Zombies, Run! 5k: Week 2

 

Image: New Scientist

Image: New Scientist

Week 2 was pretty much the same as week 1, although with added heel-lifts. I didn’t feel TOO daft doing those in public (week 3 is all about knee-lifts and stretches.) I’ve found that the slightly cooler weather is better for my running and I’m undecided if I prefer running in the morning and energising for the rest of the day or running in the early evening and de-stressing. What I HAVE discovered is that I find running round the local park a bit boring and I’m preferring to plan interesting runs around where I live. I know. What HAVE I become?

The story is starting to get interesting: things are apparently going missing from the township. Also, I am becoming more and more convinced in my head that Dr Myers sounds like Nicky from OITNB and that is actually helping me too.

Am I feeling fitter? A bit. Although I do sometimes feel heavier than others and I’m keeping an eye on my knee. It would be mortifying to get runner’s knee again so soon.

Week 2:

Total distance: 9.89km

Total time: 1:45:58

The Virgins- Pamela Erens

The Virgins (Aug)

I’m really getting through my novels at the moment, aren’t I? I guess it’s one of the joys of being on summer holiday. Anyway, I’d like to talk to you today about The Virgins. It’s one of those novels you know is going to be serious because it’s subtitled ‘a novel’, in case you were going to mistake it for a Russian tourist or something.

I was drawn to this because the blurb compared it to one of my favourite teenage books, The Virgin Suicides. Like The Virgin Suicides, this novel is set in the 1970s. It revolves around the love affair of two teenagers at a well-to-do boarding school in the States and their attempts to, well, not be virgins any more. The narrator is a slightly creepy boy called Bruce Bennett-Jones who seems to be far too interested in the goings on of other people.

After I read a book, I like to read the reviews of it on Goodreads and Amazon. It’s almost like me and the majority of reviewers read a different book. I hated this. It may be because I recently read another coming-of-age novel set in the 1970s, but this did not make me feel overwhelmed by the story, the characters or the writing style. If I’m honest, I was bored. I didn’t like the characters, the sex scenes made me cringe and I just couldn’t get into it as much as I would have liked.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is comparable to The Virgin Suicides, however much the critics of the New York Times tell me it is.

*Sent for review

Ah, moving

I hate moving. A couple of years ago, I wrote about my life-long hatred of moving and after the palaver of the last few months (seriously, ten months to buy a house. Seriously), I’m not sure I ever want to do it AGAIN. EVER.

However, there are some good bits about moving… yesterday my friend Charlotte and I (and her delightful hearing dog, Scout) went into the wilds of rural Sussex to sell a load of tat in a car boot sale. I’m seeing the selling of stuff as an activity with two benefits: 1) getting rid of stuff I’ve probably held onto for far too long and b) the money I make is going towards D’s new bedroom. I’m planning to live vicariously through my son- he’s getting a pirate themed room.

Image: Next

Image: Next

Although this is a bit TOO full on, I’m planning on taking certain elements of this. He loves pirates (his grandparents have just taught him to say ‘shiver me timbers’) and I figure that pirates have a greater lifespan than, say, a certain blue engine whose merchandise we appear to have acquired at an alarmingly fast rate of late.

The other thing I’m planning is the garden. Now, I haven’t seen this garden since November, so I can’t get into too much forward planning. I do know that after the success of this year’s tomatoes, I want to grow more vegetables and some fruits, but maybe not this scary variety of onion that looks like it was plucked fresh from a serial killer’s garden:

Onion (Salad) North Holland Blood Red Redmate

Image: Suttons

There is actually a perfectly good reason why I’m plunging myself into planning for the new house: denial. I don’t want to pack and I don’t want to unpack. Basically, I want the entire contents of my house to be transported- teleported, in fact- to the new house. Does anyone know if the TARDIS is available for house moves?

 

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go- Judy Chicurel

If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go (Aug)

Sometimes, I start a book and wonder if I’ll like it, only to be sucked in and find myself reading in the bath until the water’s gone cold. If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful is one of those books.

