Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Great Celebrity Memoirs.

I’m not a usual reader of celebrity memoirs. I know there’s a certain snobbery in bookish circles for the celebrity memoir, so I thought I’d get that in there before you click away to another blog. I’m all for whatever gets people reading to be honest, but it’s a rare book that sits above the usual ghost written Christmas fare. These are memoirs that sit above the ordinary, that have touched me emotionally or made me laugh, that have surprised me with the beauty of their writing or their inventiveness, or even revealed incredible stories that kept me gripped to the final page. Some you may have heard of while others are lesser known, but just as compelling.

Patient by Ben Watt.

‘In the summer of 1992, on the eve of a trip to America, I was taken to a London hospital with bad chest pain and stomach pains. They kept me in for two and half months. I fell very ill – about as ill it is possible to be without actually dying – confronting a disease hardly anyone, not even some doctors, had heard of. People ask what was it like, and I say yes, of course it was dramatic and graphic and all that stuff, but at times it was just kind of comic and strange. It was, I suppose, my life-changing story.’

Benn Watt is half of the band Everything But The Girl and his short memoir covers a period when his bandmate Tracey Thorn was also his partner. In 1992, when I was taking my ALevels and listening to his band, Ben contracted a rare life-threatening illness that baffled doctors and required months of hospital treatment and operations. This is the story of his fight for survival and the effect it had on him and those nearest him. I recommend this book because it is beautifully written and captures the feeling of being seriously unwell perfectly. He describes coming institutionalised, so in sync with the day to day running of the ward that he could tell to the second when the newspaper lady was going to enter the ward. I love his play on ‘Patient’ as noun and verb at the same time, the patience it requires to endure the diagnostic process and to cope with what I call ‘hospital time’ – where ‘I’ll be a minute’ means half an hour. Only two years after his book is set, I was going through my own lengthy periods of hospitalisation, enduring unpleasant tests and realising there are limits to medical science. It’s an incredibly scary place to be and Ben conveys that so well, as well as the strange feeling when discharged when the patient goes from totally dependent to alone. I remember after a lengthy hospital stay, sitting in my flat thinking it was getting close to mealtime and that I was hungry, then a second later realising I had to make my own food! What he captures best is the realisation that what he expected to be a short interlude in his life, is actually becoming his life. The narrowing of his horizons from someone who toured the world to a resident of a single ward, or even to an individual bed.

Ben Watt

Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by Rupert Everett

I became fascinated with Rupert Everett after seeing him on Graham Norton’s chat show and finding him both hilarious and painfully honest, both about himself and others. I loved his wit and comic timing in My Best Friend’s Wedding and especially in the Oscar Wilde films he starred in. I was pleased to find he was a devotee of Wilde, who wanted to make an honest film about his later life. My best friend from university always sends me a book at Christmas and I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of his second memoir Vanished Years. I made sure I found a copy of his first memoir above so I could read them back to back. They both lived up to my expectations. I seem to remember first noticing him in conjunction with Madonna back in the 80’s and he had come across as a pretty boy in that context, but there is so much more to that rather spoiled exterior. His performance in Another Country was exceptional and his eventual film of Oscar Wilde was extraordinarily moving, but it is the drama of his private life that has attracted more attention than his talent. These memoirs show that he has always been surrounded by interesting and notorious people, becoming friends with Andy Warhol by the time he was 17. He has been friend to some of the most famous women in the world: Donatella Versace, Bianca Jagger, Sharon Stone and Faye Dunaway. This notoriety and films such as Dunstan Checks In overshadow incredible work with the RSC and I finally saw him shine on stage in the West End as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion.

I have always known, from his interview with Graham Norton, that Everett is a raconteur, but these memoirs show he can write a great story too. He has an uncanny ability to be at the centre of dramatic events: he was in Berlin when the wall came down, in Moscow at the end of Communism and in Manhattan on September 11th. The celebrity stories are deliciously gossipy and terribly honest. It seems Everett doesn’t hold anything back, whether he’s lampooning someone else or himself. His second memoir is again mischievous, but also touching with stories from childhood and early life. He takes the reader on an amazing journey around the world and from within the celebrity circus from LA to London. I loved the addition of family stories, such as a pilgrimage to Lourdes with his father that is both hilarious and moving. There’s a misguided step into reality TV that goes horribly wrong. A lot of celebrity authors are easy on themselves, writing solely from their own perspective rather than presenting life objectively. Everett is unfailingly honest, presenting his flaws and tragedies with the same scrutiny and irreverence he gives to others. Both books are incredibly enjoyable, a journey with the best and most disreputable storyteller you will ever meet.

