Reviews

‘an intriguing read . . . keeps the reader guessing . . . a lot to enjoy in this romp through the Cambridge Commons . . . a strong sense of place and a narrative style that is both energetic and engaging.’ [Dead Letters]

- Margaret Murphy, SHERLOCK

Mixed emotions

vis-deep-waterToday my new novel is out. I am delighted with the great job that my publishers have done and it was a thrill to get my advance copy. What a terrific cover! I couldn’t be more pleased with it.

I turned to the acknowledgements and there at the end was this: ‘and last but not least, my husband, Peter Blundell Jones.’ Those were the last words in my book, written, of course, months ago, before we knew that Peter was ill. How fitting they are. That is all I really want to say for today. But if you’d like more, I’ve been interviewed over on Sue Hepworth’s blog, and you can read the post at www.suehepworth.com

The only Arts and Crafts fridge in Britain

Or anywhere else, possibly.

In Footfall, the third of my Cassandra James novels, Cassandra’s husband opens the fridge and one of the plastic racks on the inside of the door comes away. A bottle of milk, a jar half full of olives, and a glass containing sticks of celery crash to the tiled floor.

In the way that writers do, I plundered my own life for this episode, which happened precisely as I described it, except that it was me who opened the door. Our old fridge was in a sorry state, no doubt about it, and anyone else might have decided to buy a new one. But Peter hated built-in obsolescence and the shoddiness of much modern design. Instead he repaired the fridge with fibreglass and made three wooden racks to replace the disintegrating metal and plastic ones.

That was years ago. The fridge doesn’t defrost itself any more and dealing with the jammed up ice box is a bit of a palaver. But it works, the shelves are still sturdy, and I won’t be buying a new fridge any time soon.

Something sensational to read in the train.

dsc02426‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’ In that respect and in that only I am like Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest.

I first began to write a journal when I wrote my first novel. I am now onto notebook 25. I don’t write in it every day – far from it – but still it has become an essential part of my life. At first it was a matter of jotting down ideas or snatches of conversation overheard in café or an account of something that had happened that might one day be incorporated into a novel or story. Or I might sketch out the draft of a short story or write a piece of dialogue or a descriptive paragraph or two if they came to me while I was away from home. For, like Gwendolen, I always have my journal with me.

Over the years I began to record more personal stuff – such as how I felt about major events in my life, like the death of my mother. Above all I started to keep an account of our family holidays, in particular our many trips to Northern France over the last eight years. And now I am so glad that I did. Reading about them is a comfort and a way of visiting the life that I shared with Peter. Often, too, what I have written triggers other precious memories of things that I didn’t record.

I would encourage anyone, not just writers, to keep a journal. So much disappears as one moves forward in time, and is lost forever. But some can be saved: it need not all quite vanish.

The photograph is of me and Peter on the ramparts at Montreuil in Pas-de-Calais.

 

Should writers marry other writers?

Writing is a solitary activity, involving long periods alone and periods of distraction even when you’re not alone. Thurber’s wife used to say to him ‘Dammit, you’re writing!’ when he sat abstracted9781472577498 at the dinner table.

Other writers understand this. When it was one of his days for working at home, Peter and I would retreat to our own separate studies in the morning and later  come out to have lunch together. Though even then he would catch me staring into space, not having heard a word he said, as I contemplated ways of murdering people.

In the early days we were both academics, but as time went on and I began to write fiction, we became very different kinds of writers. We didn’t always read what the other had written. It didn’t matter. Sometimes I would talk to him when I got stuck and couldn’t work out what should happen next. He would tell me about an interesting piece of research he was doing: for his latest book, Architecture and Ritual, I was fascinated by his work on Chinese magistrates.

Architecture and Ritual: How Buildings Shape Society was published a few days after Peter’s death, but he saw a copy before we knew how ill he was. I am grateful that he was able to enjoy that. It is the culmination of a lifetime’s work and thought and he was so pleased that Bloomsbury took it on. It’s a worthy end to a distinguished career, though I am sorry too that he didn’t live to write the book on Lethaby that he had begun researching. He would have been the perfect person for that.