It tells the story of Katie, a teenage girl growing up in a working class community in Long Island in the 1970s. The novel documents her life and struggles among a band of misfits, drug addicts and veterans of Vietnam and brings the area and period to life vividly. Teenage pregnancy and drugs are commonplace, as is the guilt of the girls who are mainly Catholic. Each chapter reads almost like a short story in itself; the narrative is largely linear, but then we learn how some of the characters fare later on in their (mostly short) lives. The characters all have issues and most dream of escape, yet we don’t judge them in the slightest. This is just their life.

The writing is atmospheric and, as Katie is an outsider, it positions the reader in a way that we can empathise with what’s going on around her. I took a look at some of the advance reviews (this book isn’t out until October 30th in the UK) and got the distinct impression that it’s a bit of a Marmite book- you’ll either love it or hate it. Luckily, I really enjoyed it, as I thought the story developed.

*Sent for review

White Lies- Jo Gatford (and author interview)

whitelies

Before I begin this review, I’m going to issue a disclaimer: Jo is a friend of mine and I’m both immensely proud and insanely jealous that she’s written such a cracking debut novel as White Lies. Having a friend who’s a writer is beneficial though, as I get to interview her for the blog…

So, what’s the novel about? Well, it tells the story of Matt, a man haunted by the past and also the inconvenient fact that his brother has just died on his birthday. While this is bad enough, there’s also the fact that his dad has Alzheimer’s that’s getting worse, meaning that Matt has to keep telling his father that his favourite son is dead. There’s also a range of messy family relationships and deep secrets to keep you hooked.

I really enjoyed the book- I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I found it engrossing and the descriptions of Peter’s descent into himself was heartbreaking, funny and infuriating. The book also includes one of my favourite descriptive sentences of all time: part of the old people’s home is described as smelling of ‘chips and disappointment’. There were times when I wanted to strangle characters, others when I laughed and again when I felt deeply upset. There’s a lot here for a debut novel. You can buy it here.

I asked Jo a few questions- if you’re a budding novelist (or just nosy), read on…

cropped-tmss

 

1)       How did you manage to write a novel while being a mum to two small boys?
<Unhinged laughter> Slowly! I started writing the first draft just after my first son was born and he turned six in July just before the launch date, so it took its sweet time. It was very much a stop-start operation wedged in between work, having babies, and surviving sleep deprivation. There is no spare time, is there? I managed to carve out a few hours here and there to write, whether it was a Saturday afternoon in a café or late at night when I really should have been catching up on sleep. All very much facilitated by my wonderful husband who always makes sure I prioritise creativity over pointless stressing about work or doing the washing up. I actually go a little bit insane if I haven’t written for a while so the compulsive nature of it helps me to keep going, even if it does take me six years to finish a project.
2)       How did you make notes/research?
It’s been a long and slightly random accumulation of ideas and scribbles, really. For notes, I have lots of different notebooks which inevitably get lost around the house or stolen by the children for drawing on. Occasionally, just as I’m falling asleep, I’ll think of a perfect phrase or an important plot point and write myself a text message so that I’ll remember it in the morning. Although, sometimes I’ll read it back the next day and wonder what the hell I was talking about…
Research-wise it was a case of finding a balance between anecdotal stories (which are obviously very personal) and medical information (which can be quite dry and detached). A checklist of dementia symptoms doesn’t tell you what it’s actually like to experience the condition, or the effect it can have on relationships. For the emotional side of the story I spent a long time reading through diaries, blogs and articles written by people who are living with dementia, along with the perspectives of their carers and families. Hopefully the book brings together both sides of the situation; the sometimes innocuous day-to-day experiences, and the deep psychological impact.
3)       Which authors/books/films inspired your novel writing?
I tend to get inspired by whatever I happen to be reading/watching at the time, to be honest. In the last few years I’ve become much more influenced by short stories and flash fiction – I really admire the ability to create a fully-formed fictional world within a few hundred words. I think the skills needed to tie together a short story are extremely useful when applied to novel writing as you’re forced to make each chapter or scene as succinct as possible. My favourite author in all of time and space is Kurt Vonnegut, so in general he’s probably been the biggest influence on the way I’d like to get my thoughts out on paper.
4)       What are your three desert island books?
Arg. That’s not a fair question! Can I cheat and just bring a Kindle?
I could (and do) read Catch-22 over and over again to infinity, so that’s definitely number one – it makes me laugh and cry and would be excellent company when I inevitably found myself naked in a tree like Yossarian. Next would be Amy Hempel’s short story collection, The Dog of the Marriage, because it’s one of those books that does strange, wonderful things to your head and leaves you thinking about the stories for days afterwards. Third would probably be a big book of mythology or world history – it’s another sneaky cheat, really – so many stories and lifetimes contained within in one book.
5)       What are your ideal writing conditions?
 There’s a writing retreat in Devon called Retreats for You that is my idea of literary heaven. It’s set in a beautiful thatched cottage on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, and you get thoroughly looked after by a fantastic couple who ply you with food and wine and tea and cake while you spend your days writing/sleeping. Back in the real world my writing conditions usually involve at least one small child asking me for something, the looming threat of day-job deadlines, and excessive procrastination via social media, so having space, silence and time to write is a wonderful luxury.