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl.

One of my favourite video clips recently was of the Westboro’ Baptist Church protesting outside a Foo Fighter’s gig. Then with perfect timing around the corner came a couple of majorettes, followed by a flat bed truck with a band playing The Beatle’s ‘All You Need Is Love’. On the back stood Dave Grohl with a microphone, shouting out their love for the protestors. I’ve always known that Grohl was a good guy and despite only enjoying some of the Foo Fighter’s music I’ve always thought he was an interesting and enlightened person. I’ve also wondered how he recovered following the suicide of Nirvana front man and personal friend Kurt Cobain, an event that stood out in my mind in the same way the death of John Lennon did for my parents. I loved Grohl’s humour and willingness to make an idiot of himself. My best friend and I rewatched the Tenacious D video for Tribute where Grohl is painted red and given an amazing pair of horns as Lucifer. I was bought this book last Christmas by my stepdaughters. However, it was only recently, after the death of another bandmate and friend Taylor Hawkins, that I picked it up and read a few pages every night in bed.

Grohl addresses my reservations about about celebrity memories straight away, stating that he’s even been offered a few questionable opportunities: ‘It’s a piece of cake! Just do four hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!’. Grohl writes his early experiences with fondness and an obvious nostalgia. He found the writing process much the same as writing songs, with the same eagerness to share the stories with the world. He has clearly linked back to old memories and emotions, feeling as if he was recounting ‘a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook’. He has definitely embraced the opportunity to show us what it was like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia with all the crazy dreams of a young musician. He takes us from gigging with Scream at 18 years old, through his time in Nirvana to the Foo Fighters. What’s lovely is that same childlike enthusiasm while jamming with Iggy Pop, playing at the Academy Awards, dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, hearing bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with his daughters…the list goes on. We may know some of these stories, but what he promises is to help us reimagine these stories, focused through his eyes. I’ve seen reviews that claim he has glossed over or withheld some of the truth of his experiences, particularly around Kurt Cobain with Courtney Love absent from proceedings. I don’t think this is being disingenuous, I think this is what Dave Grohl is like – generous, humble and honest with regard to his own take on events. Perhaps he feels other people’s stories are their own and not his to tell. I was so impressed with how grounded he is and how aware of the most important things in his life: his family; his daughters; his friends; those who remind him of where he’s come from; and lastly, his music.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Stephen King begins this memoir with the accident that he says has made the last twenty years of his life an incredible gift. With some humour he recounts being on his four mile daily walk and taking a break to relive himself in the woods. As he was returning to the road, a van driver was simultaneously trying to prevent one of his dogs rummaging in a beer cooler. This unlucky coincidence meant King was in a position to be struck as the van swerved off the road. A man who witnessed the crash watched as the impact threw King up and over the van, smashing the windscreen with his head and propelling him into a ditch 14 feet away. Local man, Donald Baker, found King ‘in a tangled-up mess, lying crooked, and had a heck of gash in his head. He kept asking what had happened.’ The van driver seemed devoid of emotion or panic, claiming he thought he’d hit a deer until he noticed King’s bloody glasses on his front seat. In a strange parody of his bestselling novel Misery King was left hospitalised with a shattered hip and pelvis, broken ribs, a punctured lung and fractured femur. The driver died only one year after the accident, from unrelated causes. It took King months to recover, with some limitations remaining to this day.

This strange hybrid book comes out of that time, from that trauma which affected him mentally as well as physically, back to his childhood, his early adult life, his marriage and the drinking that nearly cost him his relationship. If people read this hoping to read a masterclass or a shortcut to writing a bestseller, they’ll be disappointed. You don’t need a fancy masterclass to be a writer, you simply need to write. However, he does explore his own process and influences. There’s some practical advice on character building and plotting, showing how a spark of an idea was turned into Carrie. He also talks about pace, plots and presentation of a manuscript. He talks about he origins and development of certain books and uses examples of other writer’s work to illustrate what he’s advising. What he can’t do is identify that magic or spark that made him a No 1 bestseller for almost half a century. I enjoyed his stories about his early adult years when he was struggling financially, but was so persistent. The jobs he had to take to support his family, when the writing simply wasn’t paying. He was teaching by day and writing in the evenings. He also talks about the perceptions of him in the industry, perceptions I have always thought unfair, that despite incredible economic success and prolific output, he will never be considered a good writer. I loved his advice to write in a room with blinds and a closed door, if you’re not distracted by a view it is easy to disappear into a vista of your own making. He also plays loud rock music, but that wouldn’t be for me, I need silence or calm background music, no TV and no talking. It’s true that every writer needs their own best conditions for writing – although a closed door with no interruptions seems universal – you will need to find your own process. However, I do think he hits upon something important about life, like Dave Grohl, and that is the importance of family to ground us and stand by us while we create and especially when economic success does come.