We enjoyed each other successes and spurred each other on. I don’t think I could have become a novelist and short story writer if I hadn’t been married to Peter and had his support, especially at the beginning. I will miss him in so many ways, and this not the least.

So touched by all the tributes and kind messages and emails

after the death of my husband, Peter Blundell Jones. Thank you to everyone.

On the day of his funeral the blinds were drawn in the windows of the Architecture Department in the Arts Tower: a wonderful tribute.

This obituary by Jeremy Till for the Architect’s Journal sums him up so well: www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/obituary-peter-blundell-jones-1949-2016/10010072.article#.V78Wi9pRaOw.twitter

Devastation

Posted on Aug 21, 2016 in Peter Blundell Jones | 21 Comments

My dear husband, Peter Blundell Jones, father, writer, architect, scholar, died on Friday after a short illness.

A Break from Blogging

Posted on Aug 19, 2016 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Someone very close to me is very seriously ill. I’m taking a break from the blog.

A delightful discovery

Posted on Jul 28, 2016 in East Grinstead Bookshop | 2 Comments

s209-k-noToday two books arrived through the post (neither from Amazon, by the way) – and that was lovely. But still there is nothing like a real live second-hand or antiquarian book shop to get my pulse racing. I visited two splendid ones earlier this week. One was the East Grinstead Bookshop, new to me, which I visited with my friends, Carol and Peter, and where I picked up a couple of Agatha Christie novels that I don’t happen to have (Towards Zero, Death on the Nile). The shop stocks new books and a fine range of cards, too. There are also refreshments and I had Darjeeling tea which came with a real teapot and a china cup. Heaven. What could be more civilised?

The other bookshop was Hall’s, which has become an institution in Tunbridge unnamedWells and which I’ve visited a number of times. I was hoping to find an inexpensive present to take home for my husband. I didn’t spot the perfect thing until I wandered down into the basement and found spread out on a table an attractive series of hardbacks from the 1940s called Britain in Pictures. Sorting through them I discovered British Windmills and Watermills by C. P. Skilton. We live in a watermill, so it was perfect – and only £4.50 for a copy in excellent condition. That kind of serendipity is the joy of second-hand bookshops. Long may they continue to hold their own against on-line buying. There is nothing like them.Unknown

 

 

Books set in universities: more cross-blogging

Posted on Jul 15, 2016 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

518NrHoJKBL._AC_US160_Time for another list. My good friend, Moira (Clothesinbooks.com), and I are sharing eight of our favourite novels set in universities and colleges. Here are mine:

  1. Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes (1947). Not just one of my favourite novels set in a college, but one of my favourite novels, full stop. I will be astonished if Moira doesn’t also choose this one. Miss Pym, who has had unexpected success with a work of popular psychology, is persuaded to give some lectures at Leys Physical Training College, where her old friend, Henrietta, is now head. There is a nasty accident in the gym and a student dies – or is it an accident? Lucy Pym at last uncovers the truth in a truly startling denouement. The depiction of the college and its students is wonderfully convincing and entertaining.
  2. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sawyers (1935). I’ll be pretty surprised if she doesn’t choose this one, too. This scarcely need an introduction. Harriet Vane returns to her alma mater, the all-female Shrewsbury College, in Oxford for the annual ‘Gaudy’ celebrations. A series of malicious pranks includes poison-pen messages, obscene graffiti, the destruction of a set of proofs. Enter Lord Peter Wimsey . . .
  1. Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red by Harry Kemelman (1973). Rabbi Small has had 41MdB7KtOQL._AC_US160_enough of the bickering of his congregation in the Massachusetts town of Barnard’s Crossing, and jumps at the chance to teach a course on Jewish Studies at Windermere Christian College. Soon someone lies dead, brained by a plaster bust of Homer! I love this series. The Rabbi is an engaging character, humane, perceptive – and stubborn. The mysteries are interesting, too, and are solved by some special bit of insight on the part of Small – usually springing from his rabbinical learning.
  1. Emma Lethan, Come to Dust (1968). The Emma Lathen novels were written by two economists, Martha Hennisart and Mary J. Latis. They feature as their investigator John Putnam Thatcher, urbane Vice-President of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, and how quaintly old-fashioned it seems that a banker could act as a moral touchstone. In Thatcher’s work he is involved in approving investments and the novels employed a wide range of business setting. In this one it’s the Ivy League Brunswick College and its alumni association. There’s a dead student and a missing bond worth $50,000.

5. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabron (1995). The joys of the comic campus novel: 51KG8yyY+VL._AC_US160_libidinous lecturers, hapless students, unwritten books. The variation here is that Grady Tripp is a lecturer in creative writing and his unfinished book is a novel with the title, Wonder Boys. Chabron’s novel, takes place over the single weekend of the yearly Wordfest conference and involves a collapsing marriage, a pregnant mistress, a stolen car, a dead dog, a tuba, a boa constrictor named Grossman, the ermine-lined jacket in which Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio, and more, much more. Very entertaining and in the end, rather touching,

6. Changing Places (1975) by David Lodge. Philip Swallow and Professor Morris Zapp participate in their universities’ Anglo-American exchange scheme, Philip heads for California and sundrenched Euphoric State university. Morris arrives in the rain-drenched university of Rummidge (a thinly disguised University of Birmingham – where I began an MA that very same year). Academic pretensions on both sides of the Atlantic are mercilessly skewered . . .

7. Eating People is Wrong (1959) by Malcolm Bradbury

‘Tell me, do you like this hairstyle? Be frank. I can have it done again somewhere else.’

‘Darling, I was going to ask what happened to it?’ said a man in a bow-tie. ‘You could have fought back. Or did they give you an anaesthetic?’

‘You should have seen what he did to my dog,’ said the lady.

A novel from the same decade as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and was also inspired by the University of Leicester, incidentally my own almer mater. It’s funny and sad and more generous in spirit than Lucky Jim.

8. And so, finally, not a crime novel, or a comic novel, John Williams’ Stoner (1965) is a celebration and an affirmation of the value of universities and of the life of the mind. On the face of it William Stoner’s life has not been a success: he is an academic who makes no great impact either through his teaching or his writing. His marriage is a failure, more, a kind of hell, and his much loved daughter eventually becomes an alcoholic. Yet his love of literature redeems him and in an interview quoted by John Mcgahern in the introduction to the splendid, Vintage edition Williams described Stoner as a hero, who had a very good life. ‘He had some feeling for what he was doing . . . he was a witness to values that are important, The important thing in the novel to me is Stoner’s sense of a job. Teaching is to him a job – a job in the good and honourable sense of the word. ‘A beautifully written novel, pitch perfect in tone.

So, I’ll post a link to Moira’s splendid blog, when her post is up and I am longing to see what she has chosen. And here it is: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk. Not a single overlap!

 

 

Book-lovers! Serial monogamy or a more free-wheeling approach?

513S9PZLNOL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Are you a serial monogamist or do you like to have several books on the go at the same time? For myself, I am rarely reading just one book. Sometimes I must admit that I spread myself too thin. Here’s a snapshot of what I am reading at the moment.

I am approaching the halfway mark of Niall Williams’ novel, History of the Rain (2014). I have a deadline for this one as we’ll be discussing it at my book group next week.

I am also a few chapters into Elizabeth Hawes’ Fashion is Spinach: How to Beat the Fashion Racket (1938), a fascinating and amusing account of the author’s adventures in the fashion business in the 1920s and 1930s. Moira at ClothesinBooks.com wrote about this on her wonderful blog: I often read books she has reviewed.

51wCxRurT3L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_These are both London Library books. I didn’t want to take them with me when I was away for a couple of days earlier in the week, so I took a break from them and read Ellie Griffiths’ new novel, The Woman in Blue on my e-reader. Arriving home tired, I didn’t want to read anything the least little bit demanding: Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero was perfect.

There is also usually something on my e-reader that I keep for when I can’t sleep or wake up early. At present it is Ethel Lina White’s The Man Who Loved Lions.

Also by my bedside is a brand-new book, just out, Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science and Love by Hope Jahren. I’m 100 pages in and have had a bit of a break, but I do intend to finish it.

So that’s the state of play at the moment and I’d love to know how others organise their reading.