Character probing is tricky business

“You can watch 20 minutes, sweetie, and then switch the I-pad off please.”
“Can you come and tell me when to switch it off?” my daughter asks.
“You can do it yourself. See? The time is up here, on top of the screen. Easy,” I say.
“No. You tell me. I cannot be trusted.”

It’s Sunday morning and my (nearly) 9 year-old daughter is You Tubing. 20 minutes on the I-pad may not sound much, but coupled with unregulated hours of potential passive exposure to screens (TV, DVD, e-readers, I-phone) it’s plenty.

Relax, dear blogging friends, I am not about to lecture you on appropriate use of electronic devices for children. I am curious about the process of self-awareness and understanding of our own personality and character in children and grown ups alike. Those of us who write about people will wrestle with the portrayal of character in each sentence and on each page for impact, consistency, realism and the bringing to life of our inventions.

Back to my daughter. “I cannot be trusted” to switch the I-pad off, she says, matter of fact. A normal parent would have snatched the flipping device off her hands and prescribed a dose of good manners for the future. But I’m an artist at heart and a writer in the making. This small act of stubbornness offers fascinating food for thought. What’s happening here? For a child of her age she is showing an impressive assessment of her own weaknesses and limitations; or an equally impressive ability to delegate responsibilities to others, most notably more senior members of society – I am still struggling with that at work -. She may have correctly guessed that by asking me to keep an eye on the clock I will get distracted and lose track of time. For a few terrible seconds I also fear that she may be struggling with adding up 20 minutes to 8:35 am…

And whilst I am happily engaged with the probing and exposition of a young person’s character, my little one is well over her 20 minutes allowance.
Ah, it’s so easy to trick artists and writers these days. Even a child could do it!

Have you been studying family and friends to improve your creative writing skills? As usual, you can count on my discretion.

Yours,
OfGlassAndBooks

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2015: wishing for a year of small but beautiful events.

It’s the end of 2014. At the respectable age of 40 something, which direction will my celebrations take? That of celebrating the successful completion of another year? Or of new and exciting opportunities ahead? As an optimistic character, rarely prone to anything but enthusiasm, I would hope it to be both.  Let us be thankful for what 2014 has brought and hope for similar blessings during 2015. So much to plan! Becoming a vegetarian; continuing to take pleasure in writing whatever I fancy writing instead of watching TV; travelling with my family somewhere we love and can afford to travel to…all positive and respectable wishes.

And yet this year in particular there is a vein of nostalgia beginning to break through my outlook for the future. Could I retrain to become a doctor? Not that I necessarily would want to, of course, but what if I did? No. I am now of an age considered ineligible for such an ambition. Medical schools are not the only bodies that feel that 40 something candidates have passed their “best before date”. No need to list them here, but suffice to say that new year resolutions will not, even in theory, span the ‘anything is possible’ scenario, EVER AGAIN. The world of opportunities is shrinking to a narrower lane defined by previous life choices and age, and this is a fact.

What caused this sudden turn for nostalgia in usually happy and quirky posts published on Ofglassandbooks? A book, of course. What else would feature on my blog? Glass jars? Yes, you have a point, those too, but perhaps not on this post. The book in question is The Girl who saved the King of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson, a funny and heart-warming novel starring as its main character Nombeko, a black South African girl of spectacular intelligence and survival skills. It’s a fabulous read that will not leave you disappointed, providing adorable snippets of significant historical events of the second half of the 20th century, as well as suggesting that these events could have taken a radically different turn had it not been for the accidental input of the book’s fictional characters into their course.

So what about nostalgia? Well, you will also find that the book is tinged with the resignation that life will take its course, regardless of one’s planning and hoping. One of the characters is led to alleviating her disappointment at her husband’s extreme eccentricities by chain smoking, the likely effect of which is her premature death. And then there is Nombeko’s own hope for a quiet and honest life, hampered by an engineer who, aided by a racist and corrupt state of affairs, succeeds in keeping her imprisoned within his nuclear power station for over a decade, to pay for her crime of having been hit by his car whilst drunk! The reader will find a few more examples of a similar nature brilliantly described in the book.

These events are a far cry from my life and that of those who surround me. But books are powerful instruments to make one think. The outcome of my thinking today is that it is true that some doors will no longer be theoretically open to me as I grow older, and that new year’s resolutions should strictly remain within the realm of realism. Then again life is made, by the greatest part, of small but meaningful events, as opposed to spectacular occasions, and it is the former I shall be wishing for in 2015.

My next read? It was going to be: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, but I think that I shall give it a miss until my mood improves…

To all my fabulous blogging friends, a very Happy New Year, filled with little and wonderful events!

