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Keeping a record

I don't know whether it's an age thing or the times we're living in but my recall these days isn't great! And I don't think I'm that unusual.

There have been various articles on the subject, speculating that the fact our routines and social occasions have been disrupted means that we have fewer significant moments by which to anchor our memories.

Surely the extraordinary nature of our experiences would cement them in our minds, you'd think, but even the early unprecedented days of lockdown seem distant and unfamiliar. Yet there was so much that we all wanted to take from that time, we said.

It's just as well that some people do keep a record of their thoughts and activities, then.

Last week a book was published recalling the days of a junior doctor working on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic. It's written by the novelist Roopa Farooki who changed career in her 30s after having written eight books. Despite her challenging days, and coming home to four children, she wrote of her experiences after each shift. In an article in the Guardian she talks about how she came to write her memoir. It's a compelling and thought-provoking piece and I'm eager to read the book, but this week's recommended titles are a story as a journal, and how to write a memoir. Perhaps we'll all be inspired to record our experiences.

The end of the month is fast approaching, so it's time to think about book group. We'll be meeting at the hall in Woodbridge, so if you'd like to come along please reply to this email to let me know and I'll send you the details. We will still be monitoring numbers and taking precautions to keep everyone safe and comfortable, so I do need to hear from you before the night, please. And, if you'd like to put yourself forward for the 'Read me like a book' session we're introducing this year, let me know in your email!

Thank you for reading.

Write it All Down
by Cathy Rentzenbrink

A handbook, a manual...a letter from a friend. It's all these things - a wonderfully warm, wise and witty guide to starting to write your life story.

I've been interested in Cathy Rentzenbrink's writing ever since I saw her chair the proceedings at a booksellers' conference several years ago. She was intelligent and capable, warm and funny. 

This book presents her advice on writing in just the same way. You feel relaxed and comfortable in her company, switching off from all other distractions to hang on her every word. And you come away believing in yourself, walking a little taller!

Taking us by the hand, she leads us through all the pitfalls to writing, stepping over all the obstacles. She urges us to believe, to try, to push through. 

There are prompts and exercises. Problems and setbacks are anticipated and solutions offered. And, while Rentzenbrink offers great ideas and encouragement, there is also a collection of comments from other well known writers with their own observations and experiences of the writing process.

This really is a gem of a book which I'm sure I'm going to return to time and again and not just for the tips and exercises, but also for the calm, positive, affirming and uplifting words of Cathy Rentzenbrink. 

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
The Blue Book of Nebo
by Manon Steffan Ros

First written in Welsh, this novel has attracted many prizes and rave reviews. Now translated into English by the author, it is being marketed to young adult readers but has much to say to us all. 

It is a beautiful, haunting and life-affirming post-apocalyptic story of a mother and son learning to survive in their changed circumstances in rural Wales.

The time is the near future. A catastrophic event has destroyed 21st century life. There is no electricity, people have disappeared or died in their beds. Elements of the natural world may or may not be toxic.

Dylan and his mother have survived The End, when what they understood as normal life stopped.

It happened in 2018, when Dylan was six. He's 14 now. He and his mother live on the hilltop above the village of Nebo in north-west Wales. They seem to have come to terms with their existence. They've learned new skills while also reverting to old ways, in order to get by.

When she forages abandoned properties, mam collects books for them to read, piling them into the car. "I drove home with the smell of paper distracting me from my anxiety," she writes, "the weight of the words like a family in my back seat".

She includes Welsh books in her haul, even though she doesn't speak the language. She recalls "I suppose instinct makes you save that which you're most in danger of losing".

On another occasion, she discovers a blue notebook and on the blank pages, she and Dylan are now recording their memories, their daily observations and their hopes for the future. They take turns to write and have vowed not to read each other's entries. 

As Dylan grows up, it's clear that the dynamics between the pair have changed. They are surviving, and supporting each other, but what does the future have in store?

This is so sparsely written, every word, every sentence, every paragraph so beautifully and carefully crafted. It was originally written in Welsh, published in 2018, before the global pandemic and although it speaks to all that we have experienced in recent times, it is not a grim or bleak tale, there is hope. It's stunning. I reached the final page and immediately turned back to the beginning. Amazing.

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group

Monday 31 January 8pm
talking about...

Small Pleasures
by Clare Chambers

Compared to the writing of Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, this is the story of a local reporter in 1950s east London who has been sent to discover the truth behind a rather unusual revelation. Miracle or fraud, the investigation threatens to turn Jean's  life inside out. What will we make of it?

Buy your copy from Browsers Bookshop at the book group discount. Please reply to this email to register that you will be coming along to the discussion and you'll receive more details about the meeting. 
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