e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Comments and awards

One of the great things about blogging is the ability to interact with the author and other readers through the comments system. In fact this feature of blogging has spread far and wide – almost all the websites I visit have a section set up as a blog where visitors can leave their opinions. It makes the web a much friendlier place.

In recognition of this there is a Commenter Award. I was  thrilled and surprised when the lovely lady at Seasons and Impressions tagged me to receive it. The way it’s done is that the most frequent commenters on your blog get the tag. More details can be found here.

It’s a lovely way to recognise those who participate in discussions, but I am having to give it a lot of thought. All my commenters, whether frequent or not, leave such interesting and thoughtful comments.


The Old Wives’ Tale

I’ve just finished reading this book by Arnold Bennett and can really recommend it to anyone who wants a serious, but readable, book. Although it’s very long (615 pages in the Penguin Classics edition), the style is smooth and the material interesting, so I didn’t find it difficult or heavy.

Bennett was an admirer of the French realistic novelists like Balzac and Flaubert and set out to write something similar in English. I can’t say how true to his models this book is as I’ve never any of them, but I agree with the reviewers of the time (1908) who apparently hailed The Old Wives’ Tale as a masterpiece.

It is about two sisters, born in a pottery town in Staffordshire in the mid-nineteenth century. The story follows them from their mid-teens to their deaths some fifty years later. Although there are a few scenes of high drama – a murder, a public execution and quite a number of less outrageous deaths – this is a look at ‘real life’ so the sisters live day to day, year to year in a ‘normal’ world, and much of the action is subtle and understated.

Bennett wanted to show that people become what they are through their experiences in life. The paths of the sisters diverge: the eldest stays at home, works in her father’s shop and marries his chief assistant; the youngest elopes to Paris, is abandoned by her husband and sets herself up as the owner of a pension. When they are reunited years later, they have each developed, not only according to their initial characters, but also because of their histories.

By following the sisters separately for at least half the book it can at times seem like two stories. But the structure is also part of its originality.

For me, one of the most positive things about the novel is that the main characters are capable career women. The eldest balances motherhood and work in a way a 21st century woman would recognise, and the youngest becomes wealthy through her own hard work.

Another feature I liked is that the women age realistically. Because they are different, the two of them move differently from lively teenager to responsible working woman to slightly grumpy old lady. But in some ways each of them is a universal ageing woman.

I also liked the effect on the women of the background of social and political changes they experienced. This kind of study is really only possible when the story covers a long period.

I did feel that the relationship between the sisters could have been developed a bit more, but I think the author was more focussed on the effect of time and personal history on individuals than on relationships.

Bennett chose a large canvas to work and fills it splendidly: each change is logical, each mood true, and the ends of the two lives we have followed are natural.

A nomination from Somersaulting through Life

Many thanks and a bunch of metaphorical flowers to the delightful blogger at Somersaulting through Life, who has nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger award. Somersaulting TL is a fascinating blog. I hope my lovely readers will follow the link and enjoy.

There are a few rules to follow to qualify for the award. Details can be found here http://somersaultingthroughlife.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/for-all-of-you-delightful-readers/ . After thanking the person who nominated, I have to nominate six more and let them know, and tell everyone ten things about myself.

My six nominations with reasons are:

The Mad Hatter for his appreciation of the crazy and funny in literature.

Two Gallants who have a selection of pictures and some lovely writing.

D F Barker – Restless Art who gives us poems and beautiful paintings.

Letters from a Briton where there is a lot of good stuff about the pagan world.

Farm Lane Book blog for a variety of informative and well thought out reviews.

Lizzy’s Literary Life with reviews and comments on a reader’s life.

The seven ‘about’ things I gave a few posts ago still stand: I love gardening, travelling by train, the theatre, classical music and Japanese food. I do a lot of walking, and quite a lot of cooking. I can add that I belong to a book group, which I find really stimulating, go swimming in the summer and enjoy exhibitions, fairs and similar events.

Kreativ Blogger

Everything changes

Old pump

Beside the old well

the pump handle rusts among

a riot of leaves.

The first professional woman writer in England

I have a wonderful book – Poem for the Day edited by Nicholas Albery. Not only does it give a poem for each day of the year (plus leap year), but also a whole collection of poetry-related snippets.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Aphra Behn (1640 to 16th April 1689). What a lady! In a relatively short life, by modern standards, she fitted in travel, marriage, widowhood, work as a spy and a stint in debtors’ prison, as well as writing plays, novels and poems. She was one of the first women to earn enough by writing to support herself. She was sympathetic to Catholics (at a time when Catholics were seriously unpopular), and was one of the first to write against the horrors of slavery.

She was no saint and has had plenty of criticism in her day and since. But her fame lives on – both for her writing and her feminism. Virginia Woolf wrote of her:

All women together ought to let flowers fall upon
the tomb of Aphra Behn, …for it was she who earned
them the right to speak their minds.

