse and a monkey. Yes, indeed, dear child of mine, she does have that.  At that age, the fact that mothers were quite often dead and fathers were mostly absent did not bother the kid. That came later, once her own mother nearly succumbed to pneumonia, the possibility of a parent dying became something tangible and for a long time, she avoided narratives with dead mothers like the plague. And let me tell you: finding stories with parents around and healthy is quite difficult.

Now, I understand why parents in children’s books are often dead or away: It makes it easier to explain how the kid can take such tremendous risks, go on adventures without anyone shouting “bedtime” or “brush your teeth”. It is just simpler and more straightforward if there are no parents. A lot less explaining to do.

20893529And the whole dead and absent parent thing is not new at all. Look at the Little Princess. Heidi moves in with Grandpa after her aunt takes a job in Frankfurt, both her parents are dead. Before that, the brother’s Grimm collected folk stories and a lot of them speak of absent, dead or cruel parents, which you may argue reflected reality for a lot of children then.

When I was little, I preferred stories of whole families, because I did not have one. The dead/absent parent thing was not something I needed to explore, nor did I need to explore the cruel parent thing. I wanted to be Annika rather than Pippi with a mother who tucks the kids at night and a father who leaves to go to work each morning. I wanted to be the Nesthaekchen, adored by a large family even though she was a lot naughtier than I would have ever been. As much as we seek reading material that reflect our lives, we also want to explore what life could be like. If you have healthy parents, exploring how to overcome hardship after your parents die will be fascinating. It teaches empathy and the “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”. It also teaches you about independence, consequences of decisions without the parental safety net. You can also explore how it would be to be brave or ask yourself what you would do yourself in certain situations, this being something I still often ask myself as an adult reader.

I admit that at times, I groan when there is another story of “mother is dead and father is away”, but I truly understand the doors it opens for storytelling. I am not quite ready to say “The mother is dead, long live the mother”, but I feel we need to accept that this aspect of storytelling will stay with us for good and for valid reasons.

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

39087664The latest Maisie Dobbs – The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear is coming out on the 26th of March and I was lucky enough to get a review copy via Edelweiss. Thank you so much.

Naturally, I do not want to talk to much about the plot, this is book 15 in the series and naturally, things happen along the way, you would want to find out for yourself as you are reading them. Let’s just say this: The Blitz has started and London (and the rest of the country) experiences horrific bombing attacks each and every night. Everyone is tired but doing their bit despite the fear. At this time, a young woman is found murdered and Maisie is asked to investigate.

I have read this series for a long time, so I am always in the state of waiting for the next instalment, but I really like it that way. Every time it feels like I am meeting my old friends again. The books are easy to read, brilliant for escapism yet they deal with subjects like grief and loss, but are never without hope. In fact, I would say the main storylines of these books are resilience, failing and starting again. Certainly something I can identify with.

The Maisie Dobbs books are often looked down upon by more “serious” readers, and yes, they are not literary fiction, but so often the things women enjoy to do or read is being ridiculed, so we must just ignore that. Otherwise, we never get to do anything we truly enjoy. If you like historical mysteries, then you may just like this series. If you just want to sit down and read something that takes you away for a few hours, then these books may be for you. Whether you will enjoy the books or not will depend on whether or not, you gel with Maisie herself. I do. I find a lot of things in common with her, but also plenty that frustrates me about her. And that keeps me reading.

This latest instalment I read in one sitting as I did with all the other books. I am looking forward what the rest of WWII will bring to Maisie and her family and friends.


ebook, 384 pages

Expected publication: March 26th 2019 by Harper

My best books of February 2019

So, here we are on the 1st of March. The husband awoke this morning with a FFS how is it March already. We are getting old as this phrase is uttered pretty much every month and has become as ubiquitous as complaints about the weather.

So March. Which means that February is over and that we can look back at that shortest of months. Normally February sees pancake day which this year is in March, which made me and the kid feel cheated, so we had waffles a few times. As a German, it’s my obligation to own a waffle maker (naturally for round waffles, because square waffles are for square people) and I am not sure if that disappointment over the pancake situation has had an influence on my reading or not, but overall, I would say that February mainly stood out for the lack of real “Wow” books. Some decent books for sure, but really not that much that blew me over.

The month started with me feeling the blues quite a bit (much better now thanks for asking) and so I reached for Anne Lamott’s  “Almost Everything – Notes on Hope”. I adore her books and I find that despite the fact I no longer consider myself a Christian, I don’t mind that she uses God and her faith to ponder some of the human problems we all face. For me, she truly achieves the aim she has in her writing. The making it just a tiny bit better.

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Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Riverhead Books


Then I picked up Mary Beard’s “Women and Power” which had been lingering on my shelf since it came out and I enjoyed it very much. Nothing new as such, but a nice confirmation, nodding along sort of read and sometimes that’s quite nice. A book that tells you “darling, the things you are thinking about, others are thinking them, too. You are not alone.” Nice.
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Hardcover, 116 pages
Published November 2nd 2017 by Profile Books


I read Affinity by Sarah Waters way back when it came out in 2000ish or around that time. It was fresh and new and all exciting then and although it has never been my favourite Waters, I still liked it very much. I love all her books, I am a total fan girl. I re-read this on audio as it is the bookclub pick and we are meeting next week. I think this will be an interesting discussion and I am very much looking forward to it.
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Paperback, Reprint edition, 352 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by Riverhead Books (first published 1999)

My mission this year is to read more books in German and so far it’s going well and low and behold there will be two German books in this round up. Der nasse Fisch by Volker Kutscher, known in English as “Babylon Berlin” set in 1929 in Berlin (surprisingly) centers around the shady side of Berlin, the decline of the Weimarer Republik and all sorts of shenagigans. Now, the characters are a bit flat and the plot at times a bit “oh dear”, yet the setting of this book in Berlin of that time just won me over. So I thought I mention this here.
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German edition:

Hardcover, 494 pages
Published 2007 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch
English edition:
Kindle Edition, 544 pages
Published May 19th 2016 by Sandstone Press (first published 2007)


February’s pick for the Read Around the World Bookclub was Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a novel set in Uganda. The story starts in the 18th century. The fascinating thing about reading around the world is that you get exposed to cultures and ideas that are not part of your own cultural map. I have been a reader all my life but my cultural map is very much based on European writing and also US fiction. I lack historical knowledge of Africa beyond the things of colonialsm we did in school, I certainly lack an understanding of culture, mythology, storytelling traditions, tribes etc. etc. So there will be much in this book that just went plain over my head. I see reading books like this as a chance to develop over time a new cultural map, so with time, I will gain greater understanding of Africa and its cultures, its history, its countries. The emphasis here is on time, reading one book by an African writer or even two will not do this. I am very much willing to be on this journey, so this book is a stepping stone and a good one at that.
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Paperback, 442 pages
Published June 18th 2014 by Kwani Trust (first published 2014)
I am not sure if I would have found Sherry Thomas if it wasn’t for Booktube, but I am glad I did, I enjoyed the second book in the series just as much as the first one. Sherry Thomas is a Chinese-American writer mostly known for her romance novels, this is more a mystery with a dash of romance. But man do I enjoy escaping into the world of Charlotte Holmes and the “what if Holmes was a woman” scenario. This past week has been super busy with work and then to just kick back and open a book that just transports you away: Magic.
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Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC


Die schärfsten Gerichte der tatarischen Küche by Alina Bronsky was another German book I enjoyed but that also repulsed me. Rosa is a woman who is – put kindly – overpowering and we hear her point of view of all the things that happen in her life through her eyes and witness her psychological abuse of her husband, her daughter, her grandaughter through her eyes. Harsh, but a great read. My husband always says, evil people don’t consider themselves evil, they think they are doing the right thing and that is essentially the story here.

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German edition: Paperback, 317 pages Published 2010 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch

English edition: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Paperback, 262 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Europa Editions (first published 2010)
That’s it from me. What were your favourite reads in February?

Some things I still miss about Germany

What with Brexit and all that stuff, I have felt very much bereft of home over the past 2 1/2 years. I came to the UK and made my home here, but I cannot honestly say that the UK feels like home at the moment. Yes, my husband and kid are here. Yes, I have a house. Yes, I am still quite privileged. But home is a feeling that you cannot just so easily conjure, it is something that you feel, something that is linked to feeling save, feeling wanted, a place where you feel that you can contribute and that your contribution is valued and alas, I have not been feeling any of this for quite some time.

In recent months, I have heard from various people that I could go “home”, meaning I could return to Germany (which conjures that feeling of not being welcome mentioned above). It is hurtful to hear this even if it is meant well. Hurtful because for one: I thought I made my home here, but if other people think my home is elsewhere, then how can I feel at home here. And also: I am not so sure, how at home I would now feel in Germany or how at home my husband and daughter would feel.

Germany will always be my “Heimat”, my home country, where I am from, the country of my roots. But the place I think of now when I think of Germany is very much a place of nostalgia, after all, I have not lived there for more than 15 years. Still, there are so many things I still miss about Germany. Too many to list them in just one blog post, but I thought I list a few.

  1. Drink crates

I love sparkling water, but here I hardly every buy it because of the single use plastic bottles. I miss the deposit scheme in Germany, where you buy a crate of drinks and then return it again when empty and get a new crate of drinks. It may be an odd thing to miss, but I just do. When I was little, you even could have the crates delivered. And taken down into the cellar. And then it was usually my job to get the drinks from the cellar, because no one else wanted to go down and get them.

 

 

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Us stocking up on drinks the moment we arrive in Germany

2. Swimming pools

We have pools here in England, sure, but German pools are just nicer, cleaner and more family friendly. Last summer, we spent most days at the local outdoor pool, it has a restaurant, you can hire deckchairs, it is clean and green. We also went to an indoor pool with slides and a spa area, we spent nearly 4 hours there and it cost us half of what a cinema trip for the three of us costs in the UK.

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At the local outdoor pool. 

3. The weather

I am from South Germany and it rains there too and we have days where the skies are grey and it’s miserable. Yet, the summers seem to be overall warmer and the winters see some snow each year still. Also, it is less humid overall, which means that my asthma is always better back home.

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Sitting outside loads until the late hours of the day – something that happens not that often in England

4. Non-shopping Sundays

I hope this never changes. At times it feels to me all English people ever want to do is go shopping. I love that Sundays are quiet days, family days. And don’t you dare mow your lawn. I never thought, I would miss that, but alas I do.

5. The cities and towns and villages

I miss that it is mostly clean. I miss the bakeries. The small supermarkets. The ice cream parlours. I miss Freiburg. And the mountains. I miss the forests and the fries. I miss a good, German beer and the fact that you can speak your mind. I miss the difference between Du and Sie and that the distinction is between friend and acquaintance. I miss so much and now I am super homesick.

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