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Comfort Reading - by Alex Marchant

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Since 23 March, when lockdown was announced in the UK, I’ve found myself seeking solace in familiar books. This isn’t something I do regularly – unlike my eldest daughter, who re-reads certain books repeatedly, what she calls ‘comfort reading’, particularly at times of stress. Apparently reading the Harry Potter books or Jane Austen’s entire oeuvre is the thing to help get her through public exams or, indeed, starting as a junior doctor during a pandemic. She also turns to familiar films – almost anything by Disney, various (often rather cheesy) musicals, etc. at such times. For me, generally, if I’ve read a book or seen a film so recently that I can remember the ending (let alone how the plot takes us there), it’s far too soon to experience it again. (Star Wars is about the only exception – oh, and The Adventures of Robin Hood; I can never have too much of Errol Flynn’s blithe, sunny optimism and desperate historical inaccuracy…)


My only regular re-reading is the annual seasonal rev…

Some thoughts on Writing not Serious by Bronwen Griffiths

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I quite forgot I was due to write this blog so I dug out some pieces I wrote on writing. Take with a few pinches of salt. 


Writing I wrote something late at night almost as I was asleep. I thought I must write it down because it was so profound and I might forget the profound words in the morning. I was very pleased I had been so diligent and written the words down rather than curling up and sleeping. But when I read the words in the morning I thought them profoundly stupid. They made me yawn with boredom, so much so that I had to sleep again.
Notebooks When I near the end of my notebook I am always in a rush to finish it so that I can start a new shiny notebook. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, I have decided I will write neatly in the new notebook and will not scrawl as I have done in all my previous notebooks which are now numerous in number. Secondly I promise myself that the new notebook will only be filled with wise thoughts, not ramblings and complaints. Of course the new …

Educating Maddy: Misha Herwin

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There has been so much about lockdown that has been hard and horrible that it is sometimes difficult to think of what has been good. For me one bonus has been teaching Maddy, my eight year old granddaughter. As both parents were working from home and at the same time sharing child caring duties for Maddy and her four year old brother, Lucy had the inspired idea of asking if the grandparents would help with the home schooling. 
With my teaching experience, plus being a writer of children’s books and plays as well as ones for adults, my brief was English and Creative Writing. With a timetable of three sessions a week, we began with story writing and a long saga about Bob the Wizard which took days to complete. At first, Maddy was really keen, but as time went on she began to flag and I realised what a difference being part of a class made. There was no other input, no stimulus or rivalry, there was only me and being Granny definitely had its disadvantages. 
Keeping a granddaughter on task…

Mine, mine, mine | Karen Kao

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For me, writing is a series of synapses: firing, sparking, veering off into places unknown. I connect a newspaper article with a podcast with drinks last night with an incident in the park this morning. Writing is both an act and a release. The deliberate use of my imagination in order to drive the train off the rails. So this is what happened in June 2017 when I read Kenan Malik's essay in the New York Times in defense of cultural appropriation.

A newspaper article First, the lawyer in me comes to the fore. Give me a definition of cultural appropriation and then we'll talk. Malik obliges by quoting Fordham University law professor Susan Scafidi. She defines cultural appropriation as:
taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission [including] the unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. Takin…

From a Publishing House

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Perhaps this is a lockdown experience or perhaps it’s a reversion to earlier ways of living and working. We, like so many other families, find ourselves working from home, each in our separate spaces. Bertie’s in the attic, laying-out books with Indesign; Francis somewhere downstairs trying to find the right angle of physical endurance for solid hours of Private Eye deadlines and me … well, to be honest, I’m most characteristically surrounded by WW2 naval memoirs, copies of Lloyd’s Registers and overflowing scribbled papers … in bed. Together with my faithful laptop, miraculously fact-checking and emailing, tweeting and posting. Thus Golden Duck (UK) ltd keeps busy.
One of my favourite Margery Allingham novels Flowers for the Judge (1936) tells the story of Barnabas and company, publishers since 1810 at the Sign of the Golden Quiver. It’s a perfect setting for a classic murder mystery: an enclosed location, limited number of suspects, distinctive atmosphere, range of possible motives…

Are you wearing a mask this summer? - Katherine Roberts

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What is your personal mask policy this summer? The official advice keeps changing, and will probably have changed again by the time you read this, but at the moment masks seem to be compulsory on public transport in England, and also in some shops, cafes and bars should you choose to get a bit closer to people - although you can presumably take yours off to order drinks, devour a quick sandwich and catch up on gossip with the friends you haven't seen since March, or how will anyone ever do what they went to the cafe or pub or shop to do in the first place? And how will you survive a long train journey sitting next to a (masked) stranger? Forget snacks or drinks. Or actual conversation. In fact, why not spend the entire journey staring at covid statistics your phone?

I live in a seaside town and up to now haven't seen many masked people around - let's face it, a mask on the beach would leave you with a serious suntan line. But I have noticed a few older people wearing them…

Whither evolution? By Bill Kirton

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Apparently, we need to change our ideas about what constitutes refinement. I say this because of something I read in a recent (or maybe not) newspaper item. First, though, when I write the word ‘Neanderthal’ what springs to mind? My guess is that it’ll be creatures of indeterminate gender with no foreheads who sit in caves grunting and tearing raw meat from bones with their prognathous jaws. Perhaps now and then, one will stand, rise to his (this one’s a male) full height of 4 feet 10, club a neighbouring creature (this one will be a female) and drag her off to procreate. My apologies to any of you whose preferred vision is of noble savages sitting around a fire listening to their equivalent of Brahms.
Bizarrely, though, it seems that the Brahms faction’s version may be nearer the truth than that of the rest of us because some anthropologists have suggested that Neanderthals wore make-up. (For information about the absence of sources for my data and/or references, see previous blogs un…