Posted in Back of the Shelf

Books At The Back Of My Shelf

One of my book shelves.

As I go through other blogger’s fantastic end of year book lists, it strikes me how many brilliant books I haven’t had time to read. That’s not because I’m one of life’s busy people – I don’t work, the girls are only with us part-time, I’m still semi-shielding, and I have a carer/cleaner – I’m hardly plagued with Virginia Woolf’s worries and yes, I do have a room of my own. I could be reading more, but mainly I could be making better choices. The problem is I become distracted. I’m distracted by the same things a lot of other book bloggers are: should I be on Tik-Tok? Should I be chasing this year’s hottest release? Do I have enough Twitter followers? Is a photograph better than a review? How do I stay relevant? Is anyone even reading this? It’s so easy to spend half your day on Twitter or Instagram looking at other people’s beautiful and creative content and thinking ‘should I be doing that too?’

The only answer is to do what you love. I’m never going to be a major book influencer with followers in the millions, merchandise and a whole new income stream. So I have to think, what is it I enjoy about book blogging? Well, I love the Book Twitter community, the bloggers, blog tour organisers, the publishing assistants and other writers. By talking to writers over the last few years I’ve had so much encouragement and advice about my own writing, that I could see myself actually finishing my own book. People have been generous and kind with their time and their tips on how to be a book blogger. I love reading, discovering new authors and broadening my reading choices. I love writing about characters, their stories, their psychology and really championing those books that make my heart sing. I can do all of these things without putting myself under pressure, without chasing every new book, without joining every blog tour or buying every special edition. I can do this without pressuring or challenging myself even more than last year.

My village book exchange

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate those who take stunning Insta photos, or know a flat lay from a stack, because I do. Some people are absolute artists! I also admire those who worked hard to remain up to date and relevant, but it’s not always me. It takes me a long time to understand and adopt new apps and methods of getting the book love across. So in short, I’m going to worry less and read more of the books I already have. Stress less and enjoy this more. I’m going to spend more time writing my own work, putting new books into our village book exchange, and reaching to the back of the shelf for those books I didn’t get to this year. I’m going to write about those back of the shelf books and celebrate what I have as much as the new. I can’t believe I haven’t yet read The Appeal by Janice Hallet or Still Life by Sarah Winman, but they are both tucked away on the shelf. I’m going to look forward to those books I’ve highlighted for 2022, but not worry if I don’t get to them all. I’m also including my NetGalley shelf in this, which I’m afraid to say, is cluttered with forgotten gems and new books due to be published as far away as next summer!

It’s easy to forget why we do this. I need to remember those reasons, to simply enjoy being part of this great book community. To relax and celebrate the journey, rather than stress and strain towards an unknown goal. Here’s wishing you all a deliciously bookish 2022 and I look forward to chatting and sharing with you all this coming year. ❤️📚

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Do We Blog About Books?

Over the last year on Book Twitter and Bookstagram I’ve seen a lot of questions about being a book blogger and also a lot of assumptions. So I thought I’d write about how I ended up book blogging and why.

Ever since I was small I’ve loved reading and by the age of eight had finished the whole reading scheme at school and had started borrowing books out of the school library – Jane Eyre, Little Women, What Katy Did and Pippi Longstocking. I loved getting my work finished early so I could curl up in the beanbag, with the smell of books all around me, reading my latest find. I was also a pretty active little thing – I loved walking the family dog, playing netball and going on walking holidays with my family. Then, when I was ten, I broke bones in my back during a P.E class when I somersaulted and landed awkwardly. I took a long while to rehabilitate and it was mismanaged, leaving a long term disability that I still struggle with today. I had to adjust to a less active life so reading became even more important to me. When I was diagnosed with MS I had another period of rehabilitation in order to get back some of the function I’d lost in my first relapse – my dexterity and grip, the function of my left leg – and trying to improve my energy levels. I read an enormous amount and started to revive a dream I’d had since I was a little girl. I’d always wanted to write a book of my own.

