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Pulling together

Spring has arrived!

It's been so lovely in the past few days to feel the warm sunshine and anticipate the longer days now that the clocks have gone forward.

I've been fortunate in being able to enjoy the good weather alongside the water. Ahead of hosting an event for Maldon Bookshop with the printmaker and illustrator Angela Harding on Thursday, I was able to take a walk to the riverside where a number of spectacular Thames barges were moored alongside the quay. Their red ochre sails looked stunning against the sparkling blue water and golden marshes.

And this weekend I coxed two sweep oar crews along the River Deben.

It's not often the water is flat calm, empty of other river traffic and a glistening bright blue but early on Saturday morning it was just about perfect. The beauty and tranquility of our environment lifted our spirits, and possibly improved our technique, so we returned to the clubhouse feeling triumphant! 

We had been able to get out on the water because we had all made ourselves available to form a crew, and then committed to playing our part in moving the boat through the water - an individual and a collective effort. And though we are far from making any comparisons to an Olympic crew, my reading this week inspired our outing along a Suffolk river. Scroll down for details!

Tomorrow evening we will be meeting in Woodbridge to discuss this month's book 'Actress' by Anne Enright. We'll be taking all the usual precautions so please let me know if you are planning to come along so that I can send you all the details. 

Thank you for reading.

The Boys in the Boat
by Daniel James Brown

Telling the story of an American team seeking to compete in the Berlin Olympics, this is a book about rowing, but it is so much more. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the author beautifully describes life in 1930s America, the threat of war in Europe, the rise of Hitler, and the personalities of the incredible individuals who made up this outstanding crew.

Joe Rantz is the focus for this astonishing story of talent, commitment and determination. He had been abandoned by his family but, without bitterness or anger, had resolved to put himself through school and college overcoming tragedy, rejection and poverty. The strength of his character as well as his physique led him to be a key member of the crew identified by coach Al Ulbrickson and boatbuilder George Pocock as the best rowers for generations.

They were eight working class young men who had Olympic glory in their sights. They worked tremendously hard on being physically fit enough and technically able enough to rise to the challenge. But the most powerful lesson they learned, and the most poignant message in the book, was that they should not row as individuals.

Although each rower was outstanding in their own right, success would only come if they gave themselves over to the crew and achieved something which is called 'swing'. "It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others...Only then will it feel as if the boat is part of each of them, moving as if on its own...Poetry, that's what a good swing feels like."

We learn of how this crew achieved swing through Joe's personal story and it is beautiful and inspiring. This is a wonderful book which I urge you to read without delay! (Alternatively I believe George Clooney has been named as director of a film version...!) It's a brilliant story. I want to read it all over again...and think I might!

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
Mister Toots
by Emma Chichester Clark

I've very much enjoyed the work of illustrator Emma Chichester Clark, particularly her stories about Plum, her dog.

This was a rather surprising departure, I thought. Not what I was expecting, but there's a lovely colour palette, quirky characters and a timely message for us all.

Mister Toots is a rather strange creature who arrives one day on the doorstep of Bella's family home. He can't make himself understood so they don't know where he's come from, what he needs or what he is called. The only sound he makes is a Toot, so that is how they know him, Mister Toots.

Welcoming him into their home, Bella and the children give Mister Toots a bed, food to eat and friendship. He becomes a much loved member of their family and their neighbourhood until one day he disappears into the sky.

No one knows if they will ever see Mister Toots again, but then they have another surprise.

Ultimately this story has a profound message for our present time. It's about kindness and compassion, and accepting and welcoming strangers and it's charming, poignant and wry.

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group

at St John's Hall, Woodbridge

Monday 28 March 8pm 
talking about...

by Anne Enright

Exploring a mother-daughter relationship, burdened by fame, it is said to be 'darkly funny', 'complex and multifaceted', 'one of the best novels about theatre'. What will we make of it?

If you'd like to join the discussion, please reply to this email by noon tomorrow to receive all the details.
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