Best,

OG&Bs

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The wicked hegemony of the duvet in Northern Europe

Dear blogging friends, Ofglassandbooks and family spent a few exciting weeks driving around Europe over the summer, more exactly from our home in England to the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Northern Italy. I’ll write about our adventures in a few posts in the future. Today, in full Ofglassandbooks style, I am all about denouncing the wicked hegemony of the duvet in Northern European countries.

Blogging friends: “Pardon?”

Ofglassandbooks: “Oh yes. I’ve had my share of wicked, domineering, bossy and utterly incongruous duvets on each and every hotel bed in Northern Europe over the SUMMER.”

Blogging friends (unwritten comments): “OK, let’s humour the travelling woman for a few more lines…”  

Ofglassandbooks: “Picture the scene: a hot night in continental Europe. And yet thick duvets  – the same thick duvets on offer in the winter – await you at bedtime. You embrace the custom, and wake up in a cloud of vapour, steaming more profusely than  Chinese ravioli. You kick the oppressor off the bed, and end up lying awake and a little chilly, in need of some sort of cover, but wary of inviting back the feather furnace scrunched up on the floor. The solution? To strip the demonic duvet off its cover and hide it on the top shelves of wardrobes, where it belongs until, say, December. The duvet covers alone do the job, and they do it well. Thick cotton in the shape of a sleeping bag is what any tired traveller needs when visiting Northern Europe in the summer. A quiet word with the puzzled cleaners in the morning saves you the indignity of being regarded as a thief, or a practical joker. So far, no cleaner regarded the stripping of the domineering duvets as assault, nor eccentricity. Clearly, they all thought it perfectly acceptable, and clearly, management in hotels does not listen to staff on the ground.”

But this, my blogging friends, is a matter for a separate post, picking up the additional threads of a sociological nature and denouncing the deafness of senior staff in the travel and accommodation industry in Northern European countries.

Any good ideas to improve the quality of sleep when travelling will be published on this blog throughout 2014 and 2015 in readiness for next summer!

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Bookmarks for the sentimental kind

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Join the Ofglassandbooks campaign to SAVE THE MEMORIES-FILLED BOOKMARKS!

 

 

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Ode to Bookmarks: the new endengered species?

I love my e-reader. It’s light; it’s powerful; it holds oh so many wonderful reads in one stylish rectangle of intelligent plastic. But I have a confession to make. Each night I feel daggers of pain shoot through my mercenary soul when switching the lights off and reaching for one of my many, and now increasingly redundant, bookmarks:

that postcard my sister sent me from a far-away country; the entry ticket to the Mauermuseum on Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, with accompanying business card from the Starbucks Coffee House Checkpoint Charlie kept as a souvenirs; a quirky bookmark acting as publicity for a glorious Pizzeria visited on our holidays to Italy where the dough crisps up to perfection in wood-fired ovens. This particular bookmark comes complete with motivational quote to pull you through the dark days of winter: “Good wood does not grow easily: the stronger the wind, the more resilient the tree”; a clever magnetic clip that sticks to real pages with a quote (in German) from Virginia Woolf and her delicate profile in sepia tones; a cardboard label from a cool clothing brand in Italy (who needs Superdry when you can buy – preferably on a sale – Napapijri?); a business card from an Agriturismo in the Italian Eastern Dolomites, offering guests a holiday to remember with the clean conscience of eco-tourism.
The list goes on to include bookmarks created as ordinary bookmarks, and elevated to extra-ordinary status by collecting them in extra-ordinary locations: a free City Lights Bookstore bookmark celebrating the 60th anniversary of the bookstore on Columbus Avenue, San Francisco; a bookmark with a photo of Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany, bought from the castle’s souvenir shop (remember the Disney princesses castles? Well, here is your original!); a bookmark celebrating the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014, again with motivational quote from Kate Mosse, novelist and Chair of the prize. I could go on: an owl carved out of fleece hooked on a branch, received as a present; a delicate bamboo Japanese print bought at a Japanese exhibition in England.
And as I touch the cold screen of my e-reader to instruct it to shut down, I am safe in the knowledge that when firing it up again the next day, it will present to me the exact page I said goodnight to, no questions asked, no further instructions needed. A clinically perfect execution of my wishes. An equally perfect execution of my lovingly collected souvenirs, with more memories, inspiring quotes and bundles of sentimental reminiscence than one thousand Gigabytes could ever hold.
Blasted progress!!!

Yours always,

Ofglassandbooks

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Shhh, don’t tell my husband!