In 2019 I made a decision to get some professional help with my writing. I’d seen an MA in Creative Writing and Well-being and thought it would force me to work on my own writing whilst also gaining a qualification I could use with my counselling clients. I trained as a counsellor to help others with MS and other long term disabilities and I started running journaling and creative writing courses to help people come to terms with the change in their lives in 2007. But I was scared and very under confident about my writing, so I thought I’d start a blog to build up my confidence and the thing I felt most comfortable writing about was books. I started on blogspot but then moved to WordPress just under a year ago ( blogiversary coming soon) with my blog The Lotus Readers. The name is a play on the Tennyson poem The Lotus Eaters – a group of mariners, who feed on the lotus leaves. The leaves put them into an altered state where nothing matters but the now, consequently they just lounge around and eat all day. It seemed perfect because I do nothing but lounge around and read all day!

One of the most common misunderstandings I come across is people assuming book bloggers get paid. I can’t speak for everyone but me, and the bloggers I know, don’t get paid for reviews or blog tours. I might get sent the book as either a digital ARC ( advanced reader’s copy) or a real proof posted out by the publisher. Quite often, if I’ve really enjoyed a book and would like a copy on my shelves I will buy the final edition when it’s published anyway. I have time to blog a lot because of my disabilities. I only work part-time if at all and I can spend a day here or there working on my blog. I started by reviewing books I’d read and enjoyed, then learned about NetGalley where publishers offer digital copies of upcoming books to generate early reviews. So I chose a couple of books on there and started reviewing those too. I was then introduced to the blog tour. This is where the publishers or a blog tour organiser asks bloggers to read a book then write a review on a specific date and publicise it on social media. This keeps the book visible on social media for anything from a few days (blog blitz) to a month. I was lucky enough to happen upon Anne Cater from Random Things Tours and she took me under her wing. I did a couple of book tours and a bit of networking with publicity editors and blog tour organisers and over the year things really have grown.

Another misunderstanding is about book post – you’ll have seen these photographs of people’s book mail and wondered how a blogger ends up with so many books for free. In truth most of the people you’ll see with piles of book mail have been blogging for ten years plus. It’s rare for a new blogger to be sent that many. I now have a good TBR pile, but it’s the result of a year of networking, doing blog tours, getting to know publishers, publicity assistants and other bloggers. I’m now signed up with a handful of blog tour organisers and I’m on the blogger lists with a few favourite publishers. I check Twitter for publishers offering proofs and competitions. This means I do get book mail most weeks but it can be counted on one hand. I’ve now reviewed over 200 titles on NetGalley too so I’ve got a better chance of being accepted for proofs digitally. Putting all of that together I have more than enough to be getting on with. What I’m trying to say is that, yes sometimes there are free books, but there’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes to be known by publishing houses and blog organisers, in order to be sent proofs and then I have to read them and write about them. I always try to keep in mind that there’s no point taking more books than I can physically read. Plus, it’s important to remind myself that these book do get published and then they’re available to everyone. A great way to keep your blog growing and developing, is to make links with other bloggers. In my experience, they are friendly and very knowledgeable so you can make great friends who love books as much as you do and share tips and ideas with each other. I have a little ‘book squad‘ who are great at sharing when proofs are being offered and are a great personal support too. It’s a win win.

Of course there are downsides to blogging, as with any hobby that takes place online. You meet the odd strange person and there’s an element of book envy and friction about blogging versus Booktube or Bookstagram. In some ways detailed reviews are seen as the old age pensioner of the online book world. Personally, I think there’s room for all of us. People will gravitate to whatever suits them best. I hope people will always want detailed and enthusiastic reviews from someone who knows their literature. These downsides are by far outweighed by the positives. These positives are the reason I blog. I know a lot of people wonder why I would bother to spend a couple of hours everyday writing and then a few more hours reading the books I’m sent and the networking on social media. To some people it might seem like a lot of work for the odd free book. Firstly, I do it because I love reading and I love writing. I’m writing memoir in my MA and I do put a lot of myself into my reviews, especially when I’ve felt that special connection with a book or character. So it gives me practice in writing my story, seeing what parts of the story people respond to and gaining confidence in the art of life writing. When an author loves your review it’s the best feeling, and great friendships can come from these connections. Being approached by the publisher to quote your review on publicity material is pretty exciting too. I’ve even had offers of mentoring my creative work from authors which is so kind and shows a faith in me that I wasn’t even sure I had! Book Twitter is a lovely place to be most of the time. Mainly it’s the satisfaction of letting people know how special a certain book is. There’s no better feeling than recommending a book and people loving it. I can’t talk for other bloggers, but that’s why I do this. The joy of reading, the joy of writing and bringing that joy to others.