Zombies, Run! 5K: Week 1 thoughts

 

Image: New Scientist

Image: New Scientist

I’ve completed week 1 of Zombies, Run! 5k training app and I thought I’d let you know how it’s going… In the first week, I’ve managed over 10k of running and walking (and that’s not including my regular walks) and I’m really enjoying the programme so far.

The premise is that you’re trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and training to become a runner for a human settlement. The training programme starts out like most others- a certain amount of walking followed by a short burst of running- but the audio is designed to immerse you in the ZR! universe. Another bonus is that I have my own music.

This week, the programme has been ten minutes walking, followed by ten drills of one minute walking and fifteen seconds running. This is then followed by a ten minute ‘free form run’, where I can decide how much running and walking I do. When I’ve finished, the app registers all my information on the Zombielink part of the ZR! website. As the app uses GPS, I can see how far I’ve travelled and where exactly I went- which has the added benefit of making me a bit more adventurous when choosing my routes! It also tracks the songs you ran to and how your speed was affected by those songs, which is really interesting and helps me plan playlists.

I’m finding that this is MUCH more enjoyable than the couch to 5k programme I tried before and I’m more willing to undertake training in order to find out what happens next… I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Week 1:

Total distance: 11.67km

Total time: 2:01:42

The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and The Road to World War One- Miranda Carter

3 emperors

 

I started this on the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of the war, as I thought it was a fitting time to start it. I’ve been interested in the last days of Imperial Russia and I watched the BBC drama 39 Days earlier this year, so I probably bought this book around then.

Anyway, the book is a tricky prospect: how do you combine the biographies of three quite frankly odd men who were bound together by family ties but separated by nation ideologies? The book not only looks at the lives of Nicholas II, George V and Wilhelm II but also the legacy of Queen Victoria and the effect of Edward VII’s charm and congeniality (the author jokes that at one point, she seriously considered naming the book ‘Four Emperors and an Empress’.) It’s an awesome task and one that Miranda Carter does well and with humour- which is not always an easy feat. 

I found the book engrossing, although difficult at times- getting into the various foreign policies of countries a hundred years ago is never going to be the stuff of the Edinburgh Fringe, although Carter does it well. It’s absurd how three men, none of whom seemed especially ready for their roles, held the key to international peace. Nicholas comes across as kind but deluded, George as pretty dull and Wilhelm as a man obsessed with machismo but lacking common sense. 

It’s hard, too, to not look at the events of the world then and compare them with now- I came away from the book feeling like although we’d lived through various revolutions, we haven’t learnt any lessons.