Going out with my hubby is a rare occasion I look forward to. Take our cinema outing a couple of week-ends ago. We led the military operation of arranging childcare to perfection and jumped into our car, on time. And then the voices started: ‘How credible is the twist in my novel’s plot? You know, the one where the German librarian reveals himself as a charming American? Was he, called Karl, impersonating the German philosopher Karl Emmanuel Kant whilst in reality being Karl Popper’s grandchild? Or even Karl Popper himself? No, how could he, he is too young to be the Karl Popper. Why not just write him up as a regular guy, nobody’s famous grandchild, and nobody even remotely interested in philosophy and sociology. Would that be a safer bet? Why complicate things? Or am I being a chicken, running away from the challenge of making this work?…’

Whilst indulging in my own inner thoughts, I heard a familiar and rather more real voice. ‘Did you hear what I just said?’ my husband asked.

‘Uh? Oh, I guess not, sorry.’

‘Are you ok? You seem distracted.’

And I was. Before I explain, let me remind you that this post is top secret, one of those liberating secrets published on my blog with the understanding that none of my loyal blogging friends will spill the beans. EVER. By following me you have unwittingly agreed to keep this and other revelations to your ethereal selves.

The legal detail over and done with, let me resume my story. I was distracted because work and other commitments have kept me away from my novel. The less I am able to write, the more I am drawn to thinking about it. Each and every droplet of free time is novel rummaging time. When this happens, story line, characters, future trajectory take my free will hostage and for the duration of the mental kidnapping I shut the real world out whilst assuming a contented and slightly idiotic expression. If NaNoWriMo were permissible as a mental undertaking, I’d be a clear winner.

Still in the car, direction cinema, I looked at my husband and did the right thing: I kept all this to myself. Like a reformed smoker, I reluctantly wiped the cloudy and intoxicating thoughts of my novel off my mind. ‘Nothing important, just stuff at work,’ I said. ‘What was that you wanted to tell me, darling?’ a wry smile breaking up the line of my lying face.

 

Dear amateur writing blogger, this is your chance to reveal your terrible secrets. I won’t tell, I promise. After all, this is the world wide web we are posting on, not a gossipy office corridor!

 

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She’s done it again! Patricia Cornwell’s Dust – a review

I have been an afecionada of anything Patricia Cornwell has published for longer than I’d like to admit. I’m in Waterstones (the UK booksellers) first thing on a Saturday morning to buy her new books, hardback and all (Waterstones stock Cornwell’s latest books promptly upon publishing date and offer a lovely discount on them too, so why shouldn’t I plug their business? I love you Waterstones!)

I like the fact that lately she’s adapted a dialogue inside the dialogue technique that I adore: a primary conversation takes place between two characters, with a secondary conversation happening in parallel in their own minds telling us what the characters’ spoken words are not. We all do it, don’t we? We say something whilst thinking something else. Woody Allen used this in a few of his films, with subtitles revealing the true thoughts in his characters’ heads.

Dialogues’ technique aside, what do I think of Dust? I must think a lot of it, since I haven’t even finished it, and yet I am already writing a review about it – I just couldn’t wait to talk about this book with you, blogging friends.

It’s not a perfect piece of fiction though, and whilst enjoying it, a couple of things are bothering me. The blurb tells us that fine red dust was found on a young woman’s dead body, and yet it takes a good one hundred pages for Cornwell to tell us about it. I kept on reading the book’s sleeve to double check that it was the right one. So for those of you who enjoy a faster action type of books, hang in there, I say, you won’t be disappointed…eventually.

What else bothers me? It’s Cornwell’s recent habit of going over events set out in some of her early books in the Dr Scarpetta series. It’s as if she’s realised that so much time has passed since launching the forensic pathologist’s book series that perhaps her loyal audience might have forgotten about Benton (her husband) being an FBI profiler whose death the FBI faked to protect them both. Or the ever present resentment of copper friend Marino towards Benton. Marino: hot headed working class guy versus Benton’s looks, sophistication, elegance, intelligence, old money, not to mention being Scarpetta’s husband. (He gets the girl too? Soo unfair).

Did Cornwell’s PR company conduct a survey revealing a brand new audience for her latest crime books? Am I really this old? That must be it. There are new and younger readers out there who are buying Cornwell’s books without realising that the full story of Dr Scarpetta was told over dozens of books written over dozens of years. They don’t know because they probably were not even born when this was happening.

Feeling old apart, I am really enjoying Dust, and would thoroughly recommend it to both her loyal readers of many a year and the new generations of wrinkle free youngsters, the type who don’t require reading glasses and who benefit from a re-cap of Dr Scarpetta and Benton’s love affair.

Has any of you felt irritated by their favourite writers summarising earlier books for the benefit of new audiences? If so, join the club of the old and crabby. We are still the best reviewers in town though.

All the best,

ofglassandbooks

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