Too much choice!
I am off on a writing retreat on Monday, to the beautiful highlands of Scotland to hide in a valley where I will have no access to wi-fi, internet, phone reception, a television, or any form of news other than the radio. There is a pay phone – it’ll be like going back to the 1980s and I am rather excited. Weeny Pink Suitcase is stuffed to it’s limits and laptop bag is overflowing, ready for a six hour train journey through some outstanding countryside until I end up here:
The Arvon courses are pretty simply structured: breakfast, morning seminars as a group, a light lunch, tutorials and free time after lunch then a communal tea and readings from the lecturers, a special guest, our own work and then finally, a reading from ‘your favourite book‘.
Book?! Singular? Oh lord, you have no idea how much grief this is causing me. How can I choose just one book from a lifetime of reading? I’ve had a book in my hand since I have memory. So you try to think strategically – what is a good literary book that I also enjoyed reading? Well, ok. I could choose the brilliant Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt, a short, beautiful tale of a young girl’s spiritual de-awakening during the second world war, and her love of Norse mythology. It’s the best book I read 2 years ago. Or Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, easily the best book I read last year and both of which I do genuinely love?
The Dig by Cynan Jones, the most beautifully written book I’ve read in 2014. About grief and badger baiting, with glorious sparse prose. I think its a literary masterpiece – but I find it difficult to say I love it. Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother had me revelling in the sheer technical beauty of her prose at the opening of the book (though the conclusion was not so strong).
So I’ve been thinking about the books that are perhaps not so perfectly executed but which hold huge emotional sway for me. There’s The Belgariad by David Eddings, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere. It’s the comfort blanket of fantasy books. I first read it aged 13. I still read it today. I love it beyond belief. But is it really something to read to a group of people I’ve never met who wish to write the next literary great novel?
There’s Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. I had no idea what to expect when I picked this up in a charity shop. I adored it – despite some reckoning it’s about 100 pages overlong and speckled with purple prose. It’s beautifully written, utterly tragic purple prose with a mess of emotions and conflicts twisting through the narrative. It’s gobsmackingly good – to me. It’s also a very fat book, but may fit in my back pack – just!
There’s American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I won’t list the many reasons why – but it’s the size of a house brick (I have the hardback) and will not fit in the Weeny Pink Suitcase, so relegated to the bookshelf on this occasion sadly. And I really can’t take a Sandman graphic novel as it may be a tad difficult to read out loud!
Then there is the wonderful William Horwood, for me one of England’s greatest living fantasy authors who gets nothing like the recognition he so richly deserves. You have to immerse yourself in his worlds, give yourself over to the pleasure of his glorious words that are interspersed with exquisite sadness. I suspect he’ll be making TPS – once I decide between Skallagrigg or the wonderful introduction to Hyddenworld, Spring. Both made me cry. Each was a rare treat that needs to be approached with extreme caution and a quiet place to lie down afterwards. And I’m not even looking at the Duncton Wood / Wolves of Time series – that just opens a whole new world of complication.
So, I’m going to allow myself 2, and then decide whilst away which to read from to other folk. Right now the two hottest contenders are Hyddenworld: Spring & Skippy Dies – both books provoked a strong emotional response in me, and both are beautifully descriptive books; my particular literary poison.
So that’s me done blogging for ten days or so. Will be lovely to go, but equally lovely to return and catch up with folks. Take care, all.