Like many other famous spies, there are mysterious gaps in her biography. These have allowed later authors to invent incidents and include her in their stories. She even appears in the science fiction series Riverworld by Jose Phillip Farmer.

Most of her poems are about love. Love Armed, below, is one of the shorter ones.

Love Armed

Love in fantastic triumph sate
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flow’d,
For whom fresh pains he did create
And strange tyrannic power he show’d:
From thy bright eyes he took his fires,
Which round about in sport he hurl’d;
But ’twas from mine he took desires
Enough t’ undo the amorous world.

From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee.
Thus thou and I the god have arm’d
And set him up a deity;
But my poor heart alone is harm’d,
Whilst thine the victor is, and free!

This is London Book Fair month

It’s one of the world’s major book events and will set what we’ll be reading and reading about for the next several months.

A number of self-published writers have shared their experiences of going there. It sounds scary and tiring. I wish anyone who is going the best of luck with whatever they are trying to achieve. If anyone does go, I’d love to hear about it.

There’s a programme of events, and this year one of them is called Digital Minds Conference. As I’m working towards e-publishing one of my books, it seems interesting, but is probably more in depth than I’ll ever need or want. It’s aimed at those seriously operating within the industry, with talks on business models for the digital age, changing roles of agents, authors et al, predictions of consumer spending and similar.

Looking at this conference and other seminar titles, I’m reminded that more goes on in the world of publishing than readers are usually aware of.

The fair is at Earls Court, London on 16 – 18 April.

Crimefest 2012

Crimefest, a convention devoted to crime fiction, takes place every year in Bristol. This year it’s on 24-27 May.

I have so much on that I may not make it this year, but so far it’s still in my diary. Having been several times I now know some of the other regulars, and it’s good to see them again and catch up with their news.

I love being able to wallow in a favourite type of fiction, to meet authors and to listen to a range of panel discussions covering everything from ancient Rome gritty to modern cosy.

I also end up buying more books than I intend to – but isn’t that something we all do?

The event is a meeting between the unreal world of fiction and the real one of the book business, and gives us the best of both.

Festivals – literary, musical, etc – represent a peaceable and friendly sharing of ideas, knowledge and skills. Here are people getting together for civilised learning and discussion on high and popular art and other interests they have in common. The proliferation of such events is surely one of the best things about our culture.

Versatile Blogger Award

VBA pictureI am amazed and thrilled to be nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award. The nominator was Cynthia Ann Katon-Alfonso, author of the lovely blog Seasons and Impressions. She specialises in photos and poetry. Do visit her blog and enjoy its beauty.

Once again, thank you so much Cynthia Ann for the nomination.

There are a few rules to claiming the award:

Nominate 15 fellow bloggers.

Inform them of the nomination.

Thank the person who nominated you and maybe add a link to their blog.

Share 7 things about yourself.

And you can add the VBA picture to your blog.

My nominations, in no particular order, are below. All of them have great blogs, so please visit and enjoy.


silently heard once

somersaulting through life


four deer oak

when I ride


love theatrics

scoolys wax poems

laz freedman


the obamacrat

murf’s net tech corner


where the thunder goes

7 things about myself:

I love gardening, travelling by train, and the theatre. My favourite music is classical, favourite food vegetarian sushi. I do a lot of walking, and quite a lot of cooking.

Library turmoil

Today I had a browse on the website of The Bookseller – a very interesting publication.

An article entitled Surrey residents win library challenge caught my eye. It seemed that Surrey CC planned to withdraw paid staff from several libraries, apparently replacing them with volunteers. Surrey residents objected, took the matter to the High Court and won.

Good for them. Any challenge to high-handed political actions is a strengthening of democracy and shows that our nation has not sunk into apathy.

However, I thought the idea of voluntary libraries sounded intriguing. A bad thing in that it means less paid jobs, but a good thing in that it keeps libraries open.

But next to the original article was a link to another: Public Lending Rights not given in volunteer-run libraries.

I am not at a stage in my writing career where this has any effect on me, but what will it do to the income of published writers?

The article suggests that some new legislation will correct this problem, but, realistically, how close to the top of the government’s agenda is sorting PLR?

The quiet flowers of spring

Grape hyacinth

Muscari in April

It’s that time of year when road verges, commons and any other piece of public land local councils can decorate are yellow and flamboyant with frilly daffodils.

I love them. Not only do they remind me of Wordsworth (always a nice remind), but they make a raucous statement that spring is here and all things are new.

Beside the daffs the quiet, modest flowers, are also doing their job making parks and gardens beautiful – winter aconites, primroses, snowdrops and grape hyacinths (Muscari) and others.

I did a web search on ‘poetry about Muscari’ not really expecting anything, and found this lovely quote by Carl Sandberg:

Poetry is the synthesis between hyacinths & biscuits.

I also found a copy of G K Chesterton’s The Paradise of Thieves, which starts:

The great Muscari, most original of the young Tuscan poets, walked swiftly into his favourite restaurant…

Everything in the world has someone to write